In 1984 I was in Kyoto while organizing a new Japanese video exhibition. Curator-writer friends encouraged me to meet a promising young art student. Teiji Furuhashi showed me 7 Conversation Styles, his collection of succinct performance videos that characterized the life of a simple person, an ordinary "dumb type." To his own music, Teiji mechanically walked and stumbled in stylized movements, silhouetted against such non-touristic Kyoto sites as industrial smoke stacks. Looking back now, these early tapes bore his signature style-elegant, precise, and unnerving.
Over the years I often saw Teiji and Dumb Type, the inter-media performance group he founded. In Kyoto I stayed in his neighborhood on Kawaramachi-dori. I would swim at his childhood swimming club (Toh-sui-kai, with its ancient pools) before dropping into Dumb Type's office. There among the architecture tables and computer equipment, I poked around to see the new ways Dumb Type critiqued the emptiness of "the information age dream." I could count on Teiji and his colleagues to keep me abreast with what was happening in video, performance, architecture, and art. One of the most generous people I knew, Teiji introduced me to many artists around Kyoto-Yasumasa Morimura, Chie Matsui, Tomoaki Ishihara, and Ideal Copy. He made certain I knew the "emerging" artists. Together we visited the chic new cafes designed by Tadao Ando on our way to see exhibitions.
Teiji deepened my understanding of Japanese culture. We had long discussions about his work-what made it Japanese, and what distinguished it as postmodern with the blurred boundaries. Over many dinners with Fujiko Nakaya (the fog sculptor and video advocate) in her Tokyo home, we talked at length about the difference between Tokyo and Kyoto styles. I learned that Edoites and Kyotoites open shoji (the sliding, rice-paper lined panel doors) according to where they are from-either as a blunt action or with elan.
My notable encounters with Teiji are many. I remember riding back to Manhattan on the subway late one night after seeing Enoske Ichikawa's adaptation of Shakespeare at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Japan has high culture, popular culture, revival culture, export and import culture. Teiji thought a lot about the differences and the political implications. He wove his thoughts through the multi-media performances that Dumb Type spent much of its time touring around the world.
After the closing performance of pH in Nagoya in 1991, I prowled the dark city with Dumb Type, Teiji leading the pack. We were searching for a late night spot, a rare commodity in Nagoya. We created our own scene in an about to open club, dancing under the kaleidoscopic lights. I discovered that Dumb Type, forever pragmatic, could overcome any logistical hurdle.
I can still see Teiji as he stood on a balcony high above everyone's head at Keiko Tamaki and Bert Winther's wedding reception several years ago. Dressed as Julie Andrews, Teiji "vamped" and lip-synced the actress's recorded songs. Later, after he had removed the costume and make-up, we drank coffee in a tiny bar in the center ofTokyo. He described S/N, Dumb Type's new project that would address taboo subjects -- homosexuality and AIDS. Around midnight he caught the last Shinkansen (bullet train) back home to Kyoto. (I saw S/N, as the project started to take shape: first as a mechanized video installation in Brussels in 1992, then as a workshop at an experimental theater in Kyoto in 1993).
I will always remember Teiji Furuhashi for his dignity and grace, his strength and sensitivity, and his unique vision. He took risks and put himself on the line. Humble, he made demands of others only in terms of presenting his work as his vision required.
When I began organizing the exhibition Video Spaces: Eight Installations for The Museum of Modern Art, I pursued Teiji's new work. We spent many hours together pouring over the floor plans, strategizing about how to bring the work to New York, visiting foundations. Once we had Lovers physically in place at the Museum, critics and artists all commented on the installation's originality. Teiji's work stood out. Everyone appreciated the beauty, the complexity, and the eloquent statement about life.
I saw Teiji in New York and Toronto several weeks before he died. He remained thoughtful and open right until the end. One of Japan's most talented artists, we lost him much too soon. His gift of friendship lives on, as does his extraordinary art work.
Printed in MFJ No. 29 (Fall 1996) Video Installation