Event Fission, September 7, 1980
Original Location: Battery Park City Landfill*
Viewing Location: Robert F. Wagner Jr. Park*

This site is included in LMCC’s Creative Insider’s Guide to Lower Manhattan, sponsored by Launch LM.

Eiko and Koma’s over forty-year collaborative career has been characterized by an intimate and visually arresting choreography embodied by a poetic stillness unique to the longtime duo. In the early 1970s, Eiko and Koma met through Tatsumi Hijikata’s avant-garde dance classes in Tokyo and developed an artistic practice as partners. They have performed together ever since, and became the first collaborative couple to receive a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant” (1996).

Eiko and Koma first performed in New York City in 1976. Inspired by the experimentation and diversity of New York’s burgeoning modern dance scene, they moved to the city almost immediately after these initial performances. Eiko and Koma’s nearly hour-long performance Event Fission (1980) in the Battery Park City Landfill featured the pair wrapped in rags and coated with a paste made of rice flour, struggling between themselves with a large white flag. The movement and positioning of the flag throughout the piece created by this newly immigrated couple potentially evokes the iconic image of the Battle of Iowa Jima and the legacy of Japanese/American struggle it epitomizes. Yet Eiko’s statement, “We offered a white flag, not a national flag” speaks more to the symbolism of peaceful truce spiriting the performance. Both artists grew up in families scarred by the destruction of World War II and came of age in a moment of anti-militarism and revolutionary fervor emanating from protests against Japanese involvement in the Vietnam War. In Event Fission, Eiko and Koma offer a white flag of surrender in the face of ideological and imperialist forces of war.

The backdrop for Event Fission was the increasingly developed downtown Manhattan high-rises of the Financial District. In fact, Battery Park City Landfill, where the work was performed, was created in part from excavated earth resulting from the construction of the World Trade Center. The upward thrust of Event Fission’s flagpole visually resonated with the communication antennae of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. From the audience’s perspective, Eiko’s labored lunges with the flag pole appeared to be a combative jousting match with the buildings behind her. Described as a “lone individual doing battle with the forces of wealth and corporate power,” Event Fission expresses an economy of means and stoic stance that exemplifies the partners’ practice.

Event Fission was performed during the second iteration of Creative Time’s “Art on the Beach” programming. Between 1978 and 1985, during the summer months, Creative Time produced large-scale public works of environmental sculpture, music, dance, and conceptual art in the Battery Park City Landfill. More than one hundred artists participated in “Art On the Beach,” including Simone Forti, Bill T. Jones, and Maren Hassinger. With Event Fission, “Art on the Beach” provided Eiko and Koma with their first opportunity for outdoor performance. The work stands as an early instance of Eiko and Koma’s career-long commitment to present their pieces in outdoor, public contexts without charge, where their performing bodies can be viewed by a wide-ranging audience.

– Alex Fialho


*no longer on view
**Joan Rothfuss and Suzanne Carbonneau. Eiko & Koma : Time Is Not Even, Space Is Not Empty. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2011, p. 107.
***Ibid, p. 35.


Photo Credits (both images): 

Studies for Event Fission, Battery Park Landfill, New York City, September 1980
© Johan Elbers