Kawasaki Plus Yoga Equals Kawashokachakraboom
Phil Space in Santa Fe was the site of a pop-up performance/installation by Hannah Hughes on March 21st and 22nd. With the cheeky run-on title Kawashokachakraboom, the piece consisted of a parked circle of Kawasaki motorcycles in various states of dented obsolescence, two tilting video monitors, a bamboo plant bedded in old tires, and three young women practicing yoga poses in sparkly slip-dresses. While one lay inanimate amid the tumble practicing savasana, the “corpse pose,” two others moved from one pose into the next while balancing on the motorcycles. A fourth woman patiently applied sequins to motorcycle wheels.
One video screen followed a bike roaring around and around a track, which provided the only sound element. The other showed a close up of a woman’s hand with henna markings, gesturing in the style of the sacred south Indian dance Bharata Natyam–circling that echoed the form of the motorcycles and suggested a central axis to the installation.
The work was full of dualities: body/machine, feminine/masculine, East/West. It could also be seen to subvert cultural tropes of scantily clad women posed on motorcycles. Here the women seemed strong and in control, as they changed and held each pose on seemingly precarious structures. Walking around the room offered shifting compositions of figure and brightly painted machine, and a number of onlookers took photographs.
The bamboo plant seemed the outlier, and maybe unnecessary, since it was clear that there was an intent to refer to the living and the not. The circle of life in lithe young bodies kept drawing your eye to the woman in savasana pose amid this temporarily stunned horsepower of metal, bringing to mind a motorcycle accident, perhaps an unintentional reference. In her statement about the work, Hughes describes it as “risk and balance required in the pursuit of ultimate freedom, understood from a yoga perspective as freedom from fear of death, ” and continues with a metaphor that it is a “shoka floral offering,” which explains its tri-part structure with the bamboo tree as the central branch in this particular Ikebana. Unfamiliar with those forms when I took in the tableau vivant, I now see it in hindsight. Perhaps if the space were larger and the piece could be viewed from further away, the composition would be clearer. As installed, though, there was enough humor, skill and thought to make it compelling. An array of whimsically decorated lamps in the adjacent Phil Space photo studio kept things from feeling too somber.