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Visual AIDS is thrilled to announce that Japanese curator Sho Akita will be our seventh annual Curatorial Resident, co-sponsored with Residency Unlimited. For the month of April, Sho will present a series of programs about the life and work of Japanese artist Teiji Furuhashi (1960–1995). During his residency, Sho will research Furuhashi's time in New York, building an archive of the creative and activist exchange that Furuhashi facilitated between Japan and the United States.

Below, Sho introduces himself and his plans for the residency:

*Sho Akita's residency has been postponed, and will be rescheduled for later this year.*

I am a film/video curator working in Tokyo, Japan, where I run Normal Screen, a screening platform for queer film from around the world. I work with artists, scholars, friends, and cinemas to create spaces where marginalized voices and bodies can be heard and seen. I also write a bi-monhly column about movies that deal with HIV and AIDS and I’ve programmed shorts and feature films for Tokyo AIDS Week. For the past five years, I have screened Visual AIDS’ Day With(out) Art video projects with Japanese subtitles. These screening events have been one of the few opportunities to have nuanced dialogue around the subject of HIV and AIDS in Tokyo.

During my residency with Visual AIDS, I will research the life and work of Teiji Furuhashi. Teiji lived in Kyoto, Japan and was a member of the Japanese multimedia art collective Dumb Type. He spent a significant amount of time in New York, both on tour with Dumb Type and independently. The collective was formed at Kyoto City University of Arts in the 1980s, and Teiji was both one of the brains behind it and also a great performer. In the mid 2000s, I went to art school in Kyoto to study video and theater arts, and my friends and I looked up to Dumb Type like a legend. I later moved to New York City, and as I walked through the streets downtown I often wondered about Teiji’s life in New York, realizing how little I knew about his personal life.

If you lived in New York in the early 1990s, you might have seen Dumb Type perform at P.S. 122 or at the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage. While Dumb Type presented its work very seriously, Teiji and other members of the collective also performed in drag while on tour, including at the Pyramid Club in New York. In fact, Teiji brought Western drag queen culture to Japan, starting a monthly party called “Diamonds Are Forever” that continues to this day!

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Installation view of Lovers. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, July 30, 2016 – April 16, 2017. © 2016 The Museum of Modern Art. Photo: Jonathan Muzikar

More recently, you might have seen his solo video installation Lovers at the Museum of Modern Art in 2016. MoMA and Kyoto City University of Arts both undertook major conservation projects to restore the installation. When I heard of the simultaneous restoration happening both in New York and Kyoto, I tried to imagine Teiji’s life in those two cities. But his archives are mostly about his work and life in Kyoto and very little is known about his time outside of the country. Reading the wonderful book memorandum, which is a compilation of his writings and interviews edited by Dumb Type, it is clear to me that New York City and the U.S. was such an inspiration for him. He met artists and performers in the East Village scene, received a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council, and traveled throughout the States. He even had a boyfriend in San Francisco. While living in New York, he also learned that he was HIV positive. He didn’t tell anyone about it in Japan until 1992. Even today in Japan there are very few visible figures who are out about their HIV status.

Teiji was no stranger to Visual AIDS. In 1994, he helped bring Electric Blanket, a major public projection project originally organized for Day Without Art 1990, to Yokohama during the International AIDS Conference. Artists Allen Frame and Frank Franca, as well as scholar Douglas Crimp, travelled to Yokohama for the conference, exchanging information and strategies with AIDS activists in Japan.

After coming out about his HIV status, Teiji asked other Dumb Type members to let him lead the next project, which would be named S/N. With sound, dance, video, and performances, S/N explicitly addresses AIDS, identity, gender, sexuality, and border politics. Its political message still resonates strongly, unfortunately, today. With Visual AIDS, I will screen a recording of S/N on Sunday, April 5 at SVA Theatre. Though Teiji hoped to perform S/N in New York, and it was welcomed by more than 20 cities around the world, only one organization was willing to present the work in the states, in Seattle in 1994. The April 5 screening will be the first opportunity for S/N to be seen in New York City.

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Performance documentation of Dumb Type's "S/N" (1994) with Teiji Furuhashi and Bubu de la Madeleine. Photo: Kazuo Fukunaga

In Japan, Teiji’s friends continue to perform and make incredible artwork. They have been very generous and supportive of this project, and I hold the memories and images they have shared with me dearly. At the end of my residency, I will host a panel discussion with one of these friends, Toru Yamanaka a.k.a DJ Lala. Lala was very close with Teiji, even before they worked together in Dumb Type. Along with Teiji, Lala spent considerable time in New York, and has been deeply influenced by the music and performance of the downtown scene. The panel will be a wonderful opportunity to hear Lala discuss his memories of this time as well as his current work, and to witness him reunite with the New York art community.

As time passes and people’s memories fade, my curiosity about Teiji’s life in New York has felt more urgent, and I hope these programs lead me to more stories of him in New York. With the tremendous assistance of Visual AIDS, I will meet with Teiji’s friends, collaborators, and acquaintances in New York, and also visit sites in the city that were important to his life. I hope to find out more about Teiji’s experiences in New York, both his joys and struggles. I hope it gives new meaning and light to our understanding of him and his work, but also to artists, LGBTQ people and those who live with HIV and AIDS in Japan today.

Visual AIDS’ curatorial residency is co-sponsored by Residency Unlimited and supported in part by a grant from the Japan Foundation, New York. Visual AIDS thanks Dumb Type and Normal Screen for their support of these programs.

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