Performing Naturalness: Intersections of Conceptual Art and Anthropology In Ethnographic Filmmaking

The policing of difference in Tokyo can be seen as one of Japan’s strategies for immigration control. Exasperated with the “random” interrogations by Japanese police, I conducted a one-time experiment with the following hypothesis: that without doing anything out of the ordinary, I will be singled out by the police as an “other” from the large commuting crowd at one of Tokyo’s busiest train stations within three minutes – the length of the single roll of 8mm film, which was used to document the experiment. The performance borrows from the Fluxus group the idea of producing brief happenings that can be called anything but spectacular. Thus, “performance” here does not refer to rehearsed theatrical acts, but to actions of the everyday, particularly by migrants, who un/consciously stage or exert their own identities in the international migration context. For this work, I also build on Jean Rouch’s idea of the unmediated mise-en-scene (i.e. the train station) as a stage on which to hold this experiment. The work likewise explores the practice of observation in anthropology: the anthropologist moves to the research field to perform; the cameraman follows to document the pending encounter; the immigration police officers attempt to spot the other; and finally, at the event of confrontation, the rest of the crowd looks away. “Performing Naturalness” (2008, 3mins) is the product of this methodological experiment, which serves to engage with the viewer, and to provoke discussions of visual scrutiny in migration situations in Japan and elsewhere. Watch Performing Naturalness at


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