Andre Breton, in his Surrealist Manifesto published in 1924 described it as this:
SURREALISM, n. Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express -- verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner -- the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.
The “absence of control” part has had a special resonance on my Search For The Mask of Satori over the last month.
First there was the earthquake.
Very unlike the ones I have experienced in San Francisco and Los Angeles, this was a protracted sloshy affair that felt more like being on the deck of a ship than anything else.
I was even able to compose a poem during it. The font of the handwriting in my notebook can only be called Tokyo Earthquake.
Most of the artists and crew of Kooza were looking at each other with wide eyes and weird half smiles as the very ground we walked upon became this suddenly surreal landscape.
Of course the subsequent tsunami and nuclear disaster was unknown to us at the time.
3 days later, when news of these horrors started to come in and the constant aftershocks were busy jangling the nerves of some of my cohorts, many of whom are the most fearless humans I have ever known, Cirque du Soleil decided to evacuate us.
With about half an hours notice I was told to get my ass to Narita Airport. We were all going to Macau where we would be staying at the Venetian Hotel and Casino while they decided what to do with us.
This set into motion the crossing off of three items on my bucket list in quick succession:
- To run at full speed down a gangplank and dive into a plane as the doors are closing.
- To sit in 1st class.
- To catch a night ferry in the fog from Hong Kong to Macau.
Accidental Keinholz in Macau.
The less said about the next nine days in the gilded, carpeted hell of the Venetian with its chlorinated canals amongst the constantly yelling Chinese vacationers with their annoying twangly voices and their razor sharp and ever ready elbows the better.
Suffice it to say we were glad to get out of there.
Finally the word came down that we would be offered a plane ticket for anywhere in the world.
As long as we had an internet connection and could check in about seven days later to see whether we were to report back to Tokyo and that the show was to go on we could go anywhere.
Many chose to return to Tokyo. Many went back home to wherever it was they lived to see family and lick their wounds.
Some went to ports of call in Asia just to save money and be close.
I went to Paris.
Accidental Faces (Paris/Tokyo)
If these cobblestones could speak...
Thank You, Cheeses!
I rented a flat on Rue Tholoze’, up a cobblestone street from Place de la Abbesses, a few doors away from where Tristan Tzara lived slightly less than a century earlier.
Neutral Mask. Not So Neutral Mask
My nights were about Jazz, Theatre and dancing at the Caveau de la Huchette. My days were museums and food. I visited the Catacombs. I ate many baguettes. I soaked in to the city and apparently it soaked into me a bit as well.
(Many times I was asked directions by tourists, so convincing was my manner. Eventually I would just tell them to fuck off, completing my disguise as typical Parisian.)
Jazz Chats Taking It To The Bridge.
Jazz Rats in the Caveau.
Man vs. Rodin
On the same alleyways and at the same cafes where Dali, De Chirico, Breton, Tanguy and Arp did their thing I scribbled poems and dreamed away.
My wake up call was in the form of an email from Luc Trembley that Kooza would indeed be starting up again in Tokyo.
Three days later I was on a plane. Six days later I was performing again in Japanese for a sell out crowd in the Fuji Big Top.
Le Poisson Soluble
Then, on a day off, I went with my fellow clowns and an acrobat to see the Surrealist Exhibition at the Tokyo National Gallery.
It felt like the set up for a joke: “Three clowns and an acrobat walk into a Surrealist exhibition.” but it was really quite thorough and we were all inspired by both the work and the thought behind it.
How do you depict with vigor and accuracy an inner landscape, a world that is ultimately undepictable?
“Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality.”
Apparently Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto was written as an article for Le Poisson Soluble. And there in a glass case was an actual copy. Tangible, real.
Yet what it was attempting was to somehow catch the Poisson Soluble, The Dissolving Fish.
And what could be more elusive than a fish that dissolves!
We attempted a few Surrealist inspired Cadavres Exquis, or Exquisite Corpses the next couple of days and clown alley became a kind of little artist colony.
Joining us in this experiment was our resident pick pocket Pierre Ginet, who did not accompany us to the exhibition but who is, let’s face it, French.
Things are seeming a little less surreal now as Tokyo gains its equilibrium but flashes of that fine madness do surface occasionally. And I still get that odd feeling, just after I flash my pass at the security gate at the big top that the guard is going to stop me. He is going to say:
“Summimasen Sir. This is not your life. You are not about to perform for hundreds of people. You can’t just walk in here with your coffee cup in hand and your Parisian jacket. You are dreaming, sir. You have to go back to real life.”
But he never does.
And I keep walking.