Trade Routes Interview: Mitsu Salmon & Michael Sakamoto

We asked the Chicago artists in the Trade Routes Touring Exchange Festival about their roles as artist-curators, who were invited to present both their own work and to choose a partnering artist present theirs in Chicago. Both artists will present on a shared bill at Links Hall during the Trade Routes Festival and in their partner’s hometown.

Mitsu Salmon creates original performance and visual works, which fuse multiple disciplines. She was born in the melting pot of Los Angeles to a Japanese mother and American father. Her creation in differing mediums, the translation of one medium to another, is connected to the translation of differing cultures and languages.

Michael Sakamoto is an interdisciplinary artist active in dance, theatre, media and photography and one of the leading butoh-based performers in the USA. Dedicated to nurturing intercultural dialogue and cultural sustainability through performative and visual methodologies, Michael creates choreographic and narrative performances, media works and photo essays designed to challenge audience assumptions and reveal diverse experiences across geography, language and social boundaries.

LH: How did you and Michael Sakamoto meet each other? When did you first see each other’s work?

MS: I met him years ago – I want to say 10 years ago actually. I met him in Los Angeles and I saw him perform in this group work, and he was doing this movement where he was cleaning this window and I thought it was really gorgeous, because he does butoh and hip hop, so he’s doing this kind of stop and lock step with his body, but then he’s cleaning this window in this very expressive way. He apparently saw my work around that same time.

So he remembered my work, and then recently, about a year ago, he came to Columbia College, and he performed with Rennie Harris, a hip hop artist. We remembered each other, and I thought about asking him because we’re both Japanese American, we both work with butoh but in different ways – he mixes hip hop and butoh and I do performance art and butoh.

We started talking and it seemed like a nice kind of parallel, because he’s working on this piece called Blind Spot, and has narrative, multimedia and movement, and my piece has narrative, multimedia and movement. So we’re both drawing from autobiography and working with video, but in different ways, and we both, for our pieces, collaborated with sound artists to make it, so it just felt like [there were] all these parallels. And then we were also talking about, through this process, getting to know each other a little bit better, and finding out we both have grandparents from Hawai’i, and we both didn’t grow up speaking Japanese. So it felt like there were some personal parallels, but in terms of the work, I’m interested in how it will be similar but different.

LH: Is there something about bringing Michael to Chicago that you thought would be interesting, or more that you wanted to perform with him and you happened to be in Chicago?

MS: I wanted to work with him. He’s performed before in Chicago at Columbia. People might have heard of him but not seen his work, or only seen this one piece of his, or not seen anything. So it’s not a new relationship, it’s a continuation of a relationship for him. He was interested in getting to know Links, because as opposed to Columbia College, who won’t present the same artist every year, Links sometimes does present the same artist every year. I was surprised in some ways that he said yes because he’s so busy with his schedule. But he said, I really want to work with you, and I really want to work with Links, so I’ll make it work.

LH: What are you excited about in terms of presenting in Iowa City?

MS: I haven’t really performed in the Midwest. That’s something that I’m really wanting to do more. it’s going to be at a university so there’s going to be some built-in audience, but it’s also a free event and open to the public. I’m curious to see what kind of conversations these works will bring up there versus what kind of conversations will be happening in Chicago about our work.

LH: Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work or anything else you’re excited about for the Trade Routes festival in general?

MS: He’s giving a workshop, so I’m excited about that. I haven’t taken one of his workshops – I’m going to take it. I like that he wanted to teach as well as present.

LH: Thank you so much! We’re really excited about having you all as the artists choosing who gets to see the people in Chicago, and we really want to empower you all as kind of curator-artists.

MS: When I tell people about it, people are interested in when I explain the process of it. Did they put you together? And I’m like, no, I got to pick him. And they say oh cool!

Mitsu Salmon will be performing her piece Tsuchi alongside Michael Sakamoto’s piece Blind Spot at the upcoming Trade Routes Touring Exchange Festival at Links Hall in Chicago, as well as in Iowa City at the University of Iowa.