TV & Radio
Rubber Tit a hands-on experience
By Supriya Sinhababu
Friday, April 6th, 2007
Like a punctured hot air balloon, it began its performance lying shriveled and orange at the bottom of a modified wooden crate with edges but no sides. With the aid of a portable air blower and the sounds of a jazz saxophone for inspiration, the thing slowly took shape, spiting the efforts of the small Japanese woman who energetically bound the crate at arbitrary intervals with rainbow-colored cord.
When the thing grew big enough to chafe at the sides of the crate, the woman abandoned her web-weaving and wrenched the strange object bodily from its confines. Now a little taller than the woman herself, the thing at the end of its development finally resembled a “rubber tit,” both an actor and a prop in its, uh, titular performance.
Rubber Tit’s two non-synthetic performers assumed the shapes of Japanese lesbians: performing artist-cum-performance artist Tari Ito, and jazz saxophonist Masa, a New York resident for the past 20 years. Sponsored by the Japan Committee of the Center for East Asian Studies and the Center for Gender Studies, among others, Rubber Tit dealt abstractly with Japan’s ingrained homophobia and the difficulties of leading a lesbian lifestyle in that nation.
Some of the five dozen or so attending students, who sat mainly on the floor of the Cloister Club at Ida Noyes Hall on Tuesday night, may have come to Rubber Tit out of interest in such gender issues. Others may have expected only to experience something from the very broad category of “weird and from Japan.” The performance delivered on both counts, but also succeeded from a purely entertainment-seeking standpoint. Rubber Tit dragged lofty intellectual concepts from their roosting places down to the Cloister Club floor, where they could actually engage an audience.
Audience participation had a lot to do with Rubber Tit’s success. While the well meaning tactic has added a cheesy, elementary-school feel to many an otherwise interesting performance, Rubber Tit avoided corniness almost entirely. While the tit inflated, Ito wordlessly wrapped her rainbow cord around the feet of a few lucky audience members, this writer included. After extracting the fully-inflated tit from its prison, she spent a few minutes jumping and rolling around in the tit like a child in an enormous beanbag chair; then, to everyone’s surprise, she heaved the tit onto the cross-legged audience members. A sort of volleyball game quickly developed between Ito and the crowd, and before long the tit had made its way around the room. Ten-cent parallels to confronting the sexuality of oneself and others could be drawn from the literally in-your-face tit, but only in retrospect. The show itself was engaging enough that during the performance, the audience did not have to scrape for meaning to justify sitting through boring moments.
That said, some elements of the performance certainly packed more punch than others. The show began with the lights completely dimmed, and with Ito lying in the crate on top of the deflated tit. A camera inside the crate shed light on Ito’s writhing movements by way of a large projection screen at the front of the room. At one point the camera projection overlapped with the silhouette of a Japanese legislator, whom running text revealed as the first Japanese lesbian to come out during office. While certainly relevant to Rubber Tit’s themes, this woman’s story seemed adventitious because of its length and textual medium.
The music of Masa’s jazz saxophone, on the other hand, added immeasurably to the performance. At moments when Ito failed to completely arrest the audience’s attention—mainly during her brief pauses in interacting with the tit—Masa’s excellent playing picked up the slack. Significantly, Masa’s performance didn’t have the feel of being too artsy for the appreciation of novice jazz listeners. As with the tit, Masa’s music may well have expressed heavier themes of sexism and homophobia. However, it was entirely possible, if not easier, for the audience to leave contemplation for a later date, and instead just sit back and enjoy the show.
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