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Akira Takayama on McDonald’s Radio University, Heterotopia, and Wagner Project


By Insun Woo

Published on February 26, 2022

        Akira Takayama (b. 1969) is a theater director and multidisciplinary artist. After studying theater and linguistics in Germany, Takayama moved to Japan where he founded the theater collective Port B in 2002. Since then, the collective has continuously pushed the boundaries of existing theatrical frameworks, producing installations, tour performances, and social experiments in urban spaces that require audience participation. The scope of his work has broadened in recent years to include diverse fields such as visual art, tourism, urban planning, literature, and mass media. He has made work for cities across the world including Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Abu Dhabi, Athens, Beirut, Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels, Yokohama, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Vienna, Riga, and Tokyo.

Takayama’s major works include McDonald’s Radio University (2017 - ), Wagner Project (2017 - ), Tokyo School Excursion Project (2017 - ), Heterotopia (2013 - ), Referendum Project (2011 - ), Tokyo Trunk Room (2020), Our Songs – Sydney Kabuki Project (2018), The Complete Manual of Evacuation (2010 - 2014), and Compartment City (2009 - 2011). He has participated in major exhibitions, including Aichi Triennale (2019), Biennale of Sydney (2018), Sharjah Biennial (2017), Roppongi Crossing organized by Mori Art Museum (2016), Maison Hermès (2015), and Yokohama Triennale (2014).

In early February, I had the pleasure of speaking with Akira about three of his major projects: McDonald’s Radio University (2017 - ), Heterotopia (2013 - ), and Wagner Project (2017 - ). McDonald's Radio University is a project that transforms branches of McDonald's into universities. The professors, who are refugees and immigrants, share their expertise with students, customers at McDonald’s, through lectures broadcast on radios. Heterotopia is a project that investigates otherness in urban spaces; taking on different forms in each city, the project relies on technology, such as mobile apps and radios, and transportation to engage participants in the different layers of a city. The Wagner Project is a “performance” that expands the concept of performance in modern theater by connecting Richard Wagner’s opera Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to hip hop.

McDonald’s Radio University (2017 - )


1. Radio used in Akira Takayama’s McDonald’s Radio University. Frankfurt, Germany. 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Masahiro Hasunuma.

Insun Woo: Let's start with McDonald's Radio University (2017 - ). You shared in the talk you gave in 2018 at the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA) that this project stemmed from multiple experiences you had over a long time, but could you point out a few of the key moments that led to McDonald's Radio University?

Akira Takayama: In 2017, I was asked by Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Frankfurt to work on the refugee issue. At the time, a lot of refugees were entering Europe, and especially Germany, so theaters and museums were interested in working with them on the issue. At first, I thought that I don't have the right to work on it since I was just a tourist. But I saw works in theaters that addressed the refugee issue. Refugees were on the stage performing as refugees, and the audience was watching. I thought that it was too direct and thought that it was important to find a way to deal with the issue in a different way.

I was also reminded of the time when I had to stay away from home and wander the streets of Tokyo because I was blackmailed and had to escape. During that time, I stayed in McDonald’s or in Internet Cafes across the city. I was one of the so-called "McDonald’s refugees” or “Internet Cafe refugees,” and I saw many others in my situation. I thought that I could perhaps connect my problem with the refugees I saw in Germany.

It was at an airport on my way to Frankfurt from Athens that I came up with an idea. There is a project called Potteries Thinkbelt by Cedric Price [editor’s note: Published in 1966, the unrealized project proposed that universities be built along a railroad that stretched across one hundred square meters in North Staffordshire, England. This mobile network would decentralize university education]. The project is one of my favorites, and I thought that I could connect the project with the refugee issue. When refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and countries in Africa come into Europe, they enter Greece. They then travel through the Balkan route. From Greece, they go through countries like Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Austria to reach Germany or countries further north. I thought that the Balkan route could be transformed into a network of universities, like the Potteries Thinkbelt.


I thought that the Balkan route [of migration into Europe] could be transformed into a network of universities.



I did many interviews with refugees, and they told me that they often use McDonald's because they can charge their phones, use wifi, get food, and communicate with others. It's a kind of a safety net for them. Since there are many McDonald’s on the Balkan route, I thought that if they transform into universities, they would collectively form a Thinkbelt—the European Thinkbelt.


I did many interviews with refugees, and they told me that they often use McDonald's because they can charge their phones, use wifi, get food, and communicate with others. It's a kind of a safety net for them.



I.W.: I see. You mentioned that you were uncomfortable with the theater pieces you saw earlier in Germany. Is that why you continued to use radios in your subsequent iterations of McDonald's Radio University? I wonder if you ever considered other media or formats like video lectures or workshops.

A.T.: Interesting question. Actually, that decision came from a technical point. When we did the first version in Frankfurt, we had to go through a long negotiation process with McDonald’s. At first, Mousonturm was hesitant to even collaborate with McDonald’s, since it’s a capitalistic company, and many people who come to the theater don’t want to be associated with it. But, Matthias Pees, the intendant of Mousonturm, agreed with me and with the project. That’s how we started the negotiations with McDonald’s. At first, they didn't give us permission. They were worried that the project would cause discomfort to the customers. So, I came up with an idea to use the radio. Since only our students, who would be given portable radios to tune into the lecture, would be aware of the project, other customers would not be bothered by it. McDonald’s approved of this format and gave us permission. So, radios were a way to navigate these restrictions.


When we did the first version in Frankfurt, we had to go through a long negotiation process with McDonald’s.



2. Professor Fusein in Akira Takayama’s McDonald’s Radio University. Frankfurt, Germany. 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Masahiro Hasunuma.

I.W.: So that requirement from McDonald’s still holds today. I noticed that the projects you did in Tokyo (2018) and Kanazawa (2019) were set in a gallery and museum respectively. What did it mean for you to bring Radio University, which was initially conceived for a real McDonald’s in the city, into a gallery setting?

A.T.: In Tokyo, I did the exhibition at MISA SHIN Gallery (2018), where I’m represented, and in a real McDonald’s in the Mori Building in the frame of Roppongi Art Night 2019. Mami Kataoka, Director of Mori Art Museum, had invited me to the event. Since the McDonald’s in the Mori Building is the biggest in Japan, holding live lectures would be complicated. For example, if we decided a specific time to start the lectures, then people would have to come at that time, and distributing radios would be quite difficult. So, the exhibition at MISA SHIN Gallery (2018) was a nice way to introduce the project to visitors before the one at a real McDonald’s took place. At the gallery, visitors could scan QR codes using their phones and select the lectures they were interested in. Many people could experience and understand what McDonald’s Radio University is. It was important for me that the audience understand what the project is.

As for the project at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (2019): they actually collected McDonald’s Radio University, which was very nice and important for me. They didn’t buy an installation but an agreement that outlined how to make McDonald’s Radio University come alive. This was really exciting.

3. Installation view of Akira Takayama’s McDonald’s Radio University at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. Kanazawa, Japan. 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.

I.W.: That’s beautiful news. Can you recall any memorable reactions from the students at McDonald’s Radio University over the years?

A.T.: Yes. Some people were offended by this project. They didn’t understand how I could connect an important issue like the refugee issue to a capitalistic company like McDonald’s. I understand. McDonald’s company reputation is not pristine. Others were upset because, to them, it felt like I was using the refugees for my work. It’s true in some sense; I work with refugees, and this could mean that I “used” them in my work after all. Yet, at the same time, I really wanted theater- and museum-goers to visit McDonald’s. I believe there is a sense of reality in a McDonald's that is more intense than in a theater or a museum.


I believe there is a sense of reality in a McDonald's that is more intense than in a theater or a museum.



With this project, I really wanted to mix, or upset, the audience room. Setting it up in a McDonald’s achieved that intent because its workers and customers come from diverse backgrounds. It’s a multicultural space. To exaggerate a little bit, I thought that this is the future of theater. I don't believe that I'm necessarily doing the “correct” thing in my projects, but I'm more interested in opening and entering the contradiction of society.

4. Professor Awal in Akira Takayama’s McDonald’s Radio University. Frankfurt, Germany. 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Masahiro Hasunuma

I.W.: I listened to a couple of lectures on the website for the Brussels version, and I think one of the powerful things for the students is the reminder that the professors, who are grouped into this category of “refugee,” are people who have expertise and had professions before they were pushed out of their home countries. What were the reactions of the refugees to taking up the role of professors for this project?

A.T.: When refugees enter Germany, they have to learn the German language and customs. Sometimes, I’d ask them “who are you?” and some would answer, “I’m B1,” which is a level of German language proficiency denoted by the Goethe Institute. In Germany, they always have to stay in the position of a student, and they have to be good students. Otherwise, they would have to leave. They often don't have the chance to teach something to others, especially to Germans.


In Germany, [refugees] always have to stay in the position of a student, and they have to be good students.



Identity is very performative, and I thought that it’s unfair that refugees are not allowed to play other identities. I wondered, how can we change it? An answer was to flip the roles. Refugees would teach, and the hosts would learn. We conversed extensively with all participants before starting so that refugees could understand what they would be doing in the project, and those who didn’t like the project didn’t participate. Not all of the professors shared their impressions with me but those who did said that they liked it and that it was a very fresh experience, like opening a window and getting fresh air. They could remember who they were back home.


Identity is very performative, and I thought that it’s unfair that refugees are not allowed to play other identities. I wondered, how can we change it? An answer was to flip the roles. Refugees would teach, and the hosts would learn.



I.W.: Right. I wanted to ask this question after hearing about the Heterotopia project, but I feel compelled to ask it right now. In an interview you did in 2017 at the Performing Arts Network Japan, in response to a question that asked about your questioning of whether it's better to be an activist or an artist, you shared that “if I was going to do theater, it is better for me to separate myself from actual politics and, rather, [...] turn my ears toward the people in the world who are in danger of being alienated from the present. That, I felt, was truer to the nature of theater, and I feel that if theater is to have political influence, it should be performed in places out of the reach of political power.” Have your thoughts about theater and your work changed since then? If you were asked this question today, how would you respond?

A.T.: My response remains the same. I still believe so.

I.W.: I feel like it's quite tricky to stay out of the reach of politics, especially when you are working with communities like refugees. How do you do it?

A.T.: “Refugee” is a concept of politics. People can move from one place to another, but if they don't have passports or had to escape from their countries, they are identified by others—not themselves—as refugees. So, how can they be free from that? Hans Thies Lehmann, a theater researcher, mentioned in his book, Erschütterte Ordnung – Das Modell Antigone (The Antigone Model), that the limit of politics is time. Politics can control the living, but not the dead and the people who are not yet born. This sentence is very important to me because I used to think that politics don't have any limits. Lehmann’s words opened my eyes. I then thought that theater, or art, could go into those fields politics can’t reach.

There’s a Japanese saying that I really like. It’s on the lines of “lie, or fiction, becomes truth,” in English. Theater and art are fictional. But sometimes, they become a function of the city, which is true and real. That is my strategy. I make work in the city that becomes a real function of the city, like McDonald’s Radio University. There are 9000 franchises of McDonald’s in Japan, and if I can install the Radio University lectures in each, then I cannot say that the project is fiction.


Theater and art are fictional. But sometimes, they become a function of the city, which is true and real. That is my strategy.



5. Radio used in Akira Takayama’s McDonald’s Radio University. Frankfurt, Germany. 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Masahiro Hasunuma

Heterotopia (2013 - )


I.W.: Your mentioning of the city nicely transitions to your Heterotopia (2013 - ) projects. Heterotopia is a concept discussed by Michel Foucault. What is your understanding of it, and why did you find this concept compelling and relevant?

A.T.: I think the essay written by Foucault is not so clear, and people don't understand what Heterotopia is because it is very loosely defined. That's why I think Foucault didn't publish the essay for a long time. It's good for me because I have read the essay many many times, but each time I found something new. So my interpretation differs each time. When I work on the Heterotopia project in a city, I always try to find or invent a heterotopia in it. Each city has a different heterotopia. There is no one answer, and that is the fun part.


Each city has a different heterotopia. There is no one answer, and that is the fun part.



I.W.: How do you go about your research? I believe you work with a team of local researchers, art practitioners, and even architects, but you also do research yourself, walking around the city like a flâneur. How do you go about getting lost in the city? What are the advantages of working from the position of a tourist?

A.T.: Getting lost in the city is a very difficult task. Like what Walter Benjamin said in Berlin Childhood: “Not to find one's way around a city does not mean much. But to lose one's way in a city, as one loses one's way in a forest, requires some schooling.” I agree with it. So, how can I get lost in a city in a way that is productive? When I find a heterotopia, I feel that I am lost. Heterotopia has two meanings. One is a totally different thing, a totally-different-topia. The other is a mixed place, a mixed-topia. When I started the Heterotopia project, I was interested in the former. But now, I'm more interested in the mixed-topia, like McDonald’s; the eating space of McDonald’s is totally mixed.

6. Akira Takayama, Heterotopia Tokyo, 2013. Tokyo, Japan. Image courtesy of the artist.

I.W.: Is a heterotopia different from, or related to, our daily lives?

A.T.: It depends on the case, I think. Some heterotopias are totally separated from our world. Sometimes it can be very attractive or even mysterious. There are these sorts of heterotopias in Abu Dhabi, for example, like the fish market or the shisha cafe. They are of another world that is separated from “us.” They have their own sense of living. In comparison, a bus station is not separated from our lives and people from all kinds of backgrounds pass through it. It is a type of mixed-topia. I liked it a lot, so I selected the bus station as a topia.


There are these sorts of heterotopias in Abu Dhabi, for example, like the fish market or the shisha cafe. They are of another world that is separated from “us.” They have their own sense of living. In comparison, a bus station is not separated from our lives and people from all kinds of backgrounds pass through it. It is a type of mixed-topia.



I.W.: You said that Abu Dhabi’s shisha cafes or the fish market are separated from “us.” Who is this “us” for you?

A.T.: I envisioned the audience of Heterotopia Abu Dhabi (2019) as the audience of Abu Dhabi Art.

I.W.: I wish I could have seen the project; I was away when it happened. In the very first Heterotopia project, which happened in Tokyo in 2013, you used radios. But a mobile app was used in the Abu Dhabi version. How did the idea of using a mobile app start?

A.T.: Technology is an important element in Heterotopia projects, and the technology I use depends on the city. In Riga, I used the radio because Riga, or Latvia, is very famous for radios, which were used by the Soviet Union. In Abu Dhabi, it was quite obvious that I’d have to use an app, since most people carry smartphones. The city’s people, structures, and history inform my choice of technology.


In Abu Dhabi, it was quite obvious that I’d have to use an app, since most people carry smartphones.



7. Akira Takayama, Heterotopia Abu Dhabi, 2019. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Image courtesy of the artist.

Transportation also gives me a lot of information about how the city is composed, and what kind of lives the people are living in the city. I observe the city to decide what kind of transportation I should use in the project. In Taipei, I used motorcycle taxis. In Riga, I used bicycles and walking. In Abu Dhabi, I used cars, because many people commute in cars. Currently, I'm collaborating with Tokyo Metro to develop an app, which will be launched maybe next month. People can use the app on the metro. It will give people a kind of direction to play with the city.

I.W.: I think it would be helpful for the readers to know about collaborators in the project. Who do you collaborate with and how does it happen?

A.T.: The history of the cities or neighborhoods gives me the direction about which authors to collaborate with. As for Heterotopia Piraeus (2017): Piraeus is a port city. It is the most important port in Greece, and people come in and out of the country through the port. This history of migration in Piraeus made me think that I have to collaborate with authors who are not in their home countries. For example, I collaborated with Rabih Mroué, a Lebanese actor, director, playwright, and artist. He used to live in Beirut, but he now lives in Berlin. I also collaborated with Kyoo Lee, a Korean author who lives in New York and is a professor at City University of New York.


8. Mobile application used for Akira Takayama’s Heterotopia Piraeus. Piraeus, Greece. 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Vaggelis Lainas

I.W.: Letting the city guide your process of creating. Beautiful. Before we move on to the Wagner Project, is there anything else about Heterotopia you’d like to share?

A.T.: There is one thing I’d like to share. I really hope that the project will become a part of the urban environment. That it will not just remain an artwork but rather become a tool to find different layers of the city. For now, Heterotopia is an artwork, but it’s becoming bigger and bigger, like in the case of the collaboration with Tokyo Metro. Eventually, people won't even recognize whether it's an artwork or not. It will be like a function of the city. I really hope that the many people who use Tokyo Metro can also play with the app and discover other Tokyo’s as they do that.


Eventually, people won't even recognize whether it's an artwork or not.



Wagner Project (2017 - )


9. Open Mic during Wagner Project Yokohama. Yokohama, Japan. 2017. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Naoya Hatakeyama.

I.W.: The Wagner Project (2017 - ) seems to be quite different from your previous projects, like Heterotopia and McDonald’s Radio University, in that it is made for the theater. How did the Wagner Project start?

A.T.: Since around 2009, I have paused my theater work and have mostly been working in cities. But the Kanagawa Arts Theatre asked me to make work for the theater. I accepted it and started to think about what I should do. I wanted to respond to the history of theater.

Wagner is one of the most important people who directed the course of modern theater. He invented the architecture of how to behave in theater. In Wagner's Bayreuth Festspielhaus, the lights in the audience room are turned off during the performance. This was a new tradition in theaters of the time. Also, the audience room is narrow and there are no aisles. It was a message to the audience not to go outside during the performance. The orchestra box is buried underground and is not visible to the audience. The presence of the orchestra between the stage and the audience was regarded as “noise”. In other words, Wagner made the theater a device for concentration and immersion. That’s why Wagner is considered the perfectionist of modern theater, and I believe we are still under his influence.

At the time, people were already preparing for Tokyo Olympics 2020. I think that festivals like the Tokyo Olympics are very much Wagnerian because they are highly centralized. Tokyo is the center of Japan, and the Olympics are centralized and concentrated. I thought that this is a bit of an old way of thinking and that we have to change it. Since Wagner is a founder of this kind of system, I decided to work on Wagner by creating an anti-Wagner festival in Yokohama, which is next to Tokyo.


I think that festivals like the Tokyo Olympics are very much Wagnerian because they are highly centralized.



I.W.: Is that why you decided to bring hip-hop into your work?

A.T.: There are several reasons, and the biggest one is that I selected Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, which is an opera by Wagner, as a work to respond to. In the opera, singers on the street compete with each other. As I wondered who might be the fighters on the street in our time, I thought of hip-hop stars and rappers. They have all kinds of battles: MCs, dance battles, and so on. Also, hip-hop is often referred to as “opera on the street.” So I thought that it would be good to connect Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg to hip-hop.

The second reason was that Wagner tried to gather the many different elements into a centralized whole, which he called Gesamtkunstwerk. I think the most interesting inheritance of Gesamtkunstwerk is hip-hop, which consists of four elements: DJ, rap, breakdance, and graffiti. It deals with music, words, body, and images. Wagner also wanted to incorporate all the elements of music, words, body, and images, but he aimed to integrate them on stage, and the audience was supposed to concentrate, immerse, and assimilate into the world. To achieve this, Wagner built Bayreuth Festspielhaus to perform only his own operas. However, hip-hop, the other "opera of the streets," does not attempt to integrate the four elements, but allows each one to stand on its own. I see in this looseness of connection, scattered enjoyment, and playful disjointedness the possibility of easily overcoming Wagner's association with fascism, as well as the modern attitude that unconditionally favors integration and concentration.


Hip-hop, the other "opera of the streets," does not attempt to integrate the four elements, but allows each one to stand on its own. 


10. Final presentation of Wagner Project, Frankfurt. Frankfurt, Germany. 2019. Image courtesy of the artist. Photo by Jeannette Petri.

I.W.: If elements are not centralized and controlled, how would you define your role in the Wagner Project? When I think of a conventional theater director, I see someone who makes decisions—about the cast, the plot, stage lights and sounds, and so on. So, would you not call yourself a director?

A.T.: Very interesting. Normally people think that directing is to decide and guide actors,  elements like lights, sounds, and costumes on stage. A fixed performance is formed from months of rehearsals. Then, the performance is reproduced on the stage every time. I'm not a big fan of that kind of process. Reproducing is not my work here. I wanted to expand the concept of performance from a reproducible fixed performance on the stage to the performance which happens now and here. In the Wagner Project and in other projects as well, I try to prepare the environment or the starting point or the platform for the audience—which can sometimes include the performers themselves since sometimes the line between the two gets blurry—to develop the projects by themselves. What occurs in the frame of the project is the content of the performance.


In the Wagner Project and in other projects as well, I try to prepare the environment or the starting point or the platform for the audience who can develop the projects by themselves.



I.W.: What you said reminds me of Monoha [editor’s note: Monoha is an art movement that emerged in Tokyo in the 1960s and 70s; artists placed natural and man-made objects in certain environments to draw attention to the relationship between the two]. Many artists of the movements envisioned themselves as mediators, instead of as creators. Have you read essays by Lee Ufan, and would you say that you’re influenced by them?

A.T.: I read these essays, and I was very much impressed, but I wouldn’t say that my attitude or thinking comes from Monoha. But I find what you said very interesting because the form of outputs is so different between my work and Monoha. Mine involves hip-hop and the output is very chaotic, while Monoha is minimal and restrained visually. It’s nice to think about my work and Monoha in this way. Thank you.

I.W.: No, thank you! Let’s speak about the current Wagner Project at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa. How is it going?

A.T.: It's the first time for me to do the Wagner Project in a museum. It's a nice experience and it's going well.

11. Akira Takayama, Wagner Project, Kanazawa. Kanazawa, Japan. 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

I.W.: How is it different from the previous projects?

A.T.: Previous Wagner Projects took place for about nine to ten days, but this time, we’re doing it for a whole month, so the tension is more relaxed. When I work in the theater, I always feel pressure that I have to show something to the audience. I’d love to break out of this kind of obsession, but I still do feel it especially when the audience is right in front of me. But, in a museum, videos and archives are installed, so people can enjoy the project by themselves. Instead of lives or concerts, there are lectures, workshops, talks, and symposiums. It’s like a learning place, and I enjoy it.

I.W.: I see that learning is a key aspect in the Wagner Project. As you mention in your statement, just as the Wagner Project decentralizes the structure of modern theater, it decentralizes that of modern education. Instead of having a teacher in front of students relaying information, like in a traditional school classroom, participants learn collectively. For the current edition, how did you manage to bring this aspect in?

A.T.: The Wagner Project is the "look" of a school, but it also has the aspect of a real school. This is because the senior members of the hip hop community who are active on the front lines gather to share their knowledge and skills as instructors. Specifically, lectures, workshops, talks, and live performances are held, and MC battles and dance battles are held with the participants. The participants may be "guests" at first, but they are expected to become "hosts" and help run the event. This is because the Wagner Project is not only a place for appreciation but also a place where they can participate and create.

This is an important aspect of the future of the Wagner Project. It has been a long time since we heard about the collapse of the educational field, but the Wagner Project asks the question of whether it can function as an alternative to the school, and aims to eventually become such a "school. The school as a modern invention is also characterized as a device of concentration and assimilation invented by Wagner. There is a podium, there is a teacher, and the students must sit in chairs in silence and concentrate on the class. The school was the place for such training, where the body and mind were created to live in modern times, to fight wars, and to compete in capitalist society. It is clear from just looking at the timetables, regular tests, and architectural features that many of today's schools are an extension of this. How many people become delinquents or stop attending school because they are unable to adapt to such schools?


The Wagner Project is not only a place for appreciation but also a place where they can participate and create.



What I would like to focus on is the inherent learning potential of hip-hop. It is said to have originated in New York City in the 1970s. In the South Bronx, which was devastated by the failure of urban planning, children began to play games that became DJ, rap, breakdance, and graffiti. It was music, poetry, dance, and painting invented by the have-nots who brought what they had and played with it. There were no teachers and no classrooms. As friends played with each other, they developed play techniques and imitated each other's gestures, and in a few decades, they grew into a culture that would change the world. Moreover, the tools of play were not musical instruments, which were expensive and required teachers, but "instruments" such as boom boxes, turntables, words, bodies, and spray cans. The game spread to children from all over the city (many of whom must have been uncomfortable in the streets or schools, or minorities of immigrant or refugee origins), and they imitated, learned, and mastered the techniques and gestures of hip hop, transcending divisions of nationality, religion, ethnicity, class, and race. The gestures of hip hop brought together and connected people who had never met before. That’s why it has spread all over the world and become an innovative culture. I would like to bet on the learning potential that lies there. This is where the Wagner Project is headed, the coming "school without a school".

I.W.: What are some memorable moments you had in the past iterations of the Wagner Project?

A.T.: In the Wagner Project at Mousonturm in Frankfurt, the participants continued to work as Wagner Crew even after the performance was over, and ended up having their own event at Mousonturm.

I.W.: Going back to your mention of videos and archives—what are your thoughts on how your work is documented?

A.T.: Actually, I was not interested in that before. But Tadashi Kawamata, a Japanese artist, told me that it’s not good to think that way and that artists have to be responsible for documenting their work. He gave me an opportunity to start thinking about the archiving of my work. Now I’m interested in making books or films as document, but to tell you the truth, I’m more interested in transforming my works into the function of the city. Then, I don't have to archive it or even document it.


To tell you the truth, I’m more interested in transforming my works into the function of the city. Then, I don't have to archive it or even document it.



I.W.: Right. Once it's in the fabric of the city, then you don't need to archive it because it will always be part of it and people’s daily lives.

A.T.: Maybe in the future, people will say to each other that “this (a project that by then will be a function of the city) was actually started as an artwork by some individual.”

I.W.: Absolutely. Last but not least: the pandemic has impacted the arts tremendously. How do you see theater, in general, moving forward with the impact of the pandemic?

A.T.: The pandemic has had a huge impact. One of the important elements of theater is to gather but the pandemic refused this possibility. But I also think that it's a good opportunity for theater and me to think of alternative ways to bring people together. One alternative is, like in some of my Heterotopia projects, creating a mobile application. Though people won’t gather physically, they are together in gesture or action. For instance, in Heterotopia Tokyo, though people will not be visiting the spots together, they might see another person using the app. Then, they can imagine that they are together with that person, which may lead to the discovery of a layer of heterotopia.


Akira Takayama (b. 1969) is a theater director and multidisciplinary artist. After studying theater and linguistics in Germany, Takayama moved to Japan where he founded the theater collective Port B in 2002. Since then, the collective has continuously pushed the boundaries of existing theatrical frameworks, producing installations, tour performances, and social experiments in urban spaces that require audience participation. The scope of his work has broadened in recent years to include diverse fields such as visual art, tourism, urban planning, literature, and mass media. He has made work for cities across the world including Taipei, Hong Kong, Seoul, Abu Dhabi, Athens, Beirut, Berlin, Frankfurt, Brussels, Yokohama, Kanazawa, Kyoto, Vienna, Riga, and Tokyo.

Click to visit Port B’s website (also available in English) and Instagram.

Insun Woo is a student at New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) where she is pursuing a BA in Art & Art History and a minor in Arabic. Her interest lies in contemporary art curation, arts education, and youth empowerment. Her current and past experience includes writing for Global Art Daily and Canvas Magazine, participating in the Summer College Workshop 2021 at the Guggenheim Museum, and interning at for- and non-profit organizations for the empowerment of youth.