#22 Kenji Williams

Interview with Toshi Shioya

Kenji Williams is an award winning filmmaker, music producer, theatrical show director, and classically-trained violinist. As the founder and director of BELLA GAIA, he explores the nexus of art and science in his many collaborations with NASA scientists and world-music musicians. We interviewed him about his upcoming show on March 31st, BELLA GAIA: Origin Stories of Japan, which will combine live music, dance, and performance with extraordinary large-format projections of Earth from space.

 

– Speaking of your groundbreaking multimedia project, BELLA GAIA, what made you decide to start this?

Williams:

Meeting with an astronaut, Mike Fincke — that was the beginning. I met him when he came back from the International Space Station: he spoke of his completely transformative experience seeing the Earth, a bubble of life in the blackness of space, a world with no political boundaries. I was moved by this story, it inspired me to begin BELLA GAIA. I was not sure what I was doing, what it would look like, or how to get there, but BELLA GAIA grew organically from that moment.

–You are such a unique artist, not just a performer, please tell us more about yourself.

Williams:

My mother is Japanese, and my father is Welsh. I lived mostly in the U.S., but I was born in Malaysia and also spent time in Japan. But my family is from everywhere, I had a sort of international childhood. My parents came to America when I was three years old, and I attended both a Japanese school and an international school. I spent three years in Japan when I was seven years old, living with my grandmother. I spent another three years in Tokyo when I was an adult, it was a very unique experience. BELLA GAIA is almost an expression of my childhood, my growing up in different cultures, with different languages.

– Please tell us how you met J-COLLABO and about this special project, this new version of BELLA GAIA.

Williams:

I first met Sagaseki-san, then I was invited to collaborate with Hachinohe-san, who is a calligrapher — and also with Paul Miller (DJ Spooky) who is a DJ and my good friend. We did a collaboration at a gallery in New York, and it was fantastic. The Japanese community in New York is very strong, but I thought this was a unique, artist-centered way to bring us together in a new way. I really enjoyed creating this new version of BELLA GAIA.

– Please tell us about your upcoming show on March 31st, BELLA GAIA: Origin Storie