August 26th, 2005

operesque

Wannabe Asians

Well, should I title this entry Edinburgh is (almost) a city in Asia or Fashion Goth bis? Yesterday Hisae and I met my friend Suzy off the London train and took her to our favourite Edinburgh restaurant for lunch, Bonsai. The kitchen staff there are really Japanese, and the food is pretty much what you'd get in Japan. The Asian-flavoured stuff we've been seeing on the Festival, on the other hand, is the artistic equivalent of a Japanese restaurant owned and run by Westerners: a kind of Asian-fusion art made by non-Asians (should we call them—us—"aspiring Asians"? "Wannabe Asians"?). First there was the Russian film about the Japanese emperor, then the Mexican silent film presented as if it were being shown in Japan. Then, last night, the dance piece based on the Ring trilogy.

Darren Johnston, the choreographer, video artist and sound designer behind Ren-Sa, is British. But his imagination has clearly been encamped (so to speak) by the spooky, beautiful witches of the Ring films directed by Hideo Nakata. (Read the history of the films here.) I can totally understand that: I too was blown away by these films at the Edinburgh Festival back in 2000. "These films (I'd recommend parts one and two, but not the prequel, Ring 0) were so scary I was in tears throughout, but maybe that's because they got me missing my girlfriend," I wrote at the time.

Darren Johnston's tribute was also scary, although this time only to my girlfriend. Once we'd been ferried in darkened mini-buses to a warehouse out at Granton (I know because there was a tiny chink in the tarpaulin), the audience was ushered into a big smoky dark hall and encouraged to cluster behind a circular mesh curtain, behind which the action took place. Sadako and Samara themselves emerged out of the ground (they'd been lying in sand) and did their familiar lame vindictive twitch-walk, hidden behind cascades of hair. But it was a bit like the Thriller video; all too soon beats began and the horror turned into synchronised choreography routines. Hisae still managed to cower in horror (it was Suzy she hid behind, not me) each time "Samara" came rushing up to the curtain, and it was rather disconcerting to see the spooky child mere inches from your face, her (or was it his?) rigid mask staring through the thin curtain into your eyes.

But I wasn't scared. Oh no! I was too busy watching the video, which looked like multi-screen CCTV footage of Sadako's asylum, or some kind of fashion goth reality TV show. The highlight of the piece was when two more witches rose suddenly out of the sand and struck hideous postures under a staccato Morse Code strobe light, as the music shrieked and roared and scary children's voices filled the warehouse. We were then bundled back into the blacked-out buses and driven back to town. Actually, the most disturbing thing about Ren-Sa is that there are no toilets out at the warehouse. We all returned to the land of the living with desperately full bladders.

Much more impressive, for me, was Teaming, the art show about collaboration we saw at Embassy Gallery earlier in the day, which contained film of The Boyle Family's 1965 destructo-art happening at the ICA. I'd just written about Mark Boyle in a big article about the history of VJing I did for the Adobe website, and described this action from accounts on the web. To see film of the event I'd only imagined was indeed a thriller.