Backdrop (Japan)


Videoscenic triptych

Videos/Color/Sound/10′ – 4′ – 10′

The backwall of a noh stage is called the kagami-ita, on which a pine tree called the Yōgō no matsu is painted. kagami-ita means “mirror panel”. Whether the play is Noh or Kyōgen, the performance always happens in front of the tree. The reason for the name kagami-ita is generally explained with reference to the “Yōgō no matsu” (pine of the advent), sheltered in Kasuga Taisha shrine in Nara. Yōgō means advent, or coming, of the gods and Buddha. According to the historical explanation, the pine tree of an incarnated god stood behind the audience, and the stage back panel reflected the tree like a mirror. Therefore, the actors were giving a performance to the god, rather than to the audience.

The first video was made on the 19th of October in the compound of Yasukuni Temple in Tokyo, in front of the stage of the outdoor noh theatre, next to the main temple. Originally coming that morning for weather reasons – the typhoon Lan being announced with heavy rains – I found the theater, usually unoccupied, in full preparation for a show. I began to film in a fixed shot the empty stage before the rehearsal. The fragment of music we hear is a sound check of the loudspeakers, arranged on both sides of the stage, off-camera.

The second video was shot on the 29th of October, from my bedroom, in a private traditional house in Kyoto, on a windy morning. The text is directly copy-pasted (one textual element was freely added to the original text) from the synopsis of the play The Well-Curb, found in the programme of the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo.

The third video was shot on the 26th of November in the Zenyoji Temple, in Edogawa, an hour’s train ride north of Tokyo. The temple is famous for housing one of Japan’s oldest pine trees (600-year-old), often compared to the sacred pine of the Kasuga Taisha in Nara, the famous Yōgō no matsu , painted on all noh theaters’ backdrops.

Backdrop (Japan), which was realized during a fifth stay in Japan, is part of the series Backdrop; each piece of the series dialogues and supplements the other ones, on the question of the disclosure of the scenic thinking beyond anthropocentrism. The work stems from the artistic research Deepening the Stage on contemporary theatre and time ecology, in critical dialogue with the notion of Anthropo-s-cene, i.e. the scenic dimension of the Anthropocene (Chaudhuri, 2014). With this piece, I propose a new materialization of my attempt to reformulate the notion of stage, here in dialogue with the Japanese context, through the experience of the cancellation of the separation between the human proscenium and the more-than-human – both biospheric and technological – backstage.

The project was realized during a residency period in Tokyo Arts and Space (Exchange Residency Programme / artist collaborator).