“This is not normal, and it never will be.”
There are three acts in the ephemera trilogy by Kimi Maeda: “The Homecoming,” “The Crane Wife,” and “Bend.” The truth of the matter, however, is that “Bend” alone is worth the price of admission, making the first two visually stunning, strikingly creative pieces gifts of light and beauty. The recommendation is to make the ephemera trilogy a priority; it is breathtaking, both for the bold and open approach to its subject and the subtle beauty of its expression.
For the first piece, “The Homecoming,” Maeda approaches the art of storytelling using colorful cut-out murals that she sets apart from her curtain canvas, using a simple flashlight to bring a poetic tale to life. The effect is like animation in real time, with the swirling, playful-but-controlled movement of light through colored film creating an effect that feels both innovative and charmingly old-fashioned.
For “The Crane Wife,” Maeda uses more traditional shadow play, bringing herself into the telling and creating, in a couple of cases, truly mind-boggling effects. As parables go, this is as traditional as they get—a simple story of love, trust, and the inevitability of human folly to keep us from our true happiness. Though simple on the surface, this and “The Homecoming” carry layers of history for Maeda, as they are explorations of her mother’s experience emigrating from Japan and her experience growing up both Japanese and American.
“Bend” is something else entirely. It’s historical, biographical, personally intimate and of incredible social import at this point in the United States’ story. It is the story of two men, one a half-Japanese artist who grows up in Japan and the other a Japanese American boy in the US, whose path cross at the Poston War Relocation Center in Arizona. An image of the stage from above is projected in real time on the simple backdrop. That camera will follow Maeda’s movements as she creates a series of paintings and sculptures in sand, images that accompany the larger story as it is told
That larger story encompasses interviews with Maeda’s father/grandfather about his time in the camp, a lesson in art history focusing on the work of Isamu Noguchi, on the history of the Japanese in America—including a clip of the pop culture icons The Three Stooges to show how ingrained the prejudice against the Japanese was—and discussion of the Leave Clearance Application Form*, a confusing and heavily charged “loyalty questionnaire” that male internees were forced to fill out, the consequences of which could have landed them in active combat or prison depending on their answers.
As the saying goes, “If you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention.” Without even going into the details about life in an internment camp and showing little of the footage that exists of such places, Maeda’s narration is powerful and affecting. The whole performance is mesmerizing. In her own words, she uses “shadow puppets to highlight the disconnection between how we see ourselves and how others see us.” Her use of simultaneous sand drawing and archival footage in “Bend” is how she discusses with the audience her feelings about the persistent “fragility of memory.”
With the recent socio-political backward slide, the talk of Muslim registration and separating different kinds of people from others, “Bend” commands us to look at one of our country’s most shameful moments and learn from that generation’s mistakes. We may think of ourselves as more savvy and informed than our forebears, but we are still a species that can be driven by fear to commit acts of hate. We need to be better, or risk losing what makes us human and, yes, what makes us great. the ephemera trilogy is something better.
the ephemera trilogy
playing at The Tank Mainstage,
151 W. 46th Street
Through March 12, 2017
Photo credit: Kirk Murphy
* • “Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty wherever ordered?”
• “Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign or domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese emperor, to any other foreign government, power or organization?”