Flatpack Festival
Film for all the senses

Shado Mag: Turning Waste into Beauty

Wednesday 15th May, 2024

Aileen Angsutorn Lees spoke to AV performance duo Usaginingen ahead of their Flatpack performance this Saturday. A beautiful article exploring Shin and Emi's creative practice, art as activism, and the story of their home Teshima island - previously known as "garbage island" before the local community took collective action.

Here's an extract from the article.

Art and Activism
Usaginingen comprises husband Shin and wife Emi. After getting married in Tokyo, they spent time in Berlin where they first started merging visual arts with music. “We always intended to create works that show respect for nature, animals and humans,” Shin tells me. Usaginingen was their way to do this.

They’re continuing their intention at this year’s Flatpack Festival in Birmingham. ‘A Black Kite – Pulsation of Souls’ focuses on the dumping of waste on Teshima. It uses Shin’s fold-down percussion kit and Emi’s handmade video machine to project various images by using prisms, ink, beads and other materials. The live drums, strings and sampled sounds oscillate between harmony and discord against the backdrop of projected colours, lights and shadows as an interpretation of Teshima’s events.

As Shin tells me: “the piece represents the clash of human egos as seen by animals against the waste dumping that has affected our island. With striking visuals and a haunting soundscape featuring custom instruments, the film depicts the harsh reality of environmental abuse and the soul’s thirst for redemption.”

Shin grew up in Kagawa around the same time as the waste was being dumped. But it was not until 2014, when the couple were looking to move back to Japan, that they became aware of its history. During a Setouchi island-hopping trip, Shin was invited on a tour, which was led by one of the residents involved in the campaign. This was when their interest was piqued and their research began – and it still informs the work they’re making today.

“During the production process of our performance of ‘A Black Kite,’ we interviewed islanders involved in the waste issue to hear their stories of that time,” Shin recalls.

But the production had its challenges. Many of the islanders involved in the campaigning had passed away and, according to Shin, those who they spoke to did not say much. “I feel that this tells us that the activities at that time were too tough,” he says. “However, I think it is necessary to tell the history of what was once called a trash island, but is now a very beautiful island.”

It’s clear to me that ‘A Black Kite’ is not just a performance. Oral histories need to be preserved otherwise they risk being forgotten, and art can play a powerful role in this storytelling. Art can also be used as a form of resistance, by helping to raise awareness and to push for change. Shin adds: “We do believe it would be good for the local residents to continue to take pride and pass on that activism.”

Balancing the residents’ pain and trauma with the importance of intergenerational activism is a challenge of many movements, and one that feels close to home. My elders were students in Bangkok during the ‘60s and ‘70s and were involved in the pro-democracy rallies. The student uprising of 1973 led to the end of the military dictatorship and a change in the constitution. But there were violent responses from police and military forces, culminating in the 6th October 1976 massacre in which they killed and lynched over 100 students, and they assaulted, robbed and abused hundreds more. It is a period which my elders do not want to talk about. But it is a movement that we’ve seen continued by this generation of students, with the first wave of pro-democracy protests in Bangkok starting in 2020, and it won’t be the last.

To read the full article visit Shado Mag

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