Two people speak a one-sided conversation of great physical awkwardnesss, the one slowly writhing in his chair, the other imploring his memory repeatedly, yearning to hear him say that he remembers her. A third person will enter this exchange, will disrupt this relationship intending to replace it, and we are told this calmly, explicitly. The stage is set with a series of evocative objects of clean Japanese design, each posing a question that stays with us as we watch: Why is the rock on the turntable? When will the waterglass bubble? What will upset the balance?
Half a century ago, Alain Resnais’ phenomenal Hiroshima, Mon Amour audaciously depicted the anguish of the collapse of a relationship against the memory of one of the world’s most profound tragedies. Today, Toshiki Okada’s cheltfitsch has depicted the performance of the painful end of a relationship against the memory of the destructive 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as explicitly as it references Renais’ sensitive work.
Time’s Journey Through a Room is presented with multiple frames: a narrator who marks out her role for us ahead of each move, so that her performance realises our memory; a couple seemingly engaged in passive-aggressive goading, soon revealed to be the memory of far more tragic a situation; a curtained-off space, a table with chairs, a set of fans and lights, a series of objects.
The repeated appeals to memory, both in Resnais’ film and in this work, are felt not only as persistent awkwardnesses, but as tangible effects on our bodies. The slow and deliberate movements of limbs. The cringe of shoulders. The physicality of unwanted recollection, of unwelcome emotion, of feelings that cannot be let go and long to remain present.
Presence is what is portrayed when the cinema and the theatre ask us to consider time. What is the sensation of presence? What does the present moment feel like? What evokes a presence? How can we dismiss it, how can we experience it, how can we possibly overcome its intensity?
The turntable did spin, the water did bubble, the rock was displaced, the tragedy was remembered, the relationship was renewed. Importantly, sensitively, without conviction, without confidence, but in the only way possible: with the vulnerability of human honesty.
Time’s Journey Through a Room is presented by Arts House and Arts Centre Melbourne 9-12 February 2017 as part of Asia TOPA.
IMAGE: © Misako Shimizu