Review – Dogugaeshi at Barbican

Part of London International Mime Festival 2015

Dogugaeshi, Basil Twist (USA) —

Basil Twist's DOGUGAESHI at The Japan Institute

Credit: Richard Termine

Dogugaeshi, or the art of sliding doors, is a Japanese art form that uses painted paper panels to create illusions of depth and perspective. Puppeteer Basil Twist, using over 100 sliding boards, has adopted the technique in his trompe l’oeil mixed media show – a beautiful display of artistic talent, of hallucinatory colours and hypnotic movement.

We witness the display through a letterbox frame whose depth hides a seemingly endless succession of layers. Twist constructs, from intricately detailed and colourful panels, an ever-deepening mise en abyme effect. Many of the panels are recreations of iconic Japanese art: a round, red setting sun that resembles the Japanese flag, the expressive faces of tigers and dragons, seascapes and neverending rooms. As panels slides across the frame, whole new scenes have suddenly appeared behind it. The combination of depth and perspective makes it very difficult to tell whether the painted panels are very small or very far away. It’s probably a combination of both.

Overlaying these drawings are projections, which add a disconcerting fluidity of movement to the otherwise static paintings. Live action projection over a cityscape shows a group of women reminiscing about the art of dogugaeshi, mentioning motifs and symbols that later appear, and have already appeared, in Twist’s show.

There is no narrative. Just a loose succession of softly sliding paper panels. The endless depths are disorienting and Twist imaginatively explores the variation and potential that this art form holds.

Throughout the occasionally slow show, which features a puppet fox seemingly to fill the time while the sliding scenes are prepared, Yumiko Tanaka, sat demurely on a revolving platform that brings her on and off stage, accompanies the performance with a shamisen, a three-stringed instrument like a lute. It adds to the intoxicating effect of this strange show – a suitably uncategorisable finale to the Mime Festival, itself so free form and embracing of all kinds of artistic presentation that it defies the bounds of any one genre.


Barbican until 31 January.

Tim Bano


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