This year has marked the 200 year anniversary of Emily Bronte’s birth, and following a whole festival of Bronte-celebrations over the last few years it has finally been the middle sister’s turn to shine. In all honesty, this years program has so far been quite disappointing for me, as a Bronte fan I have high expectations. However, the Bronte Society and Museum over in Haworth, Yorkshire seem to be pulling it out of the bag at the last minute with their latest installation.
Stormy House/Arashi no ie was a collaboration between Whitestone Arts, 59 Productions, Brontë Parsonage Museum and Theatre in the Mill which promised to immerse the visitor in the world of Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, in a blend between the uncanny elements of Emily’s novel and Japanese ghost stories. It seemed like a tall order, but there was a sense that this piece opened up a seam of questions which forced the viewer to think differently.
Firstly, this piece created a space for cultural questioning: What does it mean to take a Victorian novel from Yorkshire and place it in a Japanese Tea House setting? Can text’s cross cultures like that? The answer appears to be yes, as even though the language of the text is spoken in different voices, projected in various languages, the narrative is still more than followable. The way the written word was never static, it was always pulsing as though living, gave energy to the whole set. The language itself is alive.
The idea of perspectives in this piece was central, front he setting of the room to the windows of space created between panels to give glimpses to what the outside world might look like. The room was rectangular but with squares cut out of each corner, so that no matter where you stood or sat you could never see every screen in the space. You could never view the whole picture, and it calls into question the idea of seeing everything. Here, just as with Bronte’s novel, there is no way to see everything, to understand everything is impossible. We are forced to look in fragments. Symbols of the piece also acted to enhance this theme, as webs of threads were linked from the corners of the stage to the centre of the space. However, these threads never did anything more than hang side by side, they never even quite reached the floor. So from whose perspective is this story seen, narrated by, and do they even know the whole picture?
What are the consequences of swallowing a soul? This seems like a strange question to end on, but one which is central to this piece. When the narrator states ‘I choose a new soul’, you can’t help but wonder, can we choose our identities in such a frivolous way? Or do we each have multiple souls, various identities that we pick and choose between? These are the kinds of questions the piece raised, leaving them entirely unanswered and delightfully incomprehensible.
Overall, I found this piece to be genuinely thought inspiring as well as provoking. The blend of language, film, theatre, interactive art, and installations made for a unique experience, and I’m more than glad I made the time to visit. Some of the people in the room with me were on their second visits within the space of one week, which says enough about the artwork’s power in itself. This was a real celebration of the diversity and idiosyncrasy of Bronte’s novel, and more than that it was a celebration of cross-cultural arts. Something, I think, we need to see more often.