Currently reading : Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic – Scriptura Vitae
Tonight sees the premiere of New York based artist Aerosyn-Lex Mestrovic’s ritual-inspired directorial debut, Scriptura Vitae, showcased as part of Channel 4’s Random Acts, a series of specially commissioned short films straddling the in-between of their late night schedule. The short takes the shape of an epic routine inspired by Butoh, the post-war performance art founded by Japanese dancer and guru Kazuo Ohno, and features actress Miho Nikaido best known for her role in the once banned cult classic, Tokyo Decadence, and original music by DJ and producer Diplo.
The artist spoke to Sang Bleu about the project and his work:
Your work has quite a specific aesthetic that is reminiscent of a very particular artistic style, what would you say were the biggest influences on your development as an artist?
I think I’ve always been drawn to symbols, signifiers, language and to the idea of the icon. There’s a purity to unfettered, unadorned, unabashedly brutal and honest works that resonates with me. A huge influence was my time spent living in Tokyo whilst in school. [French philosopher Roland] Barthes writes about the apparent difference in Japanese visual culture in Empire of Signs. Seeing their reverence and affinity for the symbolic, for the emblematic, that definitely resonated with me a lot.
I graduated from PRATT and that experience really helped to reinforced my conceptual thinking. What I’ve found over the years is that those who hone the craft of creative thinking, and not creative consumption and appropriation, are the ones who excel and succeed.
What draws you to Butoh as an inspiration for the project?
I was having lunch with a great friend, Sebastien Agneessens, and I mentioned [I was having] difficulties in casting and he just said, “You gotta meet my friend Miho.” So, he introduced me to the famed actress Miho Nikaido who’s best known for her starring role in the cult-classic, and for a time banned, Japanese film Tokyo Decadence, written and directed by lauded novelist Ryu Murakami and was scored by Ryuichi Sakamoto of Yellow Magic Orchestra. It was an absolute dream to meet her and to have that direct connection to cinematic history. I mean, everyone I just listed are idols to me. To have a connection to the 80’s-90’s Japanese avant-garde was was truly unbelievable.
I showed her my humble little sketches and talked about my references for the piece and coincidentally we landed on the topic of Butoh. It turned out that Miho had been an apprentice in [founder Kazuo] Ohno’s theater company for 4 years before stumbling into her debut-acting role. At the same time we’d approached an amazing Japanese dancer and Butoh performer, Maki Shinagawa, and had begun to incorporate the performance art into our film. All of these amazing, organic synergies happened all throughout the production process and really made me feel like this was all destined to be.
What made you choose an artist like Diplo to collaborate with on the music over someone perhaps more traditional?
I’m fortunate to have known Diplo for many years and worked with him on music and art projects back before even Hollertronix started, before his first album (Florida, which I designed) dropped. I knew he was capable of a sound totally different than what most people know him for. We both share a love for obscure Psych, Kraut and Prog-Rock, Proto-Electro, weird sound library records, basically we’re both vinyl-nerds. I asked if he could do something totally different than what he’s producing at the moment and he said “sure”.
The ritualistic aspect is something quite core to Butoh, how does such a concept parallel with your own practice as an artist?
I’ve said that I find solace and purpose in my practice of calligraphy. Working on a larger piece becomes a meditative experience. It’s almost a form of autonomous drawing, of muscle-memory and gesture. I’ve always seen a parallel between calligraphy (especially of the Eastern practice) and dance or performance art.
The first Act of the film is also called The Ritual. Many people are familiar with the Japanese Tea Ceremony ( or Cha no Yu ) but calligraphers also have a specific process when beginning new works. This was a central concept of the piece. It’s a ritual that establishes a relationship between the artist and the artwork. For this I looked to Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountian as a reference for how this was framed and shot. Conceptually, these were all elements that just aligned in my head and they felt to be the right way to tell the ethereal, allegorical story I was hoping to convey.
You chose the body as a canvas for your graphic calligraphic work, what kind of affect do you think this has on how it comes across?
In a way I think the body is the original canvas. We can look at primitive cultures and their usage of natural elements, scarification etc. to augment the body’s appearance. There was always something so sacred, spiritual and intentional about this specific kind of writing on the body.
I wanted to pay homage to a film which I’d seen whilst living in Tokyo years ago, Kaidan, is a 1965 screen adaptation of the works of folklorist and author Koziumi Yakumo or Lafcadio Hearn). The image that had been seared into my memory was taken from the short story Mimi Nashi Hoichi (or Hoichi the Earless). In it a blind monk is covered in a buddhist mantra to protect him from visiting demons. The image of calligraphy covering the body in a very specific, ritualistic sort of way was something that I’d never seen before and something that I’d always wanted to reference.
Calligraphy became the driving narrative thread through which the story would be told. The movements of the performers were intended to be directly correlated to the gestures of the artist’s brush. The writing on the performers itself relates back to the film’s title and are latin Psalms of Repentance. The story itself is about the relationship between artist and artwork and the dualities that arise in that relational framework, as well as throughout our own lives.