“The foehn effect is a phenomenon weather created by the meeting of the atmospheric circulation and relief when a prevailing wind is driven over a mountain range and down the other side after drying of the water vapour content. The name comes from the foehn, a strong, hot and dry wind that occurs in parts of Europe”.*
I never thought I’d be so emotionally moved by a bunch of plastic bags. At the beginning of NonNova’s L’Apres-midi d’un foehn*, a tall trench-coated man spends about ten minutes cutting up two plastic bags to create a humanoid figure with two arms and two legs before leaving it prostrate in the middle of a circle. Then, as fans around the edge slowly get switched on, it begins twitching. The air is pumped out, and suddenly this baby plastic-bag-man struggles to get up, like a Bambi made out of crude oil. The following 20 minutes are completely magical.
What we are treated to is a Swan Lake in plastic, a Fantasia made from the remnants of a shopping trip. Two bags learn to dance together. A third comes in and they battle for the attentions of the first. Though we can see the fans are being controlled using a simple device on a table, they take on personalities of their own. The music of Debussy lilts then booms in the background, accompanying this ethereal airborne ballet.
Suddenly, dozens of shapes enter the ring as the man pulls them from his coat and allows them to open up mid-fall. They come together and move apart, then gang up on their master. They make a sound like the soft swaying of waves on a beach, but look like the ocean crashing against cliffs.
Even though L’Apres-midi is only really a group of inanimate objects shifted around by a light breeze, the interaction between them and the man in the trench coat somehow says a great deal about power in numbers. He is a powerful, domineering figure, but they take him on. They help each other out.
This could get tiresome, but there are just enough twists and new elements to keep it interesting the whole way through, which never stop delighting as we try and work out the mechanics of the whole thing. It’s simply beautiful, and L’Apres-midi is as full as hope and despair as anything I’ve seen in the past year.
*According to a Google-translated Wikipedia page.
L’Apres-midi d’un foehn is at Summerhall until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit Edinburgh Festival.