Saturday, 30 July 2011

A Few Thoughts On The Edinburgh Festival 2011

There's a great deal of oriental work in the EIF this year. I'm not complaining - I rely on artistic director Jonathan Mills to book a bunch of stuff I have never seen and give atrocious speeches about them. And it is well within the spirit of the Festival. Set up after World War II, it is all about emphasising the potential for understanding between cultures that art offers.

I'm pretty gung-ho to see Princess Bari  - choreographer Eun-Me Ahn reckons that "The History of Korea and the Princess' life are much alike," which has me thinking about the universality of art and the way that it is shaped by culture. I am also very excited by the Festival of China, which includes Qing Cheng, and they have given me a braw interview. And Mill's little tag this year, that he'll be repeating every five minutes, notes how the usual fuss made around eastern art as something other is, thankfully, a little more sophisticated.

But I had better have my doubt now.

There is a far bit of of Chinese work. China has been very keen to spread their culture around the world just lately. I like that. But China has a bloody atrocious human rights' record and I am hoping that this doesn't get forgotten. There is an argument that art and politics, like sport and politics, should be separate.

That's utter bullshit when it's the government that pays for the tours. And far too many artists have been over to China for a cultural exchange lately. As a critic, I have been very lax in not asking them whether they considered the political implications of what they are doing. I am happy if the artists can allay my concerns, but I won't be accepting any cultural relativism nonsense. Torture is torture, occupying Tibet is an invasion and  accepting money for a friendly jaunt around the nation implicates you.

The interesting question which I can't answer is whether this work represents authentic cultural work, or is a special version made for foreigners. Sometimes, I don't care: is it good, according to my special measurements? Other times I wonder whether it is like all the French cinema that they make for export: an inferior version that is patronising my tastes.  There's plenty of talk about how the pieces represent their nations. While I am sure that The National Theatre of Scotland tries to sell BlackWatch in much the same way to the world, I hope that the idea of a definitive national play would arouse suspicions in many Scots.

Still, in the end, I am just a critic and the real test is the audience. This being the EIF, they'll be rude enough to walk out in droves if it over-runs, feels a bit unfamiliar or becomes difficult. And while I'd like to think that I'd be asking the same questions if there was a preponderance of European work, I am probably just being a racist idiot. I probably had better bone up on Amnesty International's statistics before I say any more.

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