Weathervanes @ Summerhall

Weathervanes is a reimagining of what is considered beautiful and holy – the immersive experience attempts to welcome the audience into a space of psychic healing

Review by Isabella Thompson | 11 Aug 2023
  • Weathervanes

Jian Yi's Weathervanes is an otherworldly experience, submerging the viewer in a fantasy Garden of Eden where the natural world has engulfed the ground we walk on. Beautiful nude bodies are placed on raised platforms, their tantric movements forming focal points in the space, interacting with the light and sound around them as they remain grounded on their plinths.

The moment you enter the space you are transported into a womb-like space, courtesy of Furmaan Ahmed’s skilful set design. Fog coats the floor and kisses the feet of the dancers as they move in their hypnotic state, surrounded by moss and branches that seem to sprout from the floor. The hum of the soundscape created by the live musician permeates the space and fills your ears, immersing you in this new world. Watching the performers themselves is hypnotising. They look almost supernatural, keeping their eyes firmly closed as they move. Their naked bodies feel at one with the room and you are captivated by their beauty. There are three performers in total, and the exhibition is installed in an L-shaped space: two are stationed next to each other, whilst the other embodies a separate, adjacent enclosure. Though it is nicely spaced, filling the room with more performers would make the piece more impactful and riveting for the viewer. 

As a multimedia piece of performance art, the lighting and sound are crucial to the piece. Heather Lander collaborated with the team, adding avant-garde lighting effects. Geometric shards of light are projected onto angled perspex screens behind two of the performers, and in another corner is a three-sided box of more geometric patterns. The effects themselves are impressive; however, they seem slightly discordant with the serene atmosphere. The blue, water-like projections onto one dancer’s body are very effective as they simulate the water surrounding them, creating a Venus-like image. 

Placing moving bodies on pedestals that recall sculpture gardens of the ancient world is in itself powerful. The fact that the performers are queer and/or have ethnic backgrounds that are historically under-represented in Western art and media re-imagines what has been considered holy and beautiful for centuries. The ideas behind the show are inspired and have the potential to be extremely impactful; however, there are some limitations in the execution that preclude it from reaching its potential. Perhaps these would be mitigated if the production were staged on a larger scale, which is what Weathervanes deserves.

Weathervanes, Summerhall (Lower Cafe Gallery), until 27 Aug, 7.30pm & 9pm, £8-12