Rabih Mroué: Here. There. Real. Unreal. Jan 21, 2012

by Alma


A couple of months ago, my friend Randi- who is an avid attendee of On the Boards' performances, asked me if I would be interested in attending Rabih Mroué's performance in January. I think I was so beside myself, I jumped out of my seat and my voice got high and sharp- signs of positive excitement.

I was excited to see the performance for several reasons: Mroué's work is familiar to me. I attended his performance Make me stop smoking in Amman, Jordan in Al-Balad Theater in 2008 as part of the Art Now in Lebanon, that was presented by Darat al-Funun. I also saw his film Je veux voir, I want to see, with Catherine Deneuve in 2009.

In his performance Make me stop smoking, Mroué presented a sample of his archives: a collection of items, paper clippings, sketches that he has been collecting for ten years. I remember being at awe of his meticulous and delicate documentation of history. His own and Lebanon's. I remember thinking what a cleaver way to create a performance through the personal collection of an artist's archive. I remember imagining his studio's walls filled with notebooks of all different colors and shapes filled with archival materials, boxed labeled with the items in them and the dates they were acquired. I remember leaving the performance thinking of a new definition of an artist: a historian artist. In the film Je veux voir, I saw Mroué again as a historian, a story-teller. Showing the mighty and soft Deneuve his family village in the south of Lebanon, which was destroyed during the Israeli invasion or 2006. He drives her around the south, telling her stories, giving her a tour of the south. Mroué moves about simply, humbly. His limbs move in a very particular way that is loose, disjointed, and when needed, purposefully. 

Last night, Mroué's Looking for a missing employee was no different that his previous works that I have seen. Mroue's incredibly cleaver use of media to tell a real event documented through newspaper clipping over seven years. Mroué uses three screens to tell the story: his face appears on one, the paper clippings and his hands on a second, and on the third Ghassan Halawani draws a graph of the event. In this performance, like the other two I have seen, Mroué has archived a story meticulously and he is offering it to us as fact.

Yet there is nothing real about what Mroué offers his audience. Like any story we see, listen to, witness on the news, we are only seeing certain parts of the story. The parts the archivist, the narrator, the news-anchor, the editor, the grapher want us to see. Mroué toys with our perception as an audience. He wants to believe what he tells us as truth, which it is. Or maybe it is not. In last night's performance, we get three stories, each screen a story. So if you were watching Mroué's face you heard a different story than me watching the screen with the newspapers, or Halawani's drawing. Additionally, we tend to believe what is written in newspapers or delivered on the news to be the truth, but is it? At the end of his performance, I felt that Mroué's did not tell me anything about the mystery of the missing employee, except that he went missing. We were not an inch closer to knowing whether or not he stole the money or forged the stamps, nor do we know how much money was stollen or retrieved, nor who was really involved and who not. 

What we do know is that Mroué is a crafty story-teller. His wit, humor, impeccable timing, brilliant use of the theater as a whole, his talent in blurring the space between fact and fiction, his ability to define the concepts of here, now, there, and then are factors to what make his work memorable and altering. Mroué's work is a socio-political commentary, that brings forth the personal that is found within the collective. He highlights the absurd and the incredible ability to overwhelm us with information that buries what is important to notice

In the works, Mroué comes across as soft, genuine, funny, and intelligent. Rabih Mroué brought me a little bit of home with him; the sense of humor, the play on words, the absurdity of reality, and the understanding that what some may think is reality, others know is fiction. He is a pleasure to watch and experience. I am thrilled I got to enjoy Mroué again and look forward to attend his work in progress, The Pixelated Revolution, on Sunday.