Rabih Mroue at On the Boards this weekend Feb 1, 2016

by hami bahadori

Riding on a cloud, written and directed by Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué and performed by his brother Yasser, is the life story of Yasser performed by himself. This show was my first experience being at On the Boards in Seattle. As I walked in on the stage, next to the big cinematic screen was a wooden table and a chair with a lot of CDs and Cassettes on it, I found a seat on the very last row of the huge theatre. I enjoyed every second of this piece, from the beginning. The viewer was taken into various emotional stages from laughter to sadness, boredom to surprise, from calmness to shock and vise versa.

The work transferred a notion of post-war Lebanon and challenges of everyday life. Rabih Mroué took the audience on a journey of rehabilitating from a memory loss and aphasia. This feeling can evoke what young generation in Lebanon, Iran or Palestine are experiencing right now, where the main event [which is also the original cause of today’s tragedies] had happened before they were born. A memory loss in which the person not only need to learn everything from zero but he/she remains curious about the cause of the his event. Walid Raad another avant-garde Lebanese artist deals with similar existentialism issues, by referring to events from the past. From this perspective, Rabih’s work wasn’t surprising to me, yet it was so familiar that I saw myself as Yasser throughout the performance. In this work, the protagonist does not go through identity crises like Oedipus. In the contrary, he is so much aware of his identity that the question becomes how the hell I ended up here?  This is essential in order to solve things in his current sociopolitical life.

In the other hand, since no one can trust the factuality of the existed histories, everyone relay heavily on the immediate stories that is around them. In this case brother or grandfather. So, you are constantly digging in the past, as if you are living in the past. From the lack of history you find yourself living in history. One of good reminiscence of this concept was in one of Yasser’s videos titled “My Solitude”. He is smoking a cigaret and video is playing in slow motion but the analog clock on the background is running 10 times as fast as it should run.

After he was shot in the head at age 17, Yasser could not understand “representation”  (word representation was mentioned in English) anymore. This is as if someone is saying art does not work for people anymore, or art become meaningless. And everything turns into reality, for example the character in theatre can’t act anymore, he has to be himself. Under such circumstances, the artist need to reinvent a new language to be able to express themselves. As if your doctor said that you need to make art to stay healthy. Just like Dr. Gachet telling Van Gogh that painting is good for you. We can see the current events in Iran for example, where the Iranian government arrests people simply for dancing.

As Rabih Mroué mentioned in his interview at Walker Art Center, he does not change the work when he travels outside Beirut. The language of the work is sentimental and smooth. Virtually anyone can follow the work and dissolve into it, even without any historical knowledge about Lebanon. Coincidentally the next night, a few blocks away from On the Boards, I was hosting Nasrin Himada at INCA for a talk about her work on Palestinian cinema and architecture of occupation. Some of the films mentioned, were actually shot in Lebanon during the same period. For example, A series of films titled Declaration of World War by Masao Adachi, which is not only a great historical document but an important work of art.

`And finally the show ended with a conversation between Rabih and Yasser that was displayed on black screen in writing, which indicated that this is only one of the many stories that is going on [in Lebanon] and they don’t know if anyone would even care.