Attending to (Our) Ghosts: Minefield by Lola Arias
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Attending to (Our) Ghosts: Minefield by Lola Arias

Lola Arias, Minefield. Photo: Gustavo Gavotti

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Here, playwright David Caruso shares his perspective on last night’s performance of Minefield by Lola Arias.

To perform history, and to perform stories from our personal lives for one another, is to allow ourselves to be haunted. This happens on an almost daily basis. You might walk into someone else on your way to work. You turn a corner, she comes from the opposite direction, and smack. You get to work with some salt on your pants or dirt on your coat, and a friend asks you what happened. Oh, you’ll explain, she was walking this way, and I was walking this way. Illustrating with your hands, you narrate the event, drawing them together perpendicularly with a dramatic slap. Your listener nods. They do not need to be told of the blind corner, of the hurry, of the apologetic way you both took off your headphones to make sure the other was alright. They understand this through the worried look on your face, your scuffed boots, and your hands’ tiny smack. They understand from the way you are haunted. These collisions haunt us for some time, lingering on our bodies in the form of an injury, of guilt, or regret. The image of her bleeding forehead. Is she okay?

In Lola Arias’s Minefield, six veterans of the Falklands/Malvinas War retell their experiences as soldiers during the 74-day conflict. Throughout the piece, each of the six men inhabited parts of their past, which is to say they allowed themselves to be haunted. While creating the piece with these six men, Lola Arias asked them “to tell me the memory that stays in your mind. The image you can’t get rid of. The ghost that is following you. The ghost you can’t get rid of.” These ghosts, which Arias equates here with memories, became the foundation for the play’s creation and storytelling. In Minefield these ghosts present themselves as memories, but also as people from the men’s past, as their past selves, as songs, and as memorabilia. While each veteran tells his story to the audience, archival objects are projected by the others on top of him, creating a haunting backdrop (a backdrop of haunting?) for each. Personal photographs, war magazines, love letters, and diaries become spectral objects, a physical remainder and reminder of the way they are haunted by war.

Ruben Francisco Otero in Lola Arias’s Minefield. Photo: Tristram Kenton

To say that these six men are haunted (and that they haunt one another) is not to doom or decry them, nor is it to imply that it is a temporary state. In the way that running into the stranger hangs on you for the rest of the week, and then may reenter your conscience again later, Minefield makes it powerfully clear that each veteran faces the war he served in every day afterward. In A Glossary of Haunting, Eve Tuck and C. Ree remind that “haunting is the relentless remembering and reminding that will not be appeased by settler society’s assurances of innocence and reconciliation. Haunting is both acute and general; individuals are haunted, but so are societies.” There is nothing that they can do, then, nor that we can do as audience, to stop the haunting. It is a state without end, or as Tuck and Ree write, “For ghosts, the haunting is the resolving, it is not what needs to be resolved.” Lou, one of the Royal Marine veterans, tells the audience that he can tell his story “like it’s a story” now, while standing in front of an image of himself crying in a decades-old documentary. He tells us that he can “push it down” in a way he couldn’t then. While we are unable to stop ourselves from being haunted, often we learn to tolerate ghosts. Either through compartmentalization or by attending to them. To not leave the past in the past but to recognize its presence in our present lives.

Ruben Francisco Otero, one of the Argentine veterans, was on the ARA General Belgrano when it was sunk by the Royal Navy. Of the 1,138 crew members, 323 died, nearly half of the Argentine casualties. After telling the story of his escape earlier in the play, Otero sits at his drum kit alone on stage, and plays more and more complex beats while repeating “1,138,” “323,” “1982,” and “Margaret Thatcher.” It is a furious, frenetic sequence, and a rare display of raw emotion within the play. It is a moment of remembrance. It is a moment of possession. In asking us to spend time with these men and their ghosts, Arias asks us to attend to them as we would attend to our own past. To more than acknowledge their experience or their existence, but to be haunted by it along with them.

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