SpeakEasy: An informal audience discussion following Saturday evening performances. Throughout the Out There Series, conversations will be facilitated by members of SuperGroup paired with with Walker Art Center Tour Guides. This blog incorporates participants’ comments and questions, offering an opportunity to continue the discussion in an online forum.
On a central television, a face fades in and out, barely discernible, barely there.
Neither absent nor present.
Introduce the narrator, a new face, clear on the screen.
To our upper right, we see his hands and the notebooks that cover his desk.
To our upper left, another pair of hands follow the story, creating a visual map of data.
The narrator begins sharing newspaper clippings of disappearances, but this weighty subject soon turns to humor and a story starts to unfold. The initial facts and visuals seem straightforward, but as the contradictory accounts mount, the screen becomes filled with overlapping lists, names, connections, financial reports, and dates. From a clear timeline, our reference points devolve into a mystery, telling a history to be deciphered, sorted, reinterpreted, and never fully known.
“Are you my friend Horatio?”
– Heiner Mueller, The Hamletmachine
As he lays dying, Hamlet asks Horatio to tell his story. But what story could he or would he tell? Lost to him are so many musings and monologues, personal confessions, motivations, and internal struggles. The historian is left to create order out of remnants – to establish a beginning, follow a progression, and explain the resolution. What Mroué reveals is the messiness of lived history, the scattered and unfinished nature of human experiences, and the absurdity that can occur when this confusion bumps up against official attempts at explanation.
In Looking for a Missing Employee, Mroué highlights the mediated nature of the consumption of history. Our charismatic narrator tells us of his work following newspaper articles; he has compiled the information for us, and kindly serves as our translator. Never looking directly into his eyes, but at his face on a screen, the gap between the audience and the person creating this story is brought to the fore. Questions arise – why these newspapers and not others, what is or is not translated, where is the line between occurrence and artistic fabrication? This is a theatre piece based on “true” events, yet throughout the evening, the veracity of the documentation presented is called into question. Was it foolish to place faith in these newspapers, to believe our historian-narrator?
As Mroué emphasized in an interview with Walker Senior Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither, he is “choosing and…editing all this material.” He states that “to edit – to cut and remove, to keep, or to use my voice in this way and not in the other way – all of this makes this pretension for being neutral impossible.” And yet as one audience member noted, there is perhaps a desire to empathize, to place trust in our narrator. “Truth” may be relative, a creation by accepted authorities drawing on established forms of evidence, yet the knowledge of the contingency of truth does not entirely efface the desire to seek the sense of stability or security that accompanies a resolved narrative. Mroué departs, yet his face lingers on the screen. Eventually, we clap, layering a clean ending onto an open-ended story.
This blog, too, falls prey to this tendency to organize disorder. The free associations, tangents, digressions, ponderous pauses, inconclusive phrasing, self-assessments, restatements, and verbal energy of animated discussions are herein ordered, themes are established, and paragraphs are formed. Assumptions of what a reader may want are intertwined with the author’s own interests, inclinations, and imperfect memories. What other form might the record of such a conversation take? What form would be most accurate? What form would be most useful?
“He cries and laughs, not from sadness or joy, like a lover who draws a line in air and then erases it”
– Al Akhtal Assaghir, quoted in Looking for a Missing Employee
Mroué differentiates art and activism, bringing forth questions of self-identification and the relative safety involved in deeming oneself artist, intellectual, or activist. While the reflective nature of art is distinct from active revolution, there are fluid borders between these roles and the selection of subject matter and the posing of questions bear a relationship to the political environment into which art is introduced. During the discussion that followed his afternoon presentation The Pixelated Revolution, Mroué spoke of being drawn to art that provokes, that shares questions rather than answers, that presents ideas that lead to conversations. This theme seems fitting for the Out There Series, for art that perhaps does not fit neatly into disciplines, art that perturbs, pushes boundaries, and ignites questioning that extends beyond an evening-length performance.
SuperGroup – Erin Search-Wells’ opening night blog.
Walker Performing Arts – Jesse Leaneagh’s blog about Mroue’s work.
Pages Magazine – review of Looking for a Missing Employee.
In Focus – interview with Mroué.
FURTHER AFIELD – VISUALLY MAPPING HISTORY: