Arterial Network members attended the World Summit on Arts and Culture in Melbourne, Australia from the 3rd to 6th October. The Secretary General of Arterial Network, Mike van Graan spoke on the theme: “Where the Arts Intersect with real Danger”. Another Arterial Network member who spoke at the Summit was the Togolese expert in Heritage Conservation,Komi M'Kegbe Foga Tublu. The summit brought together government and cultural leaders from over 70 countries to explore how artists can give voice to diverse communities and concerns through collaboration with experts in health and well-being, the environment education, business, new technologies, cultural identities etc. This year’s edition of the world summit ended with the generation of a range of policy proposals to support 'creative intersections' in Australia and internationally. The next world summit is scheduled to take place in Chile in January 2014. Read more on http://www.artsummit.org/
Just got back from Juliano's funeral. He was buried in Kibbutz Ramot Menashe on the east side of Carmel Mountain, next to his mother, Arna. The crowd was quite big. Some say about 2000 people, who gathered in this very small cemetery. Jew and Arabs stood next to one another. The ceremony was conducted in Arabic and in Hebrew. The speeches were very moving.
Especially moving was Juliano's 12 years old daughter Mei Lai, whose broken voice shed tears from the eyes of many in the crowd. All the speakers talked about Juliano's mission, his unique leadership and unique achievements. There was a strong sensation of solidarity among the participants. This is at least what I felt.
The Arab-Jewish Theatre in Jaffa will have an evening dedicated to Juliano a On Friday April 8.Please, reads this powerful article in Haaretz:
As very little has been written about Juliano's death in the world press – here's another article from Haaretz. You might find it interesting.
By Stephanie McCrummen
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, February 26, 2011; 1:34 PM
BAGHDAD – Iraqi security forces detained hundreds of people, including prominent journalists, artists and intellectuals, witnesses said Saturday, a day after nationwide demonstrations brought tens of thousands of Iraqis into the streets and ended with soldiers shooting into crowds.
Four journalists who had been released described being rounded up well after they had left a protest at Baghdad's Tahrir Square. They said they were handcuffed, blindfolded, beaten and th
reatened with execution by soldiers from an army intelligence unit.
"It was like they were dealing with a bunch of al-Qaeda operatives, not a group of journalists," said Hussam al-Ssairi, a journalist and poet, who was among a group and described seeing hundreds of protesters in black hoods at the detention facility. "Yesterday was like a test, like a picture of the new democracy in Iraq."
Protesters mostly stayed home Saturday, following more than a dozen demonstrations across the country Friday that killed at least 29 people, as crowds stormed provincial buildings, forced local officials to resign, freed prisoners and otherwise demanded more from a government they only recently had a chance to elect.
"I have demands!" Salma Mikahil, 48, cried out from Tahrir Square on Friday, as military helicopters and snipers looked down on thousands of people bearing handmade signs and olive branches signifying peace. "I want to see if Maliki can accept that I live on this," Mikahil said, waving a 1,000-dinar note, worth less than a dollar, toward Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's offices. "I want to see if his conscience accepts it."
The protests – billed as Iraq's "Day of Rage" – were intended to call for reform of Maliki's government, not revolution. From the southern city of Basra to northern cities of Kurdistan, protesters demanded the simple dignities of adequate electricity, clean water and a decent job.
As the day wore on, however, the demonstrations grew violent when security forces deployed water cannons and sound bombs to disperse crowds. Iraqi military helicopters swooped toward the demonstrators in Baghdad, and soldiers fired into angry crowds in the protest here and in at least seven others across the country.
And in that way, the day introduced a new sort of conflict to a population that has been targeted by sectarian militias and suicide bombers. Now, many wondered whether they would have to add to the list of enemies their government.
Ssairi and his three colleagues, one of whom had been on the radio speaking in support of protesters, said about a dozen soldiers stormed into a restaurant where they were eating dinner Friday afternoon and began beating them as other diners looked on in silence. They drove them to a side street and beat them again.
Then, blindfolded, they were driven to the former Ministry of Defense building, which houses an intelligence unit of the Iraqi army's 11th Division, they said. Hadi al-Mahdi, a theater director and radio anchor who has been calling for reform, said he was blindfolded and beaten repeatedly with sticks, boots and fists. One soldier put a stick into Hadi's handcuffed hands and threatened to rape him with it, he said.
The soldiers accused him of being a tool of outsiders wishing to topple Maliki's government; they demanded that he confess to being a member of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Hadi told them that he blamed Baathists for killing two of his brothers and that until recently he had been a member of Maliki's Dawa Party.
Hadi said he was then taken to a detention cell, his blindfold off, where he said there were at least 300 people with black hoods over their heads, many groaning in bloody shirts. Several told him they had been detained during or after the protests.
Hadi, who comes from a prominent Iraqi family, and his colleagues were released after their friends managed to make some well-placed phone calls.
"This government is sending a message to us, to everybody," he said Saturday, his forehead bruised, his left leg swollen.
Although the protests were primarily aimed at reform, there were mini examples of revolution all day Friday, hyperlocal versions of the recent revolts inEgypt, Tunisia and, in a way, Libya. Crowds forced the resignation of the governor in southern Basra and the entire city council in Fallujah. They also chased away the governor of Mosul, the brother of the speaker of parliament, who was there and fled, too.
The protests began peacefully but grew more aggressive. Angry crowds seized a police station in Kirkuk, set fire to a provincial office in Mosul and rattled fences around the local governate offices in Tikrit, prompting security forces to open fire with live bullets, killing four people. Three people were killed in Kirkuk.
Six people were killed in Fallujah and six others in Mosul, according to reports from officials and witnesses in at least seven protests. On Saturday, officials reported additional deaths: a 60-year old man in Fallujah; two people, including a 13-year old boy, in Qobaisa; and two in Ramadi, all in predominantly Sunni Anbar province.
The reports attributed most casualties to security forces who opened fire.
By sundown in Baghdad on Friday, security forces were spraying water cannons and exploding sound bombs to disperse protesters, chasing several through streets and alleyways and killing at least three, according to a witness.
Two people were also reported killed in Kurdistan, in the north.
The day's events posed a unique challenge for the Obama administration, which has struggled to calibrate its responses to the protests rolling across the Middle East and North Africa but has a particular stake in the stability o
f the fledgling democracy it helped usher in.
Analysts said Friday's developments were at best awkward for the United States.
"Obama wants to convey that yes, Iraq has a number of problems that need to be addressed, but the country is on the right track," said Joost Hiltermann, deputy director for the International Crisis Group's Middle East program. "You can't possibly say, 'Iraq is in a crisis, and by the way, we're leaving.' "
The United States is set to complete the withdrawal of all its troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad played down Friday's violence, as well as the draconian measures Maliki took to stifle turnout.
Iraq's security forces "generally have not used force against peaceful protesters," said Aaron Snipe, an embassy spokesman. "We support the Iraqi people's right to freely express their political views, to peacefully protest and seek redress form their government. This has been our consistent message in Iraq and throughout the region."
The turnout Friday appeared to surprise many of the demonstrators, coming as it did after a curfew on cars and even bicycles forced people to walk, often miles, to participate. There were also pleas – some described them as threatening – from Maliki and Shiite clerics, including the populist Moqtada al-Sadr, to stay home.
Sadr, whose Mahdi Army is blamed for some of the worst sectarian violence of the war, is now part of Maliki's governing coalition and attempting to position himself as both insider and outsider. Sadr's power lies in his rare ability to call hundreds of thousands into the streets, and analysts said he is perhaps concerned about losing his impoverished urban followers to the new and still only vaguely unified protest movement .
By mid-morning in Baghdad, people were walking toward Tahrir Square along empty streets fortified with soldiers in Humvees, snipers on rooftops and mosque domes and checkpoints with X-ray equipment that might reveal a suicide vest.
Young and old, some missing legs and arms, some chanting old slogans of the Mahdi Army, the protesters passed crumbling high-rise apartment buildings webbed with electrical wires hooked to generators. At times, the air smelled like sewage.
"Bring electricity!" they shouted. "No to corruption!"
By afternoon, several thousand people were milling around the square, which is next to a bridge leading to the heavily guarded international zone housing the government's offices. Overnight, security forces had hauled in huge blast walls to block the bridge from protesters, who nonetheless managed to hoist a rope around one of them and pull it down.
"As you can see, they are hiding behind this wall!" shouted Sbeeh Noman, a white-haired engineer who said he walked 12 miles to reach the square and was now heading for the bridge. "The government is afraid of the nation. They have found out that the people have the real power."
firstname.lastname@example.org Special correspondents Ali Qeis and Aziz Alwan contributed to this report.
[Note: The writer, Dalia Basiouny, has interned and collaborated with
the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory.]
Thank you for all the good energy you are send Egypt and for all your
support. I tried to write when I came back from the demonstrations
last night. I started, but it was very late, and I kept receiving
phone calls from young friends wanting to discuss the situation till
1:30 am, then I fell asleep.
I slept soundly in my bed for the first time, since the curfew started
a week ago. I have moved to my parents house last Saturday, to be
close to them, and to follow the news on television. (TV and parents
deserve separate entries. I will write about them later.)
Here is my entry about my experiences on Feb 4th. Feel free to share
without getting back to me, as it’s hard for me to respond to email.
I will not inundate you with more emails. Geralyin set up a blog for
me, so you can follow my updates and earlier commentaries, if you
chose on the gmail blog “Notes from Cairo”
5 Feb 2011, 10 am
I am very happy this morning. Yesterday was a magnificent peaceful
day. There were millions demonstrating against the regime all over
Egypt in the “Day of Departure” as it was dubbed. It is very hard to
estimate the exact numbers that came to Tahrir Square, but I am sure
that the numbers were more than Tuesday’s “Million People March”,
which conservative estimates said exceed one million people, and Al
Jazeera said two.
I decided to go early, in case they block the streets. The images of
last Friday’s marches after the prayer and the violence that ensued
are vivid in my mind. I want to be inside the square before the
prayers. The friend who wanted to accompany me from Pyramids Road said
she is going be late, as her husband cannot leave the house because
there is a car waiting under his house to arrest him. This is not good
news; they are arresting activists before the marches! I go alone
toward downtown. I hear that they need more anti-biotic for those
injured on Wednesday and Thursday nights. I want to bring some but
another friend warns me that this morning the thugs attacked a friend
of hers, took the medicine she brought and were about to abduct her.
OK, I will not bring medicine or food, but I still want to go in.
The road is blocked two miles away from the square. There is a
military checkpoint; they check people and inspect the bags. They want
to know what’s on my camera, I said ‘nothing yet’. They let me in. I
wait for my friend who comes from the other part of town by Kasr El
Nil Bridge, the safest entrance to date. I get a phone call from Anna
in New York, she wanted to make sure I am make OK before she sleeps. I
received another phone call earlier from Sophie in Australia, making
me promise that I will make sure I am safe. They too must have seen
the images from Friday and Wednesday violence.
I run into a young friend. She seems a bit confused from what she
heard on TV the day before. She asks me with innocence and sincerity
“Are we right? How can we be sure that we are not destroying our
country as they say on TV?” We talk a bit about that while walking
toward the square, with hundreds of others.
All these people decided to come early, just in case. A good sign! Not
so good when so many of us are crammed in front of a tiny entrance, at
the checkpoint of the square. The people’s committees, under the
supervision of the army, inspect every bag and parcel. They check our
clothes and pockets. It takes time, and there are so many of us. A man
comes in with a large bag, and says “I am a doctor, I am carrying
medicine.” The crowd opens for him to pass quickly. People waiting
start chanting slogans about the solidarity of the people and the
army. Some chant against the president, but a few respond, as we are
not yet in the safety of Tahrir Square, the truly liberated heart of
Egypt. Then an impromptu chant arises “We want another entrance.. Open
another entrance.” There are a few women in the crowd of men entering
and they make way for us to go ahead of them.. one of the benefits of
being a woman during the revolution. We are checked thoroughly and our
IDs inspected vigilantly, to make sure we are here to support the
demonstration not cause trouble. We are allowed in.
The square is busy, though it is only 10 am. It is usually not that
busy this early in the day, another good sign. Our young friend who
was a bit confused earlier, though she demonstrated daily since
January 25th, leaves us. When she finds us again, she has a wide grin.
Though a number of her activist friends were arrested at night, she
regained her faith in the validity of her cause. Two groups of
activists were being interviewed on TV on Thursday night. The four who
were interviewed at Al-Mehwar TV were abducted after the show, and
somehow they managed to inform the other four who were interviewed on
Dream TV near by. These ran and hid in a mosque. They called the
parents of the young woman with them to come get her. Later the three
men found a way to return to the square, with stories.
The main story is about the celebrities they encountered on the TV
show. The TV announcer who was said there are only 20 thousand
gathered in the square, not a million, apologized to them, and said if
she doesn’t say that, she’d lose her job. The main guest of the TV
program is one of the intellectual celebrities, a writer and a
publisher. His analysis of the situation was the reason my young
friend was “confused”. This same man, after the taping, told the young
activists “forgive me sons, I have no other choice.” I was happy to
see my friend gain her faith in what she is doing, and start to
realize that what she hears on TV is not wholly, and definitely not
the whole truth.
Soon after it was time for “Salat El Gomma’” Friday prayer. Hundreds
of thousands of people are going to pray together. A few thousands are
not praying. Some are guarding the place.. The hubbub of the square
calms down. The half million or more men and women praying create an
amazing energy as they recite the Quran, bow and kneel together, row
They perform both Zohr and ‘Asr prayers together, because of the
unusual circumstances. Then follow this with the prayers for the
martyrs. The prayers end with saying “Assalmu ‘Alaykom” to the right,
then “Assalmu ‘Alaykom” to the left. The moment they finish, without
missing a beat, and without a prior agreement, everyone in square
shouts at the same moment “Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees.. Asha’ab
Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees.. Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Nezam.” (The
People Want the President to Step Down.. The People Want the President
to Step Down.. The People Want to Topple the Regime.) Over and over
and over. With power, with determination, in defiance! I am covered in
goose-pumps as I shout with them, in a voice I have never used before
“Asha’ab Youreed Esqaat al Ra’ees”. It’s hard to describe this energy;
to be with a million people (literally) wanting the same thing at the
same time. Their burning desire makes them all say it at the same
exact moment! WOW! I am in owe of the power of the people. I am
After the prayers we start to walk around the square. It’s very very
busy, but my friend wants to make sure that more people are coming.
This is our main card to pressure the government, our
today. That people would continue to come to demonstrate in spite of
all the government’s tricks to deter them. The media war to brainwash
the public for days; trying to connect the destruction in the country
and the financial collapse to the peaceful demonstrators. In addition
to days of surrounding people in the square, trying to starve them by
confiscating food and supplies and beating up those bringing them in.
They started a physical war using camels, horses, petroleum bombs, and
eventual snipers killing and injuring many many demonstrators. All
these tactics did not work out. People were flooding the square on
Friday. Thousands upon thousands of peaceful demonstrators kept
coming. Many performed their prayers in mosques in different
neighborhoods and walked for miles to Tahrir Square. People feel
triumphant as they arrived, just because they were able to enter the
square. Most of the ones just coming in are telling those they meet;
“There are as many people waiting to get in as those already in the
square.” This is comforting to hear! We will be more than a million
people. It’s hard to gage the number when you are inside it,
especially if you are of a small stature. I climb on one of the fences
and I am owed, with the sea of people swarming around the main circle
in the center of the square and all streets leading to it.
The energy is even stronger than last Tuesday (February 1st, the
Million People March). On Tuesday, there was a euphoric sense of a
people discovering itself and its power for the first time. A bit of
disbelief, a lot of relief, and a great sense of freedom. After all,
we are standing in the center of Cairo, saying whatever we want about
the government that oppressed us for decades and about the president,
with the loudest voice possible, sometimes even on loud speakers. WOW!
Can we really do that? Yes! We are doing that! Everyone on the square
is doing it. To be here means that you crossed a few checkpoints and a
larger number of fear barriers inside.
But being on the square on February 4th, “The Day of Departure” meant
something even more. You not only conquered your inner fears, but also
a lot of outside pressure. To be here means that you heard on TV, and
possibly from friends, family member, neighbors, co-workers or even
loved ones that this has to stop. These “kids” demonstrators are
destroying our country. They are paralyzing the economy, and allowing
foreign forces to infiltrate Egypt. You also heard or saw the news of
the Wednesday massacre. It’s not just a matter of starvation, but you
know that the demonstrators have been and could be attacked,
physically, and even lose their lives. But they here, in millions! How
Many many Egyptians had stopped caring about their country, because
they saw that there is no use. It seems that the spark in their hearts
has not been fully extinguished by years of organized government
brutality, corruption, or brainwashing. They are here from every walk
of life. They are here in spite of the warnings. They are here and
THEY ARE NOT AFRAID. This is something I never thought I would witness
with my own eyes. I was not afraid. Millions are not afraid anymore.
Many people are on the square because they are desperate. They have
NOTHING. So they have nothing to lose. But there are so many here who
have good lives. They are middle class and upper middle class. (I can
tell from their shoes!) They possibly drove in fancy cars, or walked
from the near by rich neighborhood. They talk to their friends in
English, in perfect American or British accents. They are not
politically inclined. But being on the square on Friday was about more
than politics. It was about freedom and dignity and witness a country
wake up from a long slumber.
Many demonstrators are talking on their cell phones. The bits of
conversations overheard are mostly people giving directions on which
checkpoints are safe or temporarily freed from the government thugs,
or people justifying their presences in the square, and explaining to
those at the other end of the line what they are experiencing: People
are really very civilized, honey.. Sharing food with others.. No
foreign presence.. Cleaning the square themselves.. Please don’t
worry!.. No, no sexual harassment.. Off course no one gave me money to
come here!.. I am safe mum, I swear.. I did not see any Kentucky.. Why
don’t you listen to me?.. Believe me it’s not like what they say.. Are
you stupid? My sister is as dumb as a shoe!
I can understand the bits of conversation. I too watched TV and had my
fears. I too had to call my mum to assure her about my safety, and she
repeated what she heard on TV about the horrible situation there. I
too had to promise my friends that I will be careful and not try to be
a hero if violence erupts. But unlike last Friday, this Friday is not
a day of violence. There is no police presence what so ever. The army
is surrounding the square to protect us, not to harm us. What a
difference a week of resistance makes.
Hardcore demonstrators who haven’t left the square in a week, might
not be able to get enough food, or even decent sleep on the rough
pavements of the square. Some left their families without food for the
week or even the day. No one promised them a job, or guaranteed them
anything, but the triumphant look in their eyes shows that they have
already won. Now they have something that no one can take away from
them. They have DIGNITY!
The hours pass quickly with so many activities in the different parts
of the square. Slogans, chanting, marching, political discussions,
meeting people you know, or talking with others you just met. It’s
close to 4 pm, and the square is still filling up with incoming
people. I move toward the entrance of Kasr El Nile Bridge, still the
safest entrance with the largest influx of incomers. I see droves of
people entering. With a big crowd on the inside cheering them after
they cross the checkpoints and inspections. The impromptu welcome
committee is making up slogans to chant. Those entering are getting
heroes’ welcome; many are clapping for them and chanting as they come
in, rhyming couplets, with some drumming sounds created from empty
plastic bottles. “Welcome, welcome to the heroes.. Welcome, welcome to
the men”, “Muslim, Christian, We Are One”, “Where is the press..We are
millions.” These rhyme in Arabic and sound very motivating when sung
The large number of people entering makes a man sitting next to me say
on the phone “Yes, now we are 30 million!” It feels that way
energetically, but as for actual numbers his math abilities need some
There are a lot of men of every age group entering but there is a
considerable number of women, and of families. My favorite was an
elderly couple, in their eighties, walking slowing supporting each
other, with content smiles on their faces, followed by their young
grandchildren in happy outfits. A few people are in disbelief when
they first enter. Not just because of the warm welcoming chants and
clapping, but they are owed by the huge numbers and the rising
energies. One woman was so overjoyed by emotions, her face was full of
tears at the sight of Free Egyptians.
The energies keep rising, and people walking in groups around the
square continue to make up chants and riffs on popular songs. They are
brilliant! Translation would rob them from the wit and humor, and the
subtext and intertextuality would require pages to explain. So
only mention the funniest that was freshly invented yesterday:
“Wahed..Etneen..El Kentucky Feen?” (One..Two.. Where is the Kentucky?)
They are referring to the news reports that accuse the demonstrators
of receiving monies and daily Kentucky Fried Chicken meals from
foreign entities. This rumor is particularly hard to believe, not just
because of the integrity of demonstrators and their self motivation to
revolt against oppression and brutality, but also because KFC
restaurants have been closed in Egypt for quite sometime. And it is a
logistical nightmare to airlift KFC meals for a million people, and
deliver them to Tahrir while still warm!
It is February, but the day is very sunny, and it gets hot after a
while of walking around in the sun, with a million other people. My
demonstrating body and I find a vacant spot on a shady pavement to
sit. We are absorbing all the amazing things taking place around us,
the sights and sounds and words and looks in people’s eyes. The
comments strangers exchange as if they have known each other for
years. There is a sense of community, comradery and solidarity, a
powerful defiance toward the regime and a feeling of freedom in
“liberation square”, the literal meaning of “Tahrir”. Suddenly, I
scream out with joy: “Dragonflies!”. My very sensible architect friend
does not understand what I am saying. I point above our head. She sees
the two huge dragonflies, but she still does not understand. The
dragonflies keep circling over us, and one of them almost touches my
outstretched hands. I am exhilarated. My spiritual friends and my
new-agy friends would get goose pumps when they hear about dragonflies
appearing in a crowd of millions. New age is a whole other language, I
won’t attempt to explain. I am just so pleased to realize that that
not only physical human beings are here, but the angels are also
smiling upon us.
It is almost time for the curfew that is loosely followed by
Egyptians. Part of the crowd is leaving, while other continue to come
in. My friend leaves, and I start to walk alone, and I run into so
many people I know.. co-workers, students, many artists, friends from
college, and even a classmate from Junior high. I am so owed when I
meet Egyptians who flew to Egypt this week to participate in the
revolution, from Arab countries, Europe and the States. They left
their jobs and their lives and came to witness this amazing moment. I
met many of them. This balances what I read in the papers about
artists leaving the country, and two of my friends who took their
families and left. I understand how scared they were, but I am so glad
to know that others were not scared to leave their comfortable lives
abroad, and to come back just to stand in the square. One of them
tells me with such a matter of fact voice “If this works out, I am not
going back to Italy. I will stay.” Hhhhh! Egypt is no more a one way
street; a country that pushes its people to leave, to immigrate, to
find any kinds of jobs anywhere else. Legally or illegally they try to
leave, some even drown in the Mediterranean while trying.
The sun sets and the energy of the square changes again. The nighttime
crowd is cool. I meet some artist friends. One is playing music and
others are in heated political discussions. One is on the phone
explaining to a journalist why it will NOT be a chaos when the
president steps down. More people, many more conversations. It’s like
a reunion. I hear of them saying “I want a revolution every day to
meet my friends.” I agree! Those in the square are my friends. I don’t
know most of them, but we all share in creating this amazing moment of
our history, just be being there.
I do hope that the eleventh day of the revolution will be the eleventh
hour for this corrupt regime. I am happy, and so proud to be Egyptian.
Nelson Gray, Sheila Rabillard
Theresa J. May
James B. McKernan, Marlis Schweitzer
The Eco Show
University of Toronto Press – Journals Division
5201 Dufferin St., Toronto, ON M3H 5T8
Tel: (416) 667-7810 Fax: (416) 667-7881
Sponsored by the Program for the Study of Women and Gender and the Lewis Center for the Arts Program in Theatre at Princeton University
Legacy and Re/volution: Talkin’ bout an evolution
Cultural turns mark centuries. At the beginning of the 21st century, a chain of turns gazes at us in the rearview mirrors of the fields of linguistics, cultural anthropology, philosophy, visual and performance studies. Look at language patterns as a way to map the world. Excavate rituals and theatrical spectacles to trace what is performative. Concentrate on questions of time and space and geography to understand spatial gravity. Criticize racism and ethnocentrism to mark a place for the postcolonial body. Focus on the importance of iconic references and visual intelligence and see how the world sees through perhaps similar eyes. 19th century concepts of objectivity link themselves to the history and catalogue of images and image-making. In the brain pictures exist to describe complex human statements about happiness and love, guilt and free will and even the need for the sacred and the divine. It has been said to an inordinately exhaustive degree that we live in a visual culture, that we are guided, indeed, by what we see and what we believe from what we see.
Yet, as continued research in neurobiology exclaims, the way the brain responds to and interprets what is seen is fragile. There is more than a margin of error in how visual perception shapes a view of the world. Seeing and witnessing are different things. If there is a civil contract to framing an event through art, or through more instantaneous and less obviously tutored practices of capturing the real and its losses via, for example, a digital camera phone, then the act of seeing is an act of citizenship. How we choose to see, what we decide is seen or not is linked inexorably to civic responsibility and the manner in which individuals and societies address cultural grievance, misery and urgency. There is an ethics to seeing. It is not an even or equal playing field. The fragmented, post-post-modern self, however, collapses acts of seeing and doing –and ethical witnessing and action – as the boundaries among work, leisure and place continue to erode. A YouTube music parody co-exists in the brain alongside a Presidential address and a photograph or digital capture of a bombing in Gaza. The brain sorts through images and filters patterns of shapes and colors. Memory catches flashes of real and desired feeling, and grafts upon these shapes and colors in the brain’s rotating and indexing visual bank, superimposed personal images altered by the unreliability and imaginatively digressive quality of remembrance. It is perhaps ironic, then, that the last two centuries of cultural turns have focused so much on visual culture and its interpretation, and that science and technology have devoted so much of its research and energy to the development of progressively sophisticated information and entertainment devices (not to mention surveillance and military devices) geared to the visual imagination and its hyperlink-ing strategies. I say ironic because it is quite evident (to paraphrase Swiss sociologist Peter Atteslander) that “We only believe what we see, and we only see what we want to believe.”
Now, I am not remotely suggesting that visual culture and its interpretation should be ignored. It would be absurdly jejune and ridiculous for me to even broach this especially in the context of thinking about or analyzing theatrical signs and how they operate in the field of live performance. What I am asking though is for us to listen as well as see, and begin to take in what is more than likely to be the 21st century cultural turn: the acoustic turn.
Four years ago (in 2005) scientists from Humboldt University in Berlin met researchers from Princeton to discuss “sound politics – an acoustic turn in cultural and media studies.” This turn refers to the delicate interaction of the sense of sight and hearing in culture and society. Embedded in the move toward the acoustic turn is a critique of how sight has been inordinately privileged in cultural criticism, and has diminished attention to and on the act of listening and the interpretation of what is felt when an individual or animal is listening to something or someone.
In the nowhere everywhere of the globalized boom-and-bust body, visual signs have nearly obliterated (a
nd I am deliberately exaggerating here to make a point) the capacity to listen and turn the ear and the mind to the language(s) beneath the signs offered by the multinational neoliberal complexes of power tied to the politics and economics of Free Trade. Staggering about in a socially inequitable landscape, the individual within the crowd tries desperately to get by as catastrophe rears its necessary head to allow a new cultural turn to occur. Mired in infinitesimal blips, bytes and attention-grabbing minutes of downloadable images and sounds of amusement, disaster and virtual human connections, the individual is prized away from the crowd, away from movement, and into a heady and sometimes ecstatic but not transcendent stupor of infinite internal possibility – “infinite jest,” to quote the late David Foster Wallace – that denies true transformation and evolution.
We want revolution in our lives. We want change. The words ring in our ears. The sounds echo across time, but what kind of revolution do we seek?
John Berger in his book Hold Everything, Dear: Dispatches on Survival and Resistance [in “Wanting Now,” NY: Vintage, 2008, pg. 8] states that
the promise of a movement is its future victory; whereas the promises of incidental moments are instantaneous. Such moments include, life-enhancingly or tragically, experiences of freedom in action. (Freedom without actions does not exist.) Such moments – as no historical ‘outcome’ can ever be – are transcendental, are what Spinoza termed eternal, and they are as multitudinous as the stars in an expanding universe. Not all desires lead to freedom, but freedom is a desire being acknowledged, chosen and pursued. Desire never concerns the mere possession of something, but the changing of something. Desire is a wanting. A wanting now.
The wanting that ignites political action is often tethered to immediate outcome and a temporary restructuring of social institutions, but revolution demands the transformation – the evolution – of the actual structure of a society. Revolution demands acute listening and witnessing to the morphic resonances that abound in culture and nature – in the eco-systems of a planet in flux.
How to stage a revolution in our theatres? What legacies are left us in the 21st century as we look back at what those who came before us decided to listen to in society and take action upon to seek change? How is the structure of a society understood? And is our theatre reflective of that level of understanding?
My questions here have less to do with technical advances in the disciplines of design and engineering, and more to do with the philosophical foundations of how we see and how we hear in culture – what we choose to see and hear and not. Ethics again. Yes. Civic responsibility. Spiritual responsibility.
Much time is devoted to discussion of the instantaneous desires for immediate change in our theatres, especially in regard to the family story that is encoded in the struggle for expression of cultural difference. Here I am talking about the family story writ large as the story of a culture: who is parent, child, and whose identity is acknowledged at the family table. The political impetus behind the quest for expression of difference is important, of course – it is related to what is seen and what is not and the lens of history that records visually and aurally the stories told and not told through whispers, secrets, murmurs, and songs called forth from people within a movement that for reasons of economics and social standing are disallowed the possibility of viable action and power in society. Class, you see. To speak of cultural difference without speaking about class sentimentalizes social conflict and reduces the authentic struggle for the true witnessing of difference as merely just another family story: a sentimental drama centred on the desire for approval, and not the desire for freedom in action and an active engagement with the world.
It is not a coincidence that the current state of economic collapse and signs of catastrophic culture resulted in a radical if centrist move in the historically galvanizing vote that elected President Barack Obama to the US’ highest political office. The story of the vote for Obama is yet to be fully written and will certainly take time to be expressed in our cultural mirrors, in part because the story cut across differences in class, culture and ethnic difference. This election was multi-vocal, not univocal, and its various, dizzyingly complex registers of speech, tone, and voice are linguistic and aural markers for change. The drama of the election was not sentimental. It cannot be reduced, however much pundits may try. It cannot be, it refuses to be “entombed in nostalgia” to quote President Obama. It is perhaps something of a pre-digital moment, if I may make the temporal leap, of the kind a poet like Yeats, far removed in temperament and history and politics, envisioned in his own multi-vocal poetry and advocacy for an ever fluid Voice in literature: ever in between, never fixed on one point but shifting between the many, and aligning itself through active listening to the spiritual and material world and its currents and undercurrents of sonic reverberation: acoustic energy.
If our theatres are to move and evolve through revolution, then the many voices that exist within the field and the multiplicity of tongues possible in non-essentialist manifestations of ethnicity and gender must rise through a wanting in the now and not in some future incarnation codified by a stable image and sound acceptable to one or another faction of society. I speak here of the kind of multi-vocal possibilities expressed within a narrative, be it linear or not, be it on a Main stage or not, within the body of performance and of the performer, and in the non-commodified signs that dance in theatre’s bloody musical design (bloody music is my own term for theatre and what it offers as sensual experience, both in the making of it and in its witnessing. –[see essay “Bloody Music” pending publication in issue of Gramma international theatre journal summer 2009]
The family story (writ large) has hijacked much of the conversation around cultural difference and the kinds of stories that can or cannot be told in many of our US theatres (and my focus centres on the US in this reflection only as point of immediate reference). The condition of approval weighs in at nearly every conversation that takes to task the mismanagement of spiritual ideals by intelligent but often compromised (compromised by class, economics, cronyism and convenience) boards of directors and artistic directors at institutions large and small: the mismanagement of the ecology of a living, breathing theatre that speaks local to the global and vice versa and that is not beholden to the narrow confines of subject matter for currency or transactional value in the common market of annihilating difference and subjugated quick-hit pleasure. “See me” is the ongoing refrain that runs through conversations that span forty-plus years of debate, argument, protest and movements dedicated to the visibility of society’s neglected artist children and adults. The gaze aims outward, sometimes inward, but mostly outward, and power – the elusive magnet tied to capitalism and its arteries of consumption – is often the target rather than the deflecting point by which to re-center and re-think social structures in which our theatres (not our buildings) exist.
The triumph of neo-liberalism at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st centuries cannot be understood only as a move to the Right that can be reversed by re-polarizing politics according to an earlier mode of government policies. Similarly, undoing or merely re-polarizing the way decision-making has been policy in many arts institutions will not deliver necessary evolution. The refrain “see me” which in and of itself begs for the gaze to be returned might be more profoundly replaced by “hear me” and thus demand a spiritual connection to the inner and outer voices of practitioners laboring in the fields – some say wilderness – of fabulation. The walk needs to be taken down un-trod paths, through movements that challenge and embrace the legacies of revolution by practitioners and leaders who sought to take history into their own hands and away from the consolidation of power in socially opaque and inaccessible ways.
Individuals in society take stock in buildings: in glorious edifices that speak of power but often not to power. Glamour can blind even the most dedicated evolutionary with its artful bewitchment. But science teaches us that hearing may indeed have new relevance in many cognitive contexts (scientific, medical and economic). Image does not supersede what is heard. Perception lies in the ears as well as the eyes and other senses. Revolution asks that the individual move outside themselves and into the din of the crowd: to listen to the fabric of not just one life but the interconnectedness of lives and how one action can lead to a chain of actions, and yes, everyone is implicated in the historical course of events, and only through listening and witnessing the chain of implications can links be re-wrought, re-made, re-fashioned out of new cloth, steel, breath and song.
Dream song. Human song. In and out of time. Before history had a name. Before the gaze was averted and a subject was made of ruin. After Auschwitz, the gulag, Hiroshima, 9/11 and seemingly countless genocides and atrocities, bankruptcy is commonplace, and the individuals’ task has been to constantly sift through the wreckage of history, to retrace the threads that led to catastrophe in order to envision new cultural myths. In order to envision, however, the recognition of ruin must occur. Its grievances must be uttered into the archives of others, and then released into the archive of memory that picks up the flash of an image, the fragment of a stolen melody, and the thieving blasphemy of prejudice’s bad stain.
Listen to the stories being sung,
to the voices expressed sometimes without a recognizable vocabulary.
Grammar let loose on an ancient bleeding tongue
scoring flesh-bone-and-spirit music for new world’s song.
Memory strip of an acoustic elegy
re-born into the politics of sound
sounding a revolution of a theatre
re-awakened to its purpose,
its poetry –
sustainable in its practice,
caring for young and old,
refusing the river of forgetting
and inviting instead the bounty of remembrance
and the recording of not just one field
but whole blazing fields
of voices loud and soft,
of languages distant and near,
of bodies truth-bound to lie
in the necessary fictions
that are our lives.
Here in the acoustic turn
Let despair be rattled out of its cage
And dialogue with the impossible
That exists all around us reclaimed.
Too sudden an evolution
Is merely momentary change.
[This text was written for the 2009 NoPassport Dreaming the Americas Conference at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at CUNY Graduate Center held February 13-14, 2009 in New York City.]
“Sinzi ibyo yabwiye abayobozi ariko icyakurikiyeho,
ni uko nashinjwe ibyaha by’intambara. Birasekeje.
Niba intambara ari icyaha, kuki tuzihoramo?
Kuki abantu bose badafatwa ngo bafungwe?
Iyo intambara irangiye batubwira ko ibyo twakoze ari ibyaha
Iyo irangiye nibwo abantu bibuka ko amategeko yabagaho.
Ngo abantu ntibagafate abagore ku ngufu. Ntibakice.
Kurwana intambara ikurikije amategeko – nkaho ari ugukirana, nkaho ari ubupfura.
Nkaho waba urwana ishyaka.”
Stetko, mu ikinamico ISHUSHO (means “Image” in Kinyarwanda)
“The next thing you know I’m being tried for war crimes. Makes
me laugh! If war is a crime, why do we keep having them?” Stetko
Production and Tour of The M o n u m e n t Summer 2008:
Towards Sustainable Contemporary Theatre in Rwanda
Our Launching production with Isôko – The Theatre Source – was the African Premiere of Canadian Colleen Wagner’s award-winning drama The Monument, which has been translated into 7 languages and produced globally. The play opened on July 4th 2008, Liberation Day, which marks the end of the 100 days. We opened in Butare in collaboration with the National University of Rwanda, with Jaqueline Umubyeyi, Jean Paul Uwayezu, Solange Umuhire Sonia Uwimbabazi, in the Kinyarwandan translation by Emmanuel Munyarukumbuzi and Anselme NIrere, with director and producer, Jennifer H. Capraru, llghting design and technical direction by Ben Butera, production manager Claude Kamba, communications by Alice Kayibanda, original music by Solange Umuhire,. We then played Kigali at Torero Café, Lycée de Kigali for Tumurere, Le Masison des Jeunes, Club Rafiki, and Ishyo for the 1st Kigali Week of Culture. From September 1st to Election Day on the 15th we toured the 1,000 hills of Rwanda, playing district halls in Gitarama, Butare, Cyangugu, Ruhengeri, Gisenyi and Kibuye,, while September 21 + 22 marked gala performances at the Serena Hotel Kigali for government officials. A lively talk back session follows each performance, and Rwandese filmmaker Christian Gakombe of the Rwanda Cinema Centre is making a documentary.
ISôKO the theatre source is a new international company founded June 2008 in Kigali, which uses contemporary theatre to contribute to social harmony and cultural development in Rwanda. ISOKO is collaborating with local theatre artists, building an ensemble of actors and designers, an audience for theatre, stimulating dialogue on culture, and providing work opportunities for emerging playwrights, actors, directors and designers. ISOKO is founded in the spirit of inter-cultural exchange, to celebrate Rwandese artists, and to further the work of global peace building. Kindly see our web site for further details, images and video, www.isoko-rwanda.org
Play Synopsis In an unnamed country, a young soldier has been convicted of war crimes committed during genocide. Just as he is to be executed, a mysterious woman offers him freedom – at a price. The play is a timeless testament to the choices of ordinary people in not so ordinary circumstances, as it dissects the roles of victim and perpetrator. “Me or you?” wrote Wagner in 1993, as 43 civil wars raged in the world. Can we ever change that into “us”?
Why Theatre in Rwanda? Rwanda has proven to be the perfect setting for this production, due to the country’s clear and steady path of social and cultural reconstruction. We have performed for groups from AVEGA (genocide widows) to students, all of whom connected with the material in astonishing ways, and with our artists through feedback sessions. The production has been extremely vital to Rwandese, as citizens struggle each day to find paths towards healing. Theatre is an art form with which Rwandese have a fascination. As it manifests art for social change through drama, it has proven to be the perfect tool to bring about dialogue around issues concerning civil society, overcoming cultural barriers, peace building, and development.
The Tour On tour, both audiences and officials were very supportive of this hard-edged play, originally set in Yugoslavia. The Ingoro y’ Akarere – local district halls of each town – were all given to the company free of charge. Officials from the education and government sectors often came to give talks after the show. Our timing was fortuitous as the tour coincided with the two weeks leading up to the elections on September 15th. Discussions lasted hours after the performance, and often had to be cut a bit short. We feel our production has set the stage for further workshops, training and cultural collaboration in many communities around the land. Everywhere we played, they always asked us when we would return and play for a longer time. They said we must play in schools, prisons, and at gacaca courts.
In 2009 we plan to tour East Africa, and have secured an invitation to the National Theatre of Uganda. We are keen to contribute to the development of modern Rwandan theatre, and to help share the tough lessons Rwanda has learned, and why this little land continues to be a beacon of successful reconciliation shining in a troubled world.
Originally from Montreal, Jen is Artistic Director of the award-winning Theatre Asylum, where she premieres thought-provoking contemporary theatre by and about women and humanist issues. Most recently she founded ISôKO – the theatre source – in Kigali to help grow Rwandan theatre and bring about social harmony, for whom she directed and produced Colleen Wagner's The Monument on tour in Rwanda. Last season she directed Lullaby for Dark Horse (Dora Nomination for Outstanding Production). Asylum's productions such as BéBé, The Trials, and My Mother's Courage have been developed and toured Canada in co-production with Theatre Passe Muraille, Theatre Centre, National Arts Centre, Saydie Bronfman, and Banff Centre. Jen has been a Guest Director and Lecturer at Acadia University (directed Tony Kushner's The Illusion), University of Victoria (directed Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses), and a Course Director at York University's Glendon College. Since 2005 she has travelled and worked in East Africa, exploring the role culture can play in healing society. In 2006 she was 2nd Script Supervisor on the Canadian feature, Shake Hands with the Devil and her experience working alongside Rwandese prompted her to accept an invitation to give workshops for the Rwanda Cinema Centre www.rwandacinemacenter.org. This led to work for the National University of Rwanda (workshop of Wajdi Mouawad’s Littoral), UNICEF, Kivu Writers, and Mashirika Arts www.mashirika.org. Jen has been a nominee for the Hirsch and McGibbon Directing Awards, a fellow at Schloss Solitude Germany, and an invited director to the Lincoln Centre's Director's Lab, NYC. She completed performance studies at BAADA in London England, later training as a director in Germany at the Landestheater Tübingen and the Volksbühne, Berlin. As well she had the pleasure of being Associate Dramaturg at Factory Theatre for two years through the Metcalf Foundation. For further information, please see the links below.
An Introduction to NoPassport Dreaming the Americas Theatre Conference:
The Body Politic in Performance
By Caridad Svich
On February 22, 2008 at Martin E Segal Theatre Center at CUNY Graduate Center,
New York City
October 2nd, 1968:
A meeting is scheduled between university students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and representatives of the Mexican government. The goal is to resolve conflicts that had arisen after a cycle of violence and repression had been aimed against student and social movements that year. The government promised peace, but instead, on that night, 300 to 500 students and workers were killed in what would be called the massacre at Tlatelolco or the Plaza of Three Cultures.
The week after the massacre, the Mexican government arrested nearly 2000 people on suspicion of involvement with students and workers who had protested. These 2000 people were imprisoned without trial at three different cities. Two months later, most of those who were detained were released. However, nearly eighty others remained in prison without a trial until 1971 at which point all charges were dropped, the individuals were released, and the government decided they had a mistake in arresting them in the first place.
February 22nd, 2008:
It is the fortieth anniversary of the worldwide cultural revolutions of 1968. It is the seventh decade of the nuclear age. It is also a Presidential election year, as the race for the White House heats up around the likely Republican Party candidate John McCain and the currently leading Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama. “Change” and “tomorrow” are the breezily innocuous political buzzwords in the air. The words resound with hope and a desire for a nearly instant overturning of actions taken by the US government in Iraq five years ago next month. “The dark times are behind us,” the patrimonial, ever-optimistic US ‘we’ seems to say. The future is ever bright if we just check our ballot box in November and if our votes are reliably counted.
What happened in Mexico City that night on October 2nd, 1968 – an event remembered by many south of our border but curiously little remarked on here in the north – seems almost inconceivable to think could happen today? Our world, after all, has changed. Progess has been made. The tumult of the 1960s – the sexual, social and political revolutions of the ‘Boom’ era – have forged a new US society where the politics of representation (if not its poetics) and categories of identity have been addressed and re-dressed consistently over the last forty years. Race is a construct. Life is an artificial post-modern performance. And the modernist notion of creation and action in the real world is discounted in favor of the ascent of the reality show in the age of positive disenchantment.
But scroll through the physical and digital front pages of our news sources, and images from the conflicts and civil wars in Darfur, Kenya, Afghanistan and the ever-troubled Middle East, the so-called low-wattage repressive regimes alive and well in Cambodia and Belarus, and the unpredictable, seemingly progressive but as of yet to be determined neo-socialist coalitions forming amongst countries in South America, belie the instantly-achieved bright change tomorrow that seduces our wishful, collective imagination. Although information and technology have made and continue to make the enterprises of global connection a force of hybrid engagement across borders and boundaries, division and disunity are visibly present in separatist actions on the political, cultural and linguistic fronts all over the world.
The beautiful fervor of redemptive hope is one that most societies cling to in order to move forward. If the body politic in which we live in the US has been rent – through the red vs. blue divide, for instance, that has deepened considerably over the last eight years of the Bush administration – then in what ways can it be transformed and healed? And are we as a nation and a community of citizen-artists ready to do the kind of healing that faces both the truth of politics, and the more ambiguous truths of fiction and art?
My call to readiness is not a chastisement or a critique of my own immediate culture and country, but rather, inasmuch as anything, a challenge to my own readiness as an artist amongst artists: to face the truths that allow for a society’s ills to be healed or at very least spiritually repaired (the least is the most any of us can do, after all) will I be ready and willing to meet with courage the necessary darkness and light present in our local, immediate as well as global cultures? Is it possible to truly shrug off the post post-modern embrace of artifice and the simultaneous importance it places on discursive re-articulation and simulation, which the culture in which I live has accepted psychologically, ideologically and imagistically, in order to reclaim the modernist affirmation of artistic force? In effect, can I make myself believe again that subjective art (the stuff we make in our studios, galleries, writing rooms, and theatres) can interfere and change the real world? And can I do so with the power to seek truths that are paradoxically resistant to consensus?
The poetics of representation
Simon Critchley argues in his book Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (London: Verso, 2007) that the new politics in order to be effective must be located at a distance from the state. Critchley identifies the politics of resistance as contingent upon the ethical dimension of the “infinitely demanding” call for justice.” Operating outside the state’s terrain and borne out of new spaces outside its control, the kind of resistance that Critchley speaks of has to do with a consistently positioned ‘outsider’ status that
depends symbiotically on the state’s recognition of its outsider-ness. Infinite demands are met occasionally and serve to reify the state’s benevolence in allowing such calls for action and protest to be made in the first place. Thus, a cycle of passive-aggressive resistance centered on philosophically infinite calls for the hope and advancement of citizens is put in motion. I do not wish to counter Critchley necessarily but use his articulated position of resistance to cast into the light the many ways in which politics and art not only differ but also how they can find a meeting place that is both infinite and finite.
If we consider the politics of representation that continue to govern much of practical and theoretical query in the arts and specifically in theatre, the uses of resistance (under Critchley’s definition) have been effective in challenging the languages, faces, bodies, signs, and elemental and sophisticated machineries at the forefront of play and practice. While identifying and dignifying a visible platform on our stages for the many languages (verbal, visual, emotional, spatial, temporal, accented and controversially unaccented) that shape our nation and culture is an ongoing struggle, nevertheless the infinite demands placed on the forms and uses of art made and seen have altered and in many cases transformed the way our histories are understood and taught. Yet the poetics of representation are inherently less easily grasped but I think more crucially in need of examination and indeed passage into the finite demands of our politics.
Art and literature in the modernist sense are strong and destabilizing forces in culture. If we set aside the post-modern dilemma that the real is reduced to representation and that there is no difference between an original and a copy, then it follows that instead of celebrating a culture of salvage from the debris of history (as we have done for almost thirty-five years), as theatre-makers and practitioners we could celebrate a culture of radical innovation in form and thought, which on the one hand would run counter to the status quo entrenched in disillusionment, cynicism and enamored of replication (and equally enamored of the illusion of classlessness and color-blindness, for that matter) and on the other would open up intensely aporofic possibilities for positive rupture. In effect: if we allow ourselves to meet the tragic human condition(s) in which we live through our art, are we not then opening ourselves and our culture up to engage in and reflect upon more complex and sensitive areas of existence?
To make art is an interventionist practice. Its very making posits difference and the acknowledgement of difference, which falls under the politics and poetics of representation, and occurs against, and resistant to facile recognition and identification. Interventionist art cannot be discounted because of its difference. It cannot be swept away and summarily dealt with because it cannot go away easily once it’s in the world. The mark of interventionist art is also related to its vulnerability to experience, travel, and melancholy. US culture is unreasonably obsessed with happiness and its attainment. Positive psychology is a new field exclusively dedicated to finding ways to enhance happiness through pleasure, engagement and meaning. But why such a rush for desperate contentment? Manic bliss distended from the agitations of the soul is merely an irrational solution to the necessary personal and cultural examination of trouble and melancholy in our lives. One of the inheritances of modernity, in fact, is rupture and the sorrowful meditation that rupture engenders. The act of rupture is akin to being newly born into a new language, born into the blues, so to speak. It is also akin to traveling in a country where you don’t speak the language of currency and capital but nevertheless make your travels anyway, finding the new paths and customs available to you but not readily and easily appropriated for consumption by you.
In the poetics of representation where interventionist art lives, memory, ghosts and healing are intertwined spiritually and metaphorically. It is hardly surprising that as a language of hope and instant renewal is being used by Presidential election campaigns in this country that in this and other countries many artists are trying to recuperate and investigate erased cultural memories that speak to repression, horrors of war, and uncivil acts of human behavior and order. Films such as Florian Henckel’s “The Lives of Others,” Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” to name but a select few, offer complex realistic, surreal and neo-realistic takes on difficult and mad times in their countries’ respective histories: times that perhaps would rather be forgotten, yet certainly continue to mark the wounds of their countries’ cultures. Henckel looks at East Berlin under Stasi surveillance in 1984, Del Toro at Franco’s regime in Spain in the 1940s, and Mungiu at the last days of Ceausescu’s dictatorship in Romania.
These three films are of course works of fiction. However, in their own problematic and defiant ways they posit difference through a re-recognition of the ghosts of the past, and indeed how those ghosts are active in affecting the decisions societies make to seek progress and erase ‘inconvenient truths’ (to borrow Gore’s phrase) Such works of art serve, thus, as necessary cultural odes to melancholy. They require contemplation and vulnerability from the viewer and request a certain kind of wonderment. Working with disparate tropes and leaning on pre-existing expectations and languages of specific dramatic genres such as the horror film, or the neo-realist chronicle of daily life, these works and others that have been made, especially in the last several years, speak to a hunger for cultural questioning, for a displacement of regular modalities, and in Del Toro’s case in particular, a radical fusion of literary and visual forms in cinema. The infinite demands these films make are alive to resistance in Critchley’s sense. They are also potent reminders that the art we make can be a tool to counter and transform historical and cultural ignorance borne out of historical and cultural denial. One of the functions of art, after all, is to re-member cultural memory, and thus re-awaken forgotten and abandoned realities of and to society.
Subversion and its Vibrancy
But how are cultural and political demands made more finite and precise so as not to be simply acknowledged and ignored? If the outsider position central to resistance places primacy on its outsider status, then it is caught however vibrantly in its own surrender. Protest enables the state to acknowledge the beauty of protest but not necessarily to listen and respond to the changes demanded from protest. As many of us may recall, thousands of people protested against the Iraq War all over the world, and indeed in New York City, where media coverage of the protests was diminished. I remember friends abroad asking me if there had even been significant protests in this country. And while the protests were of value in and of themselves, curiously they also served to legitimize the decisions made to invade Iraq. Freedom and democracy was being upheld, see? The cynical state used the act of protest to further bolster their argument for invasion.
I point to another country
and another time: Argentina during the Dirty War and the act of continuous protest made by the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo. Under threat and fear, they chose to not relinquish their resistance and demanded to be heard. The demands were strategic, unswerving and precise: Where are my children? Where is my family? They did not disappear. I remember. I remember. And I want others to remember. Slowly, in time, and with difficulty and great pain, the process of remembering, the process of entering the labyrinth (to think again now of Del Toro’s work) and refusing to accept the enforced consensus that yes, these people, these citizens of the state, were simply gone, was an act of true subversion and radical resistance. The state could not after a while, and the world could not after a while, turn the other way. It couldn’t simply look at this act of resistance as a novelty, a quirk of culture, a special interest group that presented no problem for those in power.
Both of these examples are of course in and of the real world. Theatre too is in and of the real world. Documentary, docu-drama, verbatim and journalistic theatre all fall under the rubric of speaking truth to power in a legitimate way, although all too often, however well-intentioned, it preaches to the converted and assuages residual guilt. Did David Hare’s absolutely exceptional and thrilling Stuff Happens change anything in the end? Except make us laugh at our own inescapable and horrible machinations of war? “A good night out,” as the late John McGrath of 7:84 famously said, is what he didn’t want his audience to have, because you forget that good night out as merely that, and if your goal as an interventionist citizen-art is to shake things up, then really shake things up. Theatre’s province is not journalism but it can use its metaphorical, liberating, daring, rigorous open-ness of possibilities on site, site-specific and site-responsively to demand something more from society, culture, and the state, and maybe even the world.
Let us consider acts of radical resistance as we consider acts of theatre-making in the theatre of everyday life, human engagement and intimacy. Let us also consider the options for resistance in the theatre of artifice (fiction, storytelling and the chasing if the truth-bound lie) which is situated in the limbic state between itself and the world, between private, subjective consciousness and its articulation, and public presence, action and thought. The taut string of the subversive and revolutionary stance, of work that runs counter to the game of mere “hysterical provocation” (to quote Slavoj Zizek in his critique of Alan Badiou in 1998) does not seek to cut the line of responsibility between the demand of the infinite and the options for response from the state and public, but rather to test the heroic endurance of the strategic demands themselves, and the state and public’s inability to shrug off demands that call for attention.
Vibrant subversive resistance in our art-making is not, therefore, a utopian premise or an unstable position within an old paradigm but rather a positive and necessary act of will and love for true societal and artistic transformation. One of an artist’s duties is to observe society’s ills and offer possible diagnoses (not solutions, mind you) for those ills through the creation of work. In the modernist reclamation, the tragic human condition is not solved and does not exist without conflict. In effect, it holds onto its sadness and resists the seductions of happiness that grant illusions of completion when in reality – in truth – our natures as human beings are unfinished and incomplete.
Is it too much to ask of theatre and its artists to think of the form as free and in its subversive freedom expose to the light a desire for change by other means than the replication and complicit re-enforcement of the human-made operating systems of our state and world?
Is it too much to ask of theatre to occur – to be an event – against itself, against consensus and its accompanying, tired hysteria?
Is it too much to ask that theatre strive instead to make room for unpredictable and unexplainable sadness and the kind of ecstatic attentiveness to our mysterious, shifting interiors and exteriors that would then, in turn, require through the strategic-ness of its precision and unequivocal demands, true change and healing?
After all, theatre is a dying art, don’t you know. Everyone says so every hundred years. Why not just simply ride the wave, keep things in motion, keep things glib and easy on the ears, and dutifully surrender to whatever’s in our midst? So what if the body politic is torn up? It’ll mend, right? Democracy always mends. It has a great late capitalist way of patching itself right up.
But my question is this: why patch things up and look for instant fixes when we can heal, if we work hard enough, the rent pieces of the fabric? Why not listen to the bodies that make up our politic(s) in all their divergent, urgent and poetically mixed-up languages, and as artists see what patterns emerge, what we can trace, and what new languages we can enact into being on our stages, beyond the seductive infatuation of instant approval and quickly lifted sound bites that represent on a surface level but not do not take the next step to poeticize Being-ness?
1968 wasn’t just a cultural wake-up call the world over. A super coffee-table book you can look at and be amazed by its eccentricities and groovy trappings. As a child born into the Age of Aquarius, perhaps I’m marked by a desire to re-animate the revolutionary spirit alive in our Americas, or perhaps I simply don’t want the massacre of Tlatelolco to be forgotten as so many other massacres are conveniently forgotten for the sake of happy progress.
Delicious ideas to please the pickiest eaters. Watch the video on AOL Living.
Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – theatre
Restoring resilience on the Beirut stage
September 18, 2007 12:20 PM
Next Wednesday I'm flying back to Beirut, my fourth trip there but my first since last year's war. After attending a conference in Alexandria of international theatre makers from the Arab region, the Balkans and Europe in 2003, I have been more and more involved in developing theatre projects in the Middle East, principally in Lebanon but I amalso Jordan. At the meeting a whole new world of culture, both political and theatrical, opened up. From stories of Palestinian theatre groups performing cultural interventions at Israeli checkpoints, to the daring and witty theatre work of Lebanese artists like Lina Saneh and Rabih Mroue, I saw a possibility to create bridges between East and West at a time when the world was being asked to accept a binary model – for us or against us.
I couldn't have made Roam, which was a show about global politics and air travel set in Edinburgh airport that my company Grid Iron did with the National Theatre of Scotland, without the participation of the Lebanese actor and writer Saseen Kawzally. He knew all there was to know about the politics of the checkpoint and the civil war. Saseen was a translator on our 2005 Beirut project where we re-made our 2003 show Those Eyes, That Mouth and made a new piece in Arabic, The Story of the Death of Najib Brax. We then invited him to Edinburgh in 2006 to perform in Roam. After the show he returned to Lebanon, which three months later suffered the devastating aerial bombardment of the Israeli Defence Force. The next time I saw him was on BBC World, travelling with a BBC unit attached to a Red Cross convoy, comforting the elderly woman sitting next to him, under fire from the air. Two months later he was at my front door in Edinburgh.
This was the first time that war and my personal relationships had entwined so intimately. It felt so real, so personal, seeing him on the television, and I became more politically involved. But although marching, lobbying and letter writing are important, perhaps the most vital contribution one can make is within your field of expertise. Saseen witnessed a truly shocking event when he was working in South Lebanon last year and this story is forming the basis for his play, which the National Theatre of Scotland is developing. The great flexibility of NTS artistic director Vicky Featherstone's "Theatre Without Walls" project means that rather than having to bring the Lebanese actors to a workshop building in Scotland, I can go to Beirut and run the first stage of the development in the context from which the piece emerges. The NTS Workshop can re-make itself, in effect, anywhere in the world.
Things are tense in Lebanon at the moment, as the presidential election looms. I always feel a bit nervous boarding a plane to Beirut, because of the reputation attached to the name of that city. When I was growing up there were two cities synonymous with bombs, Beirut and Belfast. It is part of the tragedy of places that have been war zones that they are permanently associated with conflict. But Beirut is a vibrant, energetic, young city, buzzing with possibility. It's a place where East and West truly meet. Or at least it was before last year. The thing I'm most anxious about is not the security situation but seeing how what happened last year has altered the spirit of my friends and colleagues there. However, the key characteristic of every Lebanese I've ever met can be summed up in one word – resilience.