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Oscillating Absurdities: Beirut’s Rabih Mroue responds to a “traumatized society”

Rabih Mroué— Lebanese visual and performance artist, actor, director, and playwright—is performing Looking for a Missing Employee during the second week of next month’s Out There 2012: Global Visionaries festival. In Looking for a Missing Employee, Mroué performs the role of a multimedia detective mining the fate of one of the tens of thousands of […]

Rabih Mroué— Lebanese visual and performance artist, actor, director, and playwright—is performing Looking for a Missing Employee during the second week of next month’s Out There 2012: Global Visionaries festival. In Looking for a Missing Employee, Mroué performs the role of a multimedia detective mining the fate of one of the tens of thousands of Lebanese people who went missing during the Lebanese Civil War.

Mroué has said, “How can one establish dialogue in a traumatized society, aware of this reality but not falling into the trap of disconsolate mourning, as the politics of memory is often seen today?” He answers partly through the use of absurdity in his work.

 

"Make Me Stop Smoking" 2006, video stills courtesy Rabih Mroué

 

In Mroué’s work Make Me Stop Smoking, he re-casts Freud as a member of Hezbollah, and in I, the Undersigned he “addresses the lack of accountability of those responsible for the Lebanese Civil War by offering his own striking apology.”

"I, the Undersigned" 2007, video stills courtesy Rabih Mroué

 

About his work How Nancy Wished That Everything Was An April Fool’s Joke, the New York Times wrote:

The four characters tell stories of contradiction that ricochet off one another. They will adhere to an ideological position and then change it. They pledge loyalty to a political leader and then betray him. They make allies and then forsake them. They switch sides and get lost. In each story they tell they are killed in battle, only to come back to life again in the next round, like irrepressible players of video games.

With similar irrepressibility, his work Old House (2006) oscillates visually between destruction and composure while Mroué at the same time narrates his own process of “remembering and forgetting.” And in Noiseless (2008) he presents a concocted newspaper article about his own disappearance with an image of himself that eventually blends into the notices of other missing persons until his image evaporates and becomes a void.

 

Born in 1967, Rabih Mroué began his work in plays, performance, and video in 1990, also the year the Lebanese Civil War ended. His emergence marks the aftereffects of a chronically “traumatized society,” one in which absurdity becomes the commensurate accuracy with which to express the loss of a quarter million people, and the tens of thousands disappeared.

Mroué’s investigation of the disappeared of his home country recalls, for me, the desaperacidos of another place, same time (roughly). Pinochet’s regime in Chile began before the Lebanese Civil War and continued over the same time period, with the disappeared in Chile numbering over 3,000. Most of all I am reminded of Roberto Bolaño’s novel Distant Star, which similarly mines the absurdity of (Chile’s) “traumatized society.” Distant Star tells the life story of Lorenzo—an HIV-positive gay artist with no arms who was born into poverty and became an adult at the height of Pinochet’s reign—who commits suicide by jumping into the ocean but who changes his mind at the last minute and swims to the surface using only his torso and legs:  “In the current socio-political climate…committing suicide is absurd and redundant. Better to become an undercover poet.”

Continually plagued by censorship at home, Mroué has freely performed his theater work and exhibited his visual art abroad, including the Istanbul Bienniale (2009), Prefix Institute for Contemporary Art in Toronto, and recently at the Rivington Gallery in London. As part of a U.S. performance debut tour, his engagement at the Walker is from January 12-14 2012 and includes an Inside Out There workshop January 14 , 11 am, where Mroué will present The Pixelated Revolution, a lecture-performance about the impact of mobile phones and social media in the recent Syrian uprising.