Monday, June 05, 2006

"Who's Afraid of Representation": a concept of flesh and bones

Look at the history of performance art. Was it all in vain? All this suffering, the blood and the desperation, all for nothing? For an Art that is part of history now, that we look upon with a melancoly smile, like when you hear a child ask something silly? In Who's Afraid of Representation (shown at the Alkantara Festival), Lina Saneh and Rabih Mroué seem to look at it more like when you hear a child ask something impossible. "When we suffer, is it because we were bad?" "But what sense does it make?" And finally, our favorite: "But why?"
Saneh and Mroué seem to have decided: because of something.
This time, the history of performance art has to do with one thing: Lebanon.
In this version, the "historic" performances (of the likes of Gina Pane, Marina Abramović, Chris Burden) are put in the context of the horrible, painful history of contemporary Lebanon. Almost as if it all made sense. As if it were inscribed somewhere, justifying something, coming from somewhere further than art's, or the perfomer's, belly. Mroué and Saneh need this. They need to explain, to comprehend, to gasp the sense, some sense, in the history they know.
Is it true? The answer is neither yes or no: it's representation. It's somebody telling you something the way it could make sense. Because it has to make sense - otherwise it simply isn't worth telling. Or waking up.
I suppose Who's Afraid of Representation left many people unsatisfied. It is a simple scheme, easily understood, and dramaturgically modest.
I liked it. Because in its pure and simple game that linked a true story of a Lebanese man who went too far to the history of body art, it made me ask the naive questions.
Questioning conceptual art is good. Especially, when you're able to give these concepts another life. Fill them with new blood.
And here is one for the specialists: How does a concept handle a history? As Hegel might have said, history handles it, over and over again. It doesn't need to handle history.

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