Rabih Mroué

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Rabih  Mroué
Rabih Mroué. Photo: Sebastian Bolesch

Article

Expanded Memory

Born 1967 in Beirut, Rabih Mroué is an actor, director and author, whose plays and performances revolve around the political situation in Lebanon. Mroué’s work constantly is expanding the possibilities of theater, while reconsidering its traditional definitions and searching for new relationships between actors and audiences. Everyday discoveries are his point of departure, which he then reworks into surprising contexts: posters, photographs, videos and newspaper clippings serve as the source material for reading intended messages hidden in official announcements and using them subversively.
With his "lecture performances", he has cultivated a form of theater, dating back to the tradition of the storyteller in the Arab markets. Mroué reminisces about the ancient world: "The classical Greek theater does not show the action, rather it talks about it." While studying theater at the Lebanese University in Beirut, Rabi Mroué met Lina Saneh, who not only became his life partner, but also has become his closest artistic collaborator. Thus, the New York Times once compared their productive working relationship to the 1970s cooperative artistic ensemble Wooster Group in New York.

Their first joint stage production, "The Story of Little Gandhi," is based on a novel by the Lebanese writer Elias Khoury published in 1989. Almost all of Mroué´s later works are based on material from his personal archive. In 2004, he created the performance "Who´s Afraid of Representation" in which he associates the history of Western performance art with the political events in Beirut. With what, he asks, do famous body-art works of art operate? They operate with the vulnerability of the human body, which is a daily threat in Lebanon,. Since Mroué was referring here to a real incident, the performance was forbidden in his homeland.

"Photo-Romance” takes place 2006 in Beirut, shortly after the Israeli attack on the country. Saneh and Mroué examine the mechanisms of censorship in this piece. Their source material this time is Ettore Scola´s film "A Special Day," which deals with the phenomenon of Italian Fascism. A woman wants to shoot a remake of the film in Lebanon. To do this, she must explain her project to a censorship official, played by Rabih Mroué. "Photo-Romance" is a complex study of civil courage in the face of totalitarian threats – which for Scola was fascism, and for Mroué and Saneh is the "cold civil war" they are living under.

“Looking for a Missing Employee” revolves around a true story which was buried in a flood of speculation, suspicion, false reports, fantasies and lies. The performance is a political detective story, and like so much of his research, here, too Rabih Mroué gives a voice to the everyday material of the political visual culture that surrounds us. He tells us, a financial officer in Beirut disappeared one day with a suitcase full of money. Eventually, they found his body, but it never came out whether he acted on his own, or whether the secret service, or a criminal gang was behind it.

The piece "Nancy," which he wrote together with Fadi Toufic, tells an episodic story of the fifteen year Lebanese Civil War that officially ended in 1990. Four fighters from different militias appear on stage, four actors sit on a couch large enough for only three. Over them hang posters of "martyrs,” as they typically are seen on the streets of Beirut. The four characters tell each other conflicting stories and represent ideological positions from which they later distance themselves. During this encounter, they change their positions so often that it becomes impossible to tell what side they are on.

In contrast to this, Mroué offers his personal confessions (acted yet also meant in earnest): In his “Video work I, the Undersigned "(for the art exhibition Manifesta 2007) he makes an official statement apologizing for his activities during the civil war and calls on other Lebanese to do the same. Also in the lecture-performance "The Inhabitants of Images," which he presented in 2010 at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt’s Berlin Documentary Forum 1, an autobiographical motif emerges: his membership in the Communist Party, here, too, associated with mourning for the dead in the civil war.

Rabih Mroué is one of the most important representatives of a broad and diverse movement in art, which deals with questions of the archive. He has called his personal collection "expanded memory," which is not always a positive matter, nor is it something he owns. On the contrary, his work takes aim at a culture that has difficulty putting the past behind and "erases memory," right when it would actually improve human coexistence.
Author: Bert Rebhandl

Bio

*1967 Beirut/Libanon. In addition to his many performances and visiting professorships around the world, Rabih Mroué is also co-editor of the magazine The Drama Review and co-founder of the Beirut Art Center (BAC).

Works

Performances 2010 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2010
Gwangju Biennale 2010, Gwangju Biennial, Gwangju, South Korea (Starting September); Alles anders? Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, Austria (Starting June); BERLIN DOCUMENTARY FORUM 1 - New practices across disciplines, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany; Rabih Mroue - I, the Undersigned BAK Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

Performances 2009 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2009
PERFORMA09, PERFORMA New York, NYC, USA; 11th Istanbul Biennial, Istanbul, Turkey; SOFT MANIPULATION - WHO IS AFRAID OF THE NEW NOW? Stiftelsen 3,14, Bergen, Sweden; MEDIUM RELIGION ZKM, Karlsruhe, Germany

Performances 2008 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2008
Manifesta 7 Trentino - Alto Adige 2008, International Foundation Manifesta, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; e-flux VIDEO RENTAL CAMJAP, Lissabon, Portugal; The Anxious / Les inquiets, Centre Pompidou, Paris, France

Performances 2007 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2007
In Focus, Tate Modern, London, UK; e-flux VIDEO RENTAL Centre culturel suisse, Paris, France; LANDSCHAFT (ENTFERNUNG) Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart, Germany; e-flux VIDEO RENTAL Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge/MA, UK; e-flux VIDEO RENTAL Arthouse Texas, Austin, USA

Performances 2006 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2006
Arteast Collection 2000+23, Moderna Galerija Ljubljana, Slovenia; Coding: Decoding Kunsthallen Nikolaj, Kopenhagen, Denmark; Coding : Decoding Museum of Contemporary Art, Roskilde, Denmark; e-flux VIDEO RENTAL, Mücsarnok Kunsthalle, Budapest, Hungary; Biennale of Sydney 200, Sydney, Australia; e-flux VIDEO RENTAL FILM FESTIVAL Extra City, Antwerpen, Belgium; OUT OF BEIRUT Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK; 52. Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen, Oberhausen, Germany; Hadith : Conversation, Sfeir-Semler Gallery, Beirut, Lebanon; Middle East News on Culture and Politics, Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, Germany

Performances 2005 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2005
Home Works III, Ashkal Alwan, Beirut, Lebanon; DECODING LEBANON, International Foundation Manifesta, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Split Subjects, De Appel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Performances 2004 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2004
Formidable Beyrouth !, Centre pour l´image contemporaine, Geneva, Switzerland

Performances 2003 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2003
Contemporary Arab Representations/Beirut BildMuseet, Umea, Sweden

Performances 2002 (Selected)

Production / Performance,
2002
Fundamentalisms of the New Order, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Kopenhagen, Denmark Contemporary Arab Representations/Beirut Witte de With, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

Berlin Documentary Forum 1

New practices across disciplines

(02 June 10 - 06 June 10)

IN TRANSIT 2002

Transforming the arts

(30 May 02 - 14 June 02)