Who’s afraid of Representation? is the title of a recent work by Lebanese artist Rabih Mroué. The audience is confronted with a series of representations of violent acts. We do not actually get to see them. They are described to us. Many of these acts are famous moments of body art and performance of the 1970s and 1980s. All of them are represented in Amelia Jones’ and Tracey Warr’s book The Artist’s Body, which plays an important part in Mroué’s performance. The title that frames these ‘confessions’ evokes Barnett Newmann’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?, as well as the ambiguous attitude towards representation characteristic of much discourse surrounding body art and performance. Hearing the extreme acts described to us in a mere matter of fact way turns them into a weird kind of imaginary theatre that prevents the audience from being absorbed in the moment of the immediate action and instead opens up space for reflection and wonder. Who are these people going to such ends to inflict pain on their own bodies or have themselves humiliated? Why are they doing this? What is this about? Who is afraid of Representation?
I will reflect on the ways in which Mroué’s re-enactments present a commentary on the relationship between the resistance to representation and violence in relation to the history of performance art as well as more recent politically/religiously motivated cases such as the so-called Cartoon affaire and Submission.
Maaike Bleeker is a professor in Theatre Studies at Utrecht University and an Artist in Residence at the Amsterdam School of the Arts. She has worked as a dramaturge with various theatre directors, choreographers and visual artists, most recently with Renée Copraij and Martin Butler (Protocol of Desire). Her articles have appeared in Theatre Research International, Performance Research, Maska, Performance Paradigm, Women& Performance (among others) as well as in various anthologies. She has (co) edited several books (Body Check. Relocating the Body in Contemporary Theatre, Rodopi 2002; Theater Topics I: Multicultural Drama?, Amsterdam University Press 2005; Theater Topics 2: The Maker as Researcher, Amsterdam University Press 2006; Anatomy that is Alive, forthcoming). Her book Visuality in the Theatre. The Locus of Looking is forthcoming with Palgrave Macmillan.