Thursday, January 16, 2014

PuSh 2014: The Pixelated Revolution

Rabih Mroué, who brought his Looking for a Missing Employee to the 2012 PuSh Festival, is back this year with The Pixelated Revolution, on at SFU Woodward's Studio T through this Saturday. Like the earlier work, this new piece is a lecture-performance; Mroué sits at a table downstage right, a MacBook to his right, a small desk lamp illuminating a sheaf of pages. As Mroué reads from this text, he projects images from the laptop onto the upstage wall. But whereas in Looking the artist told the story of the disappearance of a low-level functionary in the Lebanese government bureaucracy (and his possible ties to an emerging financial scandal) by stitching together his traces in print media, this time around Mroué is concerned with digital images, examining a series of cell-phone videos from the Syrian revolution uploaded to the Internet since 2011.

Mroué's central thesis is that the gun and the cell-phone camera--as prosthetic extensions of the person wielding each--are species of the same technology, and therefore locked in an endless battle in which neither can stop shooting. He illustrates this, most harrowingly, through two video sequences in which we witness two individuals filming with cell-phone cameras capturing themselves being fired upon--once by a rifle, and once by a tank. Mroué makes a persuasive case for why, in both instances, the filmers don't turn away: in the same way that the screen in the theatre auditorium mediates our experience of what we are watching (reassuring us, for example, that the bullets won't fly through it and at us), so does the cell-phone camera, held at a distance from the eye, function as a similar kind of screen for the person holding it. As an only mildly reassuring corollary to this, Mroué also suggests that just as in this "double shooting" the cell-phone videographer can't stop watching, the fact that we are now watching this watching means that he or she has survived--otherwise the footage would not have found its way onto the Internet.

This is just one of many stunning claims the artist makes in the course of the 60-minute show, including a breathtaking reading of the tripod--adjunct to a network's seamless image and a sniper's bullet arc--as the symbol of state stability and government orthodoxy. But if, as Mroué somberly concludes at the end of his piece, the shaky, fuzzy hand-held images collected via cell phones throughout the Arab Spring have not proven enough to secure the people's revolution, just like the thousands of tiny pixels that comprise each frame, together they accumulate to provide a record of the attempt--and, ideally, an incitement (on everyone's part) not to betray that attempt.

Accompanying Mroué's show is an exhibition called Nothing to Lose at the grunt gallery, on through February 8. Together with Tim Etchells, he is also one of two featured artists-in-residence at this year's Festival, and will be giving several workshops and talks (including as part of the PuSh Assembly) over the next two weeks. Full details at


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