Rimini Protokoll’s performance art ‘Remote Abu Dhabi’ explores how we move through the city

German theatre group Rimini Protokoll explores the social fluidity of how people move through the city of Abu Dhabi with their interactive performance art 'Remote Abu Dhabi'.
In Rimini Protokoll’s project Remote Abu Dhabi, participants are guided on a tour of Abu Dhabi by a computer generated voice, heard through headphones. Ravindranath K / The National
In Rimini Protokoll’s project Remote Abu Dhabi, participants are guided on a tour of Abu Dhabi by a computer generated voice, heard through headphones. Ravindranath K / The National

If you happen to see a group of people walking around the capital with headphones on, all moving in the same direction – or making the same gesture – don’t be alarmed. It isn’t some return of the flash mob. It’s part of a sensitive and probing project by the Berlin-based theatre group Rimini Protokoll, who are doing a series of performances in the city.

Rimini Protokoll’s Remote Abu Dhabi is part of Durub Al Tawaya, the strand of performance events that take place alongside Abu Dhabi Art, the fair that runs from Wednesday until Saturday at Manarat Al Saadiyat. Al Tawaya curator Tarek Abou El Fetouh explains that with this programme he seeks to exploit the capacity of artists to think differently about heritage and the future of places such as Abu Dhabi.

“The city has a vision,” he says, “And that’s one of the future and extension. Contemporary art can help explore the possibilities of this future and how it reveals itself in the urban fabric.”

Remote Abu Dhabi takes this idea and looks at the city and the people as they move within it. Every participant on the tour – it is limited to 50 people – is given a set of headphones through which they hear instructions on where to go and what to do. The headphones, plugged into music players or smart phones, atomise the group, placing each person in his or her own world.

At the same time, the shared instructions, which ask the group to do the same things at the same time, unite them together – making them into, as the Rimini Protokoll soundtrack calls it, a horde. 

Jörg Karrenbauer, who has co-­directed the project along with Stefan Kaegi, says it was particularly interesting working in Abu Dhabi because there are such a variety of people here. Abu Dhabi is the 25th city this performance has been enacted in and he notes how heterogeneous city life is here versus in Europe. 

“There are so many different cultures that exist side-by-side,” he says, and they all interact with the city in different ways. For instance, “we learnt that not everyone will take the bus. That’s a key part of acting together that was missing.”

The project explores these rites of common social experience: a group filtering through a narrow door, spreading out onto seats in a bus, waiting to cross a road.

Karrenbauer says: “We want to play around with how social life is organised in the city – the rules that people follow without even thinking about it.”

As the tour continues, you are asked to reflect on the people around you – and on the way that you, inexplicably doing the same gesture as others with your headphones on, are also the subject of reflection for others. The group transforms into players for the people around it, just as the soundtrack asks you to look at the city as one big organic theatre production.

“Look at the characters,” the pre-recorded voice intones. “Some of them are carrying shopping bags. Some of them are looking at their phones.” It is uncanny how well the pre-recorded voice was able to anticipate – in the pretence of controlling – the goings-on around the group.

“People are so predictable,” says Karrenbauer. “You know that if they have to wait for a bus for three minutes they’re going to start checking their phones – not even three minutes. Thirty seconds maybe.” 

But if Remote Abu Dhabi asks us to see ourselves as reliable, it shows the city as something totally new.

For more information, see www.abudhabiart.ae/en/programme/Pages/EventsListing.aspx


Published: November 15, 2015 04:00 AM


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