- 1. Like many others, I cannot seem to understand the existing reason/ration between cooking and the procedure of eating. Such relationship must be in a production-consumption dualism, and there must be a rational or emotional balance between such production-consumption; cooking is a time consuming process. Long hours and deep focus might be devoted to the preparation and/or producing food. Yet the consuming time would only be within 10-20 minutes. It is an art to alter the mere eating process into a longer-time-consuming ritual in order to create a balance and equity.
Mobed’s works, in some cases, present such imbalance. “Hypocrisy”, (Tarahan Gallery, 2013) is a simple, un-detailed performance; he has lied down on a bed and there is blood, running through the vessels and the plastic bag. When the plastic bag was full, Mobed suddenly throws it to the wall and that is it. What has remained is the phrase “the right price”, slowly standing out after the blood is cleaned. Although the fundamental idea of his work might be the fact that the origin and essence of creating an artwork in the present circumstances in Iran -basically or ironically- costs a fortune, as an audience, the climax for me is the experience of watching the splashing of a bucket of blood onto the wall; a blood bag which is stacked, by drops and ultimately, in a highly emotional act, was splashed onto the wall.
There is the same imbalance relationship in “Virus” (Paris, 2012). The procedure of preparation which includes tying the piled strings of hair of the head and body of an eastern man and tying them to the ropes through the nails on the wall, imposes a great deal of non-acting time, effort and attention to the performer and the audience both. When the process is finished, it is time to consume and there are only few minutes left for the audience, the common participants of the performance, to open the ties and set them free. In “Repetition”, (Tarahan-e Azad Gallery, 2013) Mobed has placed himself in the same time consuming and discomforting process, deep in a shit-pile, and the audience has just arrived at the scene and therefore the food is ready to serve; it is time for the audience to pull him out and save him from this situation.
These three performances and his other performances are very similar to the pattern of producing and consuming food. All three performances could be clearly divided into two structural parts of preparation and consumption. All three works therefore, would be deeper in the process of preparation rather than performance. The effort of the artist to reach a balance between these two parts is noticeable. That is why I believe he has done his best to deepen the second part (from the moment he splashed the blood onto the wall on) in “Hypocrisy”. I also believe that such effort was not successful because of the exciting and emotional impact of the moment the blood is splashed that absolutely leads any other details to the peripheral, which might even be considered as fundamental in the artist’s point of view. Like “Virus”, the first part is specified to making the hair and tying them to the ropes and strings consumes more time and energy, and the second part which is the consumption, very briefly is dedicated to setting the artist free; the part that is done within seconds. While, in “repetition”, the audience would start scratching right from the very beginning to save Mobed and quickly save him. Based on this approach, Mobed’s performances often is an attempt to create a balance between the two parts of production and consumption. Deep attempts could be recognized in his performances, each of which is an effort to add to the weight of the second part of his works.
2. Another feature of Mobed’s performances refers to the role he either plays or not. Such approaches are not mainly specified to Mobed’s works. In both versions of “come caress me”, (2010Tarahan-e Azad Gallery and Goteborg, Sweden) the whole acting of Mobed is standing in the target mat and suffering from pain. He has done his job and now it is the audience who would have to bear the action. The audience who has totally accepted the act of shooting him, and according to his/her understanding towards the accepted role, selects a distance for shooting Mobed by a pneumatic rifle. The performer has turned into the non-actor and the audience has adopted the role of an actor.
In “The (Killing) Field” (2011, Mohsen Gallery), Mobed’s role is standing high, on a red ice cube and let his neck on the hanging rope with his eyes closed and basically, the action is for the audience to fulfil. The audience who stare at him in silence, pity, amazement, fear or anger, audience who would step up to stop the performance,
Audiences who would do anything just to end the performance and ask him to initiate a dialogue and finally audiences who, depressed from the current situation, nod their heads as a sign of regrets and pity and leave the scene and its actions. Not-acting, Mobed awaits in almost all parts of the performance; awaiting for the ice to be melted and breaking free from life’s restrictions! Or the interference of anything which ends the scene.
In “Opening” (201, Sin Gallery), such action and role division could be seen as the main theme of the work. Regarding the work in two parts, Mobed, by dressing in a way which represents the dominant power, has stood at the door, not letting people in, easily in the first part. Apparently, Mobed has had actually almost blocked the path, yet it is the audience, as the main (performative) activist who would change the fate of this part after all. It is the audience’s innovative mind to choose to enter with difficulty, totally ignore entering or finding another way. Mobed, on the other side, does his best to continue the representation of power and not lose the superior situation. In the second part of the performance, Mobed, with the similar authority and violent behaviour, covers the doors, walls and visual works in black. It seems that basically, he is the owner of action but minutes later, his behaviors turn into relatively predictable, mechanic patterns and again, it is the audience that determines the path of the performance by his/her acting decisions. It is quite clear that Mobed, in creating interrelated dual relationships and by imposing power, waits for resistance in the audience. The same resistance which he expected in “Come Caress me“, yet he could not succeed until the end of the performance.
“Avoiding to act” could also be noticed in some of Mobed’s previous works. In “Why don’t you love me?” (Mohsen Gallery), Mobed was again in the representation of his routine life; a stable situation that has left the other, exposed to accepting to act. Since the distance of the audience is clearly specified during the performance, before one could discuss the transfer of action to the audience, we should emphasize on Mobed, ignoring to act, and leave it to the third person. Giving over the action was quite clear in “50% OFF“. In an essay on Acting and Not-Acting by Michael Kirby (1931-1997), which has discussed the historical and theoretical origins of the art of performance, he has placed the performances in opposition to theatre based on two aspects and finally avoided evaluating these two forms of performing art and mainly focused on explaining and interpreting. Kirby distinguishes a performing artist from theatre artist regarding two characteristics; first aspect is the critical aspect of character and his/her actions in the performances which is defined as Matrixed/ Not-Matrixedthrough which the character would be analysed by his/her presence and actions in a performance. The second aspect is the acting/Not-acting aspect of a character. Both aspects are observed in performances according to Kirby’s definition. Not to forget that Kirby is a theoretician of theatre and the semiotic binary oppositions he has mentioned covers a wide range of performing utilities from normal performances to artistic performances with 70s and 80s in particular. He has concentrated mainly on the origins of theatrical art of performance with a historical approach. Kirby has specified the body of his research and theory to the performed works at the end of 70s. In the meantime, the defined binary oppositions between acting and not-acting seems to be reliable in the study of the features of Amir Mobed’s performances.
In the 70s and 80s performances, Kirby recognizes and introduces both performances based on action and those based on not-action. There is clearly a suspension and a space in between these two interpretations of performances in studying Amir Mobed’s performances:
- The not-acting belongs to Amir Mobed and acting to the audience in “Come Caress Me“, “Repetition“, “The (Killing) Field“, and “Virus“
- The acting in “Hypocrisy” and “Homeland” is totally specified to Mobed
- In “50% OFF” and “Why don’t you love me?”,the not-acting is specified to Mobed who has the mainstream of the performance
- In “Opening” and to some extent, “Authority“, there seems to be a dialectic in transferring the acting from Mobed to the audience.
It seems that the mutual relation between acting and not-acting and the process of transferring it from the performer to the audience is basically a long-term theme in Mobed’s works. A theme which is retrievable and recognizable in two levels; Synchronic and Diachronic in a long-term and evolutionary process that has been experienced in different forms.
3. The essence of Mobed’s performances could be adopted with Micheal Kirby’s approach through another aspect. Mobed comes from a visual background while Kirby was in the field of altered theatre. Opposite to this approach, the performing approach could be mentioned which defines performance not as an altered form of theatre, but rather a world of developed visual experiences to the body and acting. However, it seems that, in contrary to his visual background, Mobed has a theatre-related approach to performance, which would place him next to Kirby because of their similar approach.
Should we have a general overview towards Amir Mobed’s performances, we could define the work as an integrated acting-theatrical totality by assuming the performing artist and the participatory audience as one. What is observed from acting in this definition could be evaluated in a theatrical form regardless of its predictability and/or spontaneous. There are three major levels in the classic-19th-century definition of Gustave Freytag (1816-1895) of theatre: ascending acting, climax and descending acting. A major part of Amir Mobed’s performances has a fundamental dependence on these three levels; climax in particular. “Come Caress Me“, continues until eventually someone destroys the whole scene, smashes the rifle, and leaves the scene by swearing. Right after this occurs, the ascending acting are finished and therefore the descending acting begin in a form of accusing the shooters. In “The (Killing) Field”, Mobed is in his ultimate not-acting position while the participatory audience has the burden of acting. The acting(s) would pile up one after another and finally Mobed extracts all features of a climax from his audience; dramatic rhetoric and narrations, unsuccessful attempts, moaning and eventually catharsis! The audience would feel deeply changed and at the end, Mobed thinks it is better to stop and walk down..
“Hypocrisy” is very dependent on the climax; in this frame, the efforts on the canvas in order to reveal the fading “at the right price” as a type of descending acting in opposition to the climax, which was splashing the blood on canvas and on the walls.
The meaning of climax in both performances of “Opening” and “Repetition” is a bit complex in comparison to others. In these two performances, the climax is the moment that the audience begin to believe that they have to resist right at that very moment and they have to start acting in contrary to the performing process. Forming the resistant is a climax that elicits the creative acting from Mobed’s control and ends the performance.
Aside from the attractions of the performances and their relationship with the climax, the fundamental concentration of Mobed’s performances on the climax and their closeness with the theatrical essence of performance could be defined as a kind of theoretical retirement (moving backward) in his thoughts. However, he is the constant designer and performer of the situations and suspensions which distinguishes him from other performing artists of his time, though it seems that there are not the situations which are followed as a goal by Mobed, it is rather the reactions and eventually reaching to the dramatic climax that allures him.
4. Although pain and distress are present in Mobed’s works, yet I believe such elements do not create his works’ main theme. “Come Caress Me“, “Repetition“, “Virus“, “Hypocrisy“, “The (Killing) Field” and “50% OFF” are all connected to pain and distress, yet they don’t seem to be the main theme of the work. If pain were the main issue, basically, either the suffering would draw the concentration, or the Sadomasochistic outcomes in its individual or social levels. In all these performances though, pain is the initiation, and the performance ends with setting free and end of pain, and if we add the same meaning of dramatic climax in the previous part to this perception, emotional acting end the pain that leads the artist to the final destination. Regarding such interpretation therefore, the performance begin with pain, which is in the ascending part, then on the dramatic climax is the acting of finishing the pain, often by concentrating on the audience who have accepted to act and participate based on his/her emotions and excitements, and then the performance is finished. Mobed would, without any reason, ease the initiation pain like Jesus Christ, and later on the audience would act due to such pain and distress and so they would end the pain and catharsis happens. As if, Mobed has accepted the pain of the ritual and process of the entrance of the audience to the world of acting and baptised him/her.
In “Opening“, the relationship is a bit different. He would impose the pain right at the audience; though this time, he is involved in imposing the pain and suffering it at the same time by grotesquely, wearing the dress of power- holding a stapler instead of a gun-. He then, increases the audience’s pain by restricting their view and movement so the resistant begins and the pain fades away.
Presumably, rather than the main theme, pain and distress is more ofthe materials in most of Mobed’s works. The main theme is the suspension between acting and not-acting and forms of transferring the action from artist to the audience.
5. Mobed’s audience have learned and adopted things from the performer and their own experiences. The difficult relationship between the audience and the pain they suffer since the moment they enter gradually turns into a more systematic relationship. In “50% OFF“, the audience do not have any clue what they might do, facing such explicit pain, amazed and astonished they continue to watch. In “Come and Caress Me“, which is the trap itself, the audience would gather after the catharsis and judge their own participation in the continuity of the shameful pain. Now Mobed’s audience gradually learn their common borders and what systematic position he has defined for his audience. In “The (Kiling) Field“, some still recall their previous embarrassing participation, and as a response to Mobed’s cruelty, although he is inviting them to the highest price- his life- they decide not to participate, while the faithful begin acting and try to examine methods and approaches they think he would approve. In “Virus” and “Hypocrisy” nonetheless, the audience have clearly adopted the principles, and accept their own acting role without hesitating and enjoys having what Mobed has prepared.
During this time, Mobed has developed the society of his audience by his persistence and continuity in the theme and the use of materials. Also, such settled relationship and the acting acceptance by the audience is in opposition with the production-consumption balance mentioned in the first part. Apparently, training the audience would let Mobed to take deeper steps and with more common presumptions. However, the audience who is too aware of their role and position, knows where exactly they can find their food and perhaps inevitably, they would restrict the artist who is trying to create a balance between the process of preparation and production.