By ROBERTA BOSCO
04.07.2021 / elpais.com
The city, a hive of people moving towards and away from one another, crossing paths, and interacting while hardly noticing, transforms into a large navigable stage in Urban Nature, the most recent creation by the celebrated German group, Rimini Protokoll. The production, part of Festival Grec, can be enjoyed at Centro de Cultura Contemporánea de Barcelona (CCCB) until September 19th, after which it will be presented at Kunsthalle Mannheim.
In Urban Nature the company known for works that are difficult to classify – and for breaking boundaries between different artistic disciplines – explores forms of living together in a multicultural city such as Barcelona by inviting the audience to put itself in the skin of the seven people who’ll take them on a journey through their lives. “Producing a work of this nature in the middle of a pandemic has been heroic. The city articulates itself in its diversity,” Jordi Costa, head of exhibitions at CCCB points out, recalling national casting call involved in selecting the seven protagonists after more than 70 candidates had been interviewed. Nobody is an actor. Everyone is a real person who’s agreed to share their experiences. The piece allows visitors to get to know them and empathize with their stories, their way of coexisting and relating through as many immediately recognizable urban scenes.
“We define it as a traversable film, but it’s also an experiment in expanded theatre and an exhibit overflowing onto a stage where the audience transforms into another element of the piece,” Costa explains. As does the overall proposal, the visit oscillates between attending an exhibition and a theatrical performance. The route goes through seven spaces with audiovisual projections, scenographic features, and a sound arrangement necessary to reinforce the immersive experience. “There are no headphones. We didn’t want any devices between the visitor and the work,” set designer Dominic Huber pointed out.
The audience enters every eight minutes in groups of 11, one of whom transforms into a kind of game director who’s been entrusted with a tablet for receiving instructions to transmit to their experiential companions. The story begins at a small square where a professor of economic and environmental history lays out the relationship between the city and nature and the necessity of changing natural resource management. At a bar, visitors meet the executive of a famous digital messaging platform who puts them in the gig economy, the triumph of job insecurity.
The other side of the coin is a homeless shelter where you have to sleep in a bunk bed to hear the story of Siham, a symbol of many young people’s uncertain future. An architect is not in charge of visualizing the city of the future for a change, but Leyla, a 9-year-old girl. From Leyla’s dreams – which take shape in the model of an imagined city tailored to a children’s game – they pass through the darkest parts of the metropolis: a prison workshop where inmates manufacture industrial parts and the tennis court of a financial advisor who embodies the contradiction of being a woman in a masculine environment. Concluding the journey is Camila, a graphic designer who left the world of social media and influencers to embrace a new profession not devoid of risk: marijuana production. All the characters return to her plantation. It’s the farewell. The trip has lasted 56 minutes, and they flew by.
In a final surprise, the narrow exit passageway leads to a panopticon with windows hidden behind mirrors, allowing the new visitors to be spied on without seeing. “It’s a way of underlining that although we find ourselves in a complicated technological apparatus, it’s people who give it value. Opening an exhibition means starting a conversation with the audience, which this time, more than ever, has the last word,” Costa concluded.