19.09.2021 / https://www.artpress.com/2021/08/19/urban-nature-experience-de-la-ville/

Not to be missed at the CCCB in Barcelona, the exhibition by the Rimini Protokoll collective is like an installation in which you can be one of the heroes, armed with a tablet or not. It is also, and above all, an in-depth reflection on the urban world and its mechanics.

First, there is the voice of an urban planner reminding us that, although a majority of Western city dwellers dream of living in the countryside, urban housing is less energy and water intensive than the isolated buildings of the rural world, and therefore preferable in the context of the climate crisis. I am that urbanist - I chose, somewhat randomly, the 'with tablet' option to visit the exhibition Urban Nature by the German collective Rimini Protokoll, currently on show at the CCCB, Barcelona, before moving to the Kunsthalle Mannheim from July to October 2022, in collaboration with the Nationaltheater Mannheim (NTM). With or without a tablet, the device - which takes the Brett Baileys or the Khrjanovskis back to a distant prehistory of theatre, performance and immersive installation - also creates an undoubtedly relevant statement about the (urban) world around us.

Following the indications of the tablet, the visitor passes through a dozen spaces - a dormitory in a hostel for asylum seekers, a night bar, an investment consultancy, a tennis court, a metro station, a petty bourgeois interior... - accompanied by texts extracted from ethnographic interviews conducted by the authors with various protagonists of urban life: a young passer-by, an interior decorator reconverted to the production and sale of cannabis, a prison guard. All these settings are simultaneously animated by the other visitors who move around like him, some armed with tablets, others not. Sometimes he is invited to perform gestures, give directions, move objects, all of which contribute to the mechanics of the installation. As he progresses, he is led to adopt the roles of those who, a minute or half an hour earlier, played those opposite him - and whose internal motivations he then discovers.

The admirable complexity of the device responds to an observation: that of the social segregation which divides cities into irreducibly opaque bubbles, into ghettos of the rich, the poor, the working middle classes or the trendy creatives; and to an ambition: to burst them. Nourished by the constant metaphor of the door, the threshold, the passage, Urban Nature is arranged as a role-playing game intended to allow visitors to adopt various points of view, to embody reasons for action to which their experience would otherwise have remained impervious. The final tableau - a panorama where, at the end of their journey, visitors can look back for as long as they wish at all the places they have just visited and the experiences they have had - expresses this absolutely modern confidence in the city as a place for chance encounters and therefore also for democracy.

It takes a certain amount of time after the visit to stop looking at other passers-by - and therefore also at oneself - as elements of a vast social mechanism, within which the notion of subjectivity becomes somewhat illusory. This conception (think, for example, of the first pages of Man Without Qualities) is also defining of modernity - and a welcome reminder in times of climate change, global capitalism and social networks.