Another chance to see the work of a group about whom I’ve read a great deal. Rimini Protokoll is the name of a group formed by three artists who, as Hans-Thies Lehmann has noted, first met each other as students of theatre at the Germany university of Giessen, a laboratory for much post-dramatic theatre. Rimini Protokoll calls their recent piece, “Call Cutta in a box,” “global theatre,” and it is a indeed a global expansion of certain theatrical fundamentals even as it is simultaneously a retraction of others. Like many of their earlier collaborations with hospice residents, air crash victims, or truck drivers, this piece is a “real world” engagement, this time with the personal lives and assymetrical relations of a globalized call center industry. Call Cutta’s Paris visit was supported by Centquatre, the new, not yet fully rehabbed market-cum-funeral-cum-exhibition space located in the 19e arrondissement. My mom and I took turns playing with Jack and Daphne under their cavernous atrium while each of us spent a half hour in a carefully choreographed theatre-for-one.
When it was my turn, I went up the stairs to what seemed to be the administrative wing of Centrequatre curators, entering a small office whose light paint, desk, lamp, phone, chair, plant, and singular window could have supported the travail of most any type of white collar worker. Interaction with a call center worker on the other side of the world is often a regular dimension of such travail, whether to book a flight or to receive tech support for a broken computer. This performance reproduced that relation, but with its direction powered by someone other than me. A phone rang, a tea pot turned on, and eventually documents were printed at the direction of an interlocutor on the other end of the phone, one located in a call center in India who also sat next to French speaking colleagues who would be selected to talk to most of the Centrequatre’s visitors. Instead of talking about my computer problems, we talked about her personal and cultural life, about the tea flavors she likes best (and that she told me to try after the tea pot whistled), about the powders, spices, and flours she uses in her cooking, about caste structures and social structures. At different points, she asked more of me, asking what kind of animal I would like to be (and psychoanalyzing my answer), asking why my family did not select India instead of France for our year away, asking me to sing her a song, asking me to draw a picture of what I thought she might look like. I found out later that my mother’s interaction with a different call center operator followed a similar template, though in her case, they seemed to go farther as my mom learned that her interlocutor had a graduate degree in English literature and a two-year old son. My mom’s interlocutor also asked her if she had any regrets in her life. Toward the end of the performance, we were both told to lift the plant on our desks so that a camera could move our exchange into a video chat. I waved to my interlocutor and she waved to me, showing me the line-up of formica desks and computer screens in the call center space. Contrasting a call center industry that seeks to maximize efficiency with the highly inefficient relation of a one-to-one theatrical exchange, “Call Cutta in a box” personalized an anonymous global exchange while, at the same time, showing the process of personalization to be ridden with cliché and stereotype. As I drew my picture — with as little exoticization as possible–as I offered asides here and there about the inequities of the call center industry, I found myself trying not to get caught by this performance. And indeed, like many post-colonial global art experiments, the casualty of this one might be that those who “know to go” are also, by definition, “in the know.” For that reason, it might be that my mom–who did not know what to expect–had the more interesting experience. She un-self-consciously talked with her interlocutor about how well she could understand her accent. And the next day, my mom found herself thinking a bit more about possible regrets and about how we have struggled with some difficult moments in our family history. I won’t go into what those were on a public blog–but suffice it to say that it was interesting to find ourselves reflecting after such a personalized impersonal exchange.