Site-Specific: Legation History Comes To LIfe



For text of entire letter, click here

Dr. Khalid Amine, member of the Executive Committee of the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR), President of the Tangier-based International Center for Performance Studies (ICPS) and professor at Tetouan's Abdelmalik Essaadi University, presented a lively, illustrated talk at the Legation on site-specific performance.  More on that later. 

Rather than simply define it – “'site-specific' is a term used to describe artwork that has a relationship with its surroundings, architecture and/or landscape" – we decided to precede Dr. Amine's lecture with a live site-specific performance.

We launched the proceedings with an illustrated dramatic reading of Renée Reichmann's 1945 letter to Legation Chargé d'Affaires J. Rives Childs, which we covered in a post last year.  In which she writes to the diplomat on the eve of his departure from Tangier, to thank him for his intervention to save Hungarian Jews.  The 2 and 1/2 minute monologue also provided an opportunity to unveil artifacts to be displayed in our forthcoming exhibit on the Legation during World War II.

If you've been to Colonial Williamsburg or Plymouth Plantation, chances are you've witnessed site-specific performances.  Do Civil War reenactors – much in demand during these sesquicentennial years – realize that they are site-specific performers?

On another scale altogether, our modest ambition here is to take snippets of Legation history and bring them to life through performances like yesterday's letter reading and that of Dorothy Weems, who last June wowed a large audience with her dramatization of her mother's wartime Legation stories, and who Dr. Amine called "a mobile archive."

Now, back to Khalid Amine's presentation.  Illustrated with slides from a number of performances given in Tangier's historic Kasbah Museum and other public places, Dr. Amine spoke of "excavating layers of history" through site-specific performance.  If, quoting Stanford's Peggy Phelan, "performance is present," then it's a way of transposing history from the pages and implanting it in the present in our visual memory.

In the 2010 ICPS "Performing Tangier" conference around the theme of site-specificity, Khalid Amine wrote this:

The world of Islam is a container of multiple identities… A sedimental layering of cultures past and present, in permanent flux between moments of convivencia and tragic sublimity. Site-specificity is a major praxis in memory politics, as it explores specific places in order to restore perception and activates memory from an enforced oblivion.

Space, time, and memory were the recurring themes in Khalid Amine's discussion, and the examples of site-specifity went beyond our primary focus, that of history.  Thanks to previous Tangier performances like "A Wall Is a Screen" (where, with generator and projector, short films were taken around the city and shown on walls in several surprising places), we began to realize that architecture can be an important element in site-specificity, with or without the history.

I can see it now: Tangier's acrobats, making the most of our arches, walkways, staircases, and courtyards…  Site-specific in another dimension.

Our audience was composed of theatre professionals, students, and interested Tanjawis of all nationalities.

Gerald Loftus

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