MUNCITOR: ALL WORKERS GO TO HEAVEN BY IOANA PAUN

Written by Ioana Diaconu

As a for­eigner in London I often find myself eager to explain my cul­ture, to show what it is about it that is so great and worth shar­ing. Of course we could argue that there is no such thing as a for­eigner in London, since it is the place of a hun­dred cul­tures and so on. Anyway, at home or not, I feel it a duty to share beau­ti­ful pro­jects of Romanians world­wide, and this is my first attempt (fol­lowed, I hope, by many more).

I knew about Ioana Paun as an artist in res­id­ency at the Romanian Cultural Institute in London, I heard bits and parts about her work in the past months, but I didn’t have a clear image of the pro­ject. Thus I left for Theatre Royal Stratford East expect­ing a theatre per­form­ance — won­der­ing whether the sub­titles to the show would be as express­ive in trans­la­tion, which I always found to be an issue with inter­na­tional plays.

What I did get from the next couple of hours was far from the lin­guistic debate. It was not whether the audi­ence got the little inside jokes, they actu­ally made them. And not only the jokes, but the action and inter­ac­tion. Even the rules, at some point.

Photograph by Dana Popa

Through this pro­ject, Ioana Paun sets out to explore the social nature of our being – how do we react when given cer­tain stim­uli, why do we con­form and why do we revolt? Through a hybrid of live art per­form­ance and social exper­i­ment, we are given the chance if not to answer these ques­tions, at least to be con­scious of our own beha­viour and instincts, to start to ques­tion our own atti­tudes when faced with these real­it­ies out­side of the arti­fi­cial envir­on­ment of the experiment.

Photograph by Inno Brezeanu

The pro­logue intro­duces the audi­ence to a dynamic stock mar­ket account, cul­min­at­ing with the human value on the mar­ket – “You are worth noth­ing in the mar­ket. Unless someone buys you. Unless someone sells you!” We are bru­tally intro­duced to reality.

Ten mem­bers of the audi­ence are ran­domly selec­ted to enter a fact­ory set­ting, in which they are to spend the rest of the exper­i­ment com­pletely immersed in this new uni­verse, as work­ers in a pro­duc­tion line in a fact­ory. The rest of the audi­ence can see and hear everything that is going on in the house, together with stat­ist­ics about the aver­age worker’ s drive, pro­ductiv­ity and downfall.

The sense of intru­sion from the out­side world gets even stronger when the new performers/​subjects real­ize that the Big Brother like Voice hand­ing them instruc­tions has run a back­ground check on them through their online pro­files. Although it is no news these days, being screened through social media by a com­plete stranger/​pro­spect­ive employer startled me when exper­i­enced first hand, espe­cially in an envir­on­ment where I came pre­pared to be the spec­tator, the voyeur of other people’s stories.

Although at first aware of the audi­ence and the vul­ner­ab­il­ity of play­ing one’s own per­son on a stage, the sub­ject –per­formers soon for­get about the out­side world, as they get more and more caught up in the tangle of rela­tion­ships that emerge on the scene – there are instant likes and dis­likes, lead­er­ship emerges, so does the frus­tra­tion of inequal­it­ies and unful­filling work. Ioana Paun has cre­ated a com­plete exper­i­ence, a set of feel­ings and thoughts that usu­ally develop on a lar­ger times­cale in a person’s life, mak­ing it so much more power­ful by con­dens­a­tion. As the lights grow dim­mer, the heat­ing more intense, the revolt climbs rap­idly to a state of dis­rup­tion. The work­ers refuse to work any­more. Partly aware of it as a spec­tacle, partly involved on a much more per­sonal level, the sub­jects of the exper­i­ment con­tra­dict the pro­logue – Yes you are worth more than what they buy you for. Yes, you are more than a trans­ac­tion, you do have ini­ti­at­ive and the power to dis­rupt a sys­tem. The play ends on this note on this one occa­sion, we do not know how other series reacted and this is why the pro­ject as a whole is worth following.

Photograph by Inno Brezeanu
Photographs by Dana Popa

One of the lines going through the audience’s head­phones as the play pro­gresses is worth men­tion­ing in this con­text – As a child, the human being ques­tions everything. As a teen­ager, he still ques­tions some points, revolt­ing against them. As an adult though, the aver­age worker com­plies with the instruc­tions he receives, for­get­ting to ques­tion the valid­ity of his own actions bey­ond the social and the eco­nom­ical frame pushed on him. (We did prove them wrong on this occasion.)

All in all, Muncitor is a strong state­ment for the socio-​political con­text of the day, an ini­ti­at­ive to engage the pub­lic in ques­tion­ing the terms imposed upon him, as well as his own reac­tions to these conditions.

For more info about Ioana, have a look here.

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