Virtually the Real Thing

Anna Davis reports on the neumark-miranda expedition


Review of Searching for rue Simon-Crubellier

Maria Miranda and Norie Neumark's Searching for Rue Simon-Crubellier is an intriguing conceptual-performance-multimedia work based around the question: "Is it possible to bring something that does not exist into existence by searching for it"? It's a philosphical inquiry the artists were inspired to pursue after reading Georges Perec's book Life: A User's Manual which is set in a Parisian building at number 11 rue Simon-Crubellier. Perec was a founding member of the OuliPo movement, French writers who in the 1960's intentionally enforced constraints on their writing, using devices such as games, puzzles and wordplay to create new experimental forms of literature.

I have to admit that knowing little of Perec, I wasn’t quite sure at first what to make of the collection of objects installed in the reading room at Artspace. Inside was a small couch, a monitor showing a video, a large map of Paris marked with little red pins and lots of A4 print-outs of Google web-pages stuck to the walls. The room’s two bookshelves were lined with rows of black photo albums, filled with more print-outs from the net, as well as several boxes marked “bad directions”, “dead ends” and “false starts”, all filled with little bits of paper.

By far the most engaging part of this work was the video. Watching it, I understood the significance of the other elements and became inspired to search out even more information myself on the internet. In the video the artists play with the idea of being Australian tourists in Paris and record themselves performing the typical ‘touristy’ act of asking for directions. This banal exercise is warped to the point of absurdity however, because as viewers we know that the street the artists are looking for most likely doesn’t actually exist (although others do in Perec’s book), and because this usually trivial interaction is being taken so seriously.

It is hard for me to pinpoint exactly why the video is so good. Is it the wonderful scenes of Paris and its varied inhabitants? Is it the farcical nature of the search or simply the demeanour of the artists themselves? I’m not really sure, but I loved watching Neumark in her big headphones and bright red anorak earnestly asking people in French the way to the imaginary street. I was immediately transfixed by this bizarre treasure hunt and reminded of the fun you can have allowing yourself to be completely swept up in a game and playing it out to its ultimate conclusion.

On the one hand the video sticks very closely to a classic ‘vox pop’ documentary format. Associates of Perec are interviewed, people on the street are randomly stopped and asked questions, followed by visits to several, official locations in search of more reliable sources of information. Many of the interactions with French bureaucracy are very funny and typically mired by red tape and the number of overalapping agencies responsible for street names. On a deeper level though, the video plays with the idea of documenting and of performance, in the sense that the act of documenting is the performance, and the subject of the documentary only emerges through this performative act.

In a suitably twisted, Oulipo-inspired way Miranda and Neumark state they are performing “an actual search for an imaginary place” and by genuinely performing this search and documenting it on video, but particularly on the internet, they are in fact creating more material or evidence that future (re)searchers will eventually find. Through their performative and documentary actions they are literally bringing this imaginary place into existence.

This review originally appeared in RealTime 79 June - July 2007

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