Incomplete Without You: the works of ear-whispered

Tania El Khoury’s work is incomplete without you. Unlike more conventional theatre and performance, her live art work* comes alive through audience interaction. In Stories of Refuge, audience members recline on bunk beds, evoking an image of prisons and refugee camps; in Gardens Speak, they listen to accounts of the lives and the last moments of Syrian martyrs, becoming recumbent inhabitants of a graveyard themselves.

The locales represented—gardens in Syria where the bodies of political activists are buried, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon (El Khoury’s home country) where the inhabitants have been “temporarily” hosted for generations, camps in Munich, and many border zones—are the kind of distant places Americans have heard about often enough in the news that we may have become numb to the realities of life in such circumstances. El Khoury conspires with the audience, bringing us into intimate experiences that echo, in fragments, the sound, the look, the feel, of real life events that her work embodies. Each piece’s layering of story-telling, tactile experience, and audio—all within a carefully crafted visual environment—is completed by your presence, and allows you to make sense of each work in your own way.

If part of art’s reason for being is to have a changing effect on our world, fostering empathy, then El Khoury is a trailblazer. No one shouts at you, no sound bites oversimplify the complexity of your direct encounter—through her works—with unfamiliar realities of living under oppression, or in the midst of political upheaval, or on the margins. A new installation, Tell Me What I Can Do, is being created for this survey of her works. Tell Me What I Can Do is a testament to how her art imprints us, catalyzing a sense of urgency. Far different than any headline, these works burrow gently and deeply into us. What comes next is up to us.

ear-whispered is an extensive survey of live artist Tania El Khoury’s work, to be offered for the first time in the Philadelphia area with the Bryn Mawr College Performing Arts Series as lead presenter. In September 2018 at Bryn Mawr, audiences will be able to experience four works by El Khoury: Gardens Speak, Camp Pause, As Far As My Fingertips Take Me and the newly commissioned Tell Me What I Can Do. FringeArts is partnering with the College to present two works: Stories of Refuge and As Far As My Fingertips Take Me. Multiple ancillary events offer chances to deepen the understanding of the political and ethical dimensions of El Khoury’s work, looking both at its content and form, as well as the spaces, issues and social environments that have spawned it, and related questions, provocations, arts and artists.

—Lisa Kraus

* “The term live art refers to performances or events undertaken or staged by an artist or a group of artists as a work of art, usually innovative and exploratory in nature.”

Lisa Kraus is the Project Director for ear-whispered: works by Tania El Khoury.