Rosalind Nashashibi’s first solo show in New York comprises the acclaimed ‘Hreash House’(2004), a number of photographs, and two recent films, ‘Eyeballing’(2005) and ‘Adrian Noble Rehearses the RSC in Measure for Measure ‘(2006).
The latter consists of found footage of Adrian Noble, artistic director of the RSC 1991- 2002, rehearsing the company in Act II, scene IV; an exchange between the characters Isabella and Angelo.
The actors rehearse and the director interjects, commenting on, and interpreting, the text, accordingly, the actors adding their own interpretations. This is drama at work; we, the film’s audience, are both behind the performance, and behind the text. We find ourselves in a bewildering place where sub-text is revered over the original text, and the author is not dead—he’s just wrong. Shakespeare’s words are made redundant—the most relevant word here is seen, not spoken: it is ‘interpretation’.
In 1964 Susan Sontag wrote the seminal essay ‘Against Interpretation’ in which she condemns the interpretation of art. ‘Interpretation thus presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of (later) readers. It seeks to resolve that discrepancy. The situation is that for some reason a text has become unacceptable; yet it cannot be discarded… The interpreter, without actually erasing or rewriting the text, is altering it. But he can’t admit to doing this. He claims to be only making it intelligible, by disclosing its true meaning.’
In Nashashibi’s film this is what we see. The myth making of meaning in construction, appropriately overstated, in a way in which only the theatre can comfortably excel. It is a hermeneutic crescendo. Meaning obfuscates our view, altering what we see. Sontag suggests we replace the hermeneutics of seeing with an erotics of seeing, that we come to our senses: that we just come to look.
‘Eyeballing’ shows a juxtaposition of shots of the exterior of the 1st precinct of the NYPD, and the cops standing outside smoking, talking, entering and exiting, and faces. Not the faces of people but the faces of objects; they appear in a toothbrush, a socket, a window display of a pearl necklace and matching earrings, floorboards, the windows and doors, or awnings, of buildings.
‘Eyeballing’ revels in vision; there is nothing to do but see; it is observing, watching, looking. It is perception at its most transparent. In the course of our daily lives we are bombarded by a glut of visual information, and yet seeing with our eyes, rather than our minds, is still a treat.
Sontag begins her essay quoting Oscar Wilde. As usual, extraordinary wisdom is delivered in his wit. ‘It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.’ This intelligent vision is apparent in ‘Nashashibi’s Charmer’.
Victoria Miguel is a writer living in New York