Mona el Gammal: “The future that we show is not really far away from what we have now”

Creating unique “narrative spaces”, Mona el Gammal (Germany) won the Cologne Theatre Prize for Haus//Nummer/Null, an installation taking place in a dystopian future setting she is presenting at the Stückemarkt – invited by Signa Köstler. As she was working on the piece’s installation in a secret place in Berlin, we met to discuss this hybrid art form and the future that might expect us.

Nathalie Frank: You present a “narrative space” – where does that term come from?
Mona el Gammal: I was studying scenography in Karlsruhe, and my Prof. Penelope Wehrli made a seminar about “narrative space”, actually she kind of invented that term. The work she gave us to do was to tell a story within a space, I was immediately very enthusiastic. I made one space and another… I like how close to the spectator you can be, and full of details, of sounds… It is like putting the spectator inside a book with many different options to explore the story – by exploring the space. That is the point of a narrative space: it is a space telling a story and the spectator is invited to explore it in a non linear way.

NF: What is the story told by „Haus//Nummer/Null“?
MeG: It is a futuristic dystopian world. It centres on the character of Frau N. She did participate in shaping the system and now she is very disappointed by the result, the state has been replaced by a private company, the system promises a false happiness… It started with me wanting to make something futuristic, then we began to construct this world with Juri [Padel, co-author] and it became quickly very complex. We created a very gloomy future inspired by a lot of scientific and sociologic books that we read. We had never worked with science-fiction, it was really a cool time. We collaborated with Tom [Förderer, Sound designer] who makes incredible atmospheres, Michael [Rudolph, Light designer], Tim [Stadie, Screen designer], the graphic designers and web-masters, in that sense it is really a collective work.

NF: Does the space particularly stimulate the spectator’s sense of responsibility?
MeG: For me the spectator’s responsibility is the responsibility that every person has: to use a life-time to shape our society because we do have urgencies. It’s not going in a good way, we are destroying our planet and our social life. I wish the performance creates a space to think about those issues. We took many actual tendencies and exaggerated them. The system that we show is not really far away from what we have now, some of it is actually even real.

NF: This year’s Stückemarkt focuses on “new models of authorship” – to what extend do you feel representative?
MeG: Well I guess what I do is quite new, but the world is big, there might be other people who do narrative spaces as well, I’d be glad to visit one. In fact a “narrative space” is a really complex set of texts in various forms, there are many documents, official letters, newspapers‘ articles, sounds and the whole website. It is a hybrid form between theatre and visual arts, I am glad to be able to present it in the frame of a theatre festival, because it’s more my world than visual arts.
What is new is maybe the focus on a spectator that is alone with himself… I guess I was really lucky to find a form that I can develop within a long period of time, working both on space and sound and enjoying the possibilities that you have when you produce a long time in advance.

Exberliner is partner of the Theatertreffen-blog.

Photo: Pauline Fabry