The Ten Murders of Josephine explores the constitutive conditions of testimony vis-à-vis the notion of “testimonial subject hood.”

Last week in Rotterdam, at the city’s Theater Rotterdam Schouwburg, Rana Hamadeh presented the first of two operatic performances titled The Ten Murders of Josephine. The premiere of this opera accompanies her exhibition of the same name at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art and is curated by soon-to-be outing Director, Defne Ayas and Curator, Natasha Hoare.

The exhibition, spread across the gallery’s second-floor space, manifests as both a sculptural and sonic landscape that occurs in sequences indicated by a red light bulb akin to the ones used to indicate ‘a live radio or talk show.’ The liveness of speech acts is unapologetic and visitors are warned of the sound levels as soon as they arrive. Loud booming speech, sounds and scores continuing Hamadeh’s long exploration of the problematics of language and here, she takes up ‘testimony’ which she seeks to ‘overwrite and trouble’ and thus presents as an ‘a particular dramaturgy of labour and research.’

The exhibition in the gallery is activated by viewers’ interactions. There are swings installed, theatre-like seats and a phone at a desk as if beckoning to the viewer to stop, listen and take it all in. The opera evolved through a series of workshops in the galley that included making props which used interchangeably by Hamadeh and her co-performers. On the night of the performance, the beginnings evolved in a more traditional format i.e. performers facing the seated crowd. This was followed by the audience being called out one-by-one to join on the theatre floor where over the course of over two hours, all became active participants and part of the work in an immersive and at times cacophonic environment.

The opera’s initial score was continuously interrupted by live processing of the audience’s speech; and in the end live interpretations of machines; displacements of objects the stage with a change of outfits, roles and situations mean that for the entirety of the performance it was hard to fully discern what exactly was happening. Speech and actions continually mismatched, blurring into one another perhaps as a way to disrupt the established and give way for the unknown.

The exhibition runs until 31 December 2017.