Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran review at Traverse, Edinburgh – ‘ambitious tale told via Instagram’
Javaad Alipoor and Kirsty Housley’s 2017 show The Believers Are But Brothers was an intricate, intelligent exploration of online radicalisation that augmented its storytelling with WhatsApp.
They’re attempting something similar with its follow-up, Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran, but this time using Instagram. It’s an ambitious gambit that doesn’t quite pay off. While the show is even more sprawling in terms of the things it encompasses, that also dilutes its impact.
Alipoor and co-performer Peyvand Sadeghian tell the true story of Hossein Rabbani-Shirazi and Parivash Akbarzadeh, two young, wealthy Iranians who died when they crashed a speeding Porsche. The show proceeds to scroll backwards in order to examine the historical, geopolitical and social forces that led to the fatal collision.
Combining conventional storytelling techniques with a live Instagram feed, the show rattles through Iranian history and the evolution of consumerism while also, in some of its most revelatory moments, exploring the way in which human beings perceive time.
There’s a lot of fascinating stuff in here. We’re told that the fossils of the future will consist of old phones and chicken bones, and shown how the discovery of the Gobekli Tepe temple in Turkey reframed people’s understanding of how civilisation developed.
We see images of the children of the global elite flaunting their immense wealth via the hashtag #richkidsoftehran, and are introduced to #Mallwave, in which people too young to remember the 1990s indulge in a kind of nostalgia for an imagined past, using Instagram to document the demise of retail culture via pictures of desolate malls and abandoned shopping centres.
During some sections, Sadeghian films herself standing within Lucy Osborne’s set of moveable folding screens, creating an eerie chorus effect as the audience watches her on their phones.
The show as a whole is excitingly idea-rich, synapse-firing stuff, which makes its bagginess all the more frustrating. Alipoor and Sadeghian’s delivery of the material could definitely stand to be tighter, though this may well improve over the run, and the story at the heart of the piece is often in danger of getting drowned out amid the digressions.
None of this detracts from the intelligence of the piece. The way it uses Instagram is inspired. As the performers point out, throughout history people have always used images to present a picture of themselves, their wealth and their worth to the world.
While it doesn’t work as well as Believers, it remains a compelling experiment, with Alipoor and Housley pushing at the boundaries of how communicative technology can be used to tell stories and the kinds of stories it can be used to tell.
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