Florencia Cordeu’s family history is etched on to cassette tapes. An aural (or perhaps oral) history imprinted into plastic and tape, which documents the gentle banality of life in Argentina and Chile, interspersed with moments of quiet horror. Cordeu’s family fled Argentina during the “Dirty War” of the 1970s, using tapes to communicate with those left behind. Cordeu has now lived in London for 23 years and still listens to them, her memories of her childhood beginning to curl and float away.
Cordeu refers to Autoreverse throughout as a play, but it feels far more like an installation. Rajha Shakiry’s thickly tactile set has various tape recorders set up on mismatched wooden stools; an analogue contrast to Cordeu’s stark white hazmat suit, protective goggles, and pollution mask.
She gingerly plucks 40-year-old tapes out of their plastic coverings, then listens to them reverently. It feels like she is summoning ghosts. The voices on the tapes seem very far away – from her, in her latex gloves, and from an audience listening, trying to grasp on to a warmth and humanity that has dissipated over the years. Watching Autoreverse can feel like an attempt to reach for something solid, only to be met with thin air. The inherent impossibility is what makes it both so intriguing and frustrating.
Omar Elerian directs with a light touch, but the 80-minute run time could use a trim. Cordeu remains, for the most part, an enigma at the centre of the piece, rarely speaking if it is not through a microphone or recording. When she finally reveals herself, the pay off doesn’t quite feel sufficient.