Naranja M.Q. and I are friends on Facebook. The few things I knew about her before eagerly clicking the confirm button was that she was an amateur actress living in Buenos Aires, working on a project based on her theory of acting. The only other thing I knew about her was that she’s not a real person.
Not unlike the innumerable other fictitious personalities that exist online, Naranja has a significant virtual presence. Along with her countless profiles on social networking sites, her website functions as a portfolio of her body of work, as well as a platform to present her thesis entitled The Acting Theory of Daily Endeavours. The premise of which is the belief that the process of performing originates in the act of making conscious and then transferring daily activities that occur in reality, to the projected interpretation of these same acts represented in fiction. On this website she also reveals that over the past two years she has been playing the role of a fictitious character that exists in the real world. Enter stage left Helena L.
Helena and I are also friends on Facebook. She is a fine arts teacher to adults and recently exhibited a collection of her rather uninspired drawings. Without disclosing her identity, Naranja describes how in order to play Helena convincingly, she attempts to internalise her scripted narrative. For Helena a simple everyday occurrence like shopping at a supermarket becomes an action performed by Naranja on a stage that only she is conscious of.
At this point it appears relatively easy to contextualise what Naranja is attempting to achieve: themes explored both in theatre and by performance artists of the 60s and 70s pushed for theatre to take to the streets and challenge the relationship between performer and an often oblivious audience. However this is where things become a touch complicated. Enter stage right Marisa Rubio.
Marisa Rubio is an interdisciplinary artist and the puppet-master behind this strange and compelling work. In December of last year, she gave a talk on the NMQ project which she has been working on since late 2008. Here the identities of both Naranja and Helena were not revealed as they have both legitimately assimilated into the real world. They have distinct personalities, costumes, paying jobs and friends of their own.
It seems the significance of this inverted Truman show is in the relationship between reality, fiction, performance and virtuality. Rubio’s active deception and ability to switch between characters in real life mimics the not only common but acceptable behaviour in gaming and online cultures. An important point of difference though is that both Naranja and Helena are not alter egos or avatars but characters in an elaborate exercise in method acting, for as Rubio states “it’s me acting, they’re not me.” Whether intentional or not, this generates an insightful critique. What are the implications of a woman who is acting as a woman who is acting as yet another woman? Perhaps the fact that she can? Perhaps that not unlike in cyberspace, many large metropolitan cities now provide both the physical and social infrastructure for almost complete anonymity.
This work may potentially represent a genuine demise of what we believe to be important social values based on trust and accountability or an intriguing new level of freedom to explore our ‘real’ as well as virtual environment. A freedom that until now has been a privilege reserved almost exclusively for the artist.