Small Narration is a performance and video art show in the form of a lecture as part of Summerhall’s Polska season. Wotjek Ziemilski’s solo show is a personal exploration of Ziemilski’s identity by confrontation of his past, his family history, and his country’s history.
Ziemilski has lived in many countries and as a result his name has changed several times; he is named after his grandfather, who he reveals worked for the Communist Secret Services. What’s in a name? Does Ziemilski change because his name does? Do perceptions of him change because he shares a name with a shamed family member? Small Narration is a very personal performance for Ziemilski, and it’s obvious how much thought has gone into constructing it.
Ziemilski illustrates the many themes of this performance with clips of video art. There is a clip of a naked woman pulling at her skin like elastic, and someone who has clothed themselves so they are all arms and legs with no beginning or ending. He has chosen confronting and compelling clips which compliment the themes of his monologue, particularly considering the significance of physical body regarding one’s identity. Furthermore, they add an essential dynamic to his performance otherwise monotonous performance. This isn’t meant in a negative way – Ziemilski’s delivery is purposefully robotic and relentless. He keeps a distance from his own story like an anonymous narrator, thereby deconstructing himself.
I’ve read responses disputing the theatrical engagement of Ziemilski’s delivery but I found the thoughtful way in which he has structured the show to be enough of a reflection of his personality. His style does require a lot of attention, but as a result, the emphasis shifts from Ziemilski’s defence of his grandfather’s actions (he may not have been aware of the full extent of his actions, he could quite simply have written meaningless reports) to the unbiased audience’s, magnifying the scale of the show.
Admittedly it is all rather a lot to digest and the open ending may leave you with more questions than answers. However I think it’s truly inspiring theatre that leaves a lingering impact, for example questioning your perspective of what defines who we are. Wotjek Ziemilski has created an extremely intelligent, eye-opening performance that should speak volumes to every individual.
**** – 4/5 stars
Small Narration played at Summerhall until 23 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival.