Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran is the second in a trilogy of award winning shows by the Javaad Alipoor Company—co-created by the eponymous British Iranian artist and Kristy Housley— and is described as a darkly comic, interactional digital presentation that explores the growing gap between the rich and the poor, climate change, and the way we imagine ourselves.
It’s a lofty description, sure, but simplicity lays at its core.
“I am a political artist,” declares Javaad Alipoor. “I am aware that political art is both incredibly ambitious and talks about big chunky ideas. As such, it is best made clear and simple.”
Rich Kids is a three hander, where Alipoor and Peyvand Sadeghian emulate the social media influencer/follower paradigm, leading the audience—whom Alipoor prefers as “interlocutors”—on an interactive, deep dive into the third player – a fictionalised version of the Instagram account of a rich kid.
A rich kid, the ‘useless’ child of a leader in an oppressive dictatorship, visible both in Alipoor’s ancestral homeland and in regimes across the global south; places where human rights are minimised and abused in the service of the ruling elite. Rich kids who, rather than adhering to the tenets of the official ideology, flaunt the wealth and power of their parents’ corrupt finances, laundered in the global north, to live out their extravagant lifestyles via drug-fuelled parties, fast cars, and hyper-consumerism.
“Rich Kids has a documentary/post documentary feel,” says Alipoor. “Holding a space for the contradictions, the stuck points, which we have an instinct about, but are not sure what the exact answer is.
“Very typical of these kinds of questions is an urge for simplification; an urge to flatten discussions and seek simple solutions in a sort of fairy tale narrative which, for instance, is certainly true of Brexit.
“We know in our heads that there is a growing gap between the rich and the poor,” Alipoor continues. “We know this is an unsustainable world, and feel a little bit like rich kids ourselves, hurtling off the edge of a cliff in a Lamborghini we can’t control.
“And the job of this kind of work, in times like these, is to take that away from the intellectual and into
being something that is attached to your heart and guts as well.”
Rich Kids embraces multimedia and social media.
But Alipoor claims it is not trapped in big-tech like other emerging Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Artificial Intelligence based work.
“For this trilogy of shows, we have consciously used only the technology in your pocket,” Javaad says. “The interactivity is not like a computer game. It’s about the space in the show where the audience talks about what’s going on over on Instagram. Then, if you really get what we are trying to do, again in the bar after the show.”
A key element of Rich Kids for Alipoor is the ‘time travel’ nature of social media.
“If you look at someone’s Instagram feed, the first thing that hits you is the way a story works backwards,” he explains. “You click on the first [most recent] photo and scroll down, going further back into the photos they posted.
“One of the things we do with the story is to say: imagine what would happen if you could scroll so deeply in Instagram that you could break it, and come out the other side and see the things underneath it, that got us to this point.”
In this reversing timeline, Alipoor also sees the emergence of these rich kids as canaries in the coal mine, mapping regime entropy and signalling their society’s decline.
“A key aspect of the show, for me, is the feeling of things falling apart,” Alipoor said. “We’re not that good at thinking about decline, about how a society might degenerate.”
Internationalist art that is not Eurocentric, anti-racist, and consciously post-colonial is central to the company’s manifesto. Whilst acknowledging that the digital space has huge power in terms of money and information, Alipoor sees it as a kind of public good.
“The question for me becomes – how do we think about reforming the digital space in a way that’s useful and sustainable for democratic society?” Alipoor says.
“Using digital connectivity to make this kind of show means that some people in the places we’ve made it about get to engage with it. During the pandemic, we partnered with art centres and theatres all over the world, and streamed through their websites to their audiences.
“We had folks from Hong Kong, from Iran, from all kinds of countries where there are specific parallels with the story we are telling.
“I wanted the structure of Instagram for the story to be able to explore how living in that structure consciously orders how we make meaning,” he explains. “Looking at the intersection of social media, technology, and politics, and at the habits that shape us and the world.
“Ultimately, it’s a look at how people around the world make meaning about themselves.”
It is clear that the show not only deals with big ideas told through a modern, elegant narrative form, but it is delivered by people with a fiery passion for the world.
“Text theatre is going through its “prog rock” phase, somewhat in love with their own artistry,” Alipoor states. “What it needs is some punk rock immersion, for a different 21st Century.
“A 21st Century I very much want.”
Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran plays at The Street Theatre for an exclusive, one-off show on Saturday, 12 August at 7:30pm. Tickets are $25 + bf and are available via thestreet.org.au*
Be sure to be following @shoppingmallsintehran ahead of the show!
*Unfortunately when your faithful uploader went to link the tickets for you to grab, the date appears to have changed and we’ve missed the show. sadface. Keep your eyes on The Street Theatre for future projects!