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November 6, 2023

Artist Statement: Javaad Alipoor on ‘Things Hidden’


Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World is the final part of a trilogy of shows that began in 2017. At the heart of this trilogy has been a single thread: the relationship between contemporary technology and contemporary politics.

My idea was that the relationship between contemporary technology and contemporary politics is revealing things about how our minds work, and that to try and get to grips with what is going on in the world today, we have to understand, at the same time, how we train ourselves to think about them.

Each part of the trilogy has tried to refract this idea through different lenses. The Believers Are But Brothers, the first part of the trilogy, used instant messaging technology like WhatsApp to think about masculinity, extremism, and the Internet. Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran used Instagram and video messaging to explore the Anthropocene, the growing gap between the rich and the poor, and the collapsing promise of the 20th century’s moments of revolution. This final part uses Wikipedia and murder mystery podcasts to confront the way the world seems to be moving closer together, at the same time that we find it harder and harder to understand each other.

At its heart is a true story. The unsolved murder of Fereydoun Farrokhzad, an iconic Iranian pop star, living as a refugee in Germany in the early 1990s.

When I first began work on it in the middle of the pandemic it had a certain context. At its heart, it’s a piece about the responsibilities that people in richer and more democratic countries have towards people and countries who are fighting for more democracy. And this necessitates it also being about translation. Too often, people in our part of the world, problematically grouped together as the West, use the rest of the world as examples that flesh out their preconceived ideas about how things work.

On the right they want to claim that the world would be fine if everyone followed their example; and on the left they want to say that the West is the font of all evil. But the reality of the countries at the forefront of this struggle, whether Iran, Hong Kong, Syria, or Ukraine, is that they upend such preconceived notions. It needs to stop putting ourselves at the center.

So while Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World is in part a sort of protest song about the murder of Fereydoun Farrokhzad, it’s also about how we try and process stories like that.

It’s about the possibility of political and social solidarity in a world of superhuman complexity and interconnectedness. It’s about the thousands of ways that our brains, our devices, and our histories seduce us into simplification or terrify us into inaction. It’s about the feeling of being both overstimulated and stuck, and it’s about the bravery we need to abandon all that.

As the trilogy has developed, the level of ambition that I’ve tried to bring to it has grown, too. Collaboration has been key to all these works, and in this show, the team has been bigger and more talented than ever before. As well as the performers and creatives you see on stage and operating the show, the project would not have happened without the initial conversations I had with my co-creator, dramaturge, and partner Natalie Diddams. The co-writing relationship with Chris Thorpe that resulted in the script we perform has come out of five years of working together.

The first part of this trilogy received its US premiere here at Ann Arbor as part of the No Safety Net festival in 2020, and so it feels like an honor to share this final part with the unique community around UMS.

— Javaad Alipoor

Experience Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, Nov 15-18 at the Arthur Miller Theatre.

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