Existential Questions about Life, Death and Birth

In September and October, the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris will host a comprehensive retrospective of the compelling works of Mats Staub.

For his projects, the interdisciplinary artist Mats Staub has interviewed people of all ages, from all parts of the world and with very diverse backgrounds. These conversations have been dramaturgically designed to create an intensive experience for the audience in the form of a theatrical video installation. From 14 September to 6 October, five of Staub’s video installations will be shown in the Centre Culturel Suisse in Paris: «21 – Memories of Growing Up», «My Other Life», «Holidays», «My Grandparents» as well as his latest project «Death and Birth in my Life».

Mats Staub_21 ©Tanja Dorendorf_T+T Fotografie
Mats Staub_21 ©Tanja Dorendorf_T+T Fotografie

The theatrical parcours «Death and Birth in my Life» deals with existential experiences. Which deaths and which births have influenced and changed my life so far? Who have I welcomed, who have I lost and said farewell to – and what has happened to me in the process? Staub brought people together to talk to each other about their experiences of death and birth – while also presenting conversations from other regions and establishing connections from one side of the world to the other. The participants are filmed both speaking and listening – so spectators are able to look at both. As a video installation in a theatre space it aims to create locations that permit intimacy while at the same time facilitating a communal experience.

When did you turn 21 and become an adult? What happened in that year? In «21 – Memories of Growing Up», Mats Staub discussed these questions with a lot of very diverse people. He recorded their stories and then had them listen to their own answers three months later, while filming their facial expressions. Since its premiere in 2012, the project has been growing from city to city and now presents portraits from Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, England, Scotland, Holland, South Africa, Australia, Austria and France.

«Holidays» shows people contemplating. They recapitulate, remember, and count, as Staub has asked them questions to be answered by a number: how many people have you met in the last 12 months? how many jobs have you worked in? Some people answer hesitantly, some promptly. Entire stories are acted out in their faces, despite the few words that are spoken. Oral storytelling is reduced to a minimum, meaning that the imagination is all the more called for.

Mats Staub_My Grandparents ©Tanja Dorendorf_T+T Fotografie
Mats Staub_My Grandparents ©Tanja Dorendorf_T+T Fotografie

In «My Other Life» Mats Staub uses the simple question ‘What if…’ to remind us of the coincidence or fate by which one small decision can have a significant influence on our life. We are given first names when we are still in the cradle. Once registered, that name then stays with us for a lifetime. But what role do these names play in our lives? What might it be like to be someone else and to live under another name? As in his other projects, Staub collects faces and voices – strictly speaking, there is only one word here: their other name.

How did our grandparents live and love in their younger days? And what is left of that world now? «My Grandparents» enquires about the grandchildren’s perspective and evoques personal questions about social background, oral tradition, remembering and forgetting, about the relationship between family story and world history, about stories and so-called truth.