Florencia Cordeu’s voice echoes on a cassette tape. She’s explaining the inner mechanics of ‘autoreverse’, the old-age technology that enables a cassette to switch automatically from Side A to Side B, when she pauses: ‘Autoreverse, that’s a nice name for the show’. Cordeu herself, standing in a hazmat suit surrounded by mic-ed cassette decks, hears her own disembodied voice and smiles at the audience.
Much of the premise of Autoreverse is promisingly rich. Cordeu shares how her family fled from Argentina in 1977 after the military coup. In the years of 1976-1983, when upwards of 30,000 people were disappeared during the dictatorial reign of a military junta, Cordeu’s family stayed in contact with relatives through sending cassette recordings. So it’s no wonder Autoreverse starts with a singular cassette and an invitation: ‘Play Me’. Once a plucky audience member accepts the offer, Cordeu’s own audiotape begins. Recorded in the wee hours of a late September evening before the show, Cordeu’s voice is comforted by the notion of a future audience listening.
The past constantly interacts with the present in Autoreverse and provides its most moving moments. Cordeu plays her family’s actual cassette tapes and translates as she reacts to her family’s voices (or even her own) from the past. It is absorbing to hear these traces of personal history, and see how they are shaped in the present. She poignantly highlights the precariousness inherent in revisiting these memories, that to access the past is also to accept its decay: cassettes only have a 30-year-lifespan, and playing them risks wearing them out.
But then Cordeu undermines that and admits she’s digitised the recordings, ensuring their longevity. They then play over the mains, but Cordeu still mimes using the decks. What does that make of these memories then? As Autoreverse rolls on, it tangles itself up. Cordeu rolls out a reel film projector to play an old home video, but the antique player is just a prop. Her recorded voice has a jarring register that’s supposedly casual but clearly preplanned. Autoreverse contains a frustrating performativity that’s never examined and so feels like mere decoration. ‘Autoreverse’ is a nice name for a show, but is that enough?
To add to it, Cordeu offers a very thin history of Argentina at the beginning of the show. Her voice lectures via another cassette as she dangerously yawns and fast forwards over entire spans of the country’s colonial history. It’s hard to move past this odd and distracting choice, one that doesn’t particularly illuminate her own family’s tragic persecution but does run the risk of erasing others’ experiences of state-sanctioned violence.
At one point in the show, Cordeu picks up a bandoneon and while she doesn’t play it, she moves it back and forth to produce a sound that intrigues because of its potential to reverberate more fully. Similarly, Cordeu’s meandering musings are occasionally illuminating but only ever preliminary.
Standing in a Wonderwoman costume, Cordeu questions her decision to replicate one of her favourite family photos (which also acts as the poster for the show). Doubtful, she sits down and reflects. This moment evidences a real honesty in the work – the show is still uncertain in its foundation. As Cordeu concludes, ‘home is a place where you build memories’, you can’t help thinking Autoreverse is still in the making.
Autoreverse is on at Battersea Arts Centre till 22nd February. More info here.