Under the Surface of Intellectuals (on PSi #23, Part 3 of 3)

Keynotes of leading intellectuals like Vandana Shiva, Tim Etchells, Carolin Emcke, Didier Eribon and Avital Ronell opened the Performance Studies international conference #23 to a general audience of Kampnagel and of Theater der Welt hosted also in Hamburg this year.

a)     Things Disappear or do not Fit Anymore

Tim Etchells read from manuscripts of his new book. Among the flow of observation in streets I enjoyed his reflections on 35 years of Forced Entertainment in which he discovered flow as well as containment. The latter word nicely contrasted to entertainment. I cherished that he mentioned the reuse of props, equipment and tools which were kept from previous performances. But unexpectedly all these items in case they are still available would not represent an overflow or material reserve. In contrary Etchell said, that every piece being reused would require a restart as well as a new piece and every performance of the repertoire in a new space.

b)     Between Shame and Hate

Emcke and Eribon described escape as trouble which was initiated by their decision to leave their familiar background to become intellectuals. Both put it in relation to shame, which they suffered also because of their sexual orientation. While Eribon referred to the social class background of his family and childhood-milieu, Emcke said that the communication of her decision to become an intellectual to her “upper-middle-class” family was more shameful, while being gay reward her with pleasures, compensating for that shame. In contrast to this Eribon felt that the repression his working-class family enforced on him because of his sexual orientation deeply hurt his feelings, while his intellectual career helped him to seek distance. Thus it became an act of emancipation, although he could never fully separate the private and public spheres. According to Eribon the refusal of society to accept and discuss the term social class anymore would not help to understand the problem. He said that the workers of his hometown Reims had lost their pride, when steel- and car-companies closed down their plants.

Unfortunately the podium did not approach what the title of the podium “Beyond the New Hate” announced. In this context it is important to understand that not only did coal and steel based industries create the fundaments of the wealth of Europe but steel workers and miners also formed a political nucleus of the European Union. It was established to coordinate the European Steel- and Carbon-industries internationally. The mining industries also were the foundations for the car- and machine-industries and have established European worker-participation. So it is no wonder that the steel and coal-crises, which escalated in the 1980s, became a crisis of Europe and separated the worker-elite from the political union of Europe.

Avital Ronell dancing when audience entered the space. Photographed by johnicon

c)      Avital Ronell on “twitterature and shitterature”

The crisis of the mining-industry was also a major issue in Donald Trump’s campaign. He took advantage of it addressing voters from the “rust-belt”, however without concepts in a heated world. This is no excuse for “mistweating” and “buffoonery”, which was addressed by Avital Ronell on Sunday-morning, when her lecture “Mistweated: On Civic Grievance” rivaled the sermon of churchgoers, as she puts it with Karl Kraus. Referring to an aggressive and sadistic behavior of the Potus, who is also known as a man being proud of “grabbing” women “by” instead of at the pussy. That provoked to ask for the nature of the object that is grabbed “by”? Is it the reel of the gangway of the big airplanes Trump fiercely holds, when descending. Trump fears descending and strangely feels also menaced by his German origin in third generation and pretends to have ancestry in Sweden instead. This should have helped him to avoid bad manners, encouraging bad behavior in political culture. (Theatre can educate about the tragic rise of protagonists such as Aturo Ui in: “The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui” by Bert Brecht; added by the author) Ronell said that she felt attracted by the banner in front of the Kampnagel-doors welcoming refugees. Those who lost their homes and existence have to be welcomed every day, she remembered from her ancestors who found exile in America. She told that the book and the light of enlightenment in the hands of the mighty female Statue of Liberty encouraged her during her childhood. Later however she got to know that Franz Kafka – in his novel “Amerika” – had envisioned the Statue with a sword in her hands.

Have a look at the photograph of “Überfluss II” correspondence between Ric Allsopp and the author in: Performance Research 2(1), pp 31-33, 1997, p 33

Performance Research 2 (1) 1997, p33

Liminoid and Walls Against the Multitude (on PSi #23, Part 2 of 3)

Considering the abundance of sessions offered in the conference I became aware of the limitations of reporting on the whole conference which was organized by Amelie Deuflhard, Gabriele Klein, Martin Jörg Schäfer and Wolfgang Sting and managed by Marc Wagenbach. So I decided to write about a few thoughts and ideas that came up in conversations and dialogues as well as moments of relaxation shared with other participants. Many of the terms and themes have already been discussed at other PSi-conferences and in Performance Research. This reappearance of themes can be seen as a golden thread which not only helps to get out of a labyrinth built by artists but also helps to catch the clue to a complexly woven pattern.

Liminal and Liminoid

Amongst the many metaphors and concrete forms of flow and overflow ‘liminal’ seems to be a revue of an old one. After Richard Schechner (one of the founders of PSi) one did not hear this reference for quite a while. It was introduced by Arnold van Gennep and redefined by Victor Turner. Thomas Isaacs brought it up again to understand the self-torturous actions of Marina Abramovic in “Lips of Thomas” http://marina-abramovic.blogspot.de/2009/11/thomas-lips-1975.html . Although it was done in 1974 it seems that it has not been fully understood. Why can it be useful or even necessary to perform painful acts? If we follow Turner, we have to ask again, whether there is any reason to transfer rituals and initiations from agricultural to complex contemporary societies? Does it make sense to use this term and to understand pain in terms of a contemporary ritual? Kieran Sellars also asked such questions with regard to the performances of Martin O’Brian, which for him are part of a personal method of struggling against his disease and help him to ease pain.[1] Perhaps we have to revise the idea of transgression today. While in the 1960s and 70s it meant breaking down the limits between art and life as well as between the private and the public, today the setup of limits is being discussed again. It seems that ‘liminal’ defines the use of thresholds – seen as a beam of plank at the entrance of a house – against excess.

New Limits? (degression)

The etymology of liminal is connected to the motto ‘overflow’, considering, that thresholds, the literary meaning of which can be defined as a board holding the abundance of a rich crop like cereal. Here liminal means banning or protecting the overflow and being able to share a crop over a period of time. This seems to be the direction in which the impetus of performance art has been changing over the decades at least in the Americas, Europe and Japan. Beginning as a revolutionary act in art, politics and life, which intended to tear away any limitation set by traditions, rules or conventions. This tendency was partly reversed by accademisation, when new museums were built in the 1970s and universities expanded faculties in the 1980s. Parallel to that the private TV-channels expanded by streaming 24 hours adds and news accompanied by permanent stock-market-tickers and there was the fall of the iron curtain. Things speeded up and the internet provided digital communication to almost everybody. This led to the desire to set up new limits or strengthen the old ones by moral and religious taboos. Actually even in countries with free access to internet like in Germany limitations of free speech as sanctions on hate-speech are being discussed.

This emphasizes the taming of uncontrolled powers of violence, of overwhelming feelings as well as pain. Could it also mean to a society that it looks for ways to control aggressive youngsters, powerful intellectuals and physical fighters instead of unleashing them? There is an obligation to protect the weak and if we look at the changing of the liminal in Performance Art it finally could mean the compliance of the arts by reconciling struggle, taming violence, preventing fighting and overcoming pain in a classical way. Already now sports, arts and cultural policy provide multiple space and time in media, arenas, theatres, cinemas etc. to compensate for phenomena of the liminoid. The numbers of artists who are pushing the limits are few. They are still acting in countries, where the limits for making money are wide and for artistic expression are tight. A good example is Pjotr Pawlenski in Russia. Actually numerous biennals, documenta and art fairs have been established on the base of what was achieved by the widening of limits and providing open spaces. Now we see a tendency that these multiple spaces are excessively filled with artefacts and material. It seems that the challenge of contemporary artists consists in stuffing up places for exhibitions and gathering matter and things in panic-like efforts

The Permanence of a Construction-Site as Happening

The new project of Rimini Protokoll “Staat 1-4” approaches such implications of overflow which are provided by big construction sites. As Immanuel Schipper presented, there is a trend which can be publicly observed: The generation of problems that are raising costs and cause constant delays, which enable the prolongation of construction sites deploying more and more opportunities to earn money for companies and lawyers. “Gesellschaftsmodell Großbaustelle (Staat 2)” is inspired by the logic and the logistics of a mega-construction site forming a role model for a society. The virtual set reminds me of the compartmented structure of a Happening like for example „18 Happenings in 6 Parts”. Instead of using the theatrical frame the project provides guided tours for 5 groups of visitors taking place at the same time in the same space at different parts of the site. http://www.rimini-protokoll.de/website/de/project/gesellschaftsmodell-grossbaustelle-staat-2
At the same time the “real” reality and real estate like the construction sites at the Berlin Airport (BER), will probably never be finished. Examining this from an artistic point of view this kind of reality appears like a permanent Happening, which is not dropped from the program for years like a successful musical. Is the latest and unexpected version of blurring the boundaries between art and life.

Independent Film in Hamburg

A surprisingly detailed paper was presented by Megan Hoetger from L.A. who researched “underground” film making in Hamburg in 1969 + 1973. She came close to the iconoclastic qualities of that independent experiment, which existed for a very short period of time. The film-maker-cooperative at Hamburg’s Brüderstraße was radically staying away from film- and TV-productions. Its members were also resisting paths which were chosen in local film-festivals in Germany and abroad.

[1] “Martin’s work considers existence with a severe chronic illness within our contemporary situation. Martin suffers from cystic fibrosis and his practice uses physical endurance, hardship and pain based practices to challenge common representations of illness and examine what it means to be born with a life threatening disease. His work is an act of resistance to illness, an attempt at claiming agency and a celebration of his body. Martin loves his body and his work is a form of sufferance in order to survive.” http://www.martinobrienperformance.com/about.html


Culturally Transformed Industrial Location for PSi #23 (part 1 of 3)

A Conference titled OVERFLOW from June 8 to 11, 2017 at Kampnagel in Hamburg

Impressions and Observations (Part 1)

The Kampnagelfabrik, which is the venue for dance-, music- and theatrical performances, was a factory that produced cranes for the port until the 1970s. After it was closed artists squatted the building and evolved various cultural activities there. This all happened when ports were transformed worldwide by the innovation of containers, which required a complete revision of the logistic scheme. When housing the annual conference of Performance Studies international, one can also realize the effects of economic change on education in the actual phase of globalization, when knowledge becomes a part of profit oriented circulation of goods and services too. However the good thing that cultural knowledge also has faces bodies and minds, which can be met and experienced during conferences and festivals like OVERFLOW from June 8 to 11 in Hamburg. Probably there are hardly other fields than those of the arts, dance, theatre, music, ritual and play as well as public performances in which cultural experience and expertise are represented and kept over the centuries.

The Foyer of Kampnagel during the Conference,
photographed by johnicon

PSi is a unique organization in which ideally practitioners of various fields of the performing arts meet academics of the theatre-faculties from the leading universities of the world. That fuels conflicts with institutions, which undergo restrictions, imposed by the neo-liberal management of universities. These were discussed right away on a Friday panel, which took place next to another one, where information on activism and performances in the overflowing City of Hong Kong was given. There students, intellectuals and artists fight for freedom which they have to defend against the requirements of capital and the circulation of commodities.

An opportunity to participate in a rich field of experiences in practice and research

The title of this conference is a metaphor describing the situation of the rich countries that profit from the exploitation of labor, agricultural and natural resources of the world, but you can also read it in a different way as the gifts, which are provided by the possibilities one has, when growing up on the sunny side of the word. Overflow can also be given to somebody for example through his or her intellectual and physical qualities, which enable a person to lead a full and happy life or resist stress and unrest.

Overflow in terms of affluence as well as spill can also be poisonous and destructive. Power and wrong decisions can destroy people’s lives, nature and social stability. Streams of money are used to exploit the resources thus helping to establish a corrupt ruling-class like in Kongo and Nigeria. On the other hand overflow is created by culture in Europe these days, when the documenta 14 at Kassel and Athens. Also the Skulpturen-Projekte Münster are opened simultaneously and in addition to the Venice Biennale and the Theater der Welt in Hamburg. Those who have the resources and permits to travel can visit the presentation of works of a chosen number of creative people from all over the world. This is also true for the program of PSi #23. Every day the participants of the conference can browse through 70 titles of presentations of papers, lectures, performances, panel-discussions or workshops, and have to decide, which one to attend. Disciplined enough you sit in one out of 10 contributions of ideas, knowledge and research, ranging from artistic to cultural, political and economic topics, from personal to conceptual as well as to life acts and performances representing in itself the flow if not an overflow of human struggle with reality and the results of cultural procession of it. For those who feel that the earth is too small Maaike Bleeker and Felipe Cervera offered a 4 hour lasting session hosting a series of lecturers, who explored the possibilities of space such as Planetary Performance Theory, theatrical events on the popularization of research in astronomy (Kurt Vanhoutte), Soviet Sci-Fi-Movies (Natalija Maysova), Performances of the Leap Second (Sara Morawetz), Kinetic Theatre during a Parabolic Flight (Janez Janša), a hypnotic flight to the moon (Nahum) and more.

But what means theatre today and what conditions do we find down on the earth especially in countries endangered by restrictions of the free speech and movement like in Turkey, Hongkong, Poland, not to speak about the dangers by losing once job or terror and crime. As it has been possible for me to visit only a small segment of the affluence of thoughts, ideas, results of research and elaborated papers I have to beg the pardon of all those, who came to Kampnagel to speak and present their papers and PowerPoints and are not mentioned here.

Kampnagel Campus, photographed by johnicon

However I will try to convey my observations as an essay on what I have listening to and experienced personally in encountering participants of the conference. So please take the excerpts that have been chosen as a possible whole. It is a subjective collection of a choice I made according to personal preferences as well as by coincidence. What I personally have experienced as a gift is a growing trust in each other to share knowledge, experience and expertise in the field, that has grown over decades and has its points of contact in many countries on 4 continents – and we still missing Africa, although the continent is present in many contributions reflecting the implications of the refugee-crises and post-colonial politics!

Hamburg is lucky to have hosted this conference at such an impressive place. The link to art history however is missing. It was represented by Aby Warburg, who included contemporary pagan rituals and festivals into the focus of his research of images to understand Renaissance. The Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg was founded in 1925, a few 100 meters away from the venue of the conference. It was saved from loss in London exile in 1933 and was re-institutionalized as a copy and research-institution after 1993 in the renovated Warburg-building in Hamburg. Unfortunately this promising link to Performance Studies was cut by those who are responsible for the division of the faculties at the University.

More records are prepared to follow soon!