DANIEL ASCHWANDEN AND PETER STAMER FOLLOW THE PATH OF MONEY AT TANZQUARTIER WIEN
By Chris Standfest
No, it is not a hundred percent precise to begin with an allusion to Brecht’s didactic play “Die Maßnahme”, in which the “young comrade”, after a number of mistakes in the process of organising the revolution in China, assenting to his own destruction, is thrown into the lime pit by his co-comrades.
However, the programme flyer itself lays a trail to Brecht – to epic theatre and to the street scene as its “primordial scene”. But “The Path of Money” at Tanzquartier Wien rather appears as a curious form of “didactic play” – in the way Daniel Aschwanden and Peter Stamer are staggering through parts of China and trying to involve the audience in their staggering, guided by the self-obligation to follow a banknote of all things. Thus a recourse to Brecht clears up some questions or voids of this work, which also was shown in October in in Berlin at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt as a “performative installation” and in the framework of “Die Haut der Bewegung” at TQW as an installative sketch, and will return in July, 2010 in a new version for Salburg’s sommerszene festival.
China as a podium
For four weeks, and more than 4000 km distance, the two together with their producer and translator followed two smaller Chinese banknotes, and as “visible agents” recorded their itinerary and encounters with the respective owners, guided by the question “where – and even more important – who [is] the people spending this ‘money of the people’ [author’s note: called thus in Chinese]” (Quoted from the programme flyer.)
The door to the performance in Halle G of Tanzquartier opens, and fog wells out. One descends the stairway to the stage, only small lamps on the ground lead the way to a very low podium in the shape of China, on which the play is to take place subsequently, and on which several other spectators are already walking around in the foggy darkness. On which, as will turn out, the two performers are searching for a path through the crowd with closed eyes and arms stretched out for orientation, meanwhile talking about their arrival in China and interrupting or complementing each other.
Is it a narration? It’s about a long bus drive with an experience of landing, all in present time, in a kind of parole automatique of those memories which fails whenever the real-time attitude of this kind of talking – as a paradoxical act of theatrical present-ation on the one hand, and as a narrative medium on the other – get blotted out by theatre, television, and stage sound – i.e., when the effort of creating the real-time of memory/events for us, the audience, is exhausted and consumed by the simulation of largely familiar inflections. This happens now and then, more frequently on the first night, rarely on the second.
So, while the tale/s progress and lead us into the dawn of a Chinese provincial town at the Yangtse, little lamps are switched on, the light becomes brighter, and the performance space shifts into a suddenly very poetic, illusionary reference room of the narration, becomes theatrical. And this shifting of space and play, or playing, the continuous attempts to fetch documentary matters – video recordings, travel memories – into the present of a performative or theatrical situation, also is the threshold along whose methods and conditions of success the work itself is structured. Hybrid employment of epical theatre means and tabloid: posters with scene titles, lighting and stage technicians as part of the action; cardboard scenery and cardboard “comrades” – large-format prospectuses glued together from black and white copies of A4 photos of the tower blocks above the river valley and lifesize figures of the changing money possessors; re-enactment of a “money transfer chain” – young man – cigarettes – kiosk proprietor – food – cook – soup kitchen – with “volunteers” from the audience determined by random generator, moderated stylistically between epic street scene, family constellations and Thomas Gottschalk-like mass entertainment.
Chasing the bill
Because, while day is breaking in China at the end of the bus journey and the light gets brighter on the stage of Halle G, “stagehands” (magnificent: Yosi Wanunu and Hannes “Fishy” Wurm) put up simple wood tables with light blue and pink colored plastic stools. So we take a seat in the “street kitchen” copying the original place of action, noticing at last (if it wasn’t called to our attention before by its fragrance) that on its side there is a veritable cooking berth.
And now we get entangled in the play or the games with the bill which are not really so easy to penetrate. The bill, marked by Aschwanden/Stamer and furnished with the statement “we want to make your acquaintance”, is brought into circulation while the two travelling “agents” follow the respective owners – like the young man who wants to buy cigarettes and food – or engage them in conversation like the 19-year old adolescent who wants to open up a hairdresser’s shop; or are engaged by them, like the young woman who is travelling through China alone in order to make “business” – whatever kind of business that means.
Eventually she employs the rule of the project for herself, taking our agents along on her voyage on a ship. After a few days she admits that she felt better with them, less lonely … Or the getting acquainted doesn’t work, and our globetrotters have to chase their banknote, e.g., because of a carrier’s unwillingness to communicate. All this the audience finds out through replaying, videos, a “radio play” with interspersed notes, and recurring loose narrations and reflections of the two performers. Besides, we, the audience, too, get a meal in the street kitchen, which by the way is delicious.
So we spectators alternately or simultaneously become audience, co-performers, witnesses or simply guests during this evening, just like Aschwanden and Stamer on their travels changed their parts or were forced to change them. Here one can observe how the two in China are learning to follow their self-imposed rules, and maybe at best become actors and witnesses of themselves while trying to observe “the people” learning to deal with the rules of the new money in a changed life. Between charm, entertainment, redundancy, snapshot and information, and sometimes slipping or over-exerted tones, the great abstract and existential disquiet eventually also is transferred in the almost concretistic play acting; a disquiet residing in money as a “common equivalent” – a medium which apparently engenders and indebts, controls and needs to be controlled, and whose origin, usage, value and dynamics are as arbitrary and compulsive as the “Path of Money” the two performers have laid out for themselves. And in this disquiet, which is also inscribed into the performers’ search and the changes of media and performabilities, one actually finds the power of this evening.