DEUFERT+PLISCHKE, ALAIN FRANCO AND MARCUS STEINWEG: "ANARCHIV #3: SONGS OF LOVE AND WAR"
By Jeroen Peeters
Last March the German “artist twins” deufert+plischke celebrated ten years of collaboration with the creation of Anarchiv #3: Songs of Love and War in Kampnagel (Hamburg). In their Anarchiv cycle deufert+plischke invite other artists to work with their archive and in collaboration reformulate aspects of their oeuvre. This time musician Alain Franco and philosopher Marcus Steinweg are their guests, while Richard Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen is their guideline through the “anarchive”.
“Please don’t talk!”, one reads when entering the space, and a little further on: “Please take your time! You won’t be able to see or hear everything; there is no overview: you are in the anarchive.” In Anarchiv #3 the theatre is an open space without chairs, with a central performance area surrounded by tables and walls with all kinds of documentation, like an exhibition in which traces of the creation process and earlier performances are at display. In here one can walk and look around freely or watch something closely, drink a Bloody Mary to strengthen one’s own blood, play games, document the event by taking pictures or jotting down comments on filing cards, or just spend time: circumventing the spontaneous methodology of talking also means that attention and action are explicitly mediated, that they happen via the filter of various materials which make up the apparent chaos of the anarchive. Playing board games (“Nibelungenspiel” etc.) while at once formulating the rules first occurs as a somewhat gratuitous gesture, yet the message is clear: everyone is welcome to carve out their own trajectory and to add new elements. “You are invited to come back later on to see what has become of your traces.”
A grand piano with a comfortable chair occupies a prominent place, with next to it a piano stool used as a small table holding four top heavy orchestra scores: those of Richard Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen. Out of seventeen hours of opera Alain Franco selected over an hour of music, transcribed those motifs for piano and also smuggled snatches of Beethoven and Schönberg aboard. Myths and narrativity are a recurring element in deufert+plischke’s work, but a German saga from the Middle Ages is rather surprising: which spectators are actually familiar with the Nibelungenlied, let alone Wagner’s literary and musical adaptation of it? And what could be its significance today? At the table “Gehörgänge” one finds mp3 players with five short lectures by Alain Franco, springboards to better understand his view on Wagner and the musical dramaturgy of Anarchiv #3.
Wagner pushed the familiar musical language of the tonal system to its extreme by challenging the natural overtone structures with complex orchestrations and harmonies that no longer find resolution, as well as by suspending the opposition of harmony and melody, through which a sense of time evaporates and cadenzas no longer create points of rest. The perfection of a system nearly touches its collapse in Wagner’s music, which not only reflects modern life, but also the experience and psychological impact of it. With the principle of leitmotifs Wagner connects musical modules with characters, so they can permeate one another’s world and make a mental landscape emerge parallel to the actual image on stage. This structure provides space for memories and ghosts, wherefore Franco remarks that in Wagner “there is no evacuation of information, nothing gets lost, there is no security valve to let off steam. There is no fitness. Listening to Wagner is actually a rather exhausting experience, precisely while there is no decrease of tension, which makes the work nearly infinite.”
Here, a parallel can be drawn with Anarchiv #3, in which the proliferation of source material is constantly being “reformulated” by the artists and spectators, so that in a sense “all” the traces of both individual and shared quests for meaning remain tangible within the creation process as well as in the extension it finds in the performances. Still, what does this unruly proliferation and reformulation mean? For Franco, Wagner’s Ring des Nibelungen addresses the issue of narrativity as such, with its formal and ideological aspects. Wagner cherished revolutionary sympathies and was actively involved in the Dresden revolt of 1848, while the thrust of capitalism reconfigured society and social relations. This modern concomitance of information and conflicting world views provided the basis for a new musical system, just like Wagner attempted in his magnum opus to relate to “everything”, from myths over family to society, “in view of creating an alternative narrative structure, that is a non-natural synthesis of reality. After the Götterdämmerung remains a state of dissipation and the radiation of a memory that is no longer innocent, but permeated by a knowledge of how things actually work.”
Apart from oracle Erda’s warning, a visit to the treasure chamber (for the occasion silver balloons with philosophical statements about love), or an invitation to solidarity with Brünnhilde when she eventually chooses human love and mortality, the motivic connection with Wagner’s Ring is rather loose in Anarchiv #3. At the same time, in deufert+plischke’s work the choreography has never been closer to the music. Together with dancers Eva Bernhardt, Jasmin Ihraç and Britta Wirthmüller the whole musical dramaturgy was transformed – through a collective process of association and “reformulation” – into idiosyncratic movement material, in which details and arbitrary gestures are passed on and constructed affinities emerge and disappear again. A meticulous choreography of looks underscores the communication between the performers and constantly establishes connections with the audience.
It is not only through mutual recognition in the game of glances that a public space opens itself in Anarchiv #3: deufert+plischke urge on to participation. Via tasks on cards one is invited to take part in a collective choreography with balloons or in a dance with demonstration signs, and literally position oneself with utterances such as “Konkordanz, Kommunion, Kommunikation – können tödlich wie die Liebe sein. (M. Steinweg)” or “Je suis en guerre avec moi-même. (J. Derrida)”.
Step by step the anarchive grows from an exhibition into a performance into an agora – where performers and spectators together make their way through the proliferation in their quest for meaning; where playful and gratuitous actions gain gravity; where everyone starts to take responsibility for their words and deeds in this heterogeneous yet shared space. The arbitrary and ever temporary character of the anarchive invites to actively formulate the rules of the game within those wayward boundaries and makes new connections and meanings possible. Other than in Wagner, in Anarchiv #3 absorption yields to a contemporary form of participation, illusion to mediation and the visibility of the working process and musical interpretation, drama to its relentless deconstruction. Save for the elaborate musical dramaturgy and choreography, Anarchiv #3 can hardly be called a performance any longer: it challenges narrativity’s conditions of possibility today and thereby opens up perspectives for the theatre as a political space. In a sense Anarchiv #3 comes close to a Gesamtkunstwerk for the 21st century, in which any attempt at a synthesis cannot be anything other than a set of formulations in the unfamiliar.