THE FESTIVAL “FRESSEN ODER FLIEGEN. ART INTO THEATRE – THEATRE INTO ART” AT HAU IN BERLIN OPENED UP SPACES FOR REFLECTION IN ART EXPERIENCE
By Helmut Ploebst
Theatre has always offered space for visual events. Until today, the principles of the frontal theatre auditorium are imitated unaltered in the cinema, which since the beginning of the 20th century in German has also been called Lichtspiel- and Filmtheater. For nearly a century, further developments in the formatting of theatre and cinema have happened less within their own contexts but rather in the interdisciplinary connection with visual art – temporarily and especially in the recent past also in the framework of contemporary choreography. The term cinematography means “recording of movement” and thus is closely related with the term choreography.[i] The home cinema television, which evolved from cinema, represents a mobile projector box supplied by different broadcasting centres[ii], which at home like a little theatre window presents performative materials live, and at the same time not live. In its dimensions the TV device resembles a puppet theatre for domestic use. The TV box has – e.g., with Nam June Paik – wandered from the private environment into art contexts. The monitor as the image carrier of a mass medium subsequently became a projector for visual-acoustic artistic formulations.
During the first half of November 2008, Siemens Arts Program together with the three HAU theatres in Berlin has reflected on the reciprocal effects between art and theatre in the festival “Fressen oder Fliegen” (Eat or Fly). They did so at a time when the monopoly of live presentation in the theatre space had been more and more urgently questioned. For whatever happens in this space – as long as the audience is physically present one has to assume a live situation. The consequence of this conclusion is far from harmless if one possibility of art should be to create such common spaces for the public which direct the view of reality from the seduction mechanisms of the entertainment industry towards discursive devices, and make it possible for reception to “see through” the inevitable spectacular environment. Such an emancipation of the gaze presupposes a decisive creativity of reception in the audience, and that the spectator, as Michel de Certeau says, is not regarded as a consumer but as a user of the respective offer.[iii]
Disabling and realising things
The reception of theatre and visual art happens in situ and when their places are relocated it is always an act of adjustment of rituals congealed in convention. The festival title comes from a work of the same name by Antje Ehmann and Harun Farocki. This installation for six screens shows sequences from 38 feature films, all of which show one motif: a man’s suicide. With “Fressen und Fliegen” a new film made of quotations is created, but at the same time a – well-known – reframing of the cinematographic idea. The different screens make equal demands on the gaze’s focus and its periphery. Watching several passes of the installation shows that partial masking out of perception and the high flexibility of watching again and again result in shifts of the work’s reading. Underneath the critical surface discourse, the performance of the different films – e.g., the mutual “behaviour” of the quotes – plays an important role. Ehmann/Farocki confront their visitors with time jumps between Fritz Lang and Katherine Bigelow. The atmospheric seriality of the scene cuts seems to present a play with the reception method of zapping. Moreover there are recurring overlays of verbal quotations like: “Why I’m hanging myself? I don’t any longer want to enable things to be real because I perceive them.” (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, “In einem Jahr mit 13 Monden”, 1978)
The intriguing thing about this pathos formula is that it indirectly outlines what the premises of the festival’s curators might have been: (Even) if the matters of art only become real in their perception, then the “liveness” of reception determines the reality of the work of art. The installation “Guilthouse: Or the great fall of the Cartier Family” (2008), in which a group of only three or four spectators is lured into the copy of a house, only works if the visitors move through the entrance by their own initiative. Once there, they are told a story via acoustic and visual media. At the end, though, a performer enters as the coup of liveness, who directly broaches the unexpectedness of his appearance. The most important step of curation here is that this installation is built into a theatre space (that of HAU3), which in reception insinuates that among other things (a room installation and a video-audio sculpture) we are dealing with a “piece”.
Alteration of common logic
Such experiences of genre shift far transgress the established understanding of “crossover” – a term which over the last decade has lost much of its effectivity. If the large auditorium of the Hebbeltheater is turned into a large cinema showing a looped four-minute animation film – Thomas Demands “Rain/Regen” (2008) –, then gallery, cinema and theatre combine to become another medium radically opposed to the common logic of the host medium theatre. When Rimini Protokoll takes the performance quality of Parliament into a theatre context in “Deutschland 2. Der Bundestagstrainer”, allowing the visitors to declaim speeches by members of Parliament, or when theatre man Tim Etchells takes recourse to documentary video and together with a theoretician discusses the art parameters “memory”, “body”, “archive” and “spectacle”, the outlines of this shift become clearer. Etchells' aromatic discourse about discourse structures, “Art Flavors” (2008) implies the regalement with ice cream flavours matching the parameters mentioned and created especially for this work. The listening and licking is done live, the video flickers on a large monitor which connects the audience with the context of these delicacies.
Doing something. Reception work always is an art of acting. If such different reception rituals are intertwined with each other, doing steps out of its shadow perception and is experienced as such. This experience again influences future reception experience and behaviour: i.e., focussing, concentration, techniques of association and reading, predisposition and motivation. Such a curation (only a few examples from the two-week festival are listed here) makes sense. To this end, Matthias Lilienthal, Karin Dod and Joachim Gerstmeier coupled HAU and Siemens Arts Program, not announcing a school of seeing but opening a space of reflection which lends a new spin to the appearance of art and theatre.
[i] Originally, choreography means the notation of danced compositions in writing. With its methods, writing systems are generated from dance movements. Only in the 18th century, the meaning of “graphein” in dance context began to move away from the act of writing down – towards the direct inscription of movements into the bodies of dancers. While the term cinematography has all but disappeard from common usage, the term choreography is gaining importance. One can also observe how carefully choreography is dealt with in the art field of dance. At the respective education institutions for dance, the study of choreography is only hesitatingly introduced. The art field itself still is exclusively called dance, only the French centres chorégraphiques with their naming point out the importance of the choreographer for dance. In 1895 an apparatus by the brothers Lumière was called cinématographe – a combination of film camera, copying device and projector. Cinema today means the auditorium and opulent film projections. The key figure of the film maker is called director [German: Regisseur], which again presents a bracket with theatre, just like the term actor [German: Schauspieler]. Cinematography with all its technical possibilities was soon mainly employed for dramatic stories, and thus definitely became “theatrography”.
[ii] Television combines the possibilities of theatre and cinema in the form of a medial object (the box, the TV set) which has become a part of domestic furniture with the characteristics of a telekinematic image. It is equally suited for playing back cinematographic projections and performative events.
[iii] The combination of calculator and typewriter, telephone and television in the digital medium opposes the personal computer to the TV set, which is a tool first and a medium only in the second place. The computer is connected with “cyberspace”, which in comparison with the broadcasting sources of television has an incomparably higher number of sources to offer and requires higher activity than the remote control and switching between TV programme and Teletext. Television as well as the computer primarily represent visual media which radically enhance the concepts of image, theatre and cinematography, however without promotion an emancipation of the gaze. The potential, however, is already preconceived in these media since they require reception strategies which presuppose a certain creativity of their users. An entire tradition of media art has been beholden to these questions for decades.