A LOOK INTO "ATELIER07" AT THE DISKURS FESTIVAL 2007
by Agnieszka Ryszkiewicz
The Diskurs Festival is
one of the oldest festivals for young artists in Europe. Organized on a yearly
basis by students of the Theatre Applied Studies department of the Giessen
University, it skillfully interweaves various forms of performing arts. Events
such as panel discussions and public debates foster the constructive exchange
between artists presenting their works, the public visiting/taking part in
them, students of the University and this year's members of an exceptionally
according to Jan Ritsema's new definition, created during the festival 07
edition, choreography is "thinking about the circular or linear organization
and/or explanation of the moving relations between objects and subjects in
time", Diskurs 07 was quite a challenging piece of choreography.
of Diskurs 07 was "twilight".
"Whether you read twilight as a special ratio of lightness and darkness, as an
obscure interplay of pretence and reality, or as a meeting of natural and
artificial things – it always marks a threshold, a field that is situated
somewhere in between."
It became the guideline of both the dramaturgic work and the interest in the
content of the invited works. As a result, a great variety of forms such as
theatre, performance, dance, installation, video and music inhabited Giessen
from dawn till dusk, and throughout the nights, offering individual conceptions
and ideas circling around twilight:
Among others, Piet Zwart's . .....
.:.:....:::ccccoCCoooo::, Cornford/Appleby's Human Separation, Jan Machacek's Erase remake, or Seon-ja Seo's – related #1 – #4, expanded the borders of conventions in thinking about the
high point of this year's edition of the festival was a unique atelier initiated
by Jan Ritsema and Boris Nikitin. Following their proposition, nine
international artists met to form "atelier07" in Giessen, in order to develop
their own production for the Diskurs Festival. After five weeks of discussions
and preparation via e-mail, they had to create a performance within seven days.
The topic of atelier07 was quality time,
an issue as much an intangible as twilight. There was only one requirement – every single person, the group as a whole, and the audience of the presentation,
had to spend "quality time", whatever that means.
specificity of the proposed atelier reaches beyond its unusual topic. It starts
at its very roots, at the process of selection. Challenging the issue of
quality time versus efficiency, Ritsema and Nikitin decided for a democratic
selection. Instead of them choosing the applicants, the whole process was made
public. A self-selection: All applicants were read and rated by all applicants.
Those that received most points were invited to take part in atelier07. "As a
result of this selection process that does not represent the will of a curator,
the participants have nothing more in common than their participation in the
project, their journey to Giessen, and the rooms of a former geological
institute in the Zeughaus where atelier07 takes place. Within this framework,
which forms the collective starting point, they will try to spend and create
Is it an utopia?
Take off your coat, Jan
5th of October, in the old geological museum of Giessen, the 9
artists are supposed to meet at 10:30 in order to reflect upon, deal with and
create quality time. The day seems perfect, the hour not too early. In exactly
one week they will have to present the result of their working time, their
Next Friday seems distant. Presenting one's former works appears like a great
solution for a start. Safe and secure, open and friendly they gather around the
TV screen, keen to observe, comment, look for common points and understanding
within the art fields.
Marina Perchikhina (Russia) displays a video documentation of her recent
performance. Discussion is hot but polite. Sofia Medici (Argentina), Juliana
Smith (USA/Switzerland), Eric Green (USA/Germany), Lise Risom Olsen (Norway,
nothing to do with Deleuze), Boris Nikitin (Germany), Julia Jadkowski
(Germany/Holland) and Agnieszka Ryszkiewicz (Poland/France) fight for common
words to describe what they see. Then a coffee break. Lunch break follows,
expectedly. A kind atmosphere establishes itself when waiting for Jan Ritsema's
arrival at 4 pm. They all have a feeling of being among equals, of being
able to discuss and talk productively about the art they make. Time to talk
about quality time and their final product will come; they first need to get to
know each other.
Half past four Jan enters the "day room" of the geological institute. Chats
lower in intensity. They all agreed upon the fact of having no leader, Jan is
just another member of the group, maybe only a bit less hairy. The small,
compact figure stands still in the middle of the room. His immobility during
the next five minutes enhances the already present attention for his person.
Categorically refusing to take off his coat, Jan claims to have no time to lose
and bombards the mostly unprepared artists with his usual nervousness.
How come they haven't been speaking yet about QT? What the – – – do they care about
each others' work, they need to create a new work here, together, and there are
only 6.5 days left. Did they agree already on the principles of QT?
A general scream for a cigarette break spreads throughout the institute.
"Why hasn't anyone warned me that he is a freak? From the e-mails, I understood
that he was one of us.", miaows one of the smokers.
The principle days
love him, some despise him. But thanks to Jan's very first appearance, a couple
of things seem to be clarified. For most of the participants at least. Not to
mention that this clarification is an ongoing process that takes a couple of
One – there is no leader, but if no one takes the lead, Jan will do it, even
against his will. :)
Rule nb. Two – they did not gather in Giessen to hang around and enjoy life.
They came to have a highly productive time – because a highly productive time
is QT – according to Jan.
Rule nb. Three – one should always define what is QT for him/her, but they will
anyway deal with Jan's proposal of its understanding – a rule they didn't want
to agree on via e-mails has simply been turned into life.
Rule nb. Four – one can always disagree with a proposed idea, which will force
the whole group to rediscuss it.
Rule nb. Five – one does not talk about Fight Club.
continue until Sunday evening. They include cooking together, eating together,
watching Inland Empire, love and hate
and common excursions to the toilet. There are the topics of borders,
visibility/invisibility, decision making. There are discussions which lead only
to talk and others which have a goal. The participants start to disbelieve
agreements, doubt their own opinions, desperately look for QT in the process.
Heterogeneous as they are, they only arrive at a partial agreement of
presenting on Monday, their individual ideas of QT.
is being made. Out of hope, despair, disagreement, physical tiredness,
Each one separately, or in small groups, all the participants will work on
something they are good at. They will do their best and look for a reference
that is even better. According to organizational performance, the bonus rating
system is given up to the judgment of paradoxically opposite incentives: the
best/highest quality of an individual performance and the best/highest quality
of a group performance.
Most of the participants try to stay friends.
"I don't want to be a friend of you, I want to work with you" sums up Jan. Some
agree, some don't.
The duration of qt is relevant to the previous
time/amount of non-qt
about the quality of the final work, they all do too much.
The all-together meetings have shifted from 10:30 am to 3 pm. Meaning
that most of them stay at the Zeughaus from 11 am to 1 pm. Some go
shopping. But buying dozens of plastic corn-cobs, fake guitars, garden swimming
pools doesn't dissipate the growing frustration. Why do they concentrate on mere
copies of better originals?
Fortunately, the topic of work gradually seems to be drifting to a secondary
place. There is a so-called "working atmosphere". Everyone runs here and there
taking Polaroid pictures, watching bits and pieces of movies, constructing the
lights. They all cherish a moment of relief when it comes to thinking about a
form, about forms of their particular small pieces of work, and the issue of
"why" and "what" they do does not get discussed for a while.
But the obvious easiness that comes with forgetting those questions still
torments some, especially those who found themselves engaged in too many of
those small productions. With tiredness comes the concern about quality,
followed by a thought of abandoning some pieces, and the question of purpose
regarding those arises immediately.
They often long for advice. Unguided, they tend to look for approval. They try
to support each other, not always able to do so. They offer to be there for the
work of some, and in friendship for others. Most of them accept the difference
Jan is less and less present, retreating to his room, working on a lecture
performance he's planning to give on Friday.
His pieces of advice are hardly helpful when it comes to practical questions – "Say ‘kiss me' so that I can believe it, say you love me, say fuck me, just
lie, acting is lying, it's easy, you see."
participants start to reunite under the pressure of an unbearable amount of
work. Some wake up in the nights speaking lines they were learning, some do
nightwalks around Giessen recording reflections, ideas, words.
Sitting in the hallway, around the table, five of them decide to change the
frame of the supposed final outcome: No performance is to be expected. They
will not carry it through. They claim a different form, that of an open space
where party mixes with art.
They are happy with their own proposition. Satisfied. They finally arrive at
making qt both "by" and "for" themselves. They suspect they might have learned
Often forgetting to eat, they keep on drinking every night.
The last supper
the final countdown. The structure of the upcoming event is so vague that there
hardly is any. Moments of visible collaboration are rare. Some long for a
common action, but isn't the whole process a big enough example of collective
work? Do they need to show that they are able to work together?
They manage to find time to look more specifically at some individual
propositions. Most of the authors are eager to ask for opinions. Comments, openness
to propositions and suggestions help to upgrade, transgress, mutate some works.
Exchanging precise information, drawing on peers' knowledge and experience,
profits of a collective work become obvious.
The whole event gains complexity through raising the quality of its individual
parts. However, nobody has a clear picture about the totality of the evening.
Jan talks about trust. Hardly anyone is eager to rely on this assumed
"It's not about trust and all this sentimental shit", he claimed in his e-mail
answering Boris' assumption of a basic amount of trust needed between the
participants. All eight swallowed the hard words.
They cannot figure out why they should trust each other now.
Did the working process seal them and teach them so much about each other that
disagreeing in a pre-working assumption they can now fully relie on each other?
They are afraid of being manipulated, framed by Jan's lecture about Ritsema's
poetic. They want to prevent Friday's event from being Jan's life example of a
badly made work.
Confusion, challenge, struggle, product, QT …
They end up without any run-through. They surrender and settle in the end on
keeping the whole thing open and on adjusting, reacting to whatever will happen
Hitting the bottom is
not a weekend retreat; it's not a goddamn seminar
female and the male toilets flood the main hall.
At quarter past seven, a flock of 70 people is gathered at the gate of the
Geological Institute. Unpredictable circumstances challenge the qt evening. The
delay raises expectations. What was supposed to be an open and accessible space
was changed into a territory where one has to line up to in order to get
The 9 people serve hamburgers, give lectures, display fake video clips, home-made
versions of speak bitterness and fight club,
multiple video installations are displayed here and there. They do their best.
But their best is not enough. People leave acknowledging that no show is going
to happen. The hamburgers eaten, martini glasses emptied, they rush out of the
Soon the 9
find themselves within a small group of enthusiasts. They continue performing,
organizing time and space for that reduced audience which is eager to take its
time and wander around the different spaces. Intimate actions take place.
One-to-one performances, encounters privileged by the specific, elitist
situation, discussions …
At ten the
Drunk, sitting in the festival café, all 9 continue discussing the work. It has
become the core part of their togetherness. Through the prism of work they
discuss personal tastes, plans, ideologies, goals. They quarrel and are
thankful, happy and disappointed about the evening. What worked, what didn't?
Why, and what does it mean when something doesn't work? Didn't they reach the
goal of qt? What could they have done differently? Did they play too safe?
At the open discussion that will follow next day at noon they will admit to
playing safe. Something none of them would have thought of during the process.
The concern about the quality of the final product pushed them to take some
decisions ad hoc. They forced the idea of the personal best, they went for a
solution before really arriving at a dead point in the discussion. They
prevented hitting the bottom. Didn't allow themselves to check what could
probably have happened if they'd continued dis/agreeing until a solution/no
solution came up by itself.
Some slowly start to imagine a continuation.
Others are happy to quit.