The Year 2017
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations
Welcome to what is going to be a collective chronicle of the year 2017! This journal will follow the general change that we experience in our daily lives, in our cities, countries and beyond, in the political discourses and in our reflections on the role of artists and intellectuals. Originating from several talks and discussions with fellow artists and thinkers FFT feels the strong need to share thoughts and feelings about how we witness what is going on in the world. Week after week different writers, artists, thinkers and scientists will take the role of an observer as they contribute to this collective diary.
#20 May, 15th - 21st
After presenting The Ninth at The Polish Dance Platform, we are back in Ljubljana. Performing tonight and tomorrow. The Ninth is a physical theater but we found ourselves in the selection of the ten best dance performances of the last two years in Poland (The Ninth is a Slovene Polish co-production). Obviously programmers concluded that the line between “dance” and “theatre” in the frame of contemporary performing arts should finally be overcome. I hope. Sometimes lines are obstacles. This usually happens because the historically established fields of conventions are rapidly changing. So we have to constantly question these lines.
During rehearsals, while we are looking for material, we talk a lot about different lines, for instance between artificial and real, thought and physicality, presence and meaning, form and statement, audience and performer… For every project it is important to established these lines, you simply have to know where they are if you would like to play with them or around them. And this is not a formal question. Sometimes it is really hard to understand the twisted logic of these lines. It often happens that we only fully understand them until after we meet the audience. When we see how the audience reads these lines.
We know that in reality it is impossible to draw a clear line between the good and the bad, love and hate, normality and insanity, even between war and peace. After September 2001 Bush Junior declared total war against terrorism. After the attacks in Paris in November 2015 Hollande declared: Europe is at war. In the same month Slovenia begins erecting the razor-wire fence on the Croatian border to keep out refugees. We would like to believe that we live in a global world, but at the same time we would like to keep peace localized behind the fences. Sometimes we would like to force the line. But it is not working.
Rubber boats packed with refugees are stranding on the beaches of the Greek islands crowded by tourists. They literally walk side by side and yet both, tourists and refugees, behave as if some invisible line is still there. It would be surreal if the line between holidays and war would no longer exist, but the line is no longer there. And it is still real. Sometimes we cling to nonexistent lines in order to maintain the appearance of normality. Although on the border of insanity.
Last week there was an international meeting of writers in Slovenia. The press published news under the title: “We need humanism with a human face.” Since the western European ideology of humanism is the main topic of The Ninth, I had to stop and read it. Again I was faced with a worn out romantic belief in humanity and criticism of brutal neoliberal capitalism without face. It makes me sad and angry at the same time when I read such simplifications again and again. According to Giorgio Agamben “humanization of man” is the procedure of systematic suspension of the animal. When we kill man - we kill the animal. It is a brutal process of extermination of the animal. Humanism is the bloodiest line I could imagine. Does it mean that we need humanism with pig’s ears? Better not, it could start some new religious war. The problem with humanism is exactly its human face.
Yesterday during rehearsal of The Ninth I had to draw the line. The Performance runs through the complete Beethoven’s Ninth symphony and during emotional outbursts of the symphony, the performers must deal with a lot of demanding physical tasks. Because we are trying to avoid obvious musical cues, there is a constant danger that we could be lost in this rich musical landscape. And in fact at The Polish Dance Platform we missed the end of the symphony. It is truly an anxious feeling if you miss your own end. Because we also use video prompters during the performance (we name 197 isms during the performance) the last word on the prompter since yesterday is LINE (before the last word was zootheism), which inform the performers that the end is 30 seconds away and that it is time to build the bow line. We simply do not want to be lost in Beethoven’s vision of brotherhood again. It has so much potential conclusions, that we simply do not know how to recognize the right one.
“The board of La Biennale di Venezia, chaired by Paolo Baratta, awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement to Carolee Schneemann (USA).” In the name of all of us, who believe that art is the drive to go beyond limits, I was really glad when I read this news in the morning. In her work Up to and Including Her Limits (1973-1976) she suspended her naked body from the ceiling of the gallery and transformed herself into a gravitational drawing tool. Her performance Interior Scroll (1975) in which she extracted a rolled scroll from her vagina and read her “intimate manifesto” is probably the most known. Today her work is stored in various drawers of body art, visual art, performance art, feminism, the Fluxus movement, activism, critical art… But in my book she is simply “The Artist”.
How to speak about the unspeakable, how to make the invisible visible, how to make the impossible possible? I understand art as an urge to cross the limits of language, body and reason. In fact this is a common territory of art, science and religion. If we could express everything we want to say, we would stop talking. There is always something that can not be said, it remains in the air as something we can just feel. Something that resists any formulation, definition, categorization. Behind everything we see is always something hiding that we cannot see. The deeper we go, more questions we have. The more we invent words as “postfactual” and similar, the less meaning remains on our sieve of reception. This invincible limit of our mind makes the “insanity” of the art “sensible”.
The most important limit for me as an artist is the limit of “I know”. Usually we know a lot about what we do not want and much less about what we actually do want. This enigmatic logic of wishes is one of the most basic forces of an individual. The fulfillment is always somewhere else, as you would expect it. It is full of paradoxes. There is a high risk that you will miss your wish if you are to eager to reach it.
While we work I am used to say: “Yes, yes, we all know that, this is not interesting.” We are all the time in the quest for the unexpected. But what is it, what is unexpected? Do you really want to go there? Do you really want to find yourself in a “I don’t know”-territory? Do you want to climb this ladder of endless questions until you find yourself in the situation where the only possible way down is to throw yourself into the dark pit of unknown? Sometimes there could be a surprise, maybe, a sudden wink of unexpected insight, maybe, but a lot of the times there is just hard landing and bruises. And nobody is interested if it hurts. It is not a question if you want to do it. You must do it. You are the artist. Your job is to push yourself over the limit.
It was an emotional evening. The Ninth was performed for the last time in Ljubljana. The house was full, the audience was breathing with us all the time. We felt very honored and grateful. One of the peaks of the performance is the sitting gallop on the theme of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy. Some could tag this scene as obscene or even pornographic (frontal nudity, exposed genitals) but in Ljubljana we didn’t get any comment in this direction.
Obscenity is concept in direct connotation with theatre. It literary means that we are faced with something that should remain hidden offstage as in classical ancient Greek theatre, where potentially offensive content (sex, murder etc.) happened outside the scene. It is a social agreement on relation between public and private in the sense: “We know, that all these ‘morally unacceptable’ acts exist, but we would like to maintain the public face clean, so let’s keep all these ‘dirty’ details in private and off the public stage.”
If we try to translate this into political system, the problem appears when we start to take this game so seriously that we forget that this is just ideological theatre and we start to perceive it as a reality, as a true nature of humankind, race, nation… In this situation the game itself becomes obscene and in this game we all have a quite precise roll to play. The stage of pretending transforms into reality, offstage obscenity takes the role of staged illusion. It starts to function as some kind of aestheticized excess. It becomes everyday news. Suddenly the most obscene acts becomes disguised into political correctness, democratic values, tolerance… Our naked gallop is the radical acceptance of the role that is given to us in this obscene game; we gallop for the European idea as well trained racehorses. That is an obscene surface of ideology.
”Mr. Einstein, I am afraid you don't understand the gravity of the situation.”
”I think I know much more about gravity than you.”
This is a short dialog between some official and Albert Einstein from the trailer for Genius, a new National Geographic series. It attracted me because gravity is also the working theme of the current research for Via Negativa’s new project. Idea is to deal with gravity as the most basic natural phenomenon, as a basic "ideology" of life: all is falling continuously, people are falling with each step, everything around us has a constant tendency to fall, systems are falling, whole countries are falling...
We usually identify the fall with the tragic experience of failure and death. And from the other side, we are laughing when someone slips on a banana peel. The early silent movie industry was all about the physicality of falling. Buster Keaton was the greatest master of the fall - “so funny that it hurts”. Falling is crying and laughing at the same time, it is a tragicomic and metaphysical experience at the same time. So four performers (later I intend to invite at least three more) are currently researching possibilities of how to talk through the fall, trying to develop some kind of language of falling. Idea is simple: each minute of the new piece something must fall, either body or object.
Gravity is a force that keeps the universe in a temporary balance. It is a ravenously cosmic glue, a mysterious force of singularity where at the end everything disappears in the black hole in which the laws of normal space-time doesn’t exist anymore. Nature, as we know it, is just transitional gravitational playground on its road to singularity. In this sense the gravity of the situation is much more serious than the official from Genius could imagine: Gravity is the true monster of the universe.
The next three days I am going to spend with participants of the Via Negativa laboratory (VN Lab). The VN Lab is a series of workshops connected into a continuous creative process in which participants create, explore and develop their own performing material. I always start the VN Lab with the question of what and why to perform.
This year the VN Lab is focused on the topic of "security". On the one hand this is a profoundly intimate need of every individual on the other hand, it is a territory for brutal ideological, political and economic manipulations, which result in barbed wire, austerity measures, economic blockades, military interventions ... The list is endless. The paradox of the security concept is that it can be formed only by non-security, a threat, an enemy... The catchword “for the sake of security we must be willing to sacrifice some freedom” is the beginning of totalitarianism. Every political system, which fights for survival, justifies its existence with the continuous production of fear.
It is fascinating that more than a year after the first migration wave, which was redirected through Slovenia after Hungary built a wire fence on its borders, we still have barbed wire on Slovenian the border with Croatia. Even more. The government adopted a law with precise methodology by which they can calculate the amount of compensation to landowners along the border, where a wire fence is set. The measure, which was initially introduced as a temporary technical barrier, has now become a permanent reminder of the threat of migration from the east. Even more. Slovenian politicians are more than convinced that the next and much bigger wave is coming soon. We should be prepared. We must be alerted. They even invented new migration route named “Mediterranean route” and with this “discovery” they surprised the European officials as well as the Croats, who had never heard of its existence before. Even more. Slovenia is buying new Patria armored vehicles. We must be ready. And this chain is just one example of the production of fear.
There are also much more sophisticated mechanisms of production of fear not only guns and wires. For example: education and employment politics, economic slavery, outside threats in the form of global corporativism, terrorism, militant fundamentalism etc. from which the national state would like to protect us. The national state functions as a medieval fortress: first of all it must produce enough fear from outside to keep people inside the walls. And second: it must create enough fear and pressure behind the walls in order to keep control and maintain the territory. The national state is a big factory of fear.
20. / 21.5.2017
A woman in a white burka made from bed sheets. An unexpected color. The big and strong woman is hidden behind dazzling whiteness. Eating an apple. “Oh, forbidden fruit from the tree of temptation, the clash of religious worlds”, I start to play with my thoughts. She definitely gets my attention. A man with a walking stick is approaching. He stops close to her. Behind her. Definitely too close to take this for something usual. I become even more attentive. He whispers into her ear: “I’d like to fuck you.” I have the feeling that he might grab her buttocks in this moment. She does not move. Stands as a monument. “Shame on you,” she says. No emotion in her voice. Sounds like something that she simply must say in this situation. I’d like to see her eyes.
As she would hear my thoughts, the woman in the white burka reveals her face. Surprise. But not her face as such is surprising, but the image that I recognize in this moment. It is a Virgin Mary suddenly standing in front of me. Or, having a second thought, maybe just a virgin bride. But I refused to be confused too much. It’s the same message. She also bites the apple. This catholic iconography now becomes a little too pushy for my taste, but let’s wait and see what will happen next. Nightfall. A young guy starts to follow her. She speeds up, so does he. She is almost running when she reaches her doorstep. Grabs the door handle. The man pushes a shoe between the door: “Wait. I want you so badly that it hurts. Let me fuck you. Please. Help me.” The virgin slams the door. And the pain in his foot overcomes the pain of his desire. The young man limbs in the darkness. The virgin sits in her room afraid to switch the light on.
The woman takes off her white virgin outfit. It is a dominatrix standing in front of me now. Black underwear and fishnet stockings. I am not surprised. I didn’t expect it but I am disappointed. Bad stereotype. She bites the apple. I decide to ignore this. While I defend my intellect, she surprises me with her story. She starts to complain, that in the night club, where she works, she is under constant pressure of sexual harassment. There is a guy always following her to the toilet and peek under the door while she is peeing. “Piss on me, please, piss on me,” the guy moans behind the door. “It’s disturbing” she complaints. Her feminist friend advises her to ask herself if perhaps she alone is not the one to blame for what is happening to her.
Next move, expected of course. She is naked. I am not disappointed this time because this is something that simply had to happen. I am curious who is standing in front of me. She finishes apple. Okay. I am waiting for the story. And the story comes. “I had a lover. We spent some really beautiful nights, weeks, moths together,” she starts. “Once while we were lying naked after having sex he asked me: ‘Do you know that you have a unusually large labia? How come?’ I get out of bed saying: ‘Obviously I fuck too much’ and leave.”
This story was presented by Olja during today’s VN Lab. My record is a little bit modified, it includes my position of the viewer. While the group gave feedback with the focus on this year’s Lab topic of security, I was thinking how desire always hides itself behind the surface of the visible. The surface is the one that drives desire to dig up what lies behind it. It does not matter whether it is burka or just bare skin. Desire always finds a way to drill deeper, behind the curtain, behind the dress, behind the skin, behind the eyes, behind the words… And you cannot escape it. Never. Nowhere. Whatever religious, cultural, ideological tricks we as society may develop, this pattern always runs under the same principle.
That’s why theatre still makes sense today and will forever. We will never stop to ask the same question over and over again: What is behind the curtain? In spite the fact that the answer is always the same (behind the curtain is just an illusion or at least a great threat of disappointment) the promise of the curtain still remains tempting. We are always ready to believe that behind it there is some deeper layer of reality hidden. But in fact, the only thing real is the curtain itself.
While walking home I observe people on the street running for busses with full bags of grocery, swearing in cars, walking with phones on ears, pushing trolleys with crying babies… No one seems overly happy, nobody seems to enjoy it immensely. Freedom has a face of fear. Is this also just a deceptive surface? Yeah, probably somewhere deeply inside we all are really happy to live in the free world, in the world of endless possibilities, where all roads to fulfillment of our desires are open. Yeah, it's no wonder that we are in such a hurry. It’s understandable that we are concerned - of course, we want to exploit all the potentials of freedom. The only fear that haunts us is to miss our opportunity. Yeah, maybe we didn’t quite realize our dreams yet, but as long as we believe, as long as we preserve our dream alive, there is a hope that someday this dream becomes a reality.
Yeah, we must believe that there is something much greater hidden behind this surface. Otherwise we could slip in the cracks of the surface. It's self-preservation instinct. Ideologists know exactly how important the surface is, they know that this is all that exists, that there is nothing behind. Of course, they are not naive, they are not blind, they know that we can also see. There are holes, cracks, gaps and even steep crevasses in this surface. So they feed our need to survive, they “help” us to avoid dangerous slip beneath the surface, they tell us exactly what we need to hear: “Do not let yourself be fooled with what is going on. What you see is just deceptive surface, but is not about how things look. It is about how things might look and how things could look in the future, and this is our project…”
Always the same strategy, every religion, every political system, every ideology is build on this strategy of deceptive surface. And every society, every family, every individual, and every woman dressed in a burka and every woman in a sexy outfit. Every curtain needs its promise, but more important: every promise needs its curtain to establish the desire.
Theater and politics – same business, different ambition? I am asking myself lately what is the purpose of my work? In what kind of relation I am with the politics and reality? Somehow I like the thought that its function is exactly beyond any purpose. In the functional world of high efficiency maybe the waste of time and money on something completely useless could be the most subversive position. I am especially worried of becoming a tool of hope, beauty, optimism, faith in future of humanity etc. I don’t want to be a tool of ideology. A lot of times humor offers good a twist. But not always. Sometimes I have the need to be deadly serious. Sometimes I would like to avoid the position of the intelligent clown, a castle fool who can speak the truth. But at the same moment I become aware, that I can speak only about the surface, about cracks - I can only be a lens to magnify them or the glue to patch them. It’s just endless redesign of the surface.
Bojan Jablanovec – A theatre director, founder and artistic director of the Via Negativa project. He graduated at Ljubljana Academy of Theater. From 1993 to 1999, he directed in most Slovenian theatres. From 1997 to 1999, he lectured as an assistant/trainee at Academy of Theatre Ljubljana. In 1999, he stopped directing in Slovenian repertory theatres and dedicated himself to theatre research. He mainly focuses on formation of a process, which brings a performer to his authorial creation – so as to become an artist, who stands on stage with his own statement, with his own body in meaning. In 2002 he founded Via Negativa, an international contemporary performing arts project. Together with his co-creators he devised more than 40 Via Negativa projects (up to 2013), grouped into three bigger cycles: Seven Deadly Sins (2002-2008), Via Nova (2009-2012) and Irresolvable (2011 -). In 2012 he founded VN LAB, laboratory for contemporary performing arts, which is open to emerging performing arts practitioners which would like to develop or improve their creative process and performing strategy.
#1 January 1st - 8th Jacob Wren
#4 January 20th - 30th Alexander Karschnia & Noah Fischer
#5 January 30th - February 6th Ariel Efraim Ashbel
#6 February 6th - 12th Laila Soliman
#9 February 26th - March 5th Gina Moxley
#11 March 13th - 19th Agnieszka Jakimiak
#12 March 20th - 26th Yana Thönnes
#13 March 30th - April 2nd Geert Lovink
#15 April 10th - 16th Iggy Lond Malmborg
#17 April 24th - 30th Jeton Neziraj
#20 May 15th - 21st Bojan Jablanovec
#22 May 29th - June 4th Segun Adefila
#23 June 5th - 11th Agata Siniarska
We are deeply saddened by the devastating news that Mark Fisher died on January 13th. He first visited the FFT in 2014 with his lecture „The Privatisation of Stress“ about how neoliberalism deliberately cultivated collective depression. Later in the year he returned with a video-lecture about „Reoccupying the Mainstream" in the frame of the symposium „Sichtungen III“ in which he talks about how to overcome the ideology of capitalist realism and start thinking about a new positive political project: „If we want to combat capitalist realism then we need to be able to articulate, to project an alternative realism.“ We were talking about further collaboration with him last year but it did not work out because Mark wasn’t well. His books „Capitalist Realism“ and „The Ghosts of my Life. Writings on Depression, Hauntology and Lost Future“ will continue to be a very important inspiration for our work.
Podiumsgespräch im Rahmen der Veranstaltung "Die Ästhetik des Widerstands - Zum 100. Geburtstag von Peter Weiss"
A Collective Chronicle of Thoughts and Observations ist ein Projekt im Rahmen des Bündnisses internationaler Produktionshäuser, gefördert von der Beauftragten der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien.