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An unsuccessful co-productionUmělec magazine 2011/1
Boris Ceko | grant theft auto | en cs de
If you know your way around, you might discover that every month and maybe even every week you stand the chance to receive money for your cultural project. Successful applicants have enough money, average applicants have enough to keep their mouths shut, and the unsuccessful ones are kept in check by the chance that they might get lucky in the future. One natural result has been the emergence of agencies whose sole purpose is to file applications to and prudently distribute these funds, as well as activities whose motivating force comes primarily from the possibility of financial reward. None of these forms of support offers additional freedom; instead, they bring contractual and unconscious commitments. Most of the time, you end up playing the jester in a play that you don’t really understand, or you meet the objectives and interests that you had to enter into the columns on the application. Still, your subconscious knows that you are a loser because you didn’t earn that million by selling oil or by shilling Viagra on the Internet, and you can’t do with it what you really would like to. “A loser wouldn’t dare” is the nature of the wretches of contemporary society.
If the ongoing possibilities of receiving financing from this or that fund meet up with a jubilee anniversary of a change in political systems, then ever more money is poured into them so that culture can show off how much it has benefited from the change. The idea is that the more money it receives, the greater respect it will have for large sums of money – and loyalty is guaranteed. It really works. Essentially, actors and artists have always wanted to be governed by security agencies in conjunction with representatives of a selectively uncontrolled world of business and finance. And so the only people to take to the streets to cause trouble are members of less cultured sectors. In the following article, Boris Ceko from the Austrian artistic collective God’s Entertainment presents a boring reportage from this kind of well-paid cultural escapade.
Any independent and truly worthwhile projects don’t stand a chance against these agencies staffed by lawyers, economists, and euro-practitioners capable of sucking – legally – millions from public funds into friendly pockets. They lack the experts capable of filling out complicated applications, and don’t have the stomach for responding to changing thematic demands and political commissions. But today such practices are perfectly normal and legal, and the only legitimate question relates to the values applied by the system for cultural financing, which rewards the ability to fill out forms and to accommodate bureaucratic cultural expectations.
Documented curatorial fraud combining public financing with an unlimited artistic naiveté remains a rare phenomenon. Although we have heard of festivals, exhibitions, and conferences that exist only for accounting purposes and on Facebook, Alena Boika became a coincidental participant in a story that, after publication, could be handed over straight to the police.
The co-production was made possible by funds from the EU cultural programme in 2008, for a two-year project 68/89—Art.Time.History. The object of this project was, aside from the collaboration of several artists‘ groups, an artistic lifting of the boundary between East and West.
To begin with, it would seem pertinent to briefly reflect on the term political performance, in order to better understand the context of this ‘unsuccessful co-production’.
Performance—a policy-related situation
Although performance, according to RoseLee Goldberg, is fundamentally something indefinable—due to its open form, it is considered to be a liberal medium with endless variations—but in the case of our performance collective God‘s Entertainment (GE) and according to our co-production partners, performance is at least partly definable, above all as a political performance. It is supposed that performance is a liberal medium in which the four different basic elements mix: time, space, artist‘s body, and artist-spectator relationship. But this remains questionable for GE. GE does not assume that these basic elements must be present in the performance (in terms of content), and respectively, that one must speak of a failure of the performance, should these basic elements be lacking. Rather, it has much more to do with a political situation, which reflects the blind side of reality. These political components can stand alone in the performance. Performance is for GE necessarily political, as we don‘t merely address an audience, but rather fellow citizens too. Through this, their perception of current political debates, as well as their attitudes to those, should be called into question. GE doesn‘t have to be physically present for this—nor mentally. GE doesn‘t have to use suitable spaces for the performance; similarly, a relationship between performer and spectator doesn‘t have to arise. Relations amongst the spectators can occur for example, but even that isn‘t necessary. The spectator can only be challenged. GE aspires to a general scrutiny of the definition of performance. Whoever thinks that through our work, we want to make performance definable, is wrong. The sole valid definition is its indefinability. Reality is changeable and thus also a performance. From this starting point, GE begins its work. To what extent that was possible in the project (which is at issue here), is revealed in the following transcript. It is in no way ironic, but certainly detailed. Enjoy!
How did God‘s Entertainment come into partnership?—a first meeting
The project 68/89—Art.Time.History1 was subsidised by the EU cultural programme as a two-year project. Six co-production partners took part: The Center for Contemporary Historical Research, Potsdam (Potsdam), Kampnagel (Hamburg), Sophien Hall (Berlin), The Goose on the Rope Theater2 (Brno), Archa Theater (Prague) and Cultural Station Stanica (Žilina).
In the second year of the project partnership, some 20 years after the fall of the iron curtain, these partners wanted to develop within the project a theatre production under the slogan Freedom! Freedom? This production was intended to provide an opportunity for an individual artists‘ group to present all of the co-production partners in their performance venue. In the wake of the subsequent meeting, the partners looked for an artists‘ group. Kampnagel and Sophien Hall recommended the Viennese artists‘ group God’s Entertainment. They selected us for various reasons: firstly, our members originally come from different East and West countries, such that we can better understand the poetics and performance of Eastern and Western theater. Secondly, we perfectly fulfil the aesthetical demands of all the partners through the aesthetics of our own experimental work3. Aside from this, the organisational and logistical problematic between the various performance venues could be eased with the choice of one sole group, all of which would consequentially lead to an improvement in the qualitative artistic performance etc.
At the end of the summer 2008, András Siebold, dramaturge with Kampnagel, made enquires at our office in relation to us making a proposal for a co-production with the above-mentioned partners, and if we could come to the next meeting in autumn 2008, in Prague, in order to present our previous research projects. In this way, God‘s Entertainment came into partnership.
At the end of the introductory round in Prague, it transpired that the colleagues from Archa Theater (Prague) and The Goose on the Rope Theater (Brno) wanted to involve their own artistic groups and directors in the project. This meant that the co-production with GE as the sole representative (in the sense of subsidisation with an appropriate part of the entire budget), did not come about. Kampnagel, Sophien Hall and Cultural Station Stanica took GE up as the artistic group for the co-production. Stanica however only wanted to partly co-produce GE, as they had already planned a play under the direction of a young Slovakian director. Each partner was promised 25,000 Euro.
Project ideas: a second meeting
The next meeting between GE and the project partners took place the following month, in Vienna, parallel to our new production Passantenschipfung (Passerby Abuse), after Peter Handke‘s Publikumsbeschimpfung (Audience Abuse). Here, we were supposed to continue discussing (or even arguing!) concept-development, project ideas and collaboration issues, as well as performance dates, funding, a tour, and all other organisational points. After the meeting, the colleagues could take the opportunity to watch the performance of Passantenschipfung (Passerby Abuse) at Karlsplatz, at the very least to see how a GE production operates. Shortly before the meeting, GE had visited Cultural Station Stanica in Žilina and The Goose on the Rope Theater in Brno, in order to research local social/political topics for transposition into performance.
The following personnel came to the meeting: Stephan Kruhl from the Center for Contemporary Historical Research, Potsdam, acting as project coordinator; Ondřej Hrab, managing director and artistic director of the Archa Theater; Jana Svobodová, director and stage designer at Archa Theatre; Martina Filinová, artistic director of Cultural Station Stanica, Fedor Blaščák, dramaturge with Stanica, Ján Šimko, a young director from Slovakia, Eva Yildizová, director of The Goose on the Rope Theater and Jiří Jelínek, a director from Brno. Because GE, as agreed, represented Kampnagel and Sophien Hall, these partners did not come to Vienna. In total, the participating parties presented three plays and two performances—within the framework of Freedom! Freedom? the following were drafted:
Jana Svobodová and Ondřej Hrab presented their newly planned play: Chance 89 or Window of Opportunity. It is a fictive radio show, in which a German/Czech couple recount on stage their experiences of the former communist regime. “The story itself is fictive but it contains a wealth of realistic contemporary historical details and facts. For example, the adventurous escape of some GDR citizens into the Federal German Republic by helicopter, which happened at the south Bohemian Lake of Lipno in 1975.”4 They found the following solution to position this fictive story as documentary theater inside the project: with each performance they would involve ten to twenty local school pupils in the play. Their role was to be interviewed by the actors during the play, in order to simulate the portrayed history in the present.
Eva Yildizová and Ján Šimko presented their concept to us: a grotesque theater-snapshot, which is performed physically and with mime by three young actors, in the form of puppet theater about, “the life and work of Karel Gott, with regard to the historical events of Czech history from 1969 until today. With the opening of the Gottland museum in 2005 a further milestone has been reached, and a popular destination has been created for Czechs and Germans alike.”5 It was titled as THE GOTT VARIETY SHOW or Do We Live in Gottland?
Martina Filinová, Fedor Blaščák and Ján Šimko introduced us to their intended play entitled The Last Historical Role of the Young Generation. It tells of the revolution from 1989, above all the protests of the students. “In Czechoslovakia in 1988 and 1989, a significant number of illegal protest rallies and regime-hostile gatherings took place. It was, to some extent, the phase in which a sustainable symbol was still being sought, a symbol which could mobilise the masses. In the end it was found in the youth and the students.”6 A further production with GE was planned by Stanica and was supposed to be financed by a share of their budget.
As GE often works site-specifically and researches on location, we presented two performances in which the action reflected the current political picture and the historical moment of each respective country.
1. Proposal: A one-page advert in the local daily paper in Žilina, which constitutes the first part of the site-specific performance, showing the generosity of Slovakia towards Hungary. GE hereby tries to portray a distorted, falsified picture of political life in Slovakia, in particular as regards the political attitude of the right-wing governmental party of Ján Slota (SNS) and his racist, public sloganeering against Hungary (especially the Hungarian minority in Slovakia7). This advert acts as a stand-alone performance in the daily paper—an initiative of Cultural Station Stanica8, which was supported by the EU and the Slovakian government—informs the general public about the bestowal of the Cultural Station Stanica, together with its surrounding roundel, to Hungary and the Hungarian people. This generous gift of Žilina‘s cultural centre plus roundel, acts in effect as a symbol of modern democracy in Slovakia and presents a good example for international understanding inside the EU.
A ceremony with a festival should be organised on location, as an extended performative element of the bestowal. Thus, the same advert would simultaneously be an invitation to all citizens to take part in the handover-ceremony. This so-called artistic occupation of the Cultural Station Stanica and roundel would be politically and geographically appropriate, as it is situated inside a roundabout, which constitutes an optimal form for stage design for such an occupation.
In order to take part in this ceremony, each guest must show his papers at the entrance (i.e. go through passport control), as he is moving into a different national territory—a consequence of the bestowal. Besides this, the following actions (amongst others) were planned: to invite guests from Hungary and the Hungarian minority in Slovakia (bus travel organised); to declare Hungarian as the first language, and English the second; to play the Hungarian anthem during the hoisting of the flag; to give introductory greetings and hold a speech; to share out Hungarian sausage; to stage an appearance of twenty Hungarian soldiers, including a few UN-soldiers (all to be played by extras), as protectors of the ceremony and the supervisory body for the security of the area; etc.
2. Proposal: The second planned on-site performance takes place in Brno and Prague. It is a demonstration against the division of Czechoslovakia in 1992, and protests in favour of a reunification. Although popular opinion is divided in both countries concerning this separation, most young inhabitants suffer under it. Many Slovakians, for example, go to the Czech Republic to study, and vice-versa. The question of their rights as foreign students is thereby unavoidably raised: causations of additional costs and residence permits etc. A further important reason for this performance was to research the act of demonstration as the language of revolution, of political rally, of the aims, the energy and the manipulation of the masses; to research slogans and signs as codes of identification, of historical background etc. GE wanted to test a new performative format encompassing these aspects.
Email correspondence as proof of the political and aesthetic dispute between the partners
Due to the ‘political anxiety’—which one could here simplify to ‘different views on political content in theatre’—of the colleagues from Slovakia and Czech Republic regarding the aforementioned ideas of GE, a debate ensued via email after the meeting in Vienna9.
The colleagues from the Czech Republic distanced themselves unanimously from the idea of a realistically staged demonstration for Czecho-Slovak reunification. They found the idea uninteresting because they claimed it wouldn’t mean anything to anyone in the Czech Republic. Supposedly, opined Ondřej Hrab, they live happily together, and therefore such a performance would be senseless. Thereupon GE suggested working out a demonstration with the Roma minority.10 As the numerous Roma live under the worst existential conditions in the Czech Republic, GE would organise a demonstration with them and other volunteers, to improve these conditions. Following the demonstration, GE planned a celebration with everyone together as a symbol of possible cohabitation and an adjunct against further discrimination. The colleagues showed no particular interest even in this.
Strangely enough, the project and the aesthetic views of the other production partners were, in the interim, never discussed or even questioned. In contrast to them, GE didn’t want to merely portray the past, as there are enough political problems and topics inside of the European co-existence today which readily enable us to simulate a past á la 1989.
After a short résumé, GE remained without a feasible project, but with many ideas. The colleagues, on the other hand, had a feasible project, but no ideas.
After many emails and telephone calls, the co-production between GE and Stanica was finally ended11. The original collaboration, with an ear-marked financial grant of 10,000 Euro, burst. Which threw up a new question: what would the money that was set-aside for this project by the EU be used for?
In excerpts, here are some emails from the end of summer 2009, which show how it came to a standstill:
Martina Filinová from Stanica wrote:
“…I guess Martin has sent you the budget we want to use for the production, we raised it to 10,000 euro. We want to complete our ‘contribution’ to the common evening by a ‘staged discussion’ about the topic you will deal with in your project (demonstration for reunion of Czech and Slovak republic or the German concept, or another one). I already spoke with Fedor Blascak—we would like him to be a kind of context consultant/dramaturge of the project from our side. He is well oriented in Slovak history and its political connotations, he is philosopher and dramaturge. He will be also the author of the staged discussion…”
“…Have you already decided if you are going to cooperate with us and do you have an idea about a concept? I hope our cooperation will be possible and we will create together a good project…”
Lena Wicke from GE wrote:
“…as we did another research about Slovakia and its political impacts we got informed about the discrimination of Hungarian minority in Slovakia, the development, that people loose their jobs because of their original nationality, about the fact that Hungarians have to pay if they talk officially in Hungarian language and after all about the great politician Jan Slota who was talking about Hungarians in Slovakia as a cancer of the nation.
Considering this political subject we finally propose the following project:
The European Union together with the government of Zilina decided to make the gift of Stanica and its roundel around to Hungarian people as sign for acceptance and respectfulness to minority groups. This is another token gesture of Slovakia as European state with democratic values. God’s Entertainment, an artists collective from Vienna/Austria, was charged with the arrangement and organisation of the national festivity around that absolute gift. Everybody is invited to celebrate this important moment and Slovakia as modern democracy.
We will arrange this national festivity. Every spectator will become a part of it. We will change the whole place (Stanica and the area in the roundel) using it for our performative way to make the scenography…”
Dramaturg Fedor Blaščák from Stanica answered:
“…the idea is not quite, but totally political. Yes, it is clear. To say that the idea opens up “possibilities to treat this political/social conflict and questions what democracy is for” is too abstract generalization of your aim to me. Can you specify the way (in the sense of consequences) of treating the given political conflict and your personal reasons to do that?
If the reason is the mentioned research (I hope it did not consist just from reading newspaper, what normally does not stand for that) the outcome of which is your statement about Hungarians losing their jobs because of using their native language, then, it is NOT just and true. It is not reality over here, it is a fictitious target, arising from paying too much attention to propagandistic journalism regarding the topic and from little attention to relevant sources (legal, historical).
As far as I know there is NO such case. If you know about such, please, specify it with relevant sources.
As for Jan Slota - we are not going to get involved to any form of discourse (political, private, artistic etc.) regarding this nationalistic idiot. I consider him fascist. Luckily, we do not have to react on what we consider total bullshit. If you consider this person interesting, do something about it, but not over here. We live with this political figure over 20 years. Same as you had to with Haider in Austria. Too fast cars will solve the problem in an effective way, much more than any performances. These are damned to become wasted time—put your mirror in front of a fascist—you will only empower him.
Objection towards originality: This summer I have seen already 3 conceptual pieces dealing with the same idea of self-willed—virtual—dedicating the piece of land to someone, or with privatization of some land by someone. As far as I know the idea comes from the 1960s and new realism movement— Pierre Restany—and his concept of ‘societé trouvée’. It was done in an intelligent way by Slovak artists STANO FILKO and ALEX MLYNARCIK already in 1965 (Happsoc I). Since then it is being repeated. Nowadays it is boring. Moreover, this is what balloon flying companies normally provide to their customers as they land (with certificates etc.), which means that the idea is very far from being original—if it is already commercially pursued.
However, what I like about your idea is the fact, that some Hungarians would come to Zilina and we can have some debates and festival together. This is what could really move the ‘so called’ conflict further. I say ‘so called’ because it is just a political agenda over here. There is no social conflict between Slovaks and Hungarians in Slovakia. This I consider to be interesting and intelligent response to this rude political nationalism which is employed by both sides.
What I really do not like is the media circus around, together with UN soldiers etc. I consider it as easy, first plan, PR provocation, which treats the conflict in such way, that it just escalates it.
If you would insists on that, we are not going to get involved in it. We are not going to offer Stanica´s reputation on the altar of stupid, political, nationalistic agenda.”
Simon Steinhauser from GE answered:
“…to your main critic you wrote, I will shortly try to explain our view:
You write about Jan Slota and the sense of performances which deal with this topic. We think especially those people have to take place in an artistic context. Especially the thoughts they present have to be discussed and performed in art. This is for us something very important. There ARE reactions which you can reach. It’s really hard, nearly useless to start a talk-discussion in a round about way on immigration, differences in culture and the added problems, etc. Those discussions are mostly boring and helpless. In the end directly those ‘people who are already on the good side go home again on the good side’. Is it so important to try to change people which are already on the good side? Isn´t it wasted time compared with what you could reach if you show it to normal people?
In what you say about Haider in context of Jan Slota I can hardly follow. This is my personal meaning but I find it really dangerous to mean “...too fast cars will solve the problem in an effective way…” My personal meaning is to wish no one any harm even he or she thinks in different politic ways. Also not Jan Slota. I want to fight differently against him.
We don‘t think that we as God’s Entertainment are putting mirrors to fascists without criticizing it. I like the metaphor with the mirror. It is important to hold mirrors of a person like Haider (or Jan Slota) and reflect it to art people, audience, real people—proletarian. If I put the mirror in front of Slota I can see more the people around him, living among us, not his face. Of course his face is the present—but didn’t he get the power through people who voted him? Isn’t it then a mirror of the society? This is the important point! This mirror held in a right angle—it CAN open some eyes. Maybe a lot more than talks, and performances, theatre productions etc, which are placed in a save theatre setting.
You write about originality. I would not be so dogmatic. You will always see some productions more times than once. What I can read is that it must be a very interesting theme for you, so that you already visited three productions like this. Can it be that all of them were at least a little bit interesting? Or maybe had at least different stage setting? Even if performances like this started in the 1960s as you meant, especially it gives a possibility which always can transform and rebuild itself because political and cultural systems change all the time. So it‘s hard to agree with this that it is a boring topic. Maybe it is more the way GE does it? Or that Austrians are doing it—coming to Slovakia explaining how to deal with problems? Can it be that people from abroad see things like this clearer? Can it be that people of the own country don‘t want to see it? To see no nationalistic power which are moving because they don‘t want to see it, because they hate it?
As you write you are not offering the reputation of Stanica to such a stupid, political, nationalistic agenda, we are sorry for this. In this case, that our perceptions are so far away from each other, it is the conclusion now for us that you should organize a group or a person of your Theatre to do the 89 project in a way which is for you right…”
Vienna, Györ, Bratislava as a final performance
After this fruitless communication, GE didn’t propose any more performances, but ultimately resolved to do a new performance in the form of a virtual city-tour. Although the other partners also had problems with this, they no longer had any other option other than to co-operate or not. Either or.12
Žilina was portrayed to the tour-visitors as the Hungarian city Györ. For Žilina, GE had hired a tour-guide from Györ and for Brno and Prague a tour-guide from Bratislava. These led the participants through Žilina, Brno and Prague, as if through their hometown.
The tour was scrutinised in the sense of a performance: as political, cultural and social change since the beginning of our great European freedom, which is to be experienced as a post-European era by dint of the breakthrough year 1989. A freedom as a result of the division of Czechoslovakia. Freedom as a new neighbourly relationship between Slovakia and Hungary. A freedom which is made possible by EU support.
After the performance-tour, the partners from Stanica were eventually satisfied. In contrast, the colleagues from Brno were disappointed about the tour in Žilina, such that, according to Eva Yildizová, they didn’t want to announce the performance out of respect for their theatre audience, lest they also be disappointed! After some fuss from our side, from that of our producers Kampnagel and Sophien Hall—the performance did have to be announced. But unfortunately this happened at very short notice (one day before)!
A similar situation also transpired in Prague, with the result that the performance was neither attended by Archa Theatre nor the Archa-team. After the first of three performances GE shifted the starting point of the tour to the main square in Prague and quickly changed its advertising strategy. The small advert on the homepage and the Archa Theatre flyer were transformed into a large announcement-sign with the lettering GUIDING-TOUR (sic) FOR FREE—NOW! Through this, and also thanks to an interactive situation with passers-by, GE lured many attendees for the tour and effectively finished the performance without the support of Archa Theatre!
Art Smuggle in Germany with Kampnagel and Sophiensälen
Eventually, GE developed the performance Art Smuggle for Kampnagel and Sophien Hall. The idea was to smuggle, live, a play from a highly subsidised theater into the comparitively low subsidy off-theatres, Kampnagel and Theaterdiscounter. On the 4th December 2009 in Hamburg, the piece Ödipus, Tyrann by Sophocles was stolen from the Thalia-Theater (under the direction of Dimiter Gotscheff) and smuggled into Kampnagel. On the 8th December 2009 in Berlin, the piece Endgame by Samuel Beckett was smuggled out of the German Theater (under the direction of Jan Bosse) into the Theaterdiscounter13.
Translated from German by Kenneth David Broom.
1 Zipp – German/Czech cultural project
2 Centrum experimentálního divadla / Divadlo Husa na provázku
3 As the co-production partners didn’t, for various reasons, deliver a successful collaboration in the previous year (2008) that should be understood as a solution or a criticism.
4 Comments taken from the programme brochure of the project 68/89 Art.Time.History.
5 Comments taken from the programme brochure of the project 68/89 Art.Time.History.
6 From the programme brochure of the project 68/89 Art.Time.History.
7 For example: “The Hungarians are a cancer in the body of the Slovak nation.” This appeared online at www.spiegel.de
8 GE didn’t want to hereby distance itself from this action, but rather, as the commisoning body, sought to create as real an effect as possible through these two institutions , such as would have been difficult to achieve by an Austrian performance group.
9 In a further transcript representative emails will be quoted as evidence.
10 Roma form the largest minority in the Czech Republic. For more on this subject: http://romove.radio.cz/de/artikel/21436
11 GE wanted to work the documented email correspondence into a manuscript, in order to develop a performance about political anxiety, a withered leftist understanding of art, leftist stagnation etc.
12 The partners from Prague and Žilina tried to cancel the performance at the last common meeting in October 2009. After much argument it was decided without compromise: the performance tour will take place.
13 E.g.: http://www.sophiensaele.com/archiv.php?IDstueck=718