Friday, July 31, 2009

The An-Archic Device (2009)

Media Sculpture by Tobias Rosenberger

Realized in Mexico-City at the Centro Multimedia del Centro Nacional de las Artes in the framework of the 1. Mexico scholarship for German Media artists (Goethe Institut Mexico + Werkleitz Gesellschaft Halle)

That is how we sorcerers operate. Not following a logical order, but following alogical consistencies or compatibilities. The reason is simple. It is because no one, not even God, can say in advance whether a given multiplicity will or will not cross over into another given multiplicity, or even if given heterogeneous elements will enter symbiosis, will form a consistent, or cofunctioning, multiplicity susceptible to transformation.

Deleuze & Guattari

The An-Archic Device is something between toy theatre, street altar and peepshow: a small-scale stage model, a blinking auto
mata, an audio-visual machine, that produces physical and anarchic dissociation by means of laughter.

Based on Antonin Artauds theater manifesto „The Conquest of Mexico“, The An-Archic Device deals with Mexico as a space of otherness and as a subjective heterotopia. Following Artaud, Mexico becomes the playground for an examination of danger and fear along the site, where each subject is set back to its self in its relation to the world.
A ten pesos coin starts the device.
(revolving stage with four different sets, moving lightrig with leds, 2 loudspeakers, deconstructed screen, small objects, computer)

Voice: Mónica Alcántar
Dramaturgical Advice: René Rothert
Mechanics: Yurián Zerón
Video-Performance: Juanpablo Avendaño y Cuauhtémoc Sentíes Rascón.
Music: Matthias Mohr (intro) + Arthur Henry Fork
Animation Codex Cospi: René Liebert

Exhibited from 30.06 until 31.07 in Mexico-City in the Galería A/B del CENART (solo).

During my residency at Centro Multimedia I created a physical (theatre) model, that is based on Artauds text “THE CONQUEST OF MEXICO”.

As a new media artist I am interested in models and simulations for quite a long time. With my background in theatre studies I am familiar with the notion of „mimesis“ as used by Aristotle, who has influenced strongly the reception of theatre over the centuries and still does so until today. His notion of „mimesis“ extends the „pure“ domain of theatrical embodiment, since it is a matter of the question, how the human being achieves knowledge, and how it tries to take possession of the world.
Humans develop models, to get a better understanding. The approach to work with models / simulations is obvious in all areas of life, be it in the education sector, Corporate Design, warfare, soccer strategy or risk analysis. Models simplify, isolate, sharpen – they are „theses“, that have to be set, to cross the lines of Chaos. At the same time models operate in the mode of „exclusion“, because they necessarily have to select. It is this ambivalence, that gains my interest regarding the materiality of physical models, and regarding the texts by Antonin Artaud.

This physical model is integrated in a display cabinet, whose frontside is composed of a cheap deconstructed 15“ LC-TFT-Display, that is separated from its backlight and whose transparency allows the spectator to look through them.

This is a technology I used first during the work for „Cold Lights“, an interactive audiovisual installation about bioluminescence, chemiluminescence and fluorescence for Luminale Frankfurt 2008 (CL is a collaboration with René Liebert and Maximilian Haas).

The Liquid Crystalls of such displays are light ventils, that are regularly opened. If you provide it with enough voltage, the molecules become arranged along the lines of force and loose their ability to turn light. As an enduser you get the first effect if you send white pixels via Vga/Dvi-Cable, the second with black pixels (or other colors). The Displays are not emitting light by themselves, but need extra backlight.
Hacking the screen:

First tests december 2007 with metallic objects, grey fabrics and lights behind
the display:


During the standby-modus of the installation you do listen to a looped audiotrack (8 minutes) based on the first part of Artaud's manifesto, which announces the play (Voice: Mónica Alcántar, Music: Matthias Mohr). After you put 10 pesos into the coinslot, the second part of the text is staged inside the display cabinet with the means of theatre, according to the four acts of the text (WARNING SIGNS / CONFESSION / CONVULSIONS / ABDICATION, alltogether 12 minutes).
A computercontrolled rotating wheel is synchronized with different lighting moods (dimmable Leds, CCFLs inside the display cabinet), different videos and the music (electro-acoustic composition by Arthur Henry Fork, based on Artaud's notes), and reveals four different stage settings.

While the lights highlight specific parts of the the stage settings and make the videocontent on the panels visible, the transparent displaypanels do provide another layer of information and aesthetics, which is used consciously in the interplay of all elements. Small video windows appear and support specific perspectives, speech becomes subtitled. Charts and Animations influence the perception, of what is behind them, while colors and surroundings generate particular moods.
The final result is a multilayered and hybrid theatre model, a subjective and 3-dimensional approximation, that not only re-enacts Artauds theatrical examination of “Mexico” on a small scale as a model drama, but that – via various conjunctions and permanently changing perspectives - at the same time reflects the general model character of our thinking.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

Leaving Mexico / Arriving where?

In Mexico, since we are talking about Mexico, there is no art: things are made for use. And the world is in perpetual exaltation. To our disinterested and inert idea of art an authentic culture opposes a violently egoistic and magical, i.e., interested idea. For the Mexicans seek contact with the Manas, forces latent in every form, unreleased by contemplation of the forms for themselves, but springing to life by magic identification with these forms. And the old Totems are there to hasten the communication.
Antonin Artaud

Yesterday I arrived in Germany, so it might be now the time to make a short resume about the last ten weeks, that I spent in Mexico, developing „The An-Archic Device“ as far as I could, following the text „The Conquest of Mexico“ by Antonin Artaud.
When I was interviewed some days ago by Mexican TV station Canal 22, there have been two questions, that I hadn't thought of before, but that seem really self-evident. The first was, how I dealt with violence in Mexican society, and the second was, how I percepted the differences of Mexican culture to European Culture.
Retrospective I have to say, that the first two, three weeks of my stay have been overshadowing and forming my perception of this country / culture. The cultural differences never became a big focus for me, since while I was directly stumbled into a state of emergency, I found myself in a situation, where everybody seemed to be in the same boat. Today it is easy to smile at these days, but I think we will not forget these moments of insecurity, where nobody really was knowing what will be happening next. There was a big amount of fear within everybody, and it took quite some time until these reservoirs became released again. It was quite an interesting experience to do some self-observation, when the social life slowly started to reappear. Together the people helped each other, to get rid of the traces of their paranoid dispositions, while humor became an always helpful agent. I was told before that there are serious problems with crime and violence in Mexico, but luckily, moving a lot through the city, I didn't notice them myself. Also, in the media the influenza replaced all other topics / problems in the first weeks (a lot of people I spoke to supposed that the government also used the influenza partly as an instrument of propaganda, to push the national problems aside, a few weeks before the big elections, that actually take place today). I realized a lot of social differences within the Mexican society (you just have to compare in the afternoons the people that use the metro and the people that go by car), huge gaps regarding education, income and living quality, certainly latent traces of racism against the “native” population, but alltogether Mexico seemed not to be very alien to me in these days. Most people I dealt with (people from the Centro Multimedia, artists and curators) also had a lot of international experience, and I became once more assured, that we as artists in a global community are very privileged, but that there is also a big responsibility.

The time I spent in Mexico was not enough to finish my sculpture, what you can see in the Galeria A/B until the end of this month is kind of a status quo, but I am quite happy with it as it is now. The mechanics, fully workable only since this Thursday, are still not connected at this moment, and you will only see a basic draft of one of the four acts if you input a ten pesos coin (length about 5 minutes), but I think it is surely worth the effort to visit the installation in the Galeria A/B. Right now I continue to work on it in Germany. I think I need another 2-3 weeks to finish all the different parts, to make the final edit of my video footage and to do the computerprogramming of the different lighting moods and the mechanical movements. While I was reading a lot in Artauds texts during the first half of my residency, I spent the second half to create and collect all the different parts. Now finally comes the most fruitful and interesting time, where I go back to Artaud and connect all my different material with some of the ideas, that I extracted out of his writings.

Theatrically, the problem is to determine and harmonize these lines of force, to concentrate them and extract suggestive melodies from them. These images, movements, dances, rites, these fragmented melodies and sudden turns of dialogue will be carefully recorded and described as far as possible with words, especially for he portions of the spectacle not in dialogue, the principle here being to record in codes, as on a musical score, what cannot be described in words. (Artaud)

I really liked the idea to create an object, that is “made for use” instead for contemplation, and to look out for the forces / possibilities of the materials that I decided to use, instead of using them only as an additional support for the expression of vain artistic ideas.

A distinction must be made between two types of science, or scientific procedures: one consists in “reproducing”, the other in “following”. [...] following is not at all the same thing as reproducing, and one never follows in order to reproduce. [...] One is obliged to follow when one is in search of the singularities of the matter, or rather of a material, and not out to discover a form; (Deleuze & Guattari)

Last but not least I also want to thank all the people who did great support so far (most notably Sebastian and Dr. Naether from the Goethe Institut, my host Eusebio, and the people from the Centro Multimedia, Omar, Cuauhtémoc, and all the others), and also all the artists / friends that I collaborated with for this project (Dyan, Juanpablo, René, Yurian, Monica, Matthias + René).

Sunday, June 14, 2009


If people talk instantly about food, I answer, that we have to look immediately for ways and means, in order that everybody can eat instantly. But if people say: Let's give food to everybody instantly, and later arts, sciences and thinking can develop, I answer: “No”, since here was the problem not properly considered.

Antonin Artaud


The An-Archic Device is something between toy theatre, street altar and peepshow: a small-scale stage model, a blinking automata, an audio-visual machine, that produces physical and anarchic dissociation by means of laughter.

Based on Antonin Artauds theater manifesto „The Conquest of Mexico“, The An-Archic Device deals with Mexico as a space of otherness and as a subjective heterotopia. Following Artaud, Mexico becomes the playground for an examination of danger and fear along the site, where each subject is set back to its self in its relation to the world.

A ten pesos coin starts the device.

Since my presentation at Dorkbot Mexico two weeks ago, where I spoke about "Breathing City", "Cold Lights", the concept of "The An-Archic Device" and the manipulation and deconstruction of the Tft-Screens (see photo), there has been some progress regarding the installation. I am looking forward to present “The An-Archic Device” in Mexico-City from the 30th of June until the 31th of July at the Galeria AB of Centro Multimedia at the Centro Nacional de las Artes. The offical opening is scheduled for the 30th of June at 6 p.m., and I hope that almost all the people I met in Mexico-City so far will find some time and come around, and for sure there should be some possibility to continue our discussions about Art, Technology, Power and the relevance of Antonin Artaud. If You can make it, don't forget to bring a 10 pesos coin with you ;-)

The next Saturday I went with Juanpablo Avendaño (a Mexican designer and performer aka Montezuma) and Cuauhtémoc Sentíes Rascón (the director of the Centro Multimedia aka Hernan Cortes) to the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan to make some videorecordings. For two reasons this became quite a funny experience: First, we weren't allowed to use a basic tripod inside the area, since a special permission is needed, which is about !300! euros. And second, since I didn't want to have tourists running through the image, I decided to go to an area, that is not open to the public. So we were recording for about 5 minutes, when 2 guards were approaching and were telling us to leave this place and to get rid of the tripod. Pretending to look for a mobile that Cuauhtémoc claimed to have lost, we were able to stay another 40 minutes and to get all the recordings that we wanted (that the two performers now always seem to have their faces turned to the ground, is actually a nice "Verfremdungseffekt").

With Yurián Zerón of the robotic wokshop I went to buy some wood, and together with the carpenters of the Centro Nacional de las Artes, that have their working space in the basement garage beneath the Centro Multimedia, the wooden parts of the sculpture have already been assembled. Furthermore, I also started to work together with an experimental musician, and I sent some images of the Aztecan Codex Cospi to my friend and collaborator René Liebert in Germany, who does now some basic animation with the Comic-style drawings.
Then I got a serious cold in the middle of the last week, and while I was still wondering if it was the swine flu or not and was staying at home, I had some more time to read a little bit more in Artauds Mexico Volume and to reflect some of the recent discussions I had here in Mexico-City, that dealt mainly with the relations of art and politics. In “I came to Mexico, to escape the European civilization...”, a lecture Artaud held in Mexico, he opposites his notion of “total revolution” to the notion of “revolution” in a Marxian way:

For us the problem seems not to be the replacement of one class with another, in order to get to an abolishment of all classes in the last instance; instead of that, we have to look for the reasons of an eternal decline in the way of living of the human being. […] For me, there is no revolution without revolution inside of culture; that means, inside our universal manner, the manner that all human beings share, how we apprehend life and how we face the problem of life. It is good, to dispossess the owners, but for me it seems to be much better, to dispossess each human being of the taste for property.

It seems to be very crucial for me, that Artaud always remembers us, that it is indeed very easy to blame the others, but that on the same time we also adapt very easy to structures of power. We have to be very careful also, that we do not just reproduce another multiplicating part of the big machine
, that seems to grow faster than ever in these days.
I think Artaud is very contemporary, if we talk about collaborative approaches to art (opposite to the market-based idea of a single artist-creator who produces surplus value) and open source movements. One of the projects at the Centro Multimedia I personally like the most, is the providing of an bootable open-source-cd with its own linux-based operating system through the audio department. A big focus is here to make resources available to the public in all parts of Mexico, so that everybody can start to play around without the need of big instructions. Even if this is only a small step, I think it is a central question of ethics, to provide anybody with free access to commodities.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Presentation at Dorkbot Mexico this Saturday

I am happy to announce that I am invited to give a short presentation of my recent work and the current status of my Artaud installation in the context of DORKBOT CO. DE MEXICO. The video-lecture will be part of Dorkbot 17, which takes place this Saturday (May, 30th) at 7 p.m. at Central del Pueblo (Venezuela 72 Centro de Tenochtitlán hoy Distrito Federal). Other featured artists will be Alfredo Borboa and Adriana Calatayud Morán. Subsequent to our three presentations there will be a LIVE SET Open Mixer.

About Dorkbot:
Dorkbot is a group of affiliated organizations worldwide that sponsor grassroots meetings of artists, engineers, designers, scientists, inventors, and anyone else working under the very broad umbrella of electronic art. The dorkbot motto is "people doing strange things with electricity".

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Second Manifesto

n. pl. man·i·fes·toes or man·i·fes·tos

A public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political nature.
[Italian, from Latin manifestus, clear, evident;]

The most significant reason to base the installation / device, that i am developing right now at the Centro Multimedia, on „The Conquest of Mexico“ (and not on any other text from Artauds Mexico-Volume as f.e. „The Mountains of Signs“) was for me certainly its manifesto-character. I liked the idea to work with a text, that functions as a proposal, as a truly political declaration, as a effusive manifestation of a “clear state of mind”, and I still think there is no better way to deal with it than on a small scale, since models are on the one hand much more handy to outline and explain specific ideas than simple words, and on the other hand they always stay in their unrealized status of a proposal / manifesto, since they aim on having an impact on reality, but still wait for their actualization in "real life" or, as in this case, on a "real stage".

“The Conquest of Mexico” is first announced (and further specified) by Artaud in the second half of his second manifesto on “The Theatre of Cruelty”:

The first spectacle of the Theater of Cruelty will be entitled:

Within this manifesto Artaud describes initially content and form of “The Theatre of Cruelty” in general,

Besides this need for the theater to steep itself in the springs of an eternally passionate and sensuous poetry available to even the most backward and inattentive portions of the public, a poetry realized by a return to the primitive Myths, we shall require of the mise en scene and not of the text the task of materializing these old conflicts and above all of giving them immediacy; i.e., these themes will be borne directly into the theater and materialized in movements, expressions, and gestures before trickling away in words.

before he further explains the “moral grounds and the immediacy of interest of such a spectacle” and “the value as spectacle of the conflicts it will set upon the stage” in specific regard to “The Conquest of Mexico”.
These notes about the actuality and relevance of the staging of “The Conquest of Mexico” will establish the core of the introduction of “The An-archic Device”. They will be spoken in a Spanish translation by an actor, who I met earlier this week in a restaurant in the neighborhood of my apartment, after a series of lucky coincidences. As he was sitting on the table next to me, and as he was in discussion with some friends, I noticed first the sound of his voice, which seemed to have exactly the qualities that I was looking for: On the one hand very controlled and kind of straightline, it left on the other hand space for subtle modifications and break-outs without leaving its overall balance. So I was asking him, if I could do some voice recordings with him, and told him a little bit about my project, and he agreed. Since I was later told by a friend, that he is actually one of Mexicos busiest actors, Daniel Giménez Cacho, who even worked with Pedro Almodóvar in “La Mala Educación” before, I really hope that he will find some free time and that this collaboration will happen someday during the next two weeks, but I am quite confident, since during our nice talk it not only turned out that he had a book with poems by Paul Valery in his bag, but that he also had already a good knowledge of Artauds “Theater of Cruelty”, and he talked very passionate about it. He also pointed me to one very unpretentious performance he had seen once during a theatre festival, where one actor was carrying kind of a mobile enclosed cave- / theatre architecture with his body and asked the spectators in particular, to immerse into his construction, where they were given a short private performance.
Anyhow, his voice will mark the beginning of the installation, and it will be accompanied by a short video-performance, that I will record with another performer in the area of the ruins of the “Templo Mayor” in the historical center of the city (based on Artauds description of the Tutuguri-Ritus).
The video can be seen on the screen of the installation, that at the beginning works like a normal screen without transparency. Therefore, this first part of the installation works like a prologue in the theatre, when the curtain is still closed.

During the last week I also frequented quite regularly the robotics department of the Centro Multimedia, and made some progress with the mechanical design of the installation. I am happy, that there will not only be a real lighting rig with “small moving spots” (based on a construction with cheap motors and small leds) on the top of the miniature stage, but that there will also be a huge wheel construction, which allows the use of four different 3-dimensional picture stages behind the then transparent made screen, each one corresponding to one of the four acts, that Artaud is outlining, when he in a addendum to “The Conquest of Mexico” further describes “the structure of the spectacle according to the order in which it will unfold”. These four pages with more or less concrete images and scores regarding the dramaturgy of the play, have not been included in the French Edition of Le Theatre et son Double (as a part of the second manifesto), but have first been published two years after his death in 1950. Also manifesto-like in form and content, they will be the matrix for the miniature staging of the play, that follows up the introductory prologue.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Theatrical Devices / About Translation

Just as a tangent touches a circle lightly and at but one point, with this touch rather than with the point setting the law according to which it is to continue on its straight path to infinity, a translation touches the original lightly and only at the infinitely small point of the sense, thereupon pursuing its own course according to the laws of fidelity in the freedom of linguistic flux.

Walter Benjamin, The Task of the Translator

Thinking about my own „translation“ of Artauds theatre outline „The Conquest of Mexico“ into the media sculpture „The An-archic Device“ for the last few days, I was starting to read the notes of his contemporary Walter Benjamin on „The Task of the Translator“, an essay I was pointed to through Eusebio, who just recently discussed it in one of his collective groups, that is examining the language of things and documents. In some ways there seem for me to be analogies between Artauds proposal of the “invented being”, of “things [that] become unforeseen, corresponding to nothing”, and Benjamins notion of poetry and art:

In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful. Not only is any reference to a particular public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an "ideal" receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such. Art, in the same way, posits man's physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his attentiveness. No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the audience.

While Benjamin explains further, that the “essential quality” of a literary work is not “communication or the imparting of information”, but that what “lies beyond communication” (a conception that provides an interesting foil to Artauds idea of “the spirit of profound anarchy which is at the root of all poetry”), he insists that not similarity to its “original” would be the most important task of a translation, but rather to find its “mode of intention”:

The task of the translator consists in finding the particular intention toward the target language which produces in that language the echo of the original.

As life goes back to normality in Mexico-City (restaurants and public institutions opened 3 days ago), I start now to discover another aspects of its social life, and realize a big relief wherever I go. You can still feel traces of fear and hysteria, but openness, humor and musicality have found their way back into the daily life. Walking through the streets, I become quite impressed, with how much care and affection people are treating small items and construct cheap but pragmatic superstructures with a passion for the details. Mexico seems to be still in some way a religious, catholic country, as I am not only remembered from the daily ringing bells of the church opposite my flat, but also from a considerable amount of small altars in the streets or private doorways. When I arrived in Mexico and went to the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, I already noticed replica of these hybrid entities, as they took a prominent part in the exhibitions of contemporary Mexican life. Right now I am starting to connect this idea of these “private devices of worshipping”, with their very theatrical settings integrating colorful paintings and photographs, sculptures of the Virgin Mary, flowers and sometimes even special lighting effects, with my planned “translation” of Artauds “The Conquest of Mexico”. As we have seen, Artaud assigned a cathartic and social function to the theatre. For him, the collision of the sacred and the profane made theatre alive. Still, there is a significant difference between religion and theatre, since the latter is not based on belief, but on the knowledge about the "theatrical pact". Therefore, the sacred is here not equivalent with dogma and the affirmation of an unity, acknowledging and establishing layers of power and submission in this way, but opens the wide space, where each subject is set back to its self in its relation to the world. Taking Artauds idea of a "Theatre of Cruelty" seriously, i became quite sure, that "The An-Archic Device" has to claim its (very theatrical) autonomy. I am looking forward to take the different parts of the installation together.

That is how we sorcerers operate. Not following a logical order, but following alogical consistencies or compatibilities. The reason is simple. It is because no one, not even God, can say in advance whether a given multiplicity will or will not cross over into another given multiplicity, or even if given heterogeneous elements will enter symbiosis, will form a consistent, or cofunctioning, multiplicity susceptible to transformation.
Deleuze & Guattari

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The An-Archic Device

I say that the stage is a concrete physical place which asks to be filled, and to be given its own concrete language to speak. I say that this concrete language, intended for the senses and independent of speech, has first to satisfy the senses, that there is a poetry of the senses as there is a poetry of language, and that this concrete physical language to which I refer is truly theatrical only to the degree that the thoughts it expresses are beyond the reach of the spoken language.

Artaud, Metaphysics and the Mise en Scene

After closely re-reading Artaud for almost two weeks in Mexico City, it is now the time to turn more towards concrete questions regarding the final conceptualization and realization of my installation. Before I went to Mexico, I didn't know what would expect me here and how it would influence my project, and this general openness was pretty much part of my concept.
In the last nine days you could get the impression in the worldwide media, that most of the people here in Mexico-City are supposed to die immediately if they use the metro, kiss their friends, or do not disinfect their hands all 30 minutes. Therefore, the social life was almost brought to a deadlock, and fear and hysteria became a big part of the everyday life in the city. In these moments the actual relevance of Artauds “Theatre of Cruelty” was shown to me quite plainly.

What I really like about Artauds poetics, is that it is an affirmative way of thinking. As we can see in his writings, Artaud was not just passive lamenting about the decline of civilisation, but was permanently looking for ways to solve its crises. Even if Artauds conception of theatre had to remain an almost unmatched utopia until today, it is - especially if we talk about art and about its practical implications – surely worth the effort to deal one more time with his notes on theatre:

The contemporary theater is decadent because it has lost the feeling on the one hand for seriousness and on the other for laughter; because it has broken away from gravity, from effects that are immediate and painful - in a word, from Danger. Because it has lost a sense of real humor, a sense of laughter's power of physical and anarchic dissociation. Because it has broken away from the spirit of profound anarchy which is at the root of all poetry. [...]
This helps us to understand that poetry is anarchic to the degree that it brings into play all the relationships of object to object and of form to signification. It is anarchic also to the degree that its occurrence is the consequence of a disorder that draws us closer to chaos.

Danger is always a part of our life, and we have to be prepared, if we face it in reality. And where can we prepare ourselves for it, and where can we solve its fears, if not in the realms of art? This is at the core of Artauds poetics, and from here we now can see, how his Theatre of Cruelty - operating with the two poles of seriousness and laughter and undermining the insufficient fields of human communication and knowledge - hence has inherent the possibility for its actualization as a truly revolutionary disagreement-machine, as a machine producing things that refuse any order and categorization:

A moment ago I mentioned danger. The best way, it seems to me, to realize this idea of danger on the stage is by the objective unforeseen, the unforeseen not in situations but in things, the abrupt, untimely transition from an intellectual image to a true image; […]
Another example would be the sudden appearance of a fabricated Being, made of wood and cloth, entirely invented, corresponding to nothing, yet disquieting by nature, capable of reintroducing on the stage a little breath of that great metaphysical fear which is at the root of all ancient theater.

When things become unforeseen, corresponding to nothing, then they resist any intelligibility. As Samuel Weber states in “The Virtual Reality of Theatre”, here neither becomes the relation to the other or the outside dissolved, nor is that other simply reducable to a goal or a purpose.

With my installation based on “The Conquest of Mexico” I try to follow these ideas by Artaud, and sharpen them even further. What I am actually trying to construct with my small toy theatre is kind of a potentially revolutionary laughing machine for domestic use.

"The Conquest of Mexico" will become: "The An-archic Device”.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Theatre of Cruelty

From the social point of view the epidemic is insofar remarkable, as the disease passes from the individual to the social status. Here the spectacle concerns all, infects all and overcomes all just like the theatre etc.

Artaud, Outlines for “The Theatre and the Plague”

Approaching and localizing his notion of a true and necessary theatre, that he finally will label as “The Theatre of Cruelty”, Artaud juxtaposes in his poetics the theatre with its doubles, that he identified during his examination of life. In one of the most discussed essays from “The Theatre and its Doubles”, Artaud contrasts the theatre with the plague:

The theater, like the plague, is in the image of this carnage and this essential separation. It releases conflicts, disengages powers, unleashes possibilities, and if these possibilities and these forces are black, it is the fault not of the plague or of the theater but of life.

What he means here with this analogy in relation to his conception of theatre, becomes much clearer if we have a closer look to “The Conquest of Mexico”.
Here Artaud - in the tradition of most historical records – accentuates its two most prominent antagonists, Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma II, and condenses and sharpens therefore the conflict between the Spanish invaders and the Mexican inhabitants for the means of the stage.
But as we can read in the very first lines of his exposé, Artaud is in opposition to most historical writers primarily not so much concerned with the illustration of the individual characters, biographies and motivations of the two leaders, but installs their functions in a more broader context on the stage:

It will stage events, not men. Men will come in their turn with their psychology and their passions, but they will be taken as the emanation of certain forces and understood in the light of the events and historical fatality in which they have played their role.

When Artaud here writes about men as the “emanation of certain forces”, there is no doubt, that these forces are related to the forces that he writes about in his essay about the plague: Forces that are connected to life, forces that might be black. What does Artaud mean with that? And why could it still be relevant?

In our civilized world we aim for safety and security. The civilized human mankind in general tends to the construction of solid buildings and clear defined borders. We define ourselves through all that, what we not are. We try to categorize everything, that seems to be different from us. We try to control and exclude everything what is supposed to become a threat for us. We get nervous, if we can't solve a question, we get aggressive if we are confronted with something beyond our intelligibility. We try to overcome our fears, while we observe, isolate and persecute what we suppose to produce them.

In case of an epedemic, we realize how our constructed borders become permeable. We try to secure ourselves, but there can never be a 100% guarantee. We have to acknowledge something other, that also belongs to our life. Therefore we too have to play our role in the world, a role that we can't define ourselves.
From here we can see why Artaud is not interested in the demonstration of psychological conflicts between characters. Artaud was not an advocator of a realistic theatre, that f.e. would show and explain interpersonal situations like mobbing on a stage claiming to solve and overcome them in real life this way. Neither was his concept of theatre intended to confront us with simple representations of cruelty on the stage. Instead, his "Theatre of Cruelty" applies the very same problems but on a deeper layer. In "The Conquest of Mexico" men become a statement about our relation to the world around us, about the hiding and masking of the unsavory truths about our relations to each other and to the world, that we share. Beneath our connection to the world there lays a specific fonds of cruelty, a gap, that we never can fit totally. It is this essential separation Artaud is speaking about, when he writes about the plague and the theatre. It is a separation, that comes in in this very moment, where signs come into play, whenever we try to signify.

There is something we can't express totally, there is something we can't know, but we have to get along with this absence and our non-knowledge, and we have to prepare ourselves for situations like this. We will always continue to achieve informations our whole life long, but there will be always one step that we are behind.

At this moment, there raise many questions here in Mexico-City. People want to know, how serious the epidemic threat is, they want to know more about the actual effort of the sanctions of their government, and they want to know, why so far only Mexican people have died from the swine flu. There is a call for transparency, and there is one word I heard quite often in the last days, “propaganda”, and this word remembers us that knowledge and information are always connected to power. There lays a big responsibility in these days in the local government, in the governments of the worldwide countries, in the international health organisations, and also in the media. Fear is nothing we should play with, nor something we should try to direct with power, the risks are to high. If its “black forces” become potentized in reality, there is no human power any longer capable of its control.

In some way we all are infected, and in some way this is why Artauds "Theatre of Cruelty" concerns us all, until today:

It is the social task of the art to create a way out of the fears of its time.
(published in Mexican newspaper El Nacional in 1936)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Theatre and The Life

My dear friend,

I believe I have found a suitable title for my book.
It will be:
For if theatre doubles life, life doubles true theatre, but it has nothing to do with Oscar Wilde’s ideas on art. This title will comply with all the doubles of the theatre which I thought I’d found for so many years: metaphysics, plague, cruelty, the pool of energies which constitute Myths, which man no longer embodies, is embodied by the theatre. By this double I mean the great magical agent of which the theatre, through its forms, is only the figuration on its way to becoming the transfiguration.
It is on the stage that the union of thought, gesture and action is reconstructed. and the double of the Theatre is reality untouched by the men of today.

Artaud, Letter to Jean Paulhan
25th January, 1936.

In my first semester at the University of Giessen, i attended a seminar about Artaud held by Helga Finter. Partly motivated by kind of an exotic interest at that time, i agreed after the introductory session to give a presentation on Artauds intensive encounter with Mexico.
I ordered Artauds Mexico-volume and started to read it during the Christmas holidays. I remember how i was astonished and irritated about Artaud's heterogenous decsriptions of his trip to Mexico in 1936. Did he travel to the Tarahumaras, or did he stay in Mexico-City all the time? Did he take part in the Tutuguri-Ritus, or didn't he?
These have been my very first questions and it probably took some time, until I realized, that they are not very relevant at all. I don't think, that i understood a lot about the true origins of his conflicts with the mechanisms of cruelty, that construct identity, and of the as problematic experienced relation between language and the body, but what really impressed me was the basic necessity, that was inherent to all his writings, despite of - or just because off - all obvious inconsistencies. On the one hand here somebody was writing about an alien country / a different culture, but on the other hand you as the reader got the impression to experience primarily something about your Self.
The Mexico that Artaud had created in his mind had at a first glance nothing in common with the actual Mexico of his time. Mexico served Artaud as a subjective heterotopia, a space of otherness, as a means of escape from the as decadent perceived European culture.
During the last seven years I used to read Artaud from time to time, not with an scientific interest, but more as a kind of source of inspiration, as a footing whenever I felt the ground beneath my feets to become very fragile. Thinking quite a long time about an project dealing with texts by Artaud, I was very excited when i heard first about the call for "German Media Artists" to produce an artwork in Mexico-City, and proposed a concept for an audiovisual installation based on Artaud's expose "The Conquest of Mexico". This small text from the context of his “The Theatre and Its Double”-writings outlines an utopian theatre, that is so much more actual and relevant, than 99% of the stuff that is shown on contemporary stages: A theatre beyond vainness and hasty conclusions, a theatre that takes its material seriously and is no longer subject to the primacies of narcissism or prefabricated ideas.
I think it is quite difficult if not impossible to perform “The Conquest of Mexico” 1:1 on a stage, since the question is how can you deal with the representation of something, that articulates a subjective space, which everybody has to discover – and create - for himself?
The basic idea of my proposal was to construct an interdisciplinary and hybrid media dispositive, where I can research this question in more detail: Constructing something between toy theatre, display cabinet and peepshow, a kind of miniature stage, where not only Artauds first theatrical examination of “Mexico” becomes re-enacted on a small scale as a model drama, but where – via various conjunctions and permanently changing perspectives - at the same time the general mimetic constitution of our thinking and its crisis is reflected.
“For if theatre doubles life, life doubles true theatre”, Artaud wrote in January 1936, two weeks after he had left Paris to travel to Mexico, and for sure his trip to this country was highly motivated by his permanent quest for this true theatre. What did Artaud expect to find in Mexico? Probably, he didn't know exactly, but the gap between what he had imagined and what he experienced couldn't have been much larger.
When I went to Mexico, it was exactly this tension, that I was looking forward to. To re-read Artaud's writings about Mexico in the country with the same name. To concentrate on one text, that deals in a poetic way with a historical situation (the Spanish conquest), which still has a huge impact to the local contemporary cultural and political situation.
The Mexico that I have experienced during the last few days, is really something that was totally beyond my imagination. Sitting most of the daytime on our roof-deck with view on a public plaza, I became kind of an spectator of a very irreal and distant Mexico. But how irreal and distant this Mexico might be at the moment, I can't deny that I am also a part of it. The third wall is simply missing (or at least porous). Whenever you see people coming down the streets with masks on their faces, whenever you hear the sounds of police, ambulance, helicopters or even coughing / sneezing people - quite normal in other days -, you become remembered of the vulnerability of your own body. Nobody seems to know how things will develop further, and this is something that makes at the moment all of us to spectators.
I can't help myself, but I am really happy whenever I see kids in the streets playing soccer or couples exchanging caresses (what seems to increase again). I am happy now about construction noises or if shop owners turn up their music (all restaurants and bars are closed since today) and people in the streets start to move to samples of latin or western pop music. At regular intervals I hear just for a couple of seconds the refrain line of the 007 Theme Song "The World is not enough". One of my neighbours seems to like especially this song.

I am sure, if this is over, the whole city will dance.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Reading Artaud in Mexico-City

In the context of the first "Mexico Scholarship for German Media Artists" (Werkleitz Centre for Media Arts, Goethe Institut Mexiko) i arrived on Monday evening, 20th of April 2009, in Mexico-City, where i will work 2 months at the Centro Multimedia del Centro Nacional de las Artes, developing the audiovisual installation "The Conquest of Mexico" after a text by French theatre avantgardist Antonin Artaud. After the first three days of basic orientation, where I was introduced to the different workshops of the Centro Multimedia - a wonderful institution dedicated to the development and reflection of New Media Arts -, and where I became an rough and impressive overview of prespanic Mexican culture in the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, the Mexican government announced on Thursday evening the national outbreak of a swine flu epidemic in Mexico-City, that soonly became described as a "public health emergency of international concern" by the World Health Organization. Official institutions, schools and universities in Mexico City became closed, Masses were canceled, and soccer plays had to be performed without audience in the stadiums. People in the streets and public transport systems try to avoid physical contact as well as huge gatherings, while police and members of the mexican army are instructed to identify and isolate possible infected people at the stations and the airport of the City. Locally you get the impression that the Mexican government does the best it can do in such a situation, but you can feel a certain helplessness in the city, since the people have no experience with a situation like this and do not know how to behave in these days. The shops, restaurants and bars are still open, sometimes you hear music from different corners, but the public spaces are said to be much more quiet than usually. Very often you see people with dropped masks in the streets, and you ask yourself if these cheap accessoires really have any other sense than appeasement.
For the last two days I decided to spent as much time as possible in my small appartment in the old cultural center of Mexico-City, that I share with Mexican artist and curator Eusebio Bañuelos, and from where i wait and see how things are developing further. We discussed a lot about the political situation in Mexico, and also about how paranoia and invisible menaces become major issues in the globalized world. Earlier this year I was supposed to be right now in Sana'a / Yemen, where we had been asked by the German embassy after the very good experiences in 2007 to realize again a site-specific installation in public space, this time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of German-Yemeni history and the 20th anniversary of the reunification in both countries. However, due to security reasons in February 2009 the German Federal Foreign Office canceled all outdoor projects in the area, and so I am right now sitting in Mexico-City, facing a completly different threat and paranoid situation, that also makes future developments quite unpredictable at the moment. At the moment I only go out to get some food in the supermarkets near the corner or for short evening walks, sitting most of the time on the roof-deck, reading, conceptualizing and planning about my proposed installation. I brought two books by Antonin Artaud with me, the Mexico-Volume edited by Luis Cardoza y Aragón, and his "The Theatre and Its Double" writings, and by closely reading them I try to make the best out of the actual situation...