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Kunst und Gemüse, A. Hipler
Theater ALS Krankheit

"Kunst und Gemüse, A. Hipler, Theater ALS Krankheit", the first collaboration between Zimbabwean-born director Hosea Dzingirai and Christoph Schlingensief, combines the traditional stage play with an exhibition within the theatre, a succession of scenes between the fine and performing arts, tonality and atonality; between drama and dilettantism, Wagner and Schönberg; between Berlin and Harare, Lüderitz and New York, decay and renewal; first and third world; movement and inertia; black and white; sick and healthy; Volksbühne and countryside; Richard and Wolfgang, house and garden, i.e.: art and vegetables ("Kunst und Gemüse").

The just under 80-minute-long evening concentrates and quotes images of the modern world, inhabited by consumers and figures, moving vessels, those who uphold Dzingirai and Schlingensief's quest for modern man in a world of chaos and disintegration. The evening is held together by the watchful eye of author and ALS sufferer Angela Jansen, whose words are rendered legible via an iris-activated keyboard. The trio use the incorporation of classical theatrical elements, excerpts from Arnold Schönberg's opera From Today Until Tomorrow and popular modern stage technology such as live video transmissions, calling them into question and destroying them, as they do the wall projection of a greengrocer's at the beginning.

Schlingensief´s production of Kunst & Gemüse (Image: David Baltzer)

Whereas Udo Kier, Irm Hermann, Peter Kern and Corinna Harfouch play out their roles via huge screens, Schlingensief's long-time collaborators Kerstin Grassmann and Horst Gelonik become living works of art. Peter Müller is excellent as Johannes Heesters, whose birthday is celebrated several times over - which is understandable considering the exceptionally advanced age of Mr. Heesters. The fact that the reason for the celebration has been forgotten by the end is irrelevant. Even memory faces its limits.

Irm Hermann and Udo Kier in Kunst & Gemüse (Image: David Baltzer)

Art as Sickness

From Wagner to Immendorff: Christoph Schlingensief rediscovers his serious side at Berlin's Volksbühne

The Arts, November 19, 2004. By Peter Laudenbach

Thomas Kapielski had the enjoyable habit in the 1980s of leaving a little stamp in visitors' books at art openings: "Det könn' wa och. Kapielski" ("Coulda done it myself. Kapielski"). Christoph Schlingensief's new production at the Volks-
bühne in Berlin, which was originally supposed to be a "Volks- Parsifal", was then given the unconventional title "The Fick Collection" and is now cryptically called "Kunst und Gemüse. A.Hipler", amounts to a splendid enlargement of Kapielski's stamp.

Premiere picture from Kunst & Gemüse, A. Hipler (Image: David Baltzer)

The works of modern art amassed in the Flick Collection - the readymades and sarcastic statements, the avant-garde junk - are effortlessly cited and out-trumped by Schlingensief in his installation. And as everything is reduced to a citation in this mirrored hall of allusions and systems of reference, the obvious association when presented with a bouquet of sunflowers on stage is, of course, with van Gogh - first with Vincent, then Theo. Duchamp's inverted bicycle, Paul McCarthy's monstrous Apple Heads, the title of a series of paintings by Martin Kippenberger, inhabit the labyrinth on Schlingensief's revolving stage as if they had always been here.

This could explain why the evening, for all its extremes, radiates a meditative calm. By writing the title of a work of art by Martin Kippenberger as a slogan on a wall, the inclusion of barbed wire triggering associations with incarceration and prison, Schlingensief creates an unpleasant picture that says more about the context of art, morals and power than any debating. This Kippenberger work (8 Bilder zum Nachdenken, ob es so weitergeht) is featured in the Flick Collection - i.e., if you take Schlingensief's picture seriously, in a prison. The work of art is behind bars, or it is a piece of jewellery that decorates a camp, perhaps for forced labourers. Schlingensief's polemic is in this case precise and devastating.

The producer giving instructions to the cast (Image: Marc Bausback)

Because Schlingensief's inclination toward the total work of art absorbs, digests and incorporates all the arts, he does more than fit images and films into his semiotic delirium. We also hear brief and very nicely inserted fragments of an Arnold Schönberg opera. The notes even appear individually on stage, so that we finally get to understand Schönberg's famous twelve-tone technique: "I am C." When twelve actors, ranging from a petit, elderly lady with a high-pitched girl's voice to big, strong men, then line up next to each other, they are joined by a thirteenth, who is the spitting image of Bayreuth patriarch Wolfgang Wagner: "I am W." - W here standing not for Wagner, but for "Wiederholung" ("repetition"), i.e. in a sense for Bayreuth after all.

The cynical swipes at the popular, romanticised image of Bayreuth, complete with a blonde Lolita as Wagner heiress Katharina, manage without the old provocative gesturing of shock rocker Schlingensief. It is the most personal and least hysterical Schlingensief production ever - calm, composed and with a congenial penchant for mature reflection. The old art happenings, the mud-slinging of performance art, reappear once more as if citing times gone by, in a film in which Corinna Harfouch wallows in flour and paint - although this melancholic reference to the stage blood of the early years likewise does without the shock factor.

"I'm fine. It's just that I'm unable to move." A. Jansen (Image: Baltzer)

The rows with Bayreuth over Schlingensief's production of Parsifal last summer, the examination of the Flick Collection, which, incidentally, owes its existence to the same Swiss gallery owner who also has Schlingensief on his books, all the citations and intrigues of the cultural scene are put into a different perspective as Schlingensief makes an illness the focus of the evening. At the beginning and the end, we hear a man's voice repeatedly citing a somewhat puzzling passage: "Theatre as sickness. Everybody undertakes to fight it, decay. Art. The I's. They are moving, in fact. For the time being. ALS does us in."

ALS is a fatal nervous system disorder. We hear the voice of painter Jörg Immendorff, whose entire upper body has now been paralysed by the disease. The bed of a woman suffering from ALS has been set up in the middle of the audience. Angela Jansen is completely paralysed, and is now only able to move her eyes, with which she operates the keyboard of a voice-activated computer via a laser beam. The messages that appear on screens above the stage represent the most touching element of the evening. "Thanks. You were great", she writes during the applause at the end. She takes a laconic approach to her condition: "I'm fine. It's just that I'm unable to move." Her comments reduce the Bayreuth and Flick farces to charming novelties. Schlingensief is not running some garish freak show here; he is attempting to discover whether a wholly unironic gesture of human concern is possible in the cynical zoo of theatre and the art avant-gardes.

Additional information on Kunst & Gemüse and the ALS disease

- Kunst & Gemüse gallery - Exclusive pictures from Kunst & Gemüse, A. Hipler
- Charité ALS Page - Information on the ALS disease by the Charité Berlin
- Schlingensief ALS Page - Schlingensief´s ALS project webpage
- "Totally confusing supposed unambiguities" - by Marion Löhndorf, Kunstforum
- It's not going - biography by the Guggenheim Museum New York (1998)
- Christoph Schlingensief - A biography by Till Briegleb, Goethe Institut
- Schlingensief.com German - Further information is available in german only

Presented by the Volksbühne Am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz

Director: Hosea Dzingirai, Co-Director: Park Yung Min, Script: Angela Jansen

Cast: Karin Witt, Maria Baton, Kerstin Grassmann, Katharina Schlothauer, Christiane Tsoureas, Ulrike Bindert, Anna Warnecke, Andrea Erdin, Reami Rosignoli, Peter Müller, Horst Gelonneck, Maximilian von Mayenburg, Christian Roethrich, Arno Waschk and the Schöneberger Schönberg-Orchestra e.V., Mario, Babba, Winnie, Simon and King David

A Christoph-Schlingensief-

Set-Design: Thekla von Mülheim, Marc Bausback, Tobias Buser; Costumes: Aino Laberenz; Video: Monika Böttcher; Video-Assistant: Heike Schnepf; additional Videos: Meika Dresenkamp, Robert Kummer; Music: Uwe Altmann; Dramaturgy: Carl Hegemann; Dramaturgy advisor: Henning Naß; Artistic cooperation and web editor: Jörg van der Horst; Light: Torsten König; Sound engineer: Wolfgang Urzendowsky; Director´s Assistance: Sophia Simitzis; Costume Assistance: Anne-Luise Vierling; Webdesign: Patrick Hilss; Inspizienz: Karin Bayer; Regiehospitanz: Sarah Bräuer, Hedi Pottag, Kai Krösche; Betreuung: Nathalie Noell

Special thanks to: Dr. Thomas Meyer (Charité Berlin) and Jörg Immendorff

Premiere am 17.11.2004 im Großen Haus der Volksbühne Berlin

Additional information

- Picture gallery

External web sites

- Charité ALS-Pagee

- Immendorf-Stipend.

- Schlingensief-ALS

- Volksbühne Berlin