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Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition
Picture: Georg Soulek
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Attaistic art
AREA 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition

The Last Artist

By Wolfgang Kralicek, Der FALTER

The dramaturge Joachim Lux is sitting in his Burgtheater office and is content with the chaos that is ruling down on the stage. The German director Christoph Schlingensief is just preparing his current production, and a week before the first performance only one thing is clear: that nothing is clear at all. But at least a title has finally been agreed on. The project that in the beginning was announced as "Sadochrist Matthew" and meanwhile was called "Area 7" or "431st Animatographic Expedition", will be called "Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition". If it had been for Schlingensief, the title might as well have been changed another several times since then. "In accordance with the objectives of this project it would also be right to give it a new title every day," says Lux. But even without doing so, things are still terribly complicated.

"This is less a theatre performance than everything else we have produced so far," the dramaturge says enthusiastically. "Nothing like this has ever taken place here!" In an interview with "Die Presse" the actor Martin Schwab, however, is less enthusiastic: "Schlingensief certainly comes up with a lot of interesting ideas. But he could as well implement this project in some hall or container. And in the meantime we could do something else here at the Burgtheater." Is there no place for actionists like Hermann Nitsch, who recently was allowed to disembowel a bull live on stage of the Burgtheater, or Schlingensief? All wrong, thinks Joachim Lux: "Especially an institution like the Burgtheater has to continuously question its mechanisms. If it does not do so, it is artistically dead. And this project really questions everything: there are no rehearsals in the common sense, no 'first night show' and no further performances in the traditional meaning. It rather is a kind of organism that has hit the theatre like a meteor and that keeps changing constantly irrespective of any existing conventions. 'Bambiland', in comparison to what is going on now, was a conventional theatre evening!"

Area 7
Installation view: Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition, Vienna, 2006

In December 2003, Christoph Schlingensief had his Burgtheater debut staging Elfriede Jelinek's "Bambiland" - a text on the Iraq war - for the first time. It was considered as a very unconventional premiere because only trace elements of Jelinek's text were left. Instead a sea of images - from a porn film to a Corpus Christi procession - flooded the stage that at the same time was also a film screen. The author, however, was not offended in any way, but reacted enthusiastically: Schlingensief had been able to translate her collage technique from literature into the theatre. Jelinek felt understood.

The Schlingensief Collection

Two years after "Bambiland" the Burgtheater engages Schlingensief again. In the meantime he has staged "Parsifal" in Bayreuth, has developed a revolving stage construction called "animatograph" and has made a film in Namibia. Videos and artefacts from all these projects form part of his current work at the Burgtheater. A visit to the rehearsals confirms that "Area 7" really has very little to do with conventional theatre performances: the stage and stalls of the theatre are built up with a maze of small rooms that the visitors can explore like a museum ("The Schlingensief Collection"); in small groups the audience is chased through this exciting obstacle course.

Schlingensief hectically guides a few reporters through the installation. On a small revolving stage the world of Nordic legends and myths of the Burgtheater meet; there is a "War Memorial" for Joseph Beuys and an "Archetypal Loo", in which the so-called "shitting speed" is measured ("300,000 kilometres per second - speed of light is shit!"); in a small chapel Elfriede Jelinek on video reads a text that she has written for Schlingensief; in the "Ion Shower" the artist deals with the question why we can still measure parts of the stratosphere though they are dead already. "This is definitely something they have to explain!"

The reporters do not understand anything and are as confused as the actors who hang around somewhat helplessly. The famous cast - amongst others the Fassbinder diva Irm Hermann, the young star Robert Stadlober ("Crazy"), the Beatles translator Klaus Beyer and Bernhard Schütz from the Berliner Volksbühne are present - but they will have to be content with being nothing but walk-ons.

The Burgtheater actor Hermann Scheidleder is dressed up as Hermann Nitsch, and with his hands folded over his belly he observes what is going on. When the "Falter" photographer Heribert Corn wants to take a photo of him together with Schlingensief, the director calls for another famous actor: "Jonathan! Where is Jonathan Meese?" But he is already in the dressing room, and we will never find out whether Schlingensief has called the real Jonathan Meese or an actor representing Meese.

Everything is turning

The filmmaker Schlingensief, who has been working above all in the theatre since 1993, has tapped into a new field for his work: visual arts. "That I don't make theatre is something I have been told all the time," says Schlingensief in a short interview after the rehearsal. "And I have found out that this form of theatre 'The curtain is drawn up and I act something' does not interest me very much at the moment. Furthermore I no longer want to go there and shout, 'My parents! My parents! My parents!' I do however think that what I am doing here is political, though no longer in the sense of the party or the container." The Burgtheater installation seems like a fantastic private universe and it seems much more hermetic than former works by Schlingensief, which in part were immediately agitatorial to a great extent. Even Schlingensief himself is a bit surprised that current events are not exploited. "Susanne Osthoff, for example, in earlier times I would have been more than pleased to involve her."

Area 7
Installation view: Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition, Vienna, 2006

In the past Schlingensief had just played the artist; in 'Bambiland', for example, he appeared as an actionist who devastated the furniture in front of the very eyes of his mother ("now you are taking the chainsaw, that's nothing new!"). Meanwhile cultural institutions sponsor his performances, and he has a contract with one of the most renowned galleries of Europe, Hauser & Wirth in Zurich. "We have been fascinated by his work for a long time", says the gallery owner Marc Payot about the artist Schlingensief. "His holistic approach in his work, the way he makes use of art-historical and political aspects, is exactly the way in which we work."

The 45-year old Schlingensief, who explicitly refers to icons such as the German shaman of arts Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) or the Swiss Fluxus artist Dieter Roth (1930-1998), seems more and more like a reincarnation of the long extinct species of the universal genius. No matter whether he founds a party (Chance 2000) or a religion (Church of Fear): everything Schlingensief touches turns into art. Something he shares with his great models of the sixties is the suspicion of dilettantism his work is subject to. "I always have the feeling that one has to be able to do things in such a dilettante way as I do. I know opera directors who already know what they are going to stage in the year 2012 - for me this is dilettantism!"

But it was his opera debut in Bayreuth, where he staged "Parsifal" in the year 2004, which once and forever paved his way into the world of the arts. On the one hand because his work at the famous Wagner Festival made him well-known on an international level; and on the other hand because his staging of "Parsifal", which involved a revolving stage that kept rotating practically without interruption, is considered as the nucleus of his newest hobby-horse, the so-called "animatograph", a revolving stage full of objects and surrounded with screens to which films are projected. Whoever is on the animatograph sees a film that - as the object rotates - is continuously cutting itself.

"Here time becomes space!" the Wagner fan Schlingensief says enthusiastically about his invention, in which film, theatre and art form a symbiosis. The animatograph was first used in Iceland last May (a smaller version of it can now be seen at the Burgtheater installation); a second animatograph was set up on the former GDR military airport in Neuhardsberg near Berlin last summer (videos on it are shown at the Burgtheater). The owner of the first object is Francesca Habsburg's Thyssen Bornemisza Foundation; the second one was sold to a fervent collector from Hamburg and will be exhibited at the Leipzig Museum from March this year. The third animatograph was erected in Area 7, a slum township in Namibia, last autumn.

Fitzcarraldo in Africa

During the "Bambiland" staging Schlingensief wandered about as a crossing of the Messiah ("my solution is redemption") and Fitzcarraldo ("I want to build my own opera house!"). Two years later he lived at least his Fitzcarraldo fantasies. In Werner Herzog's film an opera freak acted by Klaus Kinski has a ship towed over a mountain somewhere in South America; Schlingensief did the same in Africa. Last October the filmmaker Schlingensief travelled to Namibia in order to make his first film 8 years after his work "The 120 Days of Bottrop". "African Twin Towers" was originally planned as a satire in which Schlingensief wanted to overcome his Bayreuth trauma. The plot: a provocative director is commissioned by the Bach family of composers to organize the first Bach Festival in Africa; instead he stages a play on the 11th of September with the local population.

Area 7
Installation view: Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition, Vienna, 2006

The idea behind it does sound funny, but it was discarded even before the filming started. The problem is that the original concept has never been replaced by any other idea. At an "Informative Evening" that took place last weekend in the Kasino, Schlingensief's producer Frieder Schlaich and Claus Philipp, the culture editor of "Der Standard", who is currently working on a book about Schlingensief, reported on the chaotic filming work in Namibia. The filmmaker was stuck in a continuous creative crisis and allergic to any attempt to give the project a clear outline. "Christoph wanted to make a film that didn't have a beginning or ending", says Philipp. This, at least, seems to have worked out: in three weeks about 300 hours of footage were produced, and nobody can imagine how this should ever become a film.

However, the project "African Twin Towers" has yielded loads of material for the Burgtheater project "Area 7". The African animatograph with an eight meter long ship on top of it that Schlingensief had had towed from the beach to the slum township (an endeavour in which he, unlike Fitzcarraldo, made use of cars and cranes), is at the centre of the installation. The DVD that comes with the programme booklet on "Area 7" contains images of the filming work and interviews with the participants, amongst others with Patti Smith. Last summer, the New York punk legend had been invited by "Die Zeit" to report on Bayreuth, and she was so enthusiastic about "Parsifal" that since then she has been following Schlingensief wherever he travels. So she will also show up at the Burgtheater. In Namibia Patti Smith accompanied the filming work with an old Polaroid camera. The animatograph reminds her of the laterna magica she had in her room when she was a child. "I am just a guest here", she says on the DVD. "I don't even know what you are doing here. But I believe in it!"

Soon Schlingensief will work at the Reykjavik National Theatre. For him this is a particularly interesting challenge above all because he does not understand the language. "When working with German actors I always feel a certain itching!" The next animatographs are planned to be used in Nepal and Brazil. "Maybe then only animals will be present, I don't know." Christoph Schlingensief has a vision: some time there will be 120 animatographs at some place or another. "And it will no longer be questioned what anyone might want to do with them." However, it is most unlikely that this will ever happen. Schlingensief's system involves continuous innovation, and the director/artist/actionist will probably soon lose interest in the animatograph. Probably sooner than later the creative perpetuum mobile Christoph Schlingensief will set off at shitting speed to embark on new paths leading to new actions.

Gallery: Area 7 at the Vienna Burgtheater, Jan. 2006

Additional information on Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition

- Area 7 Program Booklet - 96 pages with lots of installation pictures (PDF)
- Schlingensief at Burgtheater Wien - ARTFORUM magazine, May issue 2006
- Bubbling Animatographs - Süddeutsche Zeitung on Area 7
- Grand Master in Making a Mess - The Frankfurter Rundschau on Area 7
- Congestions in Front of the Holy "Archetypal Loo" - Salzburger Nachrichten
- The Global Oedipal Passion - Austrian daily Der Standard on Area 7
- Palpating everything as if it was the first time - Die ZEIT on Area 7
- "The Last Artist" - Austrian magazine "FALTER" on the Area 7 expedition
- Congestions in Front of the Holy "Archetypal Loo" - Salzburger Nachrichten
- Area 7 Gallery II - Impressions of the St. Matthew's Expedition in May 2006
- Area 7 Gallery I - Impressions of the St. Matthew's Expedition in January 2006
- Area 7 Panorama I - Panorama view of the Area 7 installation
- Area 7 Panorama II - Another panorama view of the Area 7 installation
- Burgtheater Vienna - Burgtheater website, ticket sale, schedule, information

Area 7 press reviews

- ARTFORUM 05/2006
- Süddeutsche
- Frankf. Rundschau
- Salzburger Nachr.
- Der Standard
- Die ZEIT

Picture galleries

- Area 7 gallery Jan.
- Area 7 gallery May
- Area 7 Booklet (PDF)

External links

- Burgtheater Vienna
- Filmgalerie 451


St. Matthew's Expedition with Christoph Schlingensief

Cast: Karin Witt, Irm Hermann, Jovita Domingos-Dendo, Patti Smith, Klaus Beyer, Christoph Schlingensief, Bernhard Schütz, Hermann Scheidleder, Björn Thors, Horst Gelonneck, Robert Stadlober, Karin Lischka, Abate Ambachev, Dirk Rohde

Burgtheater Wien
First Expedition at
January 20th, 2006

Christoph Schlingensief

Costumes: Aino Laberenz; Construction: Thekla von Mülheim, Tobias Buser; Dramaturgy: Jörg van der Horst, Joachim Lux, Henning Naß; Video/Cut: Kathrin Krottenthaler; additional Video/Cut: Meika Dresenkamp; Sound: Uwe Altmann; Assistant directors: Barbara Nowotny, Sophia Simitzis; Assistant constructor: Andrea Flachs; Assistant costume designers: Dagmar Bald, Veronika Mund; Assistant video: Marlene Prainsack; Director's trainees: Michael Csar, Sarah Wulbrandt; Construction trainee: Gabriela Neubauer; Dramaturgy trainee: Katharina Zobler; Webdesign: Patrick Hilss

Musicians: Klaus Falschlungerer, Perry Wurzinger, Gerhard Rosner, Muriel Stadelmann, Erik Bilic-Eric, Begleitmusiker Patti Smith: Clementine Gasser, Lenny Dickinson, Andreas Radovan

...and also the "Kunst in Aktion" class of the HBK Braunschweig: Alexandra Heide, Ellen Druwe, Yingmei Duan, Eun Hye Hwang, Tina Kramer, Franziska Pester, Dorothea von Stilfried, Malte Struck, Dennis Feser, Axel Loytved, Mirko Winkel

Stage manager: Roman Dorninger; Technical supervision: Christian Venghaus; Sound: David Müllner, Florian Pilz; Video/Burgtheater: Andreas Ryba, Stefan Göbl; Prop: Martin Dürr; Stage technician: Gerhard Weese