AREA 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition
Palpating everything as if it was the first time, like a failed God
Christoph Schlingensief's squatting of the Burgtheater. A visit to the rowdy who suddenly seems chastened.
By Peter Roos, Die ZEIT
So this man sitting nicely in the provisional cafeteria of the Burgtheater is said to be the biggest pain in the arse of German political theatre? This man who politely introduced himself? This is meant to be the cheeky rowdy who never loses any opportunity to take the microphone and never skips a talk show in order to live up to his reputation as a top provocateur?
Three hours with Christoph Schlingensief at a provisional wooden beer table. For just as this guy turned up at the Burgtheater, the original furniture was destroyed in a fire. For his sake?
Thanks goodness he does not wear his glasses girlie-style in his hair. Instead he keeps them in the neckline of his overall, which after a few weeks of work in Austria he refers to using the Austrian word for it. His work clothes are covered all over with red and white stains, the Austrian national colours. But they are not coloured for scandal. Just the opposite. He looks as if he had just been painting mommy's washhouse. The patent leather stage shoes in black and white like displaced zebra crossings. A three-days beard. His hair tinged with grey, moderately standing at end.
|Installation view: Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition, Vienna, 2006
His eyes are deep and innocent, and the look of his eyes is warm, firm and never evasive. And incredibly hurt. With his big craftsman's hands he repeatedly makes a fist, and in the rhythm in which he talks he pushes down his robust index finger on the boards of the table.
Christoph Schlingensief is producing his maze of myths Area 7 at the most important theatre of the country. 45 years ago he was born in the German village of Oberhausen. His father a pharmacist, his mother a nurse. Already as a child he experimented with his camera, as a pupil he founded the Super-8-Group and after passing his A' levels he was rejected twice at the Munich Film Academy. He dropped out of his studies of German language and literature after seven semesters and started jobbing in the movie environment. He experimentally wrote and filmed Für Elise. His activities are filling pages.
Today Schlingensief is known everywhere from Bayreuth to Berlin, from RTL to MTV, and in Vienna he is notoriously known above all because of his Wiener Festwochen (Vienna International Festival) container project, a highly disputed social installation for twelve asylum-seekers at the square next to the Opera, which received enormously much media coverage. Also the publication accompanying this action was meant to provoke: "Foreigners get out - please love Austria!"
Vienna anyway! He loves eating Tafelspitz (boiled beef) and Mohr im Hemd (steamed chocolate pudding) and he drinks elderflower juice by the litre. For some time he even considered moving here, but what kept him from doing so, was the way the Viennese treat each other, and above all the way they treat the Germans, their always intriguing "to and fro and from the back", the German illusion that everything is smoothly understood in this way anyway.
You are wooed and embraced and do not even realize to have already received a stab in the back: "But the Viennese stab you with knives of marzipan!" Conclusion: "It is nice to come here. But after six weeks it's enough!" For: "Woe to foreign artists who come here to be loved and don't hit the road in time!" They are tapped and left behind devastated. Luc Bondy for example, the head of the Vienna Festwochen, spread in the Jüdische Allgemeine of all papers that his highly appreciated friend Schlingensief had got poached by the Burgtheater, not mentioning that it was he himself who had turned down the new project.
Theatre anyway! "These drunkards that hang around in the canteens and keep telling that once they played Hamlet!" For him the stage is just a "work space", he just makes use of a place charged with aura. Apart from this, theatre is "just unpleasant, marginal, embarrassing!"
He does not know what to do with it. Therefore: He goes there "damn rarely" and if at all "just a seat in the last row at the back", a seat from where it is easy to escape. He cannot bear the institutional "sound" with its kisses and hellos, and he finds those directors with their always "awfully interesting charge" totally intolerable. And the heroes? Peter Zadek, a friend of his, but actually he does not understand him; Bondy emphasizing art pathetically; and Claus Peymann, actually he does not want to have to do anything with him at all - to him he is just a dilettante and a stupid prat anyway.
Of course it is he who now implements his projects at the Burgtheater while Peymann "in his long floating cloak is kicking himself and hanging around alone somewhere in Berlin where nobody likes him!" But "still the Berliner Ensemble is a really cool place which I would love to run as a director!" However, the old lords are firm in their saddles, the benefices well distributed. "The network is tightly knit", so they hold contracts valid to the end of time. And the programme booklets full of know-all theatrical knowledge and "the absolute knowledge about Wagner!" Rather than getting involved in all this, he actually prefers talking about his parents.
|Installation view: Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition, Vienna, 2006
He calls home every day and is afraid of his mother's death and his father's death. He dearly loves his parents. And they love him. He also loves them for tolerating him and coping with his terrible scandals and even supporting him. Although they still have not accepted up to this day that he did not become a pharmacist like his daddy: husband, father and in the Lions Club. That he has finally made it to Bayreuth, however, comforts them.
He talks about love, pain and tears. And about fear, his "elixir of life". The fear he has had since experiencing the darkness in his room when he was a child. Only when this fear ceases for some time, he becomes brave: "I'm a coward at heart", he confesses, not loudly, but firmly. And it hurts that the public just wants to see "the blinking and glittering surface!" He could cry about it, "and how much he could cry". Suddenly the outlines of his face change for a few seconds and he turns away.
And the media anyway! He has performed in the media like no other person, has used them excessively. He has pushed himself into the limelight ad nauseam. And finally the overkill came fully back to him - like a boomerang. So violently that he nearly believed himself lost and "hit the brake!". But his label has become his cummerbund: "In the media no-one uses a term referring to me less harmless than provocateur!" This image sticks to him in the same way as the label enfant terrible sticks to the old Tabori, 92. His fingers move from the shoe to the knee, touch the eyes, grab the shoulders, open and close the zipper. To him courage no longer means to pronounce the sentence "Kill Helmut Kohl". "To me courage is to search the innermost of my self. To kiss and crawl up my own arse until I get out again at the head!" He talks about "dirtying himself", but he no longer wants to hear anything about "being chastened".
Too catholic? The altar boy of his childhood now looks like a novice. Finally he is able to wait. Finally he has stopped to "cover up" his artistic gifts. Therefore he had escaped from Germany to Africa, in order to work in peace on new "proving grounds" where he "moves on very slowly". And "nothing doing" without Aino Laberenz, his costume designer, his love for the past two years. The times of publicity, when "one is glad to see, read or hear talk about oneself" are over. Powerful his new insight: "I have to palpate everything as if it was the first time, just like a failed god!"
He still has not fully overcome the big rupture in his life, and his memories, so fresh, hurt, furious and full of childish horror that so much evil could befall on him, break out of him, as if not more than quarter of a century had passed in the meantime: mononucleosis, appendicitis and blowing his A' levels - all this in one single year.
Whether you want to believe it or not - he emphasizes that he has never wanted to provoke. It was the others who had always felt provoked. He just does what he has to do. Following his logics and his aesthetic order principles, an alchemist of himself and of the things surrounding him. As "clarity and the good German solutions bore him to death", he considers himself as "predestined to produce misunderstandings". These will be richly nourished again during his latest work in progress.
From the front to the backstage of the Burgtheater, he depicts the contents of his brain and the meanders of his sensory motions. The spectator will move through, touch and palpate the visionary chamber of his cerebral goggle-box, on whose uncompleteable completion Christoph Schlingensief is working in a highly chaotic way until the very last minute.
In calm self-confidence he ploughs through the surf of the rehearsals, firmly continuing his course. He explains, analyses, directs, makes telephone calls, an instruction here, a discussion there, some assistance given, and full of social grace he ties the relations between guests, curious visitors, journalists and actors, his family. There a tiny Leni Riefenstahl will take pictures of her huge Massai, Hitler and Stalin will masturbate onto a Sacher cake, a deceivingly genuine Hermann Nitsch double will drunkenly pace the stage and a hyper-realistic Otto Mühl in a wheelchair will crawl over the screen. Patti Smith live, Beuys plastified, and Wagner at full volume.
After the interview Christoph Schlingensief quickly has to change his cloths, because he cannot turn up at the staff party in his stained working overall. As time is short he changes in the porter's lounge, unprotected from indiscreet looks and fully exposed to the icy draught. And while being in his black Hugo Boss boxer shorts he confesses that his models are not Schiller or Goethe, but Beuys and his uncle Heinrich and his uncle Willy.
After three preparatory evenings Christoph Schlingensief inaugurates his "St. Matthew's Expedition" to "Area 7" on the 20th January, a tour through a maze of installations that is populated by mythological artefacts that the master of chaos has collected in many years. He calls it a "living organism on which the spectator moves and lives and finally becomes a part of."
Additional information on Area 7 - St. Matthew's Expedition
Area 7 press reviews
- ARTFORUM 05/2006
- Frankf. Rundschau
- Salzburger Nachr.
- Der Standard
- Die ZEIT
- Area 7 gallery Jan.
- Area 7 gallery May
- Area 7 Booklet (PDF)
- 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
First Expedition at
January 20th, 2006
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