CHANGES (English edition)
Berliner Festspiele 2012 – 2021. Formats, Digital Culture, Identity Politics, Immersion, Sustainability
Herausgegeben von Thomas Oberender
- Englischsprachige Ausgabe
Changes features a collection of key texts and ideas by artists, intellectuals and curators who have rethought and redefined the way a cultural institution should work. Alongside these documents, five essays establish guidelines for describing the institution’s experimental and vastly innovative conceptual approach over the last ten years: the new meaning of format (as distinct from artistic work), the issue of sustainability in cultural institutions, identity politics, immersion and digital culture.
A reader on the positioning of a pioneering German cultural institution that invites us to take a look at what has shaped the profile of its innovative programme.
With texts and contributions by Frédérique Aït-Touati, Ed Atkins, Sivan Ben Yishai, Jens Bisky, Emanuele Coccia, Brian Eno, Naika Foroutan, Dorothea von Hantelmann, Donna Haraway, Susanne Kennedy, William Kentridge, Signa Köstler, Bruno Latour, Robert Maharajh, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Thomas Oberender, David OReilly, Diana Palm, Philippe Parreno, Nancy Pettinicchio, Alex Ross, Stephanie Rosenthal, Rebecca Saunders, Frank Schirrmacher, Stephan Schwingeler, Tino Sehgal, Markus Selg, Gabriele Stötzer, Lucien Strauch.
This book is an attempt to pass on inspiration. It has emerged from the activities of a cultural institution that comprises all genres of contemporary art. And at the same time, this book is an attempt to transcend these last ten years of activities and to distil from them a few key thoughts and documents that highlight the most significant changes we have undergone during this period.
On the one hand, this Changes volume documents conversations with artists and intellectuals that, in the broadest sense, represent milestones marking profound changes in German-language cultural institutions. In addition to documenting these source texts of artistic practice, the second main purpose of the book is to distil from the wealth of themes and cultural events at least five guiding concepts that have pervaded all our programmes over the past ten years.
For us, these five key concepts are: format, identity politics, digitisation, immersion and sustainability. One section of the book is devoted to each of these themes, with each section featuring an introductory essay as well as corresponding primary texts by pioneering thinkers from the arts and humanities.
With this book, Berliner Festspiele has taken its seventieth anniversary as an opportunity not simply to look back, but to compile a collection of texts that point to what lies ahead, that think prospectively, make proposals and take up profound aesthetic or philosophical positions. And hardly any other German-language institution would be better suited for this than Berliner Festspiele, which produces events across the entire spectrum of contemporary art at its Gropius Bau exhibition hall.
In this respect, taking a closer look at the programme developments, new formats, themes and experiences that have emerged from this institution is not only illuminating for cultural managers, theatre professionals and art scholars, but can also be valuable for creative practitioners and researchers abroad who are interested in examining cutting-edge format ideas and politico-aesthetic concepts in Germany’s contemporary art landscape.
This book also offers readers the opportunity to become acquainted, by way of example, with the setup and operations of a major cultural institution in the Federal Republic of Germany—the only cultural institution in the country to be run by the federal government.
From the very beginning, Berliner Festspiele has been Berlin’s main port of call for anything too complicated, too big, too expensive, too niche, too daring and too nerve-racking. With its festivals, exhibitions, programme series and competitions, it has been able to set significant standards for day-to-day cultural operations while paving the way for many an international career and weathering a few storms. As an equally representative yet unconventional platform for exploring and presenting nearly all fields of art and culture, Berliner Festwochen and the subsequent formats of the Berliner Festspiele have hardly missed a single internationally significant event. Emerging from the tradition of various summer festivals but also as a result of politicocultural competition with socialist institutions and groups—which, likewise in 1951, had succeeded in securing the “World Youth Festival” and thus inviting 26,000 young people from all over the world to East Berlin—it did not take long for Berliner Festwochen’s offerings to take on a life of their own and fill an entire calendar year with programmes of theatre, music and exhibitions.
Berliner Festspiele’s cyclical formats are recurring islands that provide in-depth examination of particular questions—the meaning of time in music, the role of the orchestra as an apparatus or instrument in the history of evolving experiential spaces of sound and community. In this hectic business devoted to the constant production of new content and meaning that characterises the cultural industry, not everything poses a disruption. Festivals can also serve as sanctuaries for various forms of resistance, which can be communicated just as readily through slow deliberateness as in the urgency of the avant-garde. What is jazz? Going off-script—new music can do that just as well as improvised poetry.
The Berliner Festspiele is one of the best-known cultural institutions and yet, at the same time, one that often remains concealed behind the diversity of its formats and projects. Through all of its festival formats, youth competitions, exhibition projects, symposia and publications, Berliner Festspiele always remains in the background as the organiser, although Gropius Bau and Haus der Berliner Festspiele have become well-known addresses in the city’s cultural life. But few of our guests know that Berliner Festspiele is part of the prestigious Berlin cultural platform Kulturveranstaltungen des Bundes in Berlin (KBB), which also includes the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, the Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) and a central administration office located on Schöneberger Ufer. Since 2003, Berliner Festspiele has maintained year-round operations and has served as a model institution of the federal government— the only one to encompass theatre, music and exhibitions.
Structurally, Berliner Festspiele reports to the Federal Commissioner for Culture and the Media (BKM). Prior to 2001, Berliner Festspiele was an institution without a venue of its own, but this changed fundamentally with the end of Ulrich Eckhardt’s directorship. The federal government took over 100 per cent of the former “Theater der Freien Volksbühne” and Martin-Gropius-Bau, and the legendary Berliner Festwochen were broken up into specialised festivals by Joachim Sartorius in favour of a year-round programme at the new “Haus der Berliner Festspiele”. These structures have endured to this day and include the oldest formats of the Berliner Festspiele: the Theatertreffen, the Jazzfest Berlin, the Theatertreffen der Jugend and the subsequently added MaerzMusik and Musikfest Berlin as well as three youth competitions in dance, music and literature, which are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and organised by Berliner Festspiele.
Originally founded with a total budget of 20 million euros, which roughly corresponds to the budget of Deutsches Theater Berlin, the cultural platform Kulturveranstaltungen des Bundes (KBB)—to which Berliner Festspiele has belonged since 2001—was intended to operate three major venues in Berlin year-round: the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Tiergarten park, the Haus der Berliner Festspiele on Schaperstrasse and the Martin-Gropius-Bau on Niederkirchnerstrasse. To live up to this expectation and allow for inner-city competition with other institutions, the various divisions now have an operating budget of around 60 million euros, which greatly exceeds its institutionally secured core.
This dependence on large-scale project funding, which requires additional organisation beyond our standard institutional framework, has fundamentally changed what our festivals are able to offer and also impacted our administrative operations and planning procedures. The abundance of formats illustrated in this book results not only from a curiosity about content and the desire to react to aesthetic and social changes with new forms of production and presentation, but also from the political custom that new money can only “be found” for new ideas and hardly ever for the actual cost of daily business for traditional festivals and programme work in the exhibition hall. The result is a team of programme inventors who feel compelled to produce a constantly regenerative yet monetarily rewarding stream of ideas—which, in turn, feeds a sense of anxious expectation in a contemporary scene that is always hungry for new themes, trends and names. On the flip side, this means increasingly short-term planning and employment periods and has caused a rift between those who stand up for temporary workers and those representing the interests of regular employees.
Without the various funds, foundations and government grants we are supported by, the programmes of the major players in our cultural system would probably be a quarter smaller, as would also be the case with the Berliner Festspiele in its two houses. In the public eye, artistic directors are primarily associated with their content profiles, but at the same time, together with their programme team, they are relegated to role of old-fashioned “fundraisers”—proliferators of economic resources, in a sense. Mostly, not much fuss is made about this fact because it has become so normal, but also often because it is so abnormal.
Over the years, all of Berliner Festspiele’s divisions and genres have followed a continual development away from the concepts and practices of traditional cultural institutions, because artistic practice dissolves this boundary. Today, many guest performances are multimedia installation landscapes that require long setup and rehearsal times and go beyond the scope of classical festival productions. As a result, this has meant greater time commitments and increasing expenses not only for Berliner Festspiele’s own productions, but for guest performances as well. This challenge is a tendency of the times, not a mere fashion—giving the art business free reign to emanate from the artists themselves and testing our institutions’ ability to adapt.
Another constant challenge for Berliner Festspiele has been the task of developing a high proportion of in-house projects alongside its main function of inviting and hosting guest productions and exhibitions. Producing its own works and formats has enabled Berliner Festspiele to shape its own profile and fill a gap in Berlin’s institutional landscape—in other words, to offer precisely what is difficult to realise in repertory companies or art centres with their own collections. Often these have emerged as long-term formats like “The Long Now”, Vinge / Müller’s Nationaltheater Reinickendorf, Troubleyn / Jan Fabre’s Mount Olympus, Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s planned DAU project or Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music. Moreover, we have also been able to examine some questions and themes on a larger scale over several seasons, such as “Time” at MaerzMusik, “Healing & Care” at Gropius Bau or the “Immersion” project series, which focused on shifts in our worldview and artistic practice.
The key focus of Berliner Festspiele, as outlined in this book, has been and continues to be on the dawn of new identity politics (encompassing debates on gender, ethnicity and personal rights), the effects of the digital cultural revolution, climate change and a new worldview rooted more in ecology and symbiotic structures than dialectical opposites and a dirigiste force from above. The hashtags of this decade— #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter and #Corona—were framed by the end of the Merkel era and the first generation of Germans who have only ever known their country as one country, without death strips or day visas. At the same time, we are still in the beginning stages of being able to take an open and balanced look at German reunification and the re-programming of our own operating systems in the context of festival and exhibition making. The next step we aspire to is to be able to apply our insights on necessary changes in the areas of sustainability and diversity to transform artistic practice. Perhaps one of the most moving works about this challenge is Arne Vogelgesang and Marina Dessau’s production Es ist zu spat, which was shown as a livestream event during Theatertreffen 2021.
The last ten years have led to the emergence of a series of new formats that were also “formats of the new”: 30-hour concert clusters at Kraftwerk Berlin with an allotment of foldaway beds for visitors in the Turbinenhalle, or jazz concerts that edge back towards the experimental scene and political activism, or our own broadcasting platforms such as “Berliner Festspiele on Demand”, artist residencies at Gropius Bau, in-house VR productions and full-dome festivals at Zeiss planetarium. We have featured major guest performances by Robert Wilson and Alain Platel, Taylor Mac and Jan Fabre, Pina Bausch, FC Bergman and Marino Formenti. In a former munitions factory in Reinickendorf, we teamed up with artists and programming specialists to set up a “national theatre”, we introduced a quota for women at Theatertreffen, and we sought to reconstruct the Berlin Wall for four weeks in the historic city centre in order to be able to open it once again. We researched the National Socialist past of the first director of the Festspiele. And our project “Down to Earth”, a part of our “Immersion” series, marked the first exhibition project in Germany to react to the topic of climate change with a change in our own operating system—unplugged, without air travel for those involved, without electricity, with full transparency about our total consumption as well as life lessons about the positive experience of practicing analogue art. Our national competitions took on a uniform structure and, in 2014, gained a new youth dance division with Tanztreffen der Jugend.
The following thematic texts pose an attempt to sketch the signature of the past decade of Festspiele activities on an overarching level. Each of the five thematic sections begins with an overview text and then contains a wealth of documents produced at, for or about Berliner Festspiele events over the past ten years.
On the one hand, this book is the portrait of a so-called “flagship” institution of the Federal Republic of Germany, a beacon which provides orientation, inspiration and exchange in lieu of a traditional repertoire. At the same time, however, it is an attempt to dip our hands in the current of time and hold onto something: grasping any time we catch a glimpse of change. This book lets us take a look at our own activities through the rear-view mirror of recent experience. It does so through the lens of five filters along with some chit-chat from the kitchen here and there, because we rarely talk about recipes, but almost always about the food. Though recipe is the wrong word, because our work is not about reproducing a master dish. Instead, it is about ways of thinking, concepts and conflicts: our reflections on the new role of formats, for example, are an attempt to use this book to render transparent the kind of conceptual work that is often only reluctantly put on display.
Reflecting on the formats of Berliner Festspiele produces more than just a chronicle of our institution’s creative endeavours, it also addresses what is perhaps the most important shift in the arts and culture industry in the last ten to twenty years. Reading and understanding formats means reflecting on a new relationship between an artistic work and an institution—a relationship which Berliner Festspiele has actively worked to reshape through many of its programme series, exhibitions and festivals. “Immersion” has become synonymous with this endeavour; it has become a word for something more than just differently conceived art—it stands for a new genre and the old principle of connectedness. There was no hype surrounding the term immersion, as Die Deutsche Bühne once headlined, before 2016. And we have even been able to free this word from its association with insider jargon and turn it into a metaphor for new concepts that are just as connected to fears and prejudices as they are to a newly emerging Gaia consciousness that is taking our old operating systems to task.
Berliner Festspiele is a wonderful structure, unique in its construction, representing nearly all art forms with its two houses—exhibitions, performances, concerts, dramatic productions, performance art, symposia and competitions. Comparable structures are rare in Europe, the closest one can think of is the Southbank Centre in London with its Hayward Gallery—from which we were able to acquire Stephanie Rosenthal as Gropius Bau Director.
I am grateful, in no particular order, for the work of curators such as Frie Leysen and Berno Odo Polzer. Thanks to Annika Kuhlmann, Richard Williams and Stephanie Rosenthal. And where would we be without the intelligence and uncompromisingness of Tino Sehgal and Taylor Mac, Vegard Vinge and Ida Müller, Philippe Parreno and Susanne Kennedy, Markus Selg, Joulia Strauss and Jonathan Meese, Milo Rau, Ed Atkins and Isa Genzken? Thanks to Gabriele Stötzer and Elske Rosenfeldt, Robert Wilson, David OReilly, Mona el Gammal, Bruno Latour and Frédérique Aït-Touati. And to Jeroen Versteele, Teresa Minn, Anja Predeick, Winrich Hopp and Yvonne Büdenhölzer, Christina Tilmann, Susanne Ritzal and Susanne Goetze and Nafi Mirzaii, a long-time graphic designer of the Berliner Festspiele who is responsible for the picture section of this volume. I would also like to say thanks to the photographer and graphic designer Christian Riis Ruggaber and the graphic agencies Ta-Trung and Eps51, to Andreas Weidmann and many, many others. And, above all, to all the photographers who occasionally clicked their shutters with an outsider view and David Bowie in their ears: “turn and face the strange—Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes”.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-changesvon Thomas Oberender
New Formats—Formats of the Newvon Thomas Oberender
A List of Formats and Format Inventions
The Sonic Extremes of the MaerzMusik Festivalvon Alex Ross
36 Points on Creating Our Work Through Excessvon Signa Köstler
William Kentridge in Conversation with Christiane Peitz
“Success Is Always a Disaster”von William Kentridge und Christiane Peitz
Emanuele Coccia and Philippe Parreno in Conversation with Thomas Oberender
The Exhibition as a Film Without a Cameravon Thomas Oberender, Emanuele Coccia und Philippe Parreno
When You Mix Something, It’s Good to Know Your Ingredients
Modes of Addressing and Economies of Attention in the Visual and Performing Artsvon Dorothea von Hantelmann
Architecture That Blurs Boundaries.
The Planetarium as a Gallery of the Futurevon Thomas Oberender
Digital Culturevon Thomas Oberender
Invisible Forces: Machinery, People, Utopiavon Frank Schirrmacher
Exorcismvon Susanne Kennedy
The System of Everythingvon Stephan Schwingeler
The Art of Realtimevon David OReilly
Voices of Dissent.
Five Areas of Identity Politics in Ten Years of Festival Programmingvon Thomas Oberender
Decolonizing Timevon Donna Haraway
Home is Not Always the Answer.
What Do Migrants and East Germans Have in Common?von Naika Foroutan
Gabriele Stötzer in Conversation with Thomas Oberender
“I Wanted to Change the Image”von Thomas Oberender und Gabriele Stötzer
The Mess of Self-Revoltingvon Sivan Ben Yishai
Sonic Compasses in Dire Times!
So What Can Jazz Do? or If Jazz Died in Berlin Could Berlin Also Be a Point of Revivificationvon Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
To Not Be a Single Being: Otobong Nkanga and Theaster Gatesvon Robert Maharajh
Making Kinvon Stephanie Rosenthal
Arrival in No-Man’s-Landvon Jens Bisky
“Every Message Was Meant for Me”von Lucien Strauch
Thomas Oberender in Conversation with Nancy Pettinicchio
Worlds Without Exteriors. Immersion 2016–2021von Thomas Oberender und Nancy Pettinicchio
Mind in the Cavevon Markus Selg
Ed Atkins and Rebecca Saunders in Conversation with Bastian Zimmermann
Opening a Possible Woundvon Bastian Zimmermann, Rebecca Saunders und Ed Atkins
Brian Eno in Conversation with Thomas Oberender
Infinite Musicvon Thomas Oberender und Brian Eno
Measures for Our “Fellow World”.
Sustainability at Berliner Festspielevon Diana Palm
Pioneers of Change.
Lessons from the Sustainability Project “Down to Earth”von Thomas Oberender
A Conversation with Tino Sehgalvon Tino Sehgal, Christiane Fricke, Susanne Schreiber, Petra Schwarz und Bernd Ziesemer
Frédérique Aït-Touati and Bruno Latour in Conversation with Thomas Oberender Staging Gaia.
Theatre, Climate and a Shift in Awarenessvon Thomas Oberender, Bruno Latour und Frédérique Aït-Touati
Berliner Festspiele Publications 2012–2021