Die Gewalt ist das politische Instrument unserer Zeit – interview with Patrick Wildermann, Tagesspiegel
Interview: Patrick Wildermann
Marta, Górnicka, is humanity a thing of the past?
MARTA GÓRNICKA: The question that arises today is: Whose life matters? Whose life is recognized as life? This touches on a fundamental attitude in the West to the life itself. In my performance the reference for this is the wall of biodiversity in the Natural History Museum in Berlin, probably the largest still life in the world – the most beautiful and at the same time the most terrible. It presents three thousand exhibits of preserved animals. You stand in front of it and admire all these creatures behind glass, which are interconnected in their development. And realizes that this is not just about life, but also about death and extinction. For me this is the metaphor of our time. Big sarcophagus many forms of live. This wall also tells the story of the human species, colonisation and imperialism, story full of violence and genocides. Can we imagine different planet today designed to include everyone, animals and plants as well, everything that lives? Community all forms of live?
Your most recent work at the Gorki Theater, “Still Life”, primarily tells the story of the West as a relentless series of atrocities. At the same time, we invoke “Western values” at every opportunity. What’s wrong with that?
I never trust words. We live in a time of hostile adoption of language, words are kidnapped. These big terms such as “freedom”, “we”, “democracy”, “peace” or even “values” are loaded with ideology, certainly also with hope – but they are completely powerless. I reveal this mechanism in the prolog of Still life where I use the texts of greatest contemporary philosophers who call for reinvention of community and I mix it with digital spam from the Internet, fragments of Britney Spears Manifesto “We can still be together”, robot voices that I heard in German shops as an announcement – “If we look after each other take care of each other, we will overcome this crisis ”. I rub words into words. It is also the attempt to transcend meaning and to look for something pure in language – also for something pure in values.
In the performance you questioning the singularity of the Holocaust- at least that’s how the critics took it. As a Polish person, what did you want to achieve with this provocation?
Our/ My text indeed touches wounds, some critics are irritated by it, or even hurt. The goal of the choir is to demonstrate unconscious mechanisms. Mechanisms of collective memory. Its aim is to provoke thinking and listening. In the performance there is a “choir of mothers who survived the Holocaust”, he talks about the fact that history is constantly repeating itself – and most often Auschwitz. The process behind the annihilation of life is actually always the same for me. In that sense, what made the Holocaust possible is still virulent. I’m with Heiner Müller, who said AUSCHWITZ KEIN ENDE. My aim is not to question the singularity of the Holocaust. I’m talking about mechanisms of annihilations of life which are alive, present. My performance is an answer for this monstrous world. From a personal perspective, I complain that no one listens to the survivors. My uncle, who survived the Holocaust, is dying in the United States right now. But even during his lifetime no one listened to him.
Lessons from history do not seem to be in vogue. One look at the map of Europe is enough: Poland, Hungary, Belarus – everything is on fire.
We are living in a really explosive moment. We’ll be stuff: inside the return of fascist fantasies and language, the extreme right has learned quickly, they use language as their main weapon, especially on the Internet. I feel more than ever that we are only separated from horror by a thin wall. Violence is the political instrument of our time. Our democratic societies are also based on exploitation, exclusion and control. We only feel safe in them because there are limits. A group of Afgan refugees was recently detained under inhumane conditions on the border between Poland and Belarus. People wrote on a piece of wood: “We are dying”. In this very moment the state of emergency is introduced there. Those people and thousands of others on the border of Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland are used as a weapon in the political battle. The west has no answer to this issue. What are human rights if not an empty illusion of the West? In Poland, Hungary, Turkey, Belarus, Lithuania – also in Germany – one can currently be declared as a person to be superfluous or worthless.
Can the theater do more than comment on these crises?
Over many years I developed the idea of the choir as a radical political practice and worked on a number of real hot spots in the world. I was in the war zone in Israel, in the largest Roma ghetto in Slovakia, in Poland at the main square at the moment of the greatest constitutional crisis. The choir has often been called to conflict areas, to the excluded, the marginalized communities. I brought people together who had no points of contact or room to breathe in their everyday lives, separated by invisible barriers. The attempt is to regain access to their language, their past, their memories. I think today there is also a need for the ritual aspect of the choir. If we think of it as a place where people meet, where they share certain techniques, breath and voice, then it is needed. In this sense, the theater can still be a house of hope for the future.
Your research on the choir, which you also do with the Political Voice Institute at the Gorki Theater, is open to everyone. Even people with extreme views are not excluded.
PVI is in open workshop, where we were looking for the new tools for the chorus theatre. Where we met with performers and artists from many different countries, traditions, political context. Brazil Korea, Israel, France. We were developing digital/ritual chorus seeking for the new tools for the chorus theatre, exploring relation between technology, body and voice. This work was interrupted by pandemic. But we realized that what we had developed was directly linked to the experience of the new world which appeared after the pandemic. Diversity Multitude is always an important category for me, the community of individuals. A plurality that has no other condition than shared existence. It’s about what connects us all. In the concrete practice of the choir, in my experience, it is possible to overcome antagonisms. It’s true, in Poland, for example, I also invited rights onto the stage. No violent extremists, but members of right-wing youth organizations – that was in 2015, before our democracy and constitution began to collapse. They agreed to work with us, but they didn’t want to continue after the premiere. It was too risky. That’s okay, it’s never about re-educating someone. But to create a space in which different worldviews can meet. In this sense, I see the choir as an instrument of radical democracy.
Can the choir bring about concrete changes?
The choir should be like the head of the Gorgon on the shield of Athena, which is held up to the viewer. It either scares them or makes them laugh. For example, the choir in “Still Life” demonstrates right-wing extremist language. He says, “Your place is there, not here. Only Germans of the German nation reproduce here. Away with the foreign bodies. We have to sweat them out. This is ours not your extermination ”. And the next choir replies: “We have freedom to say that. We have freedom to say that ”. Then only this word is repeated: “Freedom”. “Freedom”. “Freedom”. Louder and more fanatical. In this way we torture language until it reveals the truth. Meanings are destroyed and reassembled into something new.
Elections are imminent in Germany. Do you still have hope that politics can bring about change? Or what else gives you hope?
As a Polish citizen, I tell you: of course we have to vote. But the place that gives me hope is the theater. At the end of “Still Life” an Hebrew song with eight voices is sung, very well known in Germany, “Donna Donna”. We changed the translation closer to Hebrew original because the German version is very cruel and not free from anti-Semitic connotations. It’s about a calf being led to the slaughter while a swallow flies overhead. The calf imagines having wings and being able to fly. We also hear short excerpts from the song of Joseph Schmidt “Today is the most beautiful day of my life” that was sung in Auschwitz. And other collection of voices of extinct tribes from African, Amazonia, and voices of animals from the wall. We move in this paradox. We are working on the ambiguous utopia.