MULTITUDE – Agata Adamiecka in conversation with Marta Górnicka
A conversation about exhibition MULTITUDE with Agata Adamiecka.
Translated by Aleksandra Paszkowska
Your first monographic exhibition presented at the BERLINER GALLERY WEEK 2020 is entitled MULTITUDE. How does that term relate to your CHORUS, the formula that you have created and developed over the recent decade?
Multitude is at the very heart of what the CHORUS is to me. It is its most important principle and the core of its politicality. An instant definition of that term is readily available on Wikipedia, the most popular source for Internet knowledge: multitude is a term from political philosophy which refers to social movements as organisms of individuals acting together. It means a group of people, a PLURALITY which cannot be classified through any other category than its shared existence.
Clearly, this refers directly to the basic principle of the CHORUS as the sole protagonist and simultaneously a collective of particular, diverse, varied beings. Since the beginning, the politicality of my CHORUS has relied precisely on that condition of simultaneous collectivity and singularity. I created the CHORUS in furious opposition to contemporary theatre, which understood and staged the CHORUS as a mass of indistinguishable entities. Therefore, for me, MULTITUDE is simply CHORUS, a community of individuals with their individual voices, creating a polyphonic, multidimensional piece in which the body, language and voice articulate each other and themselves, interpenetrate, intertwine.
The category of multitude strengthens that kind of thinking, but it also redirects it into new areas and complements it. It emphasizes not so much the inclusion of Others, but the orientation towards what CONNECTS US ALL.
Inclusion assumes a certain hierarchy. We invite Others into our world, we open up to them because we feel that they are allowed to belong. You are proposing a shift which I understand as a more politically radical idea of participation.
That’s right. This is about a true recognition of the fact that we live in the same space, we breathe the same air! After all, the condition that the world is in today does not allow us to delude ourselves any longer that we can cut ourselves off, build a wall, a camp, some place THERE, which will ensure our safety HERE and keep away from all those unsettling Others. Apart from inclusion, we must urgently start thinking in the categories of being-together and participation, of the in-common, of belonging and sharing.
Hence my great need to think about the CHORUS today as a WORKSHOP FOR A NEW SOCIETY – a space where we not so much perform or create a representation of reality, but where we share particular skills and techniques: the breath, the voice, the connections of the breath and the voice and of the voice and the body, bodies and voices with each other, and bodies with technologies which have become part of our hybrid existence. The CHORUS possesses and develops particular techne – like the ancient chorus did. Techne is a set of practical skills which enables the CHORUS’s being-together and facilitates the conscious reworking and communicating the experience of the community in its historical and political contest. The CHORUS should also share these skills.
It is from the need to share the CHORUS’s techne that the POLITICAL VOICE INSTITUTE at the MAXIM GORKI THEATER in Berlin was born. Of course, such an understanding of art and politicality is an enormous task, because it requires one to transcend the logic of the state of emergency, the logic of the camp which has conquered our world and established the basic political paradigm for the twenty-first century. The CHORUS is travelling towards a certain horizon, and that horizon is MULTITUDE.
I imagine the MULTITUDE CHORUS as a circulatory system which coexists with other systems, bodies, voices, breaths, languages, the air and the earth. A polyphony, a plurality focused on a common goal, internally contradictory and coexistent at the same time.
In M(OTHER) COURAGE in Brauschweig, they were younger and older German women, the eighty-year-old Ingeborg Wender, Miłka… In Košice, they were Ewa and Duszan, Romanis from the ghetto. In Israel, they were the seventy-year-old Alia Hattab with her youngest daughter Sihrab Jwedi, Abu Lassan from Jaffa, Jewish women intellectuals from central Tel Aviv, Israeli soldiers, both male and female: Gil, Matan, Mattia, Ross, and Arab kids. In Warsaw, it was Maja with Down syndrome, in Berlin – Zora. All of these individual people have made the CHORUS from within, often not having had any experiences in institutional theatre. They created, evoked or provoked internal tensions, which nevertheless led to Alliances of Multitudes.
Tell me about the CHORUS’s journey before it finally stood in front of such a defined perspective. Where did you begin?
In early 2010, I started working at the Zbigniew Raszewski Theatre Institute in Warsaw, in an experimental mode. I wanted to create a radically contemporary form of CHORAL theatre; to refresh this old, ancient idea of the theatre and to find a new shape for it. To find a new stage language, a new actor, a new kind of theatrical text for the CHORUS as well as a new type of training – working with the body and voice. I had the opportunity to work and search for the alphabet for the CHORUS in very favourable conditions. We announced a public casting, I chose a group of thirty women of various ages and we put our best foot forward. Six months later, the first public presentation became a premiere. In the following years, we toured the production around the world intensively. My goal was to regain the CHORUS for the theatre and to regain women for the CHORUS, and I completed the task successfully.
I was focused on building a strong community – first all-female, then mixed − and at the same time on exposing the mechanisms of how the human being is shaped by social, cultural or religious stereotypes, patterns and norms. I staged my next performances: MAGNIFICAT and REQUIEMASZYNA. For me, they were two important answers to the ideological power of the Catholic church and of capitalist mechanisms. But reality was changing and so was the CHORUS. In its subsequent performances, it expressed the threat, the horror of the community, more intensely. In HYMN TO LOVE, I first showed the monstrous community which is formed around the notions of love and fatherland, and around the promises of “purity,” of “cleaning up the mess” and “instituting order.” I analysed ideologies and the reawakening nationalisms.
The chorus always constitutes a metonymy of human plurality (pluralitas), and embodies the political tensions and antagonisms existing within it. When a chorus of twenty-five performers enters the stage, with its one body-voice, the ambivalence of the community is immediately set in motion. On the stage, the chorus evokes primeval rituals of being-together, but it also elicits the horror and threat of the community, which consolidates around mechanisms of exclusion and becomes a justification for violence.
Today, we are in a desperate need for the ritual aspect of the CHORUS, together with an intensive practice of critical thinking and a space to express the antagonisms. These are extreme and contradictory tasks – but choral theatre opens up the possibility for such work.
With time, the formula and idea of the CHORUS that you developed in the theatre was becoming a more radical political practice. The CHORUS was regularly summoned in spaces of conflict, in excluded communities, in public spaces. It even reached for legal documents of the highest order, around which heated political arguments were centred at that time.
The CHORUS began entering political hotspots. In Israel, it was in the middle of a warzone. In Slovakia, it was in the middle of the largest Romani ghetto in the world. In Poland – at the moment of the greatest political impasse around its Constitution – it was on Warsaw’s central square Plac Defilad.
In Israel, it was about meeting groups which existed in a situation of a deadly conflict and trying to show that your opponent does not have to be your enemy. That not every fight, every difference of opinion or every harsh word has to lead to eliminating the opponent. We staged a performance with a sixty-people CHORUS of Arab and Jewish mothers, Israeli dancer-soldiers, and Arab children, scored for four spaces in the MUSEUM OF MODERN ART in Tel Aviv. MOTHER COURAGE WON’T REMAIN SILENT. THE CHORUS FOR WAR TIME was in principle a chorus of two tongues (Arabic and Hebrew) and one voice. I gathered people who had no contact with each other in their daily lives, and remained divided by an invisible barrier. The CHORUS showed the body of the military conflict through individual biographies, voices, fractures, tensions, but also laughter. The body of the soldier was juxtaposed with the bodies of a woman and a child. “EVERYBODY here is an enemy. We just don’t know what it means that EVERYBODY is an enemy. WE DON’T KNOW WHO IS WHO.”
A Jewish mother and an Arab mother stood beside one another on the stage and asked: Who is more human? You or I? They both make the same statement: that every mother is USED, that EACH must “service the war.” The Jewish and the Arab mother bears children for war.
Through such a definition of work, the group which after many months finally entered the stage was able to give a chance to the transformation of the fatal antagonism into agonism.
After the 2015 general elections in Poland, when the far-right, nationalist party Law and Justice rose to power, I reacted very emotionally by swiftly creating a CHORUS OF POLES in Nowy Teatr in Warsaw. I wanted to gather both sides of the political conflict on the stage as well as those who were being cynically exploited in that conflict. In CONSTITUTION FOR THE CHORUS OF POLES, they were refugees from Chechnya, immigrants, members of minorities, Jewish people, football fans. This was not about sounding in unison, but precisely about making introductions between people whose opinions could not be reconciled in any way. Even then, it was already difficult. This performance was first presented on 1 May 2016, on International Workers’ Day, at the heart of the national debate sparked by the turmoil around the Constitutional Tribunal.
I go wherever antagonized communities have no more room to breathe. I want them to regain the right to their common good – to their language, their air, their past, to living together on Earth.
In these cases, the situation of political tension awakened the need to GATHER. The most important and most difficult part of this process is always gathering the CHORUS, which is a multitude. Building a common voice which is both individualized and collective is also very difficult.
Let us consider the Polish and German context for a moment. It is in these countries that you have worked with the CHORUS most intensely. How do you perceive these two societies with their historical experiences through your work? Where do you see them going?
Both the German and the Polish society are trying to work through their own traumas, they are trying to “manage” them. Each time, there is a façade of WORDS, LANGUAGE. In both societies, it is evident how fast a monstrous community can be established, how quickly it births its purifiers, its Breiviks, its Stefan S.-s, rulers of language who relativize history, who reinterpret myths in their own way – creators of social fantasies. (Both in Poland and in Germany, the CONSTITUTION as a legal act is being appropriated. Each side of the conflict exploits it for their own purposes.) The Hanau shootings or the assassination of the mayor of Gdańsk in Poland were killings committed out of political hatred. Everywhere, in all of Europe, we are being deafened by ideological, synthetic samples.
Both in Poland and in Germany, I work with national songbooks, with patriotic, traditional folk and modern pop songs. In traditional songs, we can find an element of beauty, but also elements of violence and the lethal force of the community. There, the unconscious desires of the community are encoded. There, nationalist ideology is consolidated. But so is utopia, which can overcome violence. I mix fragments of military marches (Wenn die Soldaten), love songs, religious or old folk songs, quotes from Brecht’s Mother Courage or Downfall of the Egotist Johann Fatzer as road signs for a variety of directions. Texts from the press, quotations from philosophers, sentences from sociological analyses, nursery rhymes, songs by Schubert, Bible passages, national classics and fragments of Nazi marches. The CHORUS uses them to reach phantasms which shape reality. In order to ask where “the truth” is. There is no history beyond war – says Brecht. Against whom is war waged today?
Sometimes, the chorus speaks in murderous phrases from patriotic songs. “’Tis a day of blood and glory” (La Varsovienne) or the national anthem. In Poland, France, Belgium or Germany, in all of Europe, the sense of community tied to “a love for One’s Own” can be built in this ecstasy: that we can go to kill, singing. In HYMN TO LOVE, a radically diverse CHORUS sings, whispers and screams phrases from patriotic songs which build one collective body by eliminating any and all diversity and finding unity in hatred. This creates enormous tension. This way, on its own body, the chorus demonstrates mechanisms of eliminating otherness and of annihilation.
Annihliation, or the Holocaust, as a monstrous binding material for creating communities – this subject permeates all of my work. Heiner Müller’s thought KEINE ENDE AUCHWITZ is a fundamental aspect of my work.
How can we overcome the fear of diversity in our societies? Is art not helpless when faced with it?
Chorus theatre has tools to help people face their fear of diversity, because the chorus – as we understand it – is diversity and plurality in itself. This is why, together with the Maxim Gorki Theater in Berlin, we brought into existence the Political Voice Institute. The new institution draws inspiration from methods of working with the body and the voice that we have developed, but it is even more strongly embedded in the social element. Working together there connects people who would not have otherwise met or existed together in a performative event in the social space. The CHORUS’s first project in Berlin was a performance of the GRUNDGESETZ, staged at the foot of the Brandenburg Gate on the twenty-eighth anniversary of the Unification of Germany. Fifty special people gathered and stood at the Gate in order to face the heavy task of a critical articulation of the text of the German GRUNDGESETZ.
The method of working with the chorus already contains tools for transcending various divides. Our training is a search for a strong, COMMON voice, body, and breath as its basis, but it is also a question of how to use language, how to “play” with it using music. How to reshape and present the language of power and stereotypes, how to transcend it. Each of the performers or choreutai is aware of that entanglement. What do the words FREEDOM, PEACE, LAW, VÖLKERVERSTÄNDIGUNG really mean? We undermine the meanings of words, but we also look for the texts’ abstractness, their sound. Rather than illustrating the word, music overtakes the space. Language is always the instrument of a certain ideology. It reflects conflicting attitudes. We try to examine these mechanisms, and to transcend the power of language in the body and the voice.
For each of my choruses to exist, the abilities of each person who co-creates it must be taken into account at the workshop level. This is only possible through recognizing and accepting the people’s individual presence, which happens at the level of the body, the breath, the rhythm – outside of language, and therefore outside the ideology that permeates it. The chorus is open to working with people of extreme worldviews. It uses languages of radical counter-audiences. It literally makes the bodies and words of Others meet.
Of course, rather than being the cause of the current crisis, the pandemic is only a symptom of the state that the world has already been in. And it hit the CHORUS right in its heart. Will the CHORUS stay silent and keep a safe distance at this moment in time?
For me, the pandemic is the end of an era and a symbolic death of the CHORUS. There is no real community without living breaths, there is no humanity without living bodies being together, there is no CHORUS without the breath – which is universal/common to the audience member and the performer. Therefore, there is no theatre if we cannot breathe and talk in it together. We are standing on the debris of the community / the theatre.
The answer to the death of the COMMUNITY/ CHORUS is the ONE PERSON CHORUS. DIGITAL/RITUAL. DEFUSED. The CHORUS stops speaking in the literal sense. But it starts lip-syncing, uses technology which imitates voice, plays with the (non-)living voice, with distanced bodies and language, but it also multiplies its individual voice, turns the voice up to full volume! It is a CHORUS which functions somewhere between speaking and not speaking (like lip-syncing), but it is not silent. From one person, it grows into a multitude, it works with shreds, trash, key words, fragments of mythological songs and voices from computer games. It works with the scream, which comes from the very heart of the ritual, and with the digital laughter, which is its most powerful tool. This CHORUS plunges into death, but it still speaks in favour of life.
In Die Welt, German virologists warn us that choir rehearsals and weddings are the most dangerous forms of being together, of meeting. Scientists generally caution against all forms of GATHERING. Therefore, instead of the CHORUS, we now have a ONE PERSON CHORUS. Instead of SOCIETY: CHORUS – AN APP FOR ONE PERSON.
As an answer to the pandemic, but also to the diagnosis from before the pandemic, the CHORUS multiplies its voice and, speaking like a cartoon character, it lip-syncs: THE CHORUS NEVER DIES! – but it is already speaking as a one-man/one-woman chorus. This is because we are stuck in a profoundly paradoxical situation. How can we rebuild the world of relationships outside relationships? How can we re-tie our bonds outside of bonds? How can we find a shared breath without air?
So, when you are asking me whether the CHORUS still exists, I say: no. THERE IS NO MORE CHORUS. There is CHORUS – AN APP FOR ONE PERSON.
This paradoxical situation is described perfectly by the ambiguous Hebrew word magrepha, which literally means a scoop or shovel. In the Talmud, it is used in different contexts related to the Temple of Jerusalem. First, the mysterious magrepha is thought to have been a pipe organ at the Temple. Each of its ten pipes made one hundred different sounds, and so the instrument vibrated with a thousand voices. At the same time, an object called magrepha was also used to scoop ashes from the sacrificial offerings burnt at the altar and – as explained by Rabbi Shapiro in his laconic, but moving speech – to collect the ashes from the bodies of Jewish people. The magrepha – a tool for gathering the ashes of the dead and a musical instrument of a thousand voices – plays the loudest music of all.
This is the condition of the CHORUS today.
What we have left is the vibration of the voice, its trembling, which connects us to other beings and all people, and with the entire universe. Therefore, what we can do today is to engage in the practice of being together, in common. As a workshop of the VOICE, a workshop conducted in small groups, but with no masks, and the entire body engaged. From the death of the CHORUS to the Workshop for the NEW SOCIETY.