Monday, November 02, 2009

More from the Dept. of Windmill Tilt

The director/actionist Christoph Schliengensief is planning to build a "Festpielhaus for Africa". More here (in German).

Schliengensief is someone I have found to be at his best as a talk show guest on late-night TV: as a passionate social critic and, originally, something of an outsider to the professional arts world, he has always been, at the least, articulate and entertaining, and makes an unfailingly sympathetic figure. His projects as a film and stage director, however,  inevitably appeared to drift off if not collapse altogether, and rarely in an interesting way.  Beginning as a school kid and devoted altar boy making homemade horror films and staging events in his parent's cellar, he rapidly came to some notoriety and was — and it must have been inevitable — ultimately caught, or, as the Situationists would have it, recuperated, by the Regietheatre industry in which the director's ego trumps all else, but, as his ideas have tended more to the naive than provocative, the results have been disappointing, spectacle but not spectacular.  It is probably the case that Schliegensief's particular skill set is best suited for more explicitly political actions, with the best example probably his organization in 2000 of a "Big Brother"-style container in the middle of Vienna filled with asylum-seekers, who were, one-at-a-time, voted out of Austria by callers-in, the whole staged to protest the entry of Jörg Haider's xoenophobic FPÖ into a federal coalition government.  

By all accounts, however, he is very easy to work with and he has been able to accommodate himself to the bureaucracies of some of the most complex theatrical institutions in Germany, including Bayreuth, where his Parsifal staging has come and gone with little ado.  This rather unique combination of public avant-gardist and efficient stage manager has made a Schiengensief production something of a safe choice for any theatre wishing to do their obligatory experimental production.

Schliengsief's new project does appear to have a new seriousness about it.  This is in part due to a new seriousness to Schliengensief himself, who has lung cancer and appears to be in rough shape. But the project is a problematic one and the way in which the director has wrapped it into his own autobigraphy does not make it easier to evaluate.  His plan is not to build a theatre that Africans are demanding, let alone need, but rather to build something that he, Fitzcarraldo-like, as an artist, will have built for Africa.  The blanket identity of "Africa" in this context is also problematic: it is not clear where precisely it should be built, although Schliengensief appears to have some preference for Burkina Faso, and it is unclear why and how this Festspielhaus and accompanying village should be received by or represent Africa as a whole and the question of what art, precisely, should be performed in the house when finished, is an open one, aside from a few remarks by the director that local forms should be presented alongside European imports.

On the other hand, when one considers this project in terms of costs and potential benefits, the costs appear to be modest enough that one is sorely tempted to suspend criticism and just say "why not build the damn thing and see what happens?"  Schliengensief has been careful to make sure that funding for the construction does not compete with funding for conventional aid projects, and the costs of construction in Burkina Faso, for example, with local, environmentally friendly, materials are extremely modest.    



1 comment:

fredrik wallberg said...

hi daniel, thanks for your interesting and inspiring blog. i recently learned that some of schlingensiefs hörspiele now are available for download at: