The Symposium contexts - deufert&plischke

HOW we do it, WHAT we do, WHEN we do it... together.

The practice of collaboration challenges our work and life since 2001. When we first met, we said hello to each other and we almost immediately said goodbye to who we were. No more works by Kattrin Deufert and Thomas Plischke! From now on we created works in a collective collaboration. And we always wanted this collaboration to expand our work and also to infect and challenge our private life as a couple. 

From the beginning it was clear that we didn't desire harmony and consensus, nor did we want conflict and opposition. Both approaches represent for us insurmountable deficits in our present-day social life, political realities, personal relationships, gendered stereotypisations. For us, collaboration always means also opening up new experiences and understanding "through" the other. In German, collaboration can easily be described with the word "miteinander", which means cooperation, and literally translated "with-one-another". So for our practice we replaced "mit-ein-ander" with the term "Durch-ein-ander" which means “mess”, but literally translated "through-one-another". And this collaboration is not defined as "working together" but rather as working in the critical presence of the other, the critical presence of the stranger.

The mess in which we are in collaboration is not limited to the practices of creation or production either. When work is presented, the collaboration extends to a larger social sphere. And if we do not understand collaboration as cooperation, then the activity of the viewer needs to be included into the idea of collaboration. In our work we claim that theater can no longer be the place where we investigate WHAT we can do, even if this is mostly true for theater and performance today. The exploration of aesthetic and physical limitations and transgressions has produced its own conventions concerning the contemporary form and provided its proper historic justification. And both in dance and performance, form and historical references are clearly dominated by western continental discourses and aesthetics of the American postmodernism and the Judson Dance Theater.  

Maybe today we need to emancipate from both aesthetic forms and historical justification when it comes to performance dance. And emancipation means not to be in opposition or denial, but maybe only to claim that the here and now needs to be as present as the past, and shall not be completely determined and dominated by it. 

What a new approach to collaboration can provide (and it can provide this only through collaboration) is to make us re-focus on the theater today. And the questions will no longer be WHAT is theater and WHY, or WHAT can it do, but HOW do we do theater WHEN do we do theater, HOW do we work together WHEN do we work together, HOW do we make decisions, WHEN do we make decisions, HOW do we present theater, WHEN do we present theater.

For us these are the most important questions, political questions of this time: HOW do we want to live together today? How is our living together historically and culturally prescribed, and how to transgress these prescriptions? These questions have to be addressed in collaboration, as answers need to be given by many different voices.\ 

Our dedication to and fascination with collaborative work is also influenced by the work of many others. Brecht’s Epic Theater, Cage’s determined indeterminacy and again and again the work of the pioneers of critical and participatory art Kollektivnye Dejstvija (Collective Actions). Since the mid 70s they have developed work that always actively involves the viewer as a collaborator, as a constitutional element of the work. For us, Collective Actions propose work that transgresses behaviors, customs and habits that occupy theater and performance spaces today in collaboration with the audience where participatory action is not of importance, but the perception of the participant doing it is.

It is these influences that we want to link and expand to what we call The New Epic Theater: the intertwining of theatrical reality, situative collectivity and narrative documentation. What is left after the event is the re-narration of personal perceptions and experiences of the event, not its interpretation. "In place of hermeneutics we need an erotics of art" - writes Susan Sonntag in "Against Interpretation" from 1963. Instead of the public intellectual reflection, which always already transforms the artwork and shifts it towards (and acknowledges) the critical perspective of the one interpreting it, we need an opening, a place where the artwork can risk its appearance and demand participation. Get involved in it, not with it! Transgress the taboo that puts the artwork beyond reach in the processes of creation, production and presentation. 

This is maybe the political dimension of collaboration as mess, as it directly asks a group of strangers to make decisions. This decision-making process is always means also the constitution of collectivity, of a community, of a group as a zone of expression, not of control and fixed behavior. HOW we do it, WHAT we do, WHEN we do it ... together.