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Volksbühne staff on Chris Dercon: We fear job cuts and liquidation


#1

*Editorial note: The following open letter has been translated by Janto Schwitters for e-flux and is available in the original German below, via Volksbühne’s website, or with a full list of signatories via PDF here: Offener Brief.pdf (2.2 MB)

Open letter

Berlin, 20th June 2016

To the parties in the Berlin House of Representatives:
Alliance ‘90/The Green Party
CDU Party
The Left Party
Pirate Party
SPD Party

Minister of State for Culture and Media, Prof. Monika Grütters

Dear ladies and gentlemen, dear party leaders, dear Minister of State for Culture and Media!

From the city budget plan of Berlin 2014/2015:

The Volksbühne is an ensemble and repertory theater operating in the tradition of Erwin Piscator and Benno Besson, and synthesizes avant-garde content and form with a tradition of social engagement. The program will add dance and music to their current drama offerings.

With concern we await Volksbühne’s change of director in the coming year.

The Volksbühne on Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz is, with its artistic and technical departments, a production site for artistic challenges. We’re not afraid of the new.

Meeting together with the future theater leadership on April 28th gave us reason to believe that there won’t be new forms and artistic challenges. A conceptual thread of the artistic structural development of our theater was not recognizable in the remarks by Chris Dercon and his program director Marietta Piekenbrock.

Instead, dance, musical theater, media art, digital art, and film—which are already core elements of Volksbühne—are presented to us as novelty. At the same time, the entire staff was told that “spoken theater won’t be the main column of the house” and given platitudes like “the stage language will become more polyglot.” The banality of this pronouncement makes us fear both the selling out of artistic standards that are our rule as well as the anticipated weakening of our drama theater operation’s potency.

Instead of the “radical new beginning” alleged by culture state secretary Renner, the roots of Volksbühne’s special history, which began over 100 years ago in Berlin’s city center with the founding of the Theater of the People’s Stage (Theaters der Volksbühnenbewegung), are being cut. This neutralizes each the locally and historically grown connection to the city, which is so decisive for Volksbühne, as well as the political engagement of artists and the arts and our resulting unmistakable aesthetic.

This change of director is not a friendly takeover. He represents an irreversible turning point and a break from our most recent history in which the Volksbühne could be saved from being reclassified as a dance and festival hall. This change stands for a historical leveling and destruction of our identity. The artistic processing of historical conflicts is pushed aside in favor of global consensus culture with unified patterns of presentation and sale.

What we missed in the explanatory remarks of the coming leadership is everything that makes this theater so special for us: namely, a politically engaged art, a specific theater concept, a repertory and ensemble operation, which is in accordance with the unique capabilities of a theater with more than 200 staff and their own workshop. A potential that allows for planning and working on productions in great freedom.

We fear that with these plans there will be no need for our expertise and capacities. We fear job cuts, even liquidation of entire subsections. As the sub-departments of Volksbühne bear strong pre-existing structures, a weakening of existing potential will weaken Volksbühne itself. Once these possibilities are destroyed, they will, at this theater, be gone forever. A devastating signal affecting the entire German theatrical landscape would follow.

Our criticism is directed toward Berlin culture politics: In the name of supposed internationalization and diversity, these politics work to destroy the originality and self-will for which Volksbühne gained worldwide recognition.

We see the future of Volksbühne threatened! We request that you address our concerns and ensure the theater’s position as described in the budget plan. The reorientation of Volksbühne, to which the directorship of Chris Dercon lays claim, must not come at the price of liquidating our artistic standards and nurtured partnerships that are the norm for Volksbühne staff!

We ask the House of Representatives and the Senate of Berlin to examine the new leadership team of Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz in order to address the concerns we have verbalized here.

In the name of the following staff members of Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, in June 2016.

(List of names in PDF)


Offener Brief

Berlin, 20.06.2016

An die Parteien im Abgeordnetenhaus von Berlin
Bündnis 90/Die Grünen – Fraktion
CDU – Fraktion
Die Linke. – Fraktion
Piratenfraktion
SPD – Fraktion

Staatsministerin für Kultur und Medien, Frau Prof. Monika Grütters

Sehr geehrte Damen und Herren, sehr geehrte Fraktionsvorsitzende, sehr geehrte Frau Staatsministerin!

Aus dem Haushaltsplan für Berlin 2014/15:

Die Volksbühne ist ein im Ensemble- und Repertoirebetrieb arbeitendes Theater und versucht in der Tradition von Erwin Piscator und Benno Besson eine Synthese von Inhalten und Mitteln der Avantgarde mit der Tradition eines sozial engagierten Theaters. Das Schauspielangebot der Volksbühne wird um Tanz- und Musikangebote erweitert.

Mit Sorge sehen wir dem Intendantenwechsel an der Volksbühne im kommenden Jahr entgegen.

Die Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz ist mit ihren künstlerischen und technischen Abteilungen eine Produktionsstätte für künstlerische Herausforderungen. Uns schreckt nicht das Neue.

Die am 28. April mit der zukünftigen Theaterleitung abgehaltene Vollversammlung lässt darauf schließen, dass es an der Volksbühne jedoch keine neuen Formen und künstlerischen Herausforderungen geben wird. Eine konzeptionelle Linie der künstlerisch-strukturellen Weiterentwicklung unseres Theaters ist in den Ausführungen Chris Dercons und seiner Programmdirektorin Marietta Piekenbrock nicht zu erkennen.

Vielmehr werden uns Tanz, Musiktheater, Medienkunst, digitale Kunst und Film, die ohnehin fester Spielplanbestandteil an der Volksbühne sind, als Novität vorgesetzt. Im selben Atemzug wird der versammelten Belegschaft verkündet, dass „das Sprechtheater nicht die dominante Säule dieses Hauses sein wird“ und es werden Gemeinplätze wie „die Bühnensprache wird polyglotter werden“ bemüht. In der Banalität der Verkündung fürchten wir den Ausverkauf der für uns geltenden künstlerischen Maßstäbe und die zu erwartende Schwächung unseres potenten Schauspieltheaterbetriebs.

Mit dem von Kulturstaatssekretär Renner behaupteten „radikalen Neuanfang“ werden stattdessen die Wurzeln der besonderen Geschichte der Volksbühne gekappt, die vor über 100 Jahren in der Mitte Berlins mit der Gründung des Theaters der Volksbühnenbewegung begann. Die für dieses Haus entscheidende lokale und historisch gewachsene Bindung an die Stadt, die politische Ausrichtung der Künstler und der Künste, die daraus entstandene unverwechselbare Ästhetik, werden neutralisiert.

Dieser Intendantenwechsel ist keine freundliche Übernahme. Er ist eine irreversible Zäsur und ein Bruch in der jüngeren Theatergeschichte, während der die Volksbühne vor der Umwidmung in ein Tanz- und Festspielhaus bewahrt werden konnte. Dieser Wechsel steht für historische Nivellierung und Schleifung von Identität. Die künstlerische Verarbeitung gesellschaftlicher Konflikte wird zugunsten einer global verbreiteten Konsenskultur mit einheitlichen Darstellungs- und Verkaufsmustern verdrängt.

Wir vermissen in den konzeptionellen Ausführungen der kommenden Leitung all das, was dieses Theater für uns und mit uns so unverwechselbar macht: eine politisch eingreifende Kunst, ein spezifisches Theaterkonzept, einen Repertoire- und Ensemblebetrieb, der dem einzigartigen Potential des Hauses mit über 200 Festangestellten und eigenen Werkstätten entspricht. Einem Potential, mit dem in großen Freiräumen Inszenierungen geplant und erarbeitet werden können.

Wir befürchten, dass angesichts dieser Pläne unsere Kompetenzen und Kapazitäten nicht gebraucht werden. Wir befürchten einen Stellenabbau, bis hin zur Abwicklung ganzer Gewerke. Die Gewerke der Volksbühne sind in ihren Strukturen stark; eine Schwächung des vorhandenen Potentials wird zu einer Schwächung der Volksbühne führen. Sind diese Möglichkeiten einmal zerstört, werden sie an diesem Ort dauerhaft verloren sein. Eine verheerende Signalwirkung für die gesamte deutsche Stadttheaterlandschaft wäre die Folge.
Unsere Kritik richtet sich an die Berliner Kulturpolitik: Im Namen einer vermeintlichen Internationalisierung und Vielfalt arbeitet sie intensiv an der Zerstörung von Originalität und Eigensinn, mit der die Volksbühne weltweit Anerkennung findet.

Wir sehen die Zukunft der Volksbühne bedroht! Wir fordern Sie auf, sich dieser Sorge anzunehmen und die im Haushaltsplan beschriebene Funktion des Theaters zu gewährleisten. Die Neuausrichtung der Volksbühne, die Chris Dercons Intendanz für sich in Anspruch nimmt, darf nicht um den Preis der Abwicklung künstlerischer Standards und gewachsener Kooperationen – und damit der Arbeitsgrundlage der hier Beschäftigten, vorgenommen werden!

Wir bitten das Abgeordnetenhaus und den Senat von Berlin, das Konzept des neuen Leitungsteams der Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz hinsichtlich der von uns formulierten Sorge zu überprüfen.

Im Namen folgender Mitarbeiter der Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin, im Juni 2016

Siehe PDF für die Liste alle Namen

*Image of Volksbühne via e-architect.com


#2

For all the ridicule and scorn thats currently being heaved on bb9 ad campaign and their misguided slogan: “why should fascists have all the fun”; has anyone even noticed that Volksbühne has been using a Reichsparteitags-Gothic letter font on neon for past decades to shove their kind of white-German-guys-yelling-hysterically indigenist tantrum theatre down people throats? Its been their corporate identity forever. Did anyone complain about that?
Yes there is definitely something worth preserving at Volksbühne, its called Gorki (Pollesch is interesting, too). But the campaign against Chris Dercon has since long taken on the indigenist undertones seen in populist campaigns around Europe, just this time from the local cultural representatives of the indigenous middle class, who feel their cutural hegemony threatened.


#3


#4

Sorry, but what you call “reichsparteitags gothis letter” is named “Frakturschrift”. The nazis tried to abolish this font, they tried to print everything in reduced “Antiqua”, because of hegemonial reasons. So your attempts to build a rhetorical connection between the Volksbuehne Berlin and the nazi regime are not correct. Moreover the Volksbuehne works in a very dialectic tradition form of theatre (cf. Bert Brecht, Heiner Müller), so crashs between the historic indigenist Germany and a global society are intentional and are meant to provoke, but they really don ´t stand for any identitary campaigns. Moreover you say Gorki is worth preserving at the Volksbuehne. but there is no Gorki at the Volksbuehne Berlin. Maybe you mistake the Volksbühne for the Gorki Theatre, named after Maxim Gorki ? The people who wrote the letter are afraid that they loose their jobs, they ´re not local cultural repesentatives as you presume, they are workers and actors who work for an interdisciplinary, international postdramatic avantgarde since over, 20 years in the tradition of Erwin Piscator, Edward Gordon Craig and Antonin Artaud etc, including text, film, concerts, dance, art ; amazing isn ´t it ? Now they are afraid of a sell out, because Dercon unfortunately is strongly connected with neoliberal sponsorship. Tate Gallery was sponsored by BMW, Hyundai, Deutsche Bank, BP etc. Volksbuehne au contraire, was always an independent producer, and is now afraid to lose its independence, so Volksbuehne doesn’t want to play the part of the avantgardist, who is used as a neoliberal pioneer, e.g: Tempelhof district in Berlin has nothing to do with the Volksbuehne Berlin and now -in Dercon´s plans- is going to be part of the Volksbuehne brand. Therefore it is not unimportant to know that the Tempelhof district is the latest hotspot for neoliberal gentrification plans and so on. So, as a huge fan of your work, above all “Is the Museum a battlefield”, please research this more in order to stay constructive. Solidarité !


#5

Hello godog, thank you for your helpful comment.
Were this just a labour issue, I´d immediately support it. Let me say this very clearly: I support the the claim that people who work at Volksbuehne should be able to keep their jobs, however long they want, do whatever they want and be happy and safe.

But this letter connects this totally valid claim with a lot of other things, which frankly I find worrying.
I very much appreciate your comments about the font - I didnt know this and I am very happy to stand corrected on this point. However it seems to play aesthetically into the same kind of provocation aesthetics that are counterproductive on other levels, too. Whats the point of dragging totally one-dimensional assumptions about global culture into a labour debate which is perfectly pertinent? The rhetorics against “global culture” - according to the text invariably capitalist and uniform - remind me of the attacks on Hanns Eisler in Neues Deutschland in 1951, when party critics attacked his alleged “rootless cosmopolitanism” ("Es zeigt sich also, daß Hanns Eisler die Einflüsse des heimatlosen Kosmopolitismus noch nicht überwunden hat. Johann Faustus’ … ist pessimistisch, volksfremd, ausweglos, antinational. Daher halten wir diesen Text für ungeeignet für eine neue deutsche Nationaloper.“) Brecht whom you cite actually went to his friends defence in this debate. I could bang on forever and spam you with further quotes about the "evils " of cosmopolitanism and believe me I picked the more harmless ones. To say this very clearly: I dont think Mr. Dercon is Hanns Eisler. He may fire people, who knows. As far as I know he didnt announce this in public at any point. I just dont understand why using this type of vocabulary is helpful or even necessary when arguing workers rights.

And the claim of a non-liberal political avantgarde seems a bit premature given that Volksbuehne charged 18E for the founding conference of political movement DIEM (Varoufakis et al). Hello? How is this not a “unified pattern of presentation and sale” or more simply a sell out. It both aestheticises and commercialises much of that political discussion - regardless whether you support DIEM or not. In Berlin most such events are for free, and rightly so.

Also when flippantly saying Gorki I obviously meant the theatre which actually does present a different political and contemporary version of a different version of global culture. (I have to say they do totally inane and shallow things as well and their idea of diversity is rather traditional). but I also think that the events Grada Kilomba orchestrates (trying to start a debate about the works of artists that immigrated very recently) do present a perfect case study of a global culture that is neither neoliberal nor capitalist This actually does embody a cutting edge present day discussion. (I hope they dont charge bloody 18E for this! Maybe they do?) As opposed to the “historical conflicts” juxtaposed to “global culture”, that Volksbuehne claims to “process”. In my view its fine to process historical conflicts - sure, but I think present day conflicts should be handled too. Dialectics, innit.

But many current global conflicts are generally flattened to “metropolitan elites” vs “indigenous oppressed”. I think that this opposition is stupid and a dead end. Because workers rights have historically been around uniting the workers of the world (its pretty global, the world, and lots of new kinds of workers too). I will not spam you with Brecht quotes to that extent, but some of the tradition of VB definitely lies there. Another part probably lies with the guys attacking Hanns Eisler and worse. So is it dialectical if VB want to pick one side now especially in light of a AFD dominated reality, just because its easy and provocative? Is aligning oneself with nativist rhetorics dialectical, if this precludes an extended sense of solidarity? I support the workers rights you highlight, definitely, differently.
Kind regards Hito


#6

Open Letter from Concerned Cultural Actors about Recent Discussions Surrounding the Directorship of Volksbühne in Berlin

Dear Mayor Michael Müller,
Last week we read with interest and dismay the open letter authored by 90 staff members and 80 freelancers of the Volksbühne in Berlin in opposition to the appointment of Chris Dercon as the incoming director of the theater. In normal circumstances of employment-related dispute between members of management and staff, we would have taken a more circumspect view of this letter.

However, because the main goal of the open letter was intended as a mechanism to reverse the directorial mandate vested in Mr. Dercon by the Berlin Senate, we did not want to stand aside and witness a miscarriage of justice being perpetrated. Nor did we want to sanction, without public comment, the tactic of public denunciation undertaken by Mr. Dercon’s detractors to damage his professional credibility and impugn his personal integrity.

Indeed, one can grant the authors of the open letter the fact that Mr. Dercon comes from the museum world and not the theater field. That is not in dispute. Nevertheless, for signatories of this letter to make the claim that his association with museums is liable to bring to Volksbühne “a global consensus culture with uniform presentation and sales patterns” is risible, as is the claim that there is one single truth presided over by those who signed the open letter. Given its derisive tone and the a priori judgment of a cultural programme that has not yet been realized, the substance of the open letter makes it clear that there is a different agenda at work.

A cursory reading of the complaints and the charges leveled within the letter reveals clearly that the motive is not about jobs or the defense and protection of the legacy of the Volksbühne; nor is it about art and the fearless engagement with ideas. At its crudest, the open letter is about power, and the abuse of the privilege conferred by public employment to defeat an individual’s vision. In the single-minded pursuit of an agenda of public co-optation, the signatories of the letter have bypassed all objective standards for serious debate and have descended to employing fear and censorship to oppose ideas they may not support.

The concerted public circus that surrounds the appointment of Mr. Dercon, the lack of decorum in the reception of his appointment, and, above all, the inability of his detractors to accord him even the most minimal courtesy, should be professionally embarrassing and damaging to a city of Berlin’s global stature. If the city accedes to a narrow-minded and self-interested coup d’etat, it will have succumbed to cheap innuendo and failed to defend the professional basis upon which Mr. Dercon was appointed. Berlin will also relinquish all claims to being an open city, a cosmopolitan place where professionals can accept an appointment in good faith with the freedom to think adventurously and create beyond the conventional bounds of institutional structures.

At the risk of restating the obvious, Chris Dercon brings with him to Berlin strong record of visionary leadership in the museum field over three decades. He has built and skillfully managed strong and thriving institutions, and has a global view of the importance of art and ideas in instigating change. As a highly respected figure in the field of contemporary art he has supported, nurtured, and realized the critical visions of artists; he has relentlessly demonstrated a commitment to experimentation and risk-taking; and in so doing earned the trust and admiration of peers.

In lending our support to Chris Dercon, it is our hope that common sense will prevail over alarmist sensationalism. We also wish to note that every change of leadership by definition is a vote for creative rupture. To bring excellence and vitality to culture we must constantly dare to appoint new stewards of institutions, who are charged to challenge and reimagine their place in our cultural, political, and moral reality. Given his record of accomplishment over the last three decades, we believe that Mr. Dercon is not only eminently positioned to lead the Volksbühne; he is also a bold and inspired choice. We applaud the Berlin Senate for inviting him to Berlin. Furthermore, we are convinced that Mr. Dercon will leverage his prior experience in some of the world’s most respected and renowned museums to reinforce and enhance the deserved reputation of the Volksbühne.

Okwui Enwezor
Director, Haus der Kunst, München, München

Hans Ulrich Obrist
Director, Serpentine Gallery, London

Hortensia Völckers
Executive Board / Artistic Director, Kulturstiftung des Bundes, Halle

David Chipperfield Architect

Thomas Weski Curator

Ulrich Wilmes
Chief Curator, Haus der Kunst,

Rem Koolhaas, Architect

Jacques Herzog, Architect

Bernd Scherer
Director, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin

Richard Sennett
Professor of London School of Economics

Alexander Kluge Filmmaker and Author

Manthia Diawara
Professor, New York University

Peter Saville Designer

Christine Macel
Chief Curator, Centre Pompidou, Paris

Konstantin Grcic Designer

Sabine Breitwieser
Director, Musuem der Moderne, Salzburg

Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker Choreographer

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev Director, Castello di Rivoli, Torino

Adam Szymczyk Director, Documenta 14

Dirk Snauwaert Director, Wiels, Brussels

Matthias Mühling
Director, Lenbachhaus, Munich

Phillipe Parreno Artist

Susanne Gaensheimer Director, Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt a. Main

Friedrich Meschede
Director, Kunsthalle, Bielefeld

Kasper König
Curator, former Director Museum Ludwig, Cologne


#7

I feel embarrassed now and at the same time this confirms exactly what I said.

I restate:

“But many current global conflicts are generally flattened to “metropolitan elites” vs “indigenous oppressed”. I think that this opposition is stupid and a dead end.”

We have the guys impersonating “indigenous oppressed” above, now the people playing posh professional liberal “metropolitan elites” have joined the fray and try to tell eveyone Mr. Dercon might serve up cake instead of bread. I´m out of there. This is depressing.


#8

more from the New York Times:

LONDON — When Berlin’s city government announced last year that it was hiring the director of a major art museum here, Chris Dercon of Tate Modern, to run the Volksbühne theater, it might have been an occasion to celebrate a bold new experiment at an institution known for pushing artistic boundaries.

But the appointment has laid bare long-simmering worries about the direction of Berlin’s arts scene. In appointing Mr. Dercon to replace Frank Castorf, who has led this storied theater for more than two decades, critics say that officials are forsaking an artistic tradition of locally produced, politically and aesthetically unconventional programming. Instead, they see an effort to redraw the theater’s mission to make Berlin a more attractive and marketable destination for tourists and for the internationally minded millennials who have moved into many of that city’s trendiest districts.

In June, about 200 staff members, freelance artists and technicians affiliated with the Volksbühne, which the Belgian-born Mr. Dercon is to take over next year, wrote an open letter objecting to what they said were his plans to revamp the theater — moves that they warned could ignore its traditions and leave little room for current staff members.

“In the name of internationalization and diversity, they are in danger of becoming contributors to the destruction of originality and obstinacy, which has gained the Volksbühne an international reputation and worldwide recognition,” the letter read, referring to “decision-makers in the field of cultural policy in Berlin.”

On Friday, Mr. Dercon’s supporters responded with a letter of their own, addressed to Berlin’s mayor, Michael Müller, and written by Okwui Enwezor, the director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, where Mr. Dercon worked before moving to Tate. Signers included Ulrich Wilmes, the chief curator at the Haus der Kunst; the architect Rem Koolhaas; Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London; and the choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.

“If the city accedes to a narrow-minded and self-interested coup d’état,” the letter said, “it will have succumbed to cheap innuendo and failed to defend the professional basis upon which Mr. Dercon was appointed. Berlin will also relinquish all claims to being an open city, a cosmopolitan place where professionals can accept an appointment in good faith.”

The office of Tim Renner, Berlin’s secretary for cultural affairs, under whose purview the Volksbühne falls, has said that there are no plans to reduce the theater’s staff and that Mr. Dercon and his program director are still firming up plans in consultation with staff members.

Built in 1914, the Volksbühne made its reputation as a center for theatrically daring, sometimes politically subversive performance in East Berlin, when the city was divided in the postwar years. Sometimes under threat from the East German authorities, the theater staged left-leaning, politically subversive plays that were some of the first to incorporate multimedia, like film, onstage.

In interviews, Mr. Dercon, who oversaw the recent expansion of Tate Modern, has expressed interest in turning the theater into an interdisciplinary space comparable to the Park Avenue Armory in New York and the Culture Shed planned for the Far West Side of Manhattan.

Though he has recently worked in the visual arts, Mr. Dercon, 57, was involved with avant-garde theater groups in Belgium and the Netherlands throughout the 1970s and ’80s. At the Haus der Kunst and Tate Modern, he has championed collaborations between visual arts venues and performing artists.

In an email responding to the criticism, Mr. Dercon said, “In many places in the world new, different theater experiences are being probed.” He added, “Germany and especially the Volksbühne should not stay behind such fascinating developments.”

Mr. Castorf took over the largely state-funded Volksbühne in 1992 and gained a reputation for hourslong abstract productions: heady, highly German stage tomes that drew raves for pushing the limits of what theater could look like (and, some would say, what audiences could endure).

The dispute over his succession began last year when Mr. Castorf announced in the publication Die Zeit that the Berlin government had offered him only a short contract extension, effectively forcing him out.

Many in the city’s theater industry protested that decision. Some of the criticism was directed at Mr. Renner, who has worked as a music producer and was characterized as having overly commercial instincts for the city’s heavily subsidized arts culture.

The complaints intensified with Mr. Dercon’s appointment. “Somehow the decision to hire Dercon has been taken as an offensive intervention in the very integrity of German aesthetic production, of what is particular and characteristic of the German ensemble theater tradition,” said David Levin, a professor of theater and German at the University of Chicago.

Speaking by telephone, Mr. Levin added that for some, Mr. Dercon had become “the institutional and personal embodiment of the threat of gentrification.”

In his email, Mr. Dercon acknowledged that the debate over his plans for the Volksbühne dovetailed with broader questions about Berlin’s future.

“The fact that I am coming from the visual art world and London causes suspicion: The 1 percent? The art market? Objects? Neoliberalism?” Mr. Dercon said.

“I prefer the ritual of the theater to the ritual of the hedge fund,” he added. He said that in addition to bringing in new work from abroad, the Volksbühne would draw on many “fabled ‘German’ theater traditions.”

“The current conflict at the Volksbühne could be seen as typical for a city in transformation,” Mr. Dercon said in the email. “The old and new Berliners will more than ever have to learn to live and work together.”


#9

Dear Hito, thanks for your response. I still ask myself why do you think
Volksbuehne isn´t an international, cosmopolitic theatre ? Why do you
try to connect the Volksbuehne with a nationalist identitarian movement or
content ? People from all around the world want to watch this theatre
about globalisation, neoliberalism, anarchism, transgression,
media-society; artists and thinkers like schlingensief, patti smith,
giogio agamben, butler, meg stuart, dimiter gottscheff, boris groys, slavoy
zizek, jonathan meese, julian assange, paul mccarthy and many many more
international artists performed at VB. The VB is not against
medial globalisation but about medial globalisation. This is a dialectical
difference, VB was always working out of the historical context
of ns-germany, western germany, gdr. their approach was always connected
with self endangerment and post-pop counter culture, not with political correct, populistic and often puritanic teachings
@Eisler Did you know that Frank Castorf himself wasn ´t allowed to work as a theatre director in the GDR, he was banned by the GDR-regime ? Therefore your example with Hans Eisler is a bit misleading. VB-people like Castorf, Neumann, Müller, Gotscheff and many more workers fightenend the GDR- system in an active or passive way, so why do you think the VB would stand for this blimpish nationalist german system that frightened Hans Eisler ?
It s just the opposite.

@18EUR: Moreover VB is not sponsored by international brands , therefore of course, you have to pay for a political evening. It s not a bargain, its a symbolic and economic support, because I guess DIEM25 got 50-70 % of the tickets´ revenues. Even Marx´ ´The Capital" and also Varoufaki´s books are for sale in bookstores, Varoufaki ´s "And the Weak Suffer What They Must?"was even for sale after the VB evening :-). THe VB prices for unemployed people and students is 3 EUR btw. Furthermore, I presume “All for Free” (only possible by
global brands sponsorship, cf tate gallery) attitude is not a political gesture of independence, resistance or social equity, in my opinion it is itself populistic and follows neoliberal strategies: When you only pay 50 cent
for a cheeseburger at a Mcdonalds, that doesn ´t really make McD to a heterotopic space of resistance, right ? But McD exploits poverty for brand building in a populistic way. Finally Ronnie McDonald is a global figure, but you are not a nationalist or an AFD sympathizer and against a cosmopolitical world when you are against
RMcD. I hope we can at least agree on this.
kind regards, godog


#10

Hello godog

i went back and informed my self on the font question and what you stated is at best party true. The fact is that Fraktur was banned in 1941, which means that of course it was used for the bulk of Nazi propaganda including Reichsparteitag 1936.


#11

sorry to produce clickbait here but I cant upload more than one pic per post it seems and I wanted to show you this too, just because you seem to imply that Fraktur is an aesthetic tool of resistance

of course I get the appropriation of Blockwart fonts by VB - it is all LOL! ROFL! IKMA! (acronym for ich kack mich an, because SGIE - Speak German and Include Excrement!).

Thats also what black organisations were more or less told when VB put the N-word up the roof for marketing purposes - lets kindly say in a neoliberal advertisement campaign just to avoid calling it something worse - and told protesting black organisations they were lacking a sense of humor because LOL- HEIL - LOL, and what were they complaining about feeling victimised anyway. They were in fact dismissed as moralising boring weaklings.
I guess this is what the NYT means by “locally produced culture”?

Interestingly the VB reaction at seeing themselves victimised - even if its until now fully imaginary - has been very different indeed, very sensitive, touchy, emotional, asking for a lot of empathy. Of course, we can agree on that last point, workers rights, in any case.
kind regards, Hito


#12

Dear Hito,

well, I guess we can ´t agree on this. You again try to put VB in a right wing national or cynical (lol-heil-rofl ???) spectre. The font “Fraktur” was used since the 19th century. It ´s not a nationalist font, as said, the nazis tried to abolish this font, but used it until 1941, like many others, e.g. The Communist Party

So I´m surprised you again argue ahistorical and try hard to connect VB with nazi content, but of course VB works with projections of an uninformed global medial nation named indignation, this is correct. Moreover you write about the n-word. Volksbuehne produced a play by French author Bernard-Marie Koltès directed by the Bulgarian director Dimiter Gotscheff named “Kampf des Negers und der Hunde” (“Combat de nègre et de chiens”). This author (he died in 1989 of AIDS) wrote in the tradition of Jean Genet, who himself wrote a play named “Les Nègres”. Those plays are about power, colonialism and racism. As I told you VB works with self endangerment, not with censorship, and the play was a critical selfquestioning on racism, neo-colonialism and malignant prejudices in a postmodern society. This topics are still very actual, as we can see. kind regards, godog.


#13

Thanks for this, its really fascinating about the font. Unfortunately these nuances are irrelevant: the use of this type of lettering has come to be associated with the nazi Germany by most people, which is what the theater was most likely playing of. Yes sure: its clever and provocative, yet in the larger scheme of things it may be a wrong gesture, because this sort of sensibility also perpetuates a certain macho tendency common to some of the avant-garde, which comes bundled with misogyny, a lack of sensitivity to race and a whole bunch of things we are much better without. (which is what i think Hito is reacting to)

I can also see how posting a banner saying: Neger, at the top of a building without quotation marks or anything else to indicate this being a part of a title of a play, was extremely alienating to black people in Berlin, who already deal with harassment and racism.

This is not to say that the theater should be destroyed: personally I feel it is very important and absolutely needs to be defended and maintained, but the better argument would have been the lack of professional theater experience of Chris Dercon, rather than an accusation of neoliberal hijacking of a heroic local theater by the evil international art world.


#14

Dear Anton, first of all I ´d like to say thank you that you don ´t want to destroy the Volksbuehne. But provocation is a macho tendency of avantgarde ? From your lips to Marina Abrahmovics or Valie Exports ears :slight_smile: Furthermore “Black People” itself is some kind of racist terminus, we prefer poc.(People of Color). and no, it was not alienating to all poc, a lot of people of the poc community unterstood the play and the banner very well, please read a little bit about Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor and their “Nègritude” movement or at least Frantz Fanon, cf https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Négritude. It would be really great if we could reach an average standard of discourse and not only repeating cheap populist prejuidices dealing with superficial indignation. And yes you ´re right, a lot of people critisised the lack of theatre knowledge of Chris Dercon. He has no experience in the very difficult field of theatre. And in a way exactly this is the neoliberal hijacking: Name dropping in a an attention economy, curatisms as a form of soft censorship, just cherry-picking from a world wide chorus line of productions without any own risk or own attitude. One said, it s like the idea of a icehockey trainer takes over a soccer team, just because it ´s new. Well of course some soccer player would have questions about this decision and they are afraid- in the end -maybe they all have to become icehockeyplayers. So why doesn ´t Frank Castorf takes over the Tate ? Why this never gonna happens is the question of the neoliberal global uniformist agenda. Maybe theatre like VB would be the last chance for a neoliberal corrupted art system working with bank and car industry, big concerns and dictatorships, city tourism marketing and gentrifiaction architects, maybe we see that the art system is part of the problem and not part of the solution. We finally can ask ourselves why no one of the supporters of Dercon is a person from the theatre, not a technician, not a souffleuse, not an actress, not a dramaturg, not a theatre writer, not a director, not a stage designer, not a video designer, not a musician, not a property master, not a costume designer. The theatre and all the workers spoke for itself in their letter, Dercon curated important voices of power to hide behind them…This is the neoliberal difference.


#15

People of color is a general term that includes everyone who is not white: asians, native americans, etc etc. The banner at Volksbuhne specifically read: Negres. It was not the title of the play that they printed, but a word taken out of context and placed on top of a hegemonic looking building in city center, where a lot of different people see it without knowing that this is a theater or that there is a specific play being staged there. Looking at TAZ archives from that time it seems very clear: the banner was offensive to black people, some of who complained, and the theater removed the sign and replaced it with a banner with the full title of this play. This confirms to me that the theater understood that they made a mistake. (http://www.taz.de/1/archiv/print-archiv/printressorts/digi-artikel/?ressort=zm&dig=2003/11/29/a0092&cHash=3d683d42a5)

There are numerous art museums that are directed by people with no art historical, curatorial or artistic education: for example the current director of Hamburger Banhof and the New National Gallery in Berlin is actually an optometrist by training. I am sure there have been numerous people with theater background who have occupied key positions in visual art institutions: for example Anselm Franke, who was the chief curator of KW, director of Extra City art center and now curator of visual art at HKW comes from theater background, actually from the very theater we are talking about. In principal I do not see an inherent problem here: certain talented people can do very good things in many different contexts. So maybe I was wrong in my earlier post: maybe the lack of expertise is not a good reason to oppose the appointment of Chris Dercon. A better reason could be that by doing this, Berlin and/or German government simply hopes to get rid of the last significant cultural institution that remains from the Socialist East Germany.


#16

sorry godog but I am sick of your condescending tone spreading badly researched half truths as facts and accusing other people of “not reading enough”. the organisation that protested (among others) is called ISD, translted Black Germans Initiative. If you want to imply that their name is racist in itself because you prefer another denomination then I suppose we have reached a real low in the discussion here. Maybe the name of ther organisation Black Lives matter is racist too? Which book do I have to I read to learn this?


#17

Hit the nail on the head.


#18

Regarding “we prefer poc”: It’s difficult to take you as a spokesperson for people of color as you’re clearly obscuring your identity by posting under an alias. It’s also ironic that you’re explaining this to @hito, who is a person of color. Is she for some reason not awarded the freedom to express justifiable frustration with such a racially charged word emblazoned on a predominantly white male German theater? Because she hasn’t yet read whatever author you’ve forwarded? Shushing women and poc because they don’t have the “qualification” to speak (having not read xyz text) is a gender/race/class-motivated form of aggression itself. (To that end, we do not appreciate such comments on e-flux conversations as we aim to keep discussions respectful even if polemical.)

Further, I find it problematic to bring up Valie Export and Marina Abramović as if their work is somehow equitable to the Volksbühne’s insolence in putting up a banner saying “negres” that looks down on all of Mitte. It was a 2nd wave feminist tactic to publicly enact violence upon one’s own body to visualize the otherwise invisible structural violence women confront on a daily basis. This of course would fall flat if a white man would attempt to do the same–its not their story to tell as it’s impossible for them to experience a female (or black) subject position. I would argue the same goes for putting a racial slur on top of the Volksbühne: it comes off as opportunist and racially insensitive for a predominantly white male theater to do this.


#21
  • Around VB a relentless urban coral bleach has taken place over the past two decades; the environment has slowly turned into an all out flat white hyper-commoditised hotspot of gentrification – and, granted, it would be great to prevent spread of this condition to other parts of the city. However, this process was, if not greatly accelerated, then definitely not prevented or slowed by VB´s cultural activities. Having said that it would be as unfair to expect this from VB, as to hope Tate could slow down the gentrification of Southbank. It´s a well known side effect of neoliberal cultural activities, which VB staff didn´t seem to be particularly bothered by before they became hellbent on defending their own status quo.

  • Its corporate identity has been partly defined by a kind of Benetton meets Querfront sensationalism, hurling inflationary provocations at an increasingly bored public as if trying to stop the bursting of an attention bubble by printing more and more cheap money. Whether racism was a conscious element of this marketing strategy is not my point of interest here but the very mediocre procedure to cash in on both resentment and reflex and to convert them into quantifiable butts on seats. VB´s corporate aesthetics relentlessly punched down on anyone considered socially weaker, because LOL. Critics are predictably told they are too stupid and unlearned , “sub-average”, to understand the genius of monetizing malice, see a beautiful example above.

  • If VB had put up a sign saying “Losers” in Blockwartfont instead of “Verkauft” (Sold), this would provide an interesting point of entry into very necessary debates about what or who the working classes are today, and opened up urgent and painful conversations. Plus it would demonstrate that irony is employed in different directions. “Verkauft”(Sold) in contrast only makes any sense if one were to assume, that VB actually understood itself as the entity that did profit from the sell out of it s own urban environment but now may no longer able to itself afford it under the same deal. This would be interesting, but it sounds more like self-pity. Or like the theatre thinks the Elders of Zion are about to whisk it away using alien slime canons.

In this light, an appeal to workers solidarity comes across as rather rich, to say the least. Nevertheless I very much support this issue: I would support KaDeWe workers rights just the same(for non Berliners this is a traditional Western posh elite dpt store) . It doesn’t matter who staff works for, their rights should be respected and protected. But to insist about this being a workers rebellion if it squarely focusses on the bosses job is rather weird. One could have imagined all sorts of claims by organized workers - self-management being just one idea - but I am sure this would be dismissed as delusional, unpractical, frivolous and God forbid, socialist.

(Anton’s point about erasing the Socialist past is very relevant. Having said that, if this were about conserving a socialist past or even present day legacy, then according to Fedorov the conserved (and conserving) institution fully deserves to be seen as museum and should be headed by an expert in this field. An expert in cultural mummification should immediately be appointed to the task in order for the socialist ancestors to possibly be resuscitated successfully in the future. Unfortunately the present VB strategy is to refuse to admit access to the corpse in the first place. Thus this specific body will continue rotting and will go past the point where embalmment is physically possible. Therefore if one wants to honor these ancestors, it is necessary to turn VB into a museum asap.)

To be fair, I wish VB well and I have seen many excellent pieces there. They have brilliant actors/actresses and directors and I will not praise the rest of staff in detail because I don’t understand enough about many other parts of daily theater practice. They seem to have a stunning shortage of female directors, but that’s defintiely not an isolated case in Germany. I don’t think VB should end, workers dismissed or public funding be diminished in the least - even though parts of it are all at once bossy, pompous, smug, and ridiculous. If there wasn’t such a mean and supercilious streak in the venom against Mr. Dercon there would even be something endearing to this situation. Think Draco Malfoy spouting Querfront slogans and portentously building his last stand in a Mitte Paninoteca (and faraging the trenches soon after). One could do real good theater with this. It actually sounds like a great VB piece. Hogwarts would be called Blockwarts. All the Blockwarts would wear Osaka Super Dry from the store next door and self medicate with horse tranquilizers. I guess Pollesch might have put up this piece already. So why not put this approach to real life?

But, devoid of any sense of humor off-stage, VB´s strategy in this debate has been flat, dead-pan nativist and shortsighted and preserves many of the ugliest traditions of the German 20th century left (and right), including cultural arrogance supported by petty bullying and an extruded sense of entitlement. It denies any complicity with the very mechanisms of capitalism it now feels threatened by and externalizes them as alien and foreign “global” evils. This resonates with a historical type of rhetorics, which ultimately led to the total dismantling of the working class in Germany but also things much more terrible. Just because this rhetorics is popular today doesn’t mean it ever worked for anyone except fascists, oligarchs, dictators, ethnic, religious and neo-tribal rackets and their subservient Blockwart cronies. So VB staff, drop it. You don’t want to pull off this look. You could do this much better.


#22

“Volksbühne at the Rosa Luxemburg Place is one of the last islands, that isn ´t totally gentrified in Berlin” Chris Dercon 2015