Earlier this month I attended a lecture by Matthias Lilienthal, the former artistic director of Hebbel am Ufer (HAU).
HAU as it is affectionately known in Berlin is an organization with three performance spaces in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin, and is one of the largest, best funded, and risk-taking performance theatre complexes in the world.
As one of the most important and innovative avant garde theatre directors, Lilienthal has "created, instigated and nourished many of the most important developments in theatre in recent decades," according to Tom Sellar of Yale who introduced him.
Lilienthal was interviewed after his talk by Gideon Lester, my exciting new colleague who now is director of the theatre program at Bard.
While Lilienthal is an artistic director and has a background in the theatre, he calls himself a "booker" of talent more than an artist or a curator.
is committed to theatre that has social and political impact.
mission is to constantly create friction.
Friction means in his
telling, "to be polemic against society and be an urban laboratory for the future.
That said, Lilienthal insists that he remains an artist, someone who in his words cares most about the aesthetic experience his works bring about.
discussed a number of his
past projects to explain what he
means by a theatre of friction.
Schlingensief and Lilienthal
put two large containers in the public square in front of the Viennese Opera house and filled them with 15 asylum seekers.
speaks of a "hysterical longing for reality in today's theatre.
Much of his
work and the work he
"books" mixes reality with theatre.
most famous performance piece, performed all over the world, is "X Wohnungen" or "X Apartments.
Artists are asked to create artistic experiences that last up to ten minutes and take place in private apartments or houses.
In one example that Lilienthal
showed a clip from during his
talk, audience members in groups of two are led into apartments of immigrants in Cologne where they are told to kneel in front of doors with keyholes.
Through the keyholes they watch a Muslim woman in a burka and hijab strip naked and recline on a couch.
They are then interrupted, given tea and told to go out.
explains that "we are playing a private reality, with voyeurism and with exhibitionism.
was quite critical of the New York art scene, arguing that NYC artists are too commercial and that there is no meaningful artistic forum in the U.S. as there is in Germany.
point is that his
HAU stages have, in his
telling, become the center of German and European art worlds, presenting all the most interesting and most important artists from around the world under a single umbrella.
lamented the fact that there was no similarly dominant and unifying artistic space in NY or in the U.S. New York, he
said provocatively, in the East Village, is a provincial state.
Lester asked Lilienthal
what would he
have done in NYC had he
accepted a job here?
answered, (I am paraphrasing here),"I would have presented art that offers a polemic against society.
I would like everyone to know me and then I would have been... perhaps they would kill me after a year."
There is something both noble and anachronistic in Lilienthal's Socratic dream to create art so full of friction and power that he
would be killed for it.
It is a noble dream because it imagines that art, like philosophy, might still have the power and importance to be seen as a threat to the state or the society.
It is anachronistic because art and philosophy have long since lost such centrality.
When I asked Lilienthal
about this, his
answer was that it was different in Berlin, where the arts are more central and given more public financing and public attention.
talk is fascinating and, as you can see, provocative, which is justification enough to spend one hour this weekend watching him.
Thanks to Theatre Magazine
for posting the video of the talk.