“To everyone!” - A Documentary on the Performance Group LIGNA

„Radio ballet“ am Leipziger Bahnhof; © LignaLIGNA is a group operating between radio art and performance art. Using choreographic means, they succeed in using radio as an instrument for politicising public space. A book now documents their interventions.

Radio ballet

The renovation of Leipzig Central Station, which took several years, was completed in the late nineteen-nineties. It resulted in the transformation of the station’s huge concourse into a shopping centre with some 140 shops called PROMENADEN Hauptbahnhof Leipzig. Meanwhile, the centre management’s website praises how PROMENADEN has excelled as an “attractive venue and trendy location at the heart of the city. Our spectrum of activities ranges from unusual cultural, sporting and media activities to spectacular evening events at which the historical station becomes a trendy place to go out.“

However, it goes without saying that it is highly unlikely that this statement was meant to refer to the unusual unofficial activity that was to be witnessed in the shopping mall in the early evening of 22 June 2003. Hundreds of people, most of them young, moved, invisibly coordinated, in the expanses of the building, performing a ballet to shoppers and travellers who were amused or bemused, or who hurried by without taking any notice. What onlookers could not hear or see was that most of those taking part were equipped with headphones or earphones and small transistor radios and were listening to the words: “Welcome to the LIGNA Radio Ballet on Radio Blau, 97.6 MHz. / This programme is best heard at Leipzig Central Station. / The following radio ballet examines the grey area between permitted, dubious and prohibited gestures. / It allows gestures that have been eliminated from the privatized public space to return there.” Instructions to the listeners follow. Up to this point, they had been standing around randomly, but now they come together to put on a collective performance bordering on the undesirable and the forbidden: “Open your hand as if in greeting. / Turn the palm of your hand upwards. / Lower your arm. Walk a few paces. Look at the goods on display.“ The silent gesture of holding out an open hand and “begging” is a synchronous hundred-fold contravention of the house rules.

Ligna: Radio Ballet Leipzig Main station, June 2003 (Youtube)

Performative audiodrama

Ligna: Ole Frahm, Michael Hueners and Torsten Michaelsen; © LignaWhat the choreographers of this “exercise in loitering contrary to the regulations” are trying to do by means of these and similar instructions is to discover not only the extent to which one can engage in a subtle and physical joint protest against the increasing commercialisation of (formerly) public urban space, but also “what political potential lies in the fact that radio has a scattered audience”. LIGNA, which has been operating since 1997, consists of performance artists Ole Frahm, Michael Hüners and Torsten Michaelsen. Originally a Hamburg group (Frahm and Michaelsen now live in Berlin), they explore how one can (re)politicise this space by means of artistic and media intervention. Often in cooperation with local independent radio stations, Frahm, Hüners and Michaelsen construct situations in which a moment of apparently spontaneous uncontrollability, mediated in auditory form, coincides with an increasingly visually-controlled, commercial environment. Communal, collective aspects (by which are meant differently-organised aspects) are the key to a form of artistic practice that can be defined as “performative audiodrama “. While uninitiated passers-by remain bemused, a completely new way of experiencing one’s own body in the urban space is opened up to anyone wishing to take part in the performance. In principal, that means anyone who has brought a radio along or has been given one to use.

A scattered collective of producers

The cover of „LIGNA: AN ALLE! Radio Theater Stadt.“LIGNA has its origins in the environment of the non-commercial Hamburg radio station “Freies Sender Kombinat” (FSK). The group have made a name for themselves in both the radio art and performance scenes for applying radio ballet’s principle of performance and participation. Meanwhile, they have extended their repertoire and have received invitations from international theatres and institutions to development similar interventions. This has led to the creation of more than 50 radio ballets, plays, live audiodrama etc. The Leipzig performance and many other performances are now documented in the book LIGNA: AN ALLE! Radio Theater Stadt. The book contains an introductory essay by Leipzig theatre studies expert Patrick Primavesi contextualising LIGNA’s working methods, and a visual commentary on a closely-related theme (photographs of public space) by Leipzig artist Arthur Zalewski. The 200-page book also includes the choreographic directions heard via radio by participants in a LIGNA intervention. Not least, the publication’s programmatic texts, written by LIGNA’s artists themselves, underline how serious they are about putting themselves in the background and understanding their audience as a scattered collective of producers.

Brecht and von Laban

Ligna-Performance in June 2008, © LignaIn so doing, LIGNA are applying considerations of the dancer and choreographer Rudolf von Laban. They are also attempting to make a performative and situation-related interpretation of media theory texts such as Bertolt Brecht’s The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication (1932). It is in this sense that LIGNA defines its performances not as a gathering, but a “distraction”. LIGNA does not aim to inspire its listeners’ imagination, that is to say, it does not aim to make an auditory representation of pictures, but to achieve a “temporary ability to act” through scattered but collective listening. The extent to which LIGNA’s critical and performative radio activities require further technical, communicative and artistic development following the digitalisation of radio, Facebook parties and the “end of privacy” is something that needs to be examined beyond the context of this book. In the meantime, LIGNA: AN ALLE! documents the attempt to give a collective, artistic answer that goes beyond the present moment to the question of who owns the city.

„LIGNA: AN ALLE! Radio Theater Stadt.“ With a preface by Patrick Primavesi and an illustrated essay by Arthur Zalewski. Edited by Anne König and Paul Feigelfeld in cooperation with LIGNA. Leipzig, Spector Books 2011.

Martin Conrads
lives in Berlin where he works as a freelance writer and teaches visual communication at Berlin University of the Arts.

Translation: Eileen Flügel
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
December 2011

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