Hannah Hofmann (born 1971) and Sven Lindholm (born 1968) have lived in Cologne since 1997. Since 2000, they have been creating projects that combine drama, film and visual art. In 2009, they were awarded a studio fellowship by Cologne Art Club and received the Theatre Prize of the City of Cologne.
It is nice when someone lets you go ahead of them in the supermarket queue. But if the person who lets you go ahead pays for your shopping and carries it home, offers you a bath in their tub or even secretly patches up your children’s PE kit, things are starting to get a little weird. Are they overstepping the mark or doing good deeds? You rapidly become more and more uneasy. Séancen – Versuche zur Aufhebung der Schwerkraft (Seances – Attempts to Overcome Gravity) was the title of the project premiered by Hofmann&Lindholm in 2007 at Theater Essen that raised such questions as it inquired into morality, power and the abuse of power.
Hannah Hofmann and Sven Lindholm had worked for months with five ‘accomplices’, people without stage experience who went forth on Hofmann&Lindholm’s behalf as field researchers to perpetrate dubious humanitarian works. Afterwards, they talked about what they had done, and Hofmann&Lindholm incorporated their experiences into dramatic texts. People in ordinary clothes who were not actors stood on stage, speaking in a down-to-earth manner. They had learned the script by heart, words that were both theirs and yet not theirs, words that radiated a certain poetic austerity. In the background ran a film that ‘corroborated’ the protagonists’ deeds, but actually showed recreations staged after the event. It was a disorienting game with the truth of the media and what is supposed to be reality.
This way of working is typical of Hofmann&Lindholm and can be enough to throw the watcher completely off their guard. Hannah Hofmann and Sven Lindholm are an artistic duo who are not easy to categorise: conceptualists who are open to stimuli from the visual arts, dramatists who interrogate the conditionality of theatre, but also authors of radio plays, video artists and filmmakers. They like to call themselves ‘interventionalists. For one of their fundamental themes is the potential of tiny interventions in everyday consciousness.
Sometimes, however, their interventions are more drastic, for example in Basler Unruhen (Basel Unrest), a work commissioned by Theater Basel and put on in May 2010. They were inspired to create the piece by their impression that Basel was unusually serene. This prompted them to organise a mock uprising. Hofmann&Lindholm’s amateur actors, their ‘accomplices’, played both the protagonists in the rebellion and passing eyewitnesses, making the event so realistic that many people were puzzled they had not got wind of what was going to happen.
On the cinema screen, it was possible to see a Jaguar being smashed to pieces in the centre of Basel, a tram being hijacked and the City Hall being stormed.
Basel Unrest was so successful that Theater Basel wanted a sequel straight away. But Hofmann&Lindholm are attached to their independence. After all, it is this that allows them to plan coproductions with the Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin, the Forum Freies Theater in Düsseldorf and Zurich Art Club, or to work as guest lecturers at Berlin University of the Arts. Sven Lindholm has just been appointed a guest professor at the University of Bochum.
Following their studies at the Institute for Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen, an institution that has nurtured the elite of Germany’s young directors, it was more luck than anything else they moved to Cologne, but both appreciate its somewhat provincial way of life and its distance from Berlin. ‘We are more interested in allotments than twin towers. Cologne is never like a small town, but it is possible to get some peace,’ says Sven Lindholm. Their ‘office for applied cultural mediation’ is located in a yellow building on the busy Luxemburger Straße in Klettenberg, a comfortable, middle class district of the city. Until recently, even though they were one of the most important independent groups in Cologne, they did not have a very high profile locally.
Then, however, Karin Beier, the artistic director of Schauspiel Köln, Cologne’s municipal theatre, hired them to work there for the first time in the autumn of 2009. Once again, Noch nicht – Desinformationsabend für inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (Not Yet – Disinformation Evening for Unofficial Agents) addressed major themes such as ‘surveillance’ by looking at apparently trivial examples. Five ‘accomplices’ swarmed out like terror cells to reveal their most intimate secrets unremarked to the public. In doing so, they created an evening about voyeurism, the private sphere and transparency. One man hid private correspondence in dead letter boxes. Another man sent his driving license off for a trip on a bus. A woman decorated the photographic department at the local branch of a department store chain with pictures of her own family. There were protests from some figures on Cologne’s independent theatre scene in December 2009 when this piece won the two the Cologne Theatre Prize – because the Prize is reserved for independent groups, but Not Yet had been premiered at the city’s municipal theatre. Nevertheless, Hofmann & Lindholm certainly feel they are an independent group: ‘Subsequently, we spent a long time thinking about how we define ourselves,’ says Sven Lindholm, ‘we would not like to belong permanently to any one theatre. We like working there, but only in our way.’
In 2003, Hofmann&Lindholm were the first to invent a specific form of recreated, alienated reality in the theatre. Although there were already some pioneers of the authentic active at that time, such as the Rimini Protokoll group, their work is only comparable to a certain extent. Whereas Rimini Protokoll draw on the real life stories told by ‘experts’, such as funeral directors, stockbrokers and Karl Marx devotees, Hofmann &Lindholm cooperate with their ‘accomplices’ to create new stories and transform everyday life, making it seem more profound, more ambiguous and more comical.
They regard themselves as political, although unhampered by any urge to educate. This is exemplified by the video installation Serie Deutschland (Germany Series), which was conceived for the 2008 Politics in Independent Theatre Festival. They collaborated with normal citizens, who they had recruited by placing classified ads in newspapers, recreating images that feature in the collective everyday consciousness of Germans from the Rhineland. The results were slow, soundless, fascinating videos it is possible to immerse oneself in for hours on end. At the moment, they are expanding this video installation with the Goethe-Institut in Warsaw, adding the scene in which Willy Brandt fell to his knees before the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In taking on this subject, they are ultimately intervening not just in ordinary life, but in Germans’ historical subconscious as well.
2011, Schauspiel Köln/Deutschlandradio Kultur
Heile Welt (Perfect World)
2010, Hebbel am Ufer (HAU), Berlin
Basler Unruhen (Basel Unrest)
Noch nicht – Desinformationsabend für informelle Mitarbeiter (Not Yet – Disinformation Evening for Unofficial Agents, theatre)
October 2009, Schauspiel Köln
Notiz/Wunderblock (Note/Mystic Writing Pad, film)
2008, Schauspiel Köln
2009, short film festival, Hamburg; Filmfestival Münster
faites vos jeux! Revoltainment (theatre and radio play)
2008, Forum Freies Theater, Düsseldorf; HAU, Berlin; PACT Zollverein, Essen
2009, Deutschlandradio Kultur
Serie Deutschland (Germany Series, video installation)
2008, Politics in Independent Theatre Festival, Cologne
Séancen – Versuche zur Aufhebung der Schwerkraft (Seances – Attempts to Overcome Gravity, theatre)
2007, Schauspiel Essen
Aspiranten (Candidates, theatre)
2003, Forum Freies Theater, Düsseldorf; HAU, Berlin; Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, Frankfurt; Theater im Depot, Dortmund
2004, Impulse Festival
Provisorische Gesellschaft (Provisional Company, installation)
2000, Freiwild-Festival, Halle/Saale