On the Death of Christoph Schlingensief: “He Believed in the Power of Art”
Mourning Schlingensief: “Actively lived humaneness” (Photo: Aino Laberenz)
23 August 2010
Christoph Schlingensief is dead. The Goethe-Institut has lost a close friend with the passing of the universal artist, director and agitator. The cultural figure and the cultural institute were bound together by many mutual projects – the most recent was the festival hall for Africa.
He only reached his 49th birthday. It was long known that the artist was critically ill with cancer; he extensively treated it in his work and showed the physical marks of the disease. Nonetheless, Schlingensief’s enormous strength and energy made it easy to forget it and he was doing better for a while following surgery. It seemed too incredible that this “son of a bitch, this sod,” as Schlingensief named the cancer, could still get the upper hand.
Until the very end, Schlingensief worked passionately on diverse projects. Last year, the director was on the jury of the International Film Festival in Berlin. This May, he put on the opera project after Luigi Nono Via Intolleranza II in Brussels. A production for the reopening of the Schiller Theatre in Berlin was scheduled for October. There were also plans for him to design the German pavilion for the Biennale in Venice next year.
His perhaps most important project, however, was the African opera house, which began to take shape in 2009 in close cooperation with the Goethe-Institut. In February 2010 the foundation stone was laid for his opera village in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
The Goethe-Institut is particularly grieved. “For me, this man who burned the candle at both ends was one of our most credible artists,” says Klaus-Dieter Lehmann. The president of the Goethe-Institut got to know the director better during the 2009 Berlinale. Then intense cooperation commenced in the plans and preparation for the opera village project, which also involved Peter Anders, the programme director for sub-Saharan Africa.
It was in fact not the first joint project by Schlingensief and the Goethe-Institut. There was the 2007 collaboration in the production of the Flying Dutchman in Manaus and other opportunities in the past as well.
“Working with Christoph Schlingensief was an incomparable experience,” relates Lehmann. The artist was always “sensitive in seeking, listening and associating, impressively skilled in all forms of artistic expression and at the same time marked by an actively lived humaneness. He believed in the power of art and mainly saw our human cohabitation as a cultural service.”
The project in Burkina Faso also stands for this particular combination of art and humaneness. In an interview with Goethe aktuell in March, Schlingensief reported about his plans in Africa and spoke of the poetry of the word “opera,” while clarifying in his next sentence that “the children are more important. The school we are building in Remdoogo is the most important thing of all.” Of course, it will never be the same. In the future shaping of the opera village, the absence of Schlingensief’s inspiration and his intransigence will be painfully perceptible. Yet, for Goethe president Lehmann, it’s clear: “We will continue to pursue his dedication for Africa even beyond his death.”
Last year Schlingensief’s book So schön wie hier kann’s im Himmel gar nicht sein was published: “Heaven can never be as lovely as here.” May he be proven wrong.