Foreign Affairs 2014
Museum and Stage

Boris Charmatz “20 Dancers for the XX Century” with Ashley Chen, 27. and 28.06.2014, Sowjetisches Ehrenmal in Berlin, Treptower Park; © Jirka Jansch
Boris Charmatz “20 Dancers for the XX Century” with Ashley Chen, 27. and 28.06.2014, Sowjetisches Ehrenmal in Berlin, Treptower Park; © Jirka Jansch | © Jirka Jansch

Exhibition and performance are two sides of the same coin. Museums are showing “immaterial works of art” and theatre festivals are exploring exhibition formats. The Berliner Festspiele devoted a programme focus to this theme in 2014 as part of the theatre and performative arts festival Foreign Affairs.

The Musée de la Danse, Dancing Museum or Tanzmuseum presented a working context that skilfully plays with the two aspects of performance and exhibition. French choreographer Boris Charmatz took over as director of the Choreographic Centre in Rennes, Brittany in 2009. His project was to transform it into a museum devoted to dance. Of course, one should not think of this as being a museum project in the strict sense of the word. Rather, the aim is to sound out how dance and museum can act in relation to interdisciplinary artistic thinking.

One of the works created in this connection is the choreography for a large ensemble Levée des conflits (suspension of conflicts). The idea behind it, said Charmatz in a public discussion, is to show all the material in motion at one moment while at the same time performing it in ever new variations – as a kind of moving sculpture. In Berlin, this encounter took place on stage using a traditional frontal perspective. In MoMA, New York, however, Levée des conflits was exhibited in the foyer, in the French city of Avignon it was shown on a public green space and at the Ruhrtriennale on a coal stockpile. The piece never remains what it is and everyone sees it in ever different ways.

Boris Charmatz „Levée des conflits“, Ruhrtriennale (Youtube)

Walking monuments

Matthias von Hartz, Artistic Director of Foreign Affairs, also invited two other projects from this production context to attend the festival: 20 Dancers for the XX Century and Expo Zéro. both of which are something like touring exhibitions. While the format remains the same, the venues, participants and sometimes the contents vary. 20 Dancers brings together the said number of players, each of whom presents one work of twentieth-century dance within a fixed period of time in a commentary and performance. The Soviet War Memorial in Treptow was selected as the exhibition venue in Berlin. Something was said about Russian and Serbian folk dances, about Pina Bausch and her choreography Spring Victim, about Ron Athey and Karl Marx. In an atmosphere entirely devoid of unctuousness, subjective knowledge about dance occupied an ambivalent historical monument.
Boris Charmatz „20 Dancers for the XX Century“ – Treptower Park, Berlin (Youtube)

What is monumental (“What is monumental today?” asked the Russian group Chto Delat in another programme focus) is closely linked with power, as demonstrated both by ancient and recent history. In destroying monuments, the triumphant power aims to demonstrate its domination over the past power. Yet even in the art business, there is conflict between fixation on objects as monuments to artistic activity, and performance as a traceless practice, based purely on aesthetic experience.

The power of the immaterial?

In thus commingling stage and showroom, a quite different power may emerge - the power of the immaterial. In an environment increasingly dominated by the liquefaction of material things in digital processes, the transition of aesthetic museum experience into performance structures may be a stealthy victory. Tino Sehgal for one is better known for not wanting to leave any traces than for his works themselves, and for the work of art withdrawing into an atmospheric “now” moment. Because there are no pictures or documents, the situational artwork grabs all the attention. More is said about what is absent than about what is visible.

Monument and the bourgeoisie

Triumphalism of this kind is not what the Musée de la Danse under its director Boris Charmatz is aiming for, however. Although Expo Zéro depends on direct encounters with the participating artists (who are often speakers and rhetoricians), it does create meeting space that by no means wishes to close itself off from posterity. It is only in dialogue that the content of the exhibition develops as a potential of knowledge and of the experiences that dancers and audiences bring with them into the exhibition space.

It is probably no coincidence that the extremes of bourgeois-monumental practices are quoted in the Berlin versions of 20 Dancers and Expo Zéro. After all, the wide range of forms of experience that influenced at the least the twentieth century are spread out between the historically-charged military cemetery in Treptow and a bourgeois apartment in Schöneberg, neutralised into a gallery using plaster-board applications with a series of intimate chambers and cabinets recalling dance. Thus, the coin of art is also hard currency, regardless of the side from which it is viewed.