Deufert & plischke Building on the holes

Deufert & Plischke (Kattrin Deufert and Thomas Plischke)
Deufert & Plischke (Kattrin Deufert and Thomas Plischke) | © Simone Steiner

Instead of withdrawing into the darkness of the theatre or finding themselves a comfortable niche in the entertainment sector, performance artists Kattrin Deufert and Thomas Plischke are bringing the audience onto the stage. A dialogue about joining in and participation, responsibility and trust. 

Participation is a recurring theme in your work. How did that develop?

We come from a theatre that has put the modern, postmodern and post-dramatic periods behind it. At the same time, we are interested in cooperative, collaborative and often critical artistic movements that focus on experiencing the work of art, not just looking at it. This participative moment can be seen in terms of art history, but also in relation to the respective social upheavals, and in relation to the questions it poses. Who are the participants in the work of art, who is being put in the limelight? Who is present on the stage? And what is being created in this social situation? In order to put theatre into the contemporary world, to react to and change the prevailing view of society, we have to work on it with real people. If we are genuinely interested in our audience, there is a responsibility to create theatre with that audience to some extent.

Cooperation and coexistence are closely linked in your work – what does that mean in practical terms?

As artists, we are interested in social life, in modes of creation and production, in the performance situation as a social situation in the here and now, and in reception not only as an academic exercise but as one that takes the experience of our work back into life. In all of this, we do not make artistic processes more ordinary than need be, or aestheticise or choreograph them, but bring all these processes and everyday life onto the stage.

In practical terms, we have gradually brought together the participatory and collaborative practices in our “reformulation” working-process. 24h Durcheinander (2015) [In German we can translate the term disorder with Durch-ein-ander which literally translated means through-one-another. The direct translation is mess, but the closest English equivalent is perhaps metabolism] is the second piece following Entropisches Institut (Entropic Institute, 2012) in which we have engaged in collaboration with other artists and thinkers to produce something that is not a finished scenario. Instead, we provide a set-up which the audience enters and in which we all build up a theatre together. That contradicts the possibility of taking on a distanced attitude, perception or description.

„Entropischen Institut“ (2012) by Deufert & Plischke „Entropisches Institut“ (2012) by Deufert & Plischke | © Anja Beutler What does that mean for the production process?

What we always want is for the work not only to be important for us, but also for other people. This is the political challenge we have to set ourselves. Doing something for a short time and then disappearing again does not satisfy us or society in the long term. Our work is therefore strongly related to its context, which is why “encounter” is an important concept. Without encounter, theatre does not happen. Wherever we go, we go there with the aim of being there, of encountering that place, getting to know it and also of taking up the very different social dynamics in our work in some form. It is important for us to take time and to have a close relationship with people. That is to say that we do not produce the experience of others in our art, but that everyone has to come along with their own experience and take responsibility for it.

We rarely work in individual events. Instead we often work in a series of performances, with sequels and corresponding elements. That is also the case because we cannot learn enough from our audience in just one work in order to keep our artistic processes active. Encounters with others – with children, older people, students and people our own age – their experiences and the way in which they deal with time also draw us out of our own mechanisms. It is important not to make things too comfortable for oneself, not to simply sit down and expose oneself to oneself – regardless of where one is. That is something we have learnt, and also something of which all cultural exchange programmes need to be aware.

How can your work be combined with rules and instructions, and choreographic directions with the participatory approach?

Our work with rules is less about a static setting that excludes shared responsibility. Our motto is “Show me your material and I’ll show you what you are not doing with it”. The idea of knowing about rules is to create ways of behaving in relation to those rules, to turn them around, to follow them, to reject them, to vary them – that is to say, to create corresponding elements in a choreographic sense. In this sense, the way the work is organised may have totalitarian features, but it is not based on social authority. The function of theatre remains a hot topic, because it is a place where people meet. We are interested in these human processes, this cooperation and metabolism. The audience always has to help to produce the sensual-artistic processes, which some people refuse to do. That in turn makes us think further about a different concept of work in the theatre and its relationship to democracy.

„24h Durcheinander“ (2015) by Deufert & Plischke „24h Durcheinander“ (2015) by Deufert & Plischke | © Simone Steiner Is there also an ethical dimension to the question of stakeholding in theatre?

“Participation” is an important concept, and so is “responsibility”. One has to take part before one can participate. That is ethically but also politically important for us. Deufert & plischke exist only as an artistic team. If every decision goes through two people, has to be made discursive, has to be expressed, there is never this intuitive spontaneous setting. That produces something very social in every creative act, something very mediated which then is transferred to every other person with whom we work. The work on the holes of our realities is more important to us than closing a gap of knowledge and ignorance.