International Cultural Exchange
Melting pot of social change

„Europa war eine Frau / Europa ishte grua“ by CADAM. and Haveit, RODEO 2016
„Europa war eine Frau / Europa ishte grua“ by CADAM. and Haveit, RODEO 2016 | Photo: Kathrin Schäfer

New funding programmes in the theatre are being developed for international cultural exchange in response to social changes. Outstanding: the 2016 Munich RODEO Festival, a German-Thai dance performance and the International Forum of the Berlin Theatre Meeting afford insights into new collaborative and funding models.

Less prestige object, more art laboratory

The artists groups CADAM. and Haveit have developed the documentary installation Europa war eine Frau / Europa ishte grua (Europe Was a Woman / Europa ishte grua), which made the first research results from Munich and Pristina (Kosovo) accessible in an open lab for a day. Artists from Kosovo and cultural professionals from the Munich independent scene together explored the contemporary feminist perspective within a European context. The installation, a work-in-progress, was part of the 2016 RODEO Festival in Munich, a biennial dance and theatre festival launched in 2010 with the aim of giving the best productions of Munich’s independent scene a special presence. But at this edition of the festival, everything was different.

The interim presentation of CADAM. and Haveit as an open studio exemplified the new concept of the RODEO Festival, which the curator and dramaturge Sarah Israel has developed with great thoughtfulness on behalf of the Munich Department of Cultural Affairs. She favours a festival whose core is a process concept of art, equal exchange, discourse and networking.
In addition to finished theatre projects, a total of four European artists collectives, together with like-minded colleagues in the local independent scene, could apply with support from the Goethe-Institut for residencies as part of the new funding format Bloom Up. Up to three weeks before the start of the festival, artists began to lay the foundations for a joint project. The new format provided the independent scene with an international network and a platform that promoted the dialogical exchange of aesthetic, intercultural and socio-political experience and cultural knowledge. It also broadened the artistic field of vision.

„Europa war eine Frau / Europa ishte grua“ by CADAM. and Haveit, RODEO 2016 „Europa war eine Frau / Europa ishte grua“ by CADAM. and Haveit, RODEO 2016 | Photo: Kathrin Schäfer

Open concept of art

With this conceptual break, the RODEO Festival has taken account of comprehensive processes of social transformation. The globalization, digitalization, immigration and mobilization of people around the world have brought about a lasting change in society and culture, a change that has directly affected the theatre and revealed an open concept of art. With the increasing diversification of society, a deliberately exclusive understanding of art has become questionable. As a consequence, there has been a marked politization of the theatre and the emergence of an understanding of art as communicative process and collaborative thinking.

„[Title of Song]“ by Julian Warner, Oliver Zahn and Phoebe Wright-Spinks „[Title of Song]“ by Julian Warner, Oliver Zahn and Phoebe Wright-Spinks | Photo: Konrad Fersterer The performative work status of [Title of Song] by the performers Julian Warner and Oliver Zahn and the British composer Phoebe Wright-Spinks, which has also been sponsored as part of the new RODEO format Bloom Up, manifestly reflects the changed art understanding of the younger generation of theatre-makers. In the first part of this astute study of the intangible heritage of German and British colonialism in Papua New Guinea, the audience went on a staged tour through the exhibition Oceania. Island Worlds in the Pacific Oceania at the Munich Five Continents Museum. The international collective achieved a dialogical debate about the selection and interpretation of history, culture and identity, and the production of intercultural knowledge in a globalized world. At the same time the viewer was made aware of the questionable nature of cultural constructions.

Cultural change demands new funding models

The changed understanding of art and work practices calls for a re-thinking of funding tools. The international cooperation fund launched this year by the Goethe-Institut and the funding programme Bloom Up have set the future course and provided a format for the needs of the next generation of artists that makes possible international exchange, intercultural thinking, collaborative work processes and time for the development of and reflection upon discourse and questions of form. The promotional interest thereby pertains exclusively to international co-productions that seek a cooperative and dialogical collaboration. A philosophy of co-production is emerging that takes its start more from artists and intercultural realities and less from institutions and the market. Instead of an undialogical, one-sided exchange of finished productions, the Goethe-Institut has increasingly encouraged new collaborative work processes and innovative productions in international cultural exchange and cross-genre art forms. The aim is to support the emergence of new networks and ways of working in global contexts and to try out intercultural collaboration.

Happy Hunting Ground

The dance performance Happy Hunting Ground by the Thai director and choreographer Thanapol Virulhakul was created as an international co-production of the Democrazy Theatre Studio in Bangkok and the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Bangkok. Aesthetically, but also structurally, it was located somewhere between the categories. The result was a work intermediary between German and Thai culture, between dance and theatre, research and choreography, state theatre and independent scene. What at first may sound like systematic incongruity, showed itself in this production to be a creative catalyst for multi-layered social analysis. The writer Jürgen Berger went to Bangkok’s red light district to ask Thai prostitutes and their German lovers about the connections of love, desire and money. The interviews revealed stereotypes and prejudices, but also longings, despair and fears in both societies. Beyond sex tourism, prostitution and sexual desire, Virulhakul identified the bio-political constraints of both societies. His analytical approach went beyond the material surface of the interview and penetrated deep into the social consciousness of these cultures, bringing to light a hierarchical prosperity gap and neo-colonial patterns of thought and practices between the cultures.

„Happy Hunting Ground“ at the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe “Happy Hunting Ground” at the Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe | Photo: Felix Grünschloß Social laboratory and utopian thinking space  

The International Forum of the Berlin Theatre Meeting, one of the oldest sponsoring institutions anywhere for international theatre-makers, has also striven for 53 years for artistic and cultural exchange, networking and collaborative thinking. Sarah Israel and Thanapol Virulhakul themselves were once grant holders of the funding programme, which annually invites up to 38 artists from around the world to performing and discursive exchange during the Theatre Meeting. In contrast to the specialization of the arts, the interface of performing and visual art, performance, scholarship, political activism and media art marks out a hybrid space of experience, which the International Forum has raised to an object of study so as to open new opportunities for complex narratives about the upheavals in the world and society in the age of globalization. The International Forum considers it essential to examine its own artistic position self-critically, to link its experience with the knowledge of the grant-holders and to develop it further.

The art work as open form

Even if the impact of a comprehensive cultural change has now been felt in the programme of the festival, in funding programmes and in international co-productions, and the next generation of internationally thinking artists has thereby been furnished with formats for intercultural projects, there is still a lack of sustainable models that accompany the projects for longer periods, and provide time for fragile artistic processes and their tentative first steps without pushing for prestige and marketing. This requires staying power, the courage to re-think art constantly and recognition of the value of the processual.