Thursday, 4 December 2008

"So I give you that song" by Dagmar Reichert

said the Performance pioneer Alison Knowles to the forty years younger Performers from the Maulwerker Group,[1] with whom she was sharing the stage on this first night of the Performance Saga Festival. And they accepted it, the song, the score, a delicate graphic pattern in Fluxus manner at its best, on a banner hanging down somewhere in the space.

The Performance Saga project tries to build a bridge between history and presence of this fleeting artform. But it focuses not so much on videorecords or archives, but more on a vivid dialogue between artists from different generations, encounters where young performance artists appear next to the pioneers, responding to the groundbreaking works of this art.

Quite often, handing over to the next generation is a delicate matter. Even more, when it happens so directly. Are the younger artists really able to understand the full meaning of the work? Will the older ones really be able to let their ideas be transformed, adapted and contextualised anew, and be able to watch how “misunderstandings” are now presented in public. How binding are history and tradition in performance art? And: in what way do they create bonds without suffocating?

Notes from the performance, by Chris Regn

Yesterday's score of Alison Knowles gave the younger artists a lot of liberty. There was a certain attitude, however, which it strictly demanded: full attention, presence and the courage to leave the conventional field of instruments and sounds.

Another piece that all performers did together, articulated a further quality of this transfer between generations. Numerous objects on a long table, Alison Knowles and a Maulwerker standing together behind it, carefully dedicating their attention to each of those objects, eliciting strange sounds out of them. Now Alison seemed to have finished her work, ready to step back from the table, in order to terminate the piece. Has her young colleague understood? Shouldn`t they finish at the same time? He is still completely absorbed with his study. What will she do now? Will she return to the table in order to bring it together to an end? No. Very calmly, she keeps stepping back, whereas he continues his studies and she stays present in the background until he rounds off for himself. This is both a handover and a different way of ending jointly.

One of the pieces by the Maulwerker group, which was performed here for the first time, can be directly related to this way of dealing with tradition and transfer between the generations. The four performers built a living fountain-sculpture, holding cups in their hands. Alison Knowles joined them and poured water in some cups, which was then transferred from one cup to the next one. Some of it was lost in the process of pouring across the distance, even more was lost if someone used it just for his or her own profit, in that he drank it instead of giving it to someone else. Finally, there was no more water. Would Alison Knowles have been in charge of offering more water? Or for encouraging the young to refill autonomously? Nothing like that happened. Standing aside, she let this tradition come to an end.

Freedom in transferring between the generations, in keeping the traditions alive by means of mental innovation while knowing about the past, and then also accepting that things just have their ends: At the end of this performance evening, however, the seventy five year old Alison Knowles insisted that her performance work should be continued: In the end she crumpled the onion score, which she had created and interpreted just before, and tossed it into the audience. And so it happened that this condensed inheritance struck the chest of another performance artist, who just happened to sit in that direction in the audience. Sometimes, as it seems, we can hardly escape from the callings of history.

Written by Dagmar Reichert, translated by Almut Rembges

[1] Maul = mouth; Werker = a mix of “craftsman“, “worker“, “creative action” and more

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