Lisbeth Bodd and Asle Nilsen
The conversation was made in August 2000, with: Preben Faye Schjøll (theatre director), Christel Sverre (visual artist), Grete Ihndal (art critic) and Knut Ove Arntzen (theatre theorist, University of Bergen)
GRETE INDAHL: To me Verdensteatret seems very mythical. I hear very little about you. Suddenly you are there with some large performance or other, that runs for a couple of days and then you are completely gone.
ASLE NILSEN: ...just as if the Finnish heavyrock band Ghost Train, who are allways on tour, but that nobody has ever seen, shouls suddenly turn up.
LISBETH BODD: ...we have been on the road for 14 years since it all started in Bergen in the eighties. Lots of good things happened in Bergen at that time.
CHRISTEL SVERRE: When I have seen you I have always felt that I first and foremost have had a visual experience. The artist as theatre artist, is that an interesting way of stating the problem?
ASLE: Not really, if I am to be strictly correct...Verdensteatret has always worked with artists from many art languages..
LISBETH: Multi-artistic work is not only about an art language, to me it's an attitude...
KNUT OVE ARNTZEN: Visual art and theatre/performance have infected each other and we now have a theatrical performance and a performative theatre who still infect each other. And the process of hybridity continues; technology, the club scene, the ambient etc.
L: The collective experience becomes more and more important. Dramatic art appears in different forms and contexts, often simultaneously. One may move freely within these spaces. In verdensteatret the artist, in this case Asle, works just as much with text, sound, video and directing as with the visual space.
A: When professions merge and cross each other, it provides several possible directions within the work. In Verdensteatret the performers on stage have also, to a great degree, been visual artists.
L: Those who take part, take part as autonomous artists, who join together around a project. It therefore feels a little strange that we now talk mostly about Asle and myself.
CHRISTEL: However, it is you two who apply for money and who invite people to take part in the projects. You are artistically responsible.
L: Yes, that's right, but when we get going with the project this factor more or less dissapears and without the people we have worked together with, nothing would have come out of it, so this is a two-way thing..people interest me..
GRETE: How do you find your collaborators?
A: They are casual acquaintances we make, people we become friends with. Or we ask someone who we particularly want to work with.
L: A sort of universe is created where people eventually fill their place. I have experienced that the more people are established within their own artistic language.involved in their own work, the easier it is to collaborate. I therefore think that the fact that Asle continues to paint, provides us with different eye for things, paradoxical suggestions that are different. His experience of long working periods that apparently don't provide a result, things are rejected, but still remains as layers, as a sort of substance within the project.
PREBEN FAYE SCHJØLL: The process of making a painting and making performance, are they the same?
A: No, they are two different worlds. There are similarities in the way of working, though, all the attempts that are rejected etc. I work with the material/matter until contact is made that makes it active. However, where content is concerned, what is to be expressed, I regard the two as different worlds. In Verdensteatret I work with many different art languages at once, in interaction with other artists, something that demands different ways of being creative. Painting is not creative. Painting is a simplification, a stopping of the world, a concentration.
PREBEN: When you watch one of your performances or you look at a painting, what are you looking for?
A: I look for contact, a recognition that makes it possible to proceed.
PREBEN: When does something function?
A: It works when I stop trying to make it function. For example, if I see that I am about to make a painting "work", there is a large possibility that it wont be good enough. What's missing is that the painting hasn't gone through one or several destructive collapses. There is far too much information at once for one to predict how, seemingly incompatible elements can coincide, create a new expression. This can not be hatched beforehand. We have often had similar experiences in Verdensteatret, it is only when the projects collaps that they start getting somewhere. This is connected to the process of consciously moving beyond what one has control over.
CHRISTEL: When you have invited people, what do you start with?
A: This is "driftwood art". Anything that drifts into the our space can be used.
L: But after a while some of these free-floating possibilities catch our interest, a sort of wound appears "it could be a wound, like Stalingrad or New York, something that arouses interest"...and suddenly things fall into place or crash into something in a completely unexpected way. A sort of landscape appears.
A: The productions are like underground root systems, that develop new branches and where the concrete works can be compared to new shoots on these branches. This image can describe each individual production or the whole of Verdensteatret's activity. The Régla room is such a shoot, a reminiscence og thoughts around the destiny of a sailor at war, Philoktetes. His situation as he is left behind on a deserted island. A prisoner for life with access to a beach. In order to keep panic at arms lenght, he begins an endless, mindless, repetitive task of constructing things from corals that is washed ashore.
L: But the tragedy does no longer lie with the classical Greek, tragedy lies outside the art scene. What is important is how one orientates oneself within the context. one sees this more clearly when one moves around. Both content and and the situation changes. We create something as well as we can from our local position and takes this with us. Suddenly one finds oneself within a situation where one has to choose between a Serbian State Opera or cross the river to the Turkish/Albanian Theatre. When we then cross the river, the social meeting with artists, intellectuals and people from the town becomes more important than the performance, however, without the performance on offer, the meeting would not function.
PREBEN: In your latest production "Régla", there are very many things going on at the same time. To wich degree do you wish to compose these, to control them? L: Less and less. Again it is about letting incompatible elements meet and try to be open and aware enough to see the unexpected connetctions they produce.
A: The open material create their own consequence, a chain reaction. For example...we meet and start the project. We find out that we ought to make a journey together in order to gain a common history, a common language. One of us, Per, comes across a cheap trip to Cuba..
LISBETH: ..you'd rather go to India..
A: ..yes, however, we end up in Havana, as tourists with video cameras and the lot. Much later, back in Oslo, we pull out the text "The Mission" by Heiner Müller from a huge pile of possible texts for use and discover that we have done the same geographical trip as the people in this text have done, with a difference in time of 300 years. And we, unlike them, came out of it alive. Cuba in the 1700's suddenly becomes a gravitation point.. like a black hole drawing into itself all sorts of things from earlier phases of the process. Somewhere, between where this gravitation area has sucked up all the material and where this becomes so compressed that it explodes again...that is where the performance lies.
PREBEN: So much work for a moments experience?
A: It is something about the groove of it being "live"..the collective experience with the audience. When several people get it to work simultaneously there is nothing to beat it.
L: It is about making a party, creating an evening, an atmosphere, a universe people can join. Try to offer something...people wish to meet someone.
GRETE: in Régla you shift focus from the analytical in previous works and over to more emotional layers of information which the viewer has to decode. What is talked about in Régla?
"On an embankment overgrown with grass two boys are piecing together something between steam engine and locomotive that is resting on a disused piece of railway track. I, the European, see at first sight that their effort is in vain; this vehicle will not move, but I don't tell them, work is hope." (H. Müller)
A: It lies somewhere between what the text discusses and the way in wich we do things. I could also say it is an effort to enter into the fever fantasies of a Frenchman who lies with an amputated foot in a military hospital in Cuba in the 1700's, seen from another angle.
L: ..About being in the wrong place at the wrong time. In Régla presence and history are mixed together. After the French Revolution three people are sent to Jamaica to start a black slave revolt. Suddenly Napoleon has gained power in France, and you have three Europeans standing in Jamaica, shaking with tropical fever...without a mission...you are quite lost then. This is for me an interesting point. I think you have described Régla quite well, in a reiew you did:p "Régla constructs an intercultural landscape...music, movement and historic material merge together into a theatrical hybrid of cultural elements and historic events. The performers are in no-man's land and look back across eras and geographical belonging in an attempt to recollect the memory of things past and lost. Words are thrown into the space and come back as echoes of colonisation and war, revolution and freedom."
GRETE: What are you going to do in the future?
A: The Régla material is compressed almost to the critical point. Then I suppose we add the catastrophic last movement and see what happens...