Interview for Theater der Zeit
Theater der Zeit / Arbeitsbuch 2010 heft Nr. 7/8
You are based in Oslo. What made you found Verdensteatret and what does the title mean?
Verdensteatret means Theater der Welt. The name is taken from the old cinemas in Norway, which in their early days nearly all had the name Verdensteatret, in the meaning "live images from the world". (Some of them still use this name) Verdensteatret was founded in 1986 when we bought an old beautiful circus tent somewhere deep in the Swedish forests. The following years Verdensteatret toured all around Scandinavia with "family performances" (often together with Tivoli and Bazaars). Slowly the performances became more peculiar and experimental, the families and the tivolis disappeared and people from theater and the art world started to get interested instead. So, after 5-6 years in the circus tent and with outdoor performances Verdensteatret went into a theater stage for the first time in 1991.
Which topics, artists, aesthetic positions do you consider influential to your work?
Our works take place in the tension between stage art, visual art, music and sound art. It is hard to list up all the influences since it’s changing over time. We regard all our work as parts of one long process. We have gone through many periods where our interest and focus has changed between all different aspects of a stage work. Some years we focused on dance, some years on text, other years on the visual part and others on the musical part, etc.
A long lasting source of inspiration is the German writer Heiner Müller. We have often used his prose-poem texts; Traumtext, Maelstromsüdpol, Landschaft mit Argonauten, Der Mann im Fahrstuhl, Bildbeschreibung etc. as a trigger for several aspects of our work.
Swedish poet Thomas Transtroemer, Paul Celan and Edgar Allan Poe have been influential, too, next to early electronic music (1920- 1960) and animation filmmakers like Ladislav Starevich or the Quay Brothers. However, those are only some artists and art fields that have crossed our path over the years. Installation art and painting are, moreover, continuous resources for our research.
The many long research travels to different parts of the world have influenced our work greatly the last 10 years. These destinations are decided accidently or by pure intuition. In order to get a starting point and a direction towards a new production we find it useful to have a collective experience and base for creating a common artistic language and aesthetics. These travels fill this purpose and also give us a lot of material for the working process when we are back in the studio.
Right now you prepare an installation which you will present in Guangdong, China. - Tell me about those travels, your intuitive choice of exploring the world and the most influental trips that you made?
Every destination is endlessly interesting. A trip to the moon ore a picnic at the local roadside is equally unique. Therefore it is just as rational to make the choice by accident, by feeling or built on a misunderstanding.
All the research travels have made a deep impact on us both personally and professionally. By using them as starting point or gravitational point for a new production we live with it for a long time after we have returned home.
Some important journeys that has gone directly into our art works we can mention Cuba, Ukraine and The Black Sea, Greenland, The Mekong River and Vietnam, Central Asia.
Interdisciplinarity is crucial for your work - You are challenged by links between seemingly incompatible technologies and materials - "Seeing the sound, listening to the images" is your artistic credo?
It’s not a credo but It's a phrase that describes a situation that sometimes arises and that we find very interesting to work with.
When working 1-1 in the studio with several medias simultaneously we often experience that the different medias start to borrow each others individual qualities, for instance that image, sound and movement get so integrated into each other that they seem to melt into one, or to drift between each other in such a way that the sound looks like an image and the image sounds like a sound. To manage to control this is interesting for our work.
As for your theatrical approach: You define your works rather as "compositions" and "telling orchestra" than as "theatre" or "performative installation"? Why is the reference to music so essential ?
We work with intermedia transformations that often take its starting point in rhythmical structures. Where all elements are focused on compositional and musical figures. Sequences where text, images, movements, light, sound and video are organized as instruments in an orchestra.
Some of these works can also be see as one polyphonic instrument that operates several audiovisual layers in a continuous transformation -or composition. This instrument is at the same time like an orchestra, or as we usually call it; a ”telling orchestra”.
The phrase telling orchestra comes naturally because of the many similarities between how we create compositions in a construction like this and the way a composer works with an orchestra. The aim is to create an orchestral work with a musical unity through different medias. Our works are not conventional musical pieces but musical audiovisual space related compositions.
These telling orchestras are often large scale room-installations consisting of electro-mechanical kinetic constructions that function as audio-visual ”animation-machines” where images, sculptors, sound, video is deeply integrated into each other to form an audio-visual composition.
Some of your pieces - e.g. "Faust/Massnahme", "Philoktetes", "Orfeo" seem to be more actor-based in the conventional theatre sense whereas in others all participating elements - light, video, machines, sound, performers - are highlighted as co-players - how would you describe your working method and at which moment do you decide on the final format for a specific piece?
The pieces you refer to belong to a period where our focus was directed much towards classic Greek texts. In the recent years our focus has become more and more intermedial.
We are a process-oriented group. It’s the daily work in our studio that reveal the artistic direction for any new field of interest that manifests itself as an independent new work. We create a situation in the room where we can work 1 – 1 with all necessary medias simultaneously. This is the practise that gives us the direction whether it becomes a work based on text, on images, sound/music, video, robotics, etc. Today we are creating works that both are presented as live performance / concert or exhibited as electromechanical installations / telling orchestras.
As a process-oriented group you also develop and build your kinetic, electromechanical objects – they are self-made, based on try and error, like in a pre-Fordist workshop. No skills are outsourced - how do you deal with (physical, technical) limits that you meet?
We keep on working with it until it works.
It has always been an affection in us to enter new territories and forms of expression.
When we started to use moving objects, figures and animation we also entered the world of motors, robotics and electromechanical instruments.
The technical challenges is a consequence of artistic needs, such as “it would be really nice if this piece of bone could run over to the coffee cup and kiss it until the coffee starts boiling…how do we fix that?..”
We also build all the software and develop the programming systems ourselves. The control system that runs the entire installations of individual robots, video, sound etc. has to be completely custom-made.
As a backdrop for the final work there is always a battlefield of unsuccessful tryouts and experiments filled with burned out motors and electrical components in the wake.
Your text material is rather montage-based - you partly write your own texts and also used material by contemporary authors, such as Heiner Müller, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Finn Juncker or by classical authors such as Sophocles and Ovid - how do you research and create the specific text layers? What's your interest in montage and in a non-linear narrative?
A typical kind of text in the last years is texts lying somewhere in between poetry and prose. Relative short texts open for several possible interpretations. A text we do not have to read from the start, a text with several entrances and exits.
Our approach is that the text is a landscape where the words and semantic meaning represent just one aspect among many. It also gives us images and sounds, it becomes a compass for directing our interest and attention. It might not be spoken at all on stage -but is just as important for the work. (One example would be MAeLSTROMSÜDPOL by Müller).
We are also interested in the musicality of language, exploring the audio dimension by crossing the border between meaningful language and pure sound.
We try to listen to the information that lies in the expression we get when the semantic meaning in the language collapses into abstract sounds. When the rhythmical and tonal sound-structure grow increasingly stronger in emotional quality as the verbal message disappears and the voice blends in with the space.
You present your pieces in galleries, museums and theatres - Is a site specific research important for the development of your material?
No. We can start out from anything.
Your new piece (no title yet?) which consists of two parts - an installation and a live performance - will be a journey through an audiovisual landscape, with kinetic metal sculptures, animation, puppetry, music, lights and shadow play. Could you elaborate on the story and image layers in this intermedial composition?
The stories and image layers that will come out of this is dependent of what the instruments we have invented is capable or willing to express. This phase of the process has just begun. As have been the case in several of our recent works, also this will be a work that only slowly will reveal it’s secrets, it’s music, images and stories.
At this point of the process the instruments stand alone, nearly finished. Their potential obvious to us, yet undiscovered. A mass of ideas are to be tamed in the days ahead. We are now deep into programming for robotic motion of the kinetic sculptures and composing the sounds for each ”instrument”. Then we start playing on them…