Experiences from Weimar (2): How in Germany politics and art celebrate an uneasy marriage.

Have this text read aloud:

“The government requires that we only show artists from our own region. It would be a huge drain for us, because we are an international art space. But we figured something out. We now invite top international artists who live here, or we offer them a residency so that they temporarily live in the city. That way we still meet the requirements.”

Frank Motz is still an anarchist, and he has been since he squatted with a group of kindred spirits in the building near the city castle of Weimar, where the Kunstverein ACC is still based today. “It was 1987. Those were catastrophic times and no one knew what would happen a year later.” Squatting for art in the GDR under Honecker, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall: something we haven’t seen in any film about that time. Motz is still stubborn, but now belongs at the top with his Kunstverein.

Robert Wilson

This year, during Kunstfest Weimar, there will be two presentations: the works of the local international artists, and a project that will not reach a climax until next year. That work, a reconstruction of the 1960s project entitled ‘PERSONAE. The Mask gegen die Barbarei’ by the famous visual artist Joan Miró and director Joan Baixas, is now being rebuilt by the grandson of Baixas and will be shown next year, with a soundscape by Robert Wilson. After this, everything is burned again, just like before, because it was a demand from Miró and Baixas: art only exists when it is performed.

Theater costumes by Jean Miró, photo Wijbrand Schaap

Miró’s sculptures look beautiful, but I was most captivated by the work of the artists who had to deal with their (temporary) stay in Thuringia. Under the title Thüringer Verführungen, 5 artists react to the recent and less recent history of an area where the extreme right plays a significant role in daily politics. Next year their work can be seen in five villages around Weimar, the tour starts in ACC.

Donald Trump’s copywriter

Also on tour is a solo by the German National Theater in Weimar entitled Der Tribun. It is a text by the composer Mauricio Kagel from 1979, and it almost sounds like a literal speech by Trump, including all the (so-called) slips of the tongue, confusion and hesitation. The performance will tour around thirty village houses in the state of Thuringia. It cannot fail to have a huge significance in the small communities, where xenophobia and racism are unfortunately as widespread as in some rural areas in our own country.

It would be an idea to do something similar in the Netherlands, but I don’t know if there is a company here that has enough reach among a non-art minded audience to make a real impact. For now, we still have a primal recording from 1979, where you can clearly hear how Kagel serves as an example for Trump’s copywriter.

Furious olive grove

The work Olivenhain/Massik by the German/Israeli artist Sigolit Landau is of a completely different order. On the Theaterplatz in front of the National Theater there are six 10 meter high video columns on which larger olive trees can be seen. In the forty-minute video artwork, we see how the olive harvest takes place by mechanically shaking the trees. It’s an extremely violent image, not just for people who like trees: it looks like the torture of a living being.

Halfway through we see the trees being cleared almost at random and the stumps in the ground being destroyed with machines similar to those that shook the trees before. Then the trees return, and we are invited to dance among the shaking trees, because it has become a kind of wild olive tree disco.

Stronger trees

The connection with the struggle in the occupied territories, where Israeli settlers raze the sometimes centuries-old orchards of the original Palestinian farmers, is clear.

Still, it’s not just an accusation, says Sigolit Landau when I talk to her afterwards: “Art is very interested in agriculture, and agriculture is not so concerned with art, but there is a connection.” Massik is the unique term for this crude form of olive harvest, but, says Landau, it makes the trees stronger. “For me, it is very much about collaboration. Between the farmers and the workers, but also between the trees and people. Everyone feels strongly connected to trees. The tree is the first sign you see and through which you know that all will be well after the flood.”

“In the West Bank, olive groves are cleared by settlers, which makes life impossible for the Palestinian inhabitants. There is a lot of fighting over and with those trees. Also because they are a symbol: who owns this country, whose identity lies here. When an olive tree dies, it is like a man who dies.”

Celebrate life with death

Yet it is not a simple charge, however justified it may be. In this installation, an Israeli and a Syrian dancer dance, with beautiful music by a Moroccan composer and singer. Landau prefers to show what life can be about. She lets the anger do its own work on the viewer.

“I didn’t film in the West Bank, because that’s not my style. I filmed the cutting of the olive trees in the peaceful olive grove, because that is part of cultivating the grove there. The trees are mixed as long as they can be mixed, then they lose their economic value, after which they are cleared and new trees take their place. It is a celebration of life.”

This unique orchard may appear on a site in the Netherlands next year. It is urgent, political art that sparks discussion, but also very intensely captures the imagination of any passerby.

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