Start Cooking… Recipe Will Follow

To say things are unclear is still a euphemism. Politically, socially, wherever you look: the situation is not good. But what’s even worse: it is hard to understand the implications. Action seems to be needed – but how? What is to be done? Stand still because any form of action is only going to make everything worse, as some fashionable political theories recommend? Accelerate capitalism to defeat it with its own weapons? Barricade the borders and close our hearts? Or defend traditions of internationalism and solidarity?

Situations are coming to a head, various crises are becoming a permanent condition, but the prospect of alternatives is hazy. It is in this landscape that independent theater finds itself searching for how art today can be political. What would be the appropriate form for the theater to do that?

Between activism and autonomy (which is making a surprising comeback as a demand) artists are now taking up new positions and finding their own medium between theory’s timescale on one hand and activism’s on the other. Because while the former claims that it’s necessary to hesitate, to think and weigh things up, the latter warns that action is needed or else it will be too late.

The theater, in common with the whole of society, is searching for vantage points from which we can view the present. Where a brief pause might be possible, at least for a moment. From which one could plan the next step.
The works of the German-speaking scene in this year’s Impulse Theater Festival examine the present in trying to make sense of it, sometimes in documentary form, sometimes analytically, sometimes clearly and conceptually, sometimes poetically and imaginatively: Gintersdorfer/Klaßen, who are represented once again this year with a large ensemble of Ivorian and German performers, dancers and musicians, use the characters of German ambassadors in West Africa to investigate how colonial structures continue to operate today – a question which is also asked in a very different way by the young theatermakers Oliver Zahn and Julian Warner in ‘Situation mit Doppelgänger’.

The war in the Middle East, which is getting ever closer, is the subject of two other invited performances: while the Austrian choreographer Christine Gaigg together with the composer Klaus Schedl primarily examines our perception of war via the media in ‘untitled (look, look, come closer)’, the COSTA COMPAGNIE has collected words, sounds and images from the Hindu Kush in ‘Conversion / After Afghanistan’, which they use to pass on war, its consequences and entanglements to the spectator.
Rimini Protokoll director Daniel Wetzel places a very quiet, touching and playful work in contrast to the extremely loud discussion about refugees: in ‘Evros Walk Water’ we turn from an audience into representatives of absent refugee children who are stranded in Greece. The river Evros – as one of the borders of Fortress Europe – also stands in the center of andcompany&Co.’s radio play ‘Schlepperoper’, which is broadcast in co-operation with WDR during the festival. Dario Azzellini and the Austrian activist and theatermaker Oliver Ressler move into crisis zones of Europe as well with their video installation “Occupy, Resist Produce”, when they show, exemplified by shut down factories occupied by workers in Milan, Rome and Thessaloniki, how amid the economic crisis experimental direct democracy and collective decision making can be practiced.

Religion – whether through radical Islamic positions (or fear of these), through evangelical fundamentalism or other forms of political instrumentalisation – is also becoming increasingly influential. In ‘Martin Luther Propagandastück’, Boris Nikitin chooses a religious service for the enlightened white middle class as a medium for manipulation, faith and the search for one’s own freedom to act.
Also what was presumed personal always remains political: sexuality and the body are constantly historical, social constructions and a question of power, as She She Pop make visible with actresses and actors from the Münchner Kammerspiele in ‘50 Grades of Shame’. Bodies are also the center of attention in ‘Noise’, a work by Sebastian Nübling and the junges theater basel: for the young people on stage political movement is also always bodily movement – energetic, fast and loud. Can neoliberalism and its fake promises of freedom be accelerated so much that they crash into the wall with speed?

And so the future suddenly enters through the back door, at least as a concept, to set up an outer position opposite the present, from which it might become more understandable. And with it fundamental questions arise: Who will we have been? What will we have done? In retrospect it will have become clear what we are currently experiencing. Simply an episode or a change of the times, the prelude to catastrophe or to deliverance?
Two of this year’s invitations enter such a future – with the aim of looking back from it towards today: in their live film project ‘Germany Year 2071’ – one of the three international commissions which Impulse initiates in each festival in its three partner cities – the Nature Theater of Oklahoma imagines a Germany on the verge of collapse, in which revolutions come and go, in which extra-terrestrials are first welcomed before being turned into sausages. For this New York company, the camera becomes a tool with which to involve all the audience: everyone becomes part of the theater, part of the film which will be given its world premiere next year at Impulse 2017.

While the Nature Theater of Oklahoma directs the real, modernistic backdrop of Cologne, theatermaker Ariel Efraim Ashbel looks for the future in a black box performance space: a geometric landscape in black, put together from objects, people, sounds, movement, in which future visions of past times echo and concepts of race, identity, and cultural hegemony are questioned.

Impulse is also interested again in artistic works which involve themselves directly in social and political matters. Central to these is the Silent University Ruhr, an alternative university for refugee academics, whose knowledge has been silenced. The initiative begun last year by the Kurdish artist Ahmet Öğüt embedded this time within a summer academy: under the title ‘Learning Plays’ four artist-initiated schools, academies and theoretical platforms come together for the first time in Mülheim to compare their methodologies; the Performing Arts
Forum – PAF from St. Erme, the School of Engaged Art of the St. Petersburg collective Chto Delat, the Vierte Welt from Berlin and the Silent Universities from London, Stockholm, Hamburg, Athens, Amman and Mülheim. At the end the circle will be extended into a performative conference which asks whether it is possible to find other, more radical forms of education and dissident participation.

That art often avoids direct contact with real politics is taken by the Israeli choreographer Dana Yahalomi of Public Movement as a pretext to initiate a very concrete meeting of art and politics. ‘Make Art Policy!’ invites influential politicians from all the parties relevant in North Rhine-Westphalia to Düsseldorf town hall to articulate their cultural political stance, using the structural similarities of art and politics, the stage and the civic chamber.
The works shown by Impulse this year – as different as they are, as much as they may contradict each other – form part of a searching movement. And this is perhaps exactly what we can do artistically and politically: not stand still, not be resigned, not insisting on autonomy while lachrymosely protecting vested interests, but acting artistically and politically, even if we do not know exactly where we are going to end up. Setting off, even if it is unclear where we are. Or maybe it would be better to say: start cooking – a political solution Brian Eno recently suggested as it integrates both instant action with gradual development: “Start cooking … Recipe will follow.”
This may be a modest slogan – but it does express our need to be forward thinking and acting. Not only because it flies in the face of the widespread culture of depression and fear (chiefly an argument of rightwing populists) by raising the hope that the recipe will come. But also because if we stop complaining, we can find it in cooking ourselves.

Impulse 2016 is spread across numerous venues in Düsseldorf and has satellites in Cologne and Mülheim. You will be most welcome to come and take part in discussions at our festival center – a new space at the FFT Kammerspiele, designed by the creative collective based in Düsseldorf and Cologne Labor Fou – and in response to numerous individual works: to talk with us, think with us, cook with us and act with us. Join the old acquaintances and newcomers of the independent theater we have invited in their search for the world we want to live in – and what we have to do to make it happen.