Exhibition / 52-Hour-Lab
Thomas Macho
“faire l'âme monstrueuse”
Produktionsstrategien der Angst
in der künstlerischen Avantgarde

Jean-Baptiste Joly
The Artist’s Fear of Her-/Himself

Nikolaus A. Adams
Space Transportation and Dual Use
of Aerospace Technology

Dennis Farber
Fear is Just Another Word
for Someone Left to Please

Christofer Hierold
Carbon Nanotube Sensors

Petros Koumoutsakos
Computing: An Indispensable
Friend or Foe?

Maren Rieger
Dealing with Fear—
Keep Your Distance

Photo Gallery

Maren Rieger
Dealing with Fear—Keep Your Distance

There is a ghost haunting us, the ghost of ...
by the way, do you remember Marx’s Communist Manifesto?

Anxiety and fear thrill our fantasies in different ways in different aspects of the realities with which we surround ourselves. At the present, we celebrate Halloween and, as far as I remember, this was not very common during my youth. We created other situations of horror in stimulating each other to take a risk and walk alone through very dark forests, eat snakes and other really uncomfortable things ... But I do not want to tell you stories of risk management from my childhood.

I skipped my lecture on the anxiety of influence as a poetic strategy to deal with authorship. You might better read Harold Bloom’s essay from the end of the 1960s. Just because I could not really cope with it, already at university I thought of the predominant male discourse in which he is involved as slightly scary for myself as a young female writer. So I made up my mind and decided finally: This is not my generation! Sorry, but I think I have something more appropriate for you.

I started to imagine situations where artists managed to keep the thin and challenging line of dealing with fear in their works. And these situations in my memory were bound to performative events, of course. You also will be able to understand me if you remember your last visit to a theatre, be it opera or text-based performance or dance ...

Why do you visit such places? You have to dress up, spend money to buy a ticket, and sit in a dark auditorium next to people you do not know, very close, much closer than you would normally agree; you can smell them, hear their breathing or coughs—yes, there is a danger of being infected ... On the stage in front of you there are real people doing things in public that might offend you, hopefully they do not sit next to you. It is unpredictable ... You are not in control. You do not have to answer now, no confessions necessary.

The notion of “uncanniness” (Unheimlichkeit) was analyzed by Sigmund Freud through a rereading of E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Sandman in which the fear of castration is replaced by blinding.

Recently, we had a festival of contemporary dance in Berne. In front of the theatre, a ghost train was built for those volunteers who were looking for a thrilling performance before and after the main shows. It was interesting to watch the people standing in the very short line and speculate on their strategies in dealing with their fears of riding the trains that looked a little abandoned ... Smoking, laughing, gibbering ... And as a ride lasted two minutes, you could also see them coming out of the trains and study their expressions again.

Now I invite you to think of Aristotle and his ancient analysis of tragedy. For the most important aspect he is normally quoted on catharsis, something that happens after you have been led through a dramatic action by means of pity (eleos) and fear (phobos). Do you remember that Freud also read Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, where blinding is central to the narrative?

Furcht/Fear hat ein Objekt
Angst/Anxiety hat kein Objekt

In 1926, Freud argued that fears go back to an external danger, for example, a situation of loss of the mother as object or castration, which we all experience in childhood as traumatic episodes. Later this anxiety is reproduced by the ego—working as a signal, a warning of an anticipated situation of danger.

“The ego, which experienced the trauma passively, now repeats it actively in a weakened version.” [1]

I would like to mention Freud now since he summarizes the three main kinds of anxiety: realistic, neurotic and moral. These can be easily connected with the ego’s three dependent relations: to the external world, the id and the super-ego.

Realistic Means Prepare to Flight
Neurotic If Danger Is Unrealistic

I am interested in analyzing poetic strategies to create a performative situation where the audience is invited to rejoice ...

I started to imagine.

July 8th, 2005, on the motorway to Stuttgart: I recall past journeys to Forced Entertainment’s performances. I have seen quite a lot of their work in different venues and contexts over the last nine years—each new work has challenged my habits of perception. Now in their 21st year, they have announced their new show Exquisite Pain “from a text by Sophie Calle.” They are using a text by another artist, and I wonder how their work connects on stage. I immediately remember a work by Calle, The Sleepers, comprising photographs of sleeping people she had invited to stay in her bed, and this work reminds me of Hugo Glendinning’s bewildering photographs for Forced Entertainment’s installation Ground Plans for Paradise. Calle and Forced Entertainment—both have investigated the intricate relationships between public and private, fact and fiction.

Before the show begins, I realize that there are quite familiar elements on stage: two tables with chairs, two screens hanging above, in the middle of the background a neon sign—this time announcing exquisite pain. This set reminds me of previous works like A Decade of Forced Entertainment, Speak Bitterness, The Travels, Instructions for Forgetting. Two performers (Claire Marshall and Richard Lowdon) walk onto the stage with their scripts, sit down, pour a glass of water, and, before they start the performance, have a look at the audience. Welcome.

Then they guide us through some two hours of passion and pain by reading their scripts. At the end, they reach the last page and leave the stage. Reduced to a minimum of action on stage, this show needs performers who know how to cope with the dramaturgic hurdles of dense and intelligent storytelling, performers who know what and how they are composing while they are doing it. In an archaic sense, persona has the meaning of a mask, a membrane, through which the actor can speak. A persona is not a character—it is not pretending to be somebody else on stage, but possible versions of somebody. This is something I have learned from following Forced Entertainment’s theatre work. It is clearly in their methods of creating personas through which I can investigate contemporary obsessions and passions.

Claire narrates a female persona’s 92-day process of transforming the pain of a sudden break-up with a lover into a piece of art, step by step. She does not allow short cuts within this process. Richard reads the accompanying stories that Calle gathered from other people who describe their most painful experiences.

Richard and Claire swap—as though they are playing a game with each other and the audience. A kind of competition: I tell you a sad story, and I have another one, too. This sets the pace and rhythm of the performance. The strategies and tactics of the performers are readable and visible. They keep their distance from the personas with respect and humor—apparently they are very clear about the structure of this show. It is an emotional challenge for the audience—of course, I start to think of my personal sad story, too. This could result in kitsch and catastrophe, but during the performance they transpose those well-known stories of existential loss, betrayal, and failure in a way that makes them bearable for me in the audience. Soon I get involved in the female persona’s working method of repeating and varying the story of the break-up. The unsentimental and empathetic way in which Claire presents the persona’s counting of the days after the traumatic event and her constant returning to rewrite her trauma is intriguing. On the other side (of the stage), Richard also presents his various stories in a very engaging way, and despite their emotional content, paradoxically, I am always relieved to hear them. Perhaps this is because his stories function as presentations in the past tense, transformed pain in contrast to the aching process the female persona is going through here and now. Not every story Richard tells ends with a point; some are left open, and their tones differ. He names and documents the years they took place, too. This reinforces the effect of epic distance on us witnesses in the dark. We can study many different ways of constructing and deconstructing the events that have impressed the people’s memory and how they have been transformed into their personal scars.

In the meantime, photographs by Calle are shown on the screens. We witness crime scenes without human beings, the subjects are empty spaces, interiors, details, left objects—ambivalent stills of a lived presence. These photographs might function to authenticate the stories, but their effect is different. The photographs and texts refer to each other in an uncanny way, questioning the realities of their narratives and leaving us uncertain about their fictitious status. On the screen above Claire’s table, there always appears the same photograph of a hotel room with a red telephone on the bed. There is a particular moment in the show when Claire’s persona describes her scene of suffering as a sort of a stage. The persona starts watching herself as she performs her pain. Claire is very precise in marking the difference in the persona’s attitude towards her story. Taking the view of an artist: the eye/I of the wounded Narcissus becomes interested in the artistic potential of her sufferings—maybe even in the idea of transforming existential pain into a work of art. This turning point in the show establishes a new attitude in this intense process of re-signation: “Kunst ist das Versprechen des Glücks, das gebrochen wird.” [2]

The way in which Forced Entertainment present these stories is very true to the text by Calle. They take responsibility for the composition of the show, presenting her text and creating an atmosphere on stage that is highly concentrated yet light and intimate. It is a pleasure to watch the two performers while they are really giving me a hard time. They transform time and space in a very demanding way, taking risks with the nearly durational structure of the performance and take their time in exploring the depths and amazing potential of well-known narratives. They challenge and they comfort me out there in the darkness as probably the Greek rhapsodists had done with their audience when they sang about the human being lost within a world of existential fear.

Next day, back on the motorway, I unfold my imaginary map of performance and art and mark this first viewing of Exquisite Pain: Here be dragons—some performers can sing songs to un-frighten me.

[1] Sigmund Freud: “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety” [1926], in: SE—The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. Vol. 20, London 1959, pp. 77–174, p. 166.

[2] Theodor W. Adorno: “Ästhetische Theorie,” in: Gesammelte Schriften. Vol. 7, Frankfurt am Main 1970,
p. 205.


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