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by Mieke (Annemarie) Matzke, She She Pop

Utopian Forms of Communication

DR: Inspired by Black Mountain College, we're interested in what cross-genre teaching, experimental teaching, and art/theater could be today. You, yourself, studied theater in Giessen, and now you are a teacher. What do you think are the criteria for exciting and stimulating teaching that enable students to go their own way?

MM: To start from a lack of knowledge, not knowing exactly where the students should go, and at the same time to create a framework in which this search can take place. This means, on the one hand, an openness in which they can develop their own practice, and on the other hand, a reduction at the beginning of their studies, so that a reduction can be created through this framework. And for me in my own studies, it was very important to be confronted with very different personalities, with very different aesthetics, that there was not only one perspective. In Giessen, we had very different guest professors, for example, a sound artist who worked with Robert Wilson or Barbara Mundel who, as a director and dramaturge, staged Baroque tragedies with us—in other words, different objects and procedures. I try something similar in Hildesheim, too, which means giving the students different approaches to different working methods and aesthetics. In the concrete act of teaching, it is very important for me to work in co-teaching, so that there are always two positions, and so that it becomes clear that in feedback my voice is only one possible voice.

They need to take a step forward in their development so that they can find out how they want to work. This means a double movement: it's about working on a project, about directing a production, and at the same time it's about developing one's own way of working.

DR: To create, so to speak, a space of possibilities?

MM: That's a very broad term. My experience is that space first needs a setting, a setting also by me as a teacher. This can either be a thematic setting or a formal setting. In one semester, for example, we offered "Dramaturgies of the End" as a final module. We then analyzed the staging with regard to its ends, read philosophical texts on the subject of the end, dealt with Beckett's "endgame," but within this setting they are completely free to develop their own project ideas. The setting serves as a kind of heading; what forms they seek, how they work together, that remains open. It begins with this input, then they develop their own project ideas for a project that is then performed. It is also important that they see and criticize each other's work. In a final step, we analyze the process as a result of this scenic research: how could we formulate models for a dramaturgy of the end, what models have we found, and what does this have to do with our own working practice?

When I think about myself as a teacher in these forms, then I act on two levels: there is me as a teacher in a concrete project, and I also see myself as a teacher in an entire course of studies. I believe in the productivity of spaces; it is necessary to make spaces available for production. The students have the opportunity to acquire them, to work very independently, in which they are provided with spaces—spaces in which they can go and make projects. In addition, the course of studies as such is always reflected with the students. So, I always act on two levels; as a lecturer within the program, I also think about whom I invite. This can also be someone whose work and aesthetics are very different from mine, also to make it clear that it's not about teaching a certain way of working here, but about trying oneself out. In a regular semester, students have a seminar that is coupled with a practical exercise. If, for example, I do a seminar on spatial theory, then perhaps I have a practice part at the same time in which we develop installations, that is, one can then compare these spatial theories in a very concrete way: what do I gain from these spatial theories for the realization, and also how can I generate an understanding from my own practice for these spatial theories, and at the same time how can I also think differently about spaces with the background of these spatial theories?

Then there is the project semester, which for one semester suspends all times and rooms, in which the students from the various study programs and main subjects work together with the lecturers on a project three days a week. These projects then end in a presentation. The special thing about this is that an entire department of 500 students work together on a single topic. Two years ago, it was the topic "Suspend," and in 2018 it was "1968." Within this thematic setting, very different projects can be offered that involve interdisciplinary working methods.

DR: How do you imagine the result in concrete terms?

MM: Under the umbrella "1968," for example, there was a group that dealt with the women's general assembly ("Frauenvolksversammlung") at the theater in Bremen, which dealt with collective structures in theater. This legendary production was discontinued after only one performance. The group went to the archives, conducted interviews on this performance, and then there were excursions and re-enactments of events. At the same time, a production in its own right was developed, which also addressed today's questions of cooperation at the theater.

MM: For us, it is important that all projects take place in one location. Then a different productivity can be experienced, the projects invite each other, an exhibition is created at the same time and a film is made. There's always the thematic bracket and the three days a week when people work together.

DR: And then how is this shown?

MM: Then it's a kind of festival. 

DR: I found it amusing, as you described in the publication Das Buch von der Angewandten Theaterwissenschaftabout studying in Giessen, the two approaches to art practice and theory as two real architectural entrances.  Generally speaking, at the moment there is a certain rollback at universities so as to reduce theory. How does the Giessen Model differ from the Hildesheim Model?

MM: In my time, theory and practice were not related to each other in the Giessen Model. There were theoretical seminars, and there were guest professors who came and did a project. When I studied, there was no permanent artistic professorship; that has changed with Heiner Goebbels and Xavier Le Roy now. When I studied, there were artists who came from outside, and there was no connection to theory.

In Hildesheim, one already notices in my person and in others, the connection between theory and practice; one realizes that both fields are strongly related to each other. Ideally, the idea is to couple a seminar directly with an artistic exercise. In the best case, the seminar will then give rise to questions that will then be examined in practice, just as a certain interest in theory will emerge from practice. New questions will be raised by this connection: How can I describe what I am doing here as an artist in a different way, and how can I theorize it? The idea is to develop questions in artistic practice as well as in scientific practice—from the respective other perspective.

This is something I know very well from my own biography. For example, I developed the topic for my doctoral thesis from my own practice, from work on stage. The dissertation deals with forms of self-staging. What kind of form is that when I work on stage with my biography and at the same time design a theatrical figure, how can I grasp it theoretically? These were questions I could not answer in practice. In the same way, however, certain questions for practice can also arise from theory. There are certain questions that theater studies don't ask at all because they don't know practice that well, and therefore a different awareness of the theory of practice is at stake. Each practice also implicitly develops models of a practice, and you can think about these again differently with theory.

Gießen is a pure theater studies program. Dance also plays a major role. In Hildesheim, we have all the arts, the students always have a main subject and a minor subject, and we therefore always have an interdisciplinary approach. The students come from a music practice, an art practice, or a video practice. In the best case, this also has a productive influence on the work in the theater. It was developed in the tradition of the Bauhaus or Black Mountain College. In the past, this was understood as poly-aesthetic education in Hildesheim, in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.

Students' project: mimeesism, screenshot

Students' project: mimeesism, screenshot

DR: What I found very interesting in the publication is the idea of "a university under observation."

MM: It's always about questioning one's own institution. There was a teaching assignment from a sociologist where she wanted to make an ethnography into a theater in Hanover. In order to try out forms of ethnographic research with the students, however, they first began to research their own department with certain ethnographic procedures. In the process, seminars were developed in which the students could direct themselves, in which they researched the history of their own faculty and the history of their own study program with interviews, etc. The students' own initiative is an important element of the study programs, so festivals are always developed by the students, whom we also accompany as mentors, but only if we are asked; otherwise, the students do everything themselves from conception to self-advertisement. In addition, the aim is to continue to develop the course of studies together, through feedback discussions, with the aim of encouraging students to make new suggestions on teaching formats. How could the program look different? We take up these suggestions in order to develop a new teaching format in a joint negotiation process.

DR: I'm also teaching in the Master of Fine Arts at the moment and worked very freely with them at first and was surprised that they very much liked the PowerPoint presentation with a condensed content and then requested it. I noticed that they wanted structured knowledge.

MM: Yes, we also have an introduction to theater studies and an introduction to performance analysis, which is about developing parameters for the analysis of theater. This is a clear statement that is important.

DR: If you respond so strongly to all the wishes and ideas of the students, is there not also a lack of friction?

MM: There is a General Assembly in which you formulate their wishes, and we have a commission for implementation. It is a matter of a joint dialogue, it is a matter of understanding the course of studies as something to be shaped together, but also of setting clear formats for the joint dialogue. There are also fixed dates for this in the Master's program when they come with concrete proposals. There are definitely concrete questions about the degree program. The aim is to understand the course of studies as something that can be shaped, even though there is a module plan. It can be shaped in its structure.

DR: Is there any grading at all?

MM: We have very clear guidelines for grading. The practice is also graded, that is a completely scientific course of studies; they have to present again and again, or they write a term paper. In the theater sector, they have six modules, each of which is graded. When only the thesis was graded, this was much more frightening.

The division into Bachelor and Master is difficult compared to the diploma program. The students first have to understand how the course works and what possibilities they have, and then they work on their projects. It used to be that they wrote their diploma thesis after five or six years. Now it's the case that they still need a long time to complete their Bachelor's degree, and then they think they have to go somewhere else for the Master's degree. That's not quite as logical as they build on each other, because we also see the Bachelor's degree as a very open course of study. Sometimes the Bachelor's degree is a bit more school-like, and I think this is an artificial distinction between it and the Master's degree.

It works within the Bachelor's degree and within the Master's degree, but the idea that you then graduate and then start again does not necessarily make sense for the degree program. When new students come to the Master's program, they need a long time to get acquainted. That makes sense partly, partly they study similar things, and partly I am skeptical whether this makes so much sense.

Project semester, Photo: Andreas Hartmann

Project semester, Photo: Andreas Hartmann

DR: Wouldn't it be better to spend five to six years intensively on one thing?

MM: Yes, and to be able to build up an intensive working relationship.

DR: In the narrower sense, the contents, even with the working methods there is an approximation with different study programs and subjects, but is it not more about a certain personal attitude of the teachers?

MM: In artistic study courses, it is quite clear that not everyone who studies will be able to work in the field. And so it is clear that from the outset there is a distinct competitive pressure—who am I as an artist? We don't have this pressure, because it's clear that many professions are possible with a degree. With us, this great openness makes it possible to ask the question: do I want to work as an artist or as a curator? Of course, we are then accused of training less in certain aspects of craftsmanship. Of course, no one is trained here who can play different roles every evening at a municipal theater, but there is certainly the possibility of developing your own artistic practice, and there are very successful examples. There are certain types of artistry in all study courses and seminars to discuss gender justice. As I said at the beginning, the studies begin with a lack of knowledge, and later I become an artist or mediator.

DR: Then what do they do concretely?

MM: There are students who work as directors, and there are relatively many who successfully found independent theater groups and many who work as dramaturges. There are theater educators, in all areas of art mediation, from art journalism to festival curators, production managers; in the area of free production, we have graduates who are artistic directors, others end up in cultural politics.

DR: Now I'd like to know how the group "She She Pop" developed.

MM: That was already during my studies, actually from the experience that the predominant practice during my studies was that my male fellow students wrote pieces and then asked their female fellow students if they were on stage. We noticed that we wanted to work differently, we didn't want to reproduce a classic concept of directing and acting. During our studies we created a group, a working structure, in which we ourselves developed our performances, in other words we ourselves were in the function of the director, we wanted to change perspectives. After our first performances, we were confronted with the fact that first of all people talked about our bodies, which perhaps surprised us. From this, a certain question arose, namely the question of the representation of femininity—what is the image of the woman that was attributed to us, and how can we work with image disorders? “She She Pop” therefore became a feminist project for us. And this also in terms of a working structure that was characterized by changing positions, on the level of aesthetics as well, where the point was to show the audience other positions. When we noticed that we (as bodies) were very strongly compared, we started to turn on the light in the auditorium and look back, when the male gaze scans the body up and down, to quasi-return the male gaze.

She She Pop, group portrait, 2015

She She Pop, group portrait, 2015

DR: With such a large group, how can you make a living from it? Has that changed in recent years?

MM: You can live from it; we are one of the best supported groups in Germany. However, it is difficult to provide for a pension. But of course, it's a job in which you are evaluated continuously; even if you're employed at the Stadttheater, it might take five years. We have to keep submitting new applications for funding, but the fact is that we can make a living from it. I am rather surprised by the question—you can't do the work and tour internationally, and you don't have time for any other paid work.

DR: What can these approaches, the work of She She Pop, mean as methods in the present, in the omnipresence of the digital?

MM: It is always a matter of a new negotiation of a different relationship to the audience; the audience is always included in the sense of a testimony. It is therefore a question of participation, of a common physical presence. This is something that makes theater special in the age of the digital and also makes it necessary.

DR: Working in a collective, I imagine it to be difficult. I also very often work in two or three constellations, so I can hardly imagine how this works (with five to eight people).

MM: Theater has always been a collective art form, you're more than one.  It's about having certain working structures in the collective; we try to separate it, i.e., there's an organizational level and an artistic level. On the artistic level, it's about finding new forms and procedures, setting each other new tasks, constantly changing positions. In the rehearsal process you need different roles; in the beginning you alternate more. These are long processes, they are negotiation processes. When the collective has reached an agreement, then it also happens very quickly: you write a text, someone continues to write, someone speaks it, you have the opportunity to work in parallel, so many different ideas are introduced. It is maybe harder to make a radical statement. In return, ideas are examined more closely, so that an idea can be further developed in the positive or an idea can be quickly disintegrated in the negative. We often try to make this process visible again on stage.

DR: What desires are driving you and the group to theater work?

MM: It's about creating your own space with the audience in which things can be negotiated and the belief that there is a political attitude in it. It's about showing utopian forms of communication on stage that are otherwise said to be impossible in society. If, for example, we have a conversation on stage between West German and East German female artists, how they are socialized as women and artists respectively. It is about creating situations in order to discuss questions that are socially necessary.

Annemarie Matzke studied Applied Theatre Studies at Justus-Liebig University in Gießen. She did her doctorate on forms of self-staging in contemporary theatre at the University of Hildesheim and was a research assistant at the institute for theatre studies of the Freie Universität Berlin. Annemarie is a founding member of the group She She Pop; actress and dramaturge in various projects. Her main research focus are performance art, theories of acting; post-dramatic theatre in theory and practice; body and movement concepts. Since autumn 2009 she is professor for Performance Studies at the Institute for Media and Theatre of the University Hildesheim.


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Issue 43

Revisiting Black Mountain
Cross-Disciplinary Experiments and Their Potential for Democratization

by Dorothee Richter and Ronald Kolb

by Ronald Kolb with Bitten Stetter, Brandon Farnsworth, Dorothee Richter, Jochen Kiefer, Martin Jaeggi, Paolo Bianchi

by Daniel Späti

by Steven Henry Madoff

by Mieke (Annemarie) Matzke, She She Pop

by Susanne Kennedy

by Olga von Schubert, Caroline Adler and Boris Buden

A collaborative exercise by Sascia Bailer, Lucy Bayley, Simon Fleury, Gilly Karjevsky, and Asli Uludag to reflect upon our shared experiences at Un-Learning Place at Haus der Kulturen der Welt

Interview by Ronny Koren

by Raqs Media Collective