Katarzyna LemańskaWojtek Ziemilski’s extended theatre
In his projects, Wojtek Ziemilski explores the changing status of the spectator (participant, co-author, partner) in accordance with the degree of his/her participation in the performance. As a director and a visual artist he poses questions about the viewer’s relation to what they see around themselves, about their way of perceiving the world, about how they are affected by the performance, and if they engage in it, are they willing to be a part of the piece or would they rather remain passive? To what degree is the viewer willing to go beyond the theatrical experience that they know? How does one create a community using the means offered by visual arts?
It seems to me that when there is an actor and a projection on stage at the same time, the projection is bound to win. In this context, here are two options. One is to try to create a balance between the projected image and the actor. The second requires a consideration of what we can do with the projected image to make its presence on stage meaningful.
Ziemilski uses the latter method – the pieces he directs exist on the borderline between performance, theatre, visual arts and social choreography. He uses the most recent tech-nology (video cameras, audio headphone sets, projectors, screens). On one hand these tools make the relationship between the performer and the spectator less direct, on the other, they engage the latter in the theatrical process, for the audience is very quick to adapt to the changing rules and works out the mechanisms behind the performance. Therefore Ziemilski is constantly playing upon the fact that his model spectator is aware of his/her relationship with the artists. The receiver prefers to interpret and classify (that is to repeat the critic’s gesture) instead of experiencing. However when he/she joins the game and takes an active part in it (which means resisting the theatre’s conventions), the game may become a part of his/her life.
In my article in Teatr Rozszerony describe this work as the “extended theatre” (pl. “teatr rozszerzony”). The term may be associated with the English term “devised theatre” relating to the methods of group composition (of the directors and the performers) based on improvisation and physical theatre. However, I do not put Wojtek Ziemilski’s works in the circle of devised theatre as I understand it in this sense. I can see much more relation to the definition proposed by komuna//warszawa. It is “a theatre which intrudes on the narrative habits of the spectators and plays with the traditional order by instead placing the main emphasis on the visual reception of the performance”. Thus, under the same terms one can find an esthetic description closer to Ziemilski’s working methods. This is what he says about his theatre:
[…] “so far I have been totally free to define what I want to do and how I want to do it. I don’t have anything curbing me, I also try to avoid situations where I have to create a show in a sort of repertory theatre, where something is imposed on me. I get very confused in such situations so I’ve been very lucky so far because various producers have understood that.”
The artist searches for his place in an intimate elitist theatre – he also produces (usually one-time) projects commissioned by theatre festivals. At the same time his theatre draws from the achievements of performance art and the experiments of the 60’s and 70’s. Ziemilski includes within the scope of his projects film, music, literature and visual arts to define what is the current nature of an aesthetic experience. He is sensitive to the receiver and demands his/ her physical co-presence. He reaches not only for defined theatrical means, but extends his esthetics to other spheres of performativity. (…)
A MAP OF A COMMUNITY
Ziemilski has been cooperating with komuna// warszawa for two years now and has released three projects so far. In 2010, his project The Map had its premiere performance; it was initially planned as a one-time event, but the piece aroused so much interest among the audience that it now has three new incarnations. The project is an opportunity for the viewer to individually experience a community. Ziemilski refers both to the participants’ memories and to the collective memory of the audience to receive an answer to a question on the point and value of creating a theatrical and cultural community. The director elaborates on the mechanisms of memory, individual and collective, history, and the community spirit in his most popular project – Little Narration, which was born simultaneously with The Map. (…)
The most common characteristic feature of Ziemilski’s pieces is the way they co-exist in two visual spaces – the living and the video. In The Map recordings are used to communicate with the audience – the actors performance was pre-recorded before the performance. The participants then went wandering in the dark, and undertook an inner journey. The Map is therefore a project on the border between an intimate theatre performance and multimedia visual art. It is a kind of installation, where instead of a plot, actors, a stage and the audience, there is the way, the viewers and the movement. (…)
A PARTICIPATING SPECTATOR
In another theatre performance, – Prologue – Wojtek Ziemilski offers the audience an experiment in which he redefines the function of the actor.3 The piece is inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s statement: „make the audience become the show, make them become the actors, make them see themselves and like themselves in the others in a way which will make them more united.”
Ziemilski invites the audience to co-create pieces (or – as he is suggesting – a performative installation) in which the viewers become not the actors, but participants of the state in-between: “the definition of this situation is being a prologue that is, being ‘before’ the word, at the same time being a part of that event […]. In this way the piece is a prologue to the whole activity of life, an eternal introduction to reality”.5 In accordance with Rousseau’s instructions, Ziemilski wants to initiate the creation of the community and the abolishment of the division of the stage (the acting scene) and the audience (the watching scene). The artist offers direct participation in the project – instead of passively watching actors, the audience is “engaged”,and co-creates the new piece. For him, the stage is both theatre and life: „the basic rule [in the Prologue – K. L.] is the participation of the viewers in a situation on the border between a performative installation and a theatre performance. It is partly contemplation and partly a game. Theatre – from the beginning to the end.”
Ziemilski is interested in the categorization of meanings which are formed during the copresence of the group. The basic materials of his work are: glances, gestures, appearances, statements, that people (purposefully or not) introduce into an isolated theatre space. In this quasi-casting the viewers are experiencing “being” (and not acting) on stage in a performative way. Previous acting, vocal, artistic or performative experience is not required – it is enough to strictly follow the rules one can hear from the headphones. Ziemilski invites fifteen random volunteers to take part in the experiment and they follow the enigmatic clues of the narrator/guide. It is however not an encounter with an actor, but only a Voice heard from the electronic equipment. (…)
Prologue is a continuation of Ziemilski’s project on social choreography, understood as a mechanism of community creation.7 The piece can be associated with visual arts and contemporary dance, which reach far beyond theatrical space Yet, in this project, Ziemilski goes back to the very core of theatre. He asks the participants: How do we build a community? How do we negotiate it? What are the possibilities of social choreography if it goes back on stage? Easy answers are nowhere to be found, as Prologue is a kind of theatre experiment, a continuous work in progress. What happens in the theatre in the moment of encounter (of the viewers, the Voice and Ziemilski himself standing behind the curtain) establishesnew borders for understanding what theatre (and also social choreography) really is in everyday life. A moving body, being the integral part of the social reality, is faced here with theatricality in a broad sense of the word. The activities of the group turn into a rehearsal, an encounter, a performative event (“Do you feel how your body got used to movement, do you experience a funny feeling that passivity is an unnatural state? Do you feel anxious when you’re lying down?”). (…)
Ziemilski is inspired by the artistic experiments of the 60’s and 70’s, despite the fact that he is well aware that the mechanisms used by those artists, may fail today – the social community no longer exists and whereas the audience eagerly takes part in such experiments (it is more difficult to encourage the to interact with the actors – to talk, hug, dance on stage) while outside the acting space (theatre, museum, circus) they remain passive. Ziemilski takes small steps to reach his goal of setting the machine of social choreography into motion outside of the art space – he tries to persuade individuals to his concept – that is why we hear the Voice in the headphones. I would not venture to claim that the author of Prologue initiates an individual community – it is however important that ideally every member of the audience is ignited with an individual impulse to create an out-of-theatre community.8 This starts with a commitment to the experiment, and allowing it to absorb us to the point that we forget about the critical reception. This is the moment of the Prologue, when we balance on the edge of emotions, kitsch and fun. This state of “in between” makes it possible for Ziemilski to reach the spectator’s sensitivity and plant a seed of doubt that that suggests an esthetic experience may be far richer than an intellectual one.
Since 2010Ziemilski has directed two pieces at komuna//warszawa for the RE//MIX series, the idea of which came from Tomasz Plata (since 2012 Magda Grudzińska is the coordinator). (…) Ziemilski’s Poor Theatre was the opening performance of the whole remix project at komuna//warszawa. However, the director did not stop at remixing the piece of The Wooster Group, he introduced “a second level remix”. Choosing the recording of the Poor Theatre as the original working source, the artist is indirectly referring to another canonic performance, as the New Yorkers’ piece is already a remix. It was built on the basis of a recording of the Acropolis by Jerzy Grotowski – the artists based their work on a TV documentary realized in co-operation with the Laboratory Theatre. Ziemilski unintentionally raises an important issue here– does the medium of a theatre remix exist? In a context of a music remix it is a computer file, in a context of a movie – a recording. However, on the basis of a recording of a certain performance, it is impossible to capture something which I would call, after Erika Fischer-Lichte, a performance emergence.10 This is why the medium of a theatre performance is the memory of the artist and the audience – the cultural, the collective and the individual – and the context in which the artist and the audience deals with a certain artist/theme. These two memory orders – of the director and of the viewer – overlap and only then is the reception of the remix justified and possible at all.
In his project Ziemilski also initiates a discussion on a copy’s dependence on the original (recorded on a medium). Although he does specifically refer to the issue of the legal aspect of remixing, he is interested in the means by which the (re)production of cultural texts is possible. In the case of a remix where the legal status is unclear, it is impossible to distinguish the original material that is being remixed (signed by copyright) from the new content. The remix which is inspired by and using the original source is therefore an autonomous creation.
Remix refers to memory and the process of reminding the audience of the artists who are not widely present in the cultural circulation. This is why the majority of the premieres in komuna//warszawa are preceded by a performative lecture on the works of a specificmaster (RE//MIX 2012 Anna Królica on Oskar Schlemmer before Alex Baczynski-Jenkins’s show, Agata Adamiecka-Sitek on Lidia Zamkow, Antek Michnik on John Cage and Witek Mrozek on Merce Cunningham). However, in the Poor Theatre, Ziemilski breaks away from this convention; instead of stating his own commentary, the director refers the audience to film footage of the Laboratory Theatre and The Wooster Group. He behaved in a similar way in the case of the remix of Laurie Anderson. United States, in which Ziemilski confronts the American experimental artist, singer and director active in many fields of art. He denies the audience the right to individually compare the original (presented by an expert – thus also not fully objective) to his remix, as he offers his own performance lecture – in this way in the structure of RE//MIX his performance is at the same time a lecture which is an introduction to the remix and the performance itself.11 Ziemilski walks onstage with a microphone in his hand and speaks about Laurie Anderson – from the very beginning, however, it is clear to the audi- ence that his monologue is also a part of the piece. The remix the audience experiences is filtered through the artist’s memory and thus is as indirect and intermediate as a cultural experience. (…)
Ziemilski also re-imagines the form of remix itself. In both of his projects at komuna//warszawa the audience is left with mere tracks and leftovers – of dreams, stories, memories and also remixed theatrical forms. The recordings of performances by Laboratory Theatre, the Wooster Group, and Anderson’s performances do not reflect the emergence of those performances – these are only the remains of the memory of the shows. The theatre remix theories do not have a direct research subject. Remix is not as much an art form as an intellectual and a discursive one – it is an archive of memory and what is most interesting about it is not its content but the way it is collected. Thus theatre remix requires a context, since the context serves as a medium. A remixed original becomes in this sense a theoretical construct and is characterized by its auto-referentiality. This is why Ziemilski’s remixes, just like memory, can be analyzed according to the specific material and special aspects: in Laurie Anderson.United States the evanescence of the remix recalls a dream and contextualizing dreams is similar to the patterns according to which memory works.
IS EMANCIPATION POSSICLE IN THEATRE?
Ziemilski disagrees with Rancière Jacques’s thesis – presented in a popular essay The Emancipated Spectator12 – which argues that theatre should liberate the viewers from the traditional receiver’s status, it should “slay” the spectator. Ziemilski does not agree with the French philosopher’s thesis that the spectator is already an active one, that is why it is not necessary to make him interact. When he is made into an actor, the predominance of the actor is still undeniable. Ziemilski claims that the problem is not that the spectator remains passive, but that they are so well established and assured in the structure of the theatre, that it is difficult to break free from the convention. In this way, Ziemilski’s projects are attempts which do not wholly open or liberate the spectators – they remain themselves for the entire time – but are left anxious, moved, and sensitive to esthetic experience.
Ziemilski poses questions about the meaning- fulness of community (as a pleasure derived from being together), the meaning of history and memory for theatre, the crossing of the borders of form and the performativity of artistic activity; yet, he escapes from answering these questions. Until his theatre becomes more available to a wider audience (not just the new left, komuna//warszawa, theatre critics and specific festival audiences), the artist will not be able to successfully define what can become of a theatre performance understood as an esthetic experience of a community – seductive and controversial at the same time. Hence the question about the ways in which we experience reality will remain an open one.