Sunday, April 26, 2009

'SCHENGEN Control Observation Point' by Schauplatz International

taken from Laura Palmer Foundation project's description

Schauplatz International, one of the most interesting Swiss independent theatre groups of the moment, employs journalistic methods in its work. The artists always begin by conducting thorough research: interviewing people, searching for information on the Web, inspecting the site, and comparing various viewpoints. The result is a theatre that is community-oriented, political, and documentary. Schauplatz has, for instance, recreated onstage the interviews immigrants have to go through when applying for asylum in Switzerland, re-enacted live the movie Free Willy, and exposed tax fraud in the Swiss town of Zug through the active participation of tax experts and corporate managers. Poland’s admission to the Schengen zone and the fact that Frontex, the European Union’s external-border security agency, is located in Warsaw, were the reasons for Schauplatz’s interest in Warsaw and the 10th-Anniversary Stadium. In the middle of the field of grass that had overgrown the pitch the artists recreated a portion of Poland’s eastern border, which is also the EU’s Eastern border, on a scale of 1:1. A control observation point was constructed on the crown of the stadium, from which viewers were able to monitor the EU’s Eastern frontier. During the eight hour-long live installation, the artists picnicked on the pitch, held discussions about the abstractness of borders, the construction of national identity, and the meaning of the EU flag. Their voices were relayed to the crown of the stadium, and binoculars and telescopes were provided for the viewers to view the action.

The starting point for the performance was the reflection that stadiums and borders are meant to build national identity. While stadiums are concrete architectural objects whose construction takes several years to complete, borders are products of our imagination, involving contracts, symbols, and potential violence. Both borders and stadiums are supposed to tell us who we are. Until recently, Frontex had its offices near the Stadium. The agency, in collaboration with the police, the military, and the secret services operates rapid-intervention teams and organises people-hunts and charter deportations. As a result, illegal immigrants resort to ever more dangerous ways of crossing borders. On their way to work every day, Frontex employees passed the Stadium, a place that, like national borders, used to divide people between legals and illegals. Schauplatz’s one-day live installation required close observation. When the artists saw the 10th-Anniversary Stadium for the first time, they immediately realised that their performance had to dialogue with scale, with dimension — ‘large’ vs. ‘small’, the hugeness of the stadium vs. the littleness of the individual within it. They wanted to give the viewer the possibility of different views. One of those was looking through binoculars at an ordinary piece of grass, where nothing happens. The artists did not force themselves on the stadium; instead they created a situation of live exhibition, turning themselves into objects of display. They also invited special guests.

One of those was software expert Hubert Kowalski, who in a matter-of-fact manner described the functioning of software that makes it possible for border guards to tell whether it is a human or animal crossing the border. He described robots that can recognise movement, objects, or the presence of living organisms, and explained the functioning of heat-sensitive cameras installed along borders. He also added that his hobby was re-enactments of historical battles. A little earlier a refugee from Chechnya, Aslan Dekaev, had appeared on the pitch, followed by someone who re-enacts events from World Wars I and II. The artists then wondered out loud whether fifty years from now military-history enthusiasts will be re-enacting the events in Grozny. The situation of obliqueness, uncertainty, and non-action created by Schauplatz was intentional, as the artists consciously renounce control of the situations they set in motion. With their subdued inaction, they provoked viewers to stroll about the Stadium, to enter the field of action — as if the artists’ presence were not important, and they were the reason the viewers were there. ‘We had the impression we had become a sonic background for the audience. It may be somewhat disappointing for an actor, because it means he has failed to attract viewers’ attention. But the Stadium seems to have simply been more important than us.’

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