The Bauhaus chair as a mirage
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Spectators are called upon to remain sceptical. They should not trust the modern glasses they are wearing, the images the glasses show: not the balls that roll through the room, not the chairs waiting in a row and definitely not the words hanging in the air, forming phrases such as “Form follows function”. The glasses allow one to experience these objects clearly. One can walk around them, push them or move them to a different corner. But when you remove your glasses, you realise that you have been duped by an illusion, that the chairs, balls and words do not really exist. At least only in a different, augmented, virtual reality.
With its new performance “Der Verrat der Bilder” (“The treachery of images”), the ensemble NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS sends the audience on an excursion between different worlds. “Treachery” picks up on a formula conceived by Walter Gropius, namely “Art and technology – A new unity”, making the boundary between Utopia and irony permeable. The piece also discusses the deceptive concept of progress. It questions the reliability of what is visible and investigates the manipulation of perception. In times of fake news, it is a rewarding activity.
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The production travels through the “Meisterhäuser” in Dessau, the Georg Kolbe Museum in Berlin and the State Representation of Saxony-Anhalt in Brussels, three important locations of Modernity: the double housing development by the Bauhaus masters Georg Muche and Oskar Schlemmer was once a place that investigated the future of design and presentation. The studio used by Georg Kolbe, which was designed in 1928/29 by the Swiss Ernst Rentsch and the Bauhaus student Paul Linder, produced key works of sculpture. Dedicated to the Bauhaus, Kolbe created an ideal space there, bringing together housing and workspaces, nature and art, urban networking and artistic accommodation at a single location. The performance picks up on those connections by uniting architecture, acting, dance, sculpture and virtual images to form a diverse aesthetic and spatial overall experience.
The State Representation of Saxony-Anhalt in Brussels was designed in 1969 by the Bauhaus student Franz Ehrlich to serve as the GDR Embassy and refers formally to the Hochschule für Gestaltung.
On this steamy, hot Friday evening in August, the performances of “Der Verrat der Bilder” in September and October seem a long way away. The director Nicola Hümpel and a few other members of NICO AND THE NAVIGATORS are sitting on a factory floor of a Kreuzberg rear courtyard. They are still in the midst of the process: books are stacked on a beer table, literature on the Bauhaus, two laptops beside them, for work on the script, browsing through as yet unpublished material, compiling stories, creating connections, bringing scraps together. One of them has carried out research on Bauhaus influences in Tel Aviv. One young female actor will sing songs during the performance, perhaps by Claire Waldoff. Another will perform the typical, spiritually inspired gymnastics exercises. It is possible that texts from the IKEA catalogue will be read out. “The IKEA Billy shelf would be unthinkable without the Bauhaus,” Nicola Hümpel interjects. She has just made herself another coffee. The is a nervous tension in the room, as time is short and there are still plenty of loose ends.
At least the glasses are working. 26 of them were delivered by a start-up from Florida and are, according to Hümpel’s colleague Oliver Proske, the best that the world of augmented reality technology currently has to offer: “They are state of the art and unique in Europe!“
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Since the arrival of the hyper-advanced accessories, Oliver Proske has spent a great deal of time with programmers and experiments. One example of their impressive results is that it is now possible to use the glasses and a joystick to make the famous tubular steel armchair by Marcel Breuer hover in the factory hall like a mirage and combine the virtual furniture with the actual location. However, the artistic group’s aim is not simply to create spectacular effects. “We want to make the limits of such technology tangible and sound out its possibilities,” Proske explains. “The fascinating aspects and the risks,” Hümpel adds. “That’s how the Bauhaus would have approached the matter.”
In terms of the content, the “Treachery of images” is highly ambitious: the consciously chosen locations, which are intertwined with the lives of major artists, also address the theme of “treachery” through the ambivalences of Modernity – from Schlemmer’s initial fame and later condemnation, from Muche’s inner emigration and Kolbe’s dubious role during National Socialist rule to Franz Ehrlich, a concentration camp prisoner in Buchenwald who was forced to design the inscription over its gates: “Jedem das Seine” (“Each to his own”). Nicola Hümpel asks herself: “There were both victims and perpetrators in the Bauhaus. How does that go together?”
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In addition to the complicated biographical entanglements, which also allow us to interpret the project’s title “The treachery of images” ideologically, Hümpel aims to use the production to shed new light on aesthetic approaches that are now directly linked to the Bauhaus. “The history of its reception is very one-sided. It is reduced to slogans such as ‘less is more’ and mainly focuses on architecture. But there is so much more!” The ensemble also wants to address the almost religious tendencies that the Bauhaus created, such as the dogmatic diets and the elevation of mankind as the measure of all things and norms. Finally, the production also intends to address the theory propagated by Bauhaus on the equal status of figure, movement, light and sound in space, which has had a highly formative effect on Nicola Hümpel as a theatre producer.
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The opportunity to delve deep into history and use that perspective to regard our own contemporary existence – that is what the performance aims to enable by many different means: at the start of each performance, the artists pass a vegetable broth around to the audience. That is naturally a reference to the nutritional rules that applied to some at the Bauhaus. But there is also another aspect to the soup, which can be seen as an image of the Bauhaus: “A clear broth stands of the high art of reduction,” Nicola Hümpel explains. “It wasn’t a case of simply leaving things out. On the contrary: they were concentrated.”
Due to the enormously complex technical and logistical requirements of “Der Verrat der Bilder”, it will be performed to a relatively small audience several times a day.
[KK 2019; Translation TBR]
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