Image of the Mass and of Collective Learning"
Hannah Hurtzig in conversation
with Veronica Kaup-Hasler and Claus Philipp
Where would you locate
the dramaturgic origins of the "Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge
Hurtzig: In 2001
in Hamburg, in cooperation with Anselm Franke, we had the task
of inventing something to be performed throughout the entire Kammerspiele
theater, which Uli Waller still headed at the time. The building
was remembered as Ida Ehre's world-premiere theater, for example
for Draußen vor der Tür. But what tended to be forgotten
was that it was a Jewish lodge with a ballroom, library, school,
kosher restaurant, theater, and then later, in 1941, organizational
office for the deportations. The building is full of nooks and
crannies, with many stairways - an Escher architecture in a narrow
space. We hid 70 memory and recollection culture dialog partners
in all the small rooms in the whole building, filmed the talks,
and projected 30 faces onto a huge split screen that took up the
whole stage. The audience in the auditorium could enter the talks
by means of headphones. It was a kind of verbal chamber of wonders,
an acoustic palimpsest called: Temporary Branch Office for Remembering.
It turned out that, in such an intimate experimental arrangement
under observation by an absent audience, even people who know
each other well develop a special pleasure in conversation. They
always talked for two hours with each other. And in one of these
rooms, The Autobiography, someone spent four to eight hours telling
his life story to a listener of his choice. This later became
the installation A Life in Four Hours. An autobiographical experimental
arrangement to remember a city, an archive project that we still
Christoph Schlingensief was also part of it. At that time, he
had a new girlfriend and he chose her as his interlocutor, in
order to simply tell her with whom she was dealing from now on.
Schlingensief is a memory virtuoso, he remembers his biography
in parallel with the history of society - what speech Willy Brandt
gave on the day he had his first French kiss. A perfect narrator.
And one who needs
an interlocutor to tell his story, because he judges on the other
what he can use as a source in himself.
The pair combination
is very important, because it's not an interview, but a joint
process of memory. For example, if, in the framework of a project
like this you invite older gentlemen, you can have the problem
that they tell their life story solely in terms of their professional
lives and successes. An interlocutor is needed who puts cracks
in the narrative stream. For example Bruno Flierl, the architectural
theorist from East Germany: Thomas Heise listened to him - a great
combination, because on the one hand they had a common East German
history, and on the other hand, as a documentary filmmaker, Heise
is interested in details. So his comments were like: This book,
was it in the library, or did it lie on your nightstand? He interrupted
Flierl's great and fascinating staging. In these constellations,
the point is not primarily to reel off a feat of memory, but to
stage the process of remembering, the act of self-transformation.
Back then, in contrast to now at the "Blackmarkets",
the audience did not actively participate yet. Although that's
not entirely true. One could send written comments into the discussion
room; a messenger ran off with them, upstairs, downstairs, and
the audience could follow him on the split screen as well.
How did the special
choreography of the Blackmarkets arise?
The Blackmarkets grew
out of the Mobile Academy, which consisted of temporary, 4-week
learning units, international camps for 100 artists on a specific
theme, with a program somewhere between field research, presentation,
lectures, etc., which we organize occasionally when there is money
for it. In an Academy, people work, conduct research, and experiment
in small groups - nothing that one necessarily wants to present
in public. But we wanted to have a public forum to communicate
the Mobile Academies in the respective city (Bochum, Berlin, and
In this way, the Blackmarket is a performative reflection of how
the learning society currently understands itself, or more an
experimental setup on how one ought to understand the future realm
of education in Germany or Europe as a whole - on the model of
an advanced liberalism.
One of the implicit questions at the Mobile Academies was: What
will the ideal learner of the future be like? Well, one would
describe him as an entrepreneurial individual who manages himself,
grasps himself as capital, voluntarily invests in knowledge and
skills, and organizes social relationships and networks on his
own initiative. Someone who trains self-administration, self-control,
and self-realization. The Blackmarket plays with this neo-liberal
model of the future as a set piece, but also with other metaphors,
like that of a googling society, and it is above all an image
of the masses and of collective learning.
At the moment, the
dissemination of knowledge at the Blackmarket functions via a
very special dialogical constellation. In the Socratic dialogs,
for example, usually someone doesn't know something or he needs
advice, and then the philosopher explains how he can master the
problem. At the Blackmarket, by contrast, one is astonished at
the spectrum of themes, about which one didn't necessarily know
anything before, and that one could gather information about them
and that they exist at all.
That's right. At the
Blackmarket, the theme implodes into particles that then begin
to burgeon in sometimes fantastic derivations. This excess has
to do with our request to the experts that they should narrate
their knowledge, not deliver it as a lecture, and with the strange
collection of experts who weave together the very disparate scenes,
networks, professions, and lifestyles of a city. On the theme
American Close-Ups, one then finds under the catchword INVENTIONS
contributions on the invention of the elevator, on the use of
photography in the natural sciences at the end of the 19th century,
on the struggle between Tesla and Edison, and on the secret communication
system of Hedy Lamarr. A choreographer presents an encyclopedia
contribution under FILM: On the use of motion analyses in forensic
medical investigations in selected examples of American evening
television series. Of course, it is also a "fake" dissemination
of knowledge. Seduced by the encyclopedic form, the belief in
lists and catalogizations, one could also be taken in by liars
and inventors. A betrayal of the conveying of knowledge. Some
"experts" really have invented things and made knowledge
up on the spot. And some clients use the Blackmarket to look for
jobs, as a job interview. At the Black Market, knowledge, information,
and credibility are up for negotiation between expert and client
at the table. And an exchange. And poker.
Join the play and
seek attention: that, too, is a "theatrical" moment.
Whenever one sits across
from someone, face to face, one begins to mimic attentiveness.
One signals that one is interested, one nods; and in turn the
other person strives to impress one with his linguistic abilities
and rhetorical maneuvers. Then there is sometimes the switch that
the clients speak more and the expert has to give up his authority
and be silent. The precise observation of how a conversation is
constituted - this generally escapes our attention. Either one
is borne along by one's own speech, or one moves within a hierarchical
structure in which one must listen; in this moment one can no
longer follow precisely who speaks how and who listens how. At
the Blackmarket, this can be done very well. It is a medium of
communication that explores itself, but it isn't primarily about
communication. It really is about the experience of knowledge
And that in turn would
be an option for the part of the audience that isn't active in
the talks at the moment, the part that observes a "performance"
from its seats.
It's interesting, for
example, that, with the format A Life in Four Hours, which is
shown on two screens, one for the face of the narrator and one
for the face of the listener, after awhile the audience follows
the listening face more than the speaking face. In an everyday
conversation, one doesn't observe precisely how the other person
is listening, one tends more to check whether one has his or her
undivided attention. At the Blackmarket, there are many gaze regimes
that cross each other, it's a watchers-watch-the-watchers-watch
In principle, it's
anti-television. When people are interviewed on television, the
camera is hardly interested in the responses to what is told,
unless the interviewer is famous.
And yet there is something
strangely fascinating about watching a listening face. One is
at one's own mercy in this concentration on someone else. One
often has a soulful, sheeplike expression. Like a saint. The point
at the Blackmarket is less about speaking and more about listening,
anyway. Everyone can be an "expert", if one only listens
to him closely enough. I don't think that the only reason the
Black Market functions is that one personally learns something
very essential and new. It has to do with being one among 500
people in a public space and there is a floating concentration
that comprises everyone. A simultaneous knowledge scenario unfolds,
a hallucination that acts as if it provided an encyclopedic overview.
It is an observation machine. An architectonic seeing machine.
How much has the Blackmarket
developed further through the various events?
The setting was always
the same, in principle. There is also the "city version",
in which we distribute the experts and tables throughout the city
in cafés, train stations, department stores, and galleries.
That was how we did the second Black Market, which we held in
Warsaw. And there is a "salon version". Now we are beginning
to think about a second room, where second-hand knowledge is dealt
in parallel to the Black Market: the clients offer the expert
knowledge they have just acquired at a kind of flea market or
at regulars' tables in nearby pubs, without being organized by
the Blackmarket administration. We would like to stage this in
a stadium, with 1,000 experts, i.e., the "Leni or Max version",
an image of the masses in the arena, in uncontrollably burgeoning
communication. And in the stands 8,000 spectators with headphones.
At the moment, the question of the sound archive is growing in
importance. We archive every edition of the Black Market, and
soon the files will be available in the Internet for downloading.
But the net archive doesn't answer the question of a special medium
for these sound recordings of a unique, ephemeral, and unrepeatable
encounter between client and expert. We are tinkering with something
else now. And we are working with our future licensees on a franchising
model: it will be locally produced, but we will set the themes
and do the archiving.
How to the themes
come up? Does it depend on the performance site? When you do research
in Berlin, in a way that is your biotope. But what does it change
if you come to Warsaw or to Austria and are confronted with suggestions
from a wide variety of people and that come from the region?
Finding themes naturally
takes longer in Warsaw and also in Graz. A theme has to work fast
when recruiting experts. When you approach a possible expert with
it, you have to make it interesting and logical for him, so that
he immediately starts regarding himself as an archive and starts
using his scanner: what do I select for this?
these so-called transformation societies, i.e., the
simultaneous presence of different economic variants, are hard
to read and they bring onto the political stage actors from the
past and future who are pretty spooky. Often you don't know who
is speaking out of this person. And in Polish literature, the
romantic figures like the revenant, lemures, and the undead are
quite present. Then these homophobic male twins became the government.
Questions of the representation of marginalized groups. At some
point, the theme was clear: ghosts, spooks, and phantoms and the
places where they live. The question to the experts was: What
in your profession would you describe as spooky or invisible knowledge?
And you conduct long
preliminary talks with each of them. And actually, the "piece"
has long since begun. These talks, interestingly, are not documented.
We are often asked why
we don't document these three or four months of research. For
me, it's out of the question for now. These moments of possibly
not being interested and of getting to know each other - I don't
want to mix that with interest in a product. After all, one tries
to screen curatorial seriousness and zeal completely out of the
development process. At the beginning, we don't have a list of
the one hundred most important people in a city, with whom we
want to establish contact. Rather, we follow the strategies of
self-squandering and usury as a curatorial concept. I don't want
to be termed a "curator" anymore. All I can do is point
to a report on a social case history from the legal jurisdiction
of Oberwölz in Upper Styria in 1920 that I recently read.
"Curator" was the official term for the guardian of
an adult who had been declared legally incapable.
How do you maintain
the "suspense" for the experts? For example, when you
talk with Fritz Ostermayer in March about possibly taking part
in a Blackmarket and then he doesn't sit down at your tables until
September? I guess you don't really coach them on that evening
We maintain the suspense
with trust-building measures: administration, excessively expanding
lists, and a system of constant accompaniment by e-mail. If the
expert comes on this evening, he already knows what time he starts,
what table number he has, who the people to his left and right
at the table are, and what theme they will bring up. If one knows
that to one's right will be sitting Dr. Kaspar Bienefeld from
the Institute for Bee Research at the Technical University Berlin,
who will talk about "The Information Dances of the Cave-Breeding
Honeybees in the Dark", then one sits down at his expert
table and buzzes along.
The Blackmarket is
for "Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge". What is Non-Knowledge?
Non-knowledge can be
knowledge that hasn't found a language yet, cannot be put into
words, or a knowledge still seeking forms for its communication
and processing. Or implicit knowledge that only functions by not
being expressed - the open secret. But of course also: faith.
And superfluous production of meaning that no one can sort out.
Censored, repressed information. I think it was Luhmann's dictum
that when one learns, one must first unlearn something. So in
every knowledge there is a seed of non-knowledge. And then of
course there are also the "unks-unks" - a US Army abbreviation
for unknown unknowns.
And the clients make
a selection for themselves. One comes and scours the market: what
could interest me? Maybe to meet and hear someone whom one has
never had a one-on-one talk with, or one is really interested
in the theme
Whereby the Blackmarket
system usually means getting precisely the person one didn't want.
If you want to book a specific expert, you have to find him in
the index of catchwords. Then you have to reach the counter in
time, but that doesn't always help; the expert is booked up, isn't
scheduled until the next round, but you can't book for the next
round yet. Here is where the professional supervision by the hostess
comes in: one of her rules is that, if a client doesn't get the
expert he wants, you have to sell him another one. "You will
be seated!" So the client is often sent, in a controlled
way, into the unknown. The aim is: Loss of orientation with simultaneous
gain in reflection. Some experts are angry then because they don't
have the feeling that they were really chosen.
At the Blackmarket, more demand does not create more supply. The
supply seems to be diverse and open, but is fixed and limited,
and it is not always distributed in accordance with plausible
rules. A planned economy at the roulette table. When one arrives
at the table, one has to devote one's attention to an interlocutor
and an object that one didn't really choose and to forget the
injustice and imposed beneficence of the market.
How important for
you is the embedding in a theater or an art festival? If a university
institute, for example, invited you to undermine the customary
mediation strategies for an evening in the framework of a Blackmarket
- would you accept the offer?
We were considering this
with a major German bank. But ultimately, they were interested
in the format only in order to improve their company-internal
communication. That's okay, too, but it's not enough. I could
imagine it if we could persuade the Max Planck Institute in Berlin,
for example. They have such specialized research areas that it
would surely be interesting to make them public at a Blackmarket.
A theme like "The
Gift" in Graz - how does it come up?
For the Blackmarket,
we look for popular themes, definitely not an art or theory theme;
we want "popular theater" and not sovereignty over discourse.
If I do have the chance to work in a Catholic city like Graz,
I definitely want to include the Church. And then at some point
there is the image of the Graz beggar. When you walk around Graz,
you are constantly seeing kneeling beggars with their hands raised.
I've never seen this in Berlin. The kneeling figure on the street,
in a public site, has something touching and also obscene, and
at the same time it conveys a certain aggression. It is an indissoluble
moment. I now know that the begging people do not take this position
voluntarily; they quote the Christian stance of humility to contravene
the ban on aggressive begging in the city. Control over public
space, the demanded sacrifice, the gift - at some point it was
clear that this was the theme.
And then the theme
moves away from the beggar - and then one sits there and suddenly
says: the highly gifted, The Gift, Derrida, Nabokov, and so forth.
is not an economic, but a symbolic exchange. The point is that
everyone who gives tends to expect a return, but that it is unclear
what value that may have: Will it be a smile or a lifelong commitment?
Every gift obligates the recipient. This peculiar aspect must
always be negotiated anew; the gift is really a technique of social
In the course of research in Graz, for example, I was very astonished
how incredibly diversely and effectively social assistance is
organized in the city. This often has less to do with institutions
than with individual persons. An educated class that gets involved.
Where do you find that today? Or someone like Pastor Pucher, the
Maria ambulance, a social stance that is politically engaged -
they know that aspects of egoism can be recognized in every form
of altruism and that one must speak about this.
Or meet with a highly gifted person whose first remark is that
he doesn't want to be designated this way, it is something his
parents and teachers thought up, and at any rate he doesn't want
to speak on this theme. Then he tells how he has been a bird watcher
and photographer since age seven. Now he is speaking at the Black
Market about plover parent birds that protect the eggs in their
nest from approaching predators by presenting themselves as victims;
they let their heads and wings dangle as if bent and broken and
allow themselves to be dragged off from the nest, thereby distracting
the attacker's attention from their brood. Plover mama and papa's
performance as sacrificial victim. A lovely gift theme.
If you yourself were
an expert at a Blackmarket, what would you want to speak about?
I might talk about the
Polynesian word "hau" in cultural institutions. The
Maori define the power that is inherent in the gift and that leads
the giver to want it back in the form of a return gift as "hau".
There is a complicated exchange relationship between artist, administration,
organization, and dramaturgy, and we never really have time to
observe our institutions. What kind of an uninterrupted surplus
of attention is it that everyone working in such an operation
constantly gives! - and we're not speaking of overtime here. This
is service on the highest level, a giving economy that is constantly
demanded and that often doesn't work anyway. And is the return
gift good art? And what would that be? The most confusing figures
of exchange play out between the actors.
Thank you very much
for this talk.
Published: Maske und Kothurn, Internationale Beiträge zur
Theater-, Film und Medienwissenschaft, Böhlau Verlag Wien,
Köln. Weimar, 2007
Translation: Micz Cohen