HYBRID Biennale 2022,#2-2022
At the beginning of the 20th century, HELLERAU was founded as a joint project of industry, research and art and as a response to industrialisation and changes in working and living conditions. Today, in exceptionally critical phases of global transformation, processes of digitalisation in particular influence the arts and their conditions of production and reception. With immersive technology or artificial intelligences, not only new aesthetics are emerging, but also new formats, power structures, accessibility and presence of art. In HELLERAU, which operates as one of the most important international centres for contemporary dance, music and performance, HYBRID is therefore being established as a platform, a laboratory, experimental and discursive space for the arts in the (post)digital age. The concept of the hybrid is to be discussed here not only in its technological, but also political and social dimensions, in the principle of kinship (Donna Haraway), of encounters and differences, as well as its potentials of diversity, and reflected in artistic projects.
The HYBRID kick-off festival, originally planned for March 2020, could only take place in 2021 and exclusively online due to the pandemic; the HYBRID Box, a new modular gallery and cooperation with PYLON, also only opened in 2021. From 20 to 30 October 2022, the first HYBRID Biennale festival will present artistic positions at the interfaces between analogue and digital as well as performing and visual arts in various performative, installative and musical projects. In the Festspielhaus in Hellerau, at other venues in Dresden and online, co-operations are planned with PYLON, Artificial Museum, MUTEK and objekt klein a, among others, and with artists such as Sophia Al-Maria, Ryan Trecartin and Tai Shani. For Tessenow’s Festspielhaus in Hellerau, curator Yasemin Keskintepe has designed a concept entitled “Beyond these fractured presents” with artists such as Cécile B. Evans, Choy Kaai and Tai Shani. Evans, Choy Ka Fai, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Maria Hassabi and Lamin Fo-fana, dedicated to choreographies for the collective creation of the world. “Between the stages, halls and salons of the Festspielhaus, installations and performances intertwine with the audience – not as linear events, but as proposals for multiplicity. The many sites of action reject the idea of centralisation and thus allude to an interrogation of the diversity of narratives. The passages make connections that do not point in only one direction, but leave room for multifaceted experiments of togetherness in mutual interaction. It is an attempt to think commonality through relational dependence,” is how Yasemin Keskintepe describes the concept.
Cécile B. Evans’ work “Future Adaptations” stages the ballet “Giselle”, originally created in 1841 in Paris by Adolphe Adam, from the era of industrialisation as an ecofeminist thriller in a multi-channel video installation and performance. It projects the story of Giselle into the near future, where the protagonist and her friend:s set out to reshape society as they flee worsening climate and energy crises. Curator Yasemin Keskintepe spoke with Cécile B. Evans about her edition for the HYBRID Biennale.
What led you to adapt Giselle after seeing the original version?
The original ballet premiered at the height of the industrial age and was the first to feature a female protagonist struggling with class issues. I was drawn to the surreal plot in which Giselle dies in the first act and devotes the second act to her transition into the afterlife when she joins a group of undead women, the Wilis, in the forest. When I first saw the classic version, I completely misunderstood what was happening and thought: Giselle goes to the afterlife and struggles to find common ground with the Wilis. They insist on their difference, parade different symbols in front of each other and murder men who interrupt these complex negotiations. The ending, where Giselle and the Wilis spare the life of Albrecht (the nobleman who betrayed them), left me completely confused and unsettled. Afterwards, I found a programme note on the floor and read the intended plot: a story about “female morality” in which a group of despised women are liberated by Giselle teaching them compassion and forgiveness towards this one man. My first thought was, “What a waste of a second act”. I was reminded of the origins of the word “apocalypse” and that in literature it means an “unveiling” or an irrevocable revelation that leads to new connections.
I thought that the failure of the original (and my complete misunderstanding of it) could be a starting point to represent the complex network of realities negotiated in a time of transition. I wanted to engage with the chaos and illegibility that many people experience in these moments and make transparent how difficult change can be.
Mutability, the potential for change beyond dualisms, is a central concern in your work. How does mutability through narrative contribute to reshaping society and creating a sense of community?
The idea of mutability as a survival strategy emerged very early as a companion to the themes of change and transition. Initially it was a way of positioning contemporary essentialism and ‘certainty’ as an impediment to progress. I used the first film, A Screen Test for an Adaptation of Giselle, to experiment with this proposition – in this sense it functions almost like a reverse trailer. With “Notations for an Adaptation of Giselle (welcome to whatever forever)” I wanted to make a performance for screens so that the work would begin to transcend media. Mutability became part of the physicality of the project – the casts began to change, the worlds opened up, the number of screens changed.
Temporality is another important element of the work. The narrative of Future Adaptations unfolds in a non-linear way: in the digital and physical worlds, while the characters also live in different time periods. Can you elaborate on the notion of violence of linear time?
“No cops, no jail, no linear fucking time. The way most people experience things is anachronistic to the way those things are measured and maintained.
These measurements can all be violent, and linear time is an easy target because it is an imperial project applied to so many facets of life. Example: When a person’s character changes – their gender or how they behave towards others – if they are not easily readable or linear, they can feel the force of many systems trying to bring them back into line. The fact that our world would collapse if we did not adhere to linear time is reason enough to question how it is adhered to.
In the later videos you add an extra layer to the narrative with the characters of the family (a plant, a camera and a baby). How did you come up with these characters? And what role do they play in Giselle’s struggle to adapt?
Shortly after we started working on Notations, the pandemic began. I felt very uncomfortable myself for a while and witnessed the failure of different systems to adapt to change – so much was changing around me that it seemed impossible to do anything in a “direct” way. I was also forced to confront the ways in which my own working process reproduced, to some degree, the capitalist structures that the work sought to unravel. The characters of the plant/director, the camera/their partner and the baby were, at their simplest, a way of making this corruption more transparent. “For a Future Adaptation of Giselle (the Wilis’ battle of whatever forever)” presents this family struggling to complete the adaptation of Giselle as the world crumbles around them. The mise-en-abyme had already been laid out in “Notations” with the conversation between the director and the screenwriter, but with the introduction of the family/their world, the effect is multiplied: there is the world of Giselle, the world of the making of Giselle and so on. It felt very real to me.
When things change, whether by choice or by circumstance, the realities become jagged. They break off and become their own wild din-gen. Over the last few years, Future Adaptations has gone through very different formats, narratives and realities – as a work, it is a direct result of the time in which it was created.
Would you share with us some initial ideas for the adaptation that the audience will see at HELLERAU? What is the expanded narrative that you will explore?
The final video in the series, Future Adaptations (an understudy for Giselle), uses the need for an understudy for the adaptation to have a broader discussion about what happens when the original plan doesn’t work out and needs to be replaced. How can we prepare for this? In the performance we are designing for HELLERAU, we will hold “auditions” for the different roles in the project in sessions visible to the audience. I am curious if we can break the traditional power structure of “auditioning” to explore how different roles and ideas can be tried, changed and tested. I would like to work with a small group of dancers to find the ideal conditions for new directions and use the previous videos and installation as a background to develop a completely new work.
Cécile B. Evans is an American-Belgian artist living and working in London. For her project of adapting the ballet Gisel-le, she has so far collaborated with Centre Pompidou Paris (FR), Ulsan Art Muse-um (KOR), Kistefos Museum (NO) and the National Ballet of Marseille, among others. Her works are shown at Tate Liverpool (UK), mumok Vienna (AT), Whitechapel Gallery (UK), Haus der Kunst Munich (DE) and The Museum of Modern Art, New York (US), among others.
20. – 30.10.2022
with Cécile B. Evans, Ryoichi Kurokawa, Sophia Al-Maria, Johanna Bruckner, Choy Ka Fai, Maria Hassabi and Lamin Fofana among others.
HYBRID Biennale is supported by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes and the Kulturstiftung des Freistaates Sachsen. This measure is co-financed by tax funds on the basis of the budget passed by the Saxon State Parliament.