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Lessons from Weimar (2): how in Germany politics and art celebrate an uneasy marriage.

"The government is demanding that we only show artists from our own region. That would be a huge loss for us, as we are an international art space. But we have found a way around it. We now invite top international artists who live here, or we offer them a residency, so that they temporarily live in the city. That way we still meet the requirements."

Frank Motz is still an anarchist, and has been since he and a bunch of kindred spirits squatted the building near Weimar city castle, which still houses Kunstverein ACC today. "It was 1987. These were disastrous times and no one had any idea what would happen a year later." Squatting for art in the GDR under Honecker, a year before the fall of the Berlin Wall: surely something we haven't seen in all the films about that time. Motz is still recalcitrant, but he and his Kunstverein are now among the top.

Robert Wilson

This year, during Kunstfest Weimar, there are two presentations: the works of local international artists, and a project that will not culminate until next year. That work, a reconstruction of the 1960s project entitled 'PERSONAE. Masken gegen die Barbarei' by renowned visual artist Joan Miró and director Joan Baixas, is now being rebuilt by Baixas' granddaughter and will be on show next year, with a soundscape by Robert Wilson. Afterwards, everything will be burnt again, as before, because that was a requirement of Miró and Baixas: art only exists if it is performed.

Theatre costumes by Jean Miró, photo Wijbrand Schaap

Miró's sculptures look beautiful, but I was most struck by the work of those artists who had to relate to their (temporary) home in Thuringia. Under the title Thüringer Verführungen, five artists respond to the recent and less recent history of an area where the extreme right plays a solid role in everyday politics. Their work can be seen in five villages around Weimar next year, ACC is the start of the tour.

Donald Trump's lyricist

What is also going on tour is a solo by the German National Theatre in Weimar, titled Der Tribun. This is a 1979 text by composer Mauricio Kagel, and it sounds almost like a literal speech by Trump, including all the (so-called) slips, blurbs and hesitations. The performance will tour around 30 village halls in the state of Thuringia. It cannot fail to have huge impact in those small communities, where xenophobia and racism are unfortunately as prevalent as in some rural communities in our own country.

It would be an idea to do something like this in the Netherlands too, but I don't know if there is a company here that has enough reach among a non-art-minded audience to make a real impact. For now, we still have a primal recording from 1979, in which it is easy to hear how Kagel exemplifies Trump's lyricist.

Furious olive grove

Of a completely different order is the work Olivenhain/Massik by German/Israeli artist Sigolit Landau. On the Theaterplatz in front of the National Theatre are six 10-metre-high video columns, showing larger-than-life olive trees. In the 40-minute video artwork, we see how the olive harvest takes place by machine shaking the trees violently. It is an extremely violent image, not only for people who love trees: this looks like torture of a living creature.

Halfway through, we see the trees being uprooted almost casually, and how the stumps are destroyed in the ground with machines that look the same as those that were still shaking the trees before. Then the trees return and we are invited to dance among the shaking trees, as it has now turned into a kind of wild olive tree disco.

Stronger trees

The association with the struggle in the occupied territories, where Israeli settlers are razing the sometimes centuries-old orchards of the original Palestinian farmers, is obvious.

Yet it is not just an indictment, says Sigolit Landau, when I speak to her afterwards: "Art is very much interested in agriculture, and agriculture is not so concerned with art, but there is a connection." Massik is the unique term for this rough form of olive harvesting, but, Landau explains, it makes the trees stronger. "For me, it's very much about collaboration. Between farmers and workers, but also between trees and people. Everyone feels a strong connection with trees. The tree is the first sign you see that lets you know everything will be okay after the flood."

"In the West Bank, olive groves are being uprooted by settlers, making the lives of Palestinian residents impossible. There is a lot of struggle over and with those trees. Also because they are a symbol: who owns this land, whose identity lies here. When an olive tree dies, it is like a human being dying."

Celebrate life with death

Yet it is not a simple indictment, however justified that would be. This installation features dancing by an Israeli and a Syrian dancer, beautiful music by a Moroccan composer and singer. Landau prefers to show what life can also be about. She lets anger do its own work on the viewer.

"I did not film on the West Bank because that is not my style. I filmed the cutting down of the olive trees in the peaceful olive grove, because that is part of the cultivation there. The trees are shaken for as long as they can be shaken, and then they lose their economic value, after which they are uprooted and new trees replace them. It is a celebration of life."

Possibly this unique orchard will appear on a square somewhere in the Netherlands next year. It is urgent, political art, provoking discussion but also very intensely capturing the imagination of every passer-by.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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