|TORSTEN MICHAELSEN - MICHAEL HÜNERS - OLE FRAHM|
Summer 2003 in Leipzig, a few hundred people met up in a space temporarily
arranged for the project radioballett leipzig. Participants gathered
with small radios, or rented them from the organizers, and tuned them to
the local independent radio station. At around 6pm, the radio broadcast
switched from playing music to a directive: go to the train station. So
the group crossed the street to the station and went inside. Directives
for behavior were broadcast, interspersed with music. Following the cues,
the crowd simultaneously waved, bent over to tie their shoes, danced. .
The project was organized by LIGNA, a Hamburg-based group and supported by an independent theatre in Leipzig, the Schaubühne Lindenfels which shows less-known and controversial films, and houses the Leipzig branch of the political organization attac. In protest of privatization of public space and an attempt to bring back gestures that had been excluded by the system of surviellance, the radioballett felt and looked like a mixture of an installation piece, a protest, and a party. After the performance, participants went back to the original meeting place for free food and drinks. This is an interview with the organizers.
LIGNA is a group consisting of three people – Torsten Michaelsen, Michael Hüners and Ole Frahm. We’ve worked together since 1996.
Is this the first
project of this genre you’ve done?
In December 2002 we organized a similar project called “Invitation to Public Radio Reception”. We asked listeners to come into Hamburg’s center city with their their radios (this time without headphones), turn them up as loud as possible and disperse amongst the Christmas bustle. At that time, there were quite a lot of demonstrations going on in Hamburg against the eviction of a trailer encampment in November 2002 and against the politics of the local right-wing government in general. Demonstrations weren’t allowed to go through the inner city; officials feared that they could disturb the Christmas shopping. So we decided to bring a dispersed demonstration into the city. It worked quite well; even though our program was not able to drown the whole city, it was enough to change the place: you could meet grinning people everywhere with antennas coming out of their jackets. It was impossible to go shopping that Saturday afternoon without realizing that something strange was going on.
So the radioballett in Leipzig
already had it predecessors. It was not simply a copy of the radioballett
in Hamburg, although it also took place in a train station. We put in
quite a lot of more gestures, like lying down, lighting cigarettes, running
around etc. Although both stations, in Hamburg and in Leipzig, are models
of the privatization of public spheres, they have a different character:
the Hamburg station was renovated in the early nineties and then partly
turned into a shopping center. Leipzig followed in the mid-nineties: the
shopping mall is much bigger, everything is much cleaner and the whole
regime of control is barely visible.
did you develop the ideas for this project?
We realized that the left-wing radio movement is not really interested in the medium; that it used radio in one of two ways. Either they used radio simply to convey messages, tell their audience about the evil outside and summon them to do something against it beyond the program. Or they believed, referring in a simplified way to Bertolt Brecht, that the revolutionary usage of radio was to change it from a means of distribution to a means of communication. This follows the belief that utopian radio is some kind of "open mike” creating a space where everyone can call in any time and say what he or she wants to say.
We found out that another much simpler aspect of radio was always neglected and even renounced in reflections on free radio: the distribution of a voice to many radio apparatuses; the fact that radio always creates an abstract constellation of listeners. This means that radio reception in any situation where the radio is switched on means an intervention: it brings in the abstract constellation of others. Our regular call-in radio show tries to make this constellation audible.
What we were still looking for was a way to turn this constellation into an association of people. That is, a collective that can change a situation. The radioballett was an attempt to do exactly that.
So the idea was for a very long time very abstract. We knew that radio offered the possibility of an intervention like the ballett, but it took a lot of time to work it out. It wouldn’t have been possible without discussions with many activist groups dealing with privatization and control of public space. In the last years many of them have tried to exceed the regime of control by exaggeration: for example, by going into the main station and acting like security guards themselves, urging people to do silly things “for their own safety”. What they wanted to achieve was an awareness of the repressive practices that have become a part of everyday life. What many of them found was that for many people everything they were urged to do was completely all right, as long as it was good for their safety and usually turned against those who earned it. These experiences made it clear to us that you can only do something against the regime of control if it is hostile to this regime.
is the political drive behind the radioballett?
We wanted to find a way to bring back what the regime of control fears most: the invasion of gestures of deviant behavior - holding up your hand for begging, sitting down where it’s not allowed and things like that - in an amount that supercedes control. For us, radio is the ideal means of achieving that: it can be received nearly everywhere and very easily. The dispersion of radio allows a mass to act collectively without gathering as an assembly.
So instead of simply conveying protest as content, the radioballett tried to perform the protest: it used radio to let the uncanny and unexpected invade a place where usually nothing unexpected is happening. Because if something unusual approaches, it is instantly driven out.
was the intended impact of the radioballett?
We called the radioballett in Leipzig “Übung in nichtbestimmungsgemäßem Verweilen”, which means something like: excercise in unsuitable staying. For us it is important that this is an exercise. Places like the main station and every other place that is under control have become spaces where you constantly practice being under control. In these places it has become normal not to sit where you want to, because you know that soon the guards will come and disturb you. You know that you can only smoke in the areas reserved for smoking, unless you want to pay a fine. The radioballett wants to be a counter-exercise: a way for people to learn that other practices in these places are still possible, if you have the right backdrop for it. During the time the ballett was performed, the restrictive normality of the main station was suspended.
there any particular significance to the hand motions everyone was doing
(waving, tying shoes)
|"...What might fit into the new trend of activism is that the dispersed protest are usually big fun for their participants".|
|top photograph copyright of eiko grimberg
side photograph copyright of the schaubühne lindenfels