Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Theaterstück: Celebrating 50,000 hits?

I started this writing platform almost exactly 10 years ago, when I first arrived in Berlin. Back then, the idea was to write about theatre here, as a way of coming to know it, and at the same time to develop myself into a "critic". The reason I wanted to do that is because I identified that criticism is a worthwhile activity: it's the difference between really knowing something, to go deep into life, and simply experiencing it and letting it wash over you as you strategically pick your way through different available privelages. Historically, it's been the difference between fascism and democracy, at least according to a scholar like Hannah Arendt, who wrote extensively (and critically) about the ideologies of Nazism and other totalitarian regimes in the 20th century. 

Furthermore, today, it's dying. 

In today's cultures that are driven by profit and fame - what good is there in reflection? All the competitive mechanisms teach us to move faster, more streamlined, more efficient. To pause and think is calamatous, and it's the same for actually paying attention, which can stop you from seizing opportunities. As a cultural worker in a world rewarding surfaces, reflection is often seen as a luxury - you need to endlessly and aggressively self-promote, even at the expense of your colleagues, just to survive.

The screenshot of the moment the dream came true.


No wonder then, that over the years many have been a bit arrested when I have confronted them with critique, and are all the more confused so when that critique is also reflected upon myself. "People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones", is the idiom - and so, at this moment of pausing to reflect on attracting 50,000 or something readers over a 10-year period, it's a good moment to stop and take stock.

First, 50,000 is not a big number, and I did an awful lot of work to achieve what others can do with a single, entertaining cat video. I write on approximately 25 shows a year on this platform, over 10 years it's about 250 pieces of long-form criticism. On average, this is about 200 readers per article. Take out the bots and random internet traffic, and the real readership is probably much lower than this. Remove people who don't actaully pay attention to the words or wider argument, and I'm probably only writing for a handful of people each time.

Yet, there is every chance this is more than enough. As criticism is such a loathed and poorly-understood practice, you're only trying to reach a few people anyway, who can act as agents for it in different ways. Popularity is not the goal (although sometimes I think a more widespread respect for the practice would help me to write). Rather, we are trying to build culture, and that normally takes time, patience, and care - resources that are in scant supply today. Making and re-making different arguments in relation to this in critical writing is an important part of that development.

50,000 is not a big number. Still, I celebrate it, purely because I understand that what this writing platform tries to achieve may not be possible. While this alone doesn't make its existence worth fighting for, from my experience, anything that is worth achieving in culture was hard in the beginning (sometimes very hard). The rewards come in the end - often too late for the instigator, but not too late for their successors.

Thanks to people who have read over the years, especially those who have entered into dialogue with me - it has made me richer.


Note: Current publication is done with the understanding that colleagues and communities from Kharkiv, Mariupol, Kyiv, Lutsk, and Lviv among others in Ukraine are currently under attack in an attempt to erase Ukrainian culture and identity. No artist should be forced to rehearse how to pick up the gun. 

Thursday, April 13, 2023

A Little Catching Up To Do


A couple of exhbitions, a concert, a festival of short films, and a cinematography club later, and your correspondant is feeling a little worse for wear. Those familiar with burnout will recognise the signs: when small things become unmanagable and impossible, when the body and mind begin to account for a period of sustained deference, during which urgent tasks dwarf their potential undertaker, with "not urgent but important" ones relegated to an expectant, ever-growing pile.

Post-intense period, the demands of life tend to come flooding back, and that is what is happening to me at the moment. Although the urgencies of the most recent invasion of Ukraine seem incomporable with my own relatively light psychological suffering, it is nevertheless always funny to observe the body and mind, and how they remind you of your own humanity and limitations, which are real even if these seem comparably trivial.

The last weeks were filled with incredible experiences as part of the Exhibition and Event Series of Ukrainian Culture, and I am proud and happy to be able to work in support of these events, which were unanimously moving and powerful interventions in Berlin's cultural landscape, led by my colleagues at Cultural Workers Studio.

Although I continually failed in the last period, somehow, I was able to keep a skeleton critical practice going on tanzschreiber - albeit without my usual attention to detail (or ability to meet deadlines).

Here are those texts:


Juan Domínguez's oddball piece Rhythm Is The Place certinaly left many in the audience scratching their heads - nevertheless, an important albeit esoteric experiment in tempo.


La Cage's work Oiseau was such a gentle, slight experience - I really appreciated its production ethic and focus on simplicity, although judging by the collaboration's published texts, we have some differences about non-human agency.


Time Out of Joint was among my trickier tasks for tanzschreiber so far - I saw it on International Women's Day, and was confident that I would be able to be unfailingly enthusiastic. Instead I was met with a complex, conflict-ridden work, and this made writing about it not easy, as I had an uncomfortable encounter with my own unrealistic expectations of female uniformity in solidarity.


I write a sort of clowny introduction here - but I often feel out of place in the more ecstatic, performative introversions of Berlin, which make almost no sense to me. This piece Deepspace from visiting choreographer James Batchelor seems like it has sort of aged since its premiere in 2016, and a perhaps once-radical approach now seems almost classical - I nevertheless found a lot to appreciate in its euclidian trimmings.


For me, now, the doctor in my head (the one I can afford) prescribes it's a bit of rest and time in the garden. I will return with more writing soon, including the last of my Tanzschreiber articles and some interviews I was working on in the last period.

In the meantime, to quote the poet and activist Lesya Ukrianka:


Away, thoughts - you heavy, autumn clouds!
Now the spring comes, gleaming gold!
Is it with such pity, lamenting aloud
That the stories of young summers are told?


Thursday, February 16, 2023

Introduction to the exhibition 'life: war edition' @Somos Arts, Neukölln

In January, I was offered the opportunity to introduce the exhibition of my colleagues Natalie Krekhno and Anna Mudra at the opening of the exhibition 'life: war edition' at SomoS Arts, Neukölln.

From the moment that I was invited - and of course accepted - I understood that I would fail in this task, because there was no option available to me that worked to satisfy my own criteria for an introduction in this context.

Here is how I failed: 


“Trust in Hell”

Delivered 14.02.2023

for the opening of life: war editionSomoS Arts, Berlin

Richard Pettifer, critic and theorist of Cultural Workers Studio (support worker)

Thank you very much, I am deeply honoured and humbled to welcome everyone to this exhibition life: war edition from my two colleagues who I will introduce properly in a moment, Natalie Krekhno and Anna Mudra, and their collaborators. Tonight I will offer some short contextual remarks about the works, some background of their origins and objectives, and finally a couple of acknowledgements to the condition in which we find ourselves, upon the mounting of this exhibition.

In 1991, 30 years ago, theorist Jean Baudrillard writes his series of provocations, together retrospectively titled “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place”. The first essay written before the war was called The Gulf War Will Not Take Place, the second written during the war and called The Gulf War is Not Really Taking Place, and the third after the war called The Gulf War Did Not Take Place. The essays causing significant scandal from both victims of that conflict who accused him of devaluing their experience through his position of war as a spectacle, and Western elites who took offence at his attacks on traditions of supposedly enlightened “European” thought in conceiving and understanding the institutional violence of war. For Baudrillard, those traditions manifested best in media systems designed to distance the spectator from the philosophical horrors of war, to cushion also its violent gesture through the process of its mediation, and to create comfort and profit in a spectator experience that causally watches on as things play out on screens and in text. That Baudrillard bothers to – albeit sarcastically – challenge this condition speaks of his own philosophical discomfort with the passive sideshow of violence: how long can we watch on without intervention? How dare we turn our backs, in a sociological sense, on the deeply troubling split in reality which occurs through the impossibility of conceiving atrocity? For his body of theory, this condition necessitates the creation of a “virtual” space – filled with political figures as unreal puppets, hopeless contradictions between the reality we know to exist and reality as it is narrated to us, and how streams of media narrative polish and smooth over the grim reality of fighting for the determination of your own existence.

with Natalie Krekhno and Anna Mudra, photo: Anita Kopylenko

Monday, February 13, 2023

Exhbition and Event Series of Ukrainian Cultures (Feb-March 2023) with Cultural Workers Studio

This February marks the anniversary of the latest invasion of Ukraine. This is an invasion by a foreign force into areas highly populated by civilians, and was coupled with attacks on civilian infrastructure, massacres of civilians, and other war crimes still being investigated. The invasion has little to no willing support from any significant population, either inside or outside of Ukraine.

Our studio, Cultural Workers Studio, has organised an event and exhibition series around this date to focus on celebrating and commemorating the endurance of Ukrainian cultures, against attempts to erase them.

As the only member of our studio not from Ukraine, I am proud to support the voices of my colleagues and to create structures and processes together with them over the month. 

Quick guide:

Every Wednesday // Cultural Workers Learns Ukrainian @ Space Meduza

14-18th February // life: war edition @ SomoS Arts

22nd-25th February // The Bug-Out Bag @ alpha nova & galarie future

3rd March // Stefaniia Brodska concert + listening party @ Public in Private, Flutgraben

4th-5th March // Charity Screenings of Ukrainian Short Filmmakers @ Multi-Function Space, Flutgraben


The full program can be found on the website of our mother organisation Flutgraben e.V.: https://flutgraben.org/en/entry/2122/

All events are supported by Goethe Institute and the NGO Artists at Risk. Full notices can be found on the website.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Drama (for tanzschreiber.de)

 My first time back at the Volksbühne since the events of 2017, saw me ironically writing about the work Drama, the latest dance work from choreographer/director Constanza Macras.

The visit opened some specific tensions, not the least that it was a dance work titled "Drama" which attempted to discuss a crisis of precarity, of which Dance's incorporation into the Volksbühne programming in 2017 was very much a part.

Critism here : https://tanzschreiber.de/en/drama-without-drama/

My writing about the Volksbühne in 2017, and presenting alongside the former Artistic Director at an event in London, here: http://theaterstuck.blogspot.com/2019/01/theatre-and-power-in-europe-or-whatever.html

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Lounge - Opening of Tanztage 2023 (for tanzschreiber.de)

It's been a while since I attended any kind of festival opening with any prestige - and as I queued with desperate people, and a guy shoved his way in front of me, I remembered why I don't like it. The competition, the desperation, the networking... and then occasionally, some performance...

Cynicism aside, the festival's opening night produced two memorable performances. The first was Bang Bang Bodies, written about by my colleague Corey Tamler here - https://tanzschreiber.de/en/centripetal-performance/

And I was charged with a premiere, Lounge, which was a playful and instinct-driven look at the function of relaxation in sex. Insert jokes about my prudishness... 

More after the jump:





Sunday, January 1, 2023

What happened in 2022?

Sitting at my little wooden desk by the window in the weird 14-degree Berlin weather, sick with the flu and rejecting any possibility of celebration, I have finally had the chance to "take stock".

2022 began for me with a long bus ride to Portugal, a type of 'holiday' to visit friends and colleagues, which was punctuated by different forms of trauma over events of the last years. By the time I got back - February 16th - I had a week in Berlin to look around at what was happening, before things would change completely again.

The period after that week is something of a blur. 3 weeks on the cold streets with people from Ukraine, desperately trying to find some sense of orientation together, were followed by a year in which my work completely changed, and the entry of many new influences who would become good friends and colleagues. The first emergency "Cultural Workers Cafe" events initiated by Inga Zimprich, Viktoria Lyakh and Sönke Hallman at Flutgraben were created to support incoming cultural workers to meet each other and engage in mutual support. These were followed by the development of Cultural Workers Studio, a shared space which became both my home base at Flutgraben by Berlin's River Spree, and a kind of utopian cultural project you can only find in Berlin. Through supporting the studio as it's only member not from Ukraine, I co-moderated a film festival, supported a livestream concert, modeled on the catwalk, and learned how to cook various Ukrainian specialties, as well as convivially supporting my colleagues in finding some sense of stability in the new (often very bureaucratic) environment.