Sunday, June 7, 2015

Faki Festival, and exquisite anarchy

It was with excitement and anticipation that I boarded the bus for Zagreb and Faki - a theatre festival I knew little about. My expectations from the programming were for a fairly radical time, and my appetite was whet by, among other juicy provocative phrases, the festival press release's proud exclaimation:

"The international Festival of Alternative Theatre Expression was first organized in 1998, in reaction to the elitism, but also commercialization of the institutionalized cultural scene, defined by political and artistic one-sidedness to the point of obstructing the independent avant-garde, subversive and experimental practice of theatre and performing artists.
Admission to the entire festival is free of charge. On principle."


Photo: Merima Salkić

Part theatre festival, part rave, Faki seems to run on a kind of anaemic energy usually reserved for those at the extremes of life, which indeed some were. Amongst the Mad Max 2 style junkyard fortress of the Autonomous Cultural Centre Attack!, a former medical factory, one can party hard, sleep hard, art hard - everything turned up to 11, and a kind of sublime, with a beautiful community surrounding it, bouncing from conversation to conversation about the work in a kind of never-ending rigorous dialogue.

All sitting within a bizarre politic - at once a site of transgression, and undoubtably a political gesture. I've written previously about small, mobile festivals such as Terni having a perceived time-limit, somewhat determined by the EU's focus on mobility, cultural exchange and the 'New Europe' - which may be disappearing in the face of rising nationalist sentiment and proto-fascist variations, clouding even some of the more well-intentioned neoliberal policies. Such a swing puts at risk the unity and exchange that such festivals represent, and while I was at Faki, it occured to me more than once that there might be no better way to counter this than a bit of old-fashioned anarchy. I'm told from artists living in Berlin in the 90's that the squat was a key part of the post-wall social structure for artists, providing communal living, sharing, contact across class and social boundaries, and a chance to form alternate communities - all of which can generate different forms of thought, even realities. Sociologists - and for some reason I met quite a few in Faki - will tell you that this is a pathway to positive social change. Although that's hard to see at 6am, when a kind of early morning haze drifts over Attack!. But yeah, it can be art.

Some notes from three of the shows, curated loosely around the festival theme of 'D.I.Y Collectives', follow. The list is not exhaustive, or for that matter a full overview of the shows I would have liked to write on, of which almost all qualified. Kaninchen from TeatroInRivolta was a lesson in how to do your work as an artist - a fascinating, Kafkaesque observation of the biography of Johan Georg Elser, which follows him on a journey of surprise and horror to the concerntration camps. Raúl Ornelas Aguirre's Loba Lamar's Last Kiss experiments with the gaze and the body, Everything I'm Not from Carlota Berzal is a cry of anguish from the audition room of a young actress. The approach from Sandra Božić and Dragan Strunjaš in Scene was playful, as was Sarah Calver's exploration of love in I Gave Him an Orchid, whilst Alice Masprone went for brutal autobiographical honesty in Survival Kit: Alice's Adventures Through the Freezing Bag. The sad story of the festival was the trio from Kosovo, Kushtrim Mehmeti, Mehmet Preteni and Fisnik Sykaj - only two of whom could come because of problems with countries not recognising Kosovo passports. (I will refrain from being too dramatic about this, but it certainly does not make those countries responsible look great when something like this happens). They salvaged a nice pantomime performance, respected and welcomed by the audience - all the more so because of circumstance.

The three shows I have chosen to write on are significant to me in ways that should be clear from reading.
Review 2 - Paulina
Review 3 - Untitled

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