Monday, May 21, 2018

Faki returns

I'm in Faki festival in Zagreb this week reporting on everything that's going on in the former medical factory Medika.

This is my fourth year covering the festival, which was irrevocably changed for me last year, when the Festival theme of  'Blackness' brought out many of the tensions, injustices, and oppressions - the thematic and the much more immediate - that present themselves when such a subject is raised in a context that is unequivocally white. Despite the chorus of powerful artworks authored by Black artists which presented themselves that year, as far as I'm concerned, there remain questions about that festival, and my own participation within it. One thing is for sure, though: I will never see Faki in the same way again.

This year, the festival, curated by Natko Jurdana, has the rather-less-provocative  theme 'Physical Theatre'. Artists from Austria, Chile, Germany, Serbia, Turkey, Italy, Armenia, and Brazil will explore the festival theme across 7 shows. Let's see what that brings out - it's certainly a tighter schedule than previous years (I think the record is 22 shows). Under the former curation of Irena Čurik, it felt like anything could happen.

It's a hard act to follow. Still, I have no doubt the walls of Medika will once again come to life, bringing with them the essential, fiercely anti-capitalist, desperately solid, and socially engaged principles that are at the heart of western theatre tradition, and which come out when it is given the right amount of nurturing.

(In a physical way).

Check back here for daily updates, as I once again try to tackle the festival, in all its crazy.
Check out the festival schedule at

Gog/Magog 4: Europe

Gog/Magog 4: Europe is the fourth installment of a performance series by German label ‘internil’ in collaboration with Israeli artist Moran Sanderovich. I wasn’t blessed with the opportunity to view the other instalments of the series, but if the fourth and last, titled ‘Europe’, is anything to go by, the previous three are worth chasing up at some time when your correspondent is blessed with just slightly more capacity than is currently available to him.

Basically a rumination on ‘crisis’ from the perspective of Europe, Gog/Magog 4 is a truly terrifying gesture, the likes of which are increasingly common in contemporary theatre arts. Not content with mere fear or immunisation in synthetic drama, artists are going deeper to mine the darker parts of humanity’s current expression, with the artist becoming the human - often soothing - front to a truly desperate global discourse. It’s a cynical frame that employs actors as human agents in the way that neoliberalism does – smiling, human fronts to a deeply anti-human project – in order to mirror the conditions (or some specific conditions for specific people, but its increasingly global) of our present existence.

The Europe instalment follows on from other previous examinations of conflict zones of Ukraine, Syria, and Israel, also performed at Berlin-Mitte’s Theaterdiscounter. This time, the conflict is closer to home, and it probably shows in the level of discomfort for both actors (nearly all European I suppose) and audience. The Eurocentric content is deliberately deployed to unsettle ‘our’ resource-filled, satisfaction-saturated existence, and to press the buttons which hurt most – from economic and cultural superiority, to white supremacy, to capitalist exploitation.

For all this, Gog/Magog 4 manifests in quite a charitable, Christian form. The leader of this cycle (in English at least), Arne Vogelgesang, welcomes us with a Jesus-like serenity, and insists that we should put protective covers on our shoes (which actually were totally unnecessary). We are led to the amphitheatrical installation, a half-circle surrounded by scrim projections animated by Sanderovich’s surreal designs, and invited to sit on flesh-covered cushions. Then, the first of 6 ‘learning streams’ begins.

Essentially, these streams navigate through different facets of European-ness, from identity (in which we are ‘treated’ to a rap from a fictional far-right identitarian group), to survival training for the coming apocalypse led by Christopher Hotti Böhm, to various biblical references. ‘Stream’ is a good word for these vignettes, as after a while they blend into each other, merging and fading like pedagogical dreams. At one point, the audience is asked to hold paper towel, and throw it when they have heard enough, only to be hit with a barrage of discourse about environmental catastrophe (I threw the towel almost immediately, as from experience such barrages of profoundly negative information have a paradoxically anti-environmental effect).