Thursday, May 30, 2019

Faki Day 5: On Freedom in Improvisation and ‘Perfect Agreements’

When seeing posters like 'Wash your dishes', 'Clean your shit', and 'Respect our home', you can never forget you are in Medika. 

Good morning again! Cups full of butts from the cigarettes, empty paper sachets, table surfaces covered by tobacco remnants, empty bottles around and some unknown people sleeping on the sofa in the living area - just another party that was last night. You are washing a cup for your morning drink.

The guy on the sofa wakes up and asks for tea. No sugar, just milk. Ok, you wash a cup for him too. The guy hands you back the packet of milk, and you put it back in the fridge. Did you just become a host? You put another spoon of hummus in your plate, and ooze out onto the roof for breakfast.

Yesterday was the last day of the festival, and we had just one show to discuss - the instant composition dance work Out of Balance from Freiburg-based collective Quizzical Körper. You would think that would make our lives easy - the reality is totally different, as can be seen from the conversation below.

Photo: Monika Jašinskaitė


Jašinskaitė: I think a festival in Medika is much more dangerous than your usual theatre festival. Because when you are 'in', sometimes you don’t find a way out. It’s like a black hole. It swallows you. How do you feel today?

Pettifer: I’m tired.

Jašinskaitė: That’s all you have to say? It seems like you are saving your energy.

Pettifer: It was a nice night. Many performances, some more time on the roof with an old friend, which I always like, and then a lovely morning walk through the city. And you?

Jašinskaitė: I had a good rest.

Pettifer: You dreamed?

Jašinskaitė: I didn’t dream about anything. I slept like a baby.

Pettifer: So you don’t remember anything?

Jašinskaitė: No.

Pettifer: Just like Andrea Lagos during the yesterday’s improvised performance Out of Balance, then. She also said in the forum that she remembers nothing of the actual performance. That forum afterwards was interesting, no?

Jašinskaitė: Super interesting. Do you think now it was worth having the discussions after the shows?

Pettifer: For sure with a show like that. Because I think understanding about their form really helps with reading the piece.


Jašinskaitė: They call it ‘instant composition’, right? It was interesting to hear more about it, because very often I don’t like improvisation in the performing arts. Very often it’s an area of speculation. When a performance is made without improvisation, it has quite clear composition, and elaborated means of expression. And sometimes, with spontaneity, it’s a good excuse not to elaborate on a means of expression. For me it’s often not interesting, because performers who use improvisation unconsciously repeat certain patterns, and then a question for me comes: do they express anything at all? Is there work at all?

Pettifer: I mean, I think that feeling comes from reading the agreement early. In this case, for the improvisation to work, you really need this agreement between the performers.

Jašinskaitė: What kind of agreement? What’s the agreement about?

Pettifer: I think it’s often unspoken. Certain things you can’t do – you can’t leave the stage, you can’t talk to the audience…

Jašinskaitė: You mean like, rules of the game, rules of the improvisation?

Pettifer: Right. And sometimes the audience can read these rules early, and nothing can really change with them. And then I think the performance can sit in one single space and not change, or move. I think it’s very difficult to produce a shift in this agreement.

 Photo: Ivan Marenic

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Faki Day 4: The Artist as Commodifier, Elitism and White Supremacy

Faki produces some epic nights. Beginning with the performances, moving on to a drink, then creating a party on one of the stages, then spending some time with an old friend on the roof, then, well, what's the point in stopping there? Might as well see the sun rise.

There's normally a stage of the festival when the adrenaline really kicks in, and from that point on I am such a snowball of art, life and punk that certain routine necessities like sleep simply don't apply anymore. 

That's about where we are at today, as the below conversation can attest.


Pettifer: We are both a bit delirious today, no?

Jašinskaitė: I agree with you. But you know, after 4 days here, I really miss my private space. - I cannot control who comes in and out of my zone. Here, even the toilet is without a lock.

Pettifer: This morning I was sitting in the living area, peacefully thinking, and a guy I never saw before came and turned the radio up too loud. And then all of these beautiful Croatian people came in, and it was party time. It’s comedy, because before I was really deep in thought, and then this radio comes on and I’m like ‘hmmm – that’s not the best’, and then the party starts. And I’m like – now I will go.  I always wonder what it’s like for the permanent residents here. 

Jašinskaitė: It’s probably how alienation happens, people stop paying attention to certain things done by others
Pettifer: Do you mean this in a good way, or a bad way?

Jašinskaitė: A bad way, because you are together with people but, at the same time, you are also alone. You share space, but not because you want to. If you could, you would make a selection. I was thinking about the toilet paper that’s always running out. In Lithuania, during Soviet times, there was always a lack of toilet paper. My friend has a saying: “I’m a Lithuanian, I steal toilet paper”. You never know if you find some in the toilet, therefore you always have some extra in your pocket. To me, having toilet paper in a shared restroom is an indication of a good life.

Pettifer: But I think this personal space is a luxury thing, like a ‘western’ thing, or maybe European thing, to have that personal space. I always think – is it natural, or not? And I think this again when this guy turns the radio up. There’s always a negotiation about this: on one hand, I liked my personal space, but on the other hand, I must acknowledge the others in the room. 

Jašinskaitė: But I think it should be two-way, this connection.

Pettifer: But it’s another thing when you can choose your types of contact completely. This is really extreme now in culture, we can create these ‘friendship bubbles’ where the only people around are ones who agree with you. You can curate your life so it is free of any resistance or annoyance. I am sure this is not a good thing, including for the person who does it – it creates a false reality.

Jašinskaitė: I agree completely. That’s why I enjoyed visiting Portuguese society. They have small chats in public space, even though they don’t know each other. But they are also not imposing themselves on others. And I think that’s the thing that we are afraid of. It seemed to me, when I visited Portugal, that they are taking care of each other without imposing. For me that’s a beautiful thing – they see if you need help or not, and if you don’t, they just leave you alone. It’s like having fairies around.

Pettifer: Is this complicity?

Jašinskaitė: I think complicity is the outcome of that. It’s this care. The same care that you don’t want! (laughs) When it becomes a habit and a common thing, it’s really a pleasure to practice it, and it’s not a headache anymore. I think you would enjoy it!

Pettifer: It sounds like a lot of labour for me.

Jašinskaitė: Do you want equality or not?

Pettifer: (Laughs).


Pettifer: (cont’d) What did you think of our first show from last night, Smej se Pajaco (approximately: Laugh, Clown!). I see why you called it a work of literature. It’s talking about some deep philosophy, and in a way not really from the stage. The metaphors are literature metaphors, and not stage metaphors, I think. For example, Beckett often has both.

Photo: Dina Karadžić

Jašinskaitė: I agree. For me there were some interesting connections that he makes in his writing. But I see this play more as a staged reading, to make it public.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Faki Day 3: Incorrectness and Disability

It's day 4.

Occasionally at Medika, entire days pass without you really noticing. I claim this is because of its phantasmagoric essence, as an illusory new reality where the old rules of time and space would not apply. This means that days can simply disappear into some strange vortex, never to be heard from again.

In this case, I'm reliably told that the day existed. But if you asked me, it consisted of several glances at the clock, and a few mystified comments that "it's already (insert time here)!!!".

As a result, we have developed a small backlog with these dialogues, and I sit here in Medika's infamous HackLab, glass of red wine and lit tea candle the only notable companions as we enter the night.

Day 3 was problematic for us, as we reconsidered - or, I reconsidered - the performance (UMRE)ŽENE, which was repeated from the night before. On top of this back-step, we are invited to consider the work from a Hungarian disabled group Cloudwalkers, whose Bonding forced us to face certain truths - one of them being that neither Monika Jašinskaitė nor I are particularly knowledgeable about how to discuss theatre with disabilities. As a result, the second conversation will be somewhat addled as we attempt to engage a work that was close to community theatre, and more about process than performance outcome. We will be joined by Polish actor Damian Droszcz, a guest of the festival who has some experience working with people with disabilities.


Pettifer: Ok, let’s begin. I will type slowly, as we speak, because then I don’t need to type it later.

Jašinskaitė: Like in European parliament we talk in pauses while they translate.

Pettifer: Exactly. What did you do this morning?

Jašinskaitė: Yesterday evening I took a nice walk through Zagreb. I found some nice buildings of early modernism, and some small details that were very peculiar, like the faces built into the walls, and some bas relief of an old man with big hair. It was -

Pettifer: Scary? At night?

Jašinskaitė: (Laughs) Very scary. I think this neighbourhood was much more scary.

Pettifer: Medika is scarier.

Jašinskaitė: Where have you been last night?

Pettifer: I went to a heavy metal concert here, and it was really good. It was free, I drank the rest of your wine and hung out. Then I went to a bar, then I went on the roof.

Jašinskaitė: We don’t have so much to talk about today, just one new show, Bonding, from Cloudwalkers in Hungary, and a second viewing of (UMRE)ŽENE from yesterday.

(UMRE)ŽENE (Part 2)

Pettifer: Watching the show again with your comments in my mind, I think some things I said yesterday were wrong. I think the show was for women, about women. It was talking to women. I don’t know if you agree?

Jašinskaitė: (laughs) That’s interesting to me. I am a woman. So it might be true.

Pettifer: I mean some of the things you were noticing I was just not noticing. And when you explained them to me, I was like ‘oh, it’s clearly – it’s a metaphor of oppression'. But I didn’t immediately read this.

Jašinskaitė: But I think that in this piece there’s a mixture of artistic languages of the performing arts – there are some actions that use the language of Live Art,  and visual language. Another level was physical – what the bodies do with each other. And one more was this, let's say 'contemporary dance' language. So I think because all of these are mixed, so it’s a little bit hard for the spectator to read this piece. In the beginning I was a little misled by different languages, and I thought that something was not important, even though it’s part of the message.

Pettifer: I don’t have a response to that. But for me, I think this is, for sure, now, feminist work, and maybe even more so than if it did what I was expressing yesterday – smashing patriarchy. Instead it bypasses this completely, totally ignoring it. This is one approach, why not? It does things on its own terms, in its own situation. And I think that’s fine – potentially even more radical.

Jašinskaitė: Yesterday, we finished at the point where I was talking about the message I feel the choreographer gives. And I was wondering if I didn’t make a mistake in interpreting the work. And I want to talk with you – because you are speaking about her being feminist, so I wanted to talk with you about the role of men in this performance.

Pettifer: On stage?

Jašinskaitė: Yes. 

Pettifer: I mean, for me, they are nothing (laughs). I don’t have something to add to that, actually. But I do not mean it in a bad way.

Jašinskaitė: Because I was thinking about one man in the performance, who is the last to enter the space, and is acting more like a stage technician, or an assistant for the performer. Later on he has his role, in the image choreographer proposes us, he becomes a ‘fake master’. And I was thinking about this situation a little bit through ballet. In ballet, which is a completely patriarchal kind of art, the woman performs and the man is ‘helping’ her to perform. So, for me, this piece is also working in a similar way, however I find it, as a strength of the work – it’s not a given thing, Ilijašević is not unaware about it. She includes it into her work. And for me, that makes a critique of the relationships between men and women, on stage and outside. Like yesterday you mention that you missed some historical links    ballet may be a possible link. Maybe Ilijašević wasn’t totally aware about the parallel with ballet, but I think it was a conscious choice to use the men as assistants. Because I think in this performance, men do not have power to show a woman in some kind of way that he wants to see her, but the woman is showing herself.

Photo: Ivan Marenic

Pettifer: And has control.

Jašinskaitė: Yes. Even though she is continuing to reproduce the same culture.

Pettifer: Well, in a way, but it’s not the same. No?

Jašinskaitė: No.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Faki Day 2: Invitations, with Knives and Chains

The morning of day 3 is a sleepy affair. That's a welcome reprieve, actually - a chance to catch up on some work, some sun, and not to have that 90s radio blasting in your ear, punctuated by Serbian or Croatian exclamations (often a corrupt-sounding cackle). The silence doesn't last long, of course. Pretty soon lunch is prepared, and the camaraderie and banter returns to the round table in the middle of the apartment at the top of the building, where Lithuania’s superstar critic Monika Jašinskaitė and I are coexisting alongside many guests and permanent residents.

I've been coming here, somewhat shockingly, for 5 years now. So sometimes I get roped into different labour, like finding the secret stash of toilet paper, or showing around new guests. I'm fine with that - it reminds me that art doesn't exist without community, and that the privileged position of artists as somehow 'above' everyday labour is a lie - a philosophy that inevitable enters my writing. As a critic, therefore, I'm never afraid to get my hands dirty.

Two great shows happened on day 2, the remarkable FEST from Finnish duo Marje Hirvonen and Anni Taskula, and a first choreography from Katarina Ilijašević called (UMRE)ŽENE (roughly meaning 'interconnected', but the two words 'Umre Zene' can also mean 'dead women'). While both left food for thought, FEST, in particular, sparked some unusual conversation between me and Monika, perhaps on account of the nature of its invitation.


Richard Pettifer: It’s day 3. How are you?

Monika Jašinskaitė: Fine! I feel comfortable, curious, free in a way, because very small and unimportant. Like I can do what I want, and nobody will care what I say. Although, just because I have freedom doesn’t mean the responsibility doesn’t exist. Sometimes criticism has too much importance in Lithuania, even though it is not influential. What about you?

Pettifer: I am feeling very relaxed. I stopped thinking about the other work I have to do, because Faki is its own world, its own reality, so now the outside world does not exist for me. I look forward to our conversation today.


Jašinskaitė: (laughs) Do you remember in the first performance, FEST, by the Finnish duo Anni Taskula and Marje Hirvonen, there was the sound of birds singing?

Pettifer: I don’t remember this directly, but now that you mention it...

Jašinskaitė: I thought it was just birds outside the building, but now I am reading about the performance, and I think it was from the audio!

Pettifer: Why do you say that?

Jašinskaitė: In the text about the work, they say that they use ‘silence, nature sounds, and karaoke’, so I think the sound of birds is what they mean there.

Pettifer: That was a confusing point for me – how was this work about environment? At one point they asked the audience ‘who wants to save the environment with us?’ or something.

Jašinskaitė: It was ‘Who wants to save Mother Earth, not Fatherland?!’ I thought this was a pertinent question.

Pettifer: It was pertinent in that it was part of their critique of nationalism, or nationhood, in favour of a freer idea of ‘home’. But I don’t understand the ‘mother earth’ part of that.

Jašinskaitė: I have never been to Finland, but I am from the northern part of Europe where quite often we confront nature and culture (or social being) – ok, there is a confrontation between nature and civilisation, and I think what they are looking for in their work is balance.

Pettifer: Like equality? Balance like equality?

Jašinskaitė: If equality is balance, then yes.

 Photo: Ivan Marenic
Pettifer: A big question for me in the work was how to make an ‘equal relationship’, with the audience, and us audience members with each other.

Jašinskaitė: I think they explore the balance of many dualisms, or many poles. One was nature and human, the other one I think is two human beings in general, then man and woman (even though they are two women on stage), and then it was very beautiful how – we talked a little bit with Marje Hirvonen after, and she talked about ‘receiving the guests’ – they were welcoming us. It was a situation of guest and host. And this is the relationship between artist and spectator as well.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Faki Day 1: Sexual Violence and Capitalism

It's the second day, and residents flit around in a banal way, mingling with the over-active dogs and chewing on unassuming breakfasts among the-night-before's lingering smell of cigarettes and the blast of 90's pop from the radio. So much has happened but, in true casual contradictory Croatian style, it feels like it could also be nothing. We're all deeply involved, in a superficial way, in the process of unpacking and simultaneous forgetting.

If that sounds confused, then that's not because of yesterday's shows, which were nothing if not bang on point. Opening the festival, Jirjirak, a group from Tehran, Iran, offered Braille, a meditation on a rape event, seen through the perspectives of victim and society (including the perpetrator).

Following this, Serbian choreographer Dušan Murić's Doći će partizani opet (roughly: The Partizans Will Come Again) offers an eclectic anti-capitalist riff, billed as "a threat - directed towards those who make life unbearable". 

Both shows provided plenty of food for thought, as the ensuing conversation with fellow critic Monika Jašinskaitė shows.

Richard Pettifer: What’s your impression of the Faki Festival and the place, the former medical factory Medika

Monika Jašinskaitė: My first interest in art came of an experience in Vilnius, Uzupis Republic, and one of the most important features of this republic was a squat on a riverside, where artists started to live in early 90s and in 1997 opened a gallery called Gallera there. Later it got European funding and became an Uzupis Art Incubator. It changed. For me, when I come here to AKC Medika, I come back to a world that’s already gone. It gives an opportunity to rethink the world I live in now.

Pettifer: I have been coming here 5 years now, and it's become boring for me, in a good way. Like, I do not have to do so much of the labour involved with integration anymore. And what I like about this festival is they give you what you need - you need a place to live, you need food. It doesn't give you extra. A lot of situations now for artists are giving you what you don't need, and they don't give you what you do need. So they say "ok, you come to this festival, we give you a brand on our CV, we give you advertising, it's good for your career", and etc, but they don't feed you. You know?

Jašinskaitė: (Laughs) Yeah, I understand. That's very funny to think about.


Pettifer: I thought it was an amazing performance from Darya Nazari The gender politics was interesting. She plays the victim in this performance, one actor playing her husband (Mehdi Sheikhvand) and another, the perpetrator.

Jašinskaitė: But one of the two male characters is also a victim’s story – how a victim becomes an aggressor.

Pettifer: But this I feel is really problematic, when you start to talk in this way, “oh, the rapist is also a victim, we should see his point of view”. You can do it, in a way, but it’s dangerous. The perspectives are not equal.

Jašinskaitė: But that is what I like in this performance – that they are really trying to touch the most sensitive areas of this problem – being an aggressor but being a victim at the same time, it’s very paradoxical. In Lithuania it works. In Lithuania we have one word for the rape of a woman and the violence of a society - it is prievartavimas. So all people in society experience violence at the same level. Of course this is in a way a sad thing, but on the other hand, it gives me a hope, an idea, of how the violence against women’s bodies can be stopped. That it may be stopped if the violence in men’s world can be smaller.

Photo: Ivan Marenic

Pettifer: I just don’t think it’s equal. I agree that it’s good to think about why people become rapists, I just think being a rapist and raped is totally different. When you equate them, it’s dangerous.

Jašinskaitė: In the Soviet Union, we had a lot of women who were very 'equal' to men, the builders for example. Many women were well fit, they were doing their work, and then they were coming home and doing the housework. So this is the image of Soviet equality.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Faki 22: Inequality

Every year, with even regularity, I say "never again". And every year, I swear that’s true. And every time, the next year, somehow, I find myself back for another Faki Festival in Zagreb.

This year (the 5th for me) will be a little different from the normal – I am joined by Lithuania’s superstar critic Monika Jašinskaitė, and we will publish edited versions of dialogues every day of the festival. These will replace my normal review/diatribe format. Dialogues should probably be more popular than they are as a way to write criticism – I know for me, I’ve never pretended my view is authoritative, there is always a (visible or invisible) counterpoint. We hope to bring useful, provocative discussion to these pages over the next days.

Faki 22 takes the theme of ‘Inequality’ – a theme that, whilst it dominates people’s material wealth and life circumstances, rarely gets attention corresponding to its defining position. The reason why is up for debate. Too hard? Too negative? Too much chance that it might have a real effect on something? Take your pick. It’s a holding pattern that creates one of the paradoxes of our contemporary situation in developed countries, that as things get even more precarious, leadership creating the precarity grows in strength.

The view of the neighbouring Westin Hotel, from the courtyard of the former medical factory Medika - host of Faki Festival 22.

The big recent exception was, of course, the Occupy and related movements of 2011-12, where inequality came to the forefront of public discourse, and certain inalienable truths – like 26 humans holding over 50% of the world’s wealth – began to become widespread. Off the back of this, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2012) presented, not for the first time but perhaps in the right moment, the argument that inequality was reaching a point where it was becoming the major hurdle to the continuity of capitalism itself. Together with accumulated pressures, inequality, and our collective inability to address it, likely pushes us into territory where extreme choices must be made.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

The Ideology of Collaborative Theatre: The Auteur Director and the Anticapitalist ‘Good Soul’

In 2017, I attended a conference at the University of Arts, Târgu Mureş, Romania, dedicated to the theme of "When Theatre Meets Devising or Collective Creation".

One and a half years later, this turned into a paper, published in the university's journal Symbolon here.

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