Berlin days, Berlin nights
Hard to believe that we have only now 6 weeks left to our residency in Berlin. What started as a great unknown journey on May 31st has become a fully lived experience filled with emotional and creative impact. Being in Berlin has proven to be extremely productive and conducive to work. Most of October we spent preparing for 2 major video shoots, one with dancers and the second with actors. On both occasions we were blessed to be able to work with extremely talented and generous performers – we will be eternally grateful to them for their time and involvement with our project and our ideas.
When not shooting, we have spent our time editing the material and also composing sounds to go with it. It is very rewarding to see how the various tracks in our work are starting to take concrete forms, how the narrative and the image impulses coalesce, how we are forging an audiovisual language that distills our ideas and experiences and turns them into distinct works of art. We have still a long way to go until the finished pieces can be shown, but the direction of each component of the whole is now very clear. We have overcome the difficult and confusing initial days of our arrival in Berlin, when it felt as if we were walking through thick, dark mud, and now the good ideas have sorted themselves out and the material itself is starting to take its own shape and expression.
Browsing through the shelves at the St. George English bookstore, we came across a copy of Lawrence Weschler's "Vermeer In Bosnia"(Vintage Books, 2005). We bought it, intrigued by the title, but never suspecting that it would prove to be a fascinating and inspiring read. The three main essays in the book deal with the atrocities of the Bosnian war, the subsequent trials at the Yugoslav War Tribunal at The Hague, and the momentous days that led to the fall of the Milosevic regime in Belgrade in 1997. What we found particularly moving and engaging in Weschler's writing was the broad humanistic frame in which he sets up a historical perspective to understand the then current events, building beautiful arguments in which works of art, theater, and philosophy serve as springboards for a broader analysis not only of the particular conflict at hand but also of general views about violence, ethnicity, historical memory, and political agency. One wonderful moment involves going to see the Vermeer paintings at the Mauritshuis in The Hague, to seek respite from the brutal testimonies at the tribunal, and engaging in a disquisition about Vermeer's time and how his paintings depicted an idealized serenity that belied the horrors of the 30 Years War (1618-1648) in which, as he puts it, all of Europe was Bosnia, mired in bloody religious and ethnic strife.
We have been taking advantage of Berlin’s extraordinary cultural offerings, going to concerts (both classical and experimental), dance performances (often very moving, sometimes pretentious), and tonight, an amazingly acute theater performance that uncannily parallels some aspects of our own work and in particular our emotional involvement with the conflict in the Middle East. The piece, “Third Generation”, is a co-production of the Schaubühne Theater in Berlin and the Habima of Tel Aviv. Directed by Yael Ronen, a young Israeli director, it brings together a cast of Israeli, Palestinian, and German actors to, in their own words, “analyze the Gordian Knot that characterizes these three nations”. They do this mostly in English, with an even-handedness, great humor, a daring honesty, and without ever falling into easy didacticism or the facile sentimentalism that might be expected from the subject matter. In a particular poignant scene, a trio of Israeli actors impersonate teenagers that have been through a recent educational trip to Auschwitz and other death camps. The scene is both funny and terrifying in its accurate portrayal of the convoluted relationship of Israeli society to the Holocaust. In another, an Israeli soldier is haunted by the ghost of a Palestinian he gunned down when he mistakenly thought the can of Coke he was holding in his hand was a grenade. It was very interesting for us to see this complex situation turned into a piece of experimental theater, with its own discursive logic and conventions. It is obvious that for those involved in this production, the work had to reflect a reality that is very much lived and experienced in the every day.
For us, we are addressing similar subject matter, but in a more general and abstract way: we come to it as mediated observers, touched by its many contradictions, but ultimately removed from it by geographical distance and the luxury of a more philosophical perspective.