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She she Pop: Eight people of flesh and blood

She she Pop: Eight people of flesh and blood
Photo: © Benjamin Krieg

The Berlin performance collective She She Pop has been a permanent fixture in the Berlin theatre world for almost three decades. Starting in the analogue age between fax and clattering computers, She She Pop today increasingly uses digital means for stage art. We talked to Lisa Lucassen, an original member, about how digitalisation has changed the way the collective works over several decades and what opportunities and risks She She Pop sees in the increasing prevalence of digitalisation in work and life. 

 

Interview Kora Annika Böndgen

 

CCB Magazine: Hello, Lisa! Your play ‘Oratorium’ recently made a guest appearance at the Berlin Theatertreffen. In it, you will deal above. Currently, there’s a lot of debate about the fact that algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) are increasingly influencing and controlling our everyday lives. Do machines and AIs play a role in the ownership and power relationships mentioned in ‘Oratorium’?

Lisa: Our theatre is not very machine-based, it's primarily where people come together. ´Oratorium´ is all about real estate ownership and how property changes consciousness. Is it a valid answer when I say that digitalisation has virtually no influence on the presentation of content? 

CCB Magazine:Yes, of course.

Lisa:But the power that we formally exercise on our audience in ‘Oratorium’ is supported by a relatively new software in which we enter the texts and which the audience can then speak. And yes, digitalisation favours existing power structures as well, with new algorithms, for example. We also deal with this on stage. And we acquire the technologies, but we won’t let ourselves be taken in by them. With us, they are not content, but form.

 

CCB Magazine:You were founded in the 1990s at the Giessen Institute for Applied Theatre Studies. You came to Berlin in 1998. When you started, the Internet was just starting to work, there were no mobile phones, tablets were unheard of. You see yourselves as a collective. To what extent has your work changed from the analogue to the digital in the course of digitalisation? 

Lisa:(laughs) To be honest, I don‘t even know how important fax has been in the history of digitalisation. Because that‘s exactly what we‘ve been using extensively for years, and that was really funny, because it was much easier to send hand-drawn sketches via fax than from a PC. As far as modern communication methods are concerned, we no longer have to meet for everything like we did in the beginning. Technical innovations facilitate things, yet our collective perception doesn’t end up suffering as a result. 

I would honestly say that digitalisation and mechanisation bring back the need for human communication - and a new political consciousness is created about it – including in the performance scene

CCB Magazine:In the 1970s, collectives became a new dominant form. When they were founded in the 1990s, it was individualism that prevailed. The talk was of a new apolitical “fun society”, followed by numerous start-ups and selfies. At the moment there are again tendencies for new communities to be founded, especially in the course of digitalisation - keyword new cooperatives. How do you experience this change? And how does this development change the field of dance and theatre? 

Lisa:The theatre was always political right from the very beginning, so I would argue that the form of collective cooperation has largely survived the described phases. I would honestly say that digitalisation and mechanisation bring back the need for human communication - and a new political consciousness is created about it, also in the performance scene.

Scene from the play 50 Grades of Shame. Photo: © Doro Cloth

CCB Magazine:In talking about yourself you say that you “transform theatres into a space of utopian communication.” What is meant by that?

Lisa:Over the many years of our collaboration, we have found that, paradoxically, it’s easier to negotiate or address things in the theatre and on stage than in real life. In our play “Testament”, for example, we stand on stage with our own fathers and talk to them about how they would imagine the conversion rate from love to money or how they plan to divide their inheritance amongst their children. This is a very difficult matter and it is easier in front of an audience of 600 people, because there is this bracket, because one knows that now there is no crying and slapping the ears, but rather civilized talk here. And that‘s why we understand and address theatre as a place for utopian communication, where you can try things out. Here, in an artistic context, barriers are broken down between the audience and what’s happening on stage. Things are actually said, but they remain primarily theatre and have a different effect, as if I were addressing them at the dinner table. And technical means can also be used very well for this purpose today. 

CCB Magazine:One of your latest works only works with the help of the latest video technology: In “50 Grades of Shame” you film yourself live on stage, either naked, costumed or wrapped in black fabric. With the help of the software “Isadora” these recordings are then dismembered, collaged and projected again. Is this piece a critique of current technological penetration?

Lisa:At first, the software does not split the images. There are five cameras and two screens in the piece. ´Isadora´ mainly ensures that the live recordings from all cameras are sent to the computer in different ways. And no, it's not a decided protest against increasing digitalisation. We learn about a development and make it our own - quite pragmatically. 

We understand and address theatre as a place for utopian communication, where you can try things out.  Here, in an artistic context, barriers are broken down between the audience and what’s happening on stage

CCB Magazine:How does this work technically?

Lisa:With the help of the software “Isadora” we can adjust the exposure settings. In principle, the complete fragmentation of the bodies is based on this, which is why we are dressed like this: Either wrapped in black fabric, coloured or naked. Everything that’s black on a black background disappears in the computer with the appropriate light setting. A person who wears a colourful costume or no costume at all but has a black mask in front of his face looks like a person without a head. And if it is thrown on the same screen as a person dressed in black, you can put one head on another body.

CCB Magazine:You said you were making political fuss. The last European elections demonstrated that right-wing groups are increasingly gaining votes. Should art and above all the performative arts again have the task of bringing current topics onto the stage and discussing political problems? 

Lisa:Theatre has always been political; it’s been an act of acute publicity from the very beginning. We make decisions on stage, try out different manners of talking and social systems, rehearse or reject speech gestures and social rituals. This is where we see our task: We search for the social limits of communication. We practice a form of theatre that’s committed to experimentation. And also the audience often receives a concrete attribution and a special function from us. That is highly political. But it‘s not only the subjects we cover on stage that are political; it‘s also the way we work together: Collectively. By including our own autobiography. We’re eight people of flesh and blood. Seven women and one man. And we believe in theatre as a public space. 

Category: New Player

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