Art аs а Possible Exit, In and Within the World

  The Entropic Institute in Sofia, photo: Katja Mateeva

At the end of September Sofia became the second city after Berlin where the temporary workspace of The Entropic Institute – an initiative of one of the key figures of the contemporary dance scene in Germany – the art-duo Kattrin Deufert and Thomas Plischke, the artistwinappeared to disappear. Combining features of a festival, an academic situation, a choreographic project and a durational performance, this “organized chaos” connected many geographical, temporal and conceptual dots within the city, creating an alive, beating event, greatly involving the audience. The people directly in charge for this artistic “mess” were: Galina Borissova (dancer and choreographer/ BG), Alain Franco ( composer/ G), Barbara Greiner (manager/ G), Boyan Manchev (philosopher, BG), Willy Prager (performer/ BG), Maya Stefanova (translator), Arnd Wesemann (dance critic, G) and of course – Deufert&Plischke themselves. Ina Doublekova met the artistwin to learn more about the overall concept of The Entropic Institute that takes place in different cities with a different content.


One of the first things that grabs the attention in the description of The Entropic Institute on your web page is the underlined statement: The Entropic Institute is active theater, not theatrical activism! And it seems that this is a “rule” that applies to most of your work. But what is the difference and why is it so important to declare it?

Yes, absolutely!  This is our new slogan. Each year we write on our web page a kind of new mission statement. Our previous statement was:  “Art is not only done by artists, but art is done by many people”, because our environment and our work are also part of the social construct of our artistic concept. Within The Entropic Institute this idea that we are not standing for theater activism but for active theater developed a lot. Of course, here we are a bit confrontative towards people who stand for theater activism and think that theater can become political by putting political statements on stage, like for example saying “George Bush is shit”. But our belief, and a thesis, is that, though we appreciate some forms of theatrical activism, we would never do it.  We think that political statements of that kind are clear to everybody, especially to the theater-goers. On the other hand, theater can become political through its form, through the aesthetics and its appearance. It can develop within itself a kind of activity of coming closer to the people, approaching and integrating their involvement. In our heads, we have been working in this direction for seven years now, but what we wanted to do was still not already there. The Entropic Institute really catalyzed the idea of active theatre, though it is certainly in its beginning and I hope we will continue this path.


Even in the title you “fuse” together two terms – “entropy” and “institute” – which seem to contradict to each other.  How do you want to bring them to work together and what comes out of this fusion?                                                                                                                

This is a difficult question that has been asked many times. Both terms – entropy and institute – fascinate us. We have been thinking about them for a while and now we put them together. It is kind of paradoxical “fusion” as entropy is so much about chaos, lack of information, high density of something that you can not understand in a logical, historical, linear set up. But with time you need to try to start understanding the chaotic proliferation of things, which is very close to the understanding of art processes.  Art is done with people and you never know what will come out at the end.

Institute, on the other hand, is more difficult to relate to. For us it is more about that as an artist you can not be totally against the institute. This anti-institutionalism was very popular with the ’68 movement and its heritage – as today you still meet people who say “Fuck University”, “Fuck Academia”.  But even if we talk about the so called “free dance and theater scene”, you can not work totally independent from anything. Because art also needs money, it needs visibility, it needs infrastructure. And we think that outside the institutions there are some historical examples that prove that – for instance, Andy Warhol’s “Factory” which also became an institution over the years. In that sense we need to clearly define what is an institution.

Moreover, we have always been tightly linked to teaching and giving workshops. This is important for our artistic work, we do not actually separate it. That is why we have always been working with institutions. This does not mean that we are not critical towards them but you need to work with and in them the same way as you can only be critical towards society when you leave within society.

  The Entropic Institute in Sofia, photo: Katja Mateeva


An essential part of the concept of The Entropic Institute is that it appears and disappears at different places. But how does it last?

Well, the newspaper of the project is something that always travels with us, the web page is also very important as it shows texts, videos and reactions of audiences. It lasts also through the people involved.  We like to have continuity in our work, which involves not only our artistic duo “artistwin” – that  have been working together for 11 years now – but also the whole group of people that we always invite. For example, Alain Franco is one of them. His lecture is very involving and it gives certain continuity to The Institute, brings something from one space, one city, to another. But basically, The Institute develops independently in each city and it always depends on the people from the city involved. That is why the notion of entropy and institute has to be redeveloped each time specifically within each of the cities.  This is how it happened also in Sofia.  Since we could not find one place, we thought:  “OK, let’s do this kind of diaspora, exodus that goes from one place to another and let’s integrate the walk within The Institute.” We didn’t know what to expect, but it worked out very well; the people chose to follow us.


Now that you mentioned the audience – which is the desired audience of The Entropic Institute?

We talk a lot about audience in a social and political sense. We never produce something for a specific audience. That way you can only fail because at the end various people come. So it is better to do your art and not to think too much. But nevertheless, art without audience does not exist. So it is also not good to only work artistically, “art for art’s sake”. So, when we talk about audience, we always hope, and sometimes it works, to reach people from all generations and not to work for an exclusive audience. I would wish people of diverse ages, art and social fields to come. If we could have such constellation, it would be very, very nice.


Sofia is the second stop of The Institute after Berlin. Then it will (dis)appear in Hamburg, Brussels, Amsterdam. Is there a particular reason why the project travels from city to city and do you intentionally connect Berlin to Sofia or it is a matter of “entropy”?  

That is a very good and large question that has not been asked yet. Maybe because Sofia is the second “station” after Berlin and it is now the time to ask it. We, the artistwin, think a lot of “a map of friendship” as there are certain artists and philosophers whom we really feel related to in a kind of a real “work friendship”. And we believe that we continuously need to work with those people. That links also cities together. And of course, within these cities, we also have the production means, because otherwise you can not do this kind of projects. What is more, when something worked out or did not in Berlin, we are curious how this will work out in Sofia, what will be the attitude. For instance, in Berlin we were at our University of the Arts so you go there and you already expect that art will happen there. That is a complete different situation to other cities where you have audiences which deliberately choose to come to us or we find them on the spots. Like the people at the Monument of the Soviet Army in Sofia, who were already there, people that go there to walk their dogs, are there with their families, etc. And that made a big difference. Of course, there are some core elements that are always present.  But we need to continue and to get more knowledge about this continuation between the cities and The Entropic Institute.


Can you tell more about the way The Institute did happen in Berlin?

As mentioned before, in Berlin it was located at the Interuniversity Center for Dance, where our study programme takes place. There are fourteen studios, a theater and the entire “contemporary art” infrastructure. We did the whole production in one space, where many things happened at the same time – a choreographic concert, a lecture, concerts, games on table on topics like what fears do we have in the city. We also had a game on entropy as a movement experience that a Polish dancer did with the people and it was very nice. And, of course, the myths about Arachne and Medusa were also part of The Institute. So it was a different space concept, as everything happened in one place.  Also the institutional context was different – it was within an academic, already established institution for contemporary art.


But why do you choose to work exactly with the myths of Arachne and Medusa? And how, if at all, they sound different when listen to on the streets of Sofia?

Arachne can be said to be the “host” of The Institute, we did not clarify how and why on purpose. But we have been working with Arachne for seven years now and we are really into this myth, while Medusa is still “fresh and young” in our work. In general, to take the myth on the street is a long dream of ours.  We think that you can find many myths directly on the street. They are not so far away from us! If you think about the very well known myths about Oedipus and Narcissus – they are clearly recognizable in our society!  They are part of our collective understanding. But Arachne and Medusa – nobody knows them.

In that sense, they are a “non-mainstream”.

Yes, exactly.  And we are interested in non-mainstream myths, this is important to mention.  We are interested in the myth on the street, in culture, in human surrounding. That is why for us the possibility to bring the parkour and the audio-play on the street, into the park is quite exceptional. Undoubtedly, the headphones create this kind of “I am in my own world” notion, but you are walking at the same time and you are still communicating with the people around you through the body language – you smile, touch them, stop to wait. You look suspicious, look around, wonder what the others are hearing. And, even though it is a cliché, I very much like this link between text and movement. Walking, while listening and thinking, it is an old form, that was typical for academic upper-class, but I think you can make people think and walk and it’s very simple.


Recent events like the financial crisis, the Arab spring, the emergence of the “Occupy” movement and so on, trigger a serious debate about the fact that the Capitalism is not at all simply an economic system but has become a way of thinking.  And the biggest challenge seems to be to “imagine” models outside of its structures and ideology. In your opinion, can myths and mythology be used as a means for dealing with this “crisis of imagination”? 

In our opinion, we become more aware of this crisis. Even the word “crisis” has become fashionable with the financial crisis. But it seems that humanity is in a crisis since its very beginning. But it is also true that we are extremely busy with reality in the sense of functionality, something that has to be fixed and has to work, to think of our future in the sense of would we have enough money, would our children have a good future. Maybe for a while it was not so fashionable in art to work with this kind of narratives and motives from other times, but why not? And it has always been important for art to give people some hope. Hope in the sense of their own activity, their own thoughts, that are not lost, not weakened.

And that there is a possible exit?

Yes, a possible exit which is not outside of the world but in and within the world. There are many possible exits and reentrances through the imagination and the imaginary. And this last point is very important for what we have developed in the last months – the “theater of proximity”. All our idea of participation is not about a forced participation but it is this idea that we really want to come close to the sources of the emotions and the affects of the other people. With all the risks of that, of course, because such a relation is not like a love or an erotic one and it is not necessarily nice. But it tries to “bypass” distance, which in our unerotic, functional, very capitalistic, biological society is very rarely practiced on everyday level. That is why we try to bring this erotic, close proximity to a very, very everyday form which is very difficult to achieve. And we are only in the beginning but really want to continue.

  An essential part of the concept of The Institute that is also related to the issue of proximity is the constant attempt of not only creating art, but also creating an environment for its existence. As you know, in Bulgaria, we have people working very hard to push forward the development of the independent theater and dance scene and it seems that they need to do something similar – to create high-quality artistic work and simultaneously to create an environment. Given your experience, what is your opinion about such a situation?

It is very important that you mention that because our true believe is that the development of art comes from the independent, experimental scene. In traditional institutions not so many things can be developed because they depend too much on the reality of bureaucracy and administration. So the ideas and the creative potential indeed are in the independent scene. The only thing that we wish to the Bulgarian independent scene is enough proximity to the institutions so that they are not left apart, as it would be very difficult to get production means, visibility, and other things which are extremely important. If you stay in your own room, you are not seen. You need also to learn now to approach the institutions, how to make the Minister of Culture understand that dance is needed in the city and it can not be only classical ballet, but there are many other forms. Also, it is about writing clever texts and applications. Philosophers should write them together with the artists. And it is not about the manifesto that one would write in a fancy art magazine, because the Minister probably would never read it. But we need to be able to formulate our demands so that the institutions understand what our aims are. We need to collaborate without becoming traditional, stereotypical and political. But of course, we know that this is easier in some cities, where the tradition of experimental art is already more established. But then there is another danger in the bushes and that is why in another interview we said: “Do not make such a big difference between Sofia and Berlin!” As we think that the independent scene has always had a kind of certain problems that it has to deal with. The problems change but we will never have supereasy time, because that would mean that we have become established.

 Since The Entropic Institute is a “work-in-progress” concept that is constantly developing, what is it going to take with it from Sofia?

We will see about that but one thing which is very good is the “walking-moving” part. Getting out of the theater spaces. That is an old dream of ours, because when working in the studio, there is so much tradition, the frame is so well-known. And there are so many other possibilities for the framing and we need to think about something, that has not found its frame yet, or even maybe is possible never to find a frame and does not need to have a frame at all. The idea of the frameless image is very fascinating. So maybe this is one possible thread of the Institute. And the other one is, with the help of philosophers like Boyan Manchev, to get closer to the idea of the “institute” because maybe we are not critical enough yet. The next city would show us how far we can go, how we can live together with these other artists, thinkers and art that we involve within the project. And the “mixing up” of people from different fields is what gives life to our theater. In Sofia it was very nice that we did not appear so much, our presence was only through the audio-play. And it was good that other people appeared more – like Willy Prager, Maya Stefanova, Galina Borissova, Boyan Manchev. This is also something which can vary from city to city but right now we really like to disappear within our own work and let others appear.


Sofia, September 2012