Design And Performance Lab


A New Europe?


Johannes Birringer

(c) 2003


We're not living in America/But we're not sorry.
We don't care about the world today/We're not sorry for you.

"Living in America"
song by Swedish rock band The Sounds

War and Peace

The widespread outrage and contempt, which many European citizens, old and young, expressed this past spring in their protests against the U.S. invasion of Iraq, are the background for my examination of the new Europe that has evolved since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The technological gap between U.S. military might and that of all other states has become obvious; the ideological shift, and the current chasm that has opened up between the New and the Old World, is more difficult to interpret. Some commentators, including the German Chancellor, have spoken of the "return of the political" (Rückkehr des Politischen ). The phrase resonates with understated European irony vis à vis the more ambitious millennial theses heard in the U.S. since 1989, from the "end of history" (Fukuyama) and the "clash of civilizations" (Huntingon) to "Americans are from Mars, and Europeans are from Venus" (Robert Kagan). In the context of the military invasion of Iraq, and the Bush administration's global war on terrorism in the aftermath of 9/11, this phrase points to a hegemonic foreign policy defining itself against any or all enemies. Concerning Iraq, the policy points towards control over the Middle East, and many European countries, with millions of Muslims living in their communities, dread the familiar outcome of invasion and occupation. Such a politics indeed seemed a thing of the past, and we are now forced to confront the paradox that the unilateral and imperial foreign policy stance promoted by the U.S. belittles or even dismisses the United Nations and the opposition from most European allies who had pursued a different path over the past decade, striving for peace and economic cooperation through treaty-based diplomacy and multilateral negotiation. Indeed, the entire process of gradual integration within the EU itself, with the creation of a single market and a single currency, has been founded upon the latter.

Chancellor Schröder's phrase, however, was uttered in June 2000, at a conference on "Modern Governing in the 21st Century," to which he invited all European prime ministers in order to discuss the challenges of globalization and what was to become apparent a year later (during the massive protests at the Genoa G-8 summit), namely that the elite leadership of global economic policy makers faced a growing activist opposition that took to the streets to protest the management of "modern governing." The return of the political betrays a deep irony, with a dissident movement criticizing the global economic policy makers and their rhetorical claims (for human rights and the equal distribution of wealth) in the very moment when the "postnational constellation" (Jürgen Habermas) throws the old nation states and their governing democratic principles into crisis. This crisis and the rifts that opened up during the Iraq war suggest no easy answer to the question whether a new civil society and a new culture have emerged in Europe. But the anti-war demonstrations in 2002-2003 were a clear echo of the mass mobilizations in 1989 and underscored the protest movement against globalization already active for a number of years now. Spontaneous and sustained protests, such as the camps built on the public squares of Barcelona, also echoed the more recent student protests in Belgrade which pushed the Milosevic regime to the brink. Do such echoes indicate a common culture or a growing consensus that would overcome the many historical particularities and the mosaic-like regionalism of cultures in Europe?


Europe - a work in progress

The tradition of dissident and activist movements is part of the European culture I have known since 1968. The evolution of civil society in Western Europe after the conflagration of World War II, the advance of social democracy, and the ideological opposition of the Left against conservative state power, was shaped by a radical politics which had its reference points in the class-based struggle of labor against capitalism. Student protests had sought alliances with workers and trade unions within a conceptual framework owed to the International working class movements providing the support for Socialist and Communist parties which in some countries became involved in the government process. In Italy, France, and Germany, the radicalized Left fought its ideological - and sometimes militant -- battles in an Internationalist framework (against imperialism, colonialism) that was eventually overshadowed by the West/East constellation of the Cold War. The postcolonial moment in Europe had arrived, but the contradictions of the socialist/capitalist opposition could not be resolved. By the 1980s, protest shifted its attention toward nuclear disarmament, the deployment of cruise and Pershing missiles on European soil, and US foreign policy in Central America and the Middle East. The growing peace movement in the West, accompanied by an intensified awareness of ecological and environmental issues, was soon upstaged by the uprisings in the East, beginning with Solidarnosc in Poland, and ending with the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe that brought about the demise of the USSR and the entire communist bloc. The events of 1989-91 seem so recent, and yet, after a decade of realignment under the almost universal spread of neoliberal economics and global financial markets, the redefinitions of political and cultural identities have just barely begun.

While Western Europe's Common Market and democratic culture helped to shape common values and practices over a period of several generations, the cataclysmic events of 1989-91 in the former centrally planned and bureaucratized state socialist societies forced rapid transitions to a new model. Economic transition to the market did not mean, however, that a culture of self-organizing, active and democratically inclined political subjects appeared overnight. "Civil society" in the East, as it was imagined by political dissidents in the 1980s (Václav Havel, Adam Michnik, George Konrád), could not be produced by shock therapy, and the rapid transformations often left ordinary people confused and embittered. Women in particular, considered equal and emancipated under state socialism, now found their choices of employment, childcare, abortion rights, and political participation severely limited under a new regime of economic interests which shifted from socialist paternalism to resurgent nationalist ideologies in East Central Europe, troubled by redefinitions of ethnic and cultural identities. (1) The pressures toward national identification are profoundly contradictory since based on exclusion, and on gender and race discrimination. The nationalist discourse, for example in Russia or the Balkans, obscures multi-layered realities and prevents the revitalization urgently needed, and compared the decades-long multiculturalism debate in the U.S., European policies for multicultural education and support for minority expression generally lag behind. In Barcelona, an actor wanting to perform in the city theatre or on television needs to speak Catalan: the native tongue is exclusivist. Instead of state-sponsored folkorism and plans for a new National Theatre in Tirana, cultural activists in Albania would prefer an international art center and access to the cultural network built by George Soros' Open Society Institute (in Ljubljana, Budapest, Zagreb, and other cities).

It is obvious that the democratic redefinition of "Europe" - now commonly understood as the project of an ever-expanding European Union - is a highly complex work in progress. The question of where to locate the East of the West is relative; my Croatian friends think of themselves as Western Europeans, but place Bulgaria in the East. Albania appears as an abandoned region altogether. The Baltic States, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are considered central, but no one agrees where the "center" lies. There is anxiety over who will ultimately belong to the expanding EU, and this anxiety also sows confusion and competition. During the US attack on Iraq, Blair's Britain, along with Poland and Spain, supported the superpower, while France, Germany, and the rest of Europe resisted. The question of how members of the EU position themselves, and whether shared foreign policy decisions can be reached, preoccupies those minds that dream of a common political culture. It is also a matter of local or regional perspective how one approaches the political, economic, and above all psychological transformations in the wake of the 1989 revolutions.

For example, the psyche of East Germans soon became the subject of a therapeutic literature trying to sort out the issues of humiliation and guilt, especially after the disclosures of the Stasi (secret police) archives which revealed the extent to which neighbors had spied and informed on each other. The therapeutic discourse barely touched on the harsh political exigencies, how the "annexation" of East Germany was managed by the center-right German government, how the "Top Dogs" of Western business colonized the East, and how the people in the former socialist GDR were forced to adapt to the new realities (rising unemployment after a vast infrastructural overhaul) of socio-economic unification. Disenchantment and lingering resentment are part of the new folklore that surfaces in regional theatre, film/television productions, and vernacular jokes. Wolfgang Becker's new film, Good Bye, Lenin!, which treats the pain of disillusionment with Monty Pythonesque humor, achieved cult status since it has an ironic distance to theWende which earlier films by Frank Beyer or Heiner Carow lacked. For a period of time in the 1990s, East Germans were accused of "nostalgia" (Ostalgie ) for the lost GDR, and some artists focused on this by recuperating and ironically reframing older songs, advertising jingles, and TV series from the 1970s, while subjecting the new realities of consumerism and the rush to the market to bitter satire. Carsten Ludwig filtered this rush through a cruel allegory of European tourism: his theatre adaptation of Vladimir Sorokin's soz-art novel One Month in Dachau , staged at the Festspielhaus Hellerau-Dresden in 1995, was a grotesquely surreal journey to a "sanatorium" (concentration camp) that offered sado-masochistic pleasure-rituals for the oblivious tourists. One of the darkest satirical elegies was Volker Braun's Der Staub von Brandenburg, a fragmented lyrical poem filled despair which premiered 1999 in Cottbus (directed by Christoph Schroth).

The loss or destruction of all utopias had already been cemented in the pathos-ridden work of the late Heiner Müller (cf. Germania 3 Gespenster am toten Mann). The pathos survived, for a short while, in Johann Kresnik's furious Choreographic Theatre which focused on biographical dramas adapted to dance. The satires, musicals and mixed media plays of the late 1990s, however, indicated that the younger generation of playwrights and directors -- from the agent provocateur Christoph Schlingensief to Oliver Bukowski, Daniel Call, Klaus Chatten, Dea Loher, Moritz Rinke, and Theresia Walser -- now turned to a kind of hyperrealism that confronted contemporary social realities in small doses, with fragmentary stories, silent images, momentary snapshots and flickering video set to heavy metal or techno music, but without the presumption that a drama about History can be written. In Jörg Laue's multimedia opera Mythos Europa (Berlin, 1999), created with his Lose Combo, the "story" is the failed attempt to tell the story of the mythical Europa, a king's daughter, raped, kidnapped, disappeared from history. Laue's musical work is postdramatic theatre reflecting, in a complex way, on its own inability to form a coherent narrative. Its fragmentary hyperrealism, inspired by pop art and video art, seems suffused by a cool despair that resembles current live art (e.g. Gob Squad, Showcase beat le mot) in the West, if not the madness of Russian live art, epitomized in Alexander Brener's destructive acts or Oleg Kulik's performances as a chained dog who attacks and bites gallery visitors (I like Europe, Europe doesn't like me, Interpol Exhibition, Stockholm, 1996). And yet, these acts of anarchic aggression provide an important ironic counterpoint for the deep melancholic nostalgia of Alexander Sokurov's film Russian Ark (2002) which seems to mourn a forever lost authenticity of culture.

German unification happened as the governing parties in the Czechoslovakian federation negotiated (against President Havel's admonitions) their break up into separate countries, and as the Serbian neo-nationalists wrought havoc in former Yugoslavia by attacking Slovenia, Croatia, and then Bosnia and the ethnic minorities in the Kosovo. The brutalities of "ethnic cleansing," along with the rekindled xenophobia in the West seeking to stem the tide of refugees and immigrants, became a haunting mirror of the 1990s, a period during which peace-loving Europe failed to understand its own worst nightmares. Attacks against "foreigners" in an increasingly multiethnic and transnational Europe produced a paradoxical scandal; after the race riots in Britain, the inarticulate violence of neo-Nazis and skinheads in ex-East Germany, and the rise of right-wing populist movements in France (Front National), Belgium (Vlams Blok) and Italy (Forza Italia), one had to understand the outbursts of nationalism in post-communist Eastern Europe as symptoms of a larger crisis of identification in which the inherent contradictions of liberal democracy became visible. Slavoj Zizek argues that the West's "fascination" with the disintegration of Communism and the crisis in Bosnia revealed its own fantasized, distorted gaze, its own desire for the "reinvention of democracy": the West assumed that the East was staring at the West, fascinated by its enjoyment of democracy and wealth.(2)

A sociological analysis of this displacement would have to engage the deeper roots for today's theft of enjoyment and the formation of anti-globalization protest. The roots clearly lie in the paradigm shift we have witnessed at the end of the older industrial society/nation state. The gradual demise of the old Left signaled the end of an era of workers' strikes and working-class movements based in societal relationships between labor and capital specific to the industrial era. The political systems we knew were structured by the social conflict between workers and employers. Collective citizenship was based on the integration of social relationships within a nation, with the State operating as the guarantor of individual rights and of solidarity by means of the welfare system, and the Nation offering the symbolic and cultural framework within which economic and political modernization could evolve.

Today's "class struggles" are no longer fought in the factories; they have been replaced by "networks" (ATTAC, World Social Forum, NGOs) and shifted to the cultural arena altogether, if we define cultural production as practices of everyday life extending to social organization, knowledge production and creative expression in an era of information capital. The globalization of the economy, deregulation, the destructuring of social relationships, migration, ethnic and cultural diversification, the advance of information technology, mass media, commercialization, etc. -- all of these processes make it harder for representative democracy to function effectively, since the issue of participation and agency is now marked by the social fracture between those inside society (with access to employment, housing, education, consumption, etc) and those who are excluded.(3) The issue of economic participation, linking the demand and necessity of cultural expression (including religious, ethnic, sexual identities) with a rearticulation of civil rights, political equality, and the rights of citizenship, constitutes the deep challenge for the construction of a new unified Europe, a pluri-culturalist Europe recognizing especially the expectations of its marginalized minorities. In a vision of a politically unified Europe, cultural production is necessarily a process of integrating the coexistence of differences.

As the experience of the 1990s proved, cultural identification can produce violent affirmations of one's place -- the frontiers of inside/outside -- through extremism and populism. Its "paranoical overidentification" with the national or the tribal, as Zizek would argue, is merely an inherent reaction to Capital's universalism, and it is usually disqualified as fundamentalism by secular liberal democracy. In response, the discourse on European citizenship, for example Jürgen Habermas' proposal for a European civil society and a "constitutional patriotism," promotes a constitutional debate on the civil relations between the residents of the European space and their movement between community borders.(4) On the other hand, cultural production need not be a matter of local identity or "autonomy" (the anarchist Autonomen movement in Kreuzberg claimed such autonomy for its neighborhood in Berlin, which was also the most densely Turkish-populated enclave in the city). The geography of current anti-globalization protests which converged with the huge peace demonstrations in many cities in Europe and other parts of the world, reflects an enormous diversity at a world grass-roots level connecting students, human rights activists, feminists, environmentalists, and ethnic groups with workers, farmers, trade unionists, alternative municipal governments and NGOs. The key operational strategy, as it is also expressed in the ATTAC platform, is the formation of a network, "with neither 'hierarchical' structures nor a geographical 'center,'" committed to the creation of an international movement for democratic control of financial markets and their institutions in resistance to neoliberal globalization (

Ironically, the new movement uses a telecommunications metaphor for activism that clearly requires local face-to-face solidarity in action, as it turned out to be the case in Genoa where the right to perform civil disobedience was severely curtailed by Berlusconi's police forces. But "networks," Toni Negri and Michael Hardt suggest, have their own dynamics and operate by alchemy. The assumption is that network activism provides the non-governmental answer to the crisis of national societies, the "mediation" of those segments of the transnational cultural community who experience rejection or exclusion. If one wonders how this project of mediation has been articulated or reflected in the arts, one does not have to search hard. It is all over the map.


Civil Society and Reclaiming the Right to Performance

CIVICCentre, a weeklong symposium held in London last April, explored precisely this relationship between contemporary performance, civic dialogue and political involvement, and the organization of the event itself reflected the collaborative ethos which characterizes many of the artistic ventures, exhibitions, festivals, and new works. Created by Performance Architecture Location, together with six other institutions, CIVICCentre brought together a large number of European and non-European artists, scholars and students to investigate questions of "civic intervention," "performance ethics," "theatre capital," "virtual event technologies," and the "construction of community." The events happened in different places, involving a range of site-specific, ephemeral as well as long-durational performances (featuring Socìetas Rafaello Sanzio, Platform, Theatre Pur, Olivier Perrier, Desperate Optimists, Carol Brown's "Machine for Living," among others).

The situationism of the event, which made frequent conceptual reference to the writings of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben and his notion of "bare life"(5), was organized as a distributed performance, a network of dialogues. It examined the accelerating civic claims of the anti-globalization movement by subjecting certain terms -- the camp/dwelling, civility, location, duration, everyday histories, and gesture -- to careful analysis. The debates at the Science Museum on the "Detachment of Gesture" in virtual art, or the "loss" of gesture as Carol Brown argued in regard to the new human/machine interfaces, were of particular interest, since most of the presenting artists obviously see technology in their work as second nature. New interactive media art and web-based art are genres that have been strongly subsidized by the "European Culture 2000" Fund in Brussels. The main concern, however, was not the dematerialization of the physical but the reproducibility of performance gestures in the entertainment industries, in an age when gestures appear to have been recycled to the point of parody by sports-stars, celebrities and reality show survivors. An impulse to reclaim gestures shorn of their democratic resonance, stripped of their political impact and evacuated from their everyday contexts forces us to consider how we might identify such gestures, how we might recognize them anew, how we might wish to reclaim our right to them, and to the performance they stand for. "Ironically," one speaker suggested, "the idea that people in civil society should organize their own reproduction has emerged at exactly the same moment as globalization drastically erodes the capacity of the same people to order their own affairs." (see

The digital aesthetic of sampling, recomposition and distorted citation has pervaded almost all genres of art, music, film, television and performance over the past decade. As a political gesture of claiming the right (and the space) to perform, however, the vibrant dance culture (acid house, techno, drum 'n' bass, the heterogeneous mix of Afro-Caribbean and mediterranean rhythms) and the phenomenon of rave parties and clubbing in London and elsewhere articulate an underground celebration of community, and even the construction of a particular kind of communitarian space, which contributes to the discourse on direct social action. Dance culture, with its use of new technologies as creative tools for recording, sequencing, and live DJing, and with its reclamation of unused and derelict urban spaces, offers a transcultural model and a type of enjoyment (ecstasy of dissolution in the communal body) which have not remained underground. The annual Love Parade in Berlin is now a major tourist attraction drawing millions, and international festivals, from Riga's Homo Novus theatre festival to the Istanbul Biennial, aspire to the same hype and publicity to (re)produce their cultural markets. These festivals undoubtedly contribute to the kind of homogeniziation we associate with globalization, but it would be wrong to generalize this phenomenon. Some of the festival culture tends towards a commercialized pan-Europeanism, but other events, such as the Interpol exhibition at the Färgfabriken Centre for Contemporary Art and Architecture in Stockhom, where Brener and Kulik's infamous interventions took place in 1996, had a different agenda, namely to foster the critical dialogue and networking between the East and the West. The curators, Jan Aman and Viktor Misiano, had specifically hoped to provoke a new experience of the actual disparity between East and West, uncovering the hypocrisy of the promotional gestures of aesthetic conviviality and solidarity in the art world. Brener attacked what he described as a false Western universalism, claiming that neither Russia nor the Muslim world can fit into the West's "giant computer."(6)

Brener and Kulik's actions expressed a logic of confrontation that was productive since it led to a series of manifestos, publications, and open debates on the problem of communication and the perception of the exotic "other." Brener in fact describes his performance as a deliberate kind of hooliganism that might be aesthetically pleasing to soccer hooligans, if not to art lovers and intellectuals of the West. But Brener and Kulik's actions also reflect their bitter sarcasm about the discourse of networks, European culture, or multiculturalism, implying that Brener's destructive dadaism and Kulik's dog are (only) of interest and aesthetic value for the Western art world because of the fact that Brener-dadaist and Kulik-dog are Russian, "representing" the dog-like, suppressed and under-developed "Slavic" other.

Is it premature to argue that the new Europe is a myth? Does not St. Petersburg's Hermitage, in the long, uninterrupted single shot in Russian Ark, also stand for the dispersion (theft) and collection of European art? Further opportunities for the accumulation of cross-European cultural platforms arose with the practice of appointing cities across Europe as "cultural capitals" for a limited time. Given the diversity of languages spoken in Europe, it is not surprising that visual media, music, and dance migrate more easily between these capitals than theatre and literature. But thinking through contemporary performance media in terms of a different, politicized notion of time-keeping and dwelling allows us to observe certain important strategies in European art making which have insistently questioned their relation to the public and the "processing" of body and self-images. Many hybrid intermedial performances and installations I have seen break with the traditional narration of self-identity or constitutive cultural location (dwelling in a particular language), recognizing that new media are indifferent to place but are differently constructed in the discourse of performance. Reclaiming the right to performance implies insisting on different simultaneous languages of participation. Culture is not a monolithic medium, and the challenge lies in building multi-lingual networks in a Europe where almost 30 different languages and many dialects exist. The new globalized Europe will also be built through the Internet.


The Discourse of Performance

A growing number of independent organizations, media centers, and schools in many European countries has helped to generate a new media-network culture which is unprecedented in so far as electronic arts festivals (in Linz, Helsinki, Barcelona, Rotterdam, Lisbon, Berlin, Osnabrück, Budapest and Ljubljana, for example) have given countless younger and emerging artists the opportunity to show new work and participate in the critical-theoretical discourse on the social design of technology, which was pushed by the activists of "net criticism," tactical media, hacktivism, and open source groups (such as Adilkno, Foundation for the Advancement of Illegal Knowledge) mostly operating across the internet. Open net culture was projected as a digital commons, a third space between the state and the market where people communicate freely (email, maillists, chatrooms, etc) and where they can organize. The Nettime discourse is not utopian but pragmatic, initially devised to counter an American technoculture poised to lead the rest of the world. Incorporating older media and artistic languages, network media function both as virtual communications (globally) and are used locally by social groups and movements. These ideas also had an impact on projects like the Sonic Acts Festival on Digital Art, Music and Education in Amsterdam, shifting attention from the widespread display of interactive art in museums to critical investigations of programming and the role of technology in the life sciences, the political realm, and in art education.(7) Nettime activism and new media education thus complement each other, and the V2 Institute for Unstable Media in Rotterdam recently made an effort to draw attention to the important role of "media memory" -- the collecting and archiving of memory as data that can be stored and retrieved. The question is how this continuously growing database of collected memory will be used, and how specific practices create different cultural forms of reprocessing the past.

Project-based programming, for example by shinkansen, the ICA or the "Digital Summer" in the UK, the C3 Center for Culture and Communication in Budapest, Karenina in Italy, MECAD in Barcelona, Digital Media Lab in Ljubljana, or the exhibitions curated by the V2 Institute, Transmediale in Berlin, and e-phos in Athens, often emphasize the politics of media performance over its aesthetics, thus contributing to a conception of art as discursive "platform" which was also fore-grounded during the last two documentas in Kassel. Shinkansen's "Future Physical" series presented one of these platforms last year ("Virtual Incarnations," London), and the discussion revolved around collaboration and inter-authorship, with choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh announcing that in her new work she wants to use telematic communications linking London and Bangalore, in an effort to focus on the social impact of digital connections in the survival of family networks living a diasporic existence. Shinkansen organizer Ghislaine Boddington underlined the need to explore the essential political importance of local and distant connectivity through internet communication.

With roots in artists' collaborations and activist projects, such platforms imply the formation of alternative networked economies and counter-publics, and it is only in this sense of a radicalized participatory democracy that the notion of "interactive art" for users and citizens (as in Amsterdam's Digital City project) gains a strategic value that is not yet frozen in museum displays of high tech art. Traditional museums now incorporate media arts, but the speed of technical development in the culture at large is such that even specialized art centers -- ars electronica in Linz and the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe -- cannot continually update their critical indexing and anchoring of the medium. Among practitioners, some of the collaborative groups (Knowbotic Research, Makrolab, Agentur Bilwet, Blast Theory) explicitly publicize their "research" as a form of counter-media, "questioning the ideologies propagated by the information surrounding us," as the British ensemble prefaced their interactive performance Can You See Me Now? during the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival 2003.

After receiving much attention for their mixed-reality installation Desert Rain (2000), which involved visitors in a hyperreal narrative labyrinth, Blast Theory's Can You See Me Now? offered a different paradigm of engagement for the "user." For five days during DEAF03, online players were invited to play a chase against members of Blast Theory. These players were dropped at random locations into a "virtual Rotterdam"; using their arrow keys, they could then move around the city and also communicate with other players. On the real streets of Rotterdam several "runners" from Blast Theory -- equipped with handheld computers and satellite receivers -- tracked down the online players. If a runner reached within 5 meters of an online player's location that player was "seen" and eliminated from the game. Can You See Me Now? is a game that happens simultaneously on the streets and online, inviting us (the user) to investigate the near ubiquity of handheld electronic devices in the general population, the presence of satellite and GPS systems, and the consequences of the blurring of previously discrete zones of private and public space. In such public space our intimate conversations are inadvertently witnessed; our movements can be tracked and located. By sharing the same real/virtual space, the players online and runners on the street enter into a relationship both playful and adversarial. Moreover, participants are expected to identify with a digital image, an avatar, of themselves, thus recognizing themselves as data in a navigational hide and seek where their "identity" and location becomes digital prey.

Also at DEAF, George Legrady's Pockets Full of Memories presented both an on-line and on-site installation that explored the theme of collective memory and gave insight into self-arranging data structures. Visitors of the installation could contribute to an archive by having a personal object scanned. Gradually, a two-dimensional map of digitized objects formed, projected onto a large screen. The objects that on an individual level worked as means of identification became detached from the persons as they were categorized according to the logic of the database. Like a building or wonder cabinet under construction, the image archive grew over time, yet the objects lost all personal associations as they became part of the larger patchwork of an immaterial database.

The significance of these interactive installations does not only lie in the design of the content and the ways in which they explore surveillance and the social and technical processes of archiving/retrieving data. The performative dimension of such installations is not intuitive or transparent but relies on a discursive frame, a kind of narrativization of the interactive interface. The emergent digital art is no longer representational but based on encoding and decoding operations, navigations, and communicative acts. Important exhibitions in recent years, including "Beauty and the East" (Ljubljana), "Connected Cities" (Duisburg), and "net_condition: art and global media" (Graz) focused on such navigational performance, and most noticeable in such European projects is the tendency to intervene into abandoned or decaying industrial sites (factories, coal mines, harbors) and re-utilize the former industrial landscape for public interaction, drawing attention to changing economic and societal contexts.

The tendency toward the discursive also marks much of the contemporary dance in Europe. Xavier Le Roy's Self-Unfinished (1999), Jérôme Bel's The Last Performance (1999), Emio Greco's trilogy Fra Cervello e Movimento (1998-99), Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's I said I (1999) and Sascha Waltz's Körper (2000) and no Body (2002) are perhaps the outstanding examples of new danceworks which can be understood as critical self-examinations of the subject -- not the author -- of a language, the subject of a database of conventions and ciphers of dance or physicality that is continuously emerging and receding, beyond the grasp of the individual "I". Le Roy, trained as a molecular biologist, speaks throughout his performance and dissects the discourse of anatomy. His movement is at the opposite end of the "physical theatre" and hyperkinetic dancing of the late 80s/early 90s, a period that coincided with the emergence of the "new brutalism" in British theatre (Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill, Patrick Marber, Martin Crimp) and the ecstatic rituals of performance art (La Fura dels Baus). Transforming himself into a headless being, a mass of formless flesh, Le Roy gradually dismantles the fictions of self-conscious control or techniques of the body: who is this body, this alien, absurd thing, this trembling, mutable, amoebic being which hardly serves as a surrogate for "identification"? Gone are the obsessive gender battles of Pina Bausch's tanztheater, gone also the proud affirmations of the queer body. On an allegorical level, one might argue that Le Roy goes below the strata of social constructions of the body, probing the new discourse of bio-technology.

If the brutalism of physical and dramatic theatre is now receding, the legacy of the 1980s tanztheater, live art, multimedia performance, and theater of images is still being worked through. It was a remarkable decision of the Berlin Schaubühne to give artistic directorship to a choreographer (Sascha Waltz). Her work with dancers, actors, and video cameras is perhaps symptomatic of a new trend toward the hybrid theatre of the early 21st century. While younger playwrights are being sought and produced in most subsidized state theatres across the European countries, and while the established dramatic canon still dominates the stages, the most vibrant energies and ideas are generated in the independent sector and in cross-cultural collaborations between directors, performers, designers and composers who may, in a sense, also be invested in examining the larger European "archive" of cultural data. The current theatre in Europe, especially the performances that travel from the East to the West, is not necessarily obsessed with issues of cultural identity at all. Rather, the performances we see at European festivals betray a specific urgency, concerned not only with the emotional anxieties provoked by a globalized transcultural Europe, but also with the unavoidable hybridity and intermediality of the theatre itself which must compete with mass media. The theatre, within the context of globalized media, is "stuttering," searching for a language of its own that perhaps no longer exists. Numerous productions, for example in the 2000-01 season at the Volksbühne Berlin or the Lucerne Theatre in Switzerland, combined live performance with cameras and film projections, drawing their dramatic material from adapted film scripts, science fiction, and Hollywood B-Movies. ZT Hollandia, an independent group from Amsterdam, developed their own unique combinatory performance style mixing the actors' gestures with real-time sound processed live by the musicians onstage (using an electronic theremin in Quick Lime). The Stockholm-based Remote Control Productions, directed by Michael Laub, concocted a bizarre Bollywood dancework, Total Masala Slammer/Heartbreak No.5, combining modern movement with literary texts from Goethe's Young Werther interpreted by Kathak dancers in the style of melodramatic Indian movies.

Indeed, such hybridity reflects a necessary re-evaluation of the cultural capital of theatre, since the theatre, vis à vis film, television and mass media, no longer commands a privileged site of national cultural tradition. It also no longer needs the coded language with which it functioned surreptitiously as a free press under communist rule and censorship. As a platform of self-questioning, the theatre in Europe, at its best, participates in a transductive process, where diverse realities and media collide and properties and data (from the memory bank of literary and popular culture) are exchanged continually. This, unavoidably, is the "Russian Ark" -- the decline of the royal theatre tradition which originated in the European Renaissance. At the Bonn Biennale, which for the last 10 years has featured new plays from all over Europe and especially the East, this collision materializes in the vibrant work of translation, when we witness a Polish production of Ingmar Villqist's play Noc Helvera (Helver's Night) explore the discrimination and racism seeping through different parts of Europe, or when Tamara Petkevich, in her play Po Tu Storonu Smusla (Speak, Petkevich!) stages a political thriller about Stalinist terror which taps into our repressed memory of a totalitarian past. In 2000 and 2002, the Biennial included many hybrid works which confronted the psychological unrest caused by the uncertain future of Europe's civil society, such as Gerardjan Rijnders' De Wespenfabriek (Rotterdam), Uladzimir Drasdou's Madame Bonne Chance (Minsk), Rodrigo García's After Sun (Madrid), Frank Castorf's Erniedrigte und Beleidigte (based on a Dostojevsky novel), and the Hungarian ensemble Mózgo Ház' adaptation of Imre Madách's The Tragedy of Man, a furiously complex multi-lingual multi-media performance (directed by Lázló Hudi) which made the ritual-anthropological theatre of Theodoros Terzopoulos' Bacchae look like a throw-back to the days of Grotowski's sacred actor. Mózgo Ház, like New York's Wooster Group and Builders Association, uses a hybrid performance language based on constant mediation and reprocessing of images and voices, a surreal theatre that neither Tadeusz Kantor nor Bertolt Brecht could have quite imagined. What the Biennale demonstrated, with all the cultural differences among its 28 productions in 2002, was the uneasy coexistence of old and new, the latter tending towards a composite intermediality, an enlarged vocabulary intermingling high and low tech, high and low culture. This mingling may become normalcy, as all "experimental" performance enters the mainstream where it, surely, signals the end of the dramatic tradition as we knew it, since these hybrid performances cannot be published as dramatic literature. Nor does the intermedial performance style rely on master teachers and a specific acting technique. The hybrid performer is an inter-actor, using various vernaculars (media tools) and techniques of data-knitting to probe this new postromantic virtual capitalism (Mythos Europa) without an enemy.

In other words, Grotowski's legacy is disappearing, and the anthropological myth of universal man is toppled, like so many broken statues of Lenin scattered over the East. There are no more sacred actors on the European stages, and Faust is Dead (Mark Ravenhill). The Italian avant-garde company Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio, directed by Romeo and Claudia Castellucci, provide one of the most haunting perspectives on the future of the heroic individual in their latest production, Tragedia Endogonidia (2003), addressed to a group of large stuffed rabbits occupying the orchestra, with the human audience relegated to the upper balconies. The "tragedy," if it is one, is neither spoken theatre nor dance, but appears elusively, like a silent film, behind opaque screens which cannot quite hide the monstrously strange human automatons who seem to act out some foreign programming code that has gone awry. Unlike the robot Maria in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, who focuses the workers' voyeuristic fantasies, the "dis-human" actors in the Castellucci production abuse our cultural imagination. Disavowing any subject position, and ridiculing the idea of "interactivity" or representational theatre (democracy), Tragedia Endogonidia provides no identification with community, no new imaginary civility. It merely shows expendable bare life, bare body-material, under an unidentified bio-political system which plays hunting games with it. This unwelcome Tragedia has begun to travel across Europe, from the Castellucci's home in Cesena to Avignon, Berlin, London…. The townspeople at each stop, the directors promise, will see a different version.



1 See Barbara Einhorn, Cinderella Goes to Market: Citizenship, Gender, and Women's Movements in East Central Europe (London: Verso, 1993).

2 Cf. Renata Salecl, The Spoils of Freedom. Psychonanalysis and Feminism after the Fall of Socialism (New York: Routledge, 1994), pp. 20-37. For a philosophical critique of ideology and the "theft of enjoyment," see Slavoj Zizek, Tarrying with the Negative (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993), esp. chapter 6, "Enjoy your Nation as Yourself!", pp. 200-37.

3 See Michel Wieviorka, "Violence, Culture and Democracy: A European Perspective," Public Culture 8:2 (1996), 329-54, and Etienne Balibar, "Une citoyenneté euopéenne est-elle possible?" in Brunot Théret, ed., L'Etat, la finance et la social. Souveraineté nationale et construction européenne (Paris: Editions, La Découverte, 1995).

4 Jürgen Habermas, "Why Europe Needs a Constitution," New Left Review 11 (September-October 2001), 5-26. For a theory of grass-roots globalism and network movements, see Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000).

5 See Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. D. Heller-Roazen (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

6 Quoted in Ekaterina Degot, "The Revenge of the Background," in Laura Hoptman, and Tomás Pospiszyl, eds., Primary Documents: A Sourcebook for Eastern and Central European Art since the 1960s (MOMA/Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003), pp. 340-43.

7 Cf. Frans Evers, Lucas van der Velden, Jan Peter van der Wenden, eds. The Art of Programming (Amsterdam: Sonic Arts, 2002); Gert Lovink, Dark Fibre: Tracking Critical Internet Culture (Cambridge; MIT Press, 2002). On the subject of "media memory," see Joke Brouwer, Arjen Mulder, Susan Charlton, eds., Information is Alive: Art and Theory on Archiving and Retrieving Data (Rotterdam: V2_/NAI Publishers, 2003).

Johannes Birringer is a choreographer and artistic director of AlienNation Co., a multimedia ensemble based in Houston ( He has created numerous dance-theatre works, digital media installations and site-specific performances in collaboration with artists in Europe, North America, Latin America, and China. He is the author of several books, including Media and Performance: along the border (1998), Performance on the Edge: transformations of culture (2000), and Dance Technologies: Digital Performance in the 21st Century (forthcoming). After creating the dance and technology program at The Ohio State University, he now directs the Interaktionslabor Göttelborn in Germany ( and the Telematics DAP Lab at Brunel University.