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"An Image of the Mass and of Collective Learning"
Hannah Hurtzig in conversation with Veronica Kaup-Hasler and Claus Philipp

Where would you locate the dramaturgic origins of the "Blackmarket for Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge"?

Hurtzig: In 2001 in Hamburg, in cooperation with Anselm Franke, we had the task of inventing something to be performed throughout the entire Kammerspiele theater, which Uli Waller still headed at the time. The building was remembered as Ida Ehre's world-premiere theater, for example for Draußen vor der Tür. But what tended to be forgotten was that it was a Jewish lodge with a ballroom, library, school, kosher restaurant, theater, and then later, in 1941, organizational office for the deportations. The building is full of nooks and crannies, with many stairways - an Escher architecture in a narrow space. We hid 70 memory and recollection culture dialog partners in all the small rooms in the whole building, filmed the talks, and projected 30 faces onto a huge split screen that took up the whole stage. The audience in the auditorium could enter the talks by means of headphones. It was a kind of verbal chamber of wonders, an acoustic palimpsest called: Temporary Branch Office for Remembering. It turned out that, in such an intimate experimental arrangement under observation by an absent audience, even people who know each other well develop a special pleasure in conversation. They always talked for two hours with each other. And in one of these rooms, The Autobiography, someone spent four to eight hours telling his life story to a listener of his choice. This later became the installation A Life in Four Hours. An autobiographical experimental arrangement to remember a city, an archive project that we still occasionally stage.
Christoph Schlingensief was also part of it. At that time, he had a new girlfriend and he chose her as his interlocutor, in order to simply tell her with whom she was dealing from now on. Schlingensief is a memory virtuoso, he remembers his biography in parallel with the history of society - what speech Willy Brandt gave on the day he had his first French kiss. A perfect narrator.

And one who needs an interlocutor to tell his story, because he judges on the other what he can use as a source in himself.

The pair combination is very important, because it's not an interview, but a joint process of memory. For example, if, in the framework of a project like this you invite older gentlemen, you can have the problem that they tell their life story solely in terms of their professional lives and successes. An interlocutor is needed who puts cracks in the narrative stream. For example Bruno Flierl, the architectural theorist from East Germany: Thomas Heise listened to him - a great combination, because on the one hand they had a common East German history, and on the other hand, as a documentary filmmaker, Heise is interested in details. So his comments were like: This book, was it in the library, or did it lie on your nightstand? He interrupted Flierl's great and fascinating staging. In these constellations, the point is not primarily to reel off a feat of memory, but to stage the process of remembering, the act of self-transformation.
Back then, in contrast to now at the "Blackmarkets", the audience did not actively participate yet. Although that's not entirely true. One could send written comments into the discussion room; a messenger ran off with them, upstairs, downstairs, and the audience could follow him on the split screen as well.

How did the special choreography of the Blackmarkets arise?

The Blackmarkets grew out of the Mobile Academy, which consisted of temporary, 4-week learning units, international camps for 100 artists on a specific theme, with a program somewhere between field research, presentation, lectures, etc., which we organize occasionally when there is money for it. In an Academy, people work, conduct research, and experiment in small groups - nothing that one necessarily wants to present in public. But we wanted to have a public forum to communicate the Mobile Academies in the respective city (Bochum, Berlin, and Warsaw).
In this way, the Blackmarket is a performative reflection of how the learning society currently understands itself, or more an experimental setup on how one ought to understand the future realm of education in Germany or Europe as a whole - on the model of an advanced liberalism.
One of the implicit questions at the Mobile Academies was: What will the ideal learner of the future be like? Well, one would describe him as an entrepreneurial individual who manages himself, grasps himself as capital, voluntarily invests in knowledge and skills, and organizes social relationships and networks on his own initiative. Someone who trains self-administration, self-control, and self-realization. The Blackmarket plays with this neo-liberal model of the future as a set piece, but also with other metaphors, like that of a googling society, and it is above all an image of the masses and of collective learning.

At the moment, the dissemination of knowledge at the Blackmarket functions via a very special dialogical constellation. In the Socratic dialogs, for example, usually someone doesn't know something or he needs advice, and then the philosopher explains how he can master the problem. At the Blackmarket, by contrast, one is astonished at the spectrum of themes, about which one didn't necessarily know anything before, and that one could gather information about them and that they exist at all.

That's right. At the Blackmarket, the theme implodes into particles that then begin to burgeon in sometimes fantastic derivations. This excess has to do with our request to the experts that they should narrate their knowledge, not deliver it as a lecture, and with the strange collection of experts who weave together the very disparate scenes, networks, professions, and lifestyles of a city. On the theme American Close-Ups, one then finds under the catchword INVENTIONS contributions on the invention of the elevator, on the use of photography in the natural sciences at the end of the 19th century, on the struggle between Tesla and Edison, and on the secret communication system of Hedy Lamarr. A choreographer presents an encyclopedia contribution under FILM: On the use of motion analyses in forensic medical investigations in selected examples of American evening television series. Of course, it is also a "fake" dissemination of knowledge. Seduced by the encyclopedic form, the belief in lists and catalogizations, one could also be taken in by liars and inventors. A betrayal of the conveying of knowledge. Some "experts" really have invented things and made knowledge up on the spot. And some clients use the Blackmarket to look for jobs, as a job interview. At the Black Market, knowledge, information, and credibility are up for negotiation between expert and client at the table. And an exchange. And poker.

Join the play and seek attention: that, too, is a "theatrical" moment.

Whenever one sits across from someone, face to face, one begins to mimic attentiveness. One signals that one is interested, one nods; and in turn the other person strives to impress one with his linguistic abilities and rhetorical maneuvers. Then there is sometimes the switch that the clients speak more and the expert has to give up his authority and be silent. The precise observation of how a conversation is constituted - this generally escapes our attention. Either one is borne along by one's own speech, or one moves within a hierarchical structure in which one must listen; in this moment one can no longer follow precisely who speaks how and who listens how. At the Blackmarket, this can be done very well. It is a medium of communication that explores itself, but it isn't primarily about communication. It really is about the experience of knowledge and non-knowledge.

And that in turn would be an option for the part of the audience that isn't active in the talks at the moment, the part that observes a "performance" from its seats.

It's interesting, for example, that, with the format A Life in Four Hours, which is shown on two screens, one for the face of the narrator and one for the face of the listener, after awhile the audience follows the listening face more than the speaking face. In an everyday conversation, one doesn't observe precisely how the other person is listening, one tends more to check whether one has his or her undivided attention. At the Blackmarket, there are many gaze regimes that cross each other, it's a watchers-watch-the-watchers-watch situation.

In principle, it's anti-television. When people are interviewed on television, the camera is hardly interested in the responses to what is told, unless the interviewer is famous.

And yet there is something strangely fascinating about watching a listening face. One is at one's own mercy in this concentration on someone else. One often has a soulful, sheeplike expression. Like a saint. The point at the Blackmarket is less about speaking and more about listening, anyway. Everyone can be an "expert", if one only listens to him closely enough. I don't think that the only reason the Black Market functions is that one personally learns something very essential and new. It has to do with being one among 500 people in a public space and there is a floating concentration that comprises everyone. A simultaneous knowledge scenario unfolds, a hallucination that acts as if it provided an encyclopedic overview. It is an observation machine. An architectonic seeing machine.

How much has the Blackmarket developed further through the various events?

The setting was always the same, in principle. There is also the "city version", in which we distribute the experts and tables throughout the city in cafés, train stations, department stores, and galleries. That was how we did the second Black Market, which we held in Warsaw. And there is a "salon version". Now we are beginning to think about a second room, where second-hand knowledge is dealt in parallel to the Black Market: the clients offer the expert knowledge they have just acquired at a kind of flea market or at regulars' tables in nearby pubs, without being organized by the Blackmarket administration. We would like to stage this in a stadium, with 1,000 experts, i.e., the "Leni or Max version", an image of the masses in the arena, in uncontrollably burgeoning communication. And in the stands 8,000 spectators with headphones. At the moment, the question of the sound archive is growing in importance. We archive every edition of the Black Market, and soon the files will be available in the Internet for downloading. But the net archive doesn't answer the question of a special medium for these sound recordings of a unique, ephemeral, and unrepeatable encounter between client and expert. We are tinkering with something else now. And we are working with our future licensees on a franchising model: it will be locally produced, but we will set the themes and do the archiving.

How to the themes come up? Does it depend on the performance site? When you do research in Berlin, in a way that is your biotope. But what does it change if you come to Warsaw or to Austria and are confronted with suggestions from a wide variety of people and that come from the region?

Finding themes naturally takes longer in Warsaw and also in Graz. A theme has to work fast when recruiting experts. When you approach a possible expert with it, you have to make it interesting and logical for him, so that he immediately starts regarding himself as an archive and starts using his scanner: what do I select for this?
Warsaw… these so-called transformation societies, i.e., the simultaneous presence of different economic variants, are hard to read and they bring onto the political stage actors from the past and future who are pretty spooky. Often you don't know who is speaking out of this person. And in Polish literature, the romantic figures like the revenant, lemures, and the undead are quite present. Then these homophobic male twins became the government. Questions of the representation of marginalized groups. At some point, the theme was clear: ghosts, spooks, and phantoms and the places where they live. The question to the experts was: What in your profession would you describe as spooky or invisible knowledge?

And you conduct long preliminary talks with each of them. And actually, the "piece" has long since begun. These talks, interestingly, are not documented.

We are often asked why we don't document these three or four months of research. For me, it's out of the question for now. These moments of possibly not being interested and of getting to know each other - I don't want to mix that with interest in a product. After all, one tries to screen curatorial seriousness and zeal completely out of the development process. At the beginning, we don't have a list of the one hundred most important people in a city, with whom we want to establish contact. Rather, we follow the strategies of self-squandering and usury as a curatorial concept. I don't want to be termed a "curator" anymore. All I can do is point to a report on a social case history from the legal jurisdiction of Oberwölz in Upper Styria in 1920 that I recently read. "Curator" was the official term for the guardian of an adult who had been declared legally incapable.

How do you maintain the "suspense" for the experts? For example, when you talk with Fritz Ostermayer in March about possibly taking part in a Blackmarket and then he doesn't sit down at your tables until September? I guess you don't really coach them on that evening anymore?

We maintain the suspense with trust-building measures: administration, excessively expanding lists, and a system of constant accompaniment by e-mail. If the expert comes on this evening, he already knows what time he starts, what table number he has, who the people to his left and right at the table are, and what theme they will bring up. If one knows that to one's right will be sitting Dr. Kaspar Bienefeld from the Institute for Bee Research at the Technical University Berlin, who will talk about "The Information Dances of the Cave-Breeding Honeybees in the Dark", then one sits down at his expert table and buzzes along.

The Blackmarket is for "Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge". What is Non-Knowledge?

Non-knowledge can be knowledge that hasn't found a language yet, cannot be put into words, or a knowledge still seeking forms for its communication and processing. Or implicit knowledge that only functions by not being expressed - the open secret. But of course also: faith. And superfluous production of meaning that no one can sort out. Censored, repressed information. I think it was Luhmann's dictum that when one learns, one must first unlearn something. So in every knowledge there is a seed of non-knowledge. And then of course there are also the "unks-unks" - a US Army abbreviation for unknown unknowns.

And the clients make a selection for themselves. One comes and scours the market: what could interest me? Maybe to meet and hear someone whom one has never had a one-on-one talk with, or one is really interested in the theme…

Whereby the Blackmarket system usually means getting precisely the person one didn't want. If you want to book a specific expert, you have to find him in the index of catchwords. Then you have to reach the counter in time, but that doesn't always help; the expert is booked up, isn't scheduled until the next round, but you can't book for the next round yet. Here is where the professional supervision by the hostess comes in: one of her rules is that, if a client doesn't get the expert he wants, you have to sell him another one. "You will be seated!" So the client is often sent, in a controlled way, into the unknown. The aim is: Loss of orientation with simultaneous gain in reflection. Some experts are angry then because they don't have the feeling that they were really chosen.
At the Blackmarket, more demand does not create more supply. The supply seems to be diverse and open, but is fixed and limited, and it is not always distributed in accordance with plausible rules. A planned economy at the roulette table. When one arrives at the table, one has to devote one's attention to an interlocutor and an object that one didn't really choose and to forget the injustice and imposed beneficence of the market.

How important for you is the embedding in a theater or an art festival? If a university institute, for example, invited you to undermine the customary mediation strategies for an evening in the framework of a Blackmarket - would you accept the offer?

We were considering this with a major German bank. But ultimately, they were interested in the format only in order to improve their company-internal communication. That's okay, too, but it's not enough. I could imagine it if we could persuade the Max Planck Institute in Berlin, for example. They have such specialized research areas that it would surely be interesting to make them public at a Blackmarket.

A theme like "The Gift" in Graz - how does it come up?

For the Blackmarket, we look for popular themes, definitely not an art or theory theme; we want "popular theater" and not sovereignty over discourse. If I do have the chance to work in a Catholic city like Graz, I definitely want to include the Church. And then at some point there is the image of the Graz beggar. When you walk around Graz, you are constantly seeing kneeling beggars with their hands raised. I've never seen this in Berlin. The kneeling figure on the street, in a public site, has something touching and also obscene, and at the same time it conveys a certain aggression. It is an indissoluble moment. I now know that the begging people do not take this position voluntarily; they quote the Christian stance of humility to contravene the ban on aggressive begging in the city. Control over public space, the demanded sacrifice, the gift - at some point it was clear that this was the theme.

And then the theme moves away from the beggar - and then one sits there and suddenly says: the highly gifted, The Gift, Derrida, Nabokov, and so forth.

The "gift" is not an economic, but a symbolic exchange. The point is that everyone who gives tends to expect a return, but that it is unclear what value that may have: Will it be a smile or a lifelong commitment? Every gift obligates the recipient. This peculiar aspect must always be negotiated anew; the gift is really a technique of social communication.
In the course of research in Graz, for example, I was very astonished how incredibly diversely and effectively social assistance is organized in the city. This often has less to do with institutions than with individual persons. An educated class that gets involved. Where do you find that today? Or someone like Pastor Pucher, the Maria ambulance, a social stance that is politically engaged - they know that aspects of egoism can be recognized in every form of altruism and that one must speak about this.
Or meet with a highly gifted person whose first remark is that he doesn't want to be designated this way, it is something his parents and teachers thought up, and at any rate he doesn't want to speak on this theme. Then he tells how he has been a bird watcher and photographer since age seven. Now he is speaking at the Black Market about plover parent birds that protect the eggs in their nest from approaching predators by presenting themselves as victims; they let their heads and wings dangle as if bent and broken and allow themselves to be dragged off from the nest, thereby distracting the attacker's attention from their brood. Plover mama and papa's performance as sacrificial victim. A lovely gift theme.

If you yourself were an expert at a Blackmarket, what would you want to speak about?

I might talk about the Polynesian word "hau" in cultural institutions. The Maori define the power that is inherent in the gift and that leads the giver to want it back in the form of a return gift as "hau".
There is a complicated exchange relationship between artist, administration, organization, and dramaturgy, and we never really have time to observe our institutions. What kind of an uninterrupted surplus of attention is it that everyone working in such an operation constantly gives! - and we're not speaking of overtime here. This is service on the highest level, a giving economy that is constantly demanded and that often doesn't work anyway. And is the return gift good art? And what would that be? The most confusing figures of exchange play out between the actors.

Thank you very much for this talk.

Published: Maske und Kothurn, Internationale Beiträge zur Theater-, Film und Medienwissenschaft, Böhlau Verlag Wien, Köln. Weimar, 2007
Translation: Micz Cohen