Design Design

In the space between – kainkollektiv’s artistic search movements

Fabian Lettow: What is artistically special about the kainkollektiv way of working?

Mirjam Schmuck: For me, a term that we have been using for ten years now, since the first top-level funding in 2012, remains central when describing our work: the “theatrical score”. This is certainly also due to the fact that I come from a musical background and have a strong musical approach. By theatrical scores, I mean that we work in an interdisciplinary way with different aesthetic approaches: We actually always have dancers, musicians, media artists, performers, actors and singers on stage together. And these are arranged as if in a score – layered, next to and with each other – and thus enable different approaches to our work. It is particularly important to me that we don’t dictate the approach to our work: It’s not “just” the narration or “just” the movement or music. Even if our works have a certain complexity, they offer the opportunity for everyone to find their own approach through the different media and languages that come together and attempt a narrative together. It has a lot to do with the viewers’ and listeners’ own confidence. This is also what makes it aesthetically special: We provide different approaches without directing the gaze, i.e. accessibility through various media, reading and listening options. How would you describe it?

F: I would add to it and refer to the production process again. A simple word that is really relevant in the way we work is the word “between”. It is very much about the fact that what we realize as artistic work happens between different contexts, places, disciplines, themes, languages, backgrounds and origins. This is more and more a method that is in the making, in the making. It does not follow a preconceived concept, but is a practice in which the ensembles are as heterogeneous as you described, which creates a hybridization from the outset because we have different approaches. And so we travel from a place A, which is usually somewhere here, where we come from, NRW, Bochum, Mülheim, Berlin, to another place B, which can be Poland, Cameroon, Madagascar, Sarajevo. And can also have completely different thematic charges: colonial history and the legacy of Europe, for example, or the question of motherhood and (post-)feminist opera. And the plays are then created on the road: in a kind of collective and global ‘road theater’ that constantly works on the possibility of crossing borders.

M: In addition to traveling together, it’s about allowing things to happen, i.e. coincidences, everything that happens along the way that was unforeseeable in the processes. We also let things happen and want to create spaces of experience where we don’t know in advance what will happen. Our concepts are not rigid. Creating these spaces is a central point, in the best case also in the sense of empowerment spaces in which encounters, topics, artists and experiences can be exchanged. This also raises the question of whether we demand social change from our art and what kind of change.

F: As white German/Western European artists – which permanently comes with various privileges and responsibilities – I would say that this visualization of the fact that no matter where we are today and where we come from, there is a kind of connection to all other places in the world and we are connected in histories that we may not know, in connections that are often violent, that this is our aspiration. And this violence also reflects hierarchies, prejudices and relationships of dependency. As artists from Germany, we can find a Goethe-Institut anywhere in the world with which we can cooperate. What is a privilege for us is often a continuation of experiences of dependency for the local artists. We have to be aware of that.”

[Excerpt from the kainkollektiv (self-)interview that appeared in the publication “Transformations” published by Fonds Darstellende Künste in July 2021].

The international artist team kainkollektiv, which consists of MIRJAM SCHMUCK and FABIAN LETTOW, has been working in various collaborations on theatrical scores between theater, installation, performance and “artivism” since 2009. These collaborations, from Berlin and NRW to Poland, Croatia or Cameroon, Madagascar and Greece, are dedicated to a theater of contemporary comradeship. Working in international (co-)productions – the music-theatrical, docu-fictional GLOBE OPERAS, a performance format invented by kainkollektiv and based on extensive research – is a central component of the working method.

Since 2019, they have been running tak Theater Aufbau Kreuzberg Berlin together with 4 artist groups in a collegial-collective working structure. For its theater work, especially in NRW, kainkollektiv has been continuously awarded the Spitzen- und Exzellenzförderung Theater NRW by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia since 2012. Außerdem erhielt es für die Jahre 2015-2017 und 2020-2022 Konzeptionsmittel aus dem Fonds für darstellende Künste. The kainkollektiv was awarded the George Tabori Young Talent Award in 2015. The German-Cameroonian production FIN DE MISSION by kainkollektiv and the Cameroonian OTHNI about the “Memory of Slavery” was invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen, the IETM Festival in Munich and the MESS Festival in Sarajevo in 2017 as part of the Goethe Institute’s international platform “shifting perspectives”. Together with the Junges Theater in Bremen, they received funding from the German Federal Cultural Foundation for the GLOBE OPERA series “OF COMING TALES”.

In June 2020, they premiered their online play “GAIA-PROJEKT” in cooperation with the Ruhrfestspiele Recklinghausen, which was shortlisted for the nachtkritik theater meeting. One of the latest creations BLACK EURYDICE was created with a team of artists from Africa Europe, Iran & Canada, exploring new feminist aesthetics and narratives for post-pandemic theater with the series GAIA (2020) and KASSIA (2021) and the radio play “DIE RÜCKKEHR DER KÖNIGSTÖCHTER” (2023). The website www.kassia-archive.org was also created in this context. Here, over 150 artists, activists, researchers and students work on the Byzantine author and composer KASSIA and share their own feminist works and practices. After a year of research in Athens (2022-23), the kainkollektiv is currently testing a “NEW ANCIENT THEATER” that redefines the gathering and assembly in the theater and its environmental realities