Cyberpunk - interview with
- Often theatre breaks in strongly the traditional concept of art to pour it in real life and actual action of people: this is often political action... What about your performances and your actions?
PTC: Well, maybe for this question, it´s of course important that
our meaning of theatre points out into real life. Our meaning of theatre of
course doesn`t take place just in a traditional, 19th century building where
people can come to see the show. The PublixTheatreCaravan (PTC) didn`t have
any fixed roles.
Our idea about the PTC was to create "theatre" as a lively work-in progress-project in political fields, which includes also streettheatre/ performances as imitations of reality in public space combined with indepent mediawork, documentation, the aim of information and discussion about migration/globalisation and our request for the "freedom of movement". In this way the PTC is a radical political, artistic and media project and a process of social-action-theatre, one form of cultural discourse, where not only so called artists have the chance to take part.
Another part is selforganisation. It means to handle the infrastructure and to organise places to sleep and a kitchen to prepare food. To have no fixed roles mean also that there should be a rotation of the different parts of work, but this not always worked like it should be.
- When and why PublixTheatreCaravan was born?
PTC: First: The Volxtheatre Favoriten already has been existing since 1994.
It was founded in an autonomous centre in Vienna, the EKH (Ernst Kirchweger
Haus). The EKH has been squatted in 1990, now there are contracts. There was
the first idea of a lot of people, who lived there (anarchists, refugees,
curds, etc.) to make political theatre in their own space: The Three-Pennyopera
by Berthold Brecht, - and to create this theatreplay in a different kind of
organisation than in "normal" theatres: without director, without
hierachical institution and open, so everyone, who was interested in such
process could participate.
So right from the beginning of the Volxtheatre it was important to see theatre as a form of cultural and political protest and of course also just as fun.
With theatre you have the possibility to articulate radical-democratic politics in asylum, capitalist and globalisation issues. Thinking, working, and articulating politically like this has always been a problem in Austria, also before the right-wing-goverment was installed here.
Our strategies with theatre moved within the years from playing just in the EKH to make theatreactions in public space. Moving out on the streets meant for us, to set provocative, irritational actions in public space to question all forms of hierachical and violent structures.
The PublixTheatreCaravan was actually the 3rd try of cultural-political tours through public space.
The first tour of EKH/Publixtheatre was in May 2000 (a couple of month after the right wing goverment got installed), through the big cities in Austria, where we occupied the main places in town for a day and "setteled" down with the slogan: "Anarchy and Ananas instead of Austria" and made streettheatre, publixkitchen, live-radio etc.
The second try was the "Cultural Caravan against rightwing-politics", which took place in Oktober 2000 in Carinthia, the southern part of Austria, where Jörg Haider is govenor. We were driving slowly with traktors through villages with music and messages in german and slovenian (since there is a slovenian minority) to point out the need: "to step across the border - for an open carinthia", which was in Haider's country quite provocative.
The idea for the PTC started in spring 2001, when we decided to make the first time a international PTC through Europe. At the same time, the People's Global Action meeting in Milano took place. There was the idea of connecting the Europe-wide resistance and travel with caravans through Europe to political and cultural events, which symbolize today's discourse about migration and globalisation. Each social event is in a way for us a place and festivity of resistance and an opportunity to place demands and take part in an open discussion about the right for movement and the call for no borders.
The PTC saw itself right from the beginning as a mobile info-campaign about this problems, and as a experimental way to formulate this in direct actions in public space. We wanted to combine within this theatre process nomadic travelling with direct action, exchanging experiences, documentation, mediaworking and making parties.
We decided to organize the PTC within the Austrian platform "for a world without racism" (www.no-racism.net), which is part of the europeanwide noborder-network (www.noborder.org) and to work from the beginning together with political groups at places we would come to.
For the Mediawork there was a good relation with Indymedia and some Indymedia-activists traveled with the caravan. And not only, because we knew that statetheatre would watch such forms of protest, we organized everything openly, the reason was also to give a change for people, who are interested in this kind of process, to join us.
So we manage before in open discussion-plena to set up money and put together a couple of buses, cars, a publixkitchen and soundsystem, costums, props etc. and cultural activists from different places for this euopean-wide noborder-campaign.
- Victor Turner, a theoretician who worked with Schechner's
Performing Group, wrote that during performances it is possible to create
symbolic conflicts, to play with legitimate cultural symbols and to destroy
them to recompose them in new and more incisive cultural assets. It is a way
to transform what is familiar into something that it's not, in order to create
new ideas and thoughts through action. Does this happen in VolxTheatreKarawane
performances as well?
PTC: The representation of theatre and fiction takes place everyday in our
society: all these fairly bad actors on the political banquet, who want to
more power, play the kings and show "the right violence" (which
is in their "theatremeaning" of course not related to brutal violence....).
What's the truth about the king's power and his strategies of exploitation?
We definitely want to confront the kings signatures and codes with our alien-nation-symbols and don't believe that the truth is out there: neither in political reality nor in the media; as so called actors we've the power to construct and play with it radically, with our body and our language - demolish all serious culture! - set your own signs and slogans! So we take and play with symbols to get to politics. Everything - Theatre? Everything politics!
So we enjoy to play the theatre of signums, signs, symbols to point to radical political messages: noborder - nonation - no one is illegal. These topics are, we think, one of the world's big issues in this century.
Our theatreprocess in itself is also political, since we also don't try to work with structural hierachies within the group; we don't like leaders, so we always problematizise them. This is a way of permanent conflicts dialog through conflicts. But you know, this kind of conflicts can be very hard.
We don´t have the illusion that anything we are doing is without hierachy. We are all products of a hierachic society, but we have to fight also our own hierachies.
- Coud you make an example of your performance to
understand the kind of actions you organize?
PTC: Elements of our theatreprocess were: volxkitchen-staff, infomaterial,
books, computers, soundsystem, banners, props, orange overals and helmets
(all with VTK-logo), soldier-uniforms and blue UNO-borderhelmets, lots of
wheel-tubes, costumes, jonglage-materials...
It depended always on the specific situation and place, what kind of special theatrical action we did and how many people participated on it. For example on the international noborder-actionday on 7th of july: we set up a control-station with UNO-bordersoldiers in blue and orange between the borders of croatia and slovenia, in nomansland, and handed out to passengers no-border-passports for the special day, so that they could cross the next border with showing the noborderpass.
- Which performance did you play during manifestation
PTC: On the austrian indymedia webpage you can read following story about
publixtheatre in Genoa (on July 18/19):
"It's the evening of July 19, at the moment the PublixTheatreCaravan is participating in a huge demonstration for migrants' rights in Genoa, the first in a series of huge protests against the g8 summit starting tomorrow.
First estimations for this demonstration speak of 20.000 to 50.000 people, whereas for the next days between 100.000 and 150.000 protesters are expected.
The center of Genoa has been locked down completely, 5m high fences fixed in concrete foundations surround the restricted area. The sound of helicopters is permanently present. Already at the borders, Italian authorities in cooperation with other European states have tried to prevent people from the participation in the protest: also one bus from the PublixTheatreCaravan was not allowed to pass the border since at least 3 people were on some dubious lists. At the border they got a paper which said that they were not allowed to enter Italy within the next 20 days.
The way these lists emerge are more than questionable. Since also people, who rarely make use of their right to demonstrate are on these lists (not to mention that at least non of the blacklisted caravan-people have never been arrested before), they seem to be primarily developed on the base of speculation. As a member of the Italian civil police has told us after the caravan's vehicles were searched (which happened nearly every day in Italy), Austrian authorities have told the Italians that the people from the caravan were terrorists trying to smuggle weapons to Genoa. Of course, as it was at the searches in the days before, nothing of interest was found at all - where as parts of our theatre equipment, like jumping balls or old tires were nevertheless sliced and destroyed.
However, the "no border - no nation" actions of the caravan started yesterday, July 18, in the early evening. A group of around 10 "warriors" (male and female), equipped with orange overalls, water-guns, banners and leaflets, fought their way to a concert by Manu Chao, that took place at the Convergence Center of the Genoa Social Forum (GSF). On their way, they had to face two problems: they not only had to pass through a crowd of journalists and had to try to convince the GSF-people with "theatrical brut-force" that they are definitly not willed to pay the 10.000 Lire entrance fee. Also, it was nessesary to play theatre the whole way from the mediacenter to the concert and on the way back. Due to a law, that defines ordinary helmets, like those used by construction workers, as weapons, it would not even have been allowed to walk on the streets just carrying them in the hands. Only if they were part of a street-theatre, so a Swiss lawyer said, and also only during this performance, they could legally be used - but not even on the way to or from the theatre!
The ongoing demonstration for migrants' rights was supposed to be extremly colorful: in advance, numberous vehicles and music instruments - mostly made of recycled materials were prepared by all kinds of groups with the caravan among them. It seems, that it might become a great salsa theatre against the border regime which is all to present, especially here in Genoa also visible to people who are only superficially confronted with it in their every day lives."
In Genoa we got in contact with other performance-people and so we worked and prepared together an Arche-genua, and Sinking Ships and alien-nation-ufos and gathered pirates to demonstrate and play on the huge migration-march.
Some days after this demonstration the freedom of movement for us was suddenly over and the policestatetheatre overhlemed us in saying: You are no actors we are the actors of violence. You are criminals. You destroyed Genova you are the dangerous black block. Our answer: We are not dangerous - we are in danger. We are only political-critical dangerous artists.
- Often theatre is action, and often action is politics:
could you explain the deep meaning of the "slogan" No border No
As we said above, the PublixTheatreCaravan was on tour as part of the international
noborder-network. That network was founded 1999. Under the slogan "more
control, more exclusion, more deportations", different European groups
appealed to demonstrate against the meeting of heads of EU governments in
Tampere/Finland in October 1999, where the coming into force of the Amsterdam
Treaty was discussed as another stepping stone towards Fortress Europe. The
platform for a world without racism is part of that noborder-network since
december 2000 and the caravan was planned on the meetings of that platform.
All member-groups of the network are trying to put the call for open borders
on their topic. Also for the caravan it was the main topic from the beginning.
If you see the bad situation of refugees in european countries it is obvious
that a fight for open borders and for sure for open minds has to be strengthened.
No border also means to step across over our own borders. If a theatre-group is trying to intervene against racist politics there are many difficulties. We have to reflect our own racism, we have to think about symbols in the public sphere and how to deal with that symbols. The PublixTheatreCaravan took the slogan NO BORDER as a symbol for the call for open borders and the freedom of movement.
If you are thinking about borders, you are coming to the question why there are borders. National states and connected to it nationalism need borders for chauvinist politics. If you are fighting borders you also have to fight nationalism and national states. Our nation is aliennation.
- Which is the next VolxTheatreKarawane's performance?
PTC: At time we are thinking about some street actions in Vienna, one on
september 29, on the international day against war and capitalism, another
on october 13, on the international noborder-actionday. And for sure we are
planning a stageplay in the Ernst-Kirchweger-Haus in Vienna about our experiences
on the PublixTheatreCaravan. The Caravan is going on....
More information on the arrested see no-racism.net, Indymedia Italy, Indymedia Austria und Noborder Network.
PublixTheatreCaravan: Noborder, Nonation, Noprison!
Freedom of movement will be the very big topic in this century. Crossing borders should not only be a slogan, and since art knows no borders, it is the perfect vehicle for the journey into public space.
Inspired by similar projects such as "no one is illegal", MoneyNations and documenta 11, and using the framework of the international noBorder network, this summer various caravans are touring European places of cultural and political events which are trying to represent the current debate on the problems of migration and globalization. We see ourselves as a specific part of the protest that wants to articulate, to point out the campaign "noBorder, no one is illegal" at places of political importance and conflict, using artistic and political means. At the same time we want to focus on the topics connected to the campaign: the policies of closing off all borders, spreading neoliberalism, the problems of globalization, all of which are seen everywhere.
The PublixTheatreCaravan aspires to be an alternative
concept to institutionalized theatre; it wants to connect places of political
discussion and action. Above all that, it is a try to use theatre strategies
such as interference, provocation, interaction and the attack on constructs
of power. This process of "work in progress" wants to move, is moving
and is being moved all at the same time.
Public and transparent ways of discussion, an offensive position towards borders, regulations, institutional exclusion, limits, dismissal; more important, on crossing and annihilating these borders. One goal must be a boundless multimedia/internet network.
Stops of the Caravan
Theatre and art are designing places of intersection, they are calling for interaction and are creating valid networks. While reality TV is only claiming to represent reality , art is real social life and bears the power for change.
On June 26th 2001, the PublixTheatreCaravan started in Nickelsdorf on the Austrian-Hungarian border. At the same time a press conference was held in Vienna. Participators were the former Minister of Women's Affairs Johanna Dohnal, Secretary of Cultural Affairs of the Green Party's Viennese section Marie Ringler, actor Hubsi Kramar, journalist Dr. Di Tutu Bukasa, artists Oliver Kessler, Martin Krenn and Nora Sternfeld, Kurt Wendt of the Viennese Communist Party, the chairwomen of the Austrian students association ÖH Andrea Mautz and Anita Weinberger as well as drama playwright Gini Müller, actor Kajetan Dick and press spokesperson Birgit Hebein of the PublixTheatreCaravan.
In the course of the WEF summit from July 1st to 3rd in Salzburg, a park festival and a street party were organized. During the demonstration the problematic politics of the WEF was pointed out.
During the course of the border camp in the Slovenian town of Petisovci near Lendava close to the borders of Hungary and Croatia, the politics of migration of these soon-to-be EU members was drawn to attention (see the photo album).
Following the camp, a theatre spectacle was held in front of a deportation camp in Ljubljana which was cheerfully received by the 300 inmates and got a lot of media attention.
On July 13th there was a party near Eisenkappel, following the invitation of the Partisan Museum am Permanshof. Prior to that extensive discussions took place with speakers of the Slovenian minority.
July 15th: the PublixTheatreCaravan is invited to a festival in La Spezia, before heading towards Genoa.
For the caravan, the highlight of the G8 protest was , without a doubt, the demonstration for migrant's rights on July 19th, but also the demonstrations with up to 200,000 people. The aim was to be a part of all the different positions there, to bring in this "theatre aspect" of resistance which proved to be very difficult considering all the chaotic occurrences.
On the evening of July 22nd the entire caravan was arrested, more than 10 miles away from Genoa. Thus, the next stop, the planned visit to the border camp in Frankfurt is cancelled.....
For a complete overview of the actions between June 26th and July 22nd, including pictures, video and audio material please check the tour diary.
Circumstances of the arrest
The exact circumstances of the arrest are as of yet not known to us. Since we do not have contact to the activists only speculations remain. They were probably stopped on Sunday around 6 pm by the police about 10 miles outside of Genoa in Recco, where they had drawn the attention of local authorities with their bus. The police stated that 4 persons were on a 'black list' [its emergence and whereabouts remain so far in the dark]. All 25 persons who participated with the caravan at that time were arrested. Prior to that event the bus had been controlled twice by the Austrian and the Italian police. No objects could be found that would justify the term weapons.
According to the first investigation they are charged with vandalism, endangerment of public safety as well as membership to a criminal organization. The last and most serious of the charges due to anti-mafia laws in Italy seems to be the reason for the absolute contact barrier as well. The circumstantial evidence for this fact is less than convincing. According to the Austrian consul Manfred Moritsch, black t-Shirts, Swiss pocket knives, juggling and fire eating equipment and a broken, approx. 50 years old gas mask. The aforementioned articles, however, were already spotted during the course of numerous prior checks in Italy and Austria, and not once contested..
The first hearing took place on Thursday, 26 July 2001 in Alessandria. For this purpose all arrested were transferred there to be accused of composing the hard core of an 'international black block' in the presence of even the Austrian consul in Milan. The existence of that 'black block' as well as its connection to the caravan, however, could neither be confirmed by Italian nor Austrian authorities. Furthermore vandalism and endangerment of public safety were confirmed as charges and all 25 were transferred in remand.
Torture and abuse:
So far there is no secured information about the health of the members of the caravan - neither Italian nor Austrian authorities abroad wanted to exclude the possibilities of abuse. There are, however, several reports by persons with whom the activists were arrested, that speak of heavy abuse of several individuals. Nothing so far has been verified though, due to the imposed contact barrier. The whole procedure of the arrest and the transfer to the prisons qualifies though as heavy abuse. Whether or not, and if, how many individual members of the caravan are actually injured is not known to us.
The role of the Austrian authorities
While other European governments protest against the overdrawn measures of the Italian police, the Austrian government has expressed its full confidence in the Italian police and law. Even after some evidence surfaced about a possible channeling of right-wing extremist groups into the protests (as means of the police strategy of escalation), the Austrian Foreign Minister met with her Italian colleague without a word of protest. Even the Italian public prosecutor's office questions the circumstances of the arrests regarding the moderation of the police force. We do not want to speculate here, but the serious question remains whether or not the arrest of the 'no border - no nation' caravan was part of a plot of Italian and Austrian police to criminalize them. An Italian policeman stated: 'We have information of Austrian authorities that with high probability weapons were to be smuggled to Genoa in this bus'. As no real evidence was shown the unbelievable accusations could not withstand pressure by most of the arrested` s home officials. The whole procedure of investigation is also responsible for the fact that activists from Australia, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Slovakia and the US are still in detention.