Tom Engels
21 pornographies & to come (extended) Interview with Mette Ingvartsen

21 pornographies (2017) and to come (extended) (2017) are part of a series called The Red Pieces. What does this series stand for and what is the red thread in the exploration of the works that are part of it?

The Red Pieces all deal with sexuality – not as an autonomous field of expression – but as something that directly permeates into other areas of the social and political sphere. The series started with 69 positions (2014) and 7 Pleasures (2015), choreographies in which I was very interested in the history of sexuality and how it together with nudity has appeared in performance art and choreography. I was looking back at the sexual liberation movement of the 1960s, where nudity was often used as a tool to protest against war, capitalism, nuclear power and more generally fixed societal structures. I approached the historical as a way of trying to understand where we are at in regards to sexuality today. That is, in a time where pleasure and desire has been coopted by commercial economies and where borders between private and public space are blurring more than ever.

The two pieces that you present at Volksbühne stand out in the sheer contrast they create to one another. Not only in the different dimensions (a solo vs. a group choreography with 15 dancers), but also in the atmosphere and world image they propose – they almost seem to be each other’s antipodes. Does the contrast between the two pieces say something about the time in which they were created?

It was very important for me to develop these two performances simultaneously, to literally switch from one to the other over the course of a year of making them. Here at Volksbühne the pieces are for the first time presented together, which I think accentuates the difference between them and the fact that they almost operate on opposite terms. In a way to come (extended) is the flip side of 21 pornographies. In 21 pornographies I’m diving into the dark side of sexuality and power as a political encounter. It doesn’t directly deal with pornography as we know it from extensive mainstream online circulation, but it rather looks at the history of pornographic representations in art and culture at large. I think the dark mood of the performance corresponds to the time in which we find ourselves right now, as a general social political climate. The piece inquires into what happens when we look at things that discomfort us, things that are violent, brutal and cruel, and what happens to us if we attempt to look at them anyhow and openly? With to come (extended) we are rather trying to search for a potential way out of these oppressive states, or other ways of practicing life. As sexuality is also a place for experimentation and joyful existence, we try to think of it as a way to transform power relations and to construct ourselves out of oppressive ones. I consider joy as a feminist strategy to resist oppressing structures of power that the solo addresses in a more explicit way.

You choose the theatre as a place to rethink sexuality, pornography and power and how they are interwoven with our current sociopolitical regime. What is the impetus for trying to rethink those issues in a public context?

Today pornography, at least in its mainstream appearance and use, has an isolating effect. The masturbatory is a solitary given, which is connected to an extreme individualisation. To me this “do-it-on-your-own” attitude speaks very much against the social. By bringing the questions addressed by these performances into a collective space, the issues are pulled away from the isolated space of experiencing pornography and sexuality alone. The screen interface has become the predominant source for receiving sexual imagery today. But this has little to do with the experience of sitting together, looking with others at the propositions I make in the theater. To bring the concerns onto the stage, is in a way to forcefully strive for a public reflection. Today we can see how questions of sexuality and power overflows the public sphere and the public discussion. We are in a time in which these concerns have to be publicly addressed and collectively discussed, not only to acknowledge the operations of power but also to structurally transform them.

You try to expand that discussion by surrounding the two pieces by another project of yours, The Permeable Stage, which proposes a film program, a series of lectures and a concert as an extension of the issues that the pieces address.

The Permeable Stage is a project that each time we do it, is redone and rethought through the propositions of the participants in it. The idea is to try to create a context where a network of thoughts – theoretical and artistic propositions – can be laid out to map a field of interest. Here at Volksbühne we propose a film program, which taps into a more historical relation to how naked, sexual and erotic bodies have been represented in experimental film. The concert of Die Vögel is thought as a prolongation of how to create a joyful social dancing space, closely connected to to come (extended). The Late Night Lectures will be held by four thinkers, who will talk about their research, which is entirely independent from the performances. Nevertheless there is a red thread that runs though all the propositions, meaning that they have attracted, challenged, troubled or informed my work during the creation of The Red Pieces.