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Changes [Jun 23, 2009]Home
I go to the KaDeWe where I must buy a present for my daughter. While I look for something she might like, the phone rings twice. Apparently, I have now arrived at the Nuclear Bunker. The toilet is shut. I can almost smell the stench. There is no dj. No music. No JOHN MORGAN, no WISTY. This is not looking good. For the first time in my life I have been stood up. I decide that it’s not worth staying here. I buy the present and leave both my real and virtual locations. I hear there are things happening at the Product Barn. Apparently, I am peckish.
Today is just for walking. There is no plan, only random turning of corners. I suppose I am trying to lose myself. Funnily enough, the game does not contact me. Everything is quiet. I can now take in this fantastic city I love so much. At last a flaneur, on my ‘one way street’, I cannot but acknowledge how much of what I see, feel, and write about, is in debt to Walter Benjamin. Illuminations is what you need to start with, in case you don’t know this philosopher and, to make your job even easier, should you only have a few minutes to spare, do glimpse at ‘Thesis on the Philosophy of History’ for I believe that you could not understand the twenty-first century, and therefore this game, without knowing the story of the angel in this text.
In the middle of my lunch, which, again, takes place near the beautiful Gendarmenmarkt, the phone rings. I appear to be at the Product Barn, with its abandoned palettes and plastic. First, everything seems quiet again, but then I find out that there are other players here. I pause to reflect about something that is happening deep inside me. There is some lovely Jazz nearby. I decide to ask the other players what they dream of. JOHN replies that he dreams of Tetris, and JOANDBILLY claim(s) that they sleep so soundly that they have no dreams. Then the conversation dies down.
I must be restless, because I decide to leave the Product Barn to go back to Kath’s Café where I wish to encounter last night’s crowd. I am told that I am peckish again – so, I guess, I better eat, or rather ‘wolf down’, the fry up. This makes me feel a little bit queasy. MASSIVE MATT, MAXIMUS and LUCAS, I discover, are here. I talk to them but they don’t talk back. I begin to experience a sense of rejection that starts to pervade my actual life and suddenly feel vulnerable. I guess this must also have to do with writing a very public diary. I must come back to this when I feel safer. As I pass parts of what is left of the old Berlin wall, the phone rings again. It is not even 9 am in the game and I feel tired already. Perhaps I am moving about too much. Perhaps I feel overexposed. Perhaps I just need to know something from someone.
I pass Libeskind’s Jewish Museum which I have been avoiding so far on this journey. When I first visited the Museum, the building was still incomplete and my mother and I had to wear helmets inside. On my second visit, the building was finished but empty. Now, it is packed with installations and visitors, and it is hard to see how this was, and of course still is, in so many ways a statement about ‘essential absences’.
The project was originally presented to the Berliner Senate on musical notepaper. Before becoming an architect, Libeskind was in fact a musician and in many ways the construction of the building echoes that of a musical composition. The Museum consists of 1 addition, 2 buildings, 3 visible forms, 4 separate structures, 5 voids, 6 voided sections, 7 buildings in the oblique, 8 underground passages, 9 void walls, 10 connections, 11 original lines, 12 tones, 23 angels, 24 walls, 25 elevations, 39 bridges, 81 doors, 365 windows.
According to Libeskind the building follows the design created by ‘the contortions of the non-existent angel’ (1997: 26), a reference to Walter Benjamin’s angel of history who is flown backwards toward the future, his mouth wide open, his eyes staring at the mounting wreckage of so called progress (1992: 249). Libeskind, of course, designed the Museum so that its contortions follow the invisible lines created by a matrix of addresses – the ‘(g)reat figures in the drama of Berlin who have acted as bearers of great hope and anguish (…) Tragic premonition (Kleist), sublimated assimilation (Varnhagen), inadequate ideology (Benjamin), mad science (Hoffmann), displaced understanding (Schleiermacher), inaudible music (Schoenberg), last words (Celan)’ (Libeskind in Young 2000: 167). The outside of the building is covered in zinc, still un-oxidized. Resembling a snake, or lightning, the shiny surface is cut by the 365 windows, which are, as in Libeskind’s words, the ‘writing of the addresses by the walls of the Museum itself’ (1999: 27).
The outside of the building cannot be grasped as a whole. The inside also unbalances as the ground continuously changes direction, so that ‘the trajectory of movement frustrates a perspectival viewing of the space’. Here, to continue quoting Michail Kobialka, ‘there is neither background nor centre’ (2000: 52). I feel again parallels between the two worlds I am in, since Day of the Figurines is first of all a game of language, able to create its own intertextuality between figurines and people, destinations and locations, operators and players, orchestrators and operators, performers and players. Day of the Figurines, of course, is always metatextual – we learn about people, actions, destinations through language. Here, we only live in discourse. And everything we do is about the world of text. In this game we are the words we ‘speak’. The city we are in is in the writing. We are surrounded by wreckage, traces of language. I feel a desire to pick up my Joyce again.
I am now back at HAU2, still, pretty much on my own. Michael Wright and Martin Flintham are still here, but Blast Theory and the rest of Mixed Reality Lab have left. The hours go by and nothing happens. I receive no calls. There is no audience to write about. I chat with the operators and discover things about some players I did not know. I learn who many figurines are (and learn that many players know who I am), and I am informed about some of players’ habits. I realise now that for the operators, and surely also the orchestrators, this game is very theatrical (they have a stage to look at (or a screen, in the case of Mixed Reality Lab upon which all sorts of things happen). I, however, still stuck between destinations, have nobody to talk to. This leaves me without a subject. In itself, this does not worry me (I wrote an entire PhD on silences, pauses, and hesitations) but I want this to be a sociable, rather than an introspective, game for me and my reader. In my frustration, I talk to Michael Wright, who looks into the game. There appear to be no glitches and in fact, he patiently shows me, conversations are taking place in a number of destinations. I guess I’m just unlucky. Perhaps my reader could find me tomorrow. Perhaps I need their comfort.
I become distracted. I write some of this text. I do my email. I learn that my new book is now out and that Lynn Hershman has sent me a cut of her new film Strange Cultures (about Critical Art Ensemble and that wonderful artist that Steve Kurtz is). I also learn that Tim Etchells’s Wall of Sound Project, to which, a while ago, he invited me to contribute a piece about a song I use for protection (hence the title), is now installed at the Kunsthaus Graz [link] as part of the exhibition Protections. I am thrilled about this, and profoundly grateful to Tim for asking me to be part of his installation. As I think about it, it feels increasingly strange that someone may be reading my text at the Kunsthaus Graz to discover what makes me feel safe here.
Kath’s Café is not doing it for me. Although I can see from the destinations table that there are lots of players here, nobody seems to want to chat. I decide to go back to the nuclear bunker. SOYUS 17 is there, with a rocket. I don’t like weapons, and run away. I become increasingly restless, lose my patience and decide to go back to Kath’s Café again. The augmentation of my game today must look like a pong game. Then my guest arrives. This is Mieke Matzke from She She Pop, who is also a colleague from the Institut für Theaterwissenschaft of the Freie Universität Berlin and whom I invited to correspond with me on this collaboratory about Day of the Figurines. I watch her enter the game. She is confident and comfortable in the space. I keep my distance. Later, I learn, that she already knows who my figurine is from one of the operators. We talk about Tim Etchells, and his company, Forced Entertainment, and I realise how immensely popular he is here in Germany, and Blast Theory whose, for Mieke, ‘intriguing’ choice not to be ‘visible’ in this piece is something I must talk about tomorrow.
I travel back to my restaurant, dine and edit down these pages without the game ringing once. I watch people eat. Someone buys a red rose. I learn all about a Russian gipsy player who sits in a dark corner of the, yes, Walter Benjamin Platz where my restaurant is. I listen to the Italian waiter’s complicated life history. I watch someone getting drunk in the distance. I long for my song at the Kunsthaus Graz. Later, back in my hotel, I think - what a contrast from the last two days! I have been between destinations for hours. I have been on my own. There is nothing here but me. With nothing to hold on to, I cannot but let go. Time to exit.
To follow tomorrow's game go to Day of the Figurines 1/10/2006