Monika Gintersdorfer & Carlos Martínez
MONIKA: We stick together for the long term, like ensembles. People sometimes leave, some are around more often or join up. It’s not really a guest structure, more like we just belong together, without having to formalise it. But that doesn’t mean that we have to live in the same place or that we all have to move to Germany to be part of the groups.
CARLOS: The work for me is shaped by affection and good organisation. That’s the only way we can come together and create encounters that take us further in life and in artistic processes.
CARLOS: The sense of community and continuity are absolutely central for me. But also the issues of concern and rich experiences of the other members of the group. And without affection for one another and the possibility of building something together over years, we wouldn’t be able to overcome the many difficulties.
MONIKA: It’s an attempt to understand and put into practice the fact that where a person is from and where they are based can be different. And where and with whom we have lived also plays a role, because multiple identities are formed that are not defined by national borders. It’s about a dialogue about these experiences and the translation of language, themes and movement. It’s about finding new ways of expressing ourselves together, but also about making our various conditions the focus of our work. Transcontinentalism isn’t just a formal constraint, it’s the very premise of our artistic work.
MONIKA: Being assigned to a country is basically imposed on you by your birth certificate and also your passport. And the passport also specifies clearly in which countries you can or cannot apply for a visa. People from Europe still have many more opportunities to travel and can visit other continents more easily. We see it again and again some individuals are more mobile and flexible than others. They can accept jobs easily and are only minimally dependent on the authorities. I need visas for certain countries too, but I always get them and quite quickly. Other group members have to wait notknowing how long it takes and have no certainty at all about whether things will work out. Despite the limited and rather theoretical examination of colonial history, there’s no debate at all about why we continue to give ourselves the right to restrict other people’s freedom of movement so severely.
This imbalance is also noticeable at the funding level. For residencies during the pandemic, you had to prove membership of the Insurance Fund for Artists (KSK), your address, and a German bank account. As a result, some in the group were excluded from such funding, even though we’re all working on the same artistic projects. Because funding is also conceived of and given out nationally, but here there’s much more willingness to make small changes that could be helpful. We try to resist these divisions and classifications in our daily work. But often this is only possible in informal ways because the structures are not designed for it.
CARLOS: Because everyone in La Fleur had their own personal challenges to overcome, we didn’t try to monitor each other as much. It was such a privilege to be able to do the work and come here to Germany. We still had a lot to negotiate, but we could listen to each other in a more relaxed way.
What I really love about this group is that our own experiences and personal views are always our starting point. But one of the consequences is that it’s very difficult to take on someone else’s role if they are suddenly missing. Then the balance in the group automatically changes, in rehearsals and in performances. This happened to us over and over. In “Nana kriegt keine Pocken” (Nana Doesn’t Get Smallpox), I read ELCHINO’s text, so he could still be present somehow. Despite his absence he was with us, even though it’s not the same of course.
MONIKA: Apart from the fact that I don’t want to work in German-speaking countries only, but in many other places too, which is also in line with the structure of the group, we try to establish connections to other scenes. To the Couper Decaler scene in Côte d'Ivoire or HIV Artivismo in Mexico. In order to make it possible to come together and establish long-term connections, to promote dialogue and equal opportunities. In the process, we learn all kinds of things we didn’t expect.
Quite often I work on processes of translation that not only refer to spoken languages, but also to body language, themes and aesthetics. Getting to know all this and then not stopping there, not just juxtaposing it, but forming hybrids out of it, something new, some third thing, that’s what gives me real strength.
CARLOS: Recently we played with gestures to try to find a new common language. We tried to build a system with the body and those movements had the meaning of individual words. I can remember the words “I” and “chicken”. I worked with Ordinateur and Alex Mugler, who each speak French and English, and I speak Spanish. Everyone tried to express themselves with just one movement and it was very interesting to see how we formed the words based on our different cultural systems for signs, gestures and languages. Coming together in a group is like a dynamic acceleration that allows to create something new in a very short time.
MONIKA: What’s important is being in between. Some of us live between continents, including me. We don’t have to pick one place because this way of life is the subject of our pieces. Artists don’t have to give up their families in Cote d'Ivoire, DRC, or Mexico and can continue to be part of the artistic scene they belong to . At the same time, they have great influence on the work in Germany. Many are well-known singers and dancers in their home countries – why should they give that up? This isn’t something that the members of the group living in Germany would have to sacrifice; they could continue to have dinner with their partners, be around for birthdays, visit them in the hospital. But it’s different for others. They always would have to be guest workers, because they would have performances in countries where families and colleagues from their artistic scene could not attend. That would lead to a very strange relationship. It’s important to keep asking ourselves who actually has to make which kind of sacrifices in order to work artistically together.
CARLOS: We’re always sharing texts and opinions, feelings and strategies. Through the mental connection and Monika’s presence, we’re always sharing. It’s as if there’s a thread running through all of us, like being part of the process even if you are not present. Each person can grow in their own way and at the same time we try to move forward as a group. The most important thing is that it doesn’t have to be immediately finished. It’s clear that I will come back to the group, even if I temporarily return to where I live.
CARLOS: Yes, in many ways. There were different restrictions in our countries and they were changing all the time: if we needed to be vaccinated and what kind of vaccination to have or what visa procedures to follow up and how long it took. We had to pay attention and make sure that it didn’t damage our work too much.
MONIKA: An enormous rift opened up in the group. Those who already had a residence permit could travel. Everyone else couldn’t, even if they had a valid visa. As a result, the people who usually perform together simply didn’t see each other anymore. Of course, that can really stifle a production. It took quite a long time for this to change again, and our ongoing artistic work really suffered from that delay.
We began working transnationally in 2005 with Gintersdorfer/Klaßen. Longstanding relationships developed out of it and you don’t just give up when there are difficulties. We worked in public space and tried to link up online with the others in Mexico or Los Angeles. We performed “Our love goes to the absent performers” outside on a patch of grass in front of the HAU in Berlin. The live feed to the others only worked sometimes, and there was a lot of frustration.
CARLOS: When I read ELCHINO’s text because his papers didn’t come and he couldn’t enter Germany, it opened up new aspects in terms of the content. The text criticises the obstacles to getting visas for Black people and People of Colour. By speaking the text myself, I was able to show that my friend couldn’t come to Germany and do his work because of these policies.
MONIKA: One time a person who was not present gave instructions to the others. So there was also a performative and physical dimension. But that quickly reached its limits. People who aren’t in the same place can get their ten minutes if the internet is good enough. But itisn’t possible to be an equal part of the performance because it always depends on technical constraints. Printed texts or pre-recordings can help to get around this problem, but they don’t have live quality.
Of course, many new technical possibilities have also emerged and suddenly more systems are available to the theatres for transmission, for example streaming. The audience does not have to be local anymore, people in Kinshasa or Abidjan can also see performances. In that way, it has become more international than before.
MONIKA: It’s interesting when suddenly someone from Kinshasa writes a review of a performance in Bremen or Oberhausen. Then local people read it and realise that these performances are conceived of as transnational, are aimed at them directly and are multilingual. This changes a lot for us, because it’s always been important to us to have different audiences in different locations. However, the funding programmes and administrative constraints do not always allow the performances to be shown as equally in different places as we would like to. Thanks to technical possibilities, physical presence is not always necessary for dialogue to begin. This is a great advantage and allows for a different kind of proximity and connection to one another.
MONIKA: I wish that ongoing cooperation was fostered more. For this, visas need to be granted more easily and more autonomy is needed, especially for transnational groups. I wish that decision-making power didn’t lie mostly with promoters, institutions or certain festivals.
So far, we’ve always had to spend every last cent of our funding. This means we never have anything to invest or as security. Our work would also be so much easier if we could always pay for a permanent guest flat, so people didn’t have to travel back and forth so often. That would be cheaper and more climate-friendly. We could build networks and connect with other places in the world to be able to share rehearsal and living spaces with each other over longer periods of time. I find such possibilities exciting and I think that a lot is changing through the pandemic. Artists can stay longer in one place, not just for rehearsals and performances anymore. Suddenly research and serial work also matters.
I would also like to see an increase in “or” rules in funding applications: like submitting proof of membership of the Insurance Fund for Artists (KSK), or a breakdown of income, or the programmes of individual productions. Because it’s actually about the confirmation of whether someone is really artistically active as part of the group. This would simplify the conditions of our work a lot and would soften the border lines somehow. It would allow groups to be truly transnational.
Monika Gintersdorfer works with theatre, dance and performance artists from all over the world, across countries and continents. The transnational collaboration began in 2005 with the group Gintersdorfer/Klaßen, and in 2016 she founded the group La Fleur together with the performer and choreographer Franck E. Yao. Yao. In 2022, the theatre director receives the ITI Germany Prize.
Carlos Gabriel Martínez, born in Mexico, has twenty years of artistic research experience in processes of contemporary theatrical creation, with special interest in the investigation of the social body. Collaboration with different international groups has taken Martínez to 19 different countries. He has been working with the group LA FLEUR since 2016 and can now be seen at Theater Bremen in his second performance with “Nana kriegt keine Pocken” (Nana Doesn’t Get Smallpox), after his first performance in “The New Aristocrats”. (Source: https://www.lafleur.direct/de/bio/carlos-gabriel-martinez-velaquez)