News about the 4th edition of the Festival that will take place in Berlin all through the year 2008. The information about the former editions that were held on 22-26 november 2006, 13-22 february 2007 and 1-29 august, 2007 are still to be found somewhere in the jungle of this blop.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The American Trauma - Report on John Hopkins, Ben Owen, Brandon LaBelle

A good thing about a book that holds almost one thousand pages is that it can be worthwhile to read it. It might absorb you and make you forget everything around you. Dom DeLillo`s attempt to write The Great American Novel that made him create Underworld is such a book. But growing into the story of a baseball that covered three generations of Americans I wondered where my cinematographic memory from my youngest years when I watched the comedy capers interfered with the situations DeLillo described. More and more impressions from movies and photographs showed up before my inner eye. I got lost in the book and didn’t get the sense of it. It was a giant flood of pictures, which made me shipwreck and ask myself at the last page why I had read it to the end and why I felt as if I had been wasting my time.

Should there be a clue to understand this? Another book by a US writer, City of God by Doctorow left me with the same question; The book was far more superior to Underworld, but still I couldn’t get it that such a simple and even boring plot of a crucifix being stolen from the roof of a church could lead to so many little stories without a point. Some of those stories were pure gems.

The American culture must have some qualities at its very core that could give us a key to understanding. Where the pompous themes The American Dream and The New Frontier has given the world John Wayne and Apollo 11, the rest of the world might return the favor and state that poverty and persecution has given the Americans a good reason to come into existence.

As a warming up to the last edition of dkfrf I had a dinner at my house in Neukölln. Chance made it that three Americans would perform: Ben Owen (who came with his girlfriend Sara) from Brooklyn, New York City, John Hopkins from everywhere and Brandon LaBelle from Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin. When talking about the American culture, one of them brought it up that exactly this escape from poverty and persecution is what united most of the early immigrants.

picture by John Hopkins

Fear for poverty and the fear for losing one’s God given right to individual freedom have burned enormous holes in the heart of the American society. Watching every now and then the Obama/Hillary marathon run I see star spangled smiles and star spangled swollen breasts; I see speakers almost overwhelmed by their own heroism; I hear messages to a people that still seem to be moving west. It all makes up for epic television.

I also see barns and sport halls behind all that decorum. I can imagine tractor shows, junk sales for charity and Miss Lollipop elections to be held there; I can imagine rows of empty seats, and volunteers drinking endlessly coffee in the backroom. I can imagine that it will get cold in winter, and that there is no money to pay the bill. To cut it short, I can see a lot of individual lives behind all the glamour of a tantalizing political circus that has come to town. And these lives have very short lines to the early generations that arrived to the Americas with a lot of pain.

John Hopkins - picture by Ben Owen

John Hopkins dinner talks included information about his early years. Born in Alaska, his parents moved with him to another place. John described a communtiy he couldn’t relate to, nor take part of. He lives like he lives, being a nomad for almost half of his life, crossing those wonderful frontiers that so many Americans before him had aimed at. His performance gave an insight in his dwellings. A hurricane of images projected on a screen was accompanied by their sounds and unsounds. Dislocating, discomforting, wild and seductive. You need a lot of guts to live like John does. In an abstract way he demanded a lot of civil cultural courage from the onlooker; courage to dive into his experiences and have these sounds and images grow upon them like a second skin. No wonder he split the audience in two. Outside on the doorstep the Republican Party was holding their rally.

Ben Owen, picture by John Hopkins

While John took us running over unknown lands, Ben Owen returned to the silence of home. He played in the dark. From my other end of the performance space it looked like I was at the other side of the street, watching out of my window; Ben was a small figure, computer screen light on his face. Unidentifiable shadows were around him. The room at the other side of the street is always without sound. Still I could hear something, a monotonous drone as if to underline the alienated waiting situation. Then it started to evolve and I shifted my attention to the speakers. It sounded like they were animated, possessed, and they were discovering the wide range of little crackiling and dripping sounds that they held. In the room across the street, in the heart of darkness other sounds were heard, sounds from Brooklyn, where silence meets the far rumble of a big city.

Brandon LaBelle, picture by Ben Owen

There is no escaping to the American Myth. Brandon LaBelle`s set was pure pleasure. It evolved around a very simple scheme: Young, soon ripe, but still not old man shows a picture. Four pictures were shown, four different stages in a life. Four stories from four decades leading from heroes, dreams, identities to the present day; just the story of somebody’s life who is Brandon to friends and family, Mr. LaBelle to those who need id-pictures. There was also sound in between those picture stories, sound that served as an elevator, bringing the audience to higher levels of empathy.

It was the first time Brandon LaBelle presented his work in this way. It is hard to imagine that he will stop at this point. It is far easier to imagine that he will continue working on a theatrical piece where pictures emerge from his smooth tale telling voice. Imagination can send you into orbit, away from the little stage where the next story will be told, up through the clouds, past the plane that will bring Ben and Sara back to the States, higher were time stands still and spirits whisper, and where one can look down to the Siberian woods and see smoke coming from the chimney of John Hopkins next residency.


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