Isms, poetry and megalomania. The Norwegian theater company Verk Produksjoner plunged into 100 years of artist manifestos and found new friends in art history. Sara Östebro has talked with director Fredrik Hannestad.
The group is known for creating works that mixes styles and genres, and where failure is more than welcome. An exploratory way of working, where listening and improvisation are an important part. A scene can have over ten different variations, free for the actors to choose from right here and now, and their performances have been described as “the top of an iceberg” where the work creates a world of opportunities and possibilities.
Since the beginning in 1998, the group has created 18 productions and has regularly been touring. Now they are visiting Gothenburg and Gothenburg’s dance and theater festival with their latest work Manifest United, where the group looked at 100 years of artist manifestos. Isms, poetry and megalomania are mixed with bizarre ideas and deep wisdom. I contacted Fredrik Hannestad, director and artistic leader of the group, to hear about the group’s methods and what they found in art history.
This year is your 20th birthday – congratulations! What life lessons have you learnt since your first trembling steps as a theatre company?
– I think the most important lesson is that I don’t know a damn thing. In other words learning to accept and have confidence in that not-knowing is a way to be in the world.
Your way of working is very generous and open, and you also write and talk about it openly – was this way of working (the method of the social situation and listening) something you had with you from the beginning, or has it developed over time?
– In the beginning we just worked a lot without having that many theoretical ideas about our work. We just tried out very many aesthetics and explored, maybe because we still didn’t know what we liked. Sometimes I think we have had an big identity crisis throughout our entire work, looking for something impossible, for something beyond, trying to revitalise the whole idea of theatre. After some years you start to look back and try to understand what the hell we are doing. In doing so we have found out that some of the ideas that Institutet för Scenkonst under the leadership of Ingmar Lindh has had an influence on us, especially the ideas of expanding the context as material for work for the actors and the ideas about the importance of “listening”. When you start to look at your work you also start to see other artists that has had an immense importance to us. So it’s something that has developed over time.
You are visiting the Gothenburg Dance and Theatre festival with the work Manifest United, where you plunge yourself into a 100 years of artists manifestos. What makes these manifests thrilling?
– The most thrilling experience is when I really believe that the artwork I have done is very original and then I see that someone else has thought and struggled with the exact same ideas 100 years ago. Wow, that’s mind-blowing. Suddenly you find new friends in the history of art, now I love Andy Warhol for example. You see that you are part of something bigger and that you have unconsciously been inspired by different movements through your work. Now I know better who my friends are. It makes me stronger as an artist and more connected. It makes me passionate and it gives me courage to try to find answers to big questions, such as “Love”. It makes me want to fight for something, for my form, my art. That’s thrilling.
In the peice you ask the question ‘what happened to the artists’ manifestos’, and why it is not as common to see wildly bold, revolutionary and poetic artist manifests today. Do you have your own theory of why that is?
– There is a feeling that the manifestos are very connected to the 20th century. Manifests are usually against something. There were so many struggles and wars and revolutions and changes. Modernity was really hard for mankind to cope with. It was necessary to shout out and yell out to the world. Now we are in someway adjusted and the need for big revolutionary manifestos is not that immanent. At the same time we are now standing on the threshold to something totally new: the destruction of our planet and the interconnectivity between humans and machines. Maybe it’s not anymore a need to be against something or someone, but more a question of finding together, to find out what unites us all.
Is there one manifesto that holds an extra special place in your heart?
A short manifesto(1964)
WHEN SCIENCE AND ART ARE ENTIRELY
MELTED TOGETHER TO SOMETHING NEW
WHEN THE PEOPLE WILL HAVE LOST THEIR
REMEMBRANCE AND THUS WILL HAVE
NO PAST, ONLY FUTURE.
WHEN THEY WILL HAVE TO DISCOVER EVERYTHING
EVERY MOMENT AGAIN AND AGAIN
WHEN THEY WILL HAVE LOST THEIR NEED FOR
CONTACT WITH OTHERS…
THEN THEY WILL LIVE IN A WORLD OF ONLY
COLOUR, LIGHT, SPACE, TIME, SOUNDS AND MOVEMENT
THEN COLOUR LIGHT SPACE TIME
SOUNDS AND MOVEMENT WILL BE FREE
THERE WILL BE SOUND
Do VERK have a manifesto of your own?
– I don’t know if it is a manifesto, but it is more some guidelines for us in our work:
Let everything be simple, easy, don´t show off, don´t exclude or passify.
To hold it low, naive, don´t be afraid of the naive, a key to assert yourself.
To act, to show, go all the way. To make something simple, to keep it simple
economical, practical. To make a simple work with what I have, something
raw, unprotected, without pretension but with ambition. To lose yourself, exaust
yourself, to lose control, lose time, to let the things take control, to lose your sight,
to surrender, to no longer lie or calculate. To fight back, to take control, to fight
for the art, for your right, for your vision, your justification. To accept that your
work is fractured.
Sunday 19th & Monday 20th of August, 19.00
Gothenburg dance and theatre festival
Photo: Manifest United. Photo credits: Alette Schei Rørvik.