Wasteland

This essay was sparked by several incidents. One was riding home after a dance jam and feeling like I’d never been happier in my entire life, two is visiting the Baumarkt built near the East Side Gallery, and three is an email from a friend of mine in which she said that she might be “over transgression” …

On the one hand, I think get her entirely. “Trying” to transgress, if one thinks of transgression as that which has never been done before, is probably impossible. Everything is a version or a cut-up or remix of something done or thought about before. Absolutely. Shock value is boring, that which is extreme is mundane and the mundane is trendy, or kitch, or something.

On the other hand, I’m still a young political activist that thinks not only is trying to be political and transgress possible, its absolutely important and fundamental and ultimately the only thing that makes art worthwhile. That doesn’t mean that I think art should be driven simply by something like “trying to transgress.” I think it should be driven by desire and that inexplicable thing that makes you want to do it, get up every morning and keep doing it, the itch that pushes you beyond all of the people who tell you what you’re doing is not that important. Or interesting.

[Actually this raises an interesting point for me about affirmative action. College admissions should be about looking for people who will enjoy the process, not about churning out perfect and successful final products. I would argue that the products one produces hardly matters as much as being present in the process and wanting to be there, in class, I mean. This is what ultimately makes an interesting classroom and a valuable educational experience. In that same vein, what I mean to say is, it is not so much at all about whether the art produced is “good” or “bad,” whatever that means, anyway, but about the artist being in the process]

But I do think, secondary to being present and wanting to be there, it is possible to be deliberately political, to be outspoken, to look for that “third” or “fourth” way that is the thing that not only upsets the dichotomy but makes it obsolete. I think of this as the definition of transgression.

[What I’ve “decided” (and this makes me laugh as well, a bit) is that the only thing that’s really interesting and revolutionary and yes, transgressive, is love. Loving in the face of hate, supporting in the face of wanting to give up, not judging when you want to criticize, being open to everything, to the idea of loving everything, to the possibility of it, anyway. Sarcasm and irony is not really transgressive, as fun as it can be. But at the end of the day, love is more powerful, I think. ]

I’ve been realizing in the past several evenings just how lucky I am to be involved in this Wasteland project and how worthwhile it is for me, no matter what anyone will ever say or NOT say about the film, no matter how many awards it does or does not win … and for this reason I am involved in the process, I am present, because I know that the process feels good, and that is what is important.

The process feels good for a number of reasons. For one thing, I’ve been given this opportunity to explore through my body. The presence of a camera sets up the “illusion” of a performance and it gives an excuse for exploration to happen (because as humans we seem to need excuses) but the exploration itself is just as real as the performance… and the performance is as real as reality. Part of the exploration is seeing my own “limits” of comfort, which actions feel scary and which feel “exploitative” or “wrong” and why. Which actions feel right, or set up or fake? When am I most present and how do I express that? Touching people is REAL, playing with love and “liking” and connection of a non-physical kind is real … watching the way that love and sex intertwine and also do not intertwine is so interesting … and valuable. Sexuality, desire, is real, and faked, but still real, as real as the marker of aroused or unaroused bodies … The differences and similarities between sex and love and the various ways that these can manifest themselves within human interaction depend on the two people involved, on a myriad of factors in the contextual situation.

Being filmed is an interesting way of performing—because the audience is not present, not really anyway. Which helps raise questions like, to what extent are all of our interactions “performance”? When you touch another person, what are all the emotions that you feel/”pretend” to feel? Is it possible to pretend? Is performance more about pretending or more about being real?

I do not think that sex is the “final frontier,” whatever that means, anyway … but perhaps “the final frontier” has something to do with intimacy and its true meaning. Experiencing intimacy. Perhaps that is the “answer” to life. What does it mean to experience intimacy? Because, somehow, is this the only thing that will keep us from killing each other? Why do we love each other, or not? What can make us love better?

As a slight tangent, but not really tangential at all, last night I went to a physical body contact jam with a friend of mine. The jam was an open five hour period of time in a ballet studio. Around thirty people showed up, at least. The purpose of the jam is to create improvisational dance with the other people in the room. It was the closest thing to an orgy that I have every experienced, because, in a sense, dancing is not all that different from sex, especially when you really let yourself be present in your body and you touch each other. (This kind of honest dancing can be more intense than some sex). The jam was a microcosm of a world that I would envision ideally, where there is no sense of borders between what people are curious about and what one is allowed to experience.

The jam is an opportunity to be able to touch each other, experience and play with the idea of intimacy and the idea of attraction, to what extent our boundaries are fixed and “real,” how real do they “feel,” how real is feeling when one no longer feels that way?

… I can sense as that I write this the laughing sarcasm of readers that may thinking “this is too new-agey for me, but the strange part is (and I say strange part because I myself was skeptical that the room would be hijacked by hippies), how new-agey it wasn’t. The jam was full of dancers and non dancers and movers … people that want to move their bodies and experience intimacy with other bodies in a safe space.

Getting back to the film, this is one of the things that I love, with each person that I work with, I am able to explore a new dimension to performance, to reality. The question is whether performance is more about coming into the present and into the body or is it in fact about separating oneself from one’s body in order to float above it? The question is, is the shyness I am feeling to touch this person “Real” and what does that mean; why? It goes further, like, what does it mean to have a “sexual orientation”? How do we know when we’re in love with another person? How do we formulate our agreements with each other about possession? How and to what extent to we control each other’s freedom and why? Am I attracted to this person, is it okay to be attracted to this person, what makes attraction scary? Do we own each other once we are physically intimate with each other? To what extent is physical contact triumphant over intellectual and mental contact? How much do sex and true love have to do with each other and in what ways aren’t they similar?

So much of my thoughts about body, about existing as human have to do with these kinds of questions. It would be impossible for me not to write a book about it. But at least with improvisation, which is essentially what is being asked of me as I film this movie, I don’t have to use words, I can dance and I can be with other people and explore and improvise. Like singing with each other except that our “actual” bodies are involved.

[And all of this has to do with the action theatre workshop I did this summer, all questions about how real is the real…what it means to come into the present, to feel the present, to in fact make performance into reality and reality into performance. Our lives “are” performance, without meaning that they are superficial or less than real.]

The other aspect of this project that is worthwhile to me is that it helps me access my child self, which is in a sense a “performance” because it is like putting on another Katie, and yet it is more real than real because it is like going further into myself to find the self that already exists. “We” humans seem to need excuses to get naked with each other and pour wine all over our bodies and dig around in the dirt or lie next to a flower in the ground and talk to it (well I don’t really need excuses to do that but I seem not to find the “time” in my schedule) …curiosities that children have. This film is an opportunity to really come into a child self of mine that is adventurous and innocent and picks up an object as though it were never seen before in my eyes and to play with it, to create an improvisational dance with it, like the contact jam I was describing.

And thirdly, another interesting aspect of the project with Julia is that we are working with mostly English-as-a-second-language speakers, including the director herself. Wasteland is doing a bit of documentary work, that is, recording Berlin linguistically at this contemporary moment. While one could argue that English has monopolized art music movies and is infiltrating all aspects of life as the common language in Europe, it must also be noted that this “common English” is actually quite diverse because its speakers take “poetic license” when speaking. Its not just that the English spoken is accented in different ways depending on where the speaker is from (for example, in the film we have German, Polish, Italian, American, and French accents) its also that the construction of English sentences takes on a poetic twist of construction (i.e. grammatically incorrect but charming nevertheless).

Finally, in that same vein of acting as documentary, Wasteland is doing the important work of recording the disappearance of the wasteland spaces in Berlin at this moment in time. During the course of this filming, we have already watched vacant spaces disappear. I call these spaces “wasteland” because they are places somewhat unique to Berlin that, for example, used to be no-man’s-land between the East and the West, buildings that were abandoned during World War Two and never reclaimed or maintained (but squatted), businesses (large factories and warehouses) that have fallen to disrepair or ruin and abandoned when the Wall fell, Eastern Bloc housing that was abandoned when the Wall fell, or even buildings that were being built in the East during the fall of the Wall and were simply never completed.

“My father was an architect, so I spent my childhood in half finished buildings. I think that’s why I have such an obsession with place.” (Julia Ostertag talking to me as we tramped through the cement frame of a 10 story building).

The wasteland spaces I’m speaking of are the “beautiful ugly,” run down, tattooed with graffiti buildings, ruins and plots of land that are cheap or free. And is why I think they are so important to mention and record. The world is becoming increasingly run by money, which means that in an increasing number of spaces, you have to have money to meet. You have cafes that cost three bucks for a coffee (and restaurants that cost more), you have renovated historical buildings that have been turned into museums and charge entrance, you have retail stores, but what about collectives in low rent buildings? All the squatters are being thrown out so that buildings can be renovated and each apartment rented out at high prices. The rent in Berlin is rising rapidly. At least you have parks for people to hang out in, but they have been manicured and cleaned. What about the wild spaces, uncontrolled, that still contain dirt, trash, remnants of the past, the beautiful ugly of our recent past? I’m watching the change with such sadness.

It doesn’t seem to be the priority of Berlin or the world in general to preserve spaces that don’t “make money,” that don’t “turn a profit,” and that’s what it comes down to. Take the example now of the New York Times article about how Berlin’s art scene is “up-and-coming” because of this glittery new gallery quarter of the city … apparently located on Brunnenstrasse (I say apparently because the perspective of an outsider is so limited; I would say the gallery district is concentrated on August Strasse). http://travel.nytimes.com/2007/03/25/travel/25surfacing.1.html?ex=1332475200&en=426cbde917a248b0&ei=5088&partner=rssnyt&emc=rss> Not that I don’t support galleries … on the contrary … but there is something sad about involving the art world in the trend away from the graffiti, the hardness, the edge, the punks, the squats, the places that didn’t cots an arm and a leg to rent out. The art world = the elite world. Watch it happen.

You would think that the land near and behind the Wall that runs adjacent to the Spree River would have already been developed … But at the moment its still inhabited by small beach bars and even squatted spaces. I knew that it was just a matter of time before those bars would be bulldozed and bought by a rich developer … but given Berlin’s opportunity for fresh and interesting city planning, you’d think that the land by the river could be developed with artistic beautiful creative spaces … public spaces … instead I’ve heard that a stadium will soon be built. And already the no-man’s-land that falls immediately to the east of the Wall has been bought by what seems to be merely the highest bidder, with no sense of aesthetics or public usage in mind … a “Hellweg” super-sized construction shore/garden store occupies the bleak landscape. A spinning T Mobile sign and a giant blue “METREON” sign dots the river view. It makes me cry.

In the Wasteland film we’ve been filming in such interesting sites that will soon be gone! I feel lucky to be involved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *