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CFP: The Transformative Power of Art

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Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and Christoph Schlingensief’s participatory experiment Opera Village Africa

Prof John Deathridge (King’s College London), Chris Dercon (Tate Modern), Prof Lydia Goehr (Columbia University, New York), Aino
Laberenz (Opera Village Africa), Gregor Muir (ICA)

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN


February 5 – 06, 2016

Deadline: Nov 6, 2015

An Interdisciplinary Conference

The aim of this conference is to explore Christoph Schlingensief’s participatory art project Opera Village Africa against the backdrop of Richard Wagner’s idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. We wish to approach this topic from the perspective of multiple disciplines including anthropology, art history, cultural studies, history, musicology, philosophy, postcolonial studies and theatre studies.

The founding of the Opera Village Africa in Burkina Faso is inextricably linked with Schlingensief’s critical engagement with the writing and music of Richard Wagner, who served Schlingensief throughout his career as a touch-stone for a process of working through the heritage of the German past. The soundtrack to Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1928) initially evoked Schlingensief’s ambiguous fascination for Wagner, which carried through his career work as filmmaker, theatre and opera director, actionist and performance artist. Schlingensief’s Parsifal production for the Bayreuth Festival on which he collaborated with the conductor Pierre Boulez in 2004 became pivotal to his subsequent projects. Disillusioned about the elitism and inaccessibility of opera, Schlingensief desired to do justice to the young Wagner’s anarchist ideas of a Gesamtkunstwerk that is accessible for everyone. His strategy to enable a diversity of audiences to participate in the Gesamtkunswerk was the Animatograph – a travelling rotating stage, which he developed out of his stage set for Parsifal and toured to a diversity of locations, such as Iceland, Namibia and Neuhardenberg. This journey provided inspiration for Schlingensief’s Opera Village Africa in Burkina Faso (2008-ongoing).

Did Schlingensief succeed in bringing Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk to life in the twenty-first century? This is the question our conference will address and, we hope, attempt to answer.

Papers from a multitude of disciplines are invited to discuss topics, which could include, but are not limited to, the following:

– The transformative power of the Gesamtkunstwerk: is it overwhelming or empowering?
– Contemporary interpretations of the Gesamtkunstwerk
– African perspectives on opera and the Gesamtkunstwerk
– The Gesamtkunswerk and its relation to participatory engagement and participatory art
– The democratic aspect of the Gesamtkunstwerk
– The relation between the contemporary Bayreuth Festival and the anarchist ideas of the young Wagner about the accessibility of opera for everyone
– Opera and its role in the processes of colonialisation: contrasting, for example, projects of Nueva Germania (Paraguay) and The Amazonas Opera House in Manaus (Brasil) with The Opera Village Africa in Burkina Faso
– Exploring the philosophical background of the Gesamtkunstwerk: Eusebius Trahndorff, German Romanticism, Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Theodor W. Adorno, Slavoj Žižek and theories on the contemporary Gesamtkunstwerk
– Feeling into Parsifal: Richard Wagner and Christoph Schlingensief’s self-construction as pure fool
– Parsifal after Hitler: Exploring the history of Parsifal productions in post-war Bayreuth
– ‘Our Aim is Art!’ (‘Hier gilts der Kunst’): Scrutinising claims of aesthetic autonomy at the Bayreuth Festival
– Blurring the boundary between art and life: How can the Gesamtkunstwerk impact on day-to-day reality?
– How does Germany’s (failed) attempt to work through its past resonate in the post-war productions of the Bayreuth Festival and the work of Christoph Schlingensief?
– The Gesamtkunstwerk and the idea of character formation
– Psychoanalysis vs. depth psychology: Psychological attempts to understand the trauma resulting from German’s colonial history and its Nazi past

Abstracts are invited for presentations of 20-25 minutes followed by discussion. Please send abstracts of no more than 300 words and a brief biography that explains your interest in this area of research to Sarah Hegenbart: sarah.hegenbart@courtauld.ac.uk by 6 November 2015.

Organised by Sarah Hegenbart and Professor Sarah Wilson (The Courtauld
Institute of Art)