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Reviewed by:
  • 12-Spartenhaus Directed by Vegard Vinge, Ida Müller, and Trond Reinholdtsen
  • Andrew Friedman
12-Spartenhaus. Directed by Vegard Vinge, Ida Müller, and Trond Reinholdtsen. Volksbühne im Prater, Berlin. 24, 26 May 2013.

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Peter Stockmann’s “Management” in 12-Spartenhaus.

(Photo: William Minke.)

12-Spartenhaus, the fifth and latest Ibsen-inspired work by Vegard Vinge, Ida Müller, and Trond Reinholdtsen, is the artists’ most ambitious and confrontational production to date. Since 2006, the trio has earned accolades and derision for its durational, ultra-violent productions, which highlight Ibsen’s relevance throughout cultural history by combining the playwright’s texts with narratives ranging from Wagner’s operas to Star Wars. In 12-Spartenhaus, the production’s primary source text, An Enemy of the People, was used to dramatize the theatre as a besieged art form whose artistic autonomy is salvageable only through the vocational zealotry characteristic of Ibsen’s protagonists. Instead of folding its source materials into a single trans-historical narrative, the production cut between simultaneous though distinct storylines via live-video feeds, which refracted meaning through juxtaposition. Rendered in their signature style of cartoon realism, representational though overtly artificial handmade sets and costumes were painted in vivid colors while grotesque, masked performers gestured like puppets to prerecorded dialogue, blasting sound effects, and eclectic music loops. Each performance differed in content and length, running from one to twelve hours. Although the heterogeneity and scale of the performances enforced partial viewing, 12-Spartenhaus steadily lampooned the bureaucratic and institutionalized operations of the theatre and its audiences. More than a simple parody, the production countered the faithlessness of art-making in late capitalism with a despotic idealism. Vinge, Müller, and Reinholdtsen’s theatre, following Ibsen’s, thematizes the paradoxes of an aspirational and oppositional ideology, which for them is inherited from the common ground among fascism, capitalism, and the European avant-garde.

The characters and conflicts of An Enemy of the People were relocated to a Weimar-era theatre fashioned after the Nazi-fetish nightclub of filmmaker Tinto Brass’s Salon Kitty (1976), the Overlook Hotel of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), and the onstage/backstage hijinks of Jim Henson’s The Muppet Show (1976–81). The theatre itself stood in for the contaminated municipal baths of Ibsen’s text, here tainted by The Wild Duck’s Doctor Relling, who dumped bottles of “Zionism,” “Transcendentalism,” “Fatalism,” and “Postmodernism,” among other poisonous “-isms,” into the water supply, thus stifling the art and mummifying its audience. The Stockmann brothers’ standoff was reframed as a war between the calcification of art through its [End Page 262] monetization and its liberation through truth. The intrepid Doctor Stockmann (a bumbling Inspector Clouseau) tirelessly investigated the pollutant’s origin. Before discovering the truth, he unearthed a cockroach infestation and a colossal pile of feces, both of which entangled him in scenes of horrorcomic slapstick. Peter Stockmann, the theatre’s manager, violently suppressed his brother’s findings and defended the toxic art, in his recontextualized line from Ibsen’s play, as “more economical.” The publisher Aslaksen, a ghoul haunting the theatre, droned his maxim “moderation”—here referring to aesthetic production. As the performance’s villains, Peter’s and Aslaksen’s mantras flagged fiscal and aesthetic conservatism as the twin-headed enemy of art, and depicted the contemporary theatre as a welcoming sanctuary for their ideologies.

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Vegard Vinge’s fecal painting in 12-Spartenhaus.

(Photo: Courtesy of the artists.)

The audience was equally the subject of 12-Spartenhaus’s institutional critique. Given its polluted state, the theatre’s auditorium was locked and spectators were restricted to the lobby of the Volksbühne im Prater for the show’s duration. The performance was shown in the lobby on screens that streamed live footage from within the theatre, and some scenes were visible through windows that revealed the building’s interior. Inside the theatre, Peter and Relling tauntingly intoned “the auuuudiennnce,” or dryly read from Thomas Bernhardt’s novel Woodcutters (1984), a nasty indictment of theatre artists and their patrons. For Peter, the public was a pure monetary calculation, as his...


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