- Clean Up on Aisle Six: Closing the Gap between Spectator and Performance in Uli Jaeckle’s Discounter
Live Art and the Spectator
Live Art came into vogue in Britain in the early 1960s and has since spawned a multitude of diverse approaches to artistic creation. Central to this diversity is the notion that the process of making art is just as important as the result. Rather than preparing an artistic product to be viewed by an audience at a later time and a different place, the typical Live Artist makes art in the presence of the spectator, in a shared space and coexistent moment of time.
In the 1970s and 1980s Live Art became an attractive template for making theater because of its open and direct relationship between artist and spectator. There is less distance between the two because neither of them is pretending to be someone else—as the actor in conventional theater would. Both remain who they are, and the act of communication is therefore more truthful, more vulnerable, and more real.1
This preoccupation with the literal and figurative distance between spectator and performance is obviously not something new to theater. From the Epic Theatre of Piscator and Brecht, to Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty, to Grotowski’s Poor Theatre and the innovative work of the Living Theatre and Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, the relationship between spectator and performance has been scrutinized, reconfigured, and re-envisioned a thousand different ways. It is still in flux today at the hands of companies like Punchdrunk, Gob Squad, Rimini Protokoll, and many more, that are relentlessly pushing the boundaries of performance and spectatorship. [End Page 155]
Also seeking to redefine the relationship between audience and performer is German director Uli Jaeckle. An artist at the forefront of some of the most innovative theater in the world, Jaeckle started as a painter, and early in his career came under the influence of the Live Art movement, which has clearly shaped his aesthetic to this day. In his productions Jaeckle often explores and manipulates the psychological and emotional distance between spectator and performance, attempting to close the gap between the two and create Live Art moments in his productions. He is a freelance director who currently holds the theater chair previously occupied by Marina Abramovic (at the University of Arts, Braunschweig), and lists her, along with Joseph Beuys and Rebecca Horn, as artists who instilled in him the impulse to resist any art form based on pretense or illusion. Of Abramovic, Jaeckle says, “She brings herself into situations that are far away from pretending something. She doesn’t create characters. She does art with her self, puts herself into situations that are ultimately beyond her control. She is just reacting to what is happening to her in that space and time. For me, that is the poetic moment, the moment where art truly happens.”2
Closing the Gap
For Jaeckle, art involves a never-ending search for “the real,” as opposed to the illusionism of conventional theater. He often uses non-professional actors, everyday people, as he did in his recent production of The Odyssey at the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin. Jaeckle believes that using non-actors helps to close the gap between spectator and performance. For non-actors the most compelling material, and the easiest for them to speak honestly to an audience, comes from themselves: stories about their lives, about who they are, who they were, who they want to be. Using specific details of those stories, and an approach to theater devising that he calls “Trackwork,” Jaeckle creates affecting and rich portraits of human life: “I’m always looking for the real moment, the honest moment. A very small event or action can be a spectacular moment. There doesn’t have to be a big crime or big adventure to be fascinating to an audience. Sometimes it’s enough to relate a small glimpse of our everyday lives.”3 [End Page 156]
For the spectator, this brief but revealing glimpse into the humanity of a performer can have profound emotional and psychological effects, bringing them both into a communal experience rarely bestowed by...