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Featured: Christoph Schlingensief (Berlin, Germany)

Christoph Schlingensief

A biography on Christoph Schlingensief. By Till Briegleb.

No other German director has in recent years been as active as Christoph Schlingensief in earning the term “political” for his theatre. As society’s concept of the political became increasingly arbitrary and theatrical, Schlingensief responded with a rather unusual cure: he fought against the haziness of politics by totally confusing supposed unambiguities.

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From his early films in the 1980s, in which Hitler, rapists and mass shooters indulged in orgiastic mischief, to his dramas at the Berlin Volksbühne in the 1990s, whose chaotic scenes brought German icons such as Rudi Dutschke, Helmut Kohl or Rosa Luxemburg down off their pedestals, and to his performances in public (e.g. the artistic welfare mission 1997 at Hamburg’s main train station), one basic theme is always apparent: do not trust certainties!

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Schlingensief creates a permanent state of insecurity by blurring borders between reality and fiction, art and offence, intention and action. This often works brilliantly with his off-stage antics: most passers-by thought the Big Brother show with asylum-seekers in the centre of Vienna, where the last one to be ejected is supposed to win a residence permit, was real. There was also his staging of Hamlet in Zurich, for which he not only recruited officially repentant neo-Nazis, but also created a rehabilitation centre for their kin, triggered a heated debate on the credibility of this kind of stunt.

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Schlingensief’s spontaneous and rule-violating theatre – as illustrated in this select range of his twenty-year-long voyage of disruption – is first and foremost dependent on decent minesweeping abilities. Socially relevant issues, which have either fallen prey to the general consensus (“Hitler is evil!” “Mohammed Atta is evil!”) or are treated with silent disquiet (disabled or homeless people, asylum-seekers, the unemployed), are at some point very likely to end up in Schlingensief’s basket. Being the chief protagonist of his own art, which only works at all thanks to his eccentric entertainer talents, his is a vehemently fought battle against hypocrisy using performance art, taboo violations and improvisation while stretching the limits.

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We find hypocrisy in politics as we do in the media and in art, i.e. the areas in which Schlingensief moves, so widespread that the normal reaction would be cynicism. Operations such as “Kill Helmut Kohl!” at the 1997 documenta, symposiums on the artistic quality of terrorism, or the casting of mentally disabled people in his films and stage plays have repeatedly seen the artist himself face this accusation. What rapidly invalidates this suspicion, however, is the old-fashioned world view that is behind his racket. Christoph Schlingensief is a moralist with messages of an almost biblical tone; solidarity, honour and human kindness are the demands that emerge from his artistic assaults on their abuse.

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The permanent moral alarm call triggered by the unbalanced harmony that Schlingensief creates, however, faces the danger that all provocative art is subject to; the irritation is lost as soon as the method has been revealed. Thus we now see his eccentricities in the theatre system, especially, attracting well-minded curiosity, which is extremely bad in terms of its effect. His current trilogy, Attabambi Pornoland, which attacks the powers of interpretation of the media with an orgiastic mix of videos, dramatic scenes, chaotic mess, pornography, noise and artistic citations, is viewed more in terms of a must-see event.

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Neither does this defensive response, however, really defuse the political edge of Schlingensief’s performance theatre. His associative and aggressive style makes him difficult to define regards content, as such compelling the audience to scrutinize themselves. Whether as the charming darling of the media with his own talk shows or as an interview guest himself, he now presents his furious theatre of conscience to wide sections of the population. Nor is he now afraid to don the robes of a serious director; the confessed Wagner fan has been permitted to stage Parsifal at the Bayreuth Festival. There will not, he has already promised, be any bomb craters on the stage. A surprise can always be expected from him.


Schlingensief’s (art) performances centre on prostitutes, down-and-outs, junkies, asylum-seekers and political attacks on the powers that be. Whether the foundation of a new party agenda (Chance 2000) or religious sect (Church of Fear), the deportation of asylum-seekers (Please Love Austria) or a call to murder the chancellor (Mein Filz, mein Fett, mein Hase…), his critical view of society is evident in all of his work, not just the more spectacular performances. He is always involved in the action, appearing in turns as an artist, a show host, as the leader of a sect, as party chairman or as a priest. Provocation and cynicism are crucial components of his work. The removal of the formal boundaries between the actors and their audience reflect Schlingensief’s belief that the daily routine is in itself a staged event.

– 18 Images a Second – Installation, Munich (2007)
– Wagner-Rallye 2004 (2004)
– Aktion 18 / Aktion 18 – Tötet Politik! (2002)
– Bitte liebt Österreich (2000)
– Deutschlandsuche ’99 (1999-2000)
– Rettet den Kapitalismus, schmeißt das Geld weg! (1999)
– Berlin Biennale CHANCE 2000 Installation (1998)
– 7 Tage Entsorgung für Graz (1998)
– CHANCE 2000 – Wahldebakel ’98 (1998)
– Tour des Verbrechens – Wahlkampftournee von CHANCE 2000 (1998)
– CHANCE 2000 – Baden im Wolfgangsee (1998)
– CHANCE 2000 – Wahlkampf in Deutschland (1998)
– CHANCE 2000 – Wahlkampfzirkus ’98 (1998)
– Passion Impossible (1997)
– Mein Filz, mein Fett, mein Hase (1997)


“Losing control mechanisms while at the same being conscious of the process’s staged character, finding yourself in a state of liquidity – this is what my theatre revolves around” says Schlingensief of his theatre work. “I want to convince life that it is for the most part staged, and theatre that it is absolutely dependent on life.” Whether (art) performance or theatre – Schlingensief’s productions see actor merging with theatregoer as the stage and the galleries assume liquid boundaries. Hold-ups, hitches, breaks or disturbances provide a continually recurring series of dramatic ruptures that throw up the question of which rules apply to the cast and to the audience. Schlingensief’s theatre work is an attempt to intervene in the current socio-political discourse. His productions focus on issues such as right-wing extremism, neo-Nazi rehabilitation programmes, a fake million-dollar TV game show, the Iraq war as well as attacks on art and theatre themselves.

– Area 7 – St. Matthew’s Expedition (2006)
– Kunst & Gemüse, A. Hipler (2004)
– Parsifal – Bayreuther Festspiele (2004 − 2007)
– Attabambi-Pornoland (2004)
– Bambiland (2003)
– ATTA ATTA – Die Kunst ist ausgebrochen (2003)
– Quiz 3000 – Du bist die Katastrophe (2002)
– Rosebud (2001)
– Schlacht um die Oper (2001)
– Hamlet (2001)
– Schnitzler’s Brain (2000)
– Deutschlandsuche ’99 (1999-2000)
– Rettet den Kapitalismus, schmeißt das Geld weg! (1999)
– Erlebnisreise nach Massow (1999)
– Berliner Republik – Oder der Ring in Afrika (1999)
– SevenX / SevenX Universität (1999)
– Abschied von Deutschland – Exil in der Schweiz (1998)
– Abschied von Deutschland – Gründung des Chancestaates (1998)
– Werner schläft (1998)
– Hotel Prora – Übernachten bei CHANCE 2000 (1998)
– Die letzten Tage der Rosa Luxemburg (1997)
– Mensch versus Maschine (1997)
– Schlacht um Europa I-XLII (1997)
– Begnadete Nazis (1996)
– Zweites Surrealistisches Manifest von André Breton (1996)
– Rocky Dutschke ’68 (1996)
– Hurra Jesus – Ein Hochkampf (1995)
– Volles Karacho-Rohr (1995)
– Kühnen ’94 – Bring mir den Kopf von Adolf Hitler! (1993)
– 100 Jahre CDU (1993)

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Caden Manson is a director, media artist, and teacher. He is co-founder of the media ensemble and network, blog, and publisher, He has co-created, directed, video- and set designed 18 Big Art Group productions. Manson has shown video installations in Austria, Germany, NYC, and Portland; performed PAIN KILLER in Berlin, Singapore and Vietnam; Taught in Berlin, Rome, Paris, Montreal, NYC, and Bern; the ensemble has been co-produced by the Vienna Festival, Festival d’Automne a Paris, Hebbel Am Ufer, Rome’s La Vie de Festival, PS122, and Wexner Center for The Arts. Caden is a 2001 Foundation For Contemporary Art Fellow, is a 2002 Pew Fellow and a 2011 MacDowell Fellow. Writing has been published in PAJ, Theater Magazine, and Theater der Zeit. Caden is currently an associate professor and graduate directing option coordinator of The John Wells Directing Program at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama.

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