Do you remember when Oliver Zahn discussed in an essay performance what the outstreched arm can possibly mean in the post-WWII context? In his newest show, the young German artist brings up another, no less delicate topic. Tailored to the pandemic, IN PRAISE OF FORGETTING – Part II is a performance that will (and can) only happen in the online space, and it grew out of a song that Oliver Zahn had heard in an ethnographic sound archive and could not forget since then…
You found a song, performed by a displaced German, while doing research in an archive. What did you research on? Did it have to do anything with your family history?
I was looking for German folk songs for a different project about immaterial knowledge. The German Folk Song Archive is located in Freiburg, same as the archive that I eventually found the song in that I use for this piece. So I actually stumbled across it while google-searching for a different archive. I was immediately intrigued because most my own grandparents were German post-war refugees, even though that has never played an actual role in my life. I found it fascinating that there was a place that stored all this knowledge (songs, stories, etc.) that hadn’t been passed down to me.
What was the effect of that certain song on you when you listened to it for the first time?
I found it really hard to listen to, because this whole topic is obviously very closely intertwined with the history of Nazi Germany and German colonial history, and is mostly instrumentalized by the German right wing.
How did the coronavirus lockdown influence the creation story of In Praise of Forgetting?
Just before the lockdown, I premiered IN PRAISE OF FORGETTING, Part I – which is a stage show. After finishing this, I was thinking about the idea of a sequel, because there were some ideas that I hadn’t been able to address in the original piece for various reasons. I had also always wanted to make a desktop-based performance. When the pandemic hit, there was suddenly a space for these kinds of works to exist, so it was in a sense a small bit of luck in a generally unlucky situation. The fact that we couldn’t play the first part for a while as well as the general online-shift of life made it all the more important for me to think about what forgetting means in a digital space.
What do you think about performances in the online space? Is this a sad necessity for the moment or the exciting beginning of a new era?
I think it can be both. There were for sure a lot of shows, especially in the beginning, that only served as band-aids until theatre spaces could open again. I think those have their legitimacy as well, even though that’s not necessarily what interests me personally for my work. My goal was to make a piece that would still be „valid“ even after the pandemic is finally over – which is one reason why I didn’t do an adaptation, but rather a stand-alone sequel. I think web-based live art has existed before this pandemic, and will continue to thrive afterwards. I think it shouldn’t be thought of as a replacement for theatre though, but as it’s own thing.
How will your performance deal with its main topic, what is your role in it, or the audience’s, or of the song?
The piece is an essay, an examination of the idea of forgetting as a productive practice, and what we can maybe learn from the collective forgetting of the song that the piece centers on. It happens completely on my desktop, which I share with the audience. So for the viewer (who has my desktop on fullscreen), it’s almost as if something is happening on your own computer. Based on this setup, I circle around a single digital audio file that contains a recording of the song, and take apart all the implications that come with this one, very small piece of memory.