Barbara Ellenberger | ResidencySouth Africa | Multi-Disciplinary
August - December 2022 — Multi-Disciplinary
Swiss theatre professional Barbara Ellenberger has begun her residency at the home of the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC) at the Ebhudlweni Arts Centre in rural Mpumalanga, South Africa. Working closely with managing and artistic director PJ Sabbagha from August to December 2022, they will be exploring the impact of climate change on artistic practice.
“We are united by the desire that art and the art business radically question their own self-image,” Barbara explains. “With heart, mind and strength, we want to contribute to harnessing the rich resources and potentials for urgently needed radical societal change as a source of inspiration, knowledge, encouragement and concrete possibilities for action.”
The residence began germinating in 2019 and sharpened into its current focus through the work Barbara was doing with her initiative KlimaKontor Basel, which brings the climate catastrophe as a theme and dimension into art, with the aim that art supports the urgently needed change to prevent the extinction of life on earth. Barbara has since handed over the organisation to a team of young artists/activists – who now run it as KlimaKontor Switzerland – but continues to contribute her knowledge, network and individual projects.
The research residency revolves around the question: How can art and the art business become “climate-positive”? And will explore theoretically and practically change that can be implement directly. The main period of joint research will include various debates, reading groups, workshops, and formal and informal discussions. Significantly, it will also initiate opportunities to test new practices in all the different areas they identified as particularly influential.
In keeping with her commitment to reducing CO2 emissions, Barbara travelled to South Africa via cargo ship, using the month-long voyage as a retreat to read and write and develop a dossier of inspiring philosophical texts, best practises examples, scientific knowledge etc. as resource for the joint research work during the residency.
EXCERPT FROM RESEARCH STATEMENT
Our “western” societies and economic system are based on a technocratic ideology and a mechanistic world view. Both led to the separation of spirit and matter and to the idea that what we call nature is divisible, consumable and in fact lifeless. This deep separation, even within ourselves, into body and mind and the progressive denial of inner life are the preconditions for a growth-oriented economic system within finite planetary boundaries that threatens to destroy everything alive and thus our livelihoods.
Indigenous peoples know it, but life sciences and modern physics also make it clear that we live instead in a world where there is a deep, fundamental interconnectedness. Making this deep interconnectedness of all living beings visible and tangible and cultivating the rich inner life of all living beings are therefore a key and one of the great challenges for any change.
If we want to change the practices and structures in which we live and work today, we need a radically new understanding of the diverse and multi-layered interconnections of life.
This is where art plays a crucial role. But even more radically and profoundly – on the basis of this new (forgotten) worldview – we want to search for a new understanding of art itself, especially the forms of how art is produced and what is produced when we make “art”. This is not because we are bored with our practice, but rather because we have a very clear sense and vague understanding that the questions raised by the current life-threatening crises cannot be answered within the routines and structures we know.
One approach – which we are both already experimenting with – is to create space for intersectional, intercultural, interdisciplinary co-creation in which all partners are challenged to leave their own routines in favour of a new shared “queer” practice. It turns out that we both already work together with projects in the agricultural sector. PJ has said: “In today’s situation, if I had the choice as an artist to either make art as before or to grow vegetables, I would choose to grow vegetables – with the aim of cultivating humus/humans.”
The agricultural sector is one that holds some of the biggest levers when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases and stopping mass extinction. It is also a sector with common roots. The Latin word “colere”, which means to care for, maintain, populate, inhabit, cultivate, foster growth, is also the etymological root of culture. The greatest potential lies in bringing the two fields together to create an interdisciplinary field with as yet unknown, even blurry questions and new tasks yet to be defined, hopefully full of unexpected possibilities for new co-practices to preserve the only basis of life we have, the biosphere, which provides everything necessary for life. Based on a holistic worldview, we will inevitably also address issues of (global) justice, gender, racism, social issues, the finite nature of resources, the preservation of the atmosphere and much more.
Certainly, we will also move into the field of activism. The conversion of industrial agriculture to life-sustaining production will not be possible without political struggle. Here, too, art can make a decisive contribution. Perhaps in the development of a culture of “artistic destruction” and “peaceful sabotage” in response to the life-destroying activities of the dominant politics and economy. And secondly, by building alternative worlds and creating a safe space in which to recover from struggle and to cultivate and practice new practices of living together. Creating spaces where, in the face of the increasing destruction of the planet, panic and despair do not prevail, but where tender interaction is possible. Inner adaptation to the changing circumstances. Reflecting on one’s own position and attitude and thus being part of the solution.
This may sound vague, but as Hans-Peter Dürr, quantum physicist and winner of the alternative Nobel Prize, pointed out, creativity begins when we leave knowledge and security behind. All of us involved in this process are very experienced and seasoned professionals who could always return to what we have known before. But now – in the face of climate catastrophe and mass extinction – we dare and want to abandon what we knew: “We are on the wrong track (Holzweg). Lost, helpless and paralysed, we stand in the forest. In nature, in the biosphere, our basis of life. We can no longer find our way. This is exactly where the opportunity lies. Now we can reorient ourselves. For this, we need art. Because art can do what we ourselves are so bad at: question our existing habits, confuse them, rearrange them, break them creatively, playfully inspire alternative ways of living and awaken the desire to redesign.” (KlimaKontor, 2019)
Barbara Ellenberger (*1964 Zurich) lives and works in Basel. She studied theatre directing at the Schauspiel Akademie Zurich (now ZHdK). Barbara worked as chief dramaturge and managing theatre director at the Stadttheater Hildesheim, as managing artistic director of the TAK Theater Liechtenstein and Miller’s Theater Zurich, as a board member of artsasfoundation – Swiss Foundation for Art in Conflict Regions and as a member of the board of Kosmos Kultur AG in Zurich. She has trained in leadership, coaching and mentoring. She is the founder and was the managing artistic director of the KlimaKontor Basel (now KlimaKontor Schweiz) project. As a lecturer at the FHNW, she passes on her knowledge about designing spaces for co-creativity. From July 2022 to August 2023 she will complete two artistic residencies, including the Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative (FATC) in South Africa and from February 2023 in London (supported by Landis&Gyr). Working with artists on the ground, with agriscientists, locals and activists, she is researching the intersection of art and climate activism and developing artistic practices that will hopefully contribute to the transformation of our destructive economy into a “response-able” coexistence for all living beings. For the last three years, she has been part of the climate justice movement in Basel, which will put an initiative to the vote this autumn demanding that Basel’s greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to net zero by 2030.