00:00 03:50,342

Myriam Van Imschoot, Ludovic Burel and Thomas Lehmen are going through the archive.

00:04:02,912 06:38,269

Lehmen speaks about the first version of Schreibstück. After working by himself, he tested his ideas in collaboration with Marc Rees. Lehmen describes the soloversion that Rees made (actually it is a duet for Thomas and himself).

06:38,269 08:11,891

The first time Lehmen uses a score is in the solo Distanzlos (2000). A list of never realized ideas on sheets of papers functions like a sort of score.

08:11,891 12:58,331

The interview jumps to a comment on the scores being looked at that very moment. During the preparations of Schreibstück Lehmen explores ideas that later will be used for the piece Funktionen and allows the participants to actively make changes (something which was not desired yet for Schreibstück). Lehmen speaks about freedom and explains his terminology, distinguishing operations from improvisation.

12:58,331 13:48,807

Sound of going through the scores.

13:48,807 18:17,603

Schreibstück is divided into three chapters. On stage they are represented by three different groups, which interact in a canon-structure. The aim of the score is to reveal how people behave, how they find different solutions for similar problems and what the nature of doing things is.

18:17,603 24:14,448

Lehmen speaks about his favourite versions of Schreibstück at the time, like the one by the Dutch choreographer Klaus Jürgens and the English choreographer Pete Shenton.

24:14,448 30:27,451

The role of the producers is discussed. Some more versions are discussed from the point of view of the role of producer.

30:27,451 36:12,222

Myriam Van Imschoot inquires if Lehmen consciously works within a compositional tradition. For example, why does he work with a canon-structure. Is the stopwatch that is included in the box (that contains amongst others the score, and other tools) for the interpreters of Schreibstück related to John Cage’s metric time approach? Lehmen in specific speaks about the role of chance in his work, and distinguishes it with the aleatory aesthetics of Cage. There’s also a very different way of problematizing authorship than was necessary at the time of Cage, Lehmen believes.

36:12,222 41:10,922

Thomas Lehmen goes back to what he said earlier in the interview, i.e. that he is interested in staging different realities.

41:10,922 43:19,099

Myriam Van Imschoot remarks that Schreibstück does not so much reveal the difference in performance registers but in choreographic approaches. In addition, the success of Schreibstück may also be explained by the crucial role given to the producer. Especially a new type of producer enjoys larger curatorial influence and a creative part in the choice making of production parameters.

43:19,099 49:50,306

Lehmen explains the exigencies requires the producer to alter habits of producing and communicate more between partners and artists. In the last three Belgian versions this became problematic.

49:50,306 53:49,567

More comments on the artistic choices in the Belgian version (Hooman Sharifi, Jonathan Burrows, Christine De Smedt/Marten Spangberg/Mette Edvardsen). Lehmen criticizes the loose interpretation of the score.

53:49,567 54:54,210

Van Imschoot refers to the panel discussion that the choreographers of the Belgian version of Schreibstück had in Kaaitheater in 2004.

54:54,210 58:55,699

Lehmen explains his problems with the Belgian version some more.

58:55,699 01:00:19,661

The absence of Lehmen - he could not be present in the panel discussion after the Belgian version, and only saw one show - underscores the sort of phantasmatic spectral kind of authorship of Schreibstück.

01:00:19,661 01:02:55,329

Speaking about aesthetics, Thomas Lehmen says: “Schreibstück is a certain aesthetic, but at least it is an aesthetic where questions are possible.”

01:02:54,956 01:04:47,155

One influence of working with cards as a score was the football manager Ewald Lienen.

01:04:47,155 01:08:46,970

Lehmen explains the first version of Funktionen. He browses through several documents that are related to this performance.

01:08:46,970 01:10:48,273

Lehmen explains the green cards in the Funktionen box, which contain a summary of ideas from the system theory of Niklas Luhmann.

01:10:48,457 01:12:05,176

Lehmen likes to work with themes as a common denominator. One theme is ‘what do people have in common?’

01:12:09,048 01:16:24

Thomas Lehmen speaks about his interest in sociology. Through his travels and experiences of cultural difference, became interested in the question: “What do people have in common? Lehmen made a piece in England (Clever, 2001) addressing the common, using seven basic actions, like eating, fucking, shitting, etc. Another thing that humans have in common is ‘social systems’, like family, love, politics, science, art. Luhmann also explored these systems.

01:16:24 01:20:33

Funktionen is compared to Schreibstuck. In Schreibstuck the choreographers get a score from the “author” Lehmen and they have to be in discussion with it, and relate to that structure. The figure of the author does not come up in Funktionen, which is more a tool to create pieces.

01:20:33 01:23:46

The political repercussions are discussed of scores, forms of democracy in choice making. Lehmen think it’s “all bullshit”, given a whole tradition of democracy, to make theater where performers are “dictated”.

01:23:46 01:29:59

Improvisation is discussed. Lehmen tries to go beyond a method of improvisation. All good improvisors have developed it to the point that they can steer it, navigate it. Niklas Luhmann would say that they have a strong capacity of second order observation. It goes further than the sensing level. “On top of that I am asking what could be tools and systems that make it more clear and accesible. How can you objectify the parameters?” In the Funktionen box, several cards are left blank. “The blank cards are an invitation to come up with your own system.”

01:29:59 01:32:12

How many systems has Lehmen created until now? Usually people are first dazzled by the complexities. At the end of the interview, Myriam Van Imschoot suggests to Ludovic Burel to end the publication of scores in Multitudes with a blank.


00:00 03:50,342

06:38,269 07:00

Distanzlos (2000)
Photo: Thomas Aurin


Distanzlos (2000)
Photo: Thomas Aurin

07:30 08:11

Distanzlos (2000)
Photo: Thomas Aurin

13:48,807 18:17,603

Schreibstück (2002)
Photo: Katrin Schoof

Schreibstück (2002)
Photo: Katrin Schoof

01:04:47,155 01:08:46,970

Funktionen (2004) Photo: Katrin Schoof

01:08:46,970 01:10:48,273

Funktionen (2004) Photo: Katrin Schoof

Contribution of Thomas Lehmen


Thomas Lehmen on “Funktionen Toolbox”

Please try to read with hearing my voice speaking it. If you never heard me, please use this oral website or call me for the live experience of it.

It’s quite a few years ago when Myriam Van Imschoot did this interview with me. Still, to my mind everything seems right. The big misunderstanding is of course rooted in the use of language: systems are often associated with a rigid political or technical system, which is complete nonsense as the belief in rigidity itself is nonsense. But every system, whether it is a political, a biological, a mechanical, has a drive to communicate and exchange with other systems. It has the need to create and use “language” in a broad sense, it differs from other systems in being able to create sense, and amongst a few other aspects which are cool about systems, it functions with the stability and instability of its constitutive factors. We also could call it a monad, or a thing, or choreography. But isn’t the choreography predestined to give insight in our abilities of communication, of creation? It is done by human beings, with human beings and for human beings, so lets call it a human responsibility. What is a human? I am sorry to ask stupid questions. While I am in Japan I saw a performance with an android. “She” was having a “conversation” with a human actor. Not uninteresting, but it’s not a big art to fix a conversation in a computer and with certain trigger words the computer gives certain answers or random poetic wisdom. Depending on the text it seems open, but it’s limited by the text that is given in by the “creator” of that android. The main topic was unfortunately not discussed in the after show talk: the android is exactly missing the values which makes a human being a human being. It’s able to make sense with you reciprocally. That means that people understand each other. Even if they misunderstand each other there is an understanding about it, and reciprocally both are influenced. The understanding of even a stone you find on the sidewalk is not limited in its capacity of information and so called elements. Its understanding is unlimited because of its analogue nature. We can “talk” with it and it can happen in various forms - try, you might find interesting results.

An android and a computer “pretend” to understand, but its one sided, it only can understand what is put in, and even there I doubt that this is understanding. That’s also a reason why “Funktionen Toolbox” is no online system but an old fashioned cardboard box with cardboard cards inside. Unspectacular. But everybody uses it different, and not only in the limited manner the computer program offers. That would be like one choreographer is giving the system and others have to execute that. But “Funktionen Toolbox” is made to think choreographically in emergent results. So what is a human being? It can communicate, create and decide, and it can take responsibility. Here is the point. To make “Funktionen” working, people need to communicate with each other, which is already difficult, but it’s needed to do that transparently. And - this is even more difficult for most, not hiding behind a system, but taking responsibility for what happens not only without limiting the possibilities of the others, but even working with each other and being influenced in our ideas what to do, because if I take the others for full human beings in this sense here, they for sure will change my initiative, because everybody is creative even when observing. The function of observation is maybe a very good example, because it tests the ability to give space for a supposed passive action. Nonsense.

Next to listening, observation is the finest and most creative action human beings can do. One has to do it in order to do it. So let’s give space for interaction with observation in a creative process.

It all sound quite normal. We might think that we have it and do it everyday. Try in a rehearsal, or even on stage. Its just trying what we think we are able to do as open, modern, European, global, knowing, communicative, correct, light smoking, and bio food eating humans. Very soon the limitations come up. People have different strategies to behave at this point of facing own limitations. One for example is daw back, give others the lead, or another is of cause to try to control others and the happening. In between those is the uncertain range in which creativity is happening. It needs some courage to be lost while being there.

Also not easy for an audience to see that nothing is fixed and all is in communicative flow. Though all seem to want this rather then the rigid if you ask about which systems they would prefer in the world. Even more difficult for curators, because the spectacle is missing, and it cannot pretend that the spectacle would be the somehow to satisfy the needs of conventions. I often think, in fact this is much more like the world probably is. Or even, this is the world, because it’s created right there. We have to see it completely different. Without our need to fix something down in order to be able to control it, or better said to control ourselves. We do dance and choreography, but the idea about it may not be in motion? Why this limitation of our mind of understanding?

Quite some projects are done with this “System” by now. What I like about them is, that they all look completely different. In the best cases “Funktionen Toolbox” is not traceable at all. It’s not created to re-establish the one creative idea of the creator of this system. It’s indeed an auto-poetic system. Because we make art, with creative humans, don’t we?

To be continued…


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01:23:46 01:29:59