ScriptedReality: Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten

For Implantieren festival, the theater collective ScriptedReality had invited into saasfee*pavillon, an exhibition and event space in the center of Frankfurt. The large glass walls of the building open the view upon a small park that is connected to the green belt following the former city walls. Being in the building and looking outside, it feels like being on top of the old city defensive system, but the building itself is of course very chic and modern. It is a fitting place for what ScriptedReality want to tell us, and it actually is a lot of telling, as their piece Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten takes the form of a long multimedia presentation.

ScriptedReality’s Tilman Aumüller explaining the stack (Photo: Christian Schuller)

“Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten” means “Entering the city with the tongue”. ScriptedReality, i.e. Ruth Schmidt, Tilman Aumüller, and Arne Salasse, refer to an idea they found in McKenzie Wark’s book about video games[1], where she talks about places, and the past. The chapter is called “America”, and McKenzie Wark asks: “Of what use is the past to a gamer?”[2] She comes back to a note by Jacques Derrida on the notion of the Greek words topos, and the idea of the topic that comes with it. “Here,” Wark explains with a hint at the Greek notion and at Derrida’s reading she taps into, “a topic is a place both on the ground and within language.”[3] Wark tries to talk about this topology as if it were an adventure game map that we have to explore: “All around the topic it is dark”, she says, “unknown, unmapped, without stories. Move around a bit and you bump into other tribes, other settlements. Via them you learn of still others. The topics start to connect. A map forms.”[4] And thus, in Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten, we are also confronted with a map that is projected on a large black wall in saasfee*pavillon (we are only a group of 12 in the audience, due to Covid-19 regulations, and we have the glass walls in our backs and to the left hand and the right hand sides). The map looks twisted, and folded upon itself, by 3D manipulation. Tilman Aumüller sits at a desk and controls what’s to be seen on the screen. In a video chat window, we see Ruth Schmidt. Both of them tell us about their interest for topics, they tell us about McKenzie Wark, and they describe the map on the screen. (The show is in German language, so maybe sometimes I am not very good in trying to find a good translation for everything.) The map, for them, is a stack. It is a stack precisely because it will be necessary to stack and overlap places in our cartography in order to depict the different places that we are in at the same time when we are somewhere. Maybe we are at home physically, but we could be in Paris on our electronic devices, and in Taipei in our thoughts.

Ruth Schmidt (on the screen), Tilman Aumüller (behind the desk) in saasfee*pavillon (Photo: Christian Schuller)

ScriptedReality will guide us through this stack in different movements, or walks. As Schmidt explains, for them as theater makers it was important to go about in a quality that is called trödeln in German, which would be “dawdling”, or “dallying”, in English. We are invited to come along and to follow this digital dawdling. The whole presentation takes us by the hand, but it gets more and more difficult to follow the different paths, that are, in this topological logic, at the same time thinking threads and city walks. Frankfurt itself is treated as a place of spatial complexity, with its newly built Old City Centre (“Neue Altstadt”), and its status as a center of stock market trading. Aumüller guides these tours in a meandering monologue, illustrated by a lot of pictures, videos and graphics. We venture in and out of Westworld (and Westworld); we take a long bike trip from the Eastern outskirts of the city to the Western outskirts of the city, up and down and up again; into crazy theories; into little details; and at times, there’s no sense of orientation any more. Darkness has fallen behind the glass walls, and the performance space in saasfee*pavillon is only scarcely lit.

One story within this stack of stories goes like this: What if old buildings which have been destroyed are not really lost but can be reconstructed by some obscure methods that may or may not be connected to renaissance thinking, and may or may not have been used by the architects of Frankfurt’s Neue Altstadt? This argumentation thread ends in a hypnotizing, long video sequence: The video shows us footage of different buildings being destroyed, but the clips are played in reverse, so one after the other, we witness the resurrection of lost architecture.

A look at the stack on ScriptedReality’s website “Psychoarchitekturen”

But we also meet a lot of magpies on the way (and witness the performers collecting objects for them). We visit (and revisit) a 3D model in a publicity video for Frankfurt’s Neue Altstadt. We also are reminded of climate change and of the current global health crisis. We go to Siberia. We go to the UK. And in the end, the roads always lead us back to the place where we are.

The performance ends by saying that there will be more walks, more dawdling, and more expedition trips to come. The stack will be explored further. (Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten is only the second chapter of a bigger project called Psychoarchitekturen.) The audience is given digital access to the stack’s model—here—, and it’s fascinating to zoom in and out of this futuristic map which lets us see Frankfurt as a base camp for ScriptedReality to explore new paths, and threads, and lines of thought which connect different places, topics, and problems. All of this has been presented loosely and leisurely in Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten, as it relies heavily on the audience’s imagination and on our losing (and regaining) orientation. Yet, the audience—contrary to many of the other proposals in the frame of this year’s Implantieren—does not participate directly during the show, does not speak, does not walk. Yet it is upon us to step into the streets of Frankfurt (betreten) again, afterwards, and to put into words what we have experienced and what we have seen, and therefore use our tongue (Zunge) to revisit the different topoi, and to talk about them with others.

ScriptedReality’s Die Stadt mit der Zunge betreten is an excellent companion piece to Philip Albus’s and Ana Berkenhoff’s Space Machine Nr. 1 in that the thinking and imagining of spatiality and topicality is challenged by the depiction of overlapping, intertwined, stacked, complex places and locations. The whole program of the 2020’s edition of Implantieren can be looked up here.

[1] Cf. McKenzie Wark, Gamer Theory, Cambridge and London, 2007. The book has no pagination, but is is organized in numbered paragraphs.

[2] Wark, Gamer Theory, §51.

[3] Wark, Gamer Theory, §52. The author refers to Derrida’s book Disseminations here.

[4] Wark, Gamer Theory, §52.

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