Transidency: “It started when…

28.3.2010 Kevin Kennedy

Transidency: “It started when…” at 100° Festival, Sophiensäle, Berlin

Two men sit in the Kitchen of Sophiensäle and talk. At first glance, nothing appears unusual about the scene, however when one carefully listens, it emerges that neither man can finish his sentences. Instead, one breaks into giggles or trails off in silence, while the other stops mid sentence and sighs deeply. It becomes clear that the dialogue is, in fact, two separated monologues; and in the background, a flickering television increasingly gains an importance…

Performance art, drama, sculpture: pan-European artist collective Transidency’s latest offering “It started when…” combines all three to produce a bewildering and mesmerizing scene of fractured communication and everyday absurdity. Set in an old apartment in Berlin’s Sophiensäle, the viewer enters a kitchen in which two men are engaged in what simultaneously seems to be a banal but also a highly intimate conversation, whose purpose or topic is not immediately intelligible.

Es began alles..

In the background a television screen shows a variety of bizarre but captivating images such as explosions at sea or a game of scissors paper stone set in ancient Greece, with no apparent connection to the men’s dialogue. The men talk about the weather, chance, artistic failure, newspapers, longing, etc. Nothing of what they say, however, seems to have any consequence; there is neither change nor development in their interaction. The initial atmosphere is thus one of timelessness and existential absurdity, reminding one of Sartre’s Huis Clos or of Beckett’s plays, in general.

As there is no formal barrier between the spectators and the performers, the audience becomes part of the performance, wandering around the apartment, looking for meaning in some of the objects and the furniture of the apartment. Their initial response is one of irritation and uneasy amusement, triggered by the apparent senselessness of the scenario. Yet, all of sudden it becomes clear that there are actually some leitmotifs running through the men’s dialogue. The longer one listens the more fragments of sense one is able to gather.

The dialogue in fact consists of two monologues, each with its specific themes and concerns. While one of the men talks exclusively in the present tense about banal topics such as the weather, his dental health and the latest newspaper headlines, the other reflects on more profound issues such as his past relationships, abandoned dreams and the desire to produce meaningful art, all of which are expressed in the past tense. In addition at first non-specific correspondence between the images on television and the monologues gradually emerges, which soon, however, becomes a fully developed interplay between image and word, in which every sentence uttered by the men has its counterpart on screen.

The artists thereby skillfully manage to turn a well-arranged scene of confusion into a tightly structured metaphor for the clash between the everyday and the absurd, the past and the present, the emotional and the existential, in which sense and meaning are continually produced, withdrawn and playfully dismantled. If one brings along the necessary patience (the work yields nothing at a first glance) its unique combination of discourse, image and setting proves to be mesmerizing, thought provoking and thus highly enjoyable.

The dialogue was presented on 4.3.2010

See Sophiensäle