«Staging Gaia». A conversation with Bruno Latour and Frédérique Ait-Touati about climate change, theatre and Brechts «Life of Galileo», Mai 2020 


TO: Thomas Oberender

BL: Bruno Latour

FA: Frédérique Ait-Touati 


»Où atterrir?” / »Where can we land?” is the literal translation of Bruno Latour’s major essay of climate change whose English title is ‘Down to Earth’. Inspired by this book (published in German as ‘Das terrestrische Manifest’) the Berliner Festspiele / Immersion present a summer project over four weeks to take place in the Gropius Bau from 13 August to 13 September. To mark the occasion Thomas Oberender (Artistic Director of the Immersion programme) speaks to the sociologist and philosopher of science Bruno Latour and the historian of science and theatre director Frédérique Aït-Touati about the current change of world view, James Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis, their love of the theatre and interest in Bertolt Brecht’s play ‘Life of Galileo’. Unlike any other contemporary philosopher, Latour has turned to the theatre and uses it, as he himself says as an older and more flexible medium – compared to philosophy – in order to explore the bandwidth of passions relating to current political topics. Latour has done a great deal of work on the theatricality of proof in the sciences, so it seemed appropriate to him to look at the reciprocal process and use theatrical methods to turn political ecology into a public experiment. The conversation was held as a Zoom conference, with the laptop camera showing Latour next to Aït-Touati in his work room, whose open door revealed a garden in sunshine. It was here that Latour, together with Aït-Touati and his daughter Chloé, developed the play ‘Cosmocolosse’ and the project ‘Gaia Global Circus’ ten years ago. Since then they have collaborated on several theatre projects.


BL: Can you just frame very basically what the context is, Thomas?

TO: Bruno, ‘Down to Earth’ is also a »little organum” for us in the Brechtian sense - a practical tool, a guide for changing behaviour. This comes very close to our intentions with the project we are preparing. Instead of making another exhibition with artistic positions on climate change, we want to reveal and partially change the operating system of exhibition making. No flights, transparency regarding the resources consumed, exclusively analogue works, public expert discussions, live music, openness, presence, hospitality – all these gestures create a different form of encounter. It is about a temporary caesura, but also a different quality of presence and analogue encounter. Your and Frédérique’s fascination with theatre has a practical interest – it is about the change in world view that we have to shape. In your book you keep speaking in theatre metaphors and you handle it as a rather contemporary system. You write: »Today, everyone: decor, sets, backstage, the whole building, has climbed onto the stage boards and denies the actors the leading roles.” It’s no longer just human beings, but the things of the theatre, for example, and everything that embraces and embeds them, that act. This is reminiscent of the »systemic” view of James Lovelock, and a change of world view that is as fundamental as the one Galileo brought about. Both of you have repeatedly turned this analogy into theatre on stage in recent years. And in exhibitions. What other philosopher does that? Which director? So it would be wonderful if we talk a bit about Brecht and theatre. Especially because I was surprised how modern the theatre form you have developed for it is. In your production ‘Moving Earths’, you use an American film adaptation of Brecht’s ‘Life of Galileo’ from 1975, a touchingly traditional costume film, which is basically the complete opposite of your own form of theatre. 

BL: (laughs)

FA: You’re right! Bruno is very fond of this film… at first I didn’t want to use it, precisely because it is so different from the kind of theatre I make. But finally I have found a way to integrate it into the play as one of the materials used by Bruno to make his argument. And it is indeed exactly the role this film had in the process of developing the project. Of course, using this film creates a tension: we take a fiction as paradoxial »evidence” for the demonstration.