«More is more»

An alien invasion that brings new life. About the impossible theatre of Vinge /Müller

By Thomas Oberender

Vegard Vinge’s and Ida Müller’s performances of Ibsen’s works resemble a slow motion of understanding. Instead of producing a line version of compact duration, their productions unfold the text in a marathon. Behind each evening of her series of performances of an Ibsen play lie many hours of further scenes, other sets, costumes, films and songs, all rehearsed and prepared within a work that is umpteen times longer in total, of which the audience sees differently composed excerpts each evening. Their theatre translates the text into a total work of art, which as installation, performance, film, drawing and sculpture develops a poetic world that is hermetic in its language, but also porous to the mood in the hall and in the team.

Vinge / Müller’s meditations on Ibsen’s works pay attention to the smallest asides in his dialogues. Individual sentences and words in the play are treated by the artists like lines from a poem, repeated again and again in the performance until they speak for themselves. Every step of the characters on stage, every opening of a door is set to live music and the text does not sound from the characters’ mouths but is played as a pre-produced sample. The extreme artificiality of this theatrical world surprisingly creates an encounter with something very real, because what is seen on stage is what it is and has the solid presence of concrete things, bodies, singing, piss, a digger, horse or wood.

Ibsen showed the people on stage with a new realism. The utmost artificiality, his plays show, is on the theatre that which looks like everyday life itself. We still forget this artificiality today when we watch a film. This realism of everyday-looking language and socially familiar situations was Ibsen’s way of creating something like reality on stage. Vinge / Müller succeed in doing this in a completely different way. They show the «made» of this world, not in the sense of Brecht, but rather in the sense of an exhibition of pictorial objects that are artificial per se and imitate nothing, but are reminiscent of many things. It is their way of dealing with the as-if of theatre.

Ibsen was a scandalous author. Each of his plays, which seem photographically direct, is based on the confrontation of the characters and the audience with a shock which, as in Jon Fosse’s plays today, is usually revealed in the pauses between words and sentences. His plays are apparatuses of inevitability that bring to light the violent structures within bourgeois society and show that culture is constantly remaking itself through them. Ibsen showed the presence of a violence that dresses itself in the shape and narratives of the good, the absolute, the beautiful, the truth or success and leads individuals to extreme decisions. Ibsen, the founding author, also sees that this violence is supra-individual, deeply connected to the order of capital, law and gender relations. This subterranean order is given representative faces in the characters of his dramas. His plays are not critical of capitalism in the contemporary sense, but attentive to every form of violence on which culture is based. Supposedly, it is always on the side of humanism, but Ibsen saw it differently.

Culture and art are part of a game through which a society forms a community by creating a consensus about what does not belong to it. Much of our culture is, as the artist and theorist Peter Weibel once called it, a «salon culture» that spares us from looking into the violent processes inside our own culture. The lids of my eyes are usually too closed for this experience. It takes the plays of Ibsen, Jon Fosse or the performances of Vinge / Müller.

Seen through their eyes, the family relationships of the individual plays suddenly reveal a deeper network of types, motifs and conflict mechanisms running through the various plays. Their performances combine these patterns with found images from art history, cinema, the songs of opera and pop music. The artists take Ibsen’s dramas completely at their word and transform them into a kind of platform in their productions. They insert countless «inserts» into the score of the text, take up motifs from the text such as «betrayal of love» or the «sacrifice of one’s own child» and make them sound as opera arias alongside the words or appear in a live film.

It is a theatre of association, association in the sense of a deliberate combination and linking of different artistic forms of expression, in which a concrete observation and sensation, as noted in Ibsen’s text, is combined, commented on, refracted with the power of song, image or film in other works. Contrary to the tendency of aesthetic modernism for less to be more, Vinge / Müller’s theatre of association opens up this rational, sober tradition for a carefully calculated explosion of the sensual on many levels of language, in which more is then actually more.