MONUMENT 0.5: The Valeska Gert Monument (2017)

MONUMENT 0.5: The Valeska Gert Monument operates through a collection of performative acts related to the life and work of German artist Valeska Gert. She was an avant-garde figure turning her back to modern dance already at the beginning of its rising. In the early 1920’ies, she developed a performance practice by combining theater, dance, cinema, poetry, and singing, a mixture of expression familiar to Berlin’s cabaret scene of that time. She created a radical performing art by experimenting with gender, race, national identity, and aesthetics, instead of lurking for artistic hegemony in complacency with Nazi Germany.

Despite her artistic fearlessness, provocative and anarchic performing intensity the importance of Valeska Gert’s role in art, dance, and performance history has been for a long time disregarded. Her love for the burlesque and the grotesque, her preference for the marginal, and for creating new representations of the body against bourgeois aesthetics made her one of the greatest artists of her time.

To defeat the blind spots of historical consciousness, this work not only conjures amnesia. Powered by the desire to trigger and intensify relations between the past and our current times, it invites spectators to encounter a historicity different from canonical art history. This entails reactivating certain energies from the past in the present and leading the spectators through an empirical-archival venture.

In The Valeska Gert Monument autobiography replaces art historical discourse while imagination fills the gaps created by the absence or lack of historical documents. The labor of imagination excavates an archeological site that re-hallucinates the untraceable, thus giving rise to a practice of speculative history-making and an emergence of a new territory of intimacy and meaning.

MONUMENT 0.5 : The Valeska Gert Monument relates to the following works and texts by Valeska Gert:
Versammlung (1931), Clown (1922), Das Baby (1920’s), Modedame (1917), Pause (1920), Japanische Groteske (1917), Humoreske (1916), Variété (1920), Kupplerin (1920), Canaille (1919), Chansonette (1926), Laster (1920), Zirkus (1920’s), Zauberer (1931), Komödie (1927), Tragödie (1929), Koloratursängerin (1928), Zärtlicher Walzer (1924), Erzengel (1927), Salome (1921), Orgasm (1922), Jubile (1951), Grüsse aus dem Mumienkeller (1926), Ich bin eine Hexe. Kaleidoskop meines Lebens (1968), Kino (1921), Schlummerlied (1950’s)

Concept and artistic direction Eszter Salamon Artistic collaboration Boglàrka Börcsök Choreography and text Valeska Gert, Eszter Salamon, Boglàrka Börcsök Performance Boglàrka Börcsök, Eszter Salamon Light design Sylvie Garot Scenography Sylvie Garot and Eszter Salamon Sound design Bart Aga, Marius Kirch Technical direction Matteo Bambi Costume design Anne-Catherine Kunz
 Tailor Marie Eva Rodriguez, Gisèle Charles Set construction Atelier de Nanterre-Amandiers Production Botschaft GbR, Alexandra Wellensiek, Studio E.S, Elodie Perrin Co-production Kaaitheater, PACT Zollverein, City of Women,
 Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers, Fund for Dance Support Fondation Boghossian - Villa Empain, Museum der Moderne Salzburg, DRAC - Regional Agency of Cultural Affairs in Paris, The French Ministry of Culture and Communication, the NATIONALES PERFORMANCE NETZ, Fonds Transfabrik – Franco-German fund for the performing arts Thanks to Stefanie Lingener, Herman Sorgeloos, Liza Baliasnaja, Mario Barrantes Espinoza, Nestor Garcia Diaz, Marie Messien, Robin Diehl

On the Monuments series and The Valeska Gert Monument
by Eszter Salamon

Today, I think of choreography as a structure that I use to create links between places, people, histories, artistic practices, and memories. These operations offer new critical and poetic opportunities away from the historically dominant practice of separation, which has been produced by abstracting relations between causes and effects and structures of power. I use fiction, editing and poetic condensation to enhance participation through imagination, both in theater and museum contexts.

With the Monuments series, started in 2014, I engage in speculative history writing without the promise of teleology. These monuments are embodied, performative and temporal. I conceive them as processes of emancipation from positivist conceptions of history and against amnesia. They are thought of as anti-monuments, always numbered below the threshold of 1. They are occasions for resisting oblivion and exclusion with the potential to transform and repair as they invest in the act of creating memory: their very capacity to build narratives through performative archives of poetic documents. When celebrating forgotten artists, aging bodies, rhythms and gestures of oppressed cultures, these monuments compose with fragments and transform traces into new meanings without fixing them as relics.

Valeska Gert was an avant-garde artistic figure. From the early 1920s on, she developed a performance practice combining theater, dance, cinema, poetry and singing, a mixture of expressions familiar to Berlin’s cabaret scene of that time. Gert created radical performance art by experimenting with gender, race, national identity and aesthetics. Despite her artistic fearlessness, provocativeness and anarchic intensity of performance, the importance of Valeska Gert’s role in art and dance history has been disregarded for a long time.

The Valeska Gert Monument proposes that if the past cannot be remembered, then it can still be invented. This temporal monument mainly focuses on works that haven’t been documented, constituting the largest body of work by an artist who almost entirely faded into oblivion. What does it mean to speculate about the life and work of a non-living artist? How can the untraceable be envisioned? What happens if artworks are re-imagined based on a single photograph, poem or title and the belief in historical truth is suspended?

The Valeska Gert Monument draws dynamic tensions between the notions of memory, archive and history and become tools for animating historical (utopian) consciousness through exercising critical, ethical, and poetic empathy. Rather than displaying documents,the monument performs imagination and takes autobiography and fiction as the main fields of investigation. Through extending thoughts, utterances and gestures next to historical associations and echoing expressions, the monument unfolds a trans-subjective space of multiple (physical, textual, vocal, poetic) dimensions.

What kind of value can be given to a fictional archive? How can fiction affect our relationship towards knowledge and its production? What meaning can be constructed if we acknowledge the fact that our relationship to history has a history? Composing with the past from the perspective of the present is different from imagining the past as it could have happened. Beyond fascination and mimesis the desire is to problematize failed historical consciousness and invent new relationships towards the past in order to shape the future (of art and artistic practice). Thus, performativity, as it is used in The Valeska Gert Monument, has more to do with ideas of embodiment and empathy than with reenactment. 

What remains in the fish net of History? There were and still are reasons why Gert’s role hasn’t gained more relevance in art history. She was a solo artist, never founded a school, didn’t create a style, didn’t established a dance company. Asking what we learn and how we learn, as well as what we remember and how we remember is crucial for developing nonnormative, critical relationships towards the production of knowledge and art. Remembering and archiving is not only for learning about the past. Archives shape our imagination and consequently our future.