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In the vortex of the crisis
by Anja Kleinmiechel
With a multimedia cantata Kristjan Järvi brings politics to the MDR concert stage.
“Regular Crisis,” crisis as a normal state of affairs, is the title of the MDR music festival curated and directed by chief conductor Kristjan Järvi in October, which alongside symphonic classics also brought Steve Reich, Bryce Dessner and Frank Zappa to the stage.
The festival also saw experimentation with other artistic formats. Indeed, the theme “Regular Crisis” is borrowed from a video work of the same name by the artist Marina Landia. The video material stems from interviews with executives from the world of industry and finance on issues of the financial crisis.
Interviewees include José Ángel Gurría, Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Daimler Supervisory Board Chairman Manfred Bischoff, and media tycoon Steve Forbes. The artfully arranged confrontation of what are in part contrary positions creates tensions, which in symbiosis with live music generate amazing effects. The soundtrack is a compilation of works by Louis Andriessen, Bryce Dessner and Jonny Greenwood, as well as Kristjan Järvi himself. Kreuzer spoke to Marina Landia (born in 1960) about “Regular Crisis.
” What prompted the focus of your artistic work shifting to the business and financial world?
I came to Germany from Georgia in 1992. There was civil war in our country and the system collapsed amidst much bloodshed. My husband was politically active; we came to Germany as political refugees. It was a completely new start and capitalism was a huge topic for me. All my fellow artists were highly critical of the economic system. I only ever doubted whether I have a position at all and what that position is. I wanted to find a method for delving deep into systems, wanted access to the processes and ways of thinking, and didn’t want to be fobbed off with just any old information. To produce something relevant on the topic I had to be personally confronted with decision-makers in politics and the world of business.
You generate your video material from interviews with key figures from industry and the world of finance. How do you proceed?
I insist on having an hour with the person I am interviewing. Less time is no good, because in ten minutes you would only get prepared answers. I conduct the interview from an unbiased position. I have my topics, but nothing else with me; our dialog is an intuitive process. That leaves me with one hour of raw material that I initially put aside. Later I learn what these people say by heart, and at some point I sense that some of it feels fake or I’ve already heard it before. And there are moments when people falter a little. These are the only ones I use; I ignore the rest. So I use approximately three minutes of a whole hour, because these are the moments when something is revealed.
Do you see yourself as a neutral observer or do you adopt an approach critical of capitalism?
Art is a way of showing complexity without reducing things to a black-and-white level. Given an academic article about such topics people would switch off after a couple of minutes. Art has methods for sustaining the tension and eliciting people’s interest. In times of crisis like this it is not possible to explain clearly and coherently what could be done differently in future, or who is to blame. What interests me is what parts of the system appear cogent, whether the system could be modified, who would profit from this and how.
My subjective reading consists in my editing and deciding which statements I confront with which and which I reject. But I do not make a clear statement. After all, all my questions are edited out; I am not present. This is the first time your video work can be experienced in conjunction with music.
How did the collaboration with Kristjan Järvi come about? Well, I think of myself more as a niche artist. But Kristjan said: Let’s open up this material to everyone. He was not afraid of the risk. For him art is a tool for confronting people with unpleasant aspects of reality. The music grips you, you can’t get up and leave, you are already responding to the rhythm, are almost in a trance through the works we chose. But the music also functions as a commentary. It explains details. I was amazed at how much potential there is in linking the spoken word and music. Sometimes someone asserts something, and the music questions it. Music opens up spaces you tend to understand intuitively.
Is the music tailored specifically to your video?
It was difficult to find music that transports the right kind of tension and ambivalence. The fact that we then settled on Louis Andriessen is definitely no coincidence; he is someone who has always practiced social criticism as an artist. At one point everything was just right. Then I re-edited all the film material I had based on the principle of the music we had selected. The film follows the music. Really it is a 45-minute music clip.
Regular Crisis: October 8, 8 p.m., Gewandhaus, Großer Saal (Great Hall)