Anneke Ingwersen: "How could puppetry engage in the dialogue about the politics of remembrance?"

Excerpt from Anneke's 20 minute presentation for Do The Right Thing ! ~ DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2015.

War! A play


Anneke Ingwersen introduced the Wayangplay (puppet play) workshops she has been organizing at the Museum Bronbeek, a museum for Dutch-Indonesian (Post) Colonial and Military History in Arnhem. Her recent puppet play workshop took part in framework of the exhibition “War!”, which, for the curators, was an attempt to show both sides of the conflict and create public discussion about how it could be called. Ingwersen’s work looks into the Dutch–Indonesian post-colonial history and the politics of remembrance – while looking for the place of public memories. Ingwersen asks, “How was the Dutch-Indonesian war represented?” and, “Who decides what to remember and how?”

Testing the post-colonial discourse in practice, Ingwersen conducts her workshops in a simplified language, inviting participants to answer questions about their own reactions and their own relationship to the museum Bronbeek. As the artist points out, the form of the shadow puppet play can shows a few sides of the truth – the puppeteers can freely choose their roles. Ingwersen observed that it is interesting how in the shadow play, the projection field splits audience, revealing the way that every story has (at least) two sides; this two-sided performance presents itself as a kind of ritual showing various versions of the same event. In the play, puppeteers can express unconscious feelings in a secure framework of play – using the psychodrama to get in touch with subconscious feelings. The puppet play makes a safe setting to create aesthetic illusions with controversial meanings and statements. “I get to do and say anything with puppets,” Ingwersen claims. Furthermore, she asks how this ‘play’ works on collective consciousness and tests whether it could help overcome the practice of stereotyping. She is inspired by Stuart Hall’s call “to challenge the dominant forms of representation”.

Maria Hlavajova agreed that this is complex and important work, reflecting, “If I had to consider my role within a war conflict, I would be stuck…all are complicit.” Ingwersen’s work recalled a group of artists in the Philippines who have also used shadow play, and brought her to consider that possibility that, “in the present moment, we kind of don’t believe that there is another future possible,” and if we have rearticulated the slogan (“another future is possible”) to be instead “another past is possible”, we still have to ask how, “through re-enactment, can we keep futurity in play?” If art is part of that – and it is because artists are building monuments to a re-written history – then we have to understand how to “bring the dimension of another future into these efforts along with an understanding that the contemporary order is a result of colonial history.” The many, many sides of the truth makes it difficult to see how all the sides can be kept in play.

Alena Alexandrova remarked that all true conflicts are messy and considered that that “excavation of historical truth is also a sort of invention.” The shadow play as a format opens up a lot – transforming a figure into an outline is a gesture of reduction since it removes the oversaturated image to make space for gesture. Alexandrova is slightly critical about the potential for over-didacticism that would tell us what to think.

For Bassam el Baroni, Ingwersen’s presentation made him think about “aligning history with a kind of vision of how to begin reading a future based on this history.” Echoing Alexandrova’s comments, he remarked that the simplification of shadow makes it vulnerable to a kind of didacticism. Since the “full scope of expression is not available,” he thinks it might be worth going towards more abstraction in the character plays and offers Badiou’s The Incident at Antioch as an example of a play related to real events written by a thinker. El Baroni advises “[taking] it out of a scope of real events and infusing it with your concerns.” In this work, he comments, Ingwersen addresses very complex questions that even the greatest thinkers can’t answer; he recalls the dialogue of conflict and opinion between Jean Paul Sarte and Albert Camus about the Algerian War and resistance. Since, according to el Baroni, there is no direct answer and always a negotiation in play, fictionalization or further abstraction is called for.

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