With a will towards Art – Verk’s manifest

With humour and deep earnesty, Verk investigates the conditions of the arts with their own art.

Text: Elin Lindberg

Manifest united
By and with Verk Produksjoner: Saila Hyttinen, Fredrik Hannestad, Signe Becker, Per Platou, Tilo Hahn, Solveig Laland Mohn, Espen Klouman Høiner, Håkon Mathias Vassvik, Anders Mossling, Lea Basch, Kjersti Alm Eriksen, Jon Refsdal Moe, Pernille Mogensen
Première at Black Box Teater 5. april 2018, plays until 15. april

Verk Produksjoner were established 20 years ago. Perhaps it is because of the jubilee that Manifest United has a certain self-examining gaze. In this production, they do a sort of inventory, placing themselves both historically and contemporary. In the program, Fredrik Hannestad writes: “In the very end we have a desire for this performance in itself to become our own rambling, hallucinating and vivid manifest”. I believe the company has succeeded in this. Verk produksjoner are solidly placed in the Norwegian theatre scene. The company are known for their distinct physical and visual expression. Their performances are playful, often satirical with political undertones. The group was established in 1998 by Saila Hyttinen,
Fredrik Hannestad, Anders Mossling and Oskar Skulstad. They had met in Institutet for Scenkonst in Pontremoli in Italy, and at Nordisk Teaterskole in Århus. Their teachers were, among others, Ingmar Lindh and Odinteatret. Verk’s work is always tied to a collective process.

The word manifest can often seem like an oxymoron – mani means palpable, something one can touch, and if it is something a manifest often is not, it is palpable. Often they are visionary, utopian, and speak more about what is not, than what is. Theatre is the perfect place to explore this. Verk have made very interesting choices for the artistic research that this performance is. They make use of several artists’ manifestos from the last hundred years. They touch upon Dogme 95, Marinetti and futurism, Artaud, Gilbert & George, Lebbeus Woods, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Claes Oldenburg, Stanley Brouwn and Andy Warhol. It is not easy to localize the different authors in Verk’s collage of text, however, this works very well because the historical manifestos melt together with Verk’s own work, and into their own historical positioning. The excerpts of the manifests functions very well on stage, and the way Verk performs them allows for enough space and time for them to sink in. There is something dwelling about the way the text is performed live. The fact that the text is not Verk’s own, but borrowed, is underlined in a playful manner, when “missing” the cue for miming to recorded text.

The visual
The large stage at Black Box theatre is divided into three rooms. The rooms are separated with wooden constructions – ready to put in the walls. This is not a finished building – like the manifestos are not pointing to finished works, but to the construction of works. Many of the objects brought onto stage seem arbitrary, and they underscore a playful and unpredictable aesthetic. At times, the aesthetic bear resemblance to Paul McCarthy’s video works, which combines the brutal, uncomfortable and aggressive with humour. With Verk we find splatter-painting, big “Mickey Mouse-hands”, and a slapstick-humour evoking laughter and giggles, which also feels painful and uncomfortable. The stage is imprinted with chaos, and a will for everything to be possible. The white screen is a recurring feature. Firstly, as a large white screen that the actors try to push through a door which is too small in slapstick-manner. This is repeated several times throughout the performance. A smaller version of the white screen is danced with in front of the first audience row a number of times. The actors are also resting in front of the large white screen, as if they are marking themselves as a framed art work – they are representing themselves as art. Finally, the large white screen is danced with behind the scenography, resembling white mountaintops. A rather melancholic dance. Have the white, empty screens gone from symbolizing an opportunity, to becoming a beautiful, but distant utopia?

The Icelandic word for actor is leikari (player), the word for theatre is leikhus (playhouse). There are few groups this notion fits better with than Verk Produksjoner – playfulness permeates their work. Play becomes a tool to investigate the world, and the human being. The conditions for play, however, are not arbitrary. It is based on Verk’s long experience with physical, visual theatre. The choices made are intelligent and fantastically theatrical. The work is based on discipline and dedication. Verk creates theatre for an audience who loves theatricality.
The collective is a prerequisite for Verk’s work, both in the production and the performance of the works. The interaction between the performers in Manifest United shows that they evidently know each other well. They listen to each other, give each other space, and take their own place. It opens for an opportunity for improvisation in the play. Due to this possibility being so incarnated, and that eventual improvised sequences so seamlessly are combined with set scenes, it is difficult for the audience to know what is improvised and what is planned. The manifests Verk are dealing with are modernist. The artists writing them where to a large degree part of the avant-garde. There is a nostalgia in this gaze towards the historical avant-gardist art – towards a time where art really could manifest itself, in order to provoke and make indestructible impressions.

The manifesto-texts Verk make use of explain the position of modernism: people are detached from their traditions and their history – everything has to be created anew. Verk’s history is tied to the modernistic theatre makers before them. In Manifest United they assemble loose ends from many pioneers they are inspired by and create a diverse – sometimes juxtaposing – unpredictable, appealing and vivid manifest – long live the theatre!

After the première of Manifest United, two of the first books in a book series Verk Produksjoner are publishing during 2018/2019 were launched. The books are published by Uten Tittel. New literature reflecting on contemporary performing arts is very welcome. In one of the conversations after the première, the fantastic idea of a performing arts bookstore came up – for instance at Black Box theatre. That would have been something!

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