Closure of Conference project. Post-Conference Plans

Many many thanks to everyone who participated in the conference, to all those who presented papers, read their poetry or translations, contributed to discussions or just came to listen.

This blog will remain open as a record of the conference proceedings and will continue to include the programme, the abstracts of the presentations and the short biographies of the participants.

We have removed the conference papers from this site because we intend to include revised versions in a post-conference book. This book will not be a representation of the conference proceedings as such, however, but a volume of articles roughly reflecting the structure of the conference. The book will be edited by Ursula Philips, supported by a team of advisers (Urszula Chowaniec, Knut Andreas Grimstad, Kris Van Heuckelom and Elwira Grossman). It is expected that the volume will appear in 2013.

Should anyone wish to contact the authors of papers or read the original papers, please contact the conference organizer.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Duncan Jamieson

‘Reanimating’ the Past: Collective remembering as a cultural praxis in Krzysztof Warlikowski’s rehearsal processes (1999-2011)

The performance of memory has constituted an important aspect of post-war Polish theatre – ranging from Tadeusz Kantor’s mnemotechnic devices for evoking officially disallowed histories onstage to Jerzy Grotowski’s uses of scenic montage in ‘screening’ his actors’ stagings of personal material from their lives, to name two of the best-known examples. However, while various deployments of critical memory in pre-1989 Polish theatre practices have received considerable scholarly attention both domestically and internationally, many of the distinctive ways in which contemporary performance practitioners have sought to address the crucial role of collective memory in (re)configuring identity discourses in post-communist Poland have been sidelined or overlooked to date.
This paper will take a closer look at several performance examples from the work of the acclaimed theatre director Krzysztof Warlikowski, examining how he and his ‘informal ensemble’ of co-creators have sought to approach the cultural witnessing of certain traumatic events in Polish history and their resonances in contemporary public life. In doing so, the paper will focus on the rehearsal process as a whole, in order to draw attention to elements that are not always made explicit or directly ‘visible’ within the final script and production choices – and consequently have been overlooked by many theatre critics and researchers to date – but which nonetheless have formed part of the ‘deep layering’ of memory discourses within a number of their major theatre productions, often exerting a notable impact on Polish audiences.
The performance examples will illustrate how Warlikowski and his collaborators have informed and interwoven their work on non-historical (and non-Polish) scripts with dramaturgical correlates taken from contested episodes of Polish history and historiography, primarily concerning the Second World War period. Crucially, the chosen examples will show how this process is often centred on redeploying ‘memory traces’ of events and experiences that Warlikowski considers variously to have been excluded, forgotten, marginalised, or ‘disfigured’ by what he calls ‘amnesiac’ modes of public discourse and remembrance, both during the communist and post-communist periods in Poland. Through attention to how these traces emerge and are articulated by the ensemble during rehearsals, I will address in particular the ways in which identity themes that are frequently associated with Warlikowski’s theatre – such as minoritarian affiliations and solidarities, culturally hybrid subjectivities, and the Polish-Jewish cultural heritage – are represented in the discrete contributions of the actors, director, dramaturg, scenographer, and other colleagues to the productions signed collectively under Warlikowski’s name.
Much of this co-authored work begins from identifying and investigating pressing issues for the individual practitioners, with the ensemble’s final production scores constructed from an intricate interweaving of personal, historical, journalistic, and dramatic narratives, scenarios, and devices. My presentation will thus aim to reveal some of the techniques with which Warlikowski as director attempts to ‘mobilise’ his collaborators and to create a multilayered impact on the spectators, by exploring their shifting relationships to the collective memory traces established during rehearsals and integrated to varying degrees within public performances. Recurring features here include: the physical presence or denotation of real historical objects within the production designs; the dramaturgical layering of reportage and found texts within fictionalised scenes (e.g. in stagings of Shakespeare or Greek tragedy); uses of historical testimony in processes of script adaptation and improvisation; and aspects of cultural memory evoked through musical and filmic devices. In particular, I will consider dimensions of the actors’ work, such as the indexing of recognisable historical situations in performers’ interactions, the ‘filtering’ of personal experiences through the role, and the use of flexible performance personas (usually working along a spectrum of ‘character’/‘commentator’/‘personal-confessional’) to guide viewers’ attention and to shift between different modes of memory-association and critical commentary.
Using extracts from Warlikowski’s and his colleagues’ reflections on their rehearsal processes – set within a critical framework developed from hermeneutic and psychoanalytic theory, and from recent writings in the expansive field of memory studies – the paper will look to (re)situate their theatre practice, considering it as part of a broader shift in the remapping of identity discourses on the contemporary Polish stage. In this regard, the paper will focus on two areas in particular. Firstly, it will challenge a major trend in the reception of Warlikowski’s productions that characterises his work as ‘refuting’ its ‘Polish identity’, arguing that this practice seeks rather to interrogate essentialized conceptions of ‘Polishness’ and symbolic citizenship in the present, through critical re-readings of recent historical experience (to re-open ‘the future of the past’, in Ricœur’s terms). Secondly, it will review the selected performance examples in light of Warlikowski’s suggestion that the political force of much new Polish theatre derives from its capacity to contribute to a shift in the wider socio-political imaginary, towards a more inclusive reckoning with the problems of collective remembering and self-reification. Ultimately, while affinities undoubtedly exist with the work of other current practitioners, I will contend that the ensemble’s densely layered ‘reanimation’ of memory traces constitutes a highly distinctive approach to the cultural recognition and working-through of historical wounds and scars – one that, in a quasi-therapeutic manner, engages both artists’ and audiences’ narrative resources to re-imagine the relationship between past and present ‘otherwise’.