The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
As it prepares to reopen with a newly renovated building, Berlin's House of World Cultures is broadening its vision and role
What are the policies that HKW pursues its independent projects on? In 2006 you had thematic programs focusing on Brazil and China. How are these themes decided?
Normally we invite eight to ten international specialists from a number of fields to sit on a planning committee to develop themes for our programs in a workshop setting. Rather than just presenting exhibitions, for example, we believe it is important to be producers who present “intellectual assets” in the fundamental sense of the term. And I believe that this is something that is achieved only through workshops and doing the necessary research.
For example, when we chose China as a theme, we decided together with a group of experts on a concept of “Culture – Memory” between Past and Future. This is a theme which at the moment is very much discussed in Germany too and that led to a number of ideas and, for example, it connected strongly to memories of the Great Cultural Revolution. In the exhibition we did a presentation of documentary photographs from just after the Great Cultural Revolution in the 1980s and the ensuing development of artistic photography. And, working on the context of the fact that performance of Chinese opera was prohibited in all opera houses in China during the Great Cultural Revolution, we produced six operas. After their Berlin performances they were eventually performed in Shanghai as well.
From now on I don’t think there will be any programs like this that focus on a particular country but I think it is very important that we continue to do this kind of program where a number of specialists and institutions cooperate over a considerable period of time to develop projects.

One of your programs in the performing arts field that started in 2002 is the “In Transit” festival. Can you tell us specific contents and background behind this festival? It seems that in recent years you are making particular efforts in the area of collaborative programs.
The basic approach behind the In Transit festival has four aspects: “presentation,” “production,” “reflection” and “laboratory.”
When looked at from a curatorial perspective, I believe you can say that works the HKW produces for the festival are ones born of collaboration with internationally renowned artists. In other words, the basic concept behind In Transit is that the cultural production does not come from one culture but is something that is born from trans-cultural interaction.
The fourth aspect, “laboratory” that I mentioned is a methodology we developed with Sarat Maharaj, a South African born Indian philosopher now living in London. It is based on the principle that knowledge is not just the intellectual knowledge gained by reading or studies but also includes things “expressed with the body.” In our “laboratory” program we seek mutual discussion and discourse that will lead to presentations of these various types of “knowledge.”
We recently held a conference together with the "Kulturstiftung des Bundes" on the subject of “Wissen in Bewegung” (Knowledge in Motion) and it produced exactly this kind of discussion of how knowledge is not limited to intellectual knowledge but also includes knowledge expressed by the body and how this is experienced. This is meaningful because it leads to efforts to try new things, rather than just expecting the usual type of output in the form of written materials.

Are there any specific collaborative projects with artists that you have planned?
For our 2008 In Transit festival we plan to have the New York-based dance theorist André Lepecki be the curator. And, in any event, I believe that the four aspects of Presentation, Production, Reflection, Laboratory that I mentioned earlier will continue to be an important conceptual core of this festival in the future.

Could you summarize the other HKW programs for us? And are there any particularly notable projects you have planned?
The HKW is closed for renovations until July of 2007, so there are no programs going on at the moment. After the building reopens in August we will be preparing for some major projects in 2008.
One of the first things will be the start of a new festival focusing on electronic music called “World Tronics.” Also, we are thinking of how to use the HKW building for some projects in connection with the summer music festival “Wassermusik“(Watermusic). The HKW building stands on the banks of the Spree River and Berlin is now in the process of developing the waterfront areas and there are now many attractive cafes and gardens. And, we have recently seen the opening of the new arts space “Radialsystem.” I would like to see us use our building and such to do programs now that build on this local character and the cityscape.
In particular, water is going to be a very important issue in the coming ten to 15 years. I think it would be good for us to do a festival that looks at the theme of water through the filter of the arts. We could hold workshops and international conferences on the theme of water and perhaps introduce artistic aspects in the process. In the future we might be able to have underwater events, do things like create an island in the river and we could possibly project movies on the water. I believe that the important thing would be for us to take water as an inspiration for art rather than treating it just as a theme for ecological projects.
When planning these kinds of programs, the important thing to keep in mind is how HKW should connect to the society and who our audience is. One of the things that defines Berlin as a city is the fact that it is made up of a number of distinct communities, but we don’t cite this merely as the issue of immigrants or the Turkish population that makes up one third of the citizenship. It should be cited as a fact that means there are a variety of different milieu existing simultaneously in German society. The fact that there are 7.5 million immigrants living in Germany is certainly important but Berlin also has some completely unique cultural scenes, such as the historical Charlottenburg district with the Charlottenburg Palace (Schloss Charlottenburg), which is a World Heritage site, and the artist community district of Prenzlauer Berg in the former East Germany sector. HKW must serve as a meeting point for these different cultural scenes.
I believe that what is expected of us in the HKW is to take advantage of the unique aspects of Berlin as a city and to serve as a place where Germany meets the outside, in other words where the national meets the international. And, at the same time, we are expected to be a place where the arts and academics come together to create a synergistic effect. This is the kind of environment we must constantly work in.
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