The Things We Don’t Know How to Explain: An Interview with Heiner Goebbels
The 2018 Fringe Festival kicks off this weekend with a performance piece unlike any other. Created by acclaimed German composer and director Heiner Goebbels, Stifters Dinge does away with actors in favor of light, pictures, murmurs, sounds (five self-playing pianos), and voices (recordings of William S. Burroughs, Malcolm X, and Claude Levi-Strauss), creating a meditative dreamscape that allows the audience to form their own opinions about what they witness.
This newfound contemplative space recalls the writing of 19th-century author Adalbert Stifter, after whom the piece in named. Goebbels explained to FringeArts his interest in Adalbert Stifter and the other inspirations for this large-scale performative installation.
FringeArts: What inspired this piece?
Heiner Goebbels: I was talking with set and light designer Klaus Gruenberg — with whom I’ve worked nearly exclusively for the last 20 years — and we asked ourselves if it was possible to create a theater piece without any people. That was the experimental question for our artistic research. That was the beginning. Everything else happened in the process.
FringeArts: Where did the title Stifters Dinge come from?
Heiner Goebbels: It came pretty late in the process; even the involvement of the text by Stifter came late, because I usually don’t know much earlier what I am working towards…
FringeArts: Could you tell me a little about Adalbert Stifter?
Heiner Goebbels: He was a landscape painter and author in the first half of the 19th century in Bohemia. The disturbing and surprising moments in his writings come in his attentiveness and sensibility toward non-human forces, natural phenomena, and things we don’t really know how to name and explain. That is what he calls dinge, “things.” You find that word on nearly every page of his writings.
FringeArts: How did his work influence this piece?
Heiner Goebbels: I think rather that I discovered his perspective in my own work. We started to stare at the water, the fog, the rain, and it reminded me of a longer section in one of his novels, in which he completely stops the narration of the plot to describe the forms of raindrops on the window during a thunderstorm.
FringeArts: What should the audience know going in to fully open themselves to the piece?
Heiner Goebbels: They don’t need to know anything in advance, even children can just come and see it. The only precondition is openness and curiosity. In fact, it is not even correct to describe Stifters Dinge as a piece without any people, because the audience is at the center of this piece — they make sense of what they see and what they hear, in a liberated and individualized way.
FringeArts: Thanks Heiner!
What: Stifters Dinge
When: September 7–9, 2018
Where: The Navy Yard, Building 611, 1120 Flagship Drive
Created by Heiner Goebbels
Photos by Ewa Herzog