A letter to Barbara.
Barbara, writing about your performance Wer will kann gehen turns out not to be that simple. This letter is my third attempt to capture this celebration in dedication of your work. Twenty or thirty years are a long time, yet they are not simply gone, they keep coming back and are, perhaps, not so long ago, after all.
Happy birthday, by the way.
The performance touched on so much. So much about your twenty years of collaboration with Johnny wanted to be said. You wanted to celebrate him and Wer will kann kommen, the piece that brought him into existence. And you wanted to turn the superb achievement of thirty years of artistic work into a party for all of us. It was a great party, indeed, and it felt like everyone who has accompanied you over the many years was there. It was very special. And, in a way, it was madness.
As an invited friend and colleague I had the pleasure of co-opening the party in the afternoon. Claudia Heu, Elisabeth Löffler, Nadja Schefzig, Daniel Aschwanden, Jack Hauser and I tried to review the special and specific aspects of your work. It got personal because, in the end, we all recounted our own history as well. We talked about the stories and the many facets of your work, the many areas you have devoted yourself to. From gender and identity to ecology and migration, from dancing to walking. The many encounters and our shared history became one, just as the person Barbara Kraus was always discussed in conjunction with the artist Barbara Kraus. The two could not be separated.
Art and life cannot be separated in your work. Just as you and Johnny cannot be separated. A coming and going. You and Johnny have been taking turns for twenty years, sometimes he is in charge, sometimes you are. But there is always room for many inside you. In the form of “Kraus”, as Johnny calls you, you contain the Blue One, Julie, Miss Twiggy as well as the Old One and, of course, Aloisia, who, despite being born at a different time, was in charge of the brilliant party opening.
But not all of these many of yours get assignments from their boss. As if Johnny was the most reliable. That’s why Johnny keeps coming back. There’s no escaping him. He is so entertaining and sometimes insufferable. You often let him take the lead but you always catch up with him. Because there’s no Johnny without Kraus. You are in an everlasting dialogue and have, in fact, always walked hand in hand.
One cannot enter a stage by oneself. That simply isn’t possible. We always become more than one as soon as we give ourselves up to the visibility that comes with it. And you always bring many with you. Especially to this party. You wanted all of them to come, the many characters and ideas. Friends came once again to attend the event and, as I looked at them, they turned into almost uncanny representations of themselves. You make room for them, perhaps to reveal yourself in others. Or so that we may all recognise ourselves in others. And at the same time, you are with Johnny who still wants to have a say. That isn’t always easy on a stage where many people and ideas mix. Because we are always many on stage. And sometimes during the evening there wasn’t much room next to you and Johnny. You had so much to say and share.
I think that, like your day-to-day life, Wer will kann kommen wants to acknowledge the multitudes of people and things within us. You celebrated a connection to the characters of your life with people you admire, people you want to meet head-on, people you want to make visible. Bringing life to the stage. Friends, colleagues – you engage them to become part of your world. And on this Saturday, all of them were invited to attend, experts of life, like yourself.
“Kraus” is always in a process of becoming, drawn to becoming. You and your many, you have often fought for your existence, for your right to be. Be here. Thirty years of work for the right to be here, to be yourself, no, yourselves, a multiple identity. Characters enter and exit. They don’t go before they have come. Becoming is as central to you as the performance and the party: after all, you concern yourself with nothing less than becoming yourself in this world, entrusting your own self to this world. And this must be celebrated in life. Before it’s too late.
Over the years, your works have become invitations for us to walk with you. Just come along! Your audience must come along to keep up. Those who stay behind are dismissed. Attending your party, we witness a considerable amount of excesses that were part and parcel of many of your performances. You want to pass on and share, all the more so this evening. A get-together. Let’s finally get together, everyone. Don’t you see, I even organised my own birthday party. What a feat! What an accomplishment!
It’s your non-negotiable sense of freedom and justice that makes us come yet again. You repeatedly remind those you asked to walk with you, and who have come along, of their own desire for such unabashed, individual freedom. And you remind me of the audacity required to go, to come, and to stay. But where to go, where should you go? My congratulations are wishes for your future. Looking back on forty years of Barbara Kraus, I wish for a trio of Aloisia, Julie and Barbara Kraus.
You should take time to write, to finally write all of this down. This path you have walked for quite some time now. You can come and go as you please, don’t worry. Because sometimes you disappear. You are good at disappearing. You stay for a long time, but when you have to go, you go. Then Barbara Kraus simply has to go, be going, crossing and transgressing. She crossed the Alps all by herself over the course of five months. But never lonely. Because she is many.
Philipp Gehmacher is a choreographer, dancer and visual artist, who lives and works in Vienna. Gehmacher’s artistic works implement the body and language as forms of expression, erected and institutional space, as well as object and sculpture. Philipp Gehmacher has presented these works between black box and white cube internationally at theatre festivals and in exhibition institutions. Recently, among others at Museum der Moderne Salzburg, steirischer herbst (Graz), the Biennale of Sydney, Baltic Circle International Theatre Festival (Helsinki), Leopold Museum and mumok in Vienna, and Griffith University Art Museum in Brisbane. Moreover, Gehmacher is a mentor and teacher at renowned training institutions such as P.A.R.T.S in Brussels, HZT in Berlin, DOCH in Stockholm, and at the University of Salzburg.