Sanskrit styāyate, “coagulates, hardens”
Ancient Greek stía, “pebble”; stéar, “tallow”
Latin stīria, “frozen drop”
Gaia wrestles with what surrounds her
At the end, Marcela San Pedro steps out of the background onto the stage, the naked body wrapped in floral-patterned blankets. It almost seems as if she herself was Nature, Mother Earth, Gaia, stepping from the back of the stage into our consciousness, with all the pressing questions about ecological coexistence in tow. The audience’s eyes had only just been following the five other amazing women who, after two and a half hours, were opening the stage space upwards for the first time, to the imaginary sky of Hall G. In a kind of procession they walk down the stairs, each with a biosphere in her hands to present the landscape with new life.
Marcela San Pedro throws the blanket wrap forward over her head, wrestles with the fabrics and ties, fights with what surrounds her. A striking image, a cosmic movement even, that creates chaos and frees Gaia from what people have instructed her to do, written into her to be. A movement that exposes us to the instability of the earth, creating disorder. Meanwhile, she is surrounded by stones that are millions of years old, lie about and, for the time being, do nothing. But right here, inside of them, rests the energy of the entire evening: movement is written into the stones – as a geological process, like into our language. Geological forces in the form of heat, motion, gravity, pressure and time have turned stones into something hard and dense. Likewise, the impact of forces can be traced etymologically: as a frozen drop or as something that coagulates, hardens. Movement and energy, which remain inaccessible to our experience of time, inform the performers’ bodies. As spectators, we are compelled to change our perspective accordingly: How does the time of the stones change our sense of the present? A question that cannot be answered offhand. It’s even more complicated to explore the consequences for one’s own writing: How can one think and write from the perspective of the stones, given this exceptionally great ensemble of six women of different ages (24 to 78 years)? In other words: How can landscape be ideated relationally?
mise en perspective – putting things into perspective
Nobody moves nothing on a surface. Perhaps this imaginable point of nothing carries within itself a different relationship between humans and stones, and opens the theatre to a different way of looking at its own principles. In an almost empty space deep under the surface of the earth, between the layers of rock of Vienna’s substratum, as it were, the audience gather for the world premiere of BONES and STONES, finding themselves surrounded by impenetrable fog yet again. And, at first, nothing happens.
Nothing. Except being exposed to a radical opacity. An opacity that doesn’t subside all evening – a necessity for disorientation. White patches of fog upset habitual regimes of looking. Only the materiality of the stones, the bodies and the bones, the massive lowness or the high peaks of the soundscape, the yellow that envelops us and, later, the coldness of the light are able to break through the opacity every now and then, cutting through it as if they were themselves test drills into the layers of sediment. An almost empty space deep below the theatre, allowing us to reimagine our place in the cosmos. And to see the underside of the sea in the quarry.
se rassemble – how it all comes together
Landscape or quarry. Two conical piles of bricks appear bit by bit, with fog issuing from them. Despite the supposed volcanic clarity, the principle of repeatedly turning our perception, or even our relationship with the world upside down, remains central to the choreographic narrative. Over the course of the evening, layer after layer is added to the space, to the void, but at the same time it is also constantly removed, withdrawn, taken away from us. So the narrative is anything but chronological. Over and over again, one state seems to turn into another in an instant, the sequences, levels, logics, layers seem to overlap: mythical constellations, a scientific history of the earth, mineral clouds surrounded by vulnerable bodies which defy gravity even though the ground has been cut from under their feet. Concepts that are difficult for humans to imagine wander as a voice through the room and open the horizon of the choreography: looking at a molecule at different times of earth history, life and non-life, organic and inorganic matter become interchangeable. At one point, it is part of a stone, at another of a beetle, a jellyfish, a tree and finally fossil fuel such as oil. Volcanoes are central actors in this process of transformation, while human beings are perceived only in terms of their mineral relationship among stones and bones. “Reality”, Carla Rihl will announce to the room much later, “consists of processes, not of material objects”. But how to tell the stories of what has settled in the stones and the bones, written itself into them – the imprints of the bodies in the sedimentary rock and the imprints of the stones on our bodies – in these crazy temporal dimensions that separate us from the stones?
se renverser – processes of inversion
While all this food for thought presents itself amid the fog, the members of the audience are no longer alone in the room. Porous like these rocks themselves, they are suffused with the bodies of the six performers – Anna Biczók, Myrthe Bokelmann, Anita Kaya, Carla Rihl, Marcela San Pedro, Christa Zuna-Kratky – who have entered the space one by one, as naked figures, creatures that settle the landscape, uphold relational structures, balance the mutual involvement. Just as a balance of forces seems to establish itself, there is a radical shift in the room and the materiality: to deconstruct what has been built of stone. Brick by brick, the six women take down the conical structures as if they were handling building blocks of the cosmos. At the same time, the gravity of the stones refers to the power of the bodies, their capacity for work, as well as to our methods of exploiting nature. Volcanic rocks form the stage landscape: set pieces to sit on. And yet, this is a wonderfully poetic moment: the clattering of the bricks is the only thing you’ll hear for quite some time in the bright yellow of the gas-discharge lamps, like the sounds of a ritual. An activity that, in its impressive simplicity, rids the entire space of its theatricality – turning it around and into its other. Only interrupted by the first dark sounds from the subwoofers. The live environment by Günther Auer is ideally matched altogether: time and again it opens up the space, creates interchangeabilities, evokes the invisible, designs a surrounding world that extends beyond your own spaces of imagination. Unnoticed, the bodies have avoided the process, gathering instead as a staggered landscape at the back of the stage. Left by themselves in the room, the spectators must find ways to deal with silence, non-action and the removal of the bodies – until the landscape reveals itself as a moving sculpture and organism, and eventually starts manoeuvring across the room. But this moment, too, is about to take an abrupt turn. The material indicates the change: the women take grey, squeaky apron-like wraps made of plastic from a pile, tying them around their naked bodies each in a different way, they arm themselves against assaults and at the same time create images that evoke scenes of a history of violence. Bodies as mere material, dragged back and forth, piled up, deprived of their humanity – in the bright, cold backlight. But the following is somehow visible through the fog: bodies, materials, sound and light overlap like layers of rock and continually slide against each other – as stacks from different times.
the scaping of land – a chorus of stones
A stone comes rolling through the fog, another is being carried with care, more keep appearing, are being held, lifted, snatched, embraced, shown, shared. They are being rolled, pushed, pulled, manoeuvred, they are pointed, angular, chunky, they protrude or simply lie there, like a log: 20 to 245 million years old. They are called basalt bomb, garnet mica schist, reef limestone, pegmatite, tuff, granite, marble, serpentinite, red limestone. They are large, heavy creatures, bulky lumps, crumbling piles. They shine mysteriously, are sand-coloured, grey, red, covered with shells, speckled, streaked with snail imprints or simply, in being stones: pale grey. They are heavy as sacks, can barely be lifted, require a lot of strength to be carried – and are as naked as the bodies that move them about. The appearance of the stones makes the bodies recede into the background, the stones trigger the trembling of muscles, the bodies seem to throw it back at them. The room sounds as if this trembling, rumbling would never disappear from the sky. Stones: clinging to backs, as weights on the bodies, as counterweights to balance, as places of rest, companions, chunks, heavyweights. Along with the broken state of the stones, the bodies, too, display their injuries, the structure of the bones, the surface of the skin. In the middle of the room, Christa Zuna-Kratky holds a 20,000-year-old mammoth bone in her hand, turning slowly to indicate that time works differently here. The bone, in turn, looks at those standing around it out of its fractures, as if revealing its wounds. At least two processes overlap in this landscape, crashing together violently in a kind of eruption: the turning-into-stone of all beings and working with the stone. The collision of all the forces reveals their potential for violence: extraction, collapsing stars, stones, explosions of light, bangs, a frenzy of matter, language, a trembling in the presentation that disturbs the shape – until silence sets in, and darkness. In this silence, the dropping of two plastic bags filled with remains of bones is ear-splitting. In the dim glow of the headlamps, six archaeologists start reading the bones and stones carefully, they feel the fractured edges and arrange the objects in an idiosyncratic way, they relate themselves to the bones with their bodies. This creates a strange formation, a structure that no longer forms itself into anything – but informs the movement of the six women all the more. A choreography – as a drawing in space – that heralds the knowledge of transcorporeal arrangements.
thrown back – what can(not) be cast off
Just as the six performers tried to cast off the bony extensions of their bodies at the beginning in the fog, the final image of the choreography confronts us with what remains to be done for us, the spectators: to cast off the European view of the world and of bodies. Two things are hanging above the heads of the audience in the fly tower at the end, each tied up in its own way, as it were, taken out of their contexts: a 20,000-year-old mammoth bone and the body of a woman. Myrthe Bokelmann impressively climbs up a rope to a platform at a dizzy height, arranging herself as a lying female nude, while the femur is pulled into the fly tower on ropes. The lines of sight overlap one last time: because, like the woman’s body, the landscape was once an image, too, arranged for a distant observer – made available for capitalist and patriarchal assaults. It looks stunning, of course, breathtakingly beautiful; all the same, there is no choice but to cast off this idea of the world. The evening, for a long time: unfaded.
 [English translation of entries from] Friedrich Kluge, Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Deutschen Sprache, 25th ed., Berlin 2012. Further use of italics refers to sediment deposits from texts by Heiner Müller, Walter Benjamin, Werner Hamacher, Martin Heidegger – and to the programme booklet for BONES and STONES.
Fanti Baum is a performance artist and theorist. She held a fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude, was artist in residence at DFG-Centre for Advanced Studies Imaginaria of Force and received the Artist Award of the City of Dortmund in 2020. In 2018 and 2020 she was co-artistic director of the “Favoriten Festival” together with Olivia Ebert. She teaches performance in theory and practice at various art colleges and universities. Kein Theater. Alles möglich. – a book by and about Claudia Bosse, co-edited by Baum and Kathrin Tiedemann, was published by Alexander Verlag Berlin in April 2023.