Which deaths and which births have influenced and changed my life so far?
Who have I welcomed, who have I lost and said farewell to – and what has happened to me in the process?
The latest long-term project by Mats Staub asks about existential experiences. It approaches universal themes through individual experiences and in relation to local contexts. In every place it is presented it brings people together to talk to each other about their experiences of death and birth – while also presenting conversations from other regions and establishing connections from one side of the world to another. As a video installation in theatre spaces it aims to create locations that permit intimacy while at the same time facilitating a communal experience.
Over the last decade Mats Staub has participated in a great many conversations for his installations: for «My Grandparents» he questioned over 300 grandchildren in 14 different cities; for «21 – Memories of Growing Up» he has produced around 200 video portraits in eight countries on three continents. On the foundations of these experiences he is now extending his artistic practice to include the moment when two people meet each other: instead of initiating conversations himself, in «Death and Birth in My Life» he brings two people together in a clearly defined space and enables them to engage each other in conversation while he is present as an invisible companion. The participants are filmed both speaking and listening – so visitors to the installation will be able to look at the faces of both the speakers and the listeners shown on two screens.
Mats Staub’s projects are always directly related to his own life. The death of his brother in December 2014 was a key factor in the development of this long-term project about experiencing the passage and boundaries of existence associated with birth and death, the beginning and end of life. As in all his participatory projects, he offers a protected space in which he provides a clear starting point and simple rules: both participants start by telling the story of their own birth as it has been told to them, then one of them will narrate one of their experiences while the other listens and then has the chance to respond with a story of their own, starting wherever they have been led by listening to the previous account. This unadorned dramaturgy relieves the fragile act of talking about intimate moments and the limits of one’s own existence from the pressures of conventional, everyday conversation. Conversational partners do not have to ask follow up questions or express sympathy in well-meaning phrases – and neither do we as further listeners. We just listen, pay attention and remain open to what we hear.
Some of these conversations are between people who have known each other for decades, others between people who are meeting for the first time. All of them are willing to take part in an unusual conversation on camera while knowing that the decision whether the conversation is suitable for presentation as part of Staub’s project will only be made afterwards. Successful conversations have two equally strong partners, retain the interest of those watching over a sustained period and reveal things about universal themes in personal ways that are rooted in local contexts. Mats Staub will condense the selected conversations to a length of around 50 minutes. A distinct selection of edited conversations will be chosen for every venue and more people will be brought together for new conversations at each location. With co-production partners in German-speaking and Western Switzerland, Germany, Austria, France and England «Death and Birth in My Life» has been deliberately conceived from the outset as a multi-lingual project that will use subtitles.
By being more time-based, working with fixed starting times and a collective audience, this video installation is closer to theatre than Mats Staub’s projects in recent years. His many years of experience as a dramaturg provide close links to the theatre, in which he remains interested as “a place of argument and experiment.” His latest project experiments with speaking about things that we would otherwise leave unsaid. And it will create a communal place which admits painful emotions and might therefore in an ideal scenario also offer the experience of consolation. Mats Staub has felt the need for places like this since his brother’s death and now he wishes to create a form in the theatre that is both public and protected, one that encourages and facilitates empathy and participation.
«Showing speaker and listener simultaneously on two screens, the installation inserts us at the heart of these deeply personal conversations, creating an absorbing oasis of reflection.»
The Guardian, 20.9.2019
«Stories that get under your skin and touch your heart. The form is an absorbing one that allows scope for one's own thoughts and memories. Mats Staub presents us with a gift: the art of listening.»
bz Basel, 06.06.2019
«Listening is the essential ingredient in any conversation. Allowing what we hear to hover in mid-air frees us from instant comments and conventional responses. Nothing gets talked to death. The essential theme of the evening is the question: “How do we talk to each other?”»
ProgrammZeitung Basel, 30.05.2019
Makhanda, Monument Gallery, 25. November–2. December 2020
Chur, Theater Chur, 31. October–11. November 2020
Bern, Museum of Communication, 16. October–6. December 2020
Groningen, Noorderzomerprogramma, 14.–23. August 2020
Salzburg, Salzburg Museum, in the Frame of '100 Years Salzburger Festspiele', 26. July 2020–31. October 2021
Avignon, Festival d'Avignon, 74th Edition, July 2020
Makhanda, National Arts Festival, 25. June–5. July 2020
Basel, Kaserne, 18.–20. January 2020
Frankfurt, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm, 20. November–18. December 2019
München, Spielart Festival, 26. October–9. November 2019
Manchester, Sick! Festival, 18. September–5. October 2019
Paris, Centre culturel suisse, 13. September–6. October 2019
Perg, Festival der Regionen, 28. June–7. July 2019
Hannover, Festival Theaterformen, 20.–30. June 2019
Basel, Kaserne, 6.–8. June 2019
Idea, Concept, Direction: Mats Staub
Camera: Benno Seidel, Matthias Stickel
Scenography: Monika Schori
Dramaturgical Associate: Simone von Büren, Elisabeth Schack
Research: Tim Harrison (Manchester), Maia Marie (Magaliesburg), Patrick Mudekereza (Lubumbashi), Dada Kahindo (Kinshasa), Marcus Rehberger (Basel), Nele Beinborn (Frankfurt), Wolfram Sander (Hannover), Leo Saftic (Perg), Celya Larré (Paris)
Technical Direction: Hanno Sons, Stefan Göbel
Postproduction: Benno Seidel
Translation, Subtitles: Simona Weber, Martin Thomas Pesl, Matthias Stickel, Benno Seidel
Production Management: Barbara Simsa, Elisabeth Schack
Co-production: Kaserne Basel, SICK! Festival Manchester, Künstlerhaus Mousonturm Frankfurt, Festival Theaterformen Hannover, Festival der Regionen, Spielart Festival Munich, Centre culturel suisse Paris, Migros-Kulturprozent
Funding: Fachausschuss Tanz und Theater BS/BL, Pro Helvetia Swiss Arts Council, Christoph Merian Stiftung, Ernst Göhner Stiftung