Sabotaging Cityscapes.

A Conversation between Kristin Flade and Ann-Christine Simke

 

Kristin Flade

Would you tell me a little about how this picture came to be? You were in Barcelona, right?

 

Ann-Christine Simke

That's right. That photo was taken in Barcelona at the Park Güell.

 

K.F.

Did you know that you would find this roof there? Or did you happen to find it in this sea of a city?

 

A.C.S.

No, I didn't expect anything like it.

We had just arrived at the top of the hill where the Park Güell is situated and it was a terribly hot day. It was already quite late in the afternoon but the heat was inexorable. We were sweating and trying to escape all those little insects that were flying around us. I was glad that the short but steep climb was over and I was excited to finally ‘have a view’. But nope, there actually was quite a high wall hiding the view from us. I had to go up close to it and stand on tiptoe to actually catch a glimpse of the cityscape and then I held my arms up high and took the shot.

So, you see, it was a true snapshot. Very unexpected. And I remember thinking, “Huh? Are people living there?”

 

K.F.

Wait, but you did see that this was what would be behind this wall?

 

A.C.S.

I caught a glimpse when I was up close but I decided to take a picture of a cityscape before I knew what was behind the wall. So, in real-time – no it was not unexpected (I was not actually surprised by the content of the picture, you know.) But in regards to the intent of the picture, what we can read into it, yes, very much so.

 

K.F.

I think it is remarkable that this message, which seems to me to be of a somewhat activist intent, would be so difficult to get, to read, you know. You, looking at it from atop could hardly see it. And someone passing by that house would not either. Is that not somewhat peculiar?

 

A.C.S.

It is peculiar, yes. But it may also be calculated. Because a lot of people do take pictures up there. And isn't it very funny that this typically tourist behaviour of taking pictures of cityscapes is undercut by this message? As if, somehow, the people living there (or the person who has written that message) had intentionally sabotaged the view?

 

K.F.

Yes, there is something to it. Even though whoever wrote it, did so in Spanish (or Catalan? Perhaps both). Somehow, in the field of activism and applied theatre you sometimes get this sense that political messages are to be delivered particularly ‘for the English’, an international crowd, hence in English. Did you feel that visiting Barcelona, and possibly knowing a little about their struggle in recent years, that you would still ‘get it’? Or also be affected by ‘their’ crisis in some sense, also when walking through the streets?

 

A.C.S.

Well, I did not particularly connect it to ‘their’ crisis or struggle. I did not think about it as a different language because I immediately understood it as well as the anarchist sign next to it. It was all very immediate and understandable to me. As if, in an instant, I connected the unbearable heat and the madness that we, as tourists, needed to check the Park Güell off our list, that is, my specific very physical discomfort, with the ridiculousness of the tourism industry and the very understandable impulse to position an In Yer Face message at that particular spot. To me, the words were very understandable and I saw it more in the context of an international resistance or anarchist movement. Since you see those messages a lot in Berlin, it did not speak to me in particular about the Catalan struggle.

 

K.F.

Actually, I don't know how well one can read it, but there is also written: "We look for the hell of freedom". It's great! I really like it!

 

A.C.S.

Yeah, I was going to comment on that because I did not read it when I took the picture. I could not read it ...

 

K.F.

Do you think there is a common location, or common ability to locate such a "hell of freedom" in our societies?

 

A.C.S.

Well, I think that you might be able to find that on every societal level, no matter how small or how large the scope. I personally think that this message is about the insatiable need to always wanting to be free of something ...

 

K.F.

Not “free for” but "free of"?

 

A.C.S.

Yeah, to me it's more a "free of" because that is the premise for a "free for"...

 

K.F.

Do you think that art – well, I don't even know, if you would qualify this graffiti intervention as art – has this capacity? To voice such needs? Desires? Or even to facilitate their becoming? Or their realization? Satisfying these needs?

 

A.C.S.

Well, to me it is more a comment on existing apparent needs ... And therefore a critique. More of a satirical or even cynical comment on this whole freedom debate. Therefore the anarchist sign. To actual activists it might seem like a slap in the face ... so, maybe it is part of the debate and then yes, one voice that demands to be read and also a voice, an opinion that renders this whole debate more visible.

 

K.F.

It is interesting to think about whom it is addressed to (as well as by whom then, if not ‘actual activists’, it was written) – who can partake in this debate that happens in this spatially weird location of a limited visibility from atop, but commenting on something rather grounded.

Wait, I am just zooming in a bit. There is, to the left, this woman swinging on a rope, next to her I can read: "We know your capitalist paradise“.

 

A.C.S.

It is incredible what I can still detect in this picture ... I never noticed that ... Well, as I said, I really think that it might be dedicated to the millions of tourists that climb up there and tick the Park Güell off their list. To me, it is almost like the outward-looking and presentable Barcelona (picturesque tourists sites) versus the actual problems and the attempts to bring those topics up or to deal with them in a radically different way. By simply refusing to comply with the neat Barcelona image.

 

K.F.

Definitely a fascinating setup you have captured there. Thank you for that!

 

A.C.S.

I would just add that the whole Park Güell experience was really the worst. I have never felt so uncomfortable. It was too hot, I nearly fainted and I strongly questioned my free will when I was going up there. I wanted to see it but I did not have fun. So, you see, very personally, I shared this resistance impulse very much that afternoon. I felt ridiculous. To sum it up, I wished I had turned around at the moment I had taken that picture and had said: "Fuck it, I am going down again, this is ridiculous!" But I did not do that and I think this kind of proves their point somehow.

 

 

Ann-Christine Simke is a PhD candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant at the department for Theatre, Film and Television Studies at the University of Glasgow.

The working title of her comparative British-German study on Dramaturgy is Historicity, Applicability, Reciprocity. Dramaturgy on the Move. Before moving permanently to Scotland, she studied Theatre Studies, French and Comparative Literature at the Freie Universität Berlin, the Université Marc Bloch Strasbourg and at the University of Glasgow. Her Master Thesis, completed in 2012, is entitled Dramaturgy without Drama. The Role of the Dramaturg in Contemporary Performance Theatre. a.simke.1@research.gla.ac.uk

 

 

  • In case you want to quote parts or the whole of this blog post, please use the following bibliographical information:
    Kristin Flade, Ann-Christine Simke. “Sabotaging Cityscapes. A Conversation between Kristin Flade and Ann-Christine Simke”, The Aesthetics of Applied Theatre (blog), November 2013.