"Focus Raimund Hoghe"
Marianne van Kerkhoven
Kaaitheater, September/October 2002
‘Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.’
(1 Corinthians, chap. 13, on love)
His own life
This quotation from the New Testament appears in Preis der Liebe, a book Raimund Hoghe dedicated to the life of his mother.
In the criticism of art (in whatever discipline) it is actually still not done to explain an artist’s work on the basis of elements from their own lives. However justified the assertion may be that an artist’s life and work can never be read as being directly and straightforwardly connected, one cannot ignore the fact that an osmosis may exist between the two and that it is greater in one artist than another.
Raimund Hoghe was born in Wuppertal. After the war, his mother, an impecunious widow with a daughter, met the love of her life there, a young man who was to be Raimund’s father; but he married someone else. The mother was never unfaithful to the absent father. A deformity of the back was found in the young Raimund at an early age and later this developed into a pronounced hunchback.
Raimund grew up in the world of a concealed love, of unspoken desires and of veiled loneliness. His mother liked to dance, especially the waltz, especially to the popular romantic songs of the time... His grandmother was called ‘Oma dunkel’ (Grandma Darkness) because after the death of her youngest daughter she never again opened her curtains... Raimund’s grandfather took him to the cinema several times a week, where he became absorbed in ‘the world of the film stars’… His father wrote to his mother that he hoped to remain healthy and to work hard so that no time was left ‘um über Sinn und Zweck des Erdendaseins nachzudenken’…
All these elements, as well as many others, end up in one form or another (and sometimes in opposition) in Raimund Hoghe’s artistic world, once he begins to give shape to it. This world is one of great inwardness, or restrained emotions, a world in which the darkness, the realm of shadows and dance play an important part, a universe filled with the music of popular singers and pictures of film stars; the course of Hoghe’s work is a quest for simplicity and ordinariness and wisdom, but is unceasingly and almost indiscernibly buttressed by a reflection ‘über Sinn und Zweck des Erdendaseins’.
The lives of others
However, the starting point for his creative work was not his own life but that of others. He commenced his professional career as a journalist: he wrote portraits, reports, essays and reviews on almost all artistic disciplines, in the weekly Die Zeit, among others. He often took his own photos to accompany his vividly written portraits; he made short biographical films and a longer documentary on his own life, called Der Buckel (The Hunchback). In Zeitporträts. Texte und Photos von Raimund Hoghe, he collected the results of conversations with such creative people as Peter Handke, Bruno Ganz and Gret Palucca, singers like Rex Gildo and Freddy Quinn, and also a toilet lady, a homeless person, an anonymous young terminal Aids sufferer, and others.
In 1979 he wrote an article on Pina Bausch for the well-known German theatre magazine Theater Heute. The result of this first contact with the choreographer led to ten years of artistic collaboration: from 1980 to 1990 Hoghe worked as Bausch’s dramaturge. Dance became a major part of his life; he learnt to work with a large group of people; from the material the dancers assembled under instructions from Bausch, he helped construct a choreography, a dramaturgy, a composition; he came face to face with (as he wrote in his rehearsal notes, now in book form) the ‘Gefühl eigener Sprachlosigkeit angesichts des Einfachen, Selbstverständlichen, Alltäglichen’; he shared with Bausch the conviction that one always has to seek a form: a form ‘die das Persönliche über das Private hinausführt, bloße Selbstdarstellung und Selbstentblösung verhindert’.
When, from 1989, he started creating his own performances for different dancers and in the solo Meinwärts (1994) was also the performer, he did so with remarkable diffidence and reticence in this world so full of exposure. Even when he literally bared himself - when he took off his shirt and showed his hunchback - this act was cautiously contained in the setting of a strange, highly personal ritual.
Hoghe’s autobiography, even in its most extreme physical form of the permanently bent back, here assumes an art-ificial form, being filtered, kneaded and set in theatrical structures. As T.S. Eliot wrote, ‘But very few know when there is an expression of significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal.’ And this is precisely why it is able to move us.
Rituals appear to have a special meaning to Raimund Hoghe. Many of his actions on stage with all manner of objects and materials seem to have been repeated an infinite number of times. Sometimes they express an almost religious connotation when they refer to a connection with ancestors, with much loved people who have died, with remembering. But there is also the ‘Oriental’ respect for objects themselves, about which the Japanese writer Yasushi Inoué wrote in Le Maître du thé: how, in the tea ceremony, every object and its position in the room is selected with the greatest care. And in addition to his playing with objects, Hoghe’s pieces make exceptional use of light and shadow, in the conviction that darkness or half-darkness can make more things ‘visible’ or tangible than full illumination. This ‘beauty of the shadows’ also has Oriental connotations. On this topic, the Japanese author Junichiro Tanizaki wrote: ‘We do not find beauty in the things themselves, but in the patterns of shadows, in the light and the dark, that the one thing causes in the other.’ It is precisely this ritual nature of Hoghe’s work that makes it perfectly easy to transfer it from a small to a large space. Its intimacy does not require proximity - e.g. the need to see facial expressions. Its intimacy comes from being almost ‘initiated’ into simple actions ‘pregnant with previous history’.
However much intimacy seems to guide Hoghe’s work, his artistic world is not narrow and closed. Society, politics and the socialised human context flow into it, lying like a broad circle around events on stage. Even in his autobiographically-tinged trilogy (Meinwärts, Chambre séparée & Another dream), the era in which the personal development takes place always plays a leading part. The politics of Hoghe’s work does not show itself in forthright political statements, but rather in the establishment of a feeling for life, a ‘political attitude’ in and outside the work. This political attitude is expressed in his concern with those marginalised by society and in his choice of ordinary, everyday things and not what is fashionable and spectacular, not virtuosity. When assembling the group for Young people, old voices he deliberately went against the politically correct trend of putting a multicultural company on stage. He choose young people who are fascinating him for their simplicity and natural beauty. His multiculturality lies in the sources he uses, e.g. the presence of the Japanese culture to which we have already referred, and the Indian or African wedding rituals that inspired him.
Finally, the politics of Hoghe’s work is expressed in the artistic course he has marked out for himself so far, and the way he has always chosen the more difficult path of the independent Einzelgänger in the German theatre world, so thoroughly dominated by those major institutions, the civic theatres.
The structure of Hoghe’s plays, and the methods of composition he uses, are based on an emphatic belief in the power of linearity. Various elements, actions and sequences are set alongside each other in a craftsmanlike, almost archaic manner. But just as people who live alongside or close to each other ultimately come to love one another, and can no longer do without each other, the juxtaposed elements in Hoghe’s pieces enter into indiscernibly intense connections with each other. Hoghe wants to capture the simplicity of life, the flow of things, not the moments that stand out (the ‘adventures’ to which we suddenly feel we have to attach so much importance), because these striking, significant moments, which give a life form and narrative unity, are in reality not actually there. On this point, interpreting Cesare Pavese, Patricia de Martelaere wrote, ‘a life can only reveal itself as an entity when, as a life, it is over...’. In this sense, all pursuit of simplicity is a task that can only be sustained a whole life long. Like this, the simplicity sought is linked to dying and can therefore only be found in death. Yasushi Inoué: ‘La simplicité est devenue pour ainsi dire la substance de la mort.’
©Marianne van Kerkhoven
Translation: Gregory Ball