Komuna Warszawa: “The Books”

The only intuition of “The Books” is to tell three stories. Komuna//warszawa has no pretensions to their interpretation. It is rather that we ourselves watch them unfold with interest.1. “The Book of the Inventor” is devoted to Richard Buckminster Fuller (1895-1983) – an American architect, inventor and visionary, one of the last Great Apostles of Progress and Technology, the author of the term, “spaceship Earth”, which describes our place in the universe and the need for an all-round view of our planet. 2. “The Book of the Arsonist” tells the story of Yongle (1360-1424) – an emperor of China of the Ming dynasty. He had built a huge fleet that could sail around and conquer the entire world. All he did was send gifts to the kings of India and Mogadishu. Afterwards he ordered all this ships burnt down. 3. “The Book of the Garden” is a search for a place of rest and peace after a job well done. It is a place “between”. But even there nothing is as it should be. It is, however, exclusively possible. /////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////// The actors – labourers of ceremony, gymnast engineers – partly playing, patly learning the space and the matter. Repetition of mechanical actions creates symbols and metaphors. Rough,unpolished, mechanical. On occasion one gets the impression the performance is nothing but Kantor’s theatre translated into a modern idiom. Death is different here, God is different, the roles of memory and of the director-demiurge are different. But the deepest sense of human gesture remains the same. Łukasz Drewniak, Dziennik, 2011 


Komuna. The Books. After Utopia

Tomasz Plata

Failed utopias – it seems the favourite subject for komuna//warszawa. In the past, under the name of Komuna Otwock, the ensemble traced carefully the path of the most significant utopias of modernity. It evoked Walter Gropius, who dreamt of a perfectly designed world, but in the end lost in a struggle against capital; it quoted Zygmunt Bauman’s theories that linked Holocaust with the modern ideal of order; it mocked the Red Army Faction members whose modern dream of equality led to extreme violence. In each komuna performance utopia showed its dark side, as it is put into question, turned inside out; each time, an ideal social project proves a failure when confronted with practice.

The point of departure for „The Books” is virtually identical. For the protagonist of the first part, the ensemble chooses Richard Buckminster Fuller, perhaps the last visionary of the modern era, an architect, philosopher, a believer in radical, permanent change. It was Fuller who used to say, “I’m not a noun, I’m a verb,” meaning, “I want to change just as the world changes around me, I want to be just as mutable, open to transformation, because process is always more interesting and important than its result.” In this Fuller fit perfectly into the mythology of modernity – for modernity, after all, the concept of change was a central, defining one. It is worth noting that over a year ago, when working on a book that was to be summary of Komuna Otwock’s first 20 years, we devoted the main chapter to change. One of the authors wrote at the time (recalling Marx): “All that is solid melts into thin air,” and, “all that is sacred is profaned” – from these two sentences all sensible theories of modernity can be derived.” In modernity, all that was solid was to be destroyed or transformed, undermined in the name of the bright future. Fuller was certainly one of the most dedicated prophets of this line of thinking.

Today komuna//warszawa takes him to account. The verdict may not be as harsh as in the case of Gropius or the RAF terrorists, but it is bitter, to say the least. For where is the world of technological bliss that Fuller promised? Is Spaceship Earth thanks to Fuller’s inventions really headed in the right direction? And what about costs of the whole brouhaha? What about the falling apart of the family? What with attempted suicides? Once again, as in performances on Gropius or J.S. Mill, komuna sets its protagonist’s theories against his life experience. And the confrontation does not look pretty. Utopia shakes in its foundations and collapses before our very eyes. Modernity once again fails to meet its promise, turns to disappointment.

But this time it is not just modernity. The second part of the performance is the story of the Chinese emperor, Yongle of the Ming Dynasty, who built a powerful navy capable of conquest of perhaps the entire world. Yongle could change everything and changed nothing. He did not wage war on anybody, his navy merely brought some gifts to foreign rulers and was quickly burnt down. “The utmost desire is to come to a halt and listen to as air giving up heat rubs against the walls of the Forbidden City,” as we are told in “The Books”. On some level it is the quintessence of what we might think about the pre-modern era – static, focused on upholding the status quo. Yongle wishes for history to come to an end. More than that – he believes himself a witness of that very end. Komuna does not blame him for this naïveté. The ensemble’s line of attack is directed at elsewhere: doubts about Yongle’s reticence, suggesting that it is nothing but escapism, unsustainable withdrawal from the world – yet another unrealisable utopia.

In other words: neither radical change nor radical rejection of change. Komuna looks on both these options with suspicion. And in the third part, instead of dwelling on utopias, it embarks on a sober diagnosis of its surroundings. We find ourselves in a beautiful garden, which however soon turns out to be more of a zoo with trained monkeys. It is sort of pleasant: you can read, you can enjoy the view. The only worrying detail is the constant presence of a trainer, suggesting there is no way out of the garden. Is this our world? A world of small pleasures, experienced under strict supervision? Komuna does not necessarily suggest these well-worn interpretations. For “The Books” end with a scene showing that the trainer’s eyes can be covered for at least a little while, allowing one to get on with obviously useful work. The oppressive garden thus turns into a place of genuine cultivation, independent work, maybe even of self-realisation.

“The Books”, sometimes in literal sense, have frequently turned up in komuna’s earlier works. They usually pointed to bookish knowledge, the theoretical kind, somehow empty and always contrasted with practice, action. This motif returns in “The Books”. The whole performance is, in stylistic terms, built on an identical contrast: between speech and action, between theory and practice (as in previous performances, the actors do one thing and say another, there is no clear relationship between these two spheres). However, the last scene seems to redefine this issue as well: actors plant crops in their field, taking leafs torn out of books as a sort of tool, a handy implement. The effect is one of theory supporting practice, of two opposites coming