Is the next economic crisis already looming over our heads? Are we about to get caught up in brutal conflicts over wealth and resources? Do we need just such a crisis to finally be able to tackle changes that would never be enforceable in times allowing for no alternatives? With their project ‘Which Future?!’, Andres Veiel and Jutta Doberstein have set out to question and rethink our basic concepts of economics, democratic participation, and social justice. The project’s format – a series of participatory events – will serve as a model for future programmes at the Humboldt Forum as a place where people are invited to enter into debates, exchange ideas, and become creative.
Mr Veiel, your plan is to bring people together in various fora in order to come up with predictive scenarios for the near future. How did you conceive such an idea?
The impetus came from the financial crisis of 2008/2009. This was yet another instance in which I felt I was behind the curve in addressing an urgent phenomenon that had already occurred. So the interviews conducted with banking executives on which I based my play The Raspberry Empire served as a sort of post-mortem. On the other hand, they also made it clear to me that such a crisis can recur very quickly. What also struck me was the increasing frequency of crisis events; from the financial crisis and euro crisis to the so-called ‘refugee crisis’ – they seem to be coming thick and fast of late. This has created a constant state of tension that keeps us from grasping the complex relationships and backgrounds involved. But when a crisis hits, this also forces us to take decisions for which we may otherwise lack the courage. So it sometimes takes a crisis for us to really get to the bottom of things and develop new models in the process.
Why a concept with four different fora?
The first step was to perform the research, and to do it publicly. For the Which Future?! Laboratory at the Deutsches Theater in September 2017, we invited scientists and experts from all over the world, together with other participants, to develop scenarios for future trends in the context of thirteen different workshops. The topics addressed included economics and financial structures, as well as the future of work, of nutrition, and of the climate. The results obtained were then collected and collated in a follow-up plenary session. This allowed us to create a narrative of the next ten years. And that is what we are now bringing to the symposium, where international scientists will flesh out the results obtained in the laboratory. This second phase will be much more focused, thematically speaking. The symposium’s topic will be Rethinking State – the Next State. Is the nation state a model for ‘old-timers’ from the 19th century that has outlived its usefulness, now that humanity’s existential problems can only be solved on a transnational level? Or can such problems only be solved by strong individual states, ones equipped with the corresponding powers of regulation?
As a third step, the topic will be further explored in the context of a stage play, one that will address the pitfalls that even the most well-intentioned approach to reforming the state and the economy may encounter in practice. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, after all. The fourth and final event will be a wrap-up conference, which will then attempt to hone in on the question of how a financial and economic system that seems inherently prone to crisis can be fundamentally rethought in a viable fashion.
So scientific expertise and public debate are two key aspects of Which future?! What role do the Deutsches Theater and the Humboldt Forum play as venues for the project?
Working in theatre means taking time out to escape the din of the day-to-day political arena while at the same time reacting to it in aesthetic terms. Deutsches Theater is practically predestined for this task, since it expressly welcomes such discussion and supports it accordingly. The Humboldt Forum, too, is an ideal place thanks to its underlying conception as a crossroads where science, world cultures, and the general public come together. Alexander von Humboldt, one of the two brothers for whom the forum is named, was exemplary in recognising self-reflection as a prerequisite for knowledge: Working as a botanist, geologist, biologist, and chemist in interdisciplinary fashion, he was always ready to change his frame of reference as needed, to reassess accepted notions of ‘periphery’ and ‘centre,’ and to force himself to see things from differing perspectives, This is precisely the sort of self-reflective search, one in which we second-guess ourselves again and again, that we intend to engage in at What future?!. It’s about sharing one‘s own knowledge rather than claiming to have a monopoly on wisdom – and about accepting that our ability to control things is ultimately limited. And so we hope to keep growing from journey to journey – even if we only shuttle between the Deutsches Theater and the Humboldt Forum!
Interview: Lars Klaaßen
is regarded as one of the leading proponents of the politically engaged art scene. A distinctive feature of Veiel‘s approach is his reliance on intensive research, sometimes requiring years at a time, as the basis for his projects. His films Winternachtstraum (Winter Night‘s Dream) (1991), Balagan (1993), Die Überlebenden (The Survivors) (1996), Black Box BRD (Black Box Germany) (2001), Die Spielwütigen (Addicted to Acting) (2004), Der Kick (The Kick) (2006), Wer wenn nicht wir (If not us, who?) (2011), and Beuys (2017) have received more than forty awards among them, including the European Film Award and, on several occasions, the German Film Award. His plays Der Kick (The Kick) (2006) and Das Himbeerreich (The Raspberry Empire) (2013) were premiered under his direction at the Maxim Gorki Theatre and the Deutsches Theater and are frequently put on as guest performances (e.g. at the Berliner Theatertreffen festival).
is a freelance author and creative developer for the film and television industry. In addition to producing fictional formats, she specialises in the development of documentary material and online content. Ms Doberstein has experience as a curator and has sat on the selection panel for various film festivals. She has been collaborating with Andres Veiel for several years now and also works regularly as a script translator for feature films and documentaries.