18 edycja 18 edycja 18 edycja konfrontacje teatralne

Anna R. Burzyńska: The Art of Erasing, the Art of Remembering


Over the last couple of decades the “copy & paste” command has secured its position in the top ten of creative directives. The tactics of remixing have an infinite number of varieties, modifications and mutations depending on the material that is being used and the field of art within which it is being created. Sampling, mash-up, cut-ups, plunderphonics, recycling, rewriting, fan fiction, found footage, détournement, plagiarism, photomontage, collage, assemblage, bricolage, combine painting… We use those names to describe musical, literary, film, multimedia and art remixes. The world of theatre and dance remixes lacks precise names, a strange fact that provokes some reflection.


The word “remix” can be used to describe the final effect or product of the “copy-paste” practice. However, it can also be used to describe the practice itself. Its sense lies somewhere between one – the initial act, and the other – the final work. It is also used to describe the artistic process, both creative and receptive. One can exaggerate and say that in the creative process every artist remixes the conventions, motifs, aesthetics they got to know during their artistic (and social) education and that every new piece of art is a recombination of existing elements (used and remixed by a multitude of predecessors). Every new recipient edits and remixes in their own consciousness (and later in their memory) that piece of art they confront at the first reception . The artist selects elements that are important to him or her, builds structures and creates new orders, juxtaposing new experiences with those that are stored in his memory. A remix demands activity, not only from the artist but also from the spectator/listener/reader. Therefore, it is a performance par excellence that should make it an ideal tool ideal for theatre.  After all, isn’t watching a DJ mixing records a more “theatrical” experience than listening to the record?

At the same time a remix is very closely connected with the notion of a carrier (a mechanism or device by which something is conveyed or conducted)– that is why it has marked its place as a late development in “the age of mechanical reproduction” (to use a famous description created by Walter Benjamin) and has became commonly used in the current era of media and digital reproduction. The author of the remix collects samples from a chosen artefact or artefacts, which he then transplants or recombines into a new work of art. That is why the difference between a painter citing a motif from another painting and the creation of a collage with the use of scissors and glue, and scraps from a different piece of art is so large. Similarly, one can see the same gap between Chopin’s musical borrowings, who introduced a fragment of the Lulajże, Jezuniu carol right in the middle of his Scherzo h-moll op. 20, and the works of the avant-garde music group Negativland sampling and commenting on their mini-album songs by the famous Irish band U2. In this sense, theatre as a field of art deprived of tangible traces and carriers (it is hard to perceive dramatic texts, decorations or costumes as such) seems to be resistant to remixes and sampling even in the era when recording performances is very common. It does not mean, however, that a theatre or dance remix is impossible to create, quite the contrary.


Stage remix was not created within the last decade or even within the last fifty years. It is as old as theatre: we have, in fact, found in Shakespeare’s plays entire scenes consisting of paraphrases, parodies, and remixes or other stage forms such as allegorical masks, pantomime, and children’s theatre. These forms were common in Shakespeare’s times or preceded his works by only a couple of years. For centuries it was impossible to cross the boundary of individual memory in theatre remixing – the artists remixed what they had personally seen years or decades before (for example Tadeusz Kantor quoting fragments of performances by the first Theatre Cricot, Habimy or the Bauhas stage), or quite often from their own pieces (Kantor, but also Jerzy Grzegorzewski, among others). When looking further back in time, leaving individual memory aside, the hypothetical character of reconstruction made it impossible to introduce the “copy-paste” rule in its pure sense (a good example of these may be the experiments of the Gardzienice Theatre quoting in their performance-essays fragments of antique choreographies read from Greek vases and mosaics). Working with film recordings can also be perceived as playing Chinese whispers (a game played around the world, in which one person whispers a message to another, which is passed through a line of people until the last player announces the usually mangled original message to the entire group.) – the potential for making a mistake may be used in a creative way. There are some great examples of this, for example in The Poor Theatre, a remix created by The Wooster Group on the basis of the recording of Acropolis by Teatr Laboratorium as well as Poor Theatre: re//mix – “second level remix” done by Wojtek Ziemilski based on the recording of a performance of The Wooster Group (Wojtek’s project was a symbolic opening of the series initiated in April 2010 at the seat of komuna//warszawa on Lubelska street).

Artists invited to the re//mix series reach for elements that are within the range of memory, but also their extended memory, combining their own or inherited memory with the use of recordings and by the stories told by the older generation. They work with the live material of memories. This fact seems to be at the same time crucial and unique for the stage remixes.


There are two dominant strategies when it comes to choosing the material to be remixed. First is working on “anonymous” material that is unrecognizable to the audience and very often of quite poor artistic quality. Some examples of this strategy are: DJs recycling the beats coming from 70s’ disco recordings; Dadaists creating collages out of newspaper cuttings or found footage as used by the situationist René Viénet Can Dialectics Break Bricks?, where a bizarre plot of a third-rate kung-fu film was enhanced with a complex political and philosophical comment. The second strategy is tackling recognised and well-respected masterpieces: Marcel Duchamp painting a moustache on the portrait of Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci, or the series of pictures by Zbigniew Libera entitled Pozytywy put on stage, remixing important photos documenting 20th century history.

In both strategies a critical and a polemic potential is set in motion because a remix is a highly subversive, revolutionary, anarchistic and rebellious strategy. It should not come down to a simple parody, because in such a case it would only limit and oversimplify the sense and the range of the contexts, instead of broadening them. The tactics of a remix enables renegotiating the existing interpretations, challenging fossilized hierarchies, discovering new details, changing the perspective of the recipients, and broadening the inquiring sensitivity.

The authors of the re//mix series by komuna//warszawa have made a narrowed down search for material. Instead of choosing from the most embarrassingly bad examples from the world of theater and dance to subject them to a hatchet job, they decided instead to construct a positive programme. They did not attempt to be objective, focusing instead on the moment of subjectivity that can be found at the heart of the network of text and meanings which lie somewhere in between individual memory and the archive of culture. They collected a list of key names from the history of performing arts understood in an unorthodox way. The following

cannon chosen in a democratic way:
-      The Wooster Group (re//mix: Wojtek Ziemilski),
-      Pina Bausch (re//mix: Theatre Cinema),
-      La Fura dels Baus (re//mix: Marcin Liber),
-      Akademia Ruchu (re//mix: komuna//warszawa),
-      Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker (re//mix: Kaya Kołodziejczyk)

– and extended with names and groups proposed by the invited artists, who pointed out selected shows, choreographies and performances as their sources of inspiration:
-     Frank Castorf (re//mix: Łukasz Chotkowski),
-     Włodzimierz Majakowski (re//mix: komuna//warszawa),
-     Miron Białoszewski (re//mix: Krzysztof Garbaczewski and Marcin Cecko),
-     Tadeusz Kantor (re//mix: Paweł Passini),
-     Yvonne Rainer (re//mix: Weronika Pelczyńska),
-     Henryk Tomaszewski (re//mix: Leszek Bzdyl).

-and here are several artists waiting in a line (some masters will be remixed for the second time):

-      Trisha Brown (re//mix: Ramona Nagabczyńska),
-      Oskar Schlemmer (re//mix: Alex Baczynski-Jenkins),
-      John Cage (re//mix: Akademia Ruchu),
-      Lidia Zamkow (re//mix: Weronika Szczawińska),
-      Laurie Anderson (re//mix: Wojtek Ziemilski),
-      Merce Cunningham (re//mix: Izabela Szostak),
-      Henryk Tomaszewski (re//mix: Mikołaj Mikołajczyk),
-      Dario Fo (re//mix: Monika Strzępka & Paweł Demirski),
-      Akademia Ruchu (re//mix: Theatre Strefa Ciszy).
The series programmed by komuna//warszawa is a unique and unprecedented attempt to construct a living cannon of performing arts. This cannon is free from the temptation for hierarchy, because the world of remixes is built on a collaterality of mindsets, coexisting on the basis of the “both” not the “either-or” system. A remix puts in practice the categories of difference and repetition as defined by the philosopher Gilles Delueze. They reflect a variety of states of being that are seemingly the same, but are in fact always distinctive and impossible to be unified. Through the diversity of art offered (starting from contemporary dance, through performance art to the logocentric dramatic theatre) the series re//mix enables us to pinpoint the characteristics not only of the remixed phenomena, but also the stage remix in general, as a phenomena quite distinctive from a musical or film remix.


One of the most important practitioners and theoreticians of the art of remixing – Paul D. Miller, known as DJ Spooky entitled one of his articles, fundamental to the DJ culture, Algorithms: Erasing and the Art of Memory. A DJ is as much the lord and the master of his work (mercilessly cutting, distorting, recombining, pasting) as a medium for intergenerational transmission of cultural artefacts; someone who reproduces and retouches the faded frames of memories. This definition seems to me to be important especially in the case of theatre, which exists only in the dimension of memory, its shapes and colours blurring with the passing of time. An artist who decides to create a remix, looks for and unveils the layers of the former work of art, at times purposefully erasing some of its elements in order to provide the viewer with an opportunity to re-enter a structure that had already been closed up and petrified. A remix is an uninhibited intrusion into the endlessly growing archives of culture, a clash of collective cultural memory with the individual.

There is a stereotype that accuses DJ strategies of a lack of respect (if not hostility) towards the original authors of the work they remix. Paradoxically a remix defends the work of art by setting it free from the constraints of language. With time, the subject of the work of art fuses with its language to the extent that it is hard to separate them. Remixing means constantly renewing the approach towards the language by the subject of the artistic work, because “I” is most clearly seen in deformations, displacements and flaws. The more complex the language of the work of art, the more opportunities it gives to oppose it, converse with it or rebel against it.

There is one more phenomenon, reserved only for performance art that explains the special status of remixes conducted within this field. Recording a performance means extending the human body and using the media. A remix provides virtual beings with new bodies, strives to reconnect with the abandoned real, and shifts the weight from sense to sensuality, which entirely changes not only the means of presentation but also the mode of reception of the presented works.


Dj Spooky described DJ culture and the tactics of remix as the eugenics of imagination. It is, therefore, not only a method to prolong the life of works of art and cultural artefacts, but also a sort of positive selection; the best, most healthy, most inspiring bits will be reproduced on a large scale and bear “offspring” that will spread around the world. Whereas, on the other hand, the less valuable works shall be let to die slowly, as there is no authority able to bring them back to life (keeping them alive in an artificial way by putting them in the school cannon resembles mummification).

The strategy of remixing therefore resembles grafting: breaking a twig off an old tree not to destroy it, but to attach it onto another trunk. There, straightened by the juices of a younger individual, it will start to bear fruit again. Is the effect of such an operation difficult to foresee? Will the fruit have a completely new and unexpected taste? Yes it probably will, but it does not matter. Crossbreeds are healthy, contrary to the inbred offspring of pure breeds.

// Anna R. Burzyńska – assistant lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Drama of the Jagiellonian University. Author of books: Mechanika cudu (2005), The Classics and the Troublemakers (2008), Maska twarzy (2011) and Małe dramaty (2012). Theatre critic, editor of Theatre Magazine “Didaskalia”.

Source: RE//MIX. TEKSTY 2", komuna//warszawa 2012

Komuna Warszawa. Remixes