The Transformative Power of Art – Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and Christoph Schlingensief’s participatory experiment: Opera Village Africa

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Conference, Research Forum
An Interdisciplinary Conference

The Transformative Power of Art – Richard Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk and Christoph Schlingensief’s participatory experiment: Opera Village Africa

The Courtauld Institute of Art, Somerset House, Strand, London

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Speakers include

  • Prof John Deathridge: King's College London
  • Chris Dercon: Tate Modern
  • Aino Laberenz: Opera Village Africa
  • Gregor Muir: ICA

Organised by

  • Sarah Hegenbart: The Courtauld Insititute of Art
  • Professor Sarah Wilson: The Courtauld Insititute of Art
£26 general admission (£16 students, Courtauld staff/students, and concessions)

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The aim of this conference is to explore Christoph Schlingensief’s participatory art project Opera Village Africa against the backdrop of Richard Wagner’s idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk. We wish to approach this topic from the perspective of multiple disciplines including anthropology, art history, cultural studies, history, musicology, philosophy, postcolonial studies and theatre studies.

The founding of the Opera Village Africa in Burkina Faso is inextricably linked with Schlingensief’s critical engagement with the writing and music of Richard Wagner, who served Schlingensief throughout his career as a touch-stone for a process of working through the heritage of the German past. The soundtrack to Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1928) initially evoked Schlingensief’s ambiguous fascination for Wagner, which carried through his career work as filmmaker, theatre and opera director, actionist and performance artist. Schlingensief’s Parsifal production for the Bayreuth Festival on which he collaborated with the conductor Pierre Boulez in 2004 became pivotal to his subsequent projects. Disillusioned about the elitism and inaccessibility of opera, Schlingensief desired to do justice to the young Wagner’s anarchist ideas of a Gesamtkunstwerk that is accessible for everyone. His strategy to enable a diversity of audiences to participate in the Gesamtkunswerk was the Animatograph – a travelling rotating stage, which he developed out of his stage set for Parsifal and toured to a diversity of locations, such as Iceland, Namibia and Neuhardenberg. This journey provided inspiration for Schlingensief’s Opera Village Africa in Burkina Faso (2008-ongoing).

Did Schlingensief succeed in bringing Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk to life in the twenty-first century?

This is the question our conference will address and, we hope, attempt to answer.

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