POZNAŃ: Malta Festival. The Paradox of the Spectator

Theatre is an actor and a spectator. What roles do they play today on the stage, on the audience, in social life? Malta Festival 2016, an international interdisciplinary festival of visual arts, theatre and dance, has just started. This is what the curator of this year’s edition, Lotte van den Berg says to invite us: “We present you theatre spaces that offer the possibility to experience both the exhausting chaos of today’s world and a challenging refuge within it.”

Lotte van den Berg, working on the Malta Festival Idiom - The Paradox of the Spectator - reverses the perspective on how the performing arts are understood. In her approach, theatre does not begin with the actor but with the viewer: the one who chooses to watch. Van den Berg believes that to pause, to take a seat and to watch requires similar courage to the one required to go out on stage. What does the act of watching entail? Why do we constantly need to look at others? Who determines the plane of being a spectator and the personal responsibility for what one is looking at? What makes us look away and what can we not take our eyes off? And how are we changed by the image we look at? The word “paradox” in the title of this year’s Idiom points to the inner contradiction of being a “spectator”: not only in the latest play, but also in social life.


Old Brewery New Dance Nowy: HYPERDANCES Agata Siniarska photo: Jakub Wittchen for Art Stations Foundation by Grażyna Kulczyk


In the modern world, we are all snooping and being snooped on. This problem was opened up for discussion two decades ago by the Big Brother television franchise. Today, judging by the role of the Internet, the show seems a harmless episode in the history of popular culture. Thanks to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, snooping has become widespread. We can constantly both monitor the lives of others and be observed.  It is not enough to say anymore that life is a theatre where we alternate between being the actors and viewers of our own and someone else’s fate. The metaphor of people playing roles imposed upon them by a director is no longer sufficient, whilst the theatre it refers to has become obsolete. Contemporary artists use various approaches in their attempts to activate viewers, and to depart from the traditional stage/audience system and the active/passive division.


“During the twenty-sixth Malta Festival, we want the viewers, the passers-by, the artists, the guests and the organizers to form a group together in order to discover some new perspectives on being a spectator.  The performances, installations, lectures, films, concerts and debates will create an eclectic fresco which, in many ways, will bring to light the eponymous paradox of the spectator: it will problematise the act of watching and provoke those involved to look.”

says Katarzyna Tórz i  Dorota Semenowicz from Programme Section, Poznań Malta Festival 2016.


The Idiom programme features projects which give a similar role to the viewers, who will decide for themselves what they want to see and what meanings to accept in their act of perception and identification. This includes a performance where the audience looks at the action from afar and experiences a growing sense of helplessness, as well as a live installation that introduces ambiguous images into public space, forcing passers-by to stop, and to consciously look at and define what they find confusing. There will also be a show reminiscent of a wild party over which we lose control, a tour of an abandoned theatre where the division of roles between the supernumerary, the viewer and the actor becomes completely obscured, and a performance/conversation in which the viewers/actors will jointly consider alternative debating methods.


Building Conversation Lotte Lotte van den Berg photo Kris Dewitte


In the context of the Idiom, of particularly importance will be this year’s Generator Malta, the plane for engaging a particular group of viewers, actors and witnesses, i.e. the residents of Poznań. The city, which has always been present at the Malta Festival as a subject, an experimental training ground and an inspiration, stands alongside the viewer as a protagonist in which we can also see a paradox. To its residents, the city displays a dual dimension: it can be a shared asset that belongs to society and supports connections, but also a sphere that alienates people and conforms to the interests of some narrow groups. Finally, it is a plane of rebellion and resistance, the scene of fighting for freedom. These latter values will be referred to by Jan Komasa in a multimedia performance commissioned by the Malta Festival to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Poznań 1956 protests.


Jan Komasa, photo: Agata Schreyner


The festival programme is not about instructing the viewers or telling them what is right or wrong in our private and collective strategies of looking. Artists will present a variety of perspectives on and attitudes towards being in the world, as well as some different possible approaches to the observation of and participation in the arts. What does it mean “to act” or “to watch” or “to act by watching”?  Lotte van den Berg points out that in these uncertain times we need dialogue, i.e. skilfully conducted conversation, more than ever. The paradox of the spectator will not be removed, but a reflection upon it may help us understand that which surrounds us and take a conscious stance.


Full curatorial text

Programme and tickets: malta-festival.pl/eng

Photos: press materials






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