more from the
Sept/Oct 2013 issue:
Victory Against Time:
Demonstrative Urgency of Performance in the State of Resistance
by Sandra Skurvida
Farming in Europe:
Four Character Studies
Text / Calla Henkel, Pablo Larios, Max Pitegoff,
and Dena Yago
Farming in Europe is the debut play at New Theater, a Berlin theater space run by Calla Henkel and
Max Pitegoff that is opening in fall 2013. Set in present-day Berlin, Farming in Europe is the story of a
failing restaurant and the figures who surround it: Carol, the restaurant's idealistic, if art-savvy,
owner; Veronica, her mid-20s employee who has just moved to Berlin after finishing college; Dave, the
carefree, relaxed chef; Anja, Carol's good friend and shopkeeper; and Ricard, an estranged friend and
performance artist who has just returned for Berlin Gallery Weekend.
The script for Farming in Europe is written by Calla Henkel, Pablo Larios, Max Pitegoff, and Dena
Yago. Artists including Vittorio Brodmann, DUOX, Yngve Holen, Morag Keil, Matthew Lutz-Kinoy,
Tobias Madison, Marlie Mul, Emanuel Rossetti, Stefan Tcherepnin, and Jean-Michel Wicker will be
responsible for other aspects of the play's production: set design, costumes, lighting, props, etc.
A final read-through of the script will occur on the steps of the Kunstverein in Duüsseldorf,
Germany, on September 4, 2013, as part of Adam Harrison's project Studio for Propositional Cinema.
The following four texts, character studies of the play's central figures, are prose sketches written
by the script's four authors.
Carol has just located a space for the new restaurant. Remarkable, really—perfect and interesting.
Actually, it's a bit farther out than hoped, but that does not matter. This is where the young people are moving.
The restaurant will have its pull. Conceptual, organic, locally sourced, "rhizomatic," as she tells the new
landlord, Herr Schoknecht, when the day comes to sign the lease. The landlord's children are uncharacteristically well-behaved
and sit outside, which is good since usually Carol can't stand the sight of children. She senses the kindly landlord's smile
while running her Muji pen over the papers, though she does not read them. Her German is bad. And the smile disappears after
Carol stuffs two copies of the lease into her bag and departs with a "ciao" that is fashionably staccato.
It's an expanse of spirit she hasn't felt in months. It's an expanse of spirit she hasn't felt since her last spinning class.
In Greece, Michalis, her on-and-off boyfriend whose wealthy family has agreed to back the restaurant until it
gets off the ground, receives a BlackBerry message:
"i feel ... it's really almost mystical."
Michalis jumps into the pool.
"you have to experience this. Xx"
Carol holds her phone by her side and strolls the neighborhood, watching the svelte bikers, hearing the
singsong of birds in spring, and Instagramming the sprawl of pastel leaves above her head. She comes to the Trödelmarkt
that—like a mustard stain on an otherwise clean skirtblemishes her new corner.
While some people come to Berlin to face history, she came because it didn't have any. Carol has never been to
Checkpoint Charlie, which she knows better as the name of her friend's gay bar. Berlin, Alexanderplatz is blocked on YouTube here,
so Carol was never in a position to decide whether the city fits, in reality, the version of itself it presents on TV. It was pointed
out to her once that TV is also reality, so why complain? Some things never change, anyway.
The neighborhood the new restaurant's in—the whole city, really—is indeed changing. Thankfully it is not yet the sleek
row of fashion pop-ups and fair-trade laptop cafés that, a few years ago, began to colonize each block of her life:
- Bowdoin College: thesis on "Pasolini, Transgression and The Little Mermaid"
- East Village: Adderallized melancholy; "expansive" relationship with Brett
- "Lost Years," working bar at independent project spaces in New York
- Friend from college Ricard (graduated two years ahead), in town for first Performa
festival, introduces C. to Sylvére Lotringer at dinner party in TriBeCa
- Brief open sexual affair with Paul Virilio at European Graduate School, which she
attends with future best friend Anya
- Notebooks filled with thoughts on food and Deleuze; autobiographical, art-world-themed
short stories distributed as chapbook by friend's independent press
- Small-press book release parallel event during Istanbul Biennale; meets Michalis at a rooftop party
- "Get out while you can"—Sylvére Lotringer
- Two years living and working with Michalis in his family cottage in Greece
But—if she's honest with herself—Berlin contains little of the laissez-faire, DIY, "untapped" naïveté she had initially
expected from the city. The very qualities the easyJet magazine still raves about. Carol loves it. But nobody told her about the bottle
collectors. Nobody told her about the soiled Trödel people, who come out in the night, like Calibans or Elephant Men, to haul into uncertain
spaces chunky Biedermeyer furniture, grandmothers' utensils, lint, crumbs, quasi-Nazi badges. Who knows, maybe they actually are the real
historians of our time. Or else they are just versions of the spooked, formless bogeymen she first learned to visualize during her
self-defense Aikido lessons, after her breakup a decade ago with Brett....
Carol, entering, whispers—with uncharacteristic meekness—"Hello!" and hops to the side. It's strange, feeling
like a five-year-old who has just escaped the adults' dinner to hide under
the table. Maybe, if she folds her hands around her own waist, and pretends to shrink, it will make her scoot by thinner,
remain invisible, ethereal ....
It is never simply about selection, Carol says to herself, it is about combination. Carol recalls, vaguely,
Ricard once telling her that poetry, according to theorist Jakobson, is a "projection" of equivalence from "selection" to "combination."
And the same goes for food.
In bed that evening, she jots down in her notebook that her restaurant should make people feel freer after eating,
and not fatter or more "full," as is conventional. She should be making participants out of customers. In her rhizomatic "diagram,"
personal fulfillment or emptiness does not apply. The art should help with this.
Everything is in order. Everything is brand new. It is unclear to her, though, why she has decided to purchase from
the junk shop down the street a large reproduction of C.M. Coolidge's Waterloo aka Dogs Playing Poker, although she feels it belongs
somewhere in the restaurant, maybe in the bathroom.
The play begins in a restaurant, where a young woman seated on the edge of a table recites a menu. Her eyes stare past
the audience and up towards the lights. She is in a relaxed state of memorization.
"Fresh spinach salad."
"Massaged kale salad."
"Radish with pine nuts."
The restaurant walls are hung with art: small paintings, reliefs, portraits of the restaurant owner, all
trades for food credit from the late 90s (following in the footsteps of Paris Bar and, now, mirroring Soho House).
Veronica, the young woman reciting the menu, responds to a correction from the kitchen; tilting her
head to stage right, she calls back, "Okay, okay, no shallots." Veronica has been working at the restaurant for a
little over a year now. She is a recent graduate from an American liberal arts college.
This winter, writing, sitting around my dining room table, the four of us argued about Veronica's
level of student debt. We [realized] it would be unrealistic for Veronica to be in Europe, working in a failing
restaurant, if she had any substantial debt. But, on the other hand, it would be similarly unlikely for a recent
grad with her attitudes to escape the problem
of debt altogether.
Over dinner, we settled on the fact that Veronica would be deferring on a medium-to-small-sized
loan from Wells Fargo—thus framing her relationship to Europe, in part, as an escape from reality and adding a
sense of forebodingness [toward] any return to America.
In the next scene, the restaurant owner, Carol, enters [and drops] an oversized leather bag, exclaiming,
"I'm so tired (long pause as she looks around the room) but it doesn't matter: Ricard is coming. We have to do it like we used to."
After a few drinks, Carol will describe the restaurant as "my diagram, a center for life and art to
meet (pausing, sipping), a meeting place over the table." Carol's entire life is wrapped up in the business; she
even lived at the restaurant for a short period in 2008 when her "life fell apart."
Carol, as Veronica knows, is aware of relational aesthetics; she is more interested in the politics
of spaces and their impact on life (looking out at the audience). "It is about becoming a space, absorbing the
architecture." The financials of the restaurant have always been unstable, and although dedicated to the Bio
movement of the 2000s, Carol isn't above cutting corners: she sends Veronica off to Aldi to shop for spinach.
Carol retrieves a white MacBook from her large bag and begins to scroll through her .gmx email account.
"Veronica, we're going to need more of the Hoffman Simon white wine. Do you know how much we have in stock?"
Carol and Veronica's boss-employee relationship is foregrounded. Veronica coolly nods, looking behind
the bar, which is directly above Carol, obviously annoyed that Carol won't look up.
"We'll need more, I need you to call."
Veronica takes the phone hanging on the wall and scrolls through the speed dial queue till she finds
the wine guy. In her best German she orders twelve more bottles.
"Make it twenty-four."
Veronica nods at Carol and corrects the order.
Meanwhile, Anja enters. "Listen to the sounds of my language on the butcher block," Anja says, laughing
and clanking a shopping bag onto the table near Carol.
"I brought the French mustards." Anja, Carol's best friend, runs a shop in Mitte specializing in home
accoutrements—copper whisks and fancy spreads, honeys, jams, mustards, etc. Anja's politics are entrenched in a love
of running a business properly, and she enjoys chastising Carol for her relaxed outlook on finances.
Anja asks Veronica if she knows about Ricard. Veronica shakes her head while folding napkins, and Anja
takes this as her cue to begin telling the story—one of lovers and friendships, peppered with the obvious betrayals,
a few changes in sexual preference, and colorful descriptions of the artists who traded works for unlimited meals.
Carol interjects twice, embarrassed when her heartbreaks become fodder for Anja's story.
An onslaught of preparation begins as Carol tries to plan the meeting of the past and present in her "diagram."
For about four years now, a little family farm out in Lietzow, 40 kilometers east of Berlin, has been supplying
the restaurant with fresh, hyper-seasonal organic produce. The farm also helps them source their free-range
grass-fed beef, poultry, and wild game, which come from the surrounding Brandenburg area.
Ricard doesn't buy it. He wouldn't call himself a man of refined tastes, but he, for one, is
above this earthy German countryside bullshit. He thinks of his time in France (When? For how long? Infancy?
Childhood? His early 20s? Carol couldn't say.), his time in Greece (clean, fresh, crisp produce, thoroughly
washed in ocean water), his time in Spain (Cured! Meat!), his time between Thailand and New York (a job as a
sommelier for a summer, fired, thrilled). For Ricard, it's about Cuvée Blanc, fresh fish from the Mediterranean,
on a special occasion some rich French rabbit dish, lapin aux pruneaux, lapin ā la moutarde drop in time in a
boat in Majorca? Berlin is a wasteland of food, it is nothing, those damn potatoes, sausages, that shitty
coffee ... and please don't speak of the wine! Great cooks have come to the city to try to finally make something good,
something wonderful, out of that blandness, but time after time they fail. Ricard maintains: the only good food to
speak of in Berlin is imported from France, from Greece, from Spain, from Thailand, from New York.
Even the good art has to be imported! In the early 2000s, when Ricard was a painter ("young and stupid"),
he lived in a ramshackle studio in Prenzlauer Berg where he made sloppier versions of Neo Rauch paintings, two of which
are still hanging on the walls of the restaurant. Free expression! But too much cocaine ... and Anya's cynicism towards
his work didn't help either. Ricard steps onto the tarmac at BER and realizes it's his first time back in nine years.
Carol's ex-partner and former chef, Stephan, contacted the farm four years ago. The kitchen is still
Stephan's kitchen, but it's messier now, with quick-fix microwaves and dollar-store water boilers on top of the
more ambitious culinary appliances purchased when the restaurant was just starting. Dave, the new chef, doesn't
need much, which is precisely why Carol hired him.
Dave is Canadian, or, no, Californian, from coastal Maine—whatever—his nonchalance gives way to an effuse aggression
that has been cultured, like his grains of water kefir, between the pages of Days of War, Nights of Love, sort of.
After college, Dave manned the boats of a friend's rich uncle, Ricard, in Majorca. Dave did not reject Ricard's sexual
advances, but neither did Ricard's niece reject Dave's. Fifteen percent of Dave's graduating class moved to Prague after
finishing their studies—this ages him. Six percent of that fifteen percent then moved to Berlin, and it was this six percent
that Dave contacted when things got weird on the boat.
Dave moved into an apartment in Schöneberg by himself—because he could. After a few months of infrequent
employment (mostly heavy lifting) and frequent travel (mostly international art fairs, re: heavy lifting), Dave thought,
"Why bother?" He moved into a WG in Neukölln with three percent of that six percent. Dave is a darling of midcareer
artists—this classes him. Dave's proximity to affluence means that he can always find his way to an artist's dinner,
as long as he is able to supply the appropriate side dishes. Dave supplied Anja's Mitte shop with homemade mustard.
He harvested honeycomb from the Soho House's rooftop apiary. He took an unglazed quarry tile from one of Max and
Calla's sculptures and used it as a bread stone, bringing varieties (both glutenous and gluten-free) to dinners at Carol's restaurant.
Like Veronica, Dave's North American liberal arts education (Cooper Union, or, no, Columbia,
Concordia—whatever) was peppered with Wild Fermentation, experiments in home brewery, the gifting of "mothers."
Almost all ended in a five-centimeter layer of mold, some toxic, some edible.
Lying on Calla's chaise longue, discussing the Daves of our lives over dinner.
A break came when we decided to watch Whit Stillman's 1998 film, The Last Days of Disco, [in which]
a group of educated young graduates in early eighties New York City try to negotiate their low-pay careers with an active
nightlife at the soon-to-be-raided Studio 54. This ultimately results in DEA raids, migrations to Barcelona, and herpes.
As artists, writers, freelancers, we are all laterally (not upwardly, or horizontally) mobile (or integrated).
All of us moved here independently around 2008 or 2009. In discussing our relationships to Carol, we were discussing our
relationship to theater. Our relationship to acting as artist/writer/bartender/business owner ... versus our first steps
of being as such. And from those first steps, taking secondary first steps in dealing with self-representation.
What is our Studio 54? Our Barcelona?
And our herpes? We could only come to agree on debt as a metric.
Pablo Larios is a writer. His essays and criticism appear regularly in frieze, Kaleidoscope, Spike Art Quarterly, and frieze d/e,
where he is also an editor. He lives in Berlin.
Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff have worked collaboratively since attending Cooper Union School of Art, New York, from which both graduated in 2011.
They ran the bar Times with Lindsay Lawson in Berlin between 2011 and 2012. Their work has been exhibited at Tanya Leighton, Berlin; VI, VII, Oslo;
T293, Naples; Kunsthalle Bern; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; and Artists Space, New York. New Theater opened in Berlin in August.
Dena Yago, born in 1988 in New York, received her BA from Columbia University in 2010. Her work has been exhibited at Sandy Brown, Berlin;
Tomorrow Gallery, Toronto; and The Emily Harvey Foundation, New York. Along with four other artists and writers, she is a producer of K-HOLE,
an annually released trend forecasting report. She currently lives and works in New York.
Illustrations by Vittorio Brodmann, watercolor and acrylic on paper, 24 x 17 centimeters (courtesy of the artist)