Expectations were high as I headed for a performance by the young British artist Tris Vonna-Michell in Schöneberg. Here, Doris Mampe and Vanessa Ohlraun are currently in charge of a promising program at 'Center'; a project-space initiated by artists in 2003. To account for the evening in terms of a linear narrative, would do injustice to Vonna-Michell's headstrong practice of storytelling that balances between a carefully dosed amount of clues and intended gaps of information. The performance 'Papierstau' (paper jam) consisted of several 'sessions' during which he would repeat more or less the same story within a successively briefer period of time. The ones that I attended lasted between one and four minutes. During the first one I understood little, but was kept alert by the extraordinary energy of Vonna-Michell's person and his brilliant capability of seducing his audience with the rhythm of his voice combined with a lively body language and his special clothing (turquoise jogging trousers, a pair of elegant grey shoes, a golden jacket and a childish cap). The story was centred on nine photocopies of different photos that he flipped through as if they formed a sort of manuscript. The extremely dense flow of words (partially sharing the rap-like quality of poetry slam) changed between abstract passages of breathtaking rapidity and passages that made perfectly sense. Just as one had grabbed a red thread to follow, another instant of stumbling words and nonsense would cause an end to it. Gathered from the following sessions and the few props that were left, a fragmented story began to make sense to me: the development of a software able to reconstruct the content of the Stasi files that were destroyed in 1989 (now existing in the shape of 16.000 sacks with scraps of paper), a stay in Leipzig during which Vonna-Michell would meticulously destroy all of his personal photographs with a primitive paper shredder that was also part of the performance, a painting by Van Gogh depicting solitude, and the repeated rearrangement of a chair, a bed and a desk. Personal events (his parents and a girlfriend were also mentioned) were combined with the heavy history of surveillance in East Germany, and the whole evening was documented by means of an old-school tape-recorder, recording not only the voice of Vonna-Michell but also the small-talk of the audience that took place between the sessions. So willingly or not, the audience became part of the conspiracy of a performance in itself, and furthermore the length of the tape determined the duration of the performance as a whole. Even though there was a clear structure and an intended story behind the evening, there is a refreshing immediacy to Vonna-Michell's practice if compared to the staged and spectacular performances by, say, John Bock or Tino Sehgal. The gaps that he makes sure to leave behind make one curious for more and fortunately there will be other chances to meet him in Berlin soon, with performances coming up at Johann König and at KunstWerke this summer.
Tris Vonna-Michell, "Papierstau", Center
Kurfürstenstraße 172, 1.?24.06.2007
Tris Vonna-Michell, Courtesy Center, Berlin (© Foto: Erik Blinderman)