Do opposites attract or do birds of a feather simply flock together? Humans are social creatures. It is crystal clear that we seek and strive for friendships, make and maintain them. Friends turn to one another, are happy when they see each other. They can rely on each other. People feel they can really be themselves with their friends. And meeting up remains intriguing. A good mix of agreement and difference reinforces our interest in our friends. The more important friendship is for everyone, the easier it becomes to misuse and instrumentalize the term.
Certain “friendships” are bought, especially in the political and economic spheres. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. Business friendships are often forged over a meal, with drinks on tap. Good, better or bad friends … establishing a scale highlights the absurdity of putting this into words. Aren’t the best friendships often the self-evident ones that are as essential as the air we breathe or clean drinking water—likewise only mentioned when absent?
Admittedly, when we began addressing GOOD FRIENDS as a theme for this year’s Munich Biennale, the initial association was with the term in its ironic, even sarcastic, sense. Especially in the context of relations between peoples and nations, where friendship can also mean mutual exploitation and subjugation. The more powerful and the weaker friend—and all the ramifications that entails. And, of course, we could not even guess what disastrous consequences certain “friendships” between so-called “Brudervölker” would have. At the same moment we were rather pleased to see that the topic opens up in multiple directions, allowing it to be understood simultaneously in universal and utopian terms. Which friendships could be possible? How can new friendships emerge? What potential do they contain for individuals and for societies? Drawing on that idea, we came up with possible constellations of duos for this year’s festival and sought to instigate work-based friendships that cut across borders and systems.
For example, Swedish composer Malin Bång and Chinese writer Pat To Yan then jointly explored the issue of possible and impossible friendships. Ukrainian author Serhij Zhadan, who was already living in the middle of a war zone when we asked him two years ago, created SONGS OF EXILE AND NO RETURN with Austrian composer Bernhard Gander. A. L. Kennedy, the Scottish author, wrote a spatial composition with Irish composer Ann Cleare that weaves together a number of figures in a model music-theater vein.
Such connections across borders are of course per se no guarantee of friendship. Perhaps they can however create perspectives that call political abuse of the term “friendship” into question and open our eyes to genuine trust and cooperation.
As a free-style adaptation of our conviction that we should not necessarily be aiming for theater that is political (or labeled as such), but should concentrate instead on addressing how to make theater that is political in and of itself. Incidentally, the words “free” and “friend” share
the same roots.
We feel free among friends.
Since taking charge of programming the Munich Biennale for New Music Theater, we have endeavored to address issues that materialize in personal and societal space alike. Art should not be a mere pretext for socio-political issues, but is free to turn in various directions in response to particular questions. We all rely on friendships They offer the only way for solidarity and cohesion to emerge, from the inside out, within society and between people in different societies. Art has always served as an example of ways to invigorate, explore and pervade this spectrum that extends from freedom to obligation. We are delighted that we have once again been able to count on wonderful and extraordinary support from the City of Munich, especially from the Department of Arts and Culture. And are likewise delighted to enjoy such an enduringly amicable cooperation with Spielmotor Munich. We would like to thank the entire Biennale team for trusting, critical and productive interactions, and for all still remaining on good terms!
In this spirit we wish you all an enjoyable festival in May 2022, which we hope will prove inspiring and have a lasting impact!
Daniel Ott, Manos Tsangaris,
Artistic directors, Munich Biennale—Festival of New Music Theater