Stummer Diener


(Stummer Diener, installation view)

A project by Katarina Šević and Tehnica Schweiz

The installation is based on the 1958 drama by Max Frisch, Biedermann und die Brandstifter

Brief plot: In a bourgoise setting, arsonists set fire to houses. This industrial Biedermann and his wife become victim of the arsonists game. They allow two vagrants to settle in their attic and become passive witness of the preparation for the fire to come. Its happening in front of their eyes, still they don’t prevent it. The house burns down finally, and the entire city with it.

It is an epic drama in Brechtian tradition, but it is also a critical reaction to the Brechtian Lehrstück, as the subtitle entails: Lehrstück ohne Lehre: A Morality Play without a Moral

The appropriated texts are quotations from the play: seven chosen admonitions of the fireman, a choir of seven that expects a disaster to happen, but only has the means to give warnings, to extinguish the fire, but not to prevent it.

Stummer Diener is an object and at once a device for continues performative act. The choir stands in a circle around this object and ritually repeats the selected admonitions from the book in a given order.

The title of the installation, Stummer Diener (translates to mute servant) comes from the German name for the furniture type that became popular in homes of the expanding middle class during the Biedermeier period. It is a reminder of a style, a form of life and a general mood that grew out of the wealth of the bourgeoisie during the process of Restoration under Metternich between 1815, the end of the Napoleonic war and the revolutions of 1848. Though it had its equivalents in England, France (like the Empire style) or Scandinavia, the term Biedermeier is explicitly used for the style of the Central European region that was under Germanic influence at the time. It is therefore a cultural trace that is fundamental to the identity that connects the countries of the region today.

We cite Frisch, who created a timeless middle class setting, within which the fear of change, hypocrisy and short-sightedness blocks the voice of reason. The only reference to a specific historical epoch that is in the title of the play, points our attention to a state of ignorance and passivity amongst the empowered segment of society that first unfolds during Biedermeier time, a state that is continuously renewed and sustained in the cycle of revolutions and restorations until our days. The installation is therefore now applicable in any civic environment, Berlin as well as Budapest or Vienna, or Rennes as a matter of fact, as it is a testimony of the Biedermeier era that never ended.

The groupreading of the admonations was recorded and it constitutes to a video loop that circles around the Stummer Diener object, the choir of fire-extinguishers remains invisible.

Stummer Diener, video, loop

Choir: Aldo Gugolz, Claire Waffel, Orsolya Ferenczi, Dóra Ferenczy, Gergely László, Philipp Muras-Krasznahorkai, Kati Simon. Camera: Aldo Gugolz. Post production: Dániel Berger. Sound: Rudolf Várhegyi

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