Accepted paper:

Walking the borderland: artistic interventions in rural Germany


Ragnhild Freng Dale (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

How do artists position themselves to intervene in social life? This paper explores how artists in rural northern Germany cast themselves in an ambiguous role to make community-building interventions. It also casts a light back on the practice of ethnographic research to ask what crossings exist.

Paper long abstract:

For theatre scholar and director Eugenio Barba, the artist is someone who deliberately places herself at the margins of society to practice her art. This reflexive positioning of the self as both partaking in and observing the social world resembles the role of the anthropologist during fieldwork, but with a different desired outcome: to intervene in and have effects on social life. Following a group that places themselves in this tradition, I examine how theatre artists in rural Germany self-craft a role as Grenzgänger (someone who traverses and walks along borders) to intervene in communities along the Polish border. Their community-building efforts are attempts to ease the region's fragmentation and immigrant hostility, and their modes of intervention range from building new grassroots alliances to making art that engages with the historical background of the region, whilst simultaneously following their own artistic and personal needs. Their practice, I suggest, invites a series of questions in the encounter with ethnographic research. What, if anything, is the effect of this social participation, and how does the act of positioning the self affect the kind of understanding gained? Researching this through the lens of artists actively engaged in transforming the world around them gives a space to explore how different approaches to research blend in the field, and what can be learnt from both sides of the borderland.

panel P52
Art, politics, ethnography