In theatre, the space is often the first creative element to materialise. Initially in model form, it is the only tangible object that the actors, directors and technicians have at the start to connect them all to the idea behind the project. Anna Viebrock is a master in the art of designing them: she fine-tunes the detail of inspiring and very varied scenic ‘casings’ for artists like Meg Stuart and Christoph Marthaler. More than a set it is a body, in many senses of the word, that awakens and transforms the acting. Anna Viebrock is exhibiting twenty of these fascinating models, miniature rooms deteriorating while they wait, already laden with possibilities but still empty, suggestive and mysterious.

Supported by:

Goetheinstitut Rotterdam, Münchner Theatermuseum

Thanks to:

Sabine Hentzsch


KVS, KunstenFESTIVALdesArts

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Arbeitsmodelle by Anna Viebrock

The set design is the first element to materialize in the creation of a theatre production. For a long time the model as a summary of ideas is the only tangible element for the workshops, the director, the actors and the technicians. The leap in scale from the model to the powerful presence of the "real" stage design continues to fascinate, as well as its double reality: the front shows spectators the alleged reality of a completely fake space, whereas the back shows the reality of theatre construction, of weights and cables with their own aesthetic qualities. The same applies to the work models, in which the specific design, as well as the peculiar model-making methods, becomes visible. In this manner the models not only serve as illustrative objects for the design, but also acquire a certain independence as art objects. The work through the models becomes clear: the long process of tuning the various elements, their proportions, materials and colours. The model is the only means of checking how their interplay. This explains the title of the exhibition: Work Models. By exhibiting a series of models together with her workbooks, Anna Viebrock’s approach and perspective is clearly illustrated. For example, she creates new spaces by cutting and pasting real spaces encountered and photographed by her, and emphasising their characteristics to the point of the surreal. Furthermore, the selected spaces already have many layers and carry numerous stories and secrets. This process of condensing existing places makes the sets exciting for spectators as well as for directors. The exhibition features some 20 models on tables specially built for the exhibition but also includes real stage design elements and videos of a number of performances.

Frieda Schneider

Opening speech by Johan Simons (artistic director NTGent) at Anna Viebrock’s exhibition Arbeitsmodelle, at the Goethe Institute in Rotterdam.

Musikalität ist wohl überhaupt das Geheimnis des Theaters.

(Anna Viebrock)

“Musikalität ist wohl überhaupt das Geheimnis des Theaters”, Anna Viebrock once said in an interview. The person who proclaimed musicality as the secret of theatre has stolen my heart. The fact that this view is expressed by a scenographer, a visual artist, makes it even more special. I would like to say the same thing about her as she says about theatre.

Anna Viebrock’s spaces are musical. Not in the sense that they have a musical structure, quite the contrary: her sets are astonishing, but never ostentatious. They are musical in the most literal sense of the word: they are sound boxes, in which all other elements of theatre can resound amidst optimal circumstances. Besides a fascinating space, Anna Viebrock always offers her directors a sound box, making theatre more concrete and abstract. More concrete because the music that resounds is attached to the concrete lives of concrete people in recognisable spaces of life. But the opposite is also true: in Anna Viebrock’s sound boxes, the anecdotal and banal are always taken to a higher dimension. I suspect that as a director you can do your job in Anna Viebrock’s sets without any shame, mixing your highest feelings with the most banal attitudes. You can be melodramatic at one moment and become distant the next. You can create complete chaos, immediately followed by a choreographic structure.

That doesn’t mean that anything is possible, that nothing matters anymore. No, it only has to do with the possibility of endless transformation, because Anna Viebrock herself displays transformed spaces. No, I’m not putting this right – not spaces that have already been transformed, but spaces that are transforming and that are in a certain way frozen while they’re in the process of transforming. The places she designs stop being what they used to be, but are not yet what they will be. The effect is surprising and funny at the same time. I would dare to say that of all the scenographers I know, Anna Viebrock is the one with the greatest sense of humour. I think transformation in theatre is still limited far too much to the actor who “transforms” himself into a certain character. I think in theatre everything should transform itself into something else: actors transform themselves into images, images into movements, words into music, music into sound etc. Anna Viebrock’s sets are like music boxes of transformation. Small events can grow to become great stories, while elevated songs turn out to be about very banal human emotions. Poetry becomes a reason to go out of your mind and throbbing rock music leads to introspection. Transform everything into something else. And so the actors become dancers, the musicians start acting, the dancers start singing.

As a director, I consider that being shameless is an absolute condition if you want to make something that is worthwhile. Many decors put a check on that shamelessness, they reduce my creativity, they block my freedom and that of my actors. When I watch the shows designed by Anna Viebrock, I feel no constraint at all, no reduction of anything, no blocking. The only thing I feel is the enormous sense of freedom they generate, and I always think: I want to work in a space like this.

Koen Tachelet

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Born in 1951, Anna Viebrock studied at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf and subsequently started to work with Hans Neuenfels in Frankfurt. From 1983 onwards, she started to work with Jossi Wieler at the Theatre of Basel. In 1993 she commenced what was to be a long and fruitful collaboration with Christoph Marthaler at the Volksbühne in Berlin (Murx den Europäer). From 1993 to 1999 she also worked at the Schauspielhaus of Hamburg. She continued to work with Christoph Marthaler in Frankfurt (Pelléas et Mélisande; Luisa Miller; Fidelio), in Basel (The Unanswered Question), and at the Salzburg Festival (Kátia Kabanová; Les Noces de Figaro). With Jossi Wieler and Sergio Morabito she worked at the Opera of Stuttgart (La Clémence de Titus, L’Italienne à Alger, Alcina, Le Couronnement de Poppée, Siegfried, Norma, Moïse et Aaron and Alceste), the 2001 Festival of Salzburg (Ariane à Naxos), and the Opera of San Francisco (Doktor Faust by Busoni). From 2000 to 2004 she becomes a member of the Artistic Board of the Zurich Schauspielhaus, where she is part of all the productions of Christoph Marthaler. She has won several times the Prize for Best Set and Costume Designer from Theater Heute magazine and Opernwelt, as well as the Culture Prize of the Region of Hesse in 1997. Together with Christoph Marthaler she won the prestigious Kortner Prize and the Berliner Theatre Prize. In 2005 Anna Viebrock completed her fourth mise-en-scene (i Opal from Hans-Joachim Hespos) at the Hannover Opera, which won the Prize for Best Creation of the Year from Opernwelt magazine. In 2005 she created the decors and costumes for Christoph Marthaler’s Tristan and Isolde in Beyreuth.

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