Hosting the World – Staging the Nation

What does the Cultural Olympiad 2012 have to say about Germany today?  

“Burn down the Globe Theatre and replace it with a bank! After all, another bank is exactly what London needs!” This image was one of the more startling moments in the recent ‘Globe to Globe’ season at Shakespeare’s Globe – a festival of worldwide Shakespeare during which 37 of his plays were performed in 37 languages over an intense six-week period. Taken from the German-language production of ‘Timon of Athens’, the moment neatly encapsulates the processes of transformation and metamorphosis that can take place when cultures, texts or practices are translated across borders. The results are almost always unexpected, unusual and electrifying – in this case, Shakespeare’s play, mediated via Germany, became a searing contemporary critique of our current financial crisis.

In the run up to the Arts and Humanities Festival 2012 on the theme of ‘Metamorphoses, Transformations and Conversions’, I’ll be writing for this blog on my current research project, which looks at the representation of Germany in the Cultural Olympiad – specifically at those transformations that take place when a national culture is performed and mediated on a world stage. The Olympiad is a fascinating prism through which to think about the transnational in new and innovative ways. It is a celebration of national culture, culminating in the city-based ‘London 2012 Festival’, yet involving international companies and artists, all the while engaging with both local and global communities. It’s a heady mix of groups, identities, crossovers and global flows, which makes the question of where ‘nation’ fits in within the framework of the Olympiad a particularly complex one.

By taking Germany as a filter through which to address this question, I hope to reveal the extent to which nationhood and internationalism are institutionalised through the mechanisms of the Olympiad, and to explore precisely what happens when culture crosses borders within such institutional mechanisms. I’ll be blogging about some of the high-profile German events within the Olympiad – from the ‘Globe to Globe’ season, to the Pina Bausch ‘World Cities’ dance theatre programme; from Rimini Protokoll’s portrait of the capital in ‘100% London’, to Tino Sehgal’s installation in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall – while also thinking more generally about some of the methodological issues that occur when we work on notions of transformation, metamorphosis, and conversion. I look forward to a productive discussion in the run up to the Arts and Humanities Festival later this year!

Dr Ben Schofield, Department of German

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