In Conversation with Enkidu Khaled
Theatermaker
Born in Baghdad, Iraq
Lives and locked down in Brussels, Belgium



Introducing Enkidu
Enkidu performed his award-winning solo performance The Working Method in A Corner in the World Festival 2 in 2016. During our correspondence, I realized that the effect of that piece and the questions it kicked off are still in my body. Not only in terms of content but more in terms of the ongoing relationship he creates with his audience which lasts well beyond the performance.
Enkidu studied Theater at the Institute of Fine Arts of Baghdad, worked in cinema and graduated from Das Theater of Amsterdam. His performances have since been seen across Europe and has won awards. He is also active in the field of education.
Enkidu has a way of relating with the world and with people in a seemingly simple and direct way yet there is immense complexity among the layers of his performativity. So much that you don’t fully realize it at the moment of interaction but it keeps coming back in different ways and brings new reflections on yourself and your ways of seeing and being in the world. He did it again for me in this conversation. I admire him for this. As they say: read until the end!


This correspondence took place between Fatih Gençkal and Enkidu Khaled from April 29 to August 15, 2020 through email and Messenger.



‘It's scientifically proven that if you watch three art performances in one week it will affect your sexual behaviour, you will be functional in much better ways and it will activate your attractiveness.’





From: Fatih Genckal
To:
Enkidu Khaled
Sent: Wednesday
, 29 April 2020 13.28

Dear Enkidu,
I want to start an interview experiment. I will ask you one question everyday and you will have 24 hours to respond to it. Then I will ask the next question based on your answers or my curiosities. You can also ask me questions in your answers and interview me in a way. It will be like a conversation.
If you answer quickly, I can ask the next question right away, so we don't have to wait 24 hours. It can turn into texting each other too. Or not.
Please feel free to write as you are speaking.  Follow the spark the question starts in you.
So here is the first question:
What do you see happening with you and around you since the beginning of home confinement?


Enkidu Khaled 29 April 2020 22:35
This is what I see. What do you see? 


Fatih Genckal 30 April 2020 14:25
OK. I see a nice park, a bike lane and people riding bikes, giving me the impression that this is a European city. Life seems to be going on. Except there is maybe fewer people than usual. And everything is upside down. The road is a ceiling, I feel like I need to duck as it passes over me. If I watch it on my phone, I can turn the image upside down, though. The video is a powerful framing device and feels rather oppressive to me these days. Maybe because almost all our communication takes place via video and how it is easily substituted for physical human interaction. How do you feel about communicating through a screen as a theater-maker?


Enkidu Khaled 30 April 2020 21:33
Dear Fatih,
The reality is upside down, It is an Iraqi expression when someone wants to describe a disaster or crisis.
Usually I’m a home person or I become a home person more in the last year’s of my life so there is not a big change in my life. Observation and reflection it’s fundamental tools in my work so I find it good to take some time to reflect and observe.
I was giving some workshops. I feel a bit sad it got cancelled but I’m still busy working. I have some deadlines for project subsidy.
I  am not busy that much on the screen but I start to get more and more questions from friends to work with online which I don’t think it's good for theatre makers to do but I like to support my friends.
The question which I don’t want to think about is, how long will the upside down continue?
What about you? What is that you don’t want to think about?
Be safe,
Enkidu


Fatih Gençkal 30 April 2020 23:49
I also think this is a good time to reflect and observe. I am also wondering how long this will be and what will change after it. One of my biggest realizations in this time is how humans as a species, by their way of life induced by industrial civilization is systematically destroying the planet and the only way to undo this is to radically change the way we live. I hope that this is possible but I also sense already a very powerful urge to go back to our consumption-based way of life asap. And of course the whole capitalist pressure is very strong. I am very tentative in my belief that this period can trigger change in this sense. I am trying to take small steps in my own sphere. You say you don't want to think about how long the upside down will continue even though you mention that it is a good time for you for reflection and observation and being at home. Do you feel that this time should be limited and you should go back to work before too long? Can you imagine a new 'normal' where we will actually not have chances for physical human interaction for theater in the foreseeable future? How would your work be affected then? What would you do?


Enkidu Khaled 2 May 2020 03:35
Dear Fatih,
Yes, I agree that the human lifestyle is destroying the planet and causing a lot of suffering to each other, and this is what scientists and activists were saying for a long time but I hope this crisis will make all people aware of that fact.
I also hope this crisis will destroy the concept of borders and for us to realize that our real problem is behind the fake difference that we build it ourselves.
Your question invites me to think about what I don't want to think about :)
For me, observation comes before reflection, so right now I'm reflecting on what I observed in the last years, radicalism and racism, in the meantime trying to observe the change that is happening at the moment.
But to answer your question about what I do if the upside down continues: Simply I see myself as an agent that tries to remind the community for the good ethics that we have or shocks them with ugliness we have in order to provoke them to have more harmony in our life. I chose to do that in the theater because I believe it's the perfect medium to do so, if the theater no longer exists I will look for another medium, maybe films :) 
Back to you, how do you imagine life in 50 years from now?
Love,
Enkidu


Fatih Gençkal 2 May 2020 16:20
Well, that is a very tough question. I think I see much less people living in the world. This could be a result of conscious choices to de-populate the earth by living simpler lives and de-developing the world. Or this could be result of environmental or other catastrophes. I would hope for the first option. But it takes a lot of effort and letting go. On the other hand, there are signs of loosening the confinement in some parts of the world including Europe as part of what people call exit plans and strategies. Which, to me, signal to an anxiety to go back to 'normal' as soon as possible, without needing to rethink too much about our systems. Or maybe an anxiety to come up with 'a plan' to at least soften the limbo feeling. Well, change is never easy. Going back to theater, if it is to die, and I don't know if it will, I feel it may come back in a much more provocative and dangerous way. Much more alive and urgent. As it is supposed to be. What do you think?

Enkidu Khaled 4 May 2020 20:01
Dear Fatih,
Indeed the change is very difficult. But I don't believe theater will ever die, just if humanity will be extinct. Theater is a public space where people can gather. It aims to speak about “real people” and their “real stories” with the means of poetry, playfulness, cosyness, dialog, compassion, eros, borderlessness, intuition, stillness, passion, mystery, wisdom, honesty, interiority, consciousness. And to stimulate the audience to refer to the same means when exploring their own personal reality.
Alive and urgent yes I agree totally with that. Of course, that also depends on us the theater-makers, festival makers and culture workers.  Back to you, what is your ideal way to express the urgency of the theater? Or to emphasize the necessity of theater to those who can not grasp it?
I have other question for you, on the 15th May I have a deadline for project subsidy " the interview god99" I'm working hard on the application, I want to apply for an international project, I have support from Belgium, Holland, and England, it will be great to mention some support from the Middle East. So could you please write a letter saying that you receive the concept from me and you have the intention to support and show the project at your festival? Of course you don't need to show the work later but it will make my application stronger.
Cheers,


Fatih Gençkal 4 May 2020 22:34
Well, I think that part of what we call theater is dead today. I think it has an enormous potential for engagement most of which is rarely explored. I think bringing a group of people together to watch a stage act is what we tend to understand from it. Well, that is a convention among many. I think we need stuff that we would doubt if it is theater, or even art. Things that is hard to grasp, that just leaves a sensual and/or intellectual mark on us. I think we have more chances to create that weird thing right now, when we don't have much to do, when our regular tools don't work anymore, where we have a lot of room to try and fail and look around and be foolish. Rethink the basics of the art which is not so far from life.
What is this project that you are applying for? Tell me a little bit more about it and I will gladly help you.


Enkidu Khaled 5 May 2020 11:32
I send you the concept of my project and an example of the support letter.


Fatih Gençkal 5 May 2020 16:21
Ok dear, I will prepare and send you the letter.
It is a nice coincidence that your new piece has an interview setting and we are in an interview setting right now. This form intrigues me, actually. I have been discovering recently that I am really interested in it, and also biographic materials, as an artistic practice. I know that they have a strong presence in your practice, too. There is also the situation that you present your works, your stories in a foreign context, a European context. What are you looking for here? And what happens when this information is brought on stage? How does the meaning and context change? And what does it say to your audience?


Enkidu Khaled 7 May 2020 13:48
Dear Fatih,
Sorry for the late reply, at this time I have to deal with many things towards the deadline, writing and rewriting. Back to your questions, those questions that I'm busy with for a long time trying to understand. A foreign context for a foreign person. I'm looking to invent my own context, one that I'm trying to build through theatre and hoping others who are like me can follow. The closest context to the concept of home was me being in Istanbul at your festival. Maybe because Istanbul hangs between east and west exactly like me. And maybe that way I was super emotional at the presentation. 
Weirdly enough, we are strongly being rejected from the art community in Iraq and the middle-east. last year I was in Baghdad, I was really disappointed, in order for me to perform or to give workshops I needed to start everything from scratch far from the art community. Maybe they feel we betrayed them by running away from the violence, and maybe because they exist on a fake legacy, and they are afraid we are going to destroy it by proposing new ways of working. There is also a big circle of corruption in the art scene that we don't want to be part of.  They don't see us only as strangers but they see us as unwelcome strangers.
And here in Europe, they see us as unwelcome newcomers, what a dilemma! Maybe, therefore, I moved to documentary, autobiographic, directness, involving real people and real stories, Looking for a stronger impact to challenge already given context. 
Wish you a good day,
Love,


Fatih Gençkal 7 May 2020 15:34
I feel that what we call 'real' is also a weird thing in a post-truth dimension. One might assume we have much more access to different glimpses of 'the real', but it is increasingly hard to put it in context, to grasp. We also have fascinating ways to look elsewhere. In this regard, how do you think real stories can make a stronger impact, especially in a 'foreign' context? Finally, do you relate your work to postcolonial theory in any way?


Enkidu Khaled 9 May 2020 01:40
You’re right, what we call real is a weird thing. I also think there is no such thing as 'the real' at the same time we are "human" good in building many of " a real " it's one of our codes of communication.
I don't think real stories can make stronger impact, any story real or fiction need a form and context in order to have an impact, but what I meant with a real story to present it less polished or spectacular to be much closer to people daily life, even so, I still not sure if it will have a stronger impact. Therefore every working prosses a new journey, I don't know where will lead's. when I was living in Bagdad I was more in a foreign context than here in Brussel,  a strange joke trying to make theater in a place where violence and war it's your daily life, I become foreign by choosing theater as my only home. Nothing change for me I still have been trapped in the theater. Creating an illusion, lots of fake reality. "From zero to hero and from hero to zero" everything is possible. Creating meaning to the existing. like nice long a dream, sometimes turn into a nightmare.
Postcolonial, I had a big difficulty in understanding what exactly this term means? I think it's a fake romantic term they invented to declare that they finish using other countries' resources for their benefit. But how can we explain the "relationship" between France and Algeria or other parts of Africa or the USA and the rest of the world, the relationship between the European Union and the rest of the world?


Fatih Gençkal 9 May 2020 14:04
Sorry, I didn't want to be academic. What I meant to ask actually was if your work has a conscious dimension of investigating or exposing cultural legacies of colonialism which still exist today, that I feel interests you. It is interesting that you feel the context in Bagdad is more foreign to you than Brussels. Can you say more about this?

Enkidu Khaled 15 May 2020 20:21
Dear Fatih,
Sorry for the late reply. I accepted your interesting invitation to experiment with the interview format which I found really interesting as I am myself busy with it too. I think it's an invitation to thinking as we share a different environment but still have a similar perspective towards life. " some times" :), First I would like to stop apologizing for replying late to you. I think 24 hours time frame for replying did not fit my state of working. I would like to treat the time as natural, replying when I feel like. I'm considering depression as a tool of creation.
Of course, you can keep your own rhythm and rules. Back to your question.
I only could say that in Baghdad theater was a tool of surviving by escaping the violence reality and making your own reality inside the theater. Somehow here those two different realities come together. You have a bit of space where you as an individual can rebuild your own reality, wear, think, and say what you want: " freedom of speech". There is no need of hiding belief or opinion, all of these do not exist in the middle east or Turkey or...
Why are you making theater? In Istanbul?
Cheers,


Fatih Gençkal 16 May 2020 18:05
First, don't worry about being late. I accepted the breaking of this rule. It's sometimes necessary to break them :) I don't really have an opinion about Baghdad as I've never been there. I understand your need to rebuild your identity, I have that too. Still, in my experience, in each location, we have ways of rebuilding our identities one way or another and each location has different degrees and ways of putting us down. I am from a generation/segment of society in Turkey who have always dreamed of leaving this country. During my artistic career as well, I can barely remember periods where I didn't have thoughts of leaving. As you know, Turkey is not getting any better economically or politically, it's getting worse and worse actually. And many many artists have left in the last 5 years. But I don't have thoughts of leaving so much anymore. I actually moved last year to a smaller town, İzmir, which seemed to many to be a senseless move. But I realize a tendency to get out of situations where I am recreating certain ways of living and doing things with an illusion of superiority. I really got sick of 'centers' where people seem to think they are in the center of everything and it is where the 'real stuff' happens and other parts are peripheries. So I am much more interested in exploring what people call 'the peripheries' and less interested in what is going on in Europe for example or İstanbul. And I'm interested in exploring models to challenge the economic and intellectual dominance of these places. In my artistic as well as curatorial work. My work is more and more about this process, I believe, informed more by thinking of what to do on stage, on which stage, when and with whom. Maybe it's about the ways of looking at things rather than about locations. 
How are you doing work-wise during this time? How are things affected by the pandemic, artistically and financially?


Enkidu Khaled 1 June 2020 16:29
My friend I admire your courage in exploring a new working environment. It's difficult for me to imagine that as the system here is very different. Exploring new environments means for me, moving from theater as medium to another art medium. Definitely I will do that at one point.
I wrote an article a few months ago I will send it to you, it may give general ideas about things we deal with here: https://www.rektoverso.be/artikel/dear-art-sector
Until now artistic work somehow continues, at the moment  I'm working with my brother who lives in Brussels, editing a film that he filmed about the revolution in Iraq. I'm also working with my friend to finish his master graduation project. Still working on my coming theater project, If the theater can continue at the end of this year.
Financially it had an effect because I and my girlfriend are freelancers, my teaching works where most of my income comes gets canceled like her work too. But here the system covers the rent and the health insurance. So in the end not so dramatic especially if we manage to go back to work at least in September.
I know from friends that it's a real disaster especially in places like Lebanon or Iraq. How did you manage to navigate your life?


Fatih Gençkal 3 June 2020 12:05
There is a Turkish guy who lives in New York and occasionally does projects in İstanbul. His whole premise has always been that art is an 'unnecessary act' and it's against its nature that people expect to make a living out of it. Paradoxically it's essential for life because it is 'unnecessary'. For him, real art can occur when it's not bound with an expected gain. Otherwise, it is entertainment industry, it's business and bound by its utilitarian rules and values, it's something else. I had a discussion with him after I wrote an article about the current situation of performing arts in Turkey. His argument, which I vaguely outlined here, has many gaps for me but it raised a question this time as the pandemic revealed the extremely precarious situation of the arts: could designating what we do as unnecessary be a rebellious act? Could we hack the existing system and its values by refusing to define ourselves by its standards? Which always asks us to justify why our work matters, what it's good for etc? Your text intensified this feeling for me. Why do you have to be the one to justify the need for diversity funding? Why does art have to 'do something' to have value? If we accept this logic, then art that does not do something visible for this society's norms and values would be worthless. Art should be able to challenge all values actually. Well, these are questions I have as I see all of us a little panicked and looking for ways to sustain our practices. What do you think?


Continued on Messenger

Fatih Gençkal 27 Jun 2020 13:41
Hey dear how are you? I havent heard from you in a while. Is everything ok? Do you want to continue/conclude our conversation?

Enkidu Khaled 27 Jun 2020 22:23
Dear Fatih, I’m sorry that it was a bit of Silence, but i’m a person can only concentrate on one thing, Specially with my habit of smoking weed🙃  Life becomes like bubbles and I’m jumping between many things trying to hold things at the horizon. But I will be back to our conversation if the frame time is open or decided frame time.
Also I'm dyslexic and that makes it very difficult for me even in Arabic I mean writing. But if you think it’s interesting to continue we may think about different way or format?

Fatih Gençkal 28 Jun 2020 19:11
I understand dear. How would you like to continue? If you want you can read again and see if you feel like responding to my last email. Or you can send another email with a new format.

Enkidu Khaled 7 Jul 2020 13:52
Dear Fatih, how are you doing? It’s clearly I can’t continue writing and that because writing is hard job for me and also other things in life. But I have a suggestion: what about we have a zoom meeting every 10 days and we record it. We could use it as material for us. You can write a text out of it, or use it in a theatre project, or whatever we see fit. Please think about it and let me know.
I wish you an inspiring day.

Fatih Gençkal 20 Jul 2020 21:05
Enkidu, my friend, I'm just seeing this message, sorry. Thank you for your proposal. We can do it as another exercise of course. For me, the interesting thing about the interviews is that they are like letter-writing to each other. I particularly look for this quality of correspondence rather than talking to each other. So to finish off this exercise we started, or game let's call it, I would suggest something like this: Would it be easier for you if you used dictation? This way, you can just speak to the computer and it will type for you. Another -easier- way would be to just send me a voice recording. Or even video if you like. What I am interested to keep is that you make one text/proposal/artwork etc and then I make one in return and you make one in return. Does it make sense? Would this work for you? We can discuss on zoom too if you like. Let me know dear,
Cheers

Enkidu Khaled 3 Aug 2020 17:53
Dear Fatih, i'm sorry for not communicating. I’m in bit of dark mood, where I feel nothing has meaning. Especially my opinion, I’m not sure if I still have one “opinion“ . Literally just trying to run away from myself. So therefore it will be impossible to continue. Somewhere in the back of my head, I know this always happens to me before starting a theatre project. So my dear friend I apologise again to you and I wish future will bring good things. Cheers

Fatih Gençkal 6 Aug 2020 14:01
Dear it’s ok. i understand. for me these conversations are a sort of performance. When and how you write or don’t write is as valuable as what you write. It is a diary of an attempt for contact and all is welcome for me. I will send you the transcription of our conversation on email for you to confirm before i publish it. I would just like to ask you to send me a photo of yourself taken during this time. Is it ok if I mention you as theatermaker?

Enkidu Khaled 6 Aug 2020 23:27
Dear friend thanks for your understanding.


Continued on Email

Enkidu Khaled 15 Aug 2020 18:49
Dear Fatih,
I hope you are healthy and well.
Sorry for my long silence. You find the answer for your email below.
Cheers,

Back to you after black period in my life. Black is my favourite colour :) This is always happening to me before I start to work for a new project, it’s in a symbolic way like a pregnancy, first you feel happy about the news of making a new project, than you start to feel the heaviness and the struggle of that new born things, the first thing you want to do is to disappear before you accept the reality. Strange enough, I start to like the dark period, I see it as training for disappearing. Basically you just run away from all these questions.
Here is a question to you dear Fatih, how could the film industry exist without thinking about the business part of it?
Could designating what we do as unnecessary be a rebellious act?
I think yes and no at the same time, I believe this position is up to the artist to decide for her/himself, personally I prefer a rebellious artist but at the same time there are many artists who are not.
The importance or the rule of the art? Why does someone become an artist? Why did I become an artist? When I think about theses questions it becomes to my mind this triangle with three meanings or 3 words:

ART, LIFE & LIES

The art of life
Bertolt Brecht once said: “The best art is the art of life”.

I was wondering for myself where my art stops and my life begins.

In the end, as Brecht shows, the two are overlapping, maybe even being the same. But it remains a question for me. For example, disappearance is something that is taking place in both my work and in my life. I mean that both art and life are ephemeral.

The theater is relying on the performer and spectator dualism. If you change one of those you naturally will change the other.

The existence of the performance takes place at the time of sharing. When this time is finished the performance disappears. If you repeat the same work with different audiences it will have a new existence that comes from the new dualism. The new condition of the work may have similarities with the previous one or not. For example, a theatre work about two girls loving each other performed in Amsterdam will most likely be perceived as a love story. If you show the same piece in Baghdad it will be about sin and guilt. In this case the nature of the same performance will be a completely different one. What this shows is that there is not one inherent nature to performance, but that what it is changes with how it is perceived in different contexts. The meaning of a thing is embedded in its existence, so if the meaning of a thing changes, it also changes the state (nature) of its existence .

The nature of theatre is therefore not one nature but many and they are in motion rather than fixed and stable. And fluctuation and mobility has not just a lot to do with appearance (which we usually attribute to theatre as the place of watching and visibility) but also with disappearance, the necessary other side of the conditions of appearance. In order for something to appear something else has to disappear.

I am fascinated by the question how disappearance can be considered as a value rather than the only other side of appearance and visibility.

What I have established above is that in performance art disappearing seems to be a fundamental value because of its ephemerality. But disappearance in performance also has to do with the relation between performer and performance: The work coexists with the artist him- or herself. One feeds the other. They evolve together and there is a constant space of reflection that only ends when a new project starts.

You need to not just make art as an artist, you need to be able to disappear as well. As a theatre maker I need my work to disappear and I will also have to disappear. Authorship in this regard is inconsistent with the medium you are working in. Authorship can always only be temporary, in the moment, in the state of a temporary authorship. Also because there is no inherent meaning in theatre, the audience is part of the temporary authorship. In its interpretations of the stage events the audience always also ‘writes’ the performance or theatre piece alongside me as an artist.

If we consider theatre and disappearance in this way, we gain possibilities: a possibility of failing, a space for experiment, the courage of making things, because even if the outcome is a disaster, the disaster will disappear and the work has a value no matter if it stays or disappears. A work that disappears has a value that is not residing in the object but in the memory of it. To me, the beauty of disappearing in theatre is symbolic for life as such. It presents a short version of life: a beginning, a development, an end. In the end we will all disappear. But before I disappear from these pages, I want to address one more question: what then is the impact of performance art if it is always already disappearing? Can art actually do something?

The Hammer
Bertolt Brecht once said: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.”

This links to my question about the role of the artist in society? To my understanding art is not a mirror that reflects society, because art should be able to act and not reflect. I mean that the artist shouldn’t merely translate a problem in society into an art piece. Mirroring only, does not help anyone, a vision does. Charlie Chaplin’s ‘the dictator’ to me is an artwork that presents a vision. It presented the end of the Nazi regime before it actually ended. To propose a possible solution is already better than sharing a problem that we already know.

How does the hammer change with different audiences? I think the hammer shouldn’t change. It should not be a different hammer for a performance on the country-side compared to one in the city. Art should be layered for me. It should be read on many different layers, as philosophical, political, critical, or funny. It should thus be the same hammer but the people get hit differently by it.

The question is whether the art-hammer is making the people go on the street or if the audience is already willing to go to the street. Probably people are already ready before seeing the piece. The theatre, the fact that everyone is being together in one room, is only the last kick.

I don’t believe that the theatre can fundamentally change you. You are more complicated than one theatre piece. You are a million theatre pieces. It can maybe open a door to think further. However, I think that, as a maker, the process of making theatre that can change you. Because it is a daily life process that becomes your life in the end. It affects everything. It occupy your thought and your emotion it becomes like your secret love. Somehow it becomes the only lens that you see the reality through it . The process in theatre has a particular relation to time : You often don’t have stable working hours, for example. But you also relate to time differently. In theatre you have the assumption of a future. When you are making a theatre piece you can't avoid that the work will only be completed when the spectator takes his/her place and that will happen not now but later. Making a theatre piece, often you use your memory and your knowledge. That knowledge is part of your past because you already knew it. In theatre you are making the future and the past. With that complexity of dealing with the past and the future you accept failing as part of the working process. Failing or the risk of failing is part of the job. One is always balancing on the edges. One needs to activate all senses for that. That is the excitement for the process in theatres. In theatre measurement is not at the foreground. In the process of making a movie there is a technical mechanism. Everything is measured and there is mathematics in it. Logic can be removed in the process of making theatre. We can be illogical in that process.

Story-telling and time-travel
My art-hammer recently took the form of story-telling. It also relates to the fusion of art and life. John Berger argues that even in abstract pieces there is story-telling. There is a story in every work of art. When I watch a painting I watch the process through which the painting evolved. I see the artist’s story in this painting. I see movement in the painting.

But why do we need to tell stories in the first place? Why am I using the art of storytelling? What is the power of the story? I think we need storytelling to shape the hammer that Brecht was talking about. Maybe in his time it was very clear what the hammer should look like and what it would be used against and for. Brecht lived in what he used to call ‘the scientific age’ and during his life he witnessed the second world war and then the cold war. And maybe today, the age in which science takes a different position, the age after the so-called death of history, and yet haunted by the conflicts of the past, in which we need to shape our future, we just don’t know what kind of hammer we need . Maybe it is not so much about the topic, that the hammer could represent, but about the role of the hammer, the role of story-telling itself. How then can story-telling be the hammer to shape society?

I agree with John Berger that ‘What makes a good story is the way the story is told. Not the story itself but the way to tell it can be powerful. There is something magical in that.’ The magic lies in the idea of having two realities at the same time. The reality of you sitting in the theatre, watching the performance and the reality of the story that is being told. You open a dimension by telling a story. The experience of here and there at the same time. Experiencing two realities in the same moment.

The actual content of the story becomes secondary to the mode of telling. You let your imagination travel to a further place while you are sitting. This is a tool of creation. You let them experience the tool of creation. Time-travel. It is an example for the power of the mind. The making of two realities of the same time. It shows how powerful the mind can be. If you have these tools you can imagine things, and imagine things differently. To imagine a different way of living. As a scientist, for example, I need my imagination to expand. Art is a way to experience this travel through space and time. This is maybe also why art often inspired science. Our mind can travel, imagining a different life. This is maybe the power of the hammer that Brecht was describing.

The best story-telling is the one which gives you these two realities together. What makes this different from dreaming, in which you can also travel? But maybe these tools of day-dreaming come from the art? Maybe the first cave-painting was a product of day-dreaming, when the mind wondered. In story-telling I do the work for you, I invite you to travel with me. How far you travel or how intensely you travel might be related to how often you have travelled in your mind. This is a question to me in how far we can train this capacity to travel with our mind.

Maybe as artists we need to invent the hammer that will shape society. Maybe we need to convince society that without us the world will go down. For me as an artist I need to believe that. Let’s say, without the movie ‘A trip to the moon’ we would have never been able to go to the moon. If Darwin would not have had the ability to travel in time, he would have never been able to conceptualise a theory about evolution.

Gravity is a natural phenomenon by which all things with mass are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another, including planets, stars and galaxies.

It seemed there was no other way to understand art except if you see it through the definition of gravity .
Art is a natural phenomenon by which things are brought toward (or gravitate toward) one another, including objects, people, design and structure.

Now if I rewrite the sentence of Brecht according to my understanding it will be like this: “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but is the gravity which holds it”. To see art as gravity gives me more freedom and understanding of art from the beginning until now. It also gives me understanding of why we as people think art is not important anymore. When an apple falls from the tree we don't think of gravity we only focus on the apple that falls from the tree. The same goes for art. Gravity is a force that pulls the universe together. Like gravity art is everywhere but we don’t always notice it. For me as an artist it is romantic to believe that without art society will fall apart. Like in trying to understand the universe through trying to understand it’s gravity, we need to understand society by trying to see what pulls it together: it’s the art of imagining, of conceptualizing.

The audience
As I mentioned before, one can't talk about theatre without speaking of the audience. The audience is the co-author of every theatre work. A theatre work cannot exist without the audience. It is the ground of the existence of art. What makes the theatre audience different to the audience of another form of art? The audience in theatre has access to the gravity of the work. They can pull the work into many different directions. They are the last collaborators.

A common mistake is that we think about the audience as one thing and that we think we never could fully grasp what that thing is. The word ‘audience’ comes with a mystery that surrounds it and that mystery brings confusion. One of the keys that could clear up this confusion is to draw a clear portrait of one’s audience. This way one gets to see them for the different people that they are. You can see them and treat them as your best friends. You take all the responsibilities that come with a friendship into the process of sharing the work. Responsibilities like hospitality and honesty.

Usually there is a hierarchy between the artist and the audience. The artist, being on the stage, is shining. But the artist has to admit that the audience is a collaborator and a best friend and with that comes equality. They don’t come only for you, they come for the process that they are part of. They have the same doubts and questions as the artist. I am not referring to equality of the authorship, but equality of the time that is shared. We need to respect the audience for coming to the theatre.

Now why did I become an artist? I know why I became an artist … because I’m a liar.

The Liar: Yes I was always a good liar. It’s started from an early age on, lying to protect myself. You know, when you do something that has consequences if your parents would know about it, so you make a good lie to protect yourself. Later on, I started to use the same strategy outside of home, in the street, and soon I realized that I could do more than just protect myself. Basically, lying is to play with the emotions of the word. I still remember my last lie before I got trapped in the theatre. It all started when I got the job in the US military base located at the main entrance of my neighbourhood. The job was cleaning whatever they wanted me to clean. It was only on Sundays, every week. Sometimes I cleaned the bathrooms or the garden or the leftovers from last night’s party. I wasn’t the only one who was working there but I was the only one from my neighborhood because it was shameful for your family, if the people knew that you were cleaning the American’s shit. So that’s why all the other workers were from the other side of Baghdad. I remember one of those Sundays, they asked us to clean an old weapon-store that belonged to the Iraqi army before the American occupation. The task was very simple: separate the weapons in wooden boxes and each box should have one type of weapon, like the grenade boxes or the RPG 7 boxes and so on. We were twenty between ten and 15 years old. I was 14 years old and the introduction to this Sunday was like this "You will be working alone here. If you let anything fall from your hand you will all be dead. We come to pick you up if you are still alive at the end of the day.“ This day was not the reason why they found the corpses of all other workers rotten in the garbage. We survived on this day.

Anyway, when people started to ask why I go every Sunday to the military place, I invented my lie. I told them that the Americans have a special project. They will choose the most cultural neighborhood in one year from the whole of Iraq and they will announce the winner as part of the American soil and all the citizens of that neighbourhood will have American passports and they asked me to give a weekly report on the activities that happened here.

Of course they did believe me like you just did. I just told you that art is like gravity and you believed me. Or I explained the existence as if I knew what that meant? And you forgot that this is our first question and the last: The meaning of existence.

I know you would like to hear the rest of the story but that will take a lot of time. So what I like to say here is that before theatre lies were more effective. They changed reality and I can benefit directly from them.

Ok, I admit, I was naive when I thought theatre will develop my lying skills but what happened is that in theatre you lie and you believe yourself again and again until it becomes your only truth. Just imagine the power that I could accomplish when my lies were effectively working in reality before theatre soak up that power.

“It's scientifically proven if you watch three art performances in one week it will affect your sexual behaviour, you will be functional in much better ways and it will activate your attractiveness.“

Many small lies like this may help everyone, the artist and the audience.

I believe that we as artists need to invent postmodern lies. Our old lies have been exposed and we don't need romantic lies such as ‘Art is the gravity of society’. This will help no one. We need lies that we can benefit from.

Conversations is produced by A Corner in the World, 2020
It is realized with the support of The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.