My personal chronology of Jetzt & Jetzt starts with a phone call from the Ruhrtriennale. They are looking for a production manager for a new work by Mats Staub. It’s a name I’ve heard and I know about his works: works that are created over many years, which consist of conversations and portraits with people from all over the place and are hard to categorise within one specific art form. In his new work, again he wants to start conversations with people. He plans to meet a hundred people two years apart, talk to them about the changes and growth they have experienced and juxtapose their two present states. My job would be to find those hundred people, one of every age between 8 and 80, and arrange a hundred appointments for meetings in the summer of 2021.
Initial test recordings are being made in the Turbinenhalle and I travel to Bochum for the first time. Because I don’t know anyone there, I book to stay in an Airbnb. The woman who is my host will later become the project’s first participant.
During the recordings I meet Mats in person. After a few phone calls and Zooms, we now meet at the Turbinenhalle. He is kind and warm, and after a short time I no longer feel I have to be quite so nervous. The Turbinenhalle, on the other hand, is cold and scruffy. For some time, nature seems to have been trying to reclaim the building. A pair of pigeons are nesting in the roof. From time to time, we hear the flutter of wings and we repeatedly have to dodge their droppings.
We have issued an open call inviting anyone who is interested between the ages of 8 and 80 to register for the project and embark on some intense self-reflection. Every week I send out our appeal for participants through various mailing lists, make phone calls, arrange meetings and research how to get in touch with more people. To register they have to send a two-year-old photo of themselves and a short description of how they’ve changed since then.
There is only one month left until we start recording. Out of the hundred people we need, only half have registered. Suddenly the project is very close, only we don’t have the people who make the Ruhr region what it is.
I travel to Bochum in a packed train with no air-conditioning, carrying a huge rucksack. This time I am going to stay for two months. All through the summer my expectations will gradually be replaced by memories.
While the technicians are installing 21-Memories of Growing Up in the front of the Turbinenhalle, we move into the area at the back of the Turbinenhalle. Our technical team sets up some little black cubbyholes where the videos will be filmed, conversations held and letters written. The old switchboard is converted into a greenhouse containing a hundred plants that our press officer Stefanie Matjeka has been cultivating in her garden for months. In the middle of this back section of the Turbinenhalle there is a big wooden table where the whole team can sit. Past it on the right is our kitchen, which consists of a fridge and a coffee machine.
Mats’s creative team arrives for the opening of 21-Memories of Growing Up. The front section of the Turbinenhalle is now filled with video screens, where all kinds of people are describing the year they were 21. Recordings for Jetzt & Jetzt will start two days later and there is an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Mats shows off the recording area to the team as if it is his very first apartment and he has only just moved in.
Our recordings for Jetzt & Jetzt start. We have a whole month of meetings ahead of us. After an initial shortage of registrations, lots of participants have now contacted us, having found out about the project through a variety of channels, being told about it by other people, and inspired by the installation 21. Our entire summer is now planned out. We have rehearsed the procedures, but in this case, rehearsals are very different from the real thing. A great deal is contributed by the participants themselves. The first participant does not turn up. I cannot reach her by phone. I am responsible for one hundred people and everything going according to plan. What happens if no one turns up?
All the other participants will turn up.
All of them will wear a mask.
All of them will fill out a questionnaire about their wishes and questions.
All of them will have a conversation with Mats.
All of them will choose a current love song and will be filmed looking into the mirror.
All of them will imagine meeting their future selves.
All of them will write a letter to their future selves.
All of them will take a plant and an appointment for March 2023 away with them.
All of them will do the same thing, but they will all do it their own way.
I am one of the participants too. I have spent a whole week welcoming participants, explaining to them what we are going to do, have been there while they made their recordings and seen how nervous they were. Now I am in their place. I cannot think of any answers to the questionnaire and have no idea what I should write in my letter. The video booth suddenly feels tiny and seeing myself in the mirror is too much for me. It’s easier to think about a hundred other people than to spend an hour concentrating on myself.
While the festival audience spends the day visiting 21-Memories of Growing Up in the front portion of the Turbinenhalle, we are recording behind the turbines. We are Mats Staub, Frederieke Tambaur (our dramaturg), Benno Seidel (our video designer) and me. The Turbinenhalle is our oasis. We sit round the big wooden table working together, lie in deckchairs in the sunshine outside the Turbinenhalle during our short breaks and talk about whatever is on our minds. We rarely eat any salad but have chocolate rolls from Schmidtmeier almost every day. After we’ve finished recording, we go to shows together and have a glass of pinot blanc in the Pappelwaldkantine. It is summertime and the festival atmosphere makes the days race by. After six weeks we have recorded 108 people and seen almost every one of the Ruhrtriennale productions.
It is our last day of recording. The festival is over and so is the summer. We pack up our things. The letters will be kept in a safe place where they will be undisturbed together for eighteen months. I leave Bochum.
The Ruhrtriennale 2022 begins and with it a warm summer. I sit sweating in the Turbinenhalle, which is one of the venues for the festival opening. I can still feel the ghosts of our recordings and conversations in the space. In the days that follow I will start contacting all the participants one year after their recordings and remind them about taking part. Some of them send me new favourite songs and write to tell me how much their plant has grown. Occasionally I will bump into one of them out and about.
Mats Staub and I take a full day to talk through the dramaturgy of the project together. What had previously been rough ideas are now becoming concrete. Also present at the meeting is Hanno Sons, our technical director. This time I am the production dramaturg and Bochum is now my home.
We meet to test the dimensions inside the Turbinenhalle, try out designs that our scenographer Louisa Robins has made for the space and discuss monitors, the colour of the upholstery and the floor layout within the space.
March, and with it the second phase of recordings, is getting closer. How will the people have changed? What will they tell us?
Now my text is coming to an end because we have reached our editorial deadline and our recordings are about to begin.
Now one hundred people will come for their second meeting with us.
Now they will be given back their questionnaire and their letter and they will read them.
Now they will look in the mirror for a second time.
Now they will tell us how they have changed and grown.
Now we will sit around the big wooden table again and have lunch together every day.
Now at last the work will continue!
Then I will also come back as a participant. I will read my letter, look at myself in the mirror, then down at my toes – and when I raise my eyes again, I will be looking straight at my first snapshot. Now the time for reflection has come!
Translated from the German by David Tushingham