A didactic operetta by Agnes Scherer
Puppet play: Soya Arakawa
Music: Tobias Textor
Vocalist: Claudia Barth

Performance of the operetta «The Teacher» at Cabaret Voltaire. Photo: Gunnar Meier


Exhibition «The Teacher»

In the work of Agnes Scherer (*1985), the operettas that she has been developing since 2015, occupy a unique position. Her unusual performance formats draw inspiration from basal theatre forms such as processions, the mechanical theatres of the Baroque period, and even from the form of PowerPoint presentations. Thereby, Scherer is interested in possibilities of liberating the work of art from the status of the passive object, and giving it a heightened agency. At the center of «The Teacher» stands a teacher figure, which is controlled by a student – performed by Soya Arakawa – laying on the floor, using his feet to control the figure by employing some quite formidable effort. The teacher is thus placed in a didactic frenzy, a kind of hectic dance that sometimes seems monstrous, sometimes seductive. His lessons are illustrated by large diagrams that fall to the floor in short intervals, in order to reveal something new over and over again. What the teacher presents sounds impressive and true but in fact, contradicts itself. The text, which is closely interwoven with Tobias Textor’s rapid percussion, consists of aphorisms that Scherer was partly told by authorities and partly wrote herself. Together, the texts analyse and demonstrate the rhetorical blueprint of so-called wisdoms and their manipulative potential.

The concluding lesson, «The greater is the lesser and the lesser is the greater» seems to claim that in reality, there are opposing (power-)relations which exist a priori to those who are visible; logical if one considers that the teacher would be incapable of acting without the supporting function of the student. – Or, is it an insidiously constructed paradox, whose seductive anti-logic wants to convince the pupil to be satisfied while remaining in his powerless position? After this final lesson, the teacher disappears, leaving the pupil disoriented, longing for the return of his master. A colossal letter opens. Instead of the longed-for word of authority from afar, what emerges is a scene depicting futile waiting where the student, reclined on a sarcophagus, turns to stone while waiting. The content of the letter suggests that, in fact, no letter has ever arrived. Meanwhile, a stone replicate replaces the waiting and laying student, who can escape through a side hatch in the sarcophagus. In this final image, the artist opens up a space for in-between moments, which play out in unequal relationships. For example, the action of the student can be read as naivety that exists in order to accept power relations. At the same time, though, the scene also reflects the ambivalent longing toward wanting to be at home in a teaching, while, in equal measure, emancipating oneself from it. The master-student-relationship, which in «The Teacher» is embodied by men, refers back to the history of authority, which as a social principle of order and relationship is male. The fact that a woman transmits the patriarchal speech-act – the logos – causes a refraction through which a critical distance is created.

The twelve large paintings that accompany the lessons are playing with the genre of the diagram. The depicted arrangement of objects and pictorial figures seem to illustrate causalities and conditional relationships. However, this communicative character, which invites us to understand, is counteracted by a compositional unity containing fantastical landscapes. In analogy to the texts with which they correspond, they evoke a sentiment of near comprehension. The image-finding process emerges from a longstanding practice of elaborated pencil drawings, which is illustrated by a series exhibited on the upper floor of the Cabaret Voltaire. Stylistically, both, the paintings and the drawings combine, among other things, elements of the Middle Ages with those of Surrealism from the 1960s and 1970s and testify to the broad spectrum of references with which the artist, who is also trained as an art historian, works. References include the medieval Voynich manuscript, which illustrates botanical, anatomical, and astronomical contexts, and the psychedelic comic book Codex Seraphinianus (1981), which is based on the Voynich manuscript in its encyclopaedic approach.

With regard to the historical legacy of the Cabaret Voltaire, Scherer’s work connects in many ways to the site. By bringing together paintings, puppetry, sculpture, stagecraft, music and text, the artist continues the tradition of the Gesamtkunstwerk. Yet, Scherer also touches on other core themes of the Dada Zurich: She illustrates and distorts authoritarian relationships, whether it be through language, gestures or visual mediation. The didactic recognises itself ludicrously.

At Cabaret Voltaire, the installation accompanying the operetta will be on display for the entire duration of the exhibition. At the opening on October 2, at the matinée on October 3, and by the end of the exhibition, Agnes Scherer enlivened the production collaborating with Tobias Textor (musician/Berlin), Soya Arakawa (performer/Düsseldorf) and Claudia Barth (performer and activist/Zurich). In addition to the exhibition on the ground floor, a series of large-scale pencil drawings by the artist, spanning the years 2017-2019, is also on display on the upper floor.

«The Teacher» was shown for the first time in April/May 2019 at the Berlin project space Kinderhook & Caracas, curated by Sol Calero and Christopher Kline.


Agnes Scherer (*1985 in Lohr am Main, Germany) lives and works in Berlin. She studied art history in Tübingen and Vienna and fine arts at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In 2019, she won the Berlin Art Prize. Most recently, her work has been shown in group exhibitions including in the Galerie ChertLüdde (Berlin, 2019) and the Kunstverein Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf, 2019), as well as in solo exhibitions; «Coeurs Simples», Galerie Sans Titre (Paris, 2020); «Orlando Tussaud», Philipp Haverkampf Galerie (Berlin, 2019/20); «The Very Hungry», Horse & Pony (Berlin, Berlin Art Prize finalists exhibition 2019); «The Teacher», Kinderhook & Caracas (Berlin, 2019) and «Cupid and the Animals», Tramps (New York, 2018 and London, 2017). «The Teacher» was first shown in April and May 2019 in the Berlin project space Kinderhook & Caracas, curated by Sol Calero and Christopher Kline. www.agnesscherer.de

The career of multidisciplinary artist Soya Arakawa (* 1984 in Hamamatsu, Japan) includes many years of activity in the field of performance – including solo performances as well as repeated collaborations, in which he acts as a singer, dancer and instrumentalist. His contribution to «The Teacher» draws on his profound knowledge of the art of puppetry, which he also explores in his own recent work. His most recent projects include the performance Crystals at the Market Gallery, Glasgow (February 2020) and Passacaglia della Vita, together with the group SPINE (to which Claudia Barth belongs) at the Simultanhalle Köln (September 2020). Soya Arakawa lives in Krefeld, Germany. www.tacolv.org

The music for «The Teacher» was composed by Tobias Textor (* 1986 in Siegen, Germany). The Berlin-based musician cultivates an experimental attitude and creates music as a spontaneous reaction to social and material environments. His more recent works include «The Teacher», the setting to music of a painting performance by Gregor Hildebrandt together with Christopher Schmidt (2018), as well as compositions with Ornella Balhi for the operetta The Salty Testament, which is currently being written. In 2020, he developed music in connection with drawing in the context of the artists’ residence in the Freiraum of the dance company Ben J. Riepe in Düsseldorf. For «The Teacher», Textor has put together a percussion set of gongs and wooden percussion instruments, most of which originate from theatre contexts. Through his unconventional approach to these instruments, he elicits new and exciting sound qualities from them. https://www.instagram. com/tobias_textor/

Claudia Barth’s (* 1987 in Herrliberg, Switzerland) work focuses on a performance practice that concentrates on movement and speech acts. Her socially and politically committed artistic activity has resulted in video works, sculptural works and large-scale silhouette cut-out. In 2019 Barth completed the long-term project Eu-você at the EinTanzhaus Mannheim, a collaboration with her sister Isabelle Barth and Brazilian artists. Part of this project are also the video works every smell a thousand memories, which were also shown in 2019 at the Raum*station Zürich, as well as the performance Eu não falo português – Ich spreche kein Portugiesisch, which can be seen online this year as a final work at the HKB Bern. At the end of October 2020, Claudia Barth was nominated for the Performance Prize Switzerland in Geneva. For «The Teacher», she performs as a reciter. https://cap-common-ground.ch/a..., www.barthclaudia.com


Angespannte Latenz [Tense Latency]

Three large drawings are on display at Cabaret Voltaire until April 30. One of them, Gegenstände [Objects], is attributed to Agnes Scherer. The other two deny their creation by Scherer's hand – by any hand: Inaktiver Zeichenarm [Inactive Drawing Arm] and Inaktiver Zeichenarm mit Motiven, die ohne dessen Zutun entstanden [Inactive Drawing Arm with Motifs Created Without its Involvement] show idle arms next to seemingly lost figurations. Incoherent motifs buzz unrelieved in a damaged framework of bridle that obviously failed to unfold into a foulard à la Hermès. Six stranded seals attempt to establish at least a formal relationship to the drawing arm passing by in a barge by imitating its silhouette. Comparable to the ownerless play personnel in Pirandello's «Sechs Personen suchen einen Autor» [Six Persons Seeking an Author], this assembly of motif finds itself in a kind of purgatory of only partially recognized existence. At the same time, the drawings, created in 2017 during a slow convalescence after pneumonia, reflect strangely aptly the state of tense latency prevailing today due to the pandemic. The enigmatic imagery of her pencil drawings, a core practice in Scherer's work, reveals itself as the source of the disorienting schematics of her operetta/exhibition «The Teacher», currently on view in the exhibition space. In front of the camera lens, the gingerly executed works on paper usually retreat into a nebulous haze that approximates photographic reproduction to a blurred memory. Thus, they circulate mainly in a cloud of inner images from which they have emerged.

Due to Covid-19 the performance to the finissage cannot take place in May 2021.