Interview: Operndorf Afrika

Curator Raphael Gygax talks to Aino Laberenz about Operndorf Afrika, featuring in Frieze Projects this year

Operndorf Afrika (Opera Village Africa) is an arts project initiated by German  lm/theatre director and artist Christoph Schlingensief (1960–2010) located near Ouagadougou, the capital city of Burkina Faso in West Africa. Its goal is to enable people from different backgrounds to work together and to enjoy artistic exchanges. Since 2010 Aino Laberenz has been the director of the not-for-profit project. 

Raphael Gygax: As collaborator and partner of Christoph Schlingensief, you were involved from the very beginning in the Operndorf Afrika. What’s your conclusion after six years – and what will the next big steps be?

Aino Laberenz: In the last six years the Operndorf Afrika team has been busy with setting up structures – the construction of the school, the hospital ward, but also the artist and guest houses, of ces and living units for employees. It’s about creating a basis, the implementation of a missing structure. The place we chose didn’t have anything: no energy, no water, no buildings. Now we have a functioning infrastructure. The school works, we have water and an energy supply, the teachers live there, the canteen and hospital function and a big solar plant is installed. At this point we’re a big step further on and can start the work with artists, offering workshops to the people and students.
And last year we started an artist-in- residence programme that gives artists the opportunity to have a deeper discussion with the people there.

RG: What will the presentation of the project at Frieze look like?

AL: The artist-in-residence programme allows us not only to create an artistic exchange and discussion, but also to commission works that represent the project. One central piece at Frieze will be Andy Hope 1930’s Radio Tower – a sculpture that deals with the African location that will also be used as a live satellite between Operndorf Afrika in Burkina Faso and the art fair in London. There will be elements of the stage set from Via Intolleranza II. It will offer
a view on his theatre production – which was his rst materialized African ‘opera village’ utopia. And then there will be contributions by artists from Burkina Faso.

RG: Integration was a cornerstone of Schlingensief ’s artistic work – he worked with disadvantaged people and stigmatized communities. I think you can see this in the Operndorf Afrika project. Could you tell us more about this approach, which often prompted controversy?

AL: Christoph’s works can be characterized by a very strong participatory approach. In the case of the Operndorf Afrika project this was true right from the beginning – the construction of the first building was an act by the whole community. The collaboration was always an exchange, a communal work to create the village. We discussed the ideas and took the rst steps together. Integration shouldn’t be considered as ‘integration of the Other into our system’ – it’s more that we all get integrated into the idea of the Operndorf Afrika.

Find out more about Operndorf Afrika's project at Frieze London 2016 here.  

Associated Events

On Saturday 1 October, the ICA will screen Lost in Namibia - a documentary about Christoph Schlingensief's last, unfinished film - with an introduction by Aino Laberenz. Book tickets here.

On Saturday 5 November the Goethe-Institut will host a day-long workshop, entitled 'Working across Continents: How cultural differences might be articulated, mediated and enjoyed?'

From September to November, Frieze Projects is collaborating with the Art Assassins and artist collective Network 11 as part of Operndorf Afrika's Frieze Project. Together they are investigating the impact Operndorf Afrika has on post-colonial Burkina Faso and consider the impact these cultural encounters have on its future.

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