what the world needs now, 2020

@ Kunsthalle Zürich,

Pictures by Iouri Podladtchikov

Dominique Dillon de Byington for Novembre Magazine 

read the full article here


I had just arrived in Zurich, after being in lockdown in Berlin for three months with my husband and my three month old child. The pandemic, daily increasing uncoverings of merciless racist murders and a sea of systematic injustice as well as months of sleep deprivation and  the hormonal tolls of breastfeeding a newborn had put me in a sombre place of numbness.

Despite, or perhaps, exactly because, of the world appearing to have reached it's boiling point, with fumes of pain and despair, of anger and fear seemingly infiltrating our every (digital) breath, I was very much looking forward to Nils Amadeus Lange's performance as part of the group exhibition, SOMMER DER ZÖGERNS / SUMMER OF SUSPENSE at Kunsthalle Zürich.

In addition to Nils being my dearest friend, I have always been in awe of his work and of what it not only does to, but rather, with people. The day of the performance, I met him at his rehearsal space, where he was finalising one of two duets with Florian Schlessmann and Moritz Andrea Bürge. The space was quite small and the ceilings somewhat low,  so that the movers, as Nils refers to his performers as, were restricted in their expression. Watching these two bodies repeatedly attract and repel one another in such tender brutality to 'What the World Needs Now is Love' by Dionne Warwick, was a reminder of how Nils' work has the ability to bring together what at first might appear to have never belonged. There is a quality to his work that surpasses the superficiality that often accompanies constitutionalised art, outgrowing it, and becoming very human. His work is very emotional. Very political. Very poetic. Very sexual. It is very contemporary. In fragility lies strength, I thought, as I sat there with my sleeping baby lying on my chest.

Later that evening, a large crowd had gathered at Kunsthalle. With weekly additions to the exhibition, I had little expectations towards an audience, but ultimately, I wasn't surprised by it's impressive size and diversity. As I said, Nils has the ability to bring together what, or this time perhaps, who, at first might appear to have never belonged. The mood was one of tumultuous gratitude, with more and more people filling the space. Following Nils' instructions to sit down, and forming a huge semi-circle along the walls, the audience watched as his friends, who were also part of the exhibition, were invited to hammer giant nails into the wall, attaching sculptures made of recycled props from previous performances to them with magnets. It was all magnetic, meaning subjects could be transformed again and again, and there was no preconceived system to follow, with Nils giving his collaborators complete artistic control, and consciously not exhibiting next to each other, but rather, cooperating with the artists.

I stood on the side, breastfeeding, and watched this manifestation of equality as Nina Emge, whose opening it also was, read a text by Derek Jarman from the film Blue. It felt as though Nils had dedicated this performance to Jarman, whose reflection of his losing battle with AIDS was shared with the audience as fearlessly as Nils himself was willing to share his art, his friends and his audience. The generosity of this sort of inclusivity is rare and precious, recognising an audience as individuals rather than a mass, bonding strangers and triggering togetherness.

'What the World Needs Now is Love' began echoing  through the space as Schlessmann and Bürge began dancing. Partially duets, partially solos, with each repetition of the song, a new choreography emerged. There were moments of pain and despair, of anger and fear. There were moments of joy and moments of relief as Nils pissed on dry ice as part of his solo, creating fog,  and later, a leaf blower was pointed at Schlessmann as he held a monologue. The endless-loop of the song turned it into a war-cry of an anthem and when Nils invited the audience to dance, two people stood up and began throwing each other across the floor. Performance as an ode to vulnerability. As an ode to the courage to dance to love. There it was again, that tender brutality. Only this time, it was more tender and also more brutal than earlier in the rehearsal space.

'What the World Needs Now is Love' continued playing until I left, an hour later. The most gentle reminder.