Spielzeit 26.08. - 09.10.


by Willy Decker

Art is always created out of an empty space. A stage must be empty for theatre to take place. Every picture starts with a blank canvas, each plan with a piece of white paper. Music begins and ends with silence, acoustic emptiness, placing the extent of the room at the disposal of sound, just as the white of a blank page offers itself to the painter’s brush.

Our consciousness, however, is more like a stage stuffed full of old scenery, our mind a scrap of paper covered in scribbles, our eye a canvas painted over and over with a thousand pictures, our head one of a billion words and ideas shouted backwards and forwards across a noisy station concourse.

“Only where there is emptiness, can something new arise” says the Indian sage Krishnamurti. The emptiness of the space before something happens there, the quiet before music, the silence before the spoken word, the white page or wall before a picture is created: that is the foundation from which new thoughts, new ideas, artistic inspiration springs, the space in which creativity can unfold unconditionally and spontaneously.

Buddhism revolves around this emptiness as one of its central concepts, shunyata, nothingness, the gateway which has no gate, without beginning, without end. In meditation, the central practice of Buddhism, the conscious mind is emptied of its contents in order to create space for an open inner breadth and emptiness in which realization, truth and inner transformation are possible.

Although all one actually has to do is close one’s eyes in order to enter this space deep inside which vibrates with boundless energy, the journey to find it is often a very long one for us Westerners, and sometimes impossible. We have to cross entire mountain ranges of deceptions, confusions, conditioning and pre-conceptions, we have to clear our inner stage of all that superfluous scenery and empty it, until we can touch that great emptiness, which is nothing other than the greatest possible richness of an infinity inside us, which the Zen Patriarchs have called ‘thinking on the basis of non-thinking’. This powerful moment of non-thinking where emptiness and complete fullness are the same, was what we were and are talking about, when we speak of the ‘primary moment’ which stands as the title above the programme of the three year cycle completed by this year’s Ruhrtriennale.

Art and spirituality meet in this primary moment, they are two different paths which lead back to the same source, that powerful, empty openness before every thought, before every word, before every image. This moment cannot be prolonged, it takes place outside space and time. Its truth is always NOW, the next moment it’s already different – like art. Art is always NOW.

We human beings cannot comprehend the NOW. When we become conscious of the present moment, it has already gone. Every time we reach out for the NOW, it has already slipped away from us – into the past.

The great Japanese master calligraphers say that the hardest task is not the line, not the circle, the most difficult task is the point and that it takes an entire lifetime to learn how to place a point because it has no prolongation, no space, no time – like the NOW. The point is pure NOW – to picture it, grasp it, contain it, can be achieved only by letting go of all concepts, in the emptiness which has no intentions – and in art, which can also happen only when it is no longer wanted, when the artist is not looking - rather the opposite: when the artist has stopped looking, when he lets go. In this way, meditation and art are deeply related, they are complete and total contact with the NOW.

In my last season as Artistic Director, the Ruhrtriennale enters the great emptiness of its magnificent industrial spaces searching for the NOW, the achieved moment of which Goethe speaks and to which the great Buddhist masters refer when they talk of liberation – samadhi, nirvana and awakening.

With this search, the Ruhrtriennale consciously turns from the investigation of two theistic religions to a non-theistic tradition, Buddhism, which will once again radically and totally question everything, all our truths and our certainties, at the end of this three year journey. In doing this, we do not wish to picture the exotic surface of Buddhism: there will be no joss sticks, no temple dances and no Nô theatre. We do not wish to exhibit the outward form of Buddhism which is fundamentally misunderstood and frequently distorted in the West. We will not search for it where everyone suspects it is to be found, but rather where it is only apparent at a second and deeper glance. We will find the radicality of Buddhist thought and deeds as a crystallization of human knowledge where it is reflected in the depths of the great works of our Western culture, where Buddhist meditative perception and Western artistic creativity flow from and converge in the same source: in Richard Wagner’s opus metaphysicum Tristan and Isolde, where musical structure and exterior plot diverge in a revolutionary manner into openness, into something unresolved and the Western concept of fixed worlds dissolves into relativity; in Shakespeare, who destroys the ego as the purported centre of the world so radically in Macbeth and exposes the naked creatureliness beneath, the simple, pure existence of mankind in the harsh light of his stage; or in Beckett, in his plays and texts revolving around nothingness which question language to the point of dumbness; and ultimately in Franz Kafka, who creates a dark version of the Mandala in his Castle, whose secretive centre remains invisible and inaccessible.

In all these works the innermost of the worlds they represent is an empty space, devoid of any describable content, where no recognizable central power can be found, no guiding God and no unfolding primary material, but the silence of an unpronounceable, open expanse as a space of boundless possibilities. Out of this space our present is reborn constantly in every moment. The epiphany of this NOW is our goal, contact with the great emptiness, shunyata, is the moment of our arrival, not anywhere, not at any time, but only there in the sole place where we are truly real and where we always were, in the NOW.