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Let’s talk: Angelika Stepken, Ingrid & Oswald Wiener on “Hot Feet”


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Let’s Talk:
Angelika Stepken, Ingrid & Oswald Wiener about “Hot Feet”

They will soon be appearing as “Wichtel and the Wuchteln” alongside Jan St. Werner, Rosa Barba, and Klaus Sander in the Villa Romana text/sound/cooking show SÜDEN (SOUTH), taking place in the KunstHalle atrium. At the moment, though, just like every summer, the artist Ingrid Wiener and the writer, cyberneticist, and language theorist Oswald Wiener are at their home in the Gold Rush town of Dawson City. They chat with Angelika Stepken, Director of Villa Romana, about food, art, and their life in the Yukon.

[18:00:40] Angelika Stepken: Good morning, Ingrid and Oswald! You’ve been back in Dawson for a few weeks now, in a house you’ve had for 30 years. I read that there are 0.06 residents per square kilometer there. What kinds of sounds do you hear when you’re sitting at the computer?

[18:01:17] Oswald Wiener: Tinnitus. Ingrid tells me that we have a population of 3,000 in Dawson City (5 km from here). That sounds like a lot, but there are only 30,000 people in the whole Yukon! It’s hard to report in detail on the local situation; it would take too long. Many things here are really different from Europe.

[18:03:06] AS: Does the Claims Café you started in Dawson still exist?

[18:06:01] Ingrid Wiener: Unfortunately the Claims Café is no longer around. Many remember it though.

[18:06:54] AS: What was so special about the Claims Café?

[18:09:56] IW: What was special were the many things Canadians didn’t otherwise have. First of all good food, but also the little things—we had the first espresso machine north of Vancouver. An Italian gold miner, a frequent guest, once had some tripe, drank an espresso, and started to cry.

[18:11:08] AS: A melancholy place?

[18:12:28] AS: … where the sled dogs sing …

[18:12:35] IW: Yes. Two weeks of spring, two and a half months of summer, two weeks of fall, and the rest winter. But the Italian wept because he was happy.

[18:13:57] OW: Do you have our CD of sled dog songs? (released by Klaus Sander) In the winter, many of our guests came by dog sled!

[18:14:58] OW: We had a young neighbor in the nineties who trained a team of sled dogs. His dogs sang the whole night through all winter long, so poignantly that we set up an automatic recording station (heated etc.) and were able to compile a large collection of dog songs. The supposé publishing house (Klaus Sander) made a CD with us that's still available.

[18:16:07] AS: And now you are busy during your short summer getting ready for “Hot Feet” in Berlin. When I saw you perform at Villa Romana, I hardly knew what to expect. In the end, an incredibly strong afterimage of an intense situation on a cold night remained in my mind. Can you give me a hint about the upcoming show?

[18:19:07] OW: We haven't been able yet to talk with Rosa (Barba), Jan, and Klaus. Rosa and Jan travel back and forth, busy representing their work and Klaus has a baby; we ourselves are up to our ears in deadlines, but at least we can talk to each other.

[18:22:05] IW: In past performances, it has proven to be a good thing that we’re so different as couples; the connecting element was personal fondness. The tensions came from the natural contrasts, and we've found it best to exchange recipes just before the respective performance.

[18:25:18] AS: But you already know what you’re going to cook: calves’ feet. In Florence, it was a mock wood grouse. Where do you find these recipes, and what interests you about these “forgotten” dishes?

[18:28:26] IW: I’ve browsed through a lot of old cookbooks and I find old-fashioned cooking much more exciting than today’s haute, or “star” cuisine. That’s the term for a standard that has been enforced by the “gourmet” media. All the restaurants with stars look more or less the same and offer more or less the same thing; what’s on offer is clean and has a name and brands you know. The Viennese term for this is “aufgemascherlt”: lots of padding and not much substance, but still very expensive.

[18:29:51] AS: In the performance you cook in front of, and for, the audience, but there is also a film showing how you cut up the meat, and in Florence you hung your tapestries in a tree. Where does the cooking begin and the art end?

[18:30:06] IW: Many people today are disgusted by absolutely clean and healthy animal parts such as calves' or pigs’ feet, and that’s what’s fun for me. That's the art of cooking … “Art is when you do it anyway.”

[18:31:22] IW: We will also be making a film on preparing the gooey calves’ feet and showing it during our show.

[18:32:56] IW: People should also know that what I’m going to prepare is standard fare in traditional Spanish cuisine (and also in Turkey, as it once was in Austria as well).

[18:33:59] AS: Another PS on unclean feet: Is it because of our steak culture that in Germany the normal use of all cuts of meat has been discredited? In Italy, you can still find feet and cows’ heads and five stomachs at the market …

[18:34:02] IW: The steak culture comes from America. I never thought that American conformism would make its way into everyday life in Europe, but now here it is.

[18:34:17] AS: If I’m not mistaken, you’re now performing together for the third time. You already said that you are all so different “as couples” and that it is a phenomenon in your performance that things that are seemingly unrelated all happen at once: text and gooey feet, electronic sound and other acoustics, materials and actions. How did you come up with the characters “Wichteln and Wuchteln”? And how did the name come about?

[18:40:44] IW: The fourth time. With “as couples” I meant—you got it right—that each possible duo among us, including Rosa and Jan, Oswald and I, Klaus and Oswald, has a different chemistry ... We bring together unrelated things by engaging with one another during the performance, for example responding to a text with a musical phrase. Almost everything will be improvised, but we know (more or less …!) what the others will be doing.

[18:47:56] OW: We all invented “Wichtel und die Wuchteln” together, when we had to find a name for our “non-collective” (for a CD making fun of music). A Wichtel is a gnome and a Wuchtel is Viennese dialect for a sweet roll made with yeast dough, but the name also contains the word “Wucht,” meaning someone who makes an impact. Each one of us is a Wichtel, and also a Wuchtel. You could put it this way: We’re skeptical friends.

[18:53:48] AS: What do you eat when you are in Dawson? What’s for lunch today, or for dinner?

[18:57:43] IW: Our neighbor caught a salmon and smoked it, so we’ll have a piece of that for lunch. For dinner, we’ll have a casserole with goat cheese from an island in the Yukon River. Sometimes we get vegetables from a neighboring greenhouse. At the market in the village, you can only get bland fruit and vegetables from the USA (or sometimes Mexican produce if you’re lucky, which is edible).

[18:58:29] IW: Until about fifteen years ago there was only frozen food (like there still is in some of the smallest Indian villages).

[18:59:13] AS: Do you grow your own vegetables? And go fishing and hunting?

[19:02:26] IW: We would have to start growing vegetables in March, but we don’t have the time anyway, and as long as we have our neighbor … He is allowed to fish because he was married to an Indian woman (he is also a trapper and captain of the ferry we take across the Yukon to the village). There are hardly any salmon anymore because the Americans have overfished the lower reaches and the mouth of the Yukon.

[19:05:35] IW: The only ones allowed to hunt are the Indians, who are in the process of eradicating the last large caribou herd, and the big game hunters from Germany, Switzerland, and USA, who (have to) pay a fortune to kill a mountain sheep or a grizzly.

[19:07:00] IW: Otherwise, every “legal” resident of the Yukon Territory can register for permission to kill one moose a year, but we’re not interested.

[19:07:29] AS: You’ll be coming back to Europe in early September. After all, as you describe it, Dawson is no paradise. What keeps you going back and forth?

[19:12:49] OW: We’ve built a winter-proof house and are able to work very well here—once we’ve recovered from the stress of getting here (which becomes more difficult every year). Dawson is not paradise, however, the land, the wilderness, and the Arctic, which is practically around the corner, the tundra and the immense mountains (six-thousanders) right near-by—you can’t get all this anywhere else. Don’t forget that until recently we had a plane and were able to explore than entire American northwest.

[19:13:32] IW: We’ve taken numerous photos of all possible corners of Alaska (which is 50 km from our house as the crow flies) as well as in the Yukon and so on.

[19:15:43] OW: Due to cardiac arrhythmia, I can’t get a medical certificate to fly anymore. Three years ago we sold our Cessna 182.

[19:17:23] AS: Did you get your pilot’s license in Canada? When you arrived there?

[19:19:51] OW: I got my first pilot’s license in Germany in the seventies and then in 1985 I got the Canadian one.

[19:19:56] IW: Dawson is no paradise, and every year more and more tourists arrive (Dawson City is the center of the famous Gold Rush of 1898) to try to drive us back to Europe for good. An art center even opened here recently.

[19:20:24] AS: Madness. Who came up with that business idea?

[19:23:40] OW: Good question! But it’s easy to answer: “Culture” has arrived here because it’s the only thing the Indians have (it seems like almost all of them are artists these days) and because the tourists belong to a class of society for which art became an important life factor around 1980.

[19:20:58] AS: And, Oswald: Have you written any texts about flying?

[19:24:18] OW: I have never written about things that affected me emotionally.

[19:26:37] AS: Un abbraccio + see you in Berlin!

[19:27:37] IW: The best to you, too: Good night!

Villa Romana: Art, Music & Performance

August 27 – September 8, 2013
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle, Berlin

Closing performance
Wichtel und die Wuchteln,
"Heiße Füße/Hot Feet"

September 8, 2013
Deutsche Bank KunstHalle

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