Emily Eliza Scott:
Still Looking for Fritz

Emily Eliza Scott writes after the performative walk «Looking for Fritz» from Ariane Koche and Sarina Scheidegger saturday 28.3.2015 in the city of Basel.

The ordinary practitioners of the city live «down below,» below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk – an elementary form of this experience of the city; they are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban «text» they write without being able to read it. […] The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces […].
— Michel De Certeau (1984)

What one can surmise, from the minimal details offered online, is this: four performative walks, organized by the artists Ariane Koch and Sarina Scheidegger, will transpire in Basel. A collection of texts has been assembled over the course of a year, written by eight individuals on their various encounters with the city (real or imagined, detailed or impressionistic, I learn from the artists). This, in turn, will serve as the source material for yet another set of actors, who will grab bits and pieces, carrying them back to the everyday streetscape and thereby performing an echo of sorts. Or, maybe, something closer to an urban remix. Overlay, or intertextuality, seems to lie at the heart of this artistic gesture, mirrored in a folded map that marks the four, partially overlapping routes—perhaps the clearest manifestation of the project as a whole. Not incidentally, however, most all of this flyer’s words are obscured by thick, blocky lines or printed backwards; cartographic icons likewise appear without a legend for deciphering them, remaining largely illegible.

Upon hitting the ground in search of «Fritz» for its fourth and final iteration, on the 28th of March, 2015, we find no obvious start or end point. Rather, a handful of performers move freely along a designated trajectory—in this case, the Dreirosenbrücke—over the course of several hours. One of the most interesting points in the experience, indeed, comes at the beginning, as we scan various people dotting a public park in attempt to discern who is involved with the event. This momentary ambiguity sharpens our awareness of how we read what’s happening around us. An older woman approaches with a story to share, told from the perspective of a Cuban ex-patriot, first identifying its and her own connection to an art piece about the city. She will be the only one to «show her cards,» or step outside of character, which in my mind provides a meaningful entry point into the narrative (and would be even more crucial for those who stumble upon it unknowingly). The additional six or seven actors with whom we will cross paths, a more homogenous lot of twenty-something art student types, diverge more explicitly from routine behavior. (If the philosopher Michel De Certeau refers to the ordinary «practitioners» who comprise urban space through their movements, we are here much closer to the realm of street theater.) A young man scales and strolls a concrete dividing wall between the sidewalk and street, highlighting this subtle infrastructure. Two women holler instructions to one another across busy traffic through bullhorns. This handheld prop, common to most all of the performers, functions both literally and metaphorically—as if to suggest that, through it, the city might become more audible.

But, for me, a central question remains: What exactly is being amplified? In the most successful cases, performative practices do, I believe, possess the capacity to stir new sensitivities and insights about the city. Often, such endeavors operate at, and take up as their subject, various «thresholds of visibility.» While places like New York, London, and Berlin have seen a surge in this type of work in the last ten to fifteen years, it seems to be picking up only more recently in Switzerland, as evidenced by multiple large-scale festivals dedicated to the topic of late (e.g., «performaCITY» in Basel last summer, and «reART: theURBAN» in Zurich two years before). «Looking for Fritz» feels like a relatively early-stage experiment by a smallish group of friends and colleagues eager to explore their diverse experiences of a shared geography. I’m all for this. I’m all for the kind of playfulness it embodies, too. Yet, if this project wants to reach beyond its current circumference and to engage others in a more-than-passing way, I would encourage less opacity. Call me old fashioned, but I want such performances to help me see the city, and myself in it, differently. I want to know: Who is this enigmatic figure, Fritz? Why should I be looking for him? And, what can he show me about the «thicks and thins» of Basel?

→ see also text of Mechtild Widrich about the same event