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Lukas Kötz

In conversation with Barbara Pflanzner, Studio at Creative Cluster, May 8, 2023

You studied stage design at the Academy. What aspects are important to you in your scenographic work?

In my studies, the specific space and how we deal with it was central, due to Anna Viebrock, for whose work the found environment and the outside space play a big role. She always brought quite a lot of objects from specific places into the theater space. I realize that I’ve taken that with me in a different way. Throughout my studies, I’ve also developed my own signature and attitude. The architectural and the public space and its influence on the bodies – I find this aspect extremely important. I notice that in theater, this is shifting towards the virtual, two-dimensional, and somewhat superficial, so I've become a bit of an advocate for thinking about the three-dimensional space that is shared with the audience. This coming together in one place – I find this essential.

Because you just mentioned the audience: You’ve already done a few projects for theater but also for festivals in public spaces. Is your work different for the two contexts?

The first thing that comes to mind is the direction of the audience’s gaze and perspective, which is quite fixed in the theater: I have my seat here and I look at the stage from there, so that, firstly, has an effect in a certain direction. The backs of the stage sets are not designed; you can see the construction and so on. In a public space, of course, there are completely different issues; for example, weather and time play a completely different role, or even coincidences, such as when someone passes by and involuntarily becomes part of the work. Taking up these aspects is something that really appeals to me.

In the Studio program, you wanted to explore the relationship between body and space, in the studio as a neutral space. Were you able to continue with this intention?

I don’t really remember what I called neutral back then. I started from the principle that there’s this space here, consisting of walls, floor and ceiling, which can be filled. I was actually planning to do a project in the gym, which I didn’t pursue, because I was more drawn out, into the city. Basically, I’m interested in trying things out and developing new approaches to topics – such as drawing, which I’ve been devoting more time to lately.

In your work you also deal interdisciplinarily with performance, in which the interaction of body and space is not unimportant.

This I can describe concretely through a project I’m currently working on – on a fairly large, undeveloped field near Seestadt Aspern. I was primarily interested in the location of this undeveloped space. I recreated a stadia rod that I discovered in the mountains last year. Together with the coordinates and a grid of the area, it serves to locate a specific point. In contrast to this are the moving and changing bodies, which can elude a concrete definition and determination. Based on this, I’m currently designing objects on stilts that are oriented towards architectural elements such as doors, walkways or furniture. It’s precisely this mixture of a sculptural aspect with a performative playability that interests me – that’s where I notice the theater reference from which I come from. It’s not just about the object itself, which you just look at, but also about the relation to the body by using it.

In 2018, you collaborated on an opera entitled Erdbeben.Träume (“Earthquakes.Dreams”), which can be read as a commentary on our society. To what extent do political aspects play a role in your work?

I previously talked about space, as a space shared with the audience, as a gathering place and as a place where something is experienced together. Here there’s already a political aspect that’s being considered. Otherwise, I try to be attentive to what’s happening around me, in politics, in debates and so on. And then, of course, the question is how I translate that into my scenographic work. In the case of the field in Aspern, the proximity to Seestadt as a major urban development project influences my work. In other words, how an open area is developed and under what conditions people will live there. I’m hugely fascinated by Seestadt because of these site-specific developments, mixed with a kind of gloominess.

You share the studio with three stage design colleagues, with two of whom you’ve realized projects together in the past. Have any new collaborations arisen during the program year?

In this transitional phase after graduation, it’s great to have this structure here. I’m currently in an in-between zone – on the one hand, developing projects in a public space myself and applying for funding, and on the other, wanting to work with people in theater again and designing a stage set. In other words, immersing myself in the black stage space once again. The studio makes it possible to continue searching for content and to give myself time. Certain projects are, of course, very much connected to the studio space here in the Creative Cluster.

In the theater, you usually have other possibilities: it’s a collective work, there’s a rehearsal stage, and so on. When it comes to current projects of my own, it’s more a question of, What am I actually able to do in a studio? What can I build here? In the fall, I rebuilt the stadia rod, which was also only possible because of the space here. My studio colleagues and I are in constant exchange when we’re here together, and conversations take place in which you notice that we’ve been through the same training, and it’s easy for us to understand each other. So the exchange is there, but there are no specific joint projects at the moment.

Besides the current project in Aspern, are there any other projects already in planning?

I’m currently working with a group of colleagues, some of whom are still studying, on a unified stage space for the youth section at the Volksbühne in Berlin. This is also called the Grundraum [basic space], which we’re redesigning over two years and in which all the plays will then be performed. We’ve gotten rid of the bleachers and the stage and installed a modular podium system, so you can set the playing surfaces at different heights. This can be used to create either a “stepped” grandstand for the audience to sit on, or a long table for the audience to sit at. After a long planning period, it’s going to be installed in August 2023 and then be used for two years.

In winter I’ll also be designing a stage set for Philipp Gehmacher in the Tanzquartier. I just spent a week in Heidelberg on a fellowship program and was very happy about having contact with other theater professionals. Almost all of them work transdisciplinarily, but meeting people who then have a completely different perspective on theater was and is very enriching.