By Doris Meierhenrich
29.04.2011 / Berliner Zeitung
Two weeks after drilling begins, Gerd Baumann tells us, things really begin to get interesting. At that point the drill passes through the million-year border in geological terms. The mineral oil they seek deep below the Kazakh steppe is deposited in strata formed 130 million years ago. The kakhi-attired engineer on the stage of Hau 2 explains every movement necessary to operate a vast drilling arm he uses to penetrate these primeval regions in his workaday life. Moving images on the screen behind him show the drilling apparatus at work: it’s almost as if Baumann briefly downed tools in order to step up on stage and talk about the history of the planet.
Even this leap between different realities is no more astounding than time spans amounting to 130 million years. And so we’re hardly surprised when Baumann suddenly starts talking to a colleague shown on the screen. Of course, the video was preproduced to ensure that every on-stage question receives an on-screen answer. But the important aspect is not so much the technical craftmanship as the effect it produces in spite of itself: a fantastic yet transparently fake moment of successful communication that defies all logical boundaries; a moment of light and darkness sending into a wild spin categories of near and far, of cause and effect.
Another, similarly miraculous, leap is later executed by the Russian-German Helene Simkin. The resourceful amateur astronaut looks round at the screen showing the graveyard in her home town of Jeskazgan Her Swabian ancestors migrated from southern Germany to the Volga some 200 years ago; Stalin deported their descendants to Kazakhstan, from where Helene came to Germany in the early 1990s. Now she looks back at her home, sees her brother standing among the family headstones. Suddenly, two pairs of eyes lock in a gaze so sad, so wordlessly responsive, that nothing – no time, no space, no screen – seems to separate them.
Oil and Biographies
That is one of the most moving moments presented by Stefan Kaegi and the video artist Chris Kondek in an evening of theatre unusually wistful by Rimini Protokoll standards. It demonstrates that “Soil Sample Kazakhstan” intends to trace more than the vein-like oil routes connecting Germany with Kazakhstan – the production explores five personal histories. And spurious though the connections between those five individuals may be, just as their individual relationships to the oil are disparate, everything is shown to be subtly interconnected in this composition of stories, projected landscapes and models. The points of connection are so delicate, however, that the relevance for the other person’s life only emerges through the telling of one’s own. Suddenly, the Russian-German Heinrich Wiebe, who now lives in Berlin but transported oil from the Semipalatinsk refineries to Kazakhi petrol stations in the 1960s, displays common ground with the Kazakhi oil trader Nurlan Dussali, whose interest today centres on global trade channels.
Layer for layer, the stories about the forces of people, nature and machines unspread in much the same way as the tar-like mats on the floor of the stage. In constantly changing formations the discrepancies in strength between man, time and nature are brought into collision: the kilowatt hours Gerd runs up on the treadmill cannot compete with those derived from oil. On the other hand, his power of imagination can break through any million-barrier much faster than any drill. “Context transfers” is the term Kaegi uses for this method, which is most fertile at precisely the points where gaps remain. And even if stagefright was responsible for unplanned gaps on the first night, Kaegi’s tapestry of gaps and fissures was woven with skill and aplomb.