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Culture

Pillars of Society - Tree-Sitting Performance Art in Frankfurt

The Church of Fear, a project by German gadfly Christoph Schlingensief, has reached Germany and it's hard to know what to make of it. Maybe that's the point.

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The first Church of Fear pole-sitters appeared in Venice at the Biennale art exhibition in June.

From Monday until Saturday, people strolling along Frankfurt pedestrian zone in the city’s center will be treated to a group of people perched on top of tree trunks. It is the latest performance art project from one of Germany's most famous agents provocateur, theater director Christoph Schlingensief, and his Church of Fear (CoF).

The seven volunteers perched two and a half meters in the air are described by CoF as "jobless, homeless or hopeless." They were recruited to compete in its "third international pole-sitting contest," where they are meant to "demonstrate their fears." The person who manages to remain on top of a pole the longest will win €2,000 ($2,250).

Church of Fear, described on its website as an international association of sects and religious communities, is Schilingensief’s latest vehicle. The well-known German gadfly loves to take aim at politicians and major corporations as well as cultural issues. CoF seems to take aim at them all, religion, the government, media and modern society.

The website somewhat cryptically proclaims: "We are made to fear. Our beliefs are destroyed. That's why Church of Fear says fight the terror monopoly of politics… Sabotage the media machinery that produces fear… Our beliefs have been taken from us, our fear will not be!"

Christoph Schlingensief

Theater director Christoph Schlingensief

The pole-sitting series got its start at this year's Venice Biennale in June, where Berlin-based director Schlingensief positioned a group of motionless people wearing CoF t-shirts on pillars at the entrance to the country pavilions at one of the world's most important contemporary art exhibitions.

Schlingensief and the CoF then moved on to Kathmandu, Nepal in late July, where they arranged another pole-sitting contest, this time with seven people from five different religious communities and a five-day, 191 km (119 mile) procession from the city of Pokhara to Kathmandu. While in Venice pole-sitters only had to sit through the day, -- but in 40 degree Celsius (104 degree Fahrenheit) temperature heat -- the seven participants in Kathmandu spent night and day atop their tree trunks. "Here the seven now avow their beliefs -- the remainders of belief, lack of belief," Schlingensief explained.

"Eat terror"

The director's journal entries published in the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper during a nine-day pilgrimage from Cologne to Frankfurt (Main) added make it easier to understand what Church of Fear is about. Schlingensief wrote enigmatic comments about the highlights of the "Moving Corpus" procession, such as being blessed by a Cologne pastor, a foot injury he incurred walking through Germany and his comments to a "red-capped Arab" in a U.S. "snack bar" ("Don't eat bread, eat terror.").

The pilgrimage ended with a "last supper" in a former tram depot with an altar, incense, candles, a dining table laid out for more than 40 participants and music from composer Richard Wagner. Schlingensief was apparently preparing for his staging of the opera "Parsifal" at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival in 2004.

"Win with Your Loser"

3. Internationale Pfahlsitzwettbewerb in Frankfurt

Björn is one of seven candidates in the third international pole-sitting competition in Frankfurt.

Then, after overcoming initial difficulties recruiting seven appropriate people to be “pillar saints,” occupants the tree trunks in Frankfurt, the third pole-sitting contest was kicked off on Monday with the theme "Win with Your Loser." CoF has said spectators will be able to follow the competition on its website and can place bets on who they think will win.

The Church of Fear “congregation” seems to be growing. The group says chapters have been started in Nicaragua, Britain and Namibia. And the future may have CoF gospel choirs in store. "Do you want to raise your voice against the exploitation of fear?" the website asked, in search of singers.

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