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Director's passing

August 22, 2010

A day after the passing of divisive and provocative German director Christoph Schlingensief, the country's art and culture communities continue to mourn the loss of a truly innovative artist.

Theatre director Christoph Schlingensief
Schlingensief will be remembered as a divisive figureImage: AP

The eclectic and influential theater and opera director Christoph Schlingensief died on Saturday, August 21, at the age of 49, after a two-year battle with lung cancer.

Schlingensief directed numerous movies, plays and operas, including an internationally recognized production of "Parsifal" for the Wagner summer festival in the southern German city of Bayreuth in 2004.

He was a star of Germany's state-funded theater world who gained a name for himself with guerrilla-style performance art on city streets by his own acting troupe that puzzled shoppers.

Complex artist

Two police officer try to capture Schlingensief
Some of Schlingensief's street actions led to police interventionImage: dpa

The divisive figure often sought out controversy in his works, and was considered "one of the most important artists in the country," according to the director of the Museum for Modern Art in Frankfurt, Susanne Gaensheimer.

Germany's state commissioner for culture, Bernd Neumann, also recognized Schlingensief as among the most multi-faceted and innovative artists on the country's culture scene. He said that Schlingensief had had an immense influence on German-language film and theater.

"Provocation was not a rare part of his stylistic device," Neumann said. "With this he sought to trigger controversy and irritation."

Berlin's mayor Klaus Wowereit said on Saturday that "a major talent in theater has left the stage."

Works remembered

Theatre director Christoph Schlingensief
The 49-year-old spent time working in ViennaImage: AP

Meanwhile, the Berlin Academy of the Arts, which recently assumed control of Schlingeneif's archived works and was planning a public exhibition with the artist, has spoken of the loss of a man who wove together the many fabrics of German society.

Schlingensief contained an "immensely explosive force, artistically and politically," said the academy's president, Klaus Staeck.

"In all his works, beginning with his first cinematic attempts right up to his great opera stagings, it was about the exploration of the relationship between politics, art and society," Staeck said. "And so we are now responsible for his archive, which has found a place in our academy."

Life dedicated to controversy

A scene from Schlingensief's 'Parsifal'
Schlingensief's productions, such as "Parsifal," were internationally recognizedImage: AP/Bayreuther Festspiele - Jochen Quast

Schlingensief made headlines after casting neo-Nazi skinhead amateur actors in his rendition of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," burning an effigy of former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, and wearing a placard with the message "Kill Helmut Kohl," in reference to the former German chancellor.

In Vienna, Schlingensief created a television show called "Auslaender Raus!" ("Foreigners Out!") which denounced the rise of populism and racism.

The program was a send-up of the Big Brother reality TV show in which asylum seekers lived inside containers similar to those that deported Jews during World War II. Every week the public would vote to evict an asylum seeker not from the show, but from the country.

In 1998, Schlingensief founded the political party "Opportunity 2000" and took part in national elections, asking people to vote for themselves.

He also invited people to join an anti-chancellor swim in the then-chancellor Helmut Kohl's holiday retreat in Lake Wolfgang in Austria. His aim was to cause the lake to overflow with six million people in it, the number representing Germany's unemployed at the time.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Toma Tasovac

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