Editorial Voices V

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Dear readers, dear artists, dear audience,

Clown and politics. This pairing of words may not seem immediately self-evident. It becomes so as soon as we take a closer look at the term “clown”1 itself. It refers both to the figure with its countless cultural, geographical, historical, and aesthetic manifestations, as well as to all our stereotyped ideas and standardisations, which are shaped by an encroaching Western reception. Nostalgic images and ideas of costumes, make-up, performance styles and performance spaces, are subconsciously, firmly anchored in Western clown reception. Western values have been transferred to a figure that has its deepest roots all over the world. When it is written in much clown literature, that “the clown is a global figure”,2 this usually implies our Western perspective on and reception of (predominantly white, male) clown figures. From the medieval court jester to Till Eulenspiegel and Shakespeare’s buffoons to Popov or Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp, the current manifestations of global majority clowns are almost never mentioned, and female clowns only occasionally. If we take all of these into account and do not close our eyes to discriminatory and post-colonial structures, the debate necessarily becomes a political one. The concept of clowns reveals a complex social phenomenon that, upon closer scrutiny, shows its political potential. Or to put it simply: clowns are a mirror of society, and society is political. The political in the clown affects all classes and cultures, and playful freedom knows no (global-minority-designed and nostalgic) normativity. In many cultures, clown, or its equivalents, (Heyoka, Coyote, Anansi, Atsara, Juha, to name just a few), has the mission of undermining rigid orders and grinningly crossing all boundaries. Alongside magic, charisma, intuition and emotion, this figure embodies humour, rebellion, and freedom from normativity. Clown has an anarchic power to defy norms and trigger a disarming laugh that can open a door to important messages. This is where clowns and political activism intersect. Political initiatives such as Clowns Without Borders deliver humour and levity as a form of humanistic support to war and crisis zones. The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army is a clown intervention force that fights humorously against wars, financial powers, and political intransparency. There are countless hospital clowns who use laughter as a healing or soothing agent against physical and mental suffering - clown activism has a wide variety of forms and operates worldwide.

The current issue of VOICES focuses on four positions within the field of tension between political responsibility and clowning. It is neither about clown personalities on the political stage nor about clown metaphors in reporting on populist politicians.3 We are talking about positions that use courage and humour to bring about change, promote inclusive thinking and action and inspire hope, thereby joining an age-old tradition. We are aware that many important positions have not been included in this issue.

The examination of the figure of the clown has so far mainly taken place on a popular scientific level: although a figure of world theatre, clowns rarely appear in the discourse of (German) theatre studies. Rather, for a long time everything that did not fit into the rigid logic of theatre was subsumed under clown, without it being examined more closely as a phenomenon in its own right.4 Since the preoccupation with emphatically physical practices from popular cultural traditions has increased in theatre studies, the clown figure has also slowly moved into focus.5 As a cliché-ridden figure, it was initially rather neglected in German contemporary circus. Since the self-image of the art form has changed, clown principles have been appearing in circus pieces under the guise of contemporary performance styles and clown is cautiously creeping into circus studies discourse to look around and show itself beyond the hitherto nostalgic clown lens.

One person who has been distorting the image of the cliché clown for over forty years is Leo Bassi. His work touches on current political and social issues and creates exciting, sensational, and shocking experiences, in which provocation is a language and not just a goal. In the interview Instinct and Laughter, he talks about being a clown as a mission, humour as a weapon and the need for changing clown styles. The article Dancing in the Chaos by Jacqueline Russell formulates a feminist clown practice. By describing a clown performance she directed, she illustrates the intersections between clown knowledge and feminist ways of thinking. In recent years, there has been a new urgency to recognise and counteract institutionalised and structural racism in our societies. One of the issues that goes hand in hand with this is the “decolonisation of clown pedagogy”.6 The conversation Can Clown Change? with Amrita Dhaliwal is about unequal vulnerability, dealing with personal boundaries and controversial teaching methods in clown workshops. Ante Ursić’s contribution Probing Matter out of Place, or how about a pie in the face? picks out a single act from the clown tradition and sheds light on its political power: pie throwing. The person thrown at is transformed into a state of formlessness, which serves as a staged context for political statements.

The contributions represent only a fraction of the topics and aspects that the contemporary (view of) clown encompasses. We are aware that the selection is characterised by our white Central European and privileged perspectives. We wish to use our position to promote a reflection on clown that is inclusive, humble, and sensitising. As a mirror of society, clowns have the potential to miniaturise the entirety of a culture to a microcosmic scale. The confrontation with patriarchal structures, white supremacy, privilege, and cultural appropriation is also part of this. Clown is on the fringes of society, but perhaps it would be more useful at its centre.

Jenny Patschovsky & Benjamin Richter
Cologne, April 2024

1 We use the term “clown” with a male pronoun wherever it is described as a phenomenon or abstract figure, while clown persons are gendered. One exception, which can be seen as a pioneering learning field, is the article Dancing in Chaos. Designing a feminist clown practice by Jacqueline Russell, which experiments with the feminine pronoun for clown.
2 Von Barloewen, Constantin: Clowns: Versuch über das Stolpern. München 2010. p 39.
3 Examples of clowns in political governance and of political strategies labelled as clownesque can be found in the article by Torsten Körner: Politik als
Manege – Das Zeitalter der Clowns. Deutschlandfunk Archive from 24.01.2021 https://www.deutschlandfunk.de/politik-als-manege-das-zeitalter-der-clowns-100.
html (visited on 20.12.2023).
4 In this way, the concept of theatre as a whole was formed in contrast to the concepts of clown and circus, which functioned as collective terms for everything disorderly. Cf. Peter, Birgit: “Taste and Prejudice. Circus as an art form” In: Kunsthalle Wien (ed.): Parallelwelt Zirkus. Vienna / Nuremberg 2012. p. 70–84. In more detail in: Hildbrand, Mirjam: Theater Lobby attackiert Zirkus. Zur Wende im Kräfteverhältnis zweier Theaterformen zwischen 1869 und 1918 in Berlin. Ästhetische
Praxis, Volume: 4, Paderborn 2023.
5 Vgl. / Cf. Baumbach, Gerda: „Woher kommen Clowns? Buffoni sacri, heilige Clowns” In: Baumbach, Gerda (Hg.): Clowns. Theaterfiguren und ihr Hinterland. Leipziger Beiträge zur Theatergeschichtsforschung, Band 9. Leipzig 2021. p. 21.
6 The term was coined by Jon Davison, an important British clown researcher. Cf.: Davison, Jon: Decolonising Clown Pedagogy, published at: https://www.jondavison.net/decolonisingclownpedagogy (visited on 23.03.2024).

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