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Context, Method, Positionality


Jakob K. is the name of a series of performances, interventions, and methodological reflections based around the life and works of fictional choreographer Jakob Klenke (1876–1941). Using a method of speculative reconstruction, the series attempts to take a new look at some of the canonical reference points of modernism, both in dance and architecture. Originally conceived as a critical reflection on discourses within the performing arts around the necessity of reviving the heritage of modern dance, it gradually became a method of collective creation.

The series started in 2014 with the performance Jakob K. Eins, collectively authored by Heike Bröckerhoff, Moritz Frischkorn, and Jonas Woltemate. In this first performance, presented at Sprechwerk within the frame of DanceKiosk festival, an alleged reconstruction of Jakob Klenke’s early choreography Le Système (1904) was presented.

The second part of the series – Jakob K. Der Neue Mensch – was presented at Kampnagel, Hamburg, in May 2018. The original fiction was expanded and Klenke’s time at the Bauhaus as an assistant to Oskar Schlemmer became the central object of inquiry. Reconstructing Klenke’s gymnastic practice at the Bauhaus in Dessau as much as his exercises on expanding perception allowed the research to revisit modernist fantasies of purity, fitness, and strength. By taking a kind of historical detour to Dessau, the project formulated a speculative critique of contemporary discourses on body optimisation and neo-liberal imperatives of performance measurement.1

In parallel to this ‘biographical’ shift to Klenke’s Bauhaus years, the artistic research methods shaping this phase of the project – the phase on which this exposition concentrates – also significantly shifted. This was mainly due to the growth and diversification of the project team: in addition to the above-named performance-makers, architectural practitioners and researchers Mara Kanthak and Thomas Pearce (the author) joined the collaboration. This meant that the palette of methods was now expanded: besides speculative performance historiography it now also incorporated the use of mediated spaces and speculative approaches towards contemporary technologies and tools of 3D capture, simulation, reconstruction, animation, and digital fabrication. It is precisely in the combination of (or in-between) these approaches that the claim to originality of the project and its form of knowledge-creation lies – echoing Annette Arlander’s description of artistic research as inherently interdisciplinary, as a ‘site for unexpected clashes and combinations’ (2016: 4). Beyond these disciplinary clashes, the working process often even involved transgressions between disciplinary definitions (e.g., with the architectural collaborators becoming themselves, to a certain extent, performers – as described in section 1), in turn invoking Henk Borgdorff’s understanding of artistic research as a ‘border violation’ between disciplines (2012, 177).

Despite Jakob K. thus being an inherently collaborative and interdisciplinary project, the present exposition (unlike other writings on the project2) is written by a single author, namely one of the architectural researchers involved in the project. Its perspective is hence undeniably and consciously partial: the choice for a single authorship, which was made in agreement with the other collaborators, means that the exposition cannot and does not intend to capture the project in its full multi-voiced complexity. It is worth briefly reflecting on this positionality.

Elsewhere the case has been convincingly made for a strong historical and operational resonance between the architectural and performance disciplines – both being modes of choreographing movement and modulating affect; both shifting from a modernist authorial understanding to a postmodern more decentralised, participatory model; both hence evolving according to larger shifts in biopolitical modalities (Beisswanger 2021). The approach taken in this exposition does not emphasise as much this resonance or analogy. Rather, anchored in the position of the author’s contribution as an architectural researcher, it reflects on how its architectural, designerly, and technological practice might function as a provocation towards performative practices. It takes as its starting point, and as the structuring principle of its argument, the physical, architectural, and medial framing of the performance, the designed artefacts and technical speculations that are offered up to the performers as novel sets of rules and points of friction. This means that the approaches and artistic strategies discussed in the exposition always circle around the focal point of the performing body – they nudge, throw curve balls at, frame, technologically duplicate, and modify this performing body – but they never claim to speak from or for this body itself. This exposition’s perspective is grounded in another body, which is always peripheral and decidedly partial. To speak with Donna Haraway: ‘The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular’ (1988: 590). The hope is hence that from this single-authored, particular position, this exposition can speak in a meaningful way about a project that is and will always remain an inherently collective speculation, fuelled by its many human and non-human authors. And that it might continue to provoke and inspire spatial and performance practitioners alike.


Schlemmer's Technological Otherness:

a Post-Anthropocentric Recalibration


A painter turned sculptor turned choreographer, Oskar Schlemmer’s practice turned towards the technological other. ‘Do not complain about mechanisation’, he urged his contemporaries, ‘instead enjoy precision! Artists are willing to convert the drawbacks and perils of their mechanistic age into the silver lining of exact metaphysics’ (Blume 2014: 6).

Schlemmer (1888–1943, master at the Bauhaus 1921–28) saw the rules brought along by the emergence of new technologies not as a threat but as an ‘enrichment of modes of expression’ (Schlemmer 1961: 28). Such enrichment would allow artists to shift their perspective to see through mechanical eyes, to experiment by adopting mechanical rules as their own in order to challenge, untrain, and expand their habituated ways of seeing, moving, and creating. For performances such as the famous Triadic Ballet of 1922, Schlemmer devised costumes, props, and movement sequences that constrained the dancers to execute geometric motions with clockwork precision, submitting to this ‘other’ logic in order to generate previously inconceivable choreographies.3

While, at first sight, such compliance to a machinic logic echoes the oppressive submission to the machines of contemporary factories, it differed from it in a key point: Schlemmer intended for the dancers to ‘not only submit to them but also empathize with their mechanics’ (Blume 2014: 9). For Schlemmer, to engage with the machinic other was a means of ‘de-individualisation’ (challenging notions of the self and subjectivity) and ‘de-automatising’ habituation (Harrasser 2014: 74-78).4 But at the same time, he regarded the friction between the imposed logic of the machine on the one hand and the embodied, performative resistance to it on the other as productive. In other words, technology isn’t to be seen as something external and in a hierarchical relationship to humans – a tool that perhaps first functions as their extension and image, only to later reverse this power relationship and come to dominate them instead. In the words of Deleuze and Guattari:

When one refers the tool to man, in accordance with the traditional schema, one deprives oneself of any possibility of understanding how man and the tool become or already are distinct components of a machine in relation to an actual machinic agency. (1995: 93)

Tools, technologies, and humans merge into this ontological ‘machine’, which forms a level playing field on which Schlemmer executes his performative exercises and on which he can empathise with the logic of non-human, technological agencies.

We have, however, perhaps all too enthusiastically conflated Schlemmer’s early twentieth-century practice with late twentieth-century post-structuralist ontology5 – and though precisely such contaminations will later form part of the methodology of this exposition, they need to be preceded by a brief disentanglement. Even if, for Schlemmer, mechanical otherness is instrumental in liberating the dancer, it is always this dancer (‘Man’), who remains the eventual centre and telos of his endeavours: ‘Man seeks meaning’, he argues, ‘whether it is the Faustian problem whose goal is the creation of Homunculus or the anthropomorphic impulse in Man which created his gods and idols, he is incessantly seeking his likeness, his image, or the sublime’ (Schlemmer 1961: 22).

The engagement with a machinic other is a path for ‘Man’ towards the transcendence of consciousness. Schlemmer refers to Heinrich von Kleist who, admiring the mechanical movement of puppets, had speculated in his essay Über das Marionettentheater (1810), that ‘Grace will return, so that grace will be most purely present in the human frame that has either no consciousness or an infinite amount of it’ (quoted in Blume 2014: 9; see also Schlemmer 1961: 28).

Such anthropocentric notions of transcendence, which endow ‘Man’ with the privilege of becoming, and eventually overcoming, would find no place in Deleuze and Guattari’s reading of the machine – ‘machines’ being another word they use to describe the assemblages that coagulate within an ontology of immanence. Instead, ‘Man’, ‘the Dancer’, needs to be described as part of this machine. Commenting on Man Ray’s playfully dysfunctional mechanical composition Dancer/Danger, they note:

there must be a dancer here who functions as a part of a machine; this machine component can only be a dancer; here is the machine of which the dancer is a component part. The object is no longer to compare humans and the machine in order to evaluate the correspondences, the extensions, the possible or impossible substitutions of the ones for the other, but to bring them into communication in order to show how humans are a component part of the machine, or combine with something else to constitute a machine. (Deleuze and Guattari 1995: 91)

This is not to say that Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of machinic assemblages is altogether incompatible with Schlemmer’s enactment of machinic ‘otherness’. Perhaps the latter merely needs a post-anthropocentric recalibration in order to resonate as strongly with our present-day technologically entangled and networked reality as it once did with Schlemmer’s contemporaries: if we/the human/dancer are also machine (or a component part thereof), we can never fully stand outside the machinic assemblage as we tinker with it, nor can we sidestep or transcend consciousness through means of the machinic other. Rather we/the human/dancer can only acknowledge our entanglement and connection with the alterity of other component parts, to eventually all but dissolve our own supposedly closed subjectivity into the machinic assemblage.

Spaces and Instruments, Whose Rules I Ignore8


The architecture of the performance Jakob K. Der Neue Mensch was conceived as at once exhibition, stage set, and gymnastics studio. It contained a series of steel instruments, ranging from furniture to an architectural scale, as well as various sizes of projection screens, floor graphics, and props. All these elements formed part of the reconstruction of Jakob Klenke’s practice and resulted from a research phase that involved field work in his alleged studio at the Bauhaus in Dessau, where we re-enacted and digitally captured his movement practice and working environment. During the performance, the elements are activated by the performers but also navigated and gradually discovered by the audience. The auditorium is consciously left unused.


Each section of the following text discusses an aspect of Jakob K. Der Neue Mensch in the form of an essay, departing from an element of the stage set, describing parts of the research and design process as well as elements of the performance and using these as a basis for theoretical reflection. In analogy to our working method, which created the project as an ongoing layering of spatial and choreographical ‘evidence’, this way of describing the project intends to layer on its way an understanding of the project-assemblage that is Jakob K.9

Jakob Klenke (1876–1941) is a choreographer and gymnastics teacher.

Jakob Klenke is and isn’t Oskar Schlemmer, but they have a lot in common.  

Jakob Klenke never existed, but he still does.

Jakob Klenke is a reconstruction without an original.

Jakob Klenke is new: a New Man; an invented man.

Jakob Klenke is a product of his and our time.

Jakob Klenke is a historiographical subversion.

Jakob Klenke is a collective speculation.

Jakob Klenke is a historical other, allowing one to see technological otherness.

Jakob Klenke is an invitation to formulate alternative subjectivities.

Jakob Klenke is a method of artistic invention.

On the Indeterminate Training Technologies
of a Reconstructed Bauhaus Choreographer

We have taken enough from the past; now is the time to give it something in return.

          – Jakob Klenke

                (Bröckerhoff, Frischkorn,

                and Woltemate 2014)

A Research Practice Between Speculative Historiography,

Architectural Invention, and Performative Co-enactment

Haunting Newness:
A Reconstruction Without an Original


The contemporary reception of Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet is shaped heavily by its filmic reconstruction in 1970 by Margarete Hasting: a bold and colourful film, set to catchy music matching a montage marked by fast cuts and zooms. It is as spectacularly entertaining as it is intellectually harmless: as Torsten Blume (2011: 200–204) argues, this reconstruction tells us less about Schlemmer’s ambitions of machinic empathy and transcendence through dance than about the naïve belief in progress and pop art of the late 1960s.

This example serves to highlight, on the one hand, the agency of technologies of reconstruction (in this case the rules of filmic framing and editing, or the material PVC, which became fashionable in the 1960s, and was applied to many of the dancer’s costumes) and, on the other, the historical situatedness of the reconstructor. Schlemmer’s performance isn’t an original past event that is somehow, like the past itself, ‘simply there’ and can hence be re-presented, or re-enacted.6 Rather, it is a performance co-enacted and co-authored by present-day performing bodies and technologies. So rather than dismissing Hasting’s reconstruction because of the fingerprints it leaves on the ‘original’ performance, what should be challenged is the viewer’s assumption that there is such a thing as touching without fingerprints, the idea that one is looking at a transparent representation rather than a situated enactment, a doing.

Through the device of an invented choreographer, Jakob Klenke, the project removes the very notion of a historical original, in turn allowing for these fingerprints, these enactments and practices of reconstruction, to unfold in their full, generative capacity. Yet the invention of a choreographer as such, the moment of origination, won’t be the focus of this exposition.7 It was in fact never the focus of the project itself.

Jakob Klenke was conceived in 2014 by performers Heike Bröckerhoff, Moritz Frischkorn, and Jonas Woltemate as a satirical commentary on – and at the same time an opportunistic tapping into – a performance discourse (and hence funding practice) that was increasingly obsessed with the notion of historical re-enactment (see Lepecki 2010). A performance in the same year reconstructed a piece called Le Système, which Klenke allegedly had premiered in Paris around 1904 (Bröckerhoff, Frischkorn, and Woltemate 2014). The 2014 performance started as a reconstruction but slowly but surely disintegrated into an onstage discussion about the methodologies of that very reconstruction.

Sidestepping the question of whether there was ever an original Klenke in favour of participating in his cumulative co-invention was even more self-evident for architectural researchers Mara Kanthak and the author of this exposition when they were invited to join the project in 2017, that is, when Jakob had long been invented: for them he was always already there. Like with the Japanese Shinto shrines that have been ritually reconstructed every twenty years for countless centuries, the practice of reconstruction becomes more pertinent than the question of an alleged origin or original.

This reductio ad absurdum of the generative capacity of reconstruction allowed us, the team, to fully embrace the creative opportunities of our technologies of reconstruction and our own situatedness as reconstructors. We could ask questions like, what would a Bauhaus choreographer have done if they had a Lidar scanner? Such anachronism in fact fits rather well within the spirit of the historical Bauhaus, in which it was, in the words of Schlemmer’s close colleague László Moholy-Nagy (1969, 9), regarded as ‘indispensable that we, the creators of our own time, should go to work with up-to-date means.’

Replacing re-enactment with co-enactment allowed us not only to use ‘up-to-date’ means, but also to address more explicitly our own, ‘up-to-date’ contemporary situation. The 2018 performance discussed in this exposition not only is a commentary on practices of historical reconstruction, but also uses historical narratives to comment on contemporary bodily politics and practices. This is already implicit in the piece’s subtitle, ‘The New Man’, which has a layered meaning. Firstly, it suggests the self-evident ‘newness’ of an invented character. This invention and the ensuing artistic research process of co-enacting historical practices addresses an inherent challenge facing any historiography of artistic practices: the burden of hindsight when studying processes marked by open-endedness and dealing with ‘new’ technologies. Co-enactment could hence be seen as a learning from, that is, a development of one’s own practice through past practices, and a learning about past practice through one’s own practice. The argument is that if there are specific artistic ways of knowing, historic artistic practices might be better understood from within, that is, through the very act of one’s own artistic creation. Klenke’s newness hence helps lend the historical figure of Schlemmer, who was so trailblazing in his own time, a sense of actuality, an ongoing newness that might surpass and unsettle canonical readings of the Bauhaus.

Secondly, the subtitle quotes the early twentieth-century utopian idea of the New Man: the creation of a new ideal human being through practices of collective self-enhancement. The reason why this matters for our current situation is that many of the totalising fantasies of designing a New Man are traceable to our neoliberal present, having mutated into contemporary notions of self-optimisation such as the ‘quantified self’ (see Dickel 2018). In other words, the promise of newness continues to haunt us. And even if its methods of operation have shifted from directly disciplining our bodies towards techniques of modulating our desires in less tangible, more dissolved ways, they eventually still serve to construct both docile bodies and productive subjects. One of the ambitions of this project is to lay bare such continuities, describe these techniques of subjectivation, and eventually disobediently misuse them to formulate alternative practices of subjectivity.


A Guide to this Exposition


This exposition is organised as a set of five sections bracketed by an introduction and a conclusion. 

The introduction (found on this page of the exposition) explores the figure of Jakob Klenke and the logic of his (re)construction. In a first section, it introduces the choreographies of Klenke’s historical model (and supposed teacher), Oskar Schlemmer, and suggests a contemporary post-anthropocentric recalibration of his approach to technological otherness. A second section shifts the focus away from Schlemmer and, describing his work as mediated by reconstruction, uncovers the inherently creative agency of practices of reconstruction. Finally, it suggests casting aside the notion of a historical ‘original’ (Schlemmer) in favour of exploring the generative capacity of reconstruction itself (Klenke). 

Building on this insight, each of the five sections discusses specific aspects of the 2018 performance Jakob K. Der Neue Mensch in greater depth. These pages depart from an element of the performance’s architectural and medial framing (see the table of contents at the bottom of this page), describe aspects of the artistic research process, and use these as a lens for theoretical reflection. 

The performance plan below functions as a table of contents: click on the blue numbered titles to read each of the five micro-essays. This plan will reappear at the end of each micro-essay, so that they can be read in numerical order or in another, less linear order that might be preferred by the reader.

Thomas Pearce