LOVE HURTS IN TINDER TIMES: A Conversation with Patrick Wengenroth

by Joseph Pearson

23 January 2017

»I thought I wanted to do a project about jealousy«, director Patrick Wengenroth tells me as we drink a beer together in the Markthalle 9, »And for a time, I thought the production should just be called »Jealousy«. But it turned out to be a project about love. And how love hurts, with all the suffering in its cosmos. So we entertained a second title, which was »There is no such thing as love« before arriving at »LOVE HURTS IN TINDER TIMES«. Tinder times is in the title because this is a piece about now«.

One can think of Wengenroth’s new production, opening this week in the Schaubühne’s studio, as a sequel to last autumn’s »thisisitgirl«. Both are devised projects, informed by the experiences of the actors and director, and both are based on readings in »fourth-wave feminism«. By this, one means the feminism of the last half-decade, transformed by how electronic media connects perhaps otherwise isolated parties, creating solidarity: be it in the work of queer-feminist »internet nanocelebrity« Laurie Penny, the #Aufschrei hashtag campaign of Anne Wizorek (with women tagging instances of sexist attacks), or the vast social media organisation of the post-Trump inauguration Million Women March. Wengenroth is also sensitive to the genealogy of the contemporary moment, looking to Judith Butler’s investigation into performative sexualities.

Wengenroth tells me, »I wanted to go further with gender and gender trouble topics that we initiated with »thisisitgirl«, from a feminist point of view. We work with Judith Butler and performance, and her ideas work well in theatre because we perform on stage, where we create allegories... We stress that you have to perform love, it’s an action. You need to renew it all the time, or else it’s dead. And love changes with the experiences you have. There are two useful concepts in German that are perhaps difficult to translate, one is Beziehungsarbeit, and the other is tätige Liebe«.

Here Wengenroth refers to »relationship work« and »active love« (Beziehungsarbeit and tätige Liebe): that you have to work at a relationship to create trust and openness. How much »work« a relationship is depends on with whom you live (!), and I appreciate Wengenroth’s important observation about love’s transactional dimension and its commodification in an age of global capitalism.

»The major change concerning love is linked to living in capitalism«, Wengenroth tells me, »In Germany, the idea of a free-market economy is intertwined with that of democracy. We each exercise our freedom by getting our dividend out of something, even love. You need to invest, in a product or person or relationship, to get that dividend«.

»To complicate this position, we include a text by Marina Abramović in the show, where she discusses this problem in our society, where most love is conditional and transactional. She stresses the point that love is valuable when it is unconditional. If you feel that you love something or someone, it is not important to expect anything in return«.

A constellation of interconnected concerns begins to emerge. By focusing on the performative aspect of relationships – which lends itself so well to the stage – Wengenroth articulates a particular kind of performance in which love is commodified, as transactional work. Reaching the standard of unconditional love becomes even more complicated when one begins to consider the role of technology.

He continues, »Everyone is a product on the market. And we feel better if there are more people interested: with Facebook likes, or when you have a Tinder match. We feel rewarded if many people approach us saying we are great. In combination with the question of technology, everyday life is also about scheduling and efficiency. If you look superficially at media such as women’s magazines – or lifestyle journalism, such as Neon – they tell you that you should organise your love like your job. One of the funny side effects of the polyamory phenomenon is that there’s even an app, in case you have several partners, which appreciates that there’s a lot of organisational stress in polyamory, also in organising feelings, who gets how much. You have 100% love to give, but the day only has 24 hours. And since most polyamorous communities put a premium on total transparency, everyone knowing everything all the time, you end up communicating all day. The day flies away!«

With this kind of diffusion of attention, and depersonalisation of connections occurring on social platforms, I cannot help but think of the William Wordsworth quote: »The World is too much with us; late or soon... Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers«. And yet, one can focus too exclusively on the alienating effect of the cyber-sphere, and not on the possibilities for invention, how it creates solidarity between those intent on alternate lifestyles. The phenomenon of polyamory is one that is central to this production.

»As we conducted our research together – the actors did this very comfortably in ten days before Christmas – we talked about everything: about Tinder, and how different generations deal with monogamy and polyamory, and we dealt with the difference between polyamory and polygamy, and how polyamory is connected to how we are directed by the way people look at us, scripted by the eyes of the others. The classical thing, when dealing with sexual attraction outside your primary relationship, is you can have an affair. But the interesting phenomenon is to acknowledge jealousy, even if you are in a stable relationship (whether you are gay, bi or hetero, or married or not)... In Dossie Easton’s book [The Ethical Slut, a Practical Guide to Polyamory, Open Relationships and Other Adventures, 2009], she points out that we deal with feelings of jealousy all the time in the family (preferring one sibling to the other), or in the workplace (one colleague getting the credit and the other not). So why do we exclude this reality, this fact, from the field in love, and say that there shouldn’t be room for others in our lives? It is interesting that something that is supposed to be free and light, like love – with its hearts and wings and butterflies in your stomach – gets locked into a dark case. We say I love you, and then we put it in a box, close it with a key«.

I ask, »How then do these contemporary questions of love, capitalism, the risks and opportunities of technology, and the rise of polyamory, play out on stage?«

»The stage designer [Mascha Mazur, with the collaboration of Céline Demars] came up with the idea of a Warhol factory-type space. In these factories, everything – life, work, love and exhibitions – happened in the same place. Art, drugs, and sex, were there on top of it all. It’s not as if you went to work and came home. There were no limits between: am I working? Am I performing as an artist or a private person? And so we have created an open space, which is more like a loft or a studio, for our investigations«.

»And might you already give us a sense of what we might see on stage?«

Wengenroth smiles, »I might just say that in the first part of the show, the actors »produce art« together with their bodies, with paint on transparent foil and on themselves. There is something allegorical about this phenomenon of love, about being in contact with others, how we change one another. If you love, you leave traces«.


by Patrick Wengenroth and the ensemble
Realisation: Patrick Wengenroth
In German with short passages in English

Premiered on 28 January 2017