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THE PASSIONS

A DRAMA IN FIVE ACTS

An Exhibition by the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum 25 February through 30 December 2012 The special exhibition at the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum explored the most vehement feelings of all. It is dedicated to the passions that seem to overwhelm us, to endanger our integrity, our subjectivity and self-control. At its core are the passions of love, hatred, joy and sadness, of rage and fear, shame, disgust and desire. It is a show about the most unpredictable and uncontrollable, the most sublime and yet banal, the most dangerous, vital and exhilarating emotions known to us as human beings.

 

In collaboration with the opera director Mariame Clément and set designer Julia Hansen, the curator Catherine Nichols has developed an exhibition with a broad historical and cultural scope. Assembling objects from all areas of social life ranging from the mundane to the extraordinary, the exhibition stages the cultural history of the passions from antiquity to the present. The exhibition features a highly innovative scenography. Conceived as a drama in five acts, the plot unfolds within a theatre set. Here visitors encounter the passions as characters in one and the same drama.

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

THE PASSIONS, an age-old character, as old as humanity itself YOU, a human being, about your age The two CHARACTERS have encountered one another many times before. ACT 1

EXPOSITION

[In the emotional household. Evening. An average home, with a dining room, kitchen, bedroom, living room and bath, a bit old-fashioned here and there. Things lying, standing, and hanging about show the marks that THE PASSIONS have left over the ages. Cosy lighting. The atmosphere is lived-in; at first glance everything seems rather ordinary.]

Enter YOU, dear visitor. You calmly look around, moving from one room to another. Curious, you peer into open cupboards and drawers; you cast a surreptitious look under the bed, behind the shower curtain, in the freezer. You are eager to find out more, but you refrain from touching anything: who knows when THE PASSIONS might return home?

YOU (murmuring softly to yourself): So this is where THE PASSIONS live? Who could possibly feel at home in a room like this? I mean, who would hang a crocodile above the table? No one wants to be ambushed as soon as they walk in the door — or do they? It’s certainly lively, at any rate … What are these PASSIONS, anyway? Are they wild animals ever waiting to pounce on us? Or are they just the things we really, really like? What do they look like? What do they feel like? What do they do to me, and to my body? How can I begin to describe it? … What do other people have to say about all this?

 

YOU continue ad libitum.

ACT 2

CONFLICT

[Still in the emotional household, somewhat later. A diagonal line divides the room in two. On one side, all the furniture is where it belongs, as if the cleaners had just been through. On the other side, everything is arranged on a slant and already beginning to slide. The objects scattered about the room embody different notions of THE PASSIONS from classical antiquity to the present. One by one they draw ideas out of the little yellow books and project them into the room. The conflict is palpable.]

YOU feel more and more at home here, and begin to give free rein to your curiosity. Indeed, in Act 2 you walk onto the stage without even batting an eye. You begin to have some idea of where you are, but you’re inclined to feel your perception may be skewed. On one side of the room, you move as you did before, but on the other you proceed more slowly, hesitantly. You can’t help feeling slightly nauseated.

YOU (perplexed): So what’s the problem with THE PASSIONS? Do they motivate us to action — or simply cause trouble? Some of these theorists seem to think a healthy amount of passion is a good thing, and you have to hoist your sail when the wind is fair. But the others don’t even want to let us leave port: “Sow the wind and reap the whirlwind.” … Which side do I belong on? Do I surrender to my passions, or do I prefer to keep control?

 

ACT 3

CLIMAX

[In the emotional household. Night. THE PASSIONS have blown up a storm and turned everything upside down. The furniture has been smashed and thrown about the room. Islands of debris have formed, each devoted to one passion, or basic emotion. Dramatic lighting. The mood is turbulent, wild, invigorating.] Lost in thought, YOU wander among the ruins. You are visibly amazed at the sheer force, the inexorable power and energy of THE PASSIONS. You would like to retain an objective point of view. But your body language betrays your alternating attraction and revulsion; you oscillate between pleasure and pain. You are no longer sure whether you are a guest here, or whether you may in fact be at home.

 

YOU (quite beside yourself): Here they are: Love! Desire! Envy! Anger! Fear! Shame! Disgust! Hate! Grief! Joy! Wonder! THE PASSIONS we all know and long for, even though they frighten the hell out of us. But what sets them off? How do they act? And how do they make us act?

 

Act 4

TURNING POINT

[The morning after. In the emotional household, the storm has passed; THE PASSIONS have departed. No efforts have been spared in putting the furniture back in place and repairing the damage. Some cracks remain visible all the same. The mood is one of enlightenment; hence the bright lighting.] YOU are back on firm ground. Relieved, and perhaps a little wistful, you heave a sigh and begin to take stock of your situation. With a critical eye you stride from one room to the next. You enjoy the calm, but you don’t quite trust it. You can barely hide your constant shifting between approval and doubt.

 

YOU (more or less objectively): Apparently our culture has come up with a number of ways to tame THE PASSIONS, and even to harness them and put them to work. After all, we do have to get along with one another, don’t we? I see education and religion at work here, and medicine and hygiene. But it seems that marriage and sexuality also play an important part, and leisure and entertainment, work, law and order too. What methods do people use to try and tame THE PASSIONS? Do they really work? If I’m not mistaken, many of these methods are based on love, fear, or shame. So does that mean we regulate passions with passions?

 

ACT 5

RESOLUTION

[In the garden of the emotional household. Towards evening. A more open space. Around the house are park benches; at the right is an advertising column. The light from inside is cosy and inviting. Dinner is on the table. There's movement behind the curtains in the kitchen. Evidently someone is home — presumably THE PASSIONS.] Suddenly YOU find yourself outdoors, gazing through the windows at the familiar interior. You’re glad to have a change of perspective, and even more glad of the fresh air. You watch the slide show in the dining room, and then meander from one window to another, past the advertising column. You sit down on a bench to rest for a while before wandering off in the direction of the ending.

 

YOU (inquisitive, searching): I wonder whether we shouldn’t try looking at THE PASSIONS in a different way? This incessant struggle between reason and passion is all quite suspenseful, and it’s part of our history, but does it have to be that way? I mean, isn’t empathy one of the passions too? After all, it can overwhelm us just as radically as anger, envy, desire, or joy. If we consider that empathy helps us to look out for other people — and even contain our most fervent feelings — then maybe we’d begin to get on better with THE PASSIONS … But is empathy itself enough? Don’t we need to do something as well?

Exeunt omnes. Curtain.