Flausen+ Diary (Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4). Im Zeitraum Juli und August 2023 verbrachten wir 4 Wochen in Bielefeld, um eine Rechercheresidenz zum syrischen Radio durchzuführen.



What symbols and myths shape the formation of nations, and how does national self-representation operate in the Middle East? To what extent are these questions interconnected with classical mass media, such as radio and television? Anderer Kunstverein, with its focus on socio-cultural, avant-garde, and radio practices, joined forces with the Rousl Studio, which previously functioned as a pirate “Rubble-Radio” near Damascus. Together, Saeed Albatal, Martin Basman, Ferdinand Klüsener, and Reem Helou embarked on a collective exploration of Syrian media history.

Radio broadcasting commenced in Syria in 1946, with its precursors dating back to 1942. Television became available in 1960, and to this day, both mediums remain highly centralized and state-controlled. As we prepared for our residency at Theaterlabor Bielefeld, we delved into analyzing specific historical events and how they were portrayed through state media and independent channels. Our focus eventually centered on the announcement of the death of dictator Hafiz Al Asad (1930-2000), a pivotal political media event that highlighted a moment of political uncertainty in a country marred by numerous coups and power transitions. We sought to understand how Syrian media handled this event and what insights it could offer about the prevailing political circumstances.

During our initial week at Theaterlabor, we devoted our time to research and the development of a comprehensive project structure. This included creating a dramaturgy and outlining a sequence of scenes, as well as designing stage drafts and a mood board. We diligently collected research and audio materials, organizing the workflow for the residency to shape the project. Building on this foundation, we will conduct targeted experiments with more intricate stage setups and arrangements in the weeks to come.

Throughout the long twentieth century, radio and theater have consistently intersected in influential artistic experiments. Notable examples include Bertolt Brecht’s (1898-1956) “Der Ozeanflug” (1929), Antonin Artaud’s (1896-1948) “Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu” (1947) and Milo Rau’s (*1977) “Hate Radio” (2013). These works exemplify the exploration of the dynamic relationship between radio and theater. And this synergy extends to public broadcasting in Germany, where a substantial number of radio plays continue to draw inspiration from contemporary art methods and practices, as well as being entirely grounded in performance and theater projects. During our first week, we focused on narrowing down and analyzing various influences, seeking their potential use value for our project as well.


A central motif that overdetermines the history of post-structuralist psychoanalysis, as well as the history of theater in the long twentieth century, is the “stade du mirroir” (mirror phase). With the definition of this concept, Jacques Lacan (1901-1981) initiates his discourse. Within the context of his therapeutic practice at the experimental psychiatric private clinic La Borde, Lacan’s student and media activist, Félix Guattari (1930-1992), determines the concept of an acoustic mirror phase, so to speak. The inherently visual concept shifts here to an acoustic level. The mirror phase defines a crucial developmental stage in the subject’s genesis as a child. What mirror phase do people who cannot see or do not see go through? The relevance of this concept for reflecting on the radio is evident.
The mirror phase marks the stage in psychosocial development where the imaginary is formed. Lacan places the subject in a triad of the Real, the Symbolic, and the Imaginary. The child, whose body is fundamentally fragmented into a multitude of partial objects, experiences a coherent visual impression of its own body in the mirror, more coherent than it actually is. It produces an imaginary representation of itself that goes beyond its actual condition. The fragmented being undergoes an imaginary unification. This conceptual framework can easily be applied to theater and also to radio. It concerns not only the issues of a coherent narrative, consistent characters, a clear dramatic structure, and coherent sequences of actions. It is also a conceptual framework that can be applied to the question of political subjectivation. Regarding the nation-state, Benedict Anderson (1936-2015) spoke of imagined communities. Accordingly, one could argue, drawing on the ideas of Edmund Husserl (1959-1938) in a somewhat abbreviated manner, that politically motivated actors within the nation-state project imagine themselves into closed temporal horizons of transcendental subjectivity, and their ideological narrative becomes imaginarily closed.

During the second week of our “flausen+ stipendium” we dedicated our time to initial stage experiments. Additionally, we watched several films. One of these films was “Hypernormalisation” (2016) by Adam Curtis (1955). Curtis’s film is not without controversy, but particularly intriguing is his narrative of the Middle East in the twentieth century. Curtis takes an interest in figures such as Saddam Hussein (1937-2006), Muammar Gaddafi (1942-2011), and Hafiz al-Assad (1930-2000). In his argument, Curtis suggests that after al-Assad’s grand pan-Arab project fails, he becomes the political actor in the Arab world who implements the concept of suicide bombing as a method of political intervention with far-reaching, strategic anti-American intentions. It represents a different form of bodily fragmentation that, according to the readings by Jörn Etzold (1975) regarding Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843) and Oedipus, can be described as hybris, which may be inevitably associated with the imaginary closure. This marks the fundamental motif that characterizes our artistic research process.

During the course of the week, we tested the majority of the scenes that we had conceived in the previous week. Furthermore, we made some fundamental artistic decisions.
We rehearsed the following scenes:

  1. We rehearsed an initial scene that is associated with a theatrically naturalistic depiction of a Syrian radio studio. We defined roles and composed a text based on the typical Syrian state radio program on Radio Damascus. Additionally, we created a soundscape that moves in alignment with this radio program. Furthermore, the scene serves the purpose of placing historical narratives in the form of radio contributions that appear relevant for understanding the subsequent scenes. Based on this foundation, one can anticipate an approximately twenty-minute scene that also plays with the objectification associated with totalitarian state structures in its linguistic form.
  2. We rehearsed a second scene that is related to everyday life in a state-owned Syrian radio station. In our directorial approach, we applied methods from the theoretical apparatus inspired by the discussions of Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) and Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956) conducted in exile, which draw from Franz Kafka (1883-1924) and deal with the question of interruption and gesture. Our interest lay in the exposure of gestures such as cleaning and reading newspapers, as well as the ringing of a telephone. In this scene, we began the process of altering everyday gestures, leading to a sense of dismay and serving as the basis for a gestural disruption of the naturalism in the first scene. Anticipated can be a scene of 15 minutes.
  3. We rehearsed a sixth scene, situated after the mass-media announcement of the death of Hafiz al-Assad. In this scene, we introduced a structural opening towards the audience, which is not the first structural opening in the sequence of the play, as prior structural openings towards the audience have already occurred. Here, the aim is to perform the customary Quranic chant over the radio, which was also broadcast on Syrian state radio for a period of 40 days upon the death of Hafiz al-Assad. This coincides with the performance of the customary funeral rites (العزاء), which involve sitting and commemorating the deceased for at least 2 minutes, but possibly for the entire day, before leaving the space. The space is exited by addressing the family (in this case, the performers) with the formulaic phrase ” عظم الله أجركم,” shaking hands with the bereaved, and exiting the room. It will be a task for the audience Anticipated can be a scene of ten to sixty minutes.
  4. Additionally, we worked on a central sequence of scenes three to six, which specifically concerns the announcement of Hafiz al-Assad’s death.

We made the following fundamental artistic decisions:

  1. We decided to create all central props for the project using a 3D printer. These props include a telephone, microphone, guns, sunglasses, a hand broom and dustpan, and a box shaped like a Quran. This approach allows us to use a distinctive color and also allows us to slightly alter the scale of the objects, making minor alterations to these readymades.
  2. We decided to install an additional microphone with a speaking position at the edge of the stage. This decision was made because we quickly realized that our requirements for the project go beyond the infrastructure provided by the residency. From this speaker’s position, all team members can verbalize any directorial ideas during a run-through that cannot be practically realized on stage. This provides the opportunity to permanently incorporate the ideas into the concept or, alternatively, to later replace certain ideas with their actual implementation.
  3. We also decided to add an audio track to the project that can be accessed, if necessary, with headphones during a performance. This audio track will offer an alternative to the normal course of the play and provide a montage of memory narratives from the project team. These memories concern experiences and recollections related to events in Syria, memories of the GDR (German Democratic Republic), intersections of memories of the GDR and memories of Syria, and memories related to the operation of the Rousl Studios in Syria.
    Regarding the sound concept, we are working with archival material from Syrian state media to analyze the sound structure of Romeo Castellucci’s “Tragedia Endogenidia” and some influences from Tetsuo Kogawa’s recent performance “Airwaves Art.” Kogawa composes sound sculptures from SDR (Software Defined Radio) radio waves. This stems from FK’s exchange with Kogawa in the context of academic lectures that have emerged during our work over the past two years.


Since we had a lot to do this week, the diary entry will be kept short. Our week began with a reflection on collectivity. At the end of the second week of research, the question of the relationship between German and Arabic became the subject of our discussions. This issue arose in the context of our collective collaboration within a mixed Syrian-German team. From the outset, we were clear that we wanted to approach historical Arab themes using the language of European theater. However, we noticed that our discourse was overly influenced by European perspectives, so we started the week with discussions on Arab philosophy, intellectualism, and nationality. We read some philosophical texts from various Arab authors. Additionally, we spent the beginning of the week researching a suitable 3D printer and preparing for the visit of our mentor, Elina Kulikova.

We observed that our working process followed a certain structure: the first week was spent on detailed conceptualization, the second week focused on moving towards the stage, and now, in the third week, we were engaged in more detailed conceptual work again, preparing for the concluding fourth week when we would return to the stage. For the final week, we would have access to a larger and better stage than the first three weeks, so we also spent time preparing for our concluding rehearsal week.

In concrete terms, we created a detailed protocol for the performance of the theater piece “Autocracy On Air.” This was done to document our work internally and also to have a reference for our work on the book version. We intensely worked on the book, specifically focusing on Scene 1 and Scene 5. We also transcribed the other scenes where little to no text was used into scores and stage directions. Additionally, Reem provided us with some initial stage drawings for certain scenes. Concerning the sound concept, we worked extensively, creating four-channel recordings. The sound concept work now expanded to include spatial sound design. We also started working on drones. Throughout the week, we went on walks, recording with OKMs, a simplified form of binaural recording, collecting personal memories of escape, migration, Syria, and East Germany. On a philosophical level, the idea of the third synthesis of time, from Kant and its deconstruction by Deleuze, emerged as a guiding motif for us. This formed the basis for the idea of differentiating our stage arrangements through AI-generated graphics.

We began accumulating a variety of materials for video presentations on stage.
We also had a lot of fun with Elina. She enriched our rehearsal process by introducing olfactory staging techniques, both in the context of theatrical representations of self-immolation on stage and in the purely artisanal use of olfactory staging strategies in stage settings.


Our final week was intense and exciting. We completed our research work. Specifically, we created a final and definitive text version for ‘Autocracy On Air,’ which refers to a complete script for a one to two-hour theater play that can also be performed by other groups and theaters. While some team members spent the weekend in Leipzig, Saeed spent the weekend in the theater lab, working intensively to transform our preliminary work into a final draft for discussion. Saeed and Ferdinand completed this on Monday in an intensive work phase that lasted almost the entire day and night. On Monday and Tuesday, Ferdinand and Saeed spent a lot of time on stage, conducting several run-throughs to test and evaluate the material, and fine-tuning based on the runs.

Reem was intensely engaged in creating final drawings of the stage design, stage setup, and the progression of stage development throughout the play. She also finalized costume designs. Additionally, we evaluated a variety of sound materials based on our online research, and we relied on Syrian teams for insider information that is not publicly accessible. Building on Mattos’s sound design, we worked more detailed with the material and organized it in line with the book. Matto also finalized his sound design for the individual scenes. Based on this foundation, we can say that we have completed a complete theater piece, with a text and score version, a soundtrack, and the sketches necessary for costume and stage design.

At this point, I would like to make a theoretical interjection, i.e., the latest diary entry ‘Flausen+’ also dedicates itself to a reflection on collectivity, conviviality, and collaborative activity. The artistic practices that emerge in the long twentieth century are often characterized by a reflection on collectivity. This is already evident in Brecht’s and Benjamin’s engagement with the Lehrstück, but most exemplarily, it comes to light in Tetsuo Kogawa’s (*1941) engagement with the concept of conviviality in the context of Mini Radio and radio art. The concept of conviviality can be traced back to the philosopher Ivan Illich (1926-2022). Illich also visited Kogawa’s Mini-Radio Studio in Tokyo in the 1980s. And few radio projects express the idea of conviviality as well as Kogawa’s experiments and performances in the context of Mini-FM. It involves a singularized collective work that starts from the idea of non-ideologically homogenized singularities and is realized in the context of a radiophonic art practice that can be thought of as the assemblies that Kafka describes in his narrative ‘Josefine and the Mouse People’ (1924), narrated from the perspective of a mouse. They are temporary and a-homogeneous, they revolve around Josephine’s singing, and they do not serve a nationalist project. Moreover, Josephine’s singing is more of a chirping, which is difficult to distinguish from the chirping of the other mice.

One could say that Josephine, in a reference to Maud Meyzaud, goes beyond the implications that are posited, disregarding art, the artwork, and its origin. Furthermore, this chirping can be contextualized with Heidegger’s text ‘The Origin of the Artwork’ (1950). Brecht and Benjamin also postulate their political project in a collective that gathers apart from the community and perhaps society as a whole, to conduct experiments characterized by theater and an experimental approach to gestures. In Kogawa’s case, this finds an equivalent reflection in the engagement with Yiddish street theater in New York. And on this basis, we have worked as a collective, or perhaps more accurately, as a ‘kollaktiv.’

The Diary will conclude with reflections on our research into Arabic Nationalism, which will be explored through three distinct perspectives. These thoughts will also serve as examples of the content that should be conveyed in the accompanying Audiotrack, which could run via headphones for the during the play.

The first perspective revolves around Hafez Al Assad’s visits to North Korea and his endeavors to learn about the perfect communism. Al Bath’s motto centers on socialism, striving for an optimal socialist structure. Remarkably, Al Bath’s pioneers are children under the age of 12, embarking on their journey of allegiance. The preparatory phase for Al Bath spans from ages 6 to 12, during which an individual becomes a pioneer of Albath. Progressing between ages 12 and 18 designates one as a youth of Al Bath, involving training in weaponry. This system mirrors that of North Korea, where influences include an array of propaganda and advertising methods. These mediums portray workers as paragons of diligence, impervious to ailment or fatigue. A flawless worker refrains from complaint and even eschews meal breaks. Notably, depictions emerged of an employee multitasking, signing documents while dining and working. Accompanying inscriptions underscore the dispensability of meal breaks, positing that the nation’s needs supersede individual repasts.

The second perspective underscores that Syria never fully matured into a comprehensive nation-state, a discrepancy evident in its evolving definitions outlined within the constitution since Al Bath’s ascendancy in 1936. This transformation ensued twice: from the nation of Syria to the State of Syria, and subsequently, with Hafez Al Asad’s tenure, to the Arabic Syrian state in the 19th century. This shift essentially confined Syria’s identity to an Arab entity in the 1970s.

The third perspective accentuates the absence of Syria’s complete nationhood. The prevalent sentiment among those reared under Al Bath was an attachment to the notion of “Heim” (home), reflecting the fragmented portrayal even evident in school maps. A prevailing aspiration was consistently nurtured for the realization of a comprehensive nation extending from the Gulf to the Atlantic, constituting the full Arabic State. Consequently, a pervasive sense of residing within a fractured nation persisted, rooted in the unspoken ideal of achieving a complete “Heim.” This encapsulates the ethos of Al Bath’s motto.

What symbols and myths shape the formation of nations, and how does national self-representation operate in the Middle East? To what extent are these questions interconnected with classical mass media, such as radio and television? Anderer Kunstverein, with its focus on socio-cultural, avant-garde, and radio practices, joined forces with the Rousl Studio, which previously functioned as a pirate “Rubble-Radio” near Damascus. Together, Saeed Albatal, Martin Basman, Ferdinand Klüsener, and Reem Helou embarked on a collective exploration of Syrian media history.