Overcoming Gravity

The two German performance artists, Johan Lorbeer and Maren Strack, were the closing acts of the Beirut street festival. Syrian journalist Hussain Ben Hamza was just as fascinated by them as the rest of the audience.

The two German performance artists, Johan Lorbeer and Maren Strack, were the closing acts of the Beirut street festival. Syrian journalist Hussain Ben Hamza was just as fascinated by them as the rest of the audience was.

The two closing acts of the street festival in Beirut, by Johan Lorbeer and Maren Strack, were perhaps the most impressive of the entire festival.

Both acts were based on the notion of defying the laws of gravity or, to be more precise, of overcoming the attractive forces that hold us on the earth. The two artists did this by hovering above the spectators standing on the ground. One aim of this kind of performance was perhaps to show the contrast between where the audience was standing and where the performers were; a large part of the appeal and the excitement lay perhaps in deceiving the spectators, who are bound by the laws of nature.

Tarzan and the dancing woman

Maren Strack

​​“Tarzan” is what Johan Lorbeer of Berlin called his performance on Beirut’s Bliss Street and “Muddclubsolo” was performed on Maarad Street by Maren Strack of Frankfurt. Although the two shows were totally independent of each other, it certainly made sense that they were performed on the same day, since they were similar and based on the same idea. The “Muddclubsolo” spectators later came together with the audience of “Tarzan” and the two performances thus merged to become two acts of a single piece. Spectators, guests at the nearby cafés, and passers-by on Maarad Street all seemed shocked to see Maren Strack hanging by her hair on a big, fat iron hook on a crane. The woman appeared happy and amused to be hovering over the crowd. She danced and kicked about in the water of a plastic pool with her feet, which were out of sight of the audience. The trick was that the woman was not really supported by her hair, but by her whole body, which was cloaked in a huge dress that was very wide at the bottom to hide the simple principle behind the performance.

Johan Lorbeer

​​The hair was a trick to distract the audience from the fact that the woman had no difficulty moving whatsoever. She pretended, and the viewers believed, that a miracle was happening before their eyes. One onlooker even asked if this was an execution; another thought it was an advertisement for shampoo. The woman looked like a giant Barbie doll, and many people photographed this unusual event with their cell phones to send the picture to friends. It was as if the performance has suddenly been transformed into a visual memento, although it was in fact a living memory that would be over in half an hour. But it will live on in the memories of the spectators, because this performance had invaded their familiar space—the street—which was not prepared for theater.

A plastic hand

Whereas the crane revealed a part of the game in the first performance, the fact that Johan Lorbeer did not use any visible equipment made his act on Bliss Street into an extraordinary event of perfected illusion. The man leisurely leaned against a building with his left hand, as anyone could, except that Lorbeer’s feet were about six feet from the ground. His comfortable yet thought-provoking posture and his interaction with the audience intensified the amazement and astonishment. The man started smoking and drinking tea, holding the cup in one hand. The spectators shouted to him to take his other hand away from the wall, but he responded that he was keeping it from falling down.

This performance was about overcoming the force of gravity. Whoever could not figure out the trick was shown after the show ended that the hand leaning against the wall was in fact not that of Johan Lorbeer; instead it was a plastic hand screwed into place, through which two rods and two angular metal mounts extended from the wall through the sleeve of the man’s jacket, behind his back and down to his feet. The two rods held him in the air and his clothes hid these supports from view.

The tricks in both of these performances amazed the viewers. It was just like in the circus or a magic show, but it was right there on the street, at the end of a month-long festival.

Hussain Ben Hamza

Translated from German by Allison Brown

© 2003, Qantara.de

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