Lecture in the context of Precise Woodstock of Thinking at Tanzquartier Wien/Studios, September 17th, 2008


For the past twenty years, Franz Kendler has carried out NGO-first-aid in post war siuations in Rumania, Ex-Yugoslavia, Albania, Kosovo. Starting with the "year Tschernobyl", 1986, he got specialised in nuclear radiation protection.

Franz Kendler:

“I am working for the Red Cross in the area of hazard defense, against a doomsday scenario which none of us ever wants to happen. I work as well for the CTBTO, a UNO organisation. The abbreviation stands for “Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organisation”. Our goal it is to prevent any more experiments of nuclear detonations all over the world; based on a treaty which will come into force in the near future.

Whenever there is a seismic movement, an earthquake wave, there is the possibility that this earthquake is in fact a nuclear detonation under the ocean. We have a team of inspectors who then check these seismic movements. These people need to do their work under uttermost personal security aspects. Other threats include terrorist attacks with nuclear, chemical, or biological substances.

The intention is to have the best answer in case a doomsday scenario actually happens. We call the threats “CBRNH – chemical biological radioactive nuclear hazards”.

The agenda includes:

- to get aware of dangerous moments

- to take care of involved people as quick and as good as possible

- to develop highest safety standards for equipment and activity

- to train and to keep co-workers in training

- to confront co-workers over and over again with the fact, that their own safety and their own survival is the most important issue as soon as they enter the danger zone and are involved with contaminated victims.

'Disaster logistics' as a term is connected with catastrophies in general. The background for an optimal answer in disaster situations of any kind is an organised procedure: How to get to the place, how to be equipped properly. This procedure is the civil application of the term logistics, which is derrived from military vocabulary.

Disaster logistics means at one hand the material in stock, such as blankets, tents, instruments to measure radioactivity, and so on, and on the other hand - and more important - personal preparedness, meaning that helpers with a high level of expertise and training can be gathered rapidly. The logistic challenge is to bring together material and personal supply: to arrive at the accurate moment, with competent people, in the correct position.

Each earth quake, each tsunami, each flood demands such a response.

Our theoretical occupation with disaster scenarios starts on a high level with so-called "tabletop exercises". A concrete scenario, which we think will never happen, like a major earthquake or discharge of a nuclear power plant, or a tsunami, is scetched out as the outline for a theoretical exercise. Seven or eight specialists, who are working in different fields, come together for 24 or 48 hours to simulate the scenario in order to work out logistic solutions.

The tabletop exercises do not necessarily finish with a satisfying solution. I remember one exercise where the solution was never found, or only some aspects of the solution were found. The scenario was an earthquake in an alpine valley. The most important approach was to get the transportation routes free, if necessary with force. Most of us got immersed in secondary jobs such as: where do you evacuate the people, where do you build an ambulance, how do you feed the population, where do you find tents, blankets, food and so on. But the traffic routes were still blocked!

In those exercises you have to sharpen the focus on the essential. As much theoretical logistics as there is, if you can’t adjust it, if there is no possibility for air transportation, no airspace, no possibilty for disembarkment, it is not of much help.

The art of logistics is what we call the triangle of force: to instate the right person in the right moment in the right position. Overall priority in each disaster situation is to collect as much information as possible and to make decisions. What is possible? What is allowed? Some governments don’t allow involvement from outside. What can I offer? What do I need? Then the procedure starts from the personal and material point of view. We contact other NGOs and the governmental organisations. On-site are coordinators who try to bring structure to the course of action and distribute tasks to the co-workers.

Of course Hi-tech is essential, but it needs to be as robust and as simple as possible. Still, people with overview, knowledge and experience - in one word: mindfulness- are irreplaceable. Their personalities need to allow them to be emotionally involved in the disaster operation, they are not outside of the event, yet they need to be able to draw an inner line. To commiserate with somebody is human, but involved pittying is the wrong thing in the situation, because it prevents clear thinking and desicions.

After a civil war situation I was in a destroyed village, standing in the middle of ruins. First I needed to talk to the people to find out what is necessary in this moment. Very often, as an outsider to the village society one has totally wrong assumptions of what is needed in the situation. Somehow you have to change into a down-to-earth pragmatic thinking such as: what are the possibilities, what can I offer, where do I have to say no. I cannot help in one corner and create luxury – if this word is at all adequate in the situation – but I have to spread the available help as effective as possible. It is horrible on a low level of first aid that you have to look for balance, you have to create equality of misery. The better logistics work the more effective is the help and also the donators need to be convinced of priorities. For example it is inadequate and not helping at all to bring truck-loads of winter cloth into a refugee area in summer, an example which has actually happened. Now if we need material in southeast asia we try to supply it from as close to the disaster area as possible and not carry tents around the world.

Coming to nuclear disasters:

Worldwide there are rules for radiation protection, which are the same in almost every country. There are only a few specialists worldwide who research the dangers of radioactivity and how to avoid it. Our ficitional scenarios are mainly built on discharge of radioactivity of power plants or oultlawed experiments with nuclear bombs wherever in the world. If a greater area is concerned, it is very difficult for the population to limit the consequences, but for those who are dealing with the issue the dangers are much less than for an absolutely uninformed person.

In the whole world there are more or less 40 people who are specialists in nuclear matters. The training takes place at least once a year in slightly radioactive contaminated areas, in areas of former nuclear weapon experiments like Kasachstan or at the exclusive zone of Tschernobyl, of course under strict control of radioactive contamination. We have to do the training within maximum realistic circumstances.The motivation is much higher as if everybody knows beforehand that there is not really any contamination, it is only training.

These 40 people worldwide form a network, first of all a network of inspection. It is possible to detect an explosion within an ara of 1000m2. The inspectors check the distortions of the ground, take earth samples etc. We are responsible for their protection, the use of overalls, protection goggles, gloves, shoes, all of which raises the difficulties of their working situation. There is an endloss list of possible mistakes, to forget to cover insect bites for example. We are also respronsible for the de-contamination afterwards. All the equipment, instruments for measuring radioactivity, for geomagnetic zones, for aerial photography, for seismic investigations, all this equipment has to be clean and get checked before it is stored again. The security standards are very high and have to be trained over and over again. Invisible radiation is measurable and standardized. There are limits, when it is enough to wash hands and when you have to de-contaminate the whole body. These decisions have to be made on the spot.

Our ambition is not to detect the consequences of a nuclear explosion somewhere in the world and document it. We could do that, we train for it. But our first goal is to prevent, through awareness, and by proof, that nuclear experiments cannot happen undercover. There is a global network of observers.”

Interview September 7th, 2008, Vienna.

[On April 18th, 2011, at the age of 66, Franz Kendler died of severe illness. Up to a few days before his death he was providing his competence for de-contamination concerning the Fukushima disaster.]





Disaster logistics and choreography are both descendent of a militarian craft. Now, to lead over to my choreographic concerns, I show the first video.

On the image track you see some kind of tabletop exercise with fifteen participants and at the same time you see a system carefully balanced out by subsystems , yet you can witness and sense that the system might tilt at any moment and get catastrophic. The moment itself is unpredictable.

On the sound track you hear an early practise in disaster logistics –in German – and at the same time the disaster itself.

“Peer Groups” (2004)

Video, 6 min

My choreographic work is generated by and within different categries of systems, complex systems, linear systems, tightly linked systems, looslely linked systems.

Complex dynamic systems include breakdowns, failures, and incidents. Aesthetically the interesting point is when the system tilts into a totally different situation, from one moment to the next. Disaster is the opposite of a planned future. Sometimes prognosis is available and just, sometimes not at all. In complex systems disaster is the unavoidable norm. If a system has reached a certain degree of complexity the disaster liability is coming from within the complexity and is not simply triggered by the mistake or failure of one person.

Regarding the levels of a complex system minor accidents can happen on lower levels, on the level of elements, which concern only parts of the system and do not necessarily lead to a total breakdown. On higher levels, on the level of subsystems and overall system an incident can stop the procedure alltogether.

Complex systems are discriminated from linear systems by the criteria that one particle or element fulfills more functions than just one task in a row. If an accident happens in a complex system it leads to more complex interactions. The features of complex interactions are ramifications, feedbackloops, and jumps from one linear procedure to another linear procedure.

Complex systems are not transparent, there is no linear and direct information

The next video is an excerpt of a choreography for five dancers. The complexity of the system is a mental challenge for the dancers. The dancers do not have to have an overview over the whole, it would not be possible. Each dancer is following his or her linear procedure, which is intertwined with all the other linear procedures in the space. The series is based on a set of eight parameters, so the compatibility of the dancers with each other is high. There is no outside organising factor - music would be such an organising factor, or breath, or other acustic or visual aids. The five linear systems are tightly linked, there is no allowance for hesitation or whatever. If one of the dancers has a blackout and falls out of the procedure, it is more than unlikely that he or she finds his or her way back into the choroegraphy. Regarding the vulnerabiltiy of this system, if one dancer leaves, there is one performer less, but not the whole system is crashing down. The others will still continue, and what and who is missing is not transparent.


40:31 – 42:30

In the context of my next work we deal with a more vulnerable system, even though at first sight it might look more simple. But if we want to achieve more simplicity in one area, we are prone to make up for it with raised complexitiy in another area and the other way round. I am now including computer software in my choreographic devices, which leads me to refer to Dirk Baecker’s book “Studien zur nächsten Gesellschaft” next society.

Each new medium confronts a society with new and surplus potentialities of communication. The social structures and the culture up to the onset of the new medium are not sufficient any more for a selective handling of this surplus of communication. In consequence the structure and culture of a society have to respond to the new situation and change.

Dirk Baecker’s basic thesis is that the introduction of the computer into society is as revolutionary as two other points in history:

1. The introduction of scripture – writing – before that point there was only oral medieality.

2. The introduction of print, which allows widespread distribution of written texts.

The consequences were so far-reaching, that only in retrospect those historical marks can be set.

And now, the third one, the introduction of the computer as a new medium.

If computeristic and human rhythms, contents, and dramaturgies of processing are next to each other and communicating with each other, the question comes up:

Who is controlling whom?

From now on control is going to be circular and interactive and based on that it will never be uniquely defined but stay ambivalent.

Theater stages the problem of control in the computer society. Human action, will and consciouness meat technology, contingency and process. The computer is not only a tool but a space of potentiality which is as much investigating us as we are investigating the possibilites of the computer.

The next video shows a choreographic setup with computer. It is a prototype, at the moment it involves just one of each (the next development will add more performers, screens, computers, text):

One dancer one instrument to generate sound with – the sound is generated by the dancer only and not prcessed or filtered or altered. One camera and video projection. One computer program which repeats modules of recorded imagery acording to a set of dozens of parameters. One composer who sets up the parameters and determines the programmation of the sound repetition. One choreographer who is triggering movement samples live on stage

All of the components are interdependent and influencing each other. The dancer as well as the choreographer determine the line of movement, but also the generated sound contributes to the movement devices, as well as the looped and projected imagery.

That there is only one of each element makes it precarious enough and it has happened more than once that the sound production develops in a way that suddenly there is no sound. But since the setup is an open system we deal compositionally with situations like this. The question is precisely what Dirk Baecker states in his theory:

Who is following whom? Who is controlling whom? Who is in charge?

The answer can only be ambigous.

“V-TRIKE” (2008)

Anfang bis 5:38



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