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Out of the Blue – From the Provisional to Improvisation

Improvised chair

 source: Katja Hommel


Out of the Blue.
From the Provisional to Improvisation: Action Strategies Under Conditions of Uncertainty 

27-29 October 2017 in the HKW - Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences
Artistic Director: Margit Schild

videos and audio files


Organisers’ Preface

“Houston, we have a problem!” – in 1970, a combination of sock, cardboard, plastic bag and tape saved the lives of the three crew members of the failed moon mission Apollo 13. The provisional air filter was the result of a technical improvisation and an expression of how, as time was irreversibly slipping away, the last chance was used. 

Moon missions are prestige projects of high technology. An enormous effort of preparation is devoted to anticipating everything that can possibly happen. Precisely this case shows that the unforeseeable can occur always and everywhere, and that therefore one has to improvise: from small, manageable situations (provisional solutions in a household), to important transnational problems in open-ended contexts and under uncertain conditions. The spectrum of improvisation is broad, ranging from emergency measures in everyday life to high art in music, theatre and dance; from preparing/providing (“provisio/providere”) to improving/refining. 

Due to this broad spectrum, improvising is regarded not only as a core strategy of artistic creation, but also as something that is potentially anchored in human action. It is – we start from this assumption – represented in all disciplines and cultures and can be discussed in an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary fashion. One improvises in politics, in the arts, in medicine, psychology, engineering, architecture, and in social work, on the construction site and in the hospital. But capitalism too is discovering potential in the fact that improvisers are ready to use any and all means to save their situation. Jobs are cut and people are laid off; those who remain become creative, invent new means and give their all. The state of emergency becomes the norm, the pressure rises, and one has continually to improvise, constantly to “pull the chestnuts out of the fire”. This shows that the way that improvisational action is organised and evaluated depends on milieus and can only be considered in the context of cultural and political interrelationships.

This is why we defined three horizons for the symposium, which are reflected in three levels of analysis: 1. The level of the specific conditions under which provisional solutions arise and the specific forms that they adopt; 2. The level of the social and political conditions that create system-dependent insecurity, thus forcing people to find creative, high-performance solutions in their work and lives; 3. The level of the expansion of conventional concepts of action toward new conceptions of situational, environmentally-conscious, and intuitively anticipatory action. 

During the course of the three-day event from 27 to 29 October 2017 in the Haus der Kulturen der Weltin Berlin, invited lecturers from various scholarly, artistic and social domains took positions on questions of improvisation. Parallel workshops and “talk” sessions offered intellectual stimulus and opportunities for exchange. The symposium was directed toward all interested parties: toward professional groups that constantly improvise or work with provisional solutions, as well as toward artists, scholars, practitioners, and theorists who wanted to take a closer look at the varied and fascinating cultural technique of the im-provisional.


We are happy to be able to present the lectures and debates in the form of video and audio recordings. The programme of the conference is available as a PDF file, as is the detailed concept that established the substantive framework for the event. 

As part of the publication rights of the video and audio recordings, please note: Harald Welzer's presentation "Who acts when and why not" is available only as a transcript PDF as the workshop participants of „Revolution of the guinea pigs" moderated by Jan Verwoert did not provide consent. Therefore we cannot publish the results. Also the talk "Improvisation interdisciplinary" consists of two videos and one audio file. 

The website containing the "Out of the Blue" publications and files will be bilingual, in German and in English. The workshops, which were held in one language only will not been translated.


We would like to thank the contributors to the symposium, the Einstein Foundation Berlin for the financing, and the staff of the “Haus der Kulturen der Welt” for organising the event.


The Three Days of the Symposium
Improvised theatre and improvised music provided the artistic opening of the event on Friday, 27 October. The “Gorillas” improvisational theatre from Berlin, represented by the actresses Barbara Klehr and Billa Christe, gave an introduction to the foundations of their art and reacted in ad hoc fashion to shouts from the audience. The Berlin University of the Arts Improvisational Orchestra, directed by Maja von Kriegstein, is a multidisciplinary ensemble; students from the Architecture, Fine Arts, Stage Design, Jazz, Orchestral Instruments, Product Design, Law, Eurhythmics, Music Teaching, Social Work, and Dance programmes continued on with the theme and integrated, among other things, music stands and scotch tape in their improvisations. Likewise spontaneously and in response to shouts from the audience, Rolf-Bernhard Essig explained the background to proverbs concerning the provisional. The Trio Brachiale finished the day with their concert. 

The simultaneous conception and performance of art was presented by the musician Sabine Vogel, who led the participants in the symposium in a “real-time composition” on Saturday morning. To this end, she used a multidisciplinary gestural and compositional language: “sound painting”.

Margit Schild then opened the series of lectures. The subject was introduced by scenes from the film “Apollo 13”, which, instead of the planned moon landing, explicitly tells the story of a provisional solution. With Ronald Kurt following, a broad spectrum of the theme, ranging “From the Provisional...” “ Improvisation”, was developed. Edgar Landgraf then deepened our understanding of the aspect of “improvisation as art”: namely, by showing the connections between artistic and improvised action and asking when and how improvisation can be understood as art at all.

Saturday afternoon was devoted to the talk sessions and working groups. Talk session 1, “Interdisciplinary Improvisation”, brought together representatives from nine disciplines for a rapid and energetic exchange of views. The participants had spontaneously to develop common themes and discuss improvisational aspects of their own professions. Among others, a physicist from the Helmholtz Centre took a position on the issue, as did a historian and a landscape architect. 

Parallel to the talk session, a workshop on “The Improvised Chancellor” took place. The workshop was moderated by Michael Rüsenberg and featured Michael Pauen and Robin Alexander. Among other things, the question of the extent to which improvisation plays a role in the day-to-day business of German politics was discussed. 

What do improvisation and provisional solutions signify in different cultures? This and other aspects were discussed in Workshop 2. Mimi Gellman, from the Rattlesnake Clan of the Aboriginal Métis from Canada, and Ajay Heble, also from Canada, spoke about the art of the First Nations people and the significance of improvising in the black community.Markus Schmidt supplemented the discussion with his research on improvisation in traditional Indian music. 

The second half of the afternoon was then devoted to the question of whether improvisation can be anything more than probationary survival. Talk session 2, “The Rebellion of the Guinea Pigs”, was moderated by Jan Verwoert and featured Doris Gstach, Judith Hopf and Ilse Lafer. It asked critically about the “improvisation in all life situations”, to which precisely the creative professions are also permanently exposed. 

“Let’s first do it like this!” is a key phrase in the production of provisional solutions and in improvisational action, which searches for solutions to complicated situations that suddenly arise and unexpected pressures to make a decision. But what sort of ideas arise in this way and what is the quality of such ideas? These and other questions were discussed in Workshop 3, “Improvising and the Idea”, featuring the designer Uta Brandes, the physicist Paul Gaslowski and the sociologist André Stiegler.

Between the events, the artist Elvira Hufschmid performed "Drawing from life - tv drawings" in which she draws scenes from a Hollywood movie. By trying to capture the fast-moving and thus constantly changing images we only witness an immediate rendering of the perceived images in a raw sketch. Improvisation here is defined as conception and execution coincide simultaneously. 

The Art Action "Supper Congress. The day is on the table" designed by the artists Ingke Günther und Jörg Wagner, in which the participants and guests of the symposium where invited to have dinner, was the conclusion of the day. "In everyday life, this cold evening meal often means improvising on the highly structured kitchen table" said the artists.

Another series of lectures took place on the third day of “Out of the Blue”, Sunday, 29 October. As first speaker, Ajay Heble provided insight into various aspects of “community building” through improvisation, by showing how spontaneous, creative action can be a resource for societal/social changes: Play Who You Are: Learning from a Decade of Community Improvisation.

How does a readiness to act arise? Who Acts When and Why Not? The social psychologist and author Harald Welzer addressed this question: one that is decisive for improvisational action. The potential that was discussed at the outset first develops as a spontaneous assessment of situations at moments when things occur not in a conventional, but rather an emancipatory manner. As a paradoxical and resistant intervention, improvisation can introduce new conceptions of the world. Alternatively, it can contribute to providing social significance to qualities and abilities that are imbued by care for others and acknowledge that environmental forces have their own voices. It is then, precisely as a “radically different understanding of experiencing action”, as Jan Verwoert put it in the symposium’s final lecture, the title of which is taken from a quote from the martial artist Bruce Lee: “Be water my friend”. 

Videos and Audio Files

Please find here some video and audio files from the symposium.



Presentation on stage with Margit Schild.
source: Marion Borriss
Improvised method of whipping cream: Electric Drill with egg whisk and cup of cream
source: Marion Borriss
Person in front of videoinstallation
source: Marion Borriss
Sitting Person notes something into a Notebook in front of a Video Installation.
source: Marion Borriss
People in front of video installation and stage
source: Marion Borriss
Two People on stage with microfone in front of Musical Instruments.
source: Marion Borriss
Musicperformance on stage.
source: Marian Borriss
Presentation about Improvisation on stage.
source: Marion Borriss
Presentation/lecture on stage about Improvisation.
source: Marion Borriss
Group discussion at table
source: Marion Borriss
Presentation on stage with two people
source: Marion Borriss
Presentation with three People on stage with a Picture of Donald Trump.
source: Marion Borriss
Groupdiscussion around table
source: Marion Borriss
Person speaks in front of group around table.
source: Marion Borriss
People sitting at table writing.
source: Marion Borriss
Conversation with five people on stage
source: Marion Borriss
Discussion between five People behind table of stage
source: Marion Borriss
Three people in conversation
source: Marion Borriss
Four people on stage in conversation
source: Marion Borriss
Installation "Abendbrotkongress"
source: Marion Borriss
Two people interacting with the Installation "Abendbrot-Kongress": one of them signing a form.
source: Marion Borriss
Person serving something in the context of the Installation/Performance "Abendbrot-Kongress"
source: Marion Borriss
Four people laughing torwards camera, sitting at a table within an installation
source: Marion Borriss


Berlin Centre for Advanced Studies in Arts and Sciences (BAS)
Berlin University of the Arts
Einsteinufer 43
10587 Berlin
Tel.: + 49 (0) 30 3185 2784


Artistic Director: Margit Schild
Team: Nik Haffner, Carina Krause, Lena Loose, Jan Verwoert, Hannah Wiemer, Antje Havemann
Production: Sibylle Kerlisch, Daniela Silvestrin

Video- and Audio documentation: Luise Schröder und Madeleine Dallmeyer
Photo Cover/Layout programme and programme brochure: Katja Hommel

Symposium and publication have been co-funded by the Einstein Stiftung Berlin