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EPALE Interview Thorsten Kreissig / Teekay: Art as a force for societal change

Art and creativity, as an approach to the world which is not purely purpose-driven, is key to solving today’s problems.

We spoke to the multifaceted artist Thorsten Kreissig, also known as TeeKay, as part of the EPALE Focus on Art and Culture. In the interview Teekay provides great insight into his artistic work. He talks about his current projects on AI and climate change, the influence art can have on societal cohesion, and how culture and art promote lifelong learning.


You are a director, choreographer, and creative mind behind numerous events and projects. To start with, could you tell us a bit about your work and current projects?

Sure, and thanks for the interview. My background is in theatre and for a long time I worked exclusively in that field. Then I studied psychology and subsequently did lots of projects focused on participation. 

I am a big fan of interaction between people, which is actually theatre’s major strength. In the last two years theatre has had to deal with the huge challenge posed by the coronavirus pandemic. In my case, I had to abandon my usual activities and focus much more on digital cooperation-based projects. I made a virtue of necessity and developed a major and additional adventurous streak that led to many exciting, unusual, new artistic pathways.

You talk about new developments and how you had to react differently. Many of your projects also deal with artificial intelligence (AI). Is that also connected to these new paths? Have you gone a bit deeper into this field? 

AI is one of many topics I have started to engage with in the last three years. I was lucky, because after my AI course in Italy the University of Luxembourg held a tender in search of cooperation partners to prepare for the 2022 European Capital of Culture, which takes place in the city of Esch in southern Luxembourg. The university and its AI department were looking for artists interested in engaging with the topic. The online courses led to the creation of an exciting team that collectively implements AI-related artistic projects. 

One of our projects is Singularity 42, which examines the human understanding of intelligence and interaction with the environment.

And I am doing another AI-related project. It’s called DEUS -XMACHINA. It looks at the controversial idea that artificial intelligence will someday be superior to human intelligence. For this project we will be developing a chatbot capable of discussing faith-related questions with humans on a very high philosophical and theological level.

Your projects also tackle other topics relevant to society. To what extent do you see art as a social force in our society, and what role does it play?

Previously, my theatre work had a primarily “top down” approach, involving little interaction. But in 2007 I began developing lots of projects for public spaces. The idea that culture can help to create a city’s identity is exciting. I am currently doing this on a small scale in a town in Ostwestfalen-Lippe. For several decades up to the 1950s, the town performed a historical play created by its citizens. The aim now is to draw on that performance tradition and update the piece, instead of delivering a simple historical play. We do this not using a grand stage, but via small theatrical interventions in the city. 

When a town or city manages to involve all groups from an already existing social network in an artistic project – a project which also deals with the identity of a region – then really great processes can occur. 

Plays in which many citizens are involved are also one of the best platforms for promoting dialogue on other levels of society. Then everyone is truly involved, especially if the play is collectively written. 

Generally speaking, how do you think a holistic view of creativity and art promotes lifelong learning? 

Art and creativity, as an approach to the world, ideas, and projects which is not purely purpose-driven, plays a truly key role in solving today’s problems. There is the 4Cs concept:  creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. In fact, the 4Cs are part of the broader educational canon of the last 20 years and some aspects are already very well implemented in schools. But they are also very important in adult learning. Adults who grew up in the old school system often find it difficult to shift their way of thinking. 

Creativity does not mean traditional things like, “Oh, I painted a picture”, “Oh, I wrote a poem”, “Oh, I came up with a melody”. On a much more fundamental level, creativity is the opportunity to look at individual aspects of a problem or challenge and find a solution which does not merely follow a fixed recipe. It means thinking outside the box, diverging from routine.

The major risk of routine is that it often no longer matches up to the current situation. We live in a world undergoing huge changes, and we constantly have to adapt as individuals, small groups, families, schools, and universities – and, of course, as a complete society. 

Your projects also look at climate change. How do you do that? Do you have any current projects dealing with the topic?

One of the projects that resulted from my teaching position at the Mannheim University of Music is the Coloratura for the Climate. Theatres also have to start thinking about how sustainable their productions are. There are very few operas or musicals that deal with climate change. 

We are now starting to ask ourselves how we can take old repertoire and set it in a climate-relevant context, so that performances don’t represent a form of escape in the sense of, “Now we’re looking at a perfect world and seeing the opera the same way we did 30 or 40 years ago.” Instead, we want to examine all our cultural products in the context of climate change. 

I have always found it important to dig into stories and performance-based works to ensure that, instead of them lulling us into an illusory sense of a perfect world, they challenge us and make us think. 

The older I get, the more I look at my own work and activities in this way and try to incorporate this provocative element and resistance into my educational projects.

I used to see art and education as two separate things. Now they increasingly overlap, because both fields are ultimately about how we help people to change. How do we encourage people to learn, develop additional capacities, and cooperate with others? And that brings us back to the 4Cs. We communicate, think critically, collaborate with others, and do so in the most creative way possible in order to solve problems.

This overlap between education and culture is in fact something that increasingly fascinates and inspires me, and I try ever harder to transfer something from one world to the other. 

One last question:  What would you like the art and culture sector to look like in the future?

That is, of course, an extremely interesting question. The theatre sector, in particular, has very much been left behind these last two years because of the coronavirus. I would really like to see culture regarded far more as an essential component of human society, and for culture and education vouchers to allow people who are financially disadvantaged to go to the theatre and encounter new perspectives. I want them to experience the magic of the theatre, the wonderful world of a museum, and for such experiences to be considered basic citizens’ rights. 

I also think it’s very important that we do not exclude any groups in society and that culture takes place on all levels, including seemingly simple ones.

Actually, sport associations represent one interesting form of cooperation. They reach many population groups that at first glance seem to be far removed from culture. There are amazing opportunities for incorporating culture into sport. I have often worked with various federal state sport associations.

I think it would greatly benefit social cohesion if politicians invested much more money in cultural projects. Likewise, people who work in “high culture” institutions need to be more aware that you can’t just sit in your temple of culture and wait for people to come to you; rather, you can and must reach out to people at many different locations.

There are so many ways to carry out cooperation-based projects: between various institutions, between sport associations and museums, between schools and museums, between universities and the European Capital of Culture, as is currently happening in Luxembourg.

Numerous forms of connection are possible, and the more accessible such connections and encounters are, and the more languages they are available in, the more tolerant, open, diverse, and happy our society will be. 

An open and transparent society is, of course, also much more willing to tackle one of the biggest problems currently facing us – climate challenge – on many different levels. 

We live in dramatic times, and the more we look beyond our own narrow horizons and cooperate with others, the greater the quality of life we will enjoy now and in the future. 


More information about TeeKay and his projects can be found here: https://kreissig.net/


Interview TeeKay

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