Heinz von Foerster Festschrift

Dance with the world

The world congress of social psychiatry took place in Hamburg from June 4th to June 11th 1994. For the first time, not only the so-called specialists, but also the relatives and the people affected have been asked to take part in a congress. The response is overwhelming: there are more than 3000 participants.

Heinz von Foerster, a speaker who is entirely unknown to me in every respect, has been invited to give one of the main lectures during the opening ceremony.

I am in charge of the organisation and arrange the cultural programme. I am not responsible for the speakers.

Shortly before the congress begins, I arrive home, worn out from work, and turn on my answering machine. A cheerful voice greets me and says, in his now for me and other people so familiar manner: hello, this is Heinz von Foerster, and I don’t know where I am supposed go. I am in Hamburg and staying at the Kronprinz Hotel. He had looked up my number in the phone book, my name was the only one listed in the congress documents.

I return his call immediately, and give him further details. We agree to meet at the counter of the congress center. The following day, a small,dynamic 80 year-old leaps towards me. It is as if he has appeared from another world, in his incomparable corduroy suit, a red folder under his arm, full of energy, not the least bit jet-lagged or tired. We take an immediate liking to each other. And of course, Heinz gave a speech that brought the house down, gales of laughter resound from the auditorium (unfortunately, I am busy elsewhere). Later I hear that the psychologist responsible for the contents of the congress, had asked Heinz to cut his lecture down to 15 minutes, so that it would end at exactly 6 p.m.. Heinz finishes at 6 o’clock on the dot and is very proud of it. Thomas Bock, this is the psychologist’s name, confessed some time later, that this was the biggest mistake of his life.

The congress is extremely successful and exciting, but it also requires a lot of work; it comes to an end, and as always after such large events, one falls into a ‘depression’. I sit at home, am apathetic, and try not to take things so hard. I have spent 14 hours every day working intensively with people, met many very nice people, who will as of now be scattered all over the world, with no opportunity to see them ever again. The sound of the telephone jars in the quiet, empty apartment. Inimitable the sound that comes out of the receiver: hello, this is Heinz von Foerster, how are you doing?

Mysticism, magic, witchcraft I don’t know which, except that it was a phone call that came at the right moment, the beginning of a wonderful friendship and of many dreams that amazingly enough came true.

A few weeks later I was sitting in a pub drinking a glass of wine with my new friend Nikola, whom I had met at the congress. The subject of our conversation is the congress, and Heinz von Foerster’s name is mentioned quite often. In the meantime, I have received a small book from him which totally captivates me: ‘KybernEthik’, and I have a vague feeling that something new is about to begin for me. I make a suggestion: a film ought to be made about Heinz von Foerster. My friend happens to be a film-maker and says, yes, absolutely. We shake hands and seal the pact. Heinz, of course, approves and is delighted, showers us with material, becomes our associate and we realize that it is only possible to make a film with Heinz, and not, about him. Preparations are made, and ‘Dance with the world” (the film’s title) can begin.

Miraculously, we receive financial support for our film ( something quite seldom for such a difficult topic) and can travel, in February 1996, to Heinz and Mai in Pescadero, to begin shooting. 14 days, that later seem like months away from home, because so much is happening between us. Intensive work on the film with Heinz and Mai, long conversations far into the night. Our cameraman arrives in the second week, and we shoot the film. We are in tears when we say our goodbyes 14 days later, but certain that we will meet again. The days in Pescadero and the discussions there, have inspired me to find out more about the idea of constructivism and to tackle it. I meet more and more people who also interested in it. I start to become interested in the form of this way of thought, and realize that because of it, some things are becoming a lot simpler for me, and what freedom it includes. Long phone calls to Heinz help me further.

We meet in May 1996 in Vienna and Bologna to finish shooting the film. Heinz comes to visit us in Hamburg in June. The tour of the new Kunsthalle becomes an unforgettable event: Heinz goes on a voyage of discovery, and includes the entire supervisory staff ( who are, at other times, in a bad mood and ready to admonish anyone who gets too near to a sculpture or painting). I have never experienced this kind of atmosphere in the otherwise ‘holy’ Kunsthalle.

Heinz turns 85 in November 1996, and a large celebration and congress are being held for him in Vienna; our film is finished just in time and has it’s first public showing there. Everyone is enthusiastic, especially Heinz, who has been so very much involved in this project. We don’t lose touch, and my life has changed somewhat. I slowly immerse into the idea of constructivism, and include some of it’s elements into my daily life, especially into my career: the artistic works of ‘mad’ and disabled people becomes my occupation, I organize exhibitions, festivals, congresses and conferences on this subject, and to do this, one has to have a different way of looking at things. A conference which I organized, in which the artistic works of ‘mad’ and disabled people were discussed on a large scale for the first time, and which took place in Hamburg in September 2000, had the wonderful title ‘Weltsichten”. We invited artists, museum directors, theater directors, philosophists ansd social workers to join us. And there was only one person missing: Heinz, who was supposed to give the opening speech.

Jutta Schubert

Heinz von Foerster Festschrift