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Thomas Lehmen

Thomas Lehmen

Interweaving Performance Cultures

Fellow 2016/17

Thomas Lehmen is a freelance choreographer, dancer, performer, and teacher. He studied at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam from 1986 to 1990, after which he lived in Berlin for twenty years. There he developed numerous solo and group projects, including “distanzlos,” “mono subjects,” “Schreibstück,” “Funktionen,” “It’s better to...,” and “Lehmen lernt.”
 He has been working in North Rhine-Westphalia since 2011, where he produced the works “Schrottplatz” and “Bitte...,” among others. Since 2013 he has been touring the world with his current project, “A Piece for You.” His enduring interests include communication, and the human being who sees him/herself reflected in the environment and actively influences it through creative relations. His approaches often reveal linguistic elements within conceptional methods and expressions. In his dance, he often explores individual articulations of a technical aspect, and the interrelation of dancers and danced dialogues. He organizes international workshops, has taught at numerous universities across the world, and has held guest professorships in Hamburg, Gießen, and Berlin. He also taught at the dance department of Arizona State University for several years.  His teaching focuses on the above-mentioned themes as well as on choreographic systems that encourage individual artistic compositions within social contexts.

Research Project

“A Piece for You”

The written articulation of my long-term project “A Piece for You” is central to my research fellowship. So far, the project has taken place in 29 countries in Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe; Central and South-East Asia; and North and Central America. Public performances took place in over 30 stations and numerous unplanned artistic encounters occurred along the way. I covered approximately 85,000 km by motorcycle between March 2013 and December 2015. 

The social function of presents – mutual, immaterial, and performative – is here fulfilled by individuals and groups. “A Piece for You” is a durational unlimited travel project. The performative exchange of presents and spatial locomotion constitute its key artistic actions.

It seems to lie in the nature and practice of this project that it is best understood via its sequence of actions: the meeting, the spatial movement, and the reciprocal creation. The project requires the initial step of turning oneself into a participant, and then to ask: Whom would I like to give what present to, and what present would I like to receive from whom? And also: What near or distant place would I like to travel to in order to exchange presents with people?

The written scientific analysis of these artistic events has become increasingly necessary, as the unusual format of the project with its many variations and aspects evokes and allows for diverse interpretations.  It raises questions not just about this project’s practice but about standard interpretations and practices of art and curating in general. The project also puts forward questions about our constructions of these contexts, i.e. those of society and art, the body in art, and spaces of projection for the art. The project being far from concluded, the analysis will also be fruitful for attaining new perspectives for the future of the project.

Since “A Piece for You” is an artistic project, the challenge is to conduct research on an artistic language within a choreographic structure. Describing analysis, poetic detection, and the phenomena of the reciprocal principal are to be developed into a single form. 

Video Interview

Watch a video interview with Thomas Lehmen.

Recommended readings 

  • Luhmann, N. Love as Passion: The Codification of Intimacy, Cambridge: Polity Press, 1986.
  • Luhmann, N. Art as a Social System, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • Luhmann, N. Theory of Society, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012.
  • Bieri, P. Das Handwerk der Freiheit, Munich: Hanser, 2001.


Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung