CHOREOGRAPHY CHOREOGRAPHY CHOREOGRAPHY CHOREOGRAPHY CHOREOGRAPHY CHOREOGRAPHY CHOREOGRAPHY KOREOGRAFI KOREOGRAFI KOREOGRAFI KOREOGRAFI KOREOGRAFI KOREOGRAFI KOREOGRAFI
3 Introduction Solveig Styve Holte, AnnChristin Berg Kongsness and Runa Borch Skolseg 5
Conditions for Listening Efva Lilja
9 Movement and nonmovement—subjective reflections from a cross- disciplinary art practice Naja Lee Jensen
41 Branching —a topographic essay Janne Camilla Lyster and Solveig Styve Holte 49 Choreography as a reading practice Simo KelloKumpu 55 The art of making space for chaos Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness
15 Appropriate Appropriation Thomas Talawa Prestø, Elle Sofe H enriksen and Marte Reithaug Sterud
63 Structural thinking as an artistic strategy Interviews with Sonya Lindfors and Veronica Thorseth / Leo Preston
21 Secondhand Knowledge Rósa Ómarsdóttir
67 Sick Management Stina Nyberg
27 Victoria Cruziana —The live event as a performative reality and context Per Roar
71 Double Interview Mette Edvardsen and Mette Ingvartsen
37 Dance your abstraction Josefine Wikström
79 Work structures as a critical practice Venke Marie Sortland
COLOPHON Koreografi 2016 EDITORS Solveig Styve Holte Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness Runa Borch Skolseg DESIGN Helge Hjort Bentsen TYPOGRAPHY Maple, Adriane Text FORMAT 210 × 250 mm PRINT Printon Trükikoda FOTO Naja Lee Jensen Glyptoteket © Thorkild Jensen Mette Ingvartsen © F. Tafner Vilhelm Hammershoi vilhelmhammershoi.tumblr.com Rimini Protokol kit.dk./2016//07- riminiprotokoll.html Naturhistorisk M useum i Oslo
Solveig Styve Holte Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness Runa Borch Skolseg
This magazine is dedicated to Choreography and consists of texts from artists within the Nordic field of dance and choreography. The magazine wishes to build a rich and complex understanding of what choreography is and can be. The motivation behind this magazine has been to create time and space for texts we have missed and conversations we have dreamt of, relieved from any demand of selfpromotion. This has generated new texts based on critical reflection where the professional triumphs over the sensational. We have invited voices who already contribute to the development of language regarding choreography and through this make it possible for others. These voices operate both in the field for independent performing arts and within institutions affiliated with artistic research. We want to give attention to how artists themselves reflect upon and from their own work, to establish a platform that gives space to language originated from the work. We want to be a generation that takes care of our own professional development, and finds it necessary to break with an understanding of dance as a silent knowledge where articulation of experience isn’t given any value. The magazine is initiated and edited by Solveig Styve Holte, Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness and Runa Borch Skolseg. Kongsness and Holte have for several years been active in the Oslo-based field of dance and choreography. In 2012 they launched the webbased platform framtidsdans.no as an attempt to make visible and encourage reflections and articulation within our field. Skolseg was in 2013 editor for Utflukt’s edition New Performing Arts, where dance and choreography was not included. There are few publications made up by texts regarding dance and choreography both nationally and internationally. This publication addresses and strengthens the Nordic field of dance and choreography. To situate this magazine within a Nordic context is an opportunity where we through inviting others also invite ourselves into a larger field. We believe the most sustainable and progressive strategy for our field is to exist in the interaction between an international orientation and a local foundation. We see this magazine as a beginning of this and hope it will engage its readers to start conversations yet to come.
As contemporary artists, we seek strategies to influence society through art, arouse individuals to be active and capable of taking a stand, of making a difference. To do this, you must move. Stillness is the foundation of all movement. To depart from stillness, you need a trigger. You may be out of balance, forced to make a movement to avoid falling, you may need an action to still your hunger or you are in a fit of coughing that seizes your entire body with spasms. Or, you are motivated simply by a thought that demands movement, a shift. You are pushed forward by thinking, by intuition and other subconscious strategies. That is how alternative expressions are created. The act of living embodied in and through movement. Attentiveness to movement is a prerequisite for the development of our linguistic abilities. You have to both look and listen. Listening is an exercise in sensitivity to what the body expresses beyond words, complementary to words or instead of words. Observing a breathing body can be a way of understanding what goes on within the person who breathes. The chest heavesâ€”quickly, laboriously, calmly or almost invisiblyâ€Ś Listening to a person who is still and breathing, can give you all the information you need for, maybe a dance. To live and be observant demands training. Part of the training is undressing. The naked body is exposed to impressions that activate all senses. The receptors on your skin react to mild or violent touch, to heat or frost. Your reaction is movement. You observe and read your surroundings, shifts in the terrain or in events, and respond with movement. You hear and react by moving. The naked body expresses experiences through movement. Training your sensitivity, your attention and your ability to move is a precondition for applying what you have lived and retelling this with new imagery and narratives through choreography. I choreograph the processes of thinking, transforming them into linguistic and audible layers. Through the choreographed movement I speak of experiences, from experience, about the hierarchies that guide language, art and everyday life, about infrastructure, power and about who owns the right of interpretation. Much of this daily brain racking is unarticulated, a given state like breathing or coughing. Through observation of actions, by documenting, drawing, writing, dancing and engaging in dialogue with others, I train myself in the techniques of unmasking.
Differences in cultural background affect our movements. Choreographic work is a way of dealing with imbalances. Choreography offers tools for the composition of physical and mental movements. Through choreographic actions we are stimulated to think beyond the commonplace, beyond what we have already seen and learnt to believe. Reality is reformulated and made real with alternative imagery and action. All our senses are activated to see other improbabilities than those our so-called reality offers. You think and act through movement. Language has its abode in the body that is the foundation for thinking. Choreography is the practice of thinking transformed into survival strategies through action. Through these actions we unfold all the creases in the juxtaposition of layers that block our view. We need to sharpen our senses. A well-developed ability to move, to observe movements, offers a language and a voice to the individual that is the foundation of democracy. Whoever listens carefully, will hear and interpret the on-going world and will be able to express whatever creates new movements. Whoever is in command of choreographic techniques can make use of experiences, insights, questioning and other strategies to influence others. Dance and choreography are often referred to as silent art forms, since we are expected to work outside of verbal or literary formats. The presumption is that those who do not speak are silent. This is underpinned by how the dancerâ€™s identity is formed, generally dominated by physical skills training based on imitation and repetition. Studios are still equipped with mirrors to certify the physical progress. Dancers are to this day mostly supposed to work from the idea that the body is their only tool. This attitude is devastating, undermining both the dancerâ€™s confidence and understanding of the self. The dancer turns silent, since she is not expected to have a voice. A radical and relevant education lends a voice to the individual. The education must train for listening and attention in a way that puts movement in focus and provides the power to act needed for the profession. It must put the physical work in an intellectual context. It must show art as political activism by insisting on art as a vital component for cultural and societal progress. It must create respect for the need of collegial networks to conduct a critical discussion. Today it is not enough to just dance. You must also talk. Dance has never had a strong institutional representation or a defined work market. As a dancing artist you get used to generating your own workspace as a creative entrepreneur. Dance and choreography impact on the performative
arts by initiating new work forms, new expressions and new means of communication. Cultural policies set the limits and conditions for this. Increased commercialisation affects hierarchies and ownership of certain concepts or movements. This is in turn the function of a political balancing act: on the one hand the politics of transferring power to producers and curators, on the other the politics of strengthening the sector internally by knowledge production, collegial participation and development of new methodologies. Cultural policies vary between the Nordic countries, but there is a common lack of insight about contemporary dance and choreography, a barrier that is oftentimes hard to overcome. This becomes all the more important when artistic practices reflect the state of our societies, challenge our attitudes, not just to life in general, but to questions of ethics, sustainability, politicsâ€”and, of course, aesthetics. Art offers a chance to explore oneself in relation to the surrounding world, if you only care to listen. Attention is one condition for listening. If more people create more movement our communicative skills will be strengthened and it will sharpen our attention to what is not being said. Art activates listening. Choreographic strategies contribute to opening up new vistas for development through the experiences that make us move forward as empathic, thoughtful, creative and active human beings. Choreographic work is an experimental process whereby limits are stretched beyond what was thought to be possible, a process that rephrases the current state with new symbols, with enhanced moments or states-of-mind. It expands territories, translates reality as we experience it, and linguifies the present in a new way. It stimulates, provokes and activates. Choreography offers tools for the production of movement, for processing and analysing the conditions for living in awareness, beyond stillness. Stillness offers rest and awards our thoughts some space, but today we cannot be contented with this. We must work to expose alternative expressions, to bring spatial as well as conceptual sites into dialogue with both the contemporary and the traditional, to find enhanced living in movement. That is how attention is sharpened. We see, hear and feel movements that are space and time at the same time, from those who through their force and energy are the expression of cultural contexts. Some of that isâ€”dance. BIO Efva Lilja is an artist, professor and director of Dansehallerne in Copenhagen. She has written several books on dance and choreography, including 100 Exercises for a Choreographer and Other Survivors. The curious reader can find in this book some exercises to sharpen attention and stimulate the ability to listen to movement. The book can be ordered from www. ellerstroms.se. More about her work can be found at www.efvalilja.se.
non-movement â€” subjective reflections from a cross-disciplinary art practice BIO Naja Lee Jensen has a BA in Acting from the Norwegian Theatre Academy and a MA in Fine Arts from the Art Academy in Oslo. In her cross-disciplinary practice she explores the borderland between stage and fine art. Her works has been shown at Bergen International Festival, Black Box Theatre Oslo and Novi Ganz Novi Festival in Zagreb.
Naja Lee Jensen
The origins of stage art derives from a tradition in which human action is central. The artistic expression is organized according to one of the fundamental conditions of human life: movement in time and space. Fine arts has its origin in the creation of objects. Objects can outlive their creators. The artistic expression is organized as non-movement beyond time and space. The Winter Garden at Glyptoteket. Light floats through the glass roof, moves the plants from fledgling sprouts to their death. A child drinks the last sip of Coca-Cola through a straw, it creates the well-known sound of end. Everything here is quietly moving. Living tissue that breathes, grows and dies. A woman sits in the middle of the room. She is naked. On her wellshaped body voracious babies crawl towards her bulging breasts. They never reach them, though. Their bodies are made of marble. Without shyness I study the nakedness of the woman. I
contemplate the outline of her body in detail. With each breath I sink deeper and deeper beneath her “skin”. I dissolve into an intimate sphere that expands as the sun moves over the sky. Dusk. Darkness. Artificial light replaces the sunlight. I get up and stretch my body. I know she will survive when I leave the women; that the time that exists in my body’s flesh has a shorter life span than the time that exists in her marbled body. A lot of people before me have dissolved into her. Their bodies are no longer to be found on the surface of the earth.
One of the most crucial differences between fine arts and stage art is time. Both the time that exists in an artwork itself, and the time that exists in the meeting between the artwork and its audience. In fine arts, the conservators are engaged in a Sisyphean fight to maintain the artwork untouched of time. In stage art, time is the framework from which a performance is created. The different views on time
are also visible in the way the two artistic fields value documentation of live-works. In stage art, the documentation will always seem like an unsatisfying substitute for the live-edition. Whereas in fine arts, the live work is often regarded as less important than the documentation. The fact that Tino Sehgal has been able to create a career in the art world by insisting on the ephemerality in his artistic practice also
emphasises this difference. In stage art, ephemerality is a fundamental condition. The difference also exists in the relationship between the audience and the work of art. In the art world, people often speak about the autonomy of a work, and its viewer
is an autonomous individual that relates to the artwork on his/her own premises in time and space. In stage art, the work is a joint action, and the viewer is a part of an audience body that is tied to the performance in time and space.
BIT Teatergarasjen in Bergen. The darkness makes the room seem endless. In the middle of this presumed endlessness, lamps light up a big white square. It seems like an island in the midst of the darkness. Here the audience has gathered to watch Mette Ingvartsen’s 69 positions. Framed by invisible walls where only the supporting wood construction is visible. These wooden structures are decorated with photo documentation of the fine arts performance Meat Joy (1964) by Carolee Schneemann, which is Mette Ingvartsen’s point of departure. Maybe that is why the room in which we are standing mimics a white cube. Especially, the lighting of the room is similar to the ruthless lighting situation every gallery exposes its audience to. However, in 69 positions’ White Cube there are no fine art artworks in which to light up. Only the audience and the (naked) body of the performer constantly exchanging glances, actions and reactions. Like an animal trainer the performance chases its audience around the white square. Forwards, backwards, up and down. Caught in the spotlight, the staging is impossible to escape. The room offers no shadow, no private sphere. Only public presence. Watchful gazes and bodies that position themselves in relation to being on display. In this way, 69 positions’ White Cube does not exhibit objects or performative actions but relations—the relation between the audiences; between the
performer and the audience; between the naked female body and the audience; the room and the audience; time and the audience, between the White Cube in fine arts and the White Cube in stage art. In the art world, surveys show that the average visitor does not use more than a couple of seconds in front of each artwork when looking at an exhibition. In his opening speech for the exhibition Closer—Intimacies in art, Mikkel Bogh, the director of Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, said that spending time with an artwork creates an intimate relationship between the work of art and the viewer. In this intimate relation, meaning is produced. For as long as the work of art is exhibited, the viewer has the possibility to return to this intimate sphere more than once. Andrej Tarkovskij said that films are sculptures made of time. A scenic performance is also a sculpture made of time, but it is an ephemeral sculpture. When the applause has stopped, the sculpture dissolves. After the applause the performance may continue to live in its audience, but if the audience wants to go even deeper into this sculptural shape, they have to start a dialogue with each other or trust their memory.
In 1908, the Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi painted the picture Interior, Strandgade 30. In the right hand corner a woman sits on a chair. She is dressed in black. Her back faces the viewer. To her left there is an open door, a dark hallway and at the end of the hallway yet another open door. This picture is central for the series of works that V. Hammershøi made of interior. What is interesting about its motif is that it allows the room to be more significant than the human figure. Both the Black Box and the White Cube are generic rooms. Their goals are to create a neutral and invisible frame for the art they represent. Like the shopping mall, Magasin in Copenhagen which consumers visit, not to admire the obvious beauty of the building, but to admire the ever changing range of consumer goods it houses. The Black Box and the White Cube (and Magasin) are containers that can be filled with anything. They are invisible. In these generic rooms, both stage art and fine arts create their own place. This place is called the performance or the exhibition and is a temporal reality that dissolves at the same pace as the programme for the Black Box or White Cube. Most often the reality of the Black Box or the White Cube goes unnoticed by our collectively established reality. It does not have any influence whatsoever on it. To the “real”
reality, the reality of the Black Box/White Cube is invisible. When an audience visits a place repetitively an intimate relationship between the visitor and the place is created. Through repeated visits the Black Box or White Cube becomes full of private memories from past visits and private memories from past performances or exhibitions. The intimacy can be so absorbing that it is no longer possible for each audience to detect the actual physical room and the actual situation. Both room and situation has become invisible.
Vor Frue Plads, Copenhagen. In the middle of the city between the oldest building of Copenhagen University and Vor Frue Cathedral a truck has been parked. This truck waits for us: the audience of Rimini Protokol’s performance Cargo Sofia-Copenhagen. The well known walls of the Black Box have disappeared. We are going for a ride. Placed in the narrow seating space of the claustrophobic cargo, it feels like we are well stacked goods ready to be brought out to the consumers; yet here, we are the consumers. The average theatregoer is at her most comfortable in the city centre surrounded by never ending offers. However, this trip is going to bring us beneath the glittery wrapping of the centre into the periphery, guided by what Rimini Protokol calls ‘experts of everyday life’. Through staging of reality the performance brings us face to face with the structures that makes our everyday life (and art) possible. The Bulgarian truck driver who tells us about his life on the road,
transporting consumer goods from the South to the North. The warehouse worker who presents us with the intricate logistic systems of the warehouse. The infrastructural approach roads that makes the movement to and from the city centre possible. When we return to the centre of the city, the feeling of centrality has disappeared. We leave the truck on a square that is a part of a city that is a part of a country that is a part of the world. In 1907, a urinal was placed in the museum space by Marcel Duchamp. A new kind of art had been born. Appropriation. Instead of creating original artworks the appropriation artists exhibited existing objects or works of art in their own name. By using the strategy of appropriation, the original meaning and structural framework of the works of art were exposed. Causing this structural frame in which the objects were exhibited to be visible.
Garry Gross took a photograph in 1975. In this photograph, a 10-year-old Brooke Shields posed naked in front of the camera. In 1983, the American artist Richard Prince appropriated this picture and exhibits it with the title “Spiritual America”. The appropriation of the photo opened, among other things, a discussion about the value of the motif and the art world’s moral responsibility towards the display of eroticised children. Today the market value of the picture shows that the motif is Richard Prince’s. If the print has R. Prince’ signature on it, the value is estimated to be 4,000,000 dollars while a print with G. Gross’ name on it, can be bought for around 3.500 dollars.
Appropriation is to take ownership over existing material and “force” your own existence and discourse upon it. Ownership is power. The power to define and redefine. During the past 100 years, appropriation has become a well-integrated part of fine arts, but also other artistic fields have adopted the method. Stage art is one of them. But to use the strategy of appropriation in fine arts is somehow different than doing so in stage art. Maybe because of the basic difference between the two disciplines—non-movement that exceeds time and space vs movement that exists and dissolves in time and space. The notion of ownership is also different when talking about fine arts and stage art. The sculpture
made of time is a sculpture that disappears. The object is a sculpture that lasts. Although Tino Seghal has shown that it is possible to claim ownership over the ephemeral, it is somehow a Sisyphean task. How do you own and let alone define and redefine something that does not exist anymore? In my cross-disciplinary art practice, I work with something I consider to be appropriation. I put well known material in an artistic framework and thereby create a re-contextualisation. A redefinition. What I appropriate is existing places, situations or concepts. I ask myself how can this place, this situation or concept becomes ‘the main protagonist’ in the artistic project? And how can a human performer have a supporting function to the appropriated place, situation or concept? What I am interested in is making the physical, social or mental structures that surround us visible. To make us aware of the world. By using the existing places, situations or concepts as objet trouvé, I try to embed my works in a reality that exists outside the four walls of the Black Box or White Cube. My praxis is inspired by the activist movement Reclaim the Streets, although the core of my work is far from being a direct occupation. It is more of a poetic siege. When working I think a lot of movement and non-movement. What or who moves and what or who stands still. I often work with visual stillness which mimics fine arts’ non-movement beyond time and space. I do this because I am attracted to the autonomous viewing position you find in fine arts. I believe that the lack of visual movement creates room for the audience’s own movement (both mental and physical). I am interested in the intimate relation that can evolve between the work and the viewer, because the mental room this relation creates solely belongs to the viewer1.
of. Through appropriating existing places, situations and concepts outside the walls of the Black Box or White Cube, I hope to become co-owner in the way we define and redefine our world. Fredrikstad football stadium. The flood lights mercilessly light up the grass pitch. From the loudspeakers the well-known football anthem ‘Olé olé olé’ plays to the 12.000 empty seats. A naked man lies on the grass carpet. He is placed in front of the goal area. Audience members look at the man from their positions on the stands. Some have clustered together, others stand alone. The time passes. The soundscape intensifies. The volume is loud. Rhythmical banging: like the raucous drumming at a football match or the sound of bombs falling endlessly. Visually, nothing happens. Nothing moves. The naked man lies still. The flood light is turned off. The mellow light from the stands makes the darkness that surrounds the stadium visible. The sound-scape exceeds to a rhythmical pulsing. Repeating itself over and over. The sound waves make the building tremble. The waves enter the bodies of the audience. Everything vibrates in the same rhythm. A violent lulling and then stop. Everything stands still. The sound. The stadium. The audience. On the grass carpet the naked man is lying motionless. The audience can leave the stadium when they want.
1 The intimate room, I am talking about is not the way habit makes everything invisible, but the intimate room where you really look. Like when every detail of the body of a lover impress upon you.
My works are sculptures in time. They have a beginning and an end. Their purpose is not to exceed time and space, but to appropriate them. To work ephemerally is meaningful to me. Not as an endless stream of visual candy in a soundproof box, but as a constant attempt to define and redefine the world we are a part
Appropriate n tio ria op pr Ap
Marte Reithaug Sterud has been given the assignment of interviewing Tabanka Dance Ensemble represented by Thomas Talawa Prestø, and Elle Sofe Henriksen, a dance company and a choreographer that explicitly situates their work within respectively a multicultural and an indigenous background, both in a Norwegian context. The theme is appropriation as an artistic practice, a technique where one benefits from already existing material for better and worse. This is a well known and established practice within most art disciplines, but within the field of dance and choreography there is not much written treatments to be found on the subject. Marte has therefore chosen to add herself as an interviewee and asks herself the same questions that Thomas and Elle Sofe answered. Interview with Thomas Talawa Prestø Tabanka Dance Ensemble
How would you describe your artistic work? It is difficult to easily describe my artistic work. Difficult not because it’s impossible to define, but difficult because it touches upon so many different ratios. Tabanka is a company made up by an overweight of artists that in different ways are associated with Africa and the Caribbean. We operate in black bodies and this body is political in itself. In the West humanity is made visible and celebrated through grand architecture, fantastic galleries, exhibitions and monuments. Because of over 600 years of slavery, oppression, colonialization, imperialism and lack of autonomy the Africans and their descendants in the West haven’t had access to these kinds of expression forms and an opportunity to leave behind a physical artistic heritage to the same extent. Our humanity is stored in our inherited embodied library that often is celebrated in the shape of dance, rythm and song. A part of our deep culture consists of architecture stored in movements. In a city like Paris we have classical buildings and architecture from every era, side by side with contemporary skyscrapers. The different forms, materials, sizes and
preferances make up a map that shows humanity and the culture’s development. It testifies to ups and downs, family structures and class distinctions. In a lack of access to independence regarding its own surroundings, situations and the material, corresponding information and “technology” lies stored in the black body’s architecture. The ancestor’s embodied architecture, our response to contemporary impulses, and the improvisation in the moment together form the fundament for the choices we make connected to what we consciously want to present for the posterity. This is taken into the visual and sensuous world through gestures. The danced ritual makes up the cultural and artistic “technology” that forms the fundament for African dance art. Tabanka’s artistic approach celebrates our humanity: Our danced rituals reshape our bodies into exhibitions of who we were, who we are and what we can become. It’s the perfection of this ritual that is the highest goal, the “raison d’être” for all our artistic work. We are drawing heavily on traditional as well as modern rituals and in this way create an own space: We let the body discuss, defend, push, press and make space where the
black body belongs; where the myth, the fantasy, the reality and the shadows can materialize into a Norwegian and Western identity. Our art is capable of capturing who we are. We operate in a grey area, a kind of limbo, caught in a “minority prison”, that colours how almost everything we do is perceived. Through our art we enter our centre and define ourselves. Many of us in Tabanka are born and raised in Norway. We are norwegian, and also something more. Tha black body has been an active part of the socalled “West” for more than 600 years. Still it is defined as something foreign, something different, exotic and mythical. There isn’t a Norwegian person today that didn’t grow up with black music, black dance and other African aesthetics. Still it is legitimate to state that the way we’re treated at times, the hate one is exposed to, or the “ignorance” is a result of “xenophobia”. Our bodies should not be foreign, aren’t foreign and the excuse is a contruct. I hope it is paid attention to that I’m talking about bodies. I am because a lot of our everyday experiences is characterized for good or bad by the body we are walking around in. Our soul, personality, our essence, rarely takes center stage, we are first met as our bodies. The fact that I’m mentioning these things doesn’t mean that our art is gloomy, or has a negative focus. On the contrary. Many forgets that Salsa, Samba, Calypso and many more are expressions that originates from the experiences of the slaves. For the French upperclass and in a lot of privileged Norwegian contemporary art the meeting with anxiety, trauma, malaise and so on is artistically treated and seen as “deep”. This is to a large extent based on class, whiteness, gender and so on, even if the performers do not realize. For a black body the artistic drive has been something else. Take Rumba as an example. A black male slave’s everyday life on the plantation, the whip, the hate, the attacks towards his “manhood” (lynching, castration, torture). To move with pride, sensuality and like you belong in and are independent of the surroundings that denies your existence; that’s the art, that’s the resistance, that’s the point of friction.
Thomas Talawa Prestø
What kind of relationship do you have with appropriation as an artistic method, meaning a practice or technique where one uses or quotes an already existing material? Appropriation is very relevant for what we do and the field we operate within. There is a long tradition for this in Western art. Older ballets, and even today’s Moulin Rouge shows, have elements of appropriation where exotic elements from 1001 Night, Asia and so on is presented. Most of these elements that are African are fortunately removed. Performances like that most often represent the African or Caribbean with coconuts, grass skirts and bananas. Cultural appropriation has an ugly colonialist and imperialist heritage, no matter how normalized it has become through MTV, and classical ballet. Cultural appropriation is unfortunately rarely that someone uses or quotes an already existing material, to be able to make use of a material one needs to know it and also master it to a certain extent. It’s rare to see cultural appropriation where the ones performing actually has understood and or mastered the material. It is often a way to make oneself “exciting”, “relevant”, or to avoid having to learn something thorougly. It might seem that some people think that by calling something a hybrid one doesn’t have to relate to any of the forms’ Merits, rules or attributes. Some people also think it’s about colour. Historically the roughest abuse, and the examples of cultural appropriation has followed the line that divides through colour, but I as a black
performer, with roots from the Caribbean and Africa still need to approach SeneGambian material with respect, humility and knowledge to make sure that what I’m doing isn’t cultural appropriation but actual artistic exploration of the style’s possibilities and tools. To quote already existing work is fully possible as long as it’s done with respect and knowledge. This is really the definition of development, isn’t it? Everything we do—either we want it or not—is based on something that came before; it always has a starting point from where it’s pushing away from. What kind of issues relating to structural racism do you deal with in the Norwegian context of comtemporary dance? How do you experience the term contemporary dance in relation to what is presented on stages that cite they are showing experimental and innovative dance art in Norway today? In Norway the field of dance art has almost no competence when it comes to intersectionality, ethnicity and so on, and how this forms and influences the art. The first time I was in touch with the Arts Council I was advised to contact the Unit for Diversity and Integration. I was told that we didn’t relate enough to a Norwegian context and was to focused on structural racism in our art productions. We have also been concerned with the black body and how gender, sexuality, masculinity and femininity is “read” through this filter. All these things was considered as “outside the Norwegian context”. The dance curriculum in Norway and also the knowledge of the dance scholars
I most of the time experience as problematic and outdated. African dance is denoted as “primitive”, “indigenous dance” and in the best cases is said to be partly the roots of jazz dance. It’s never presented as something that is undergoing development, and one speaks of it as something that ones has developed oneselves “away” from, or that one has civilized in order to place on stage. We that dances rythmically are looked down upon, as if we weren’t able to emancipate ourselves from the rythm, we are seen as more “primitive” in our art discipline. Somebody might remember that drums were illegal in most colonies. This was because rythm was language. One could communicate over long distances. When I dance to rythm, it is like someone that dances to text. The content of the text might be innovative, norm-breaking, taboo-breaking or quite traditional. The way I relate to rythm is made up by just as many nuances. As a dance artist I am free to make use of my art discipline’s technology and development. Rythm is technology. It is important that the contemporary dance is open and free. That it realizes that ballet was neither the beginning nor the end, but that it can represent a base or something to push away from or be drawn towards... for some people and not for others. The contemporary dance must contain different references, myths, fictions and realities. Only then will it be able to learn about itself, and become enriched by what it is and not, what it was and what it can never become. Translated into English by Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness
Interview with Elle Sofe Henriksen
How would you describe your artistic work? I am engaged with showing an inside perspective on Sami culture, while avoiding exoticising it. I am concerned with approachability and making Sami expressions accessible through body,
movement, and dance in the encounter with the audience either on stage or through film. I see the value in taking advantage of opportunities that exist locally such as local labour, and local resources. I am passing on oral traditions and do my research using living sources. Right now one of the ambitions in my
artistic work is to bring attention to the immaterial Sami cultural heritage. One way to do this is to consult the knowledge of the Sami elders concerning body and movement. Those who are between 70 and 80 years old and experienced a way of living without running water, electricity, cars, or roads, and
Elle Sofe Henriksen
Is there a Sami folkdance?
only went to school a couple of months out of the year. I find the spiritual practices and knowledge particularly interesting. I have documented and learned traditional movements, dance, customs, joik, and stories in the Sami language. Having this knowledge, accessible from living sources in my own language and culture is important to me.
There is a Sami folk dance, which I’ve explored in my performance Jorggahallan. There are certain ways of moving that one might call Sami. But there is not a public, standardized Sami folk dance like Norwegian folk dancing. I don’t think the Sami believe there is a Sami dance.
Gaikut boahkánis Dra i beltet Pulling in the belt
Rámbbon láhkái gieđa vuohtut Vugge armen på en skrytete måte Moving your arms in a bragging way
Váccašit guovtte—guvlui Gå frem og tilbake To walk back and forth
Jorggáhallat Plutselig snu seg rundt (for å vise fram seg selv og kofta) Quickly turning, showing off your gákti dress
Njuikestallat juolgetbeal alde Småhoppe på en fot Jumping slightly on one foot Sallut birra-čeahpálaga Holde rundt hverandre Embracing one another
Čearčut armene i kryss, småhoppe og holde beina fra hverandre Crossing the arms, jumping slightly while keeping your legs apart
Feara movt gieđaiguin fáipput Vifte med armene på diverse måter Waving your arms around in all sorts of ways
Čeavžut Gå frem og tilbake med knærne bøyd utover Walking back and forth with your knees bent outwards
In 2011, I filmed three traditional joikers, especially their hands while they were joiking. When people are joiking, they keep their fists closed and cradled in a certain way. I looked into this and asked the joikers why they placed their hands in that way. Since then, people have begun to call the cradle of the hands joikhand as my film was also called. Previously the term hadn’t been used in Sami nor Norwergian. Through investigations you can conclude the dance that already existed.
contemporary art or dance. I am often faced with uncertainty as to whether my work fits their profile because my work seems so colourful and culturally/ethnically specific, and thus not follow a contemporary dance norm. I think there is a big difference in aesthetics, especially in the use of colour between western cultures and non-western cultures. In Western contemporary dance there are often dark or neutral colours in the costumes, possibly colourful retro clothing. In a Sami context there are completely different colours that apply, and at least another colour symbolism. There is no tradition to use dark colours since this is often associated with grief.
What do you think about making artistic work based on a culture that you yourself belong to, and the implications of that work? I often find that my performances and short films aren’t always seated in the national and international contexts for
Aesthetics is one of the things that is different. Then there are several factors concerning content, codes, values, language, knowledge, culture, which
Through conversations with the elders I’ve found terms and concepts I didn’t know, which gave me information on different movement customs:
Lihkahusaide boahtit komme i religiøs rørelse Entering into religious trance/ movement Jođášit Bevege seg rundt Moving around Sojadit Bøye, Gynge Swaying Jorrat Snurre Spinning
are also relevant when a work of art is being considered. Appearances are deceptive. One thinks that the colourful non-western art forms are cultural stuff; it is not modern dance or contemporary art, which can be quite narrow. I took a course on Sami art with Hanna Horsnerg Hansen from UIT: I was influenced by her thoughts on how we look at art, and how Western art is the norm and how Sami art isn’t considered contemporary. How Sami artists and art always have to be in a specialized unit and not a part of the Norwegian art history. I think there remains a lot of work for us who work with contemporary dance starting from a non western culture.
Translated into English by Runa Borch Skolseg
Self-interview with Marte Reithaug Sterud
How would you describe your artistic work? My artistic work manifests itself through performances, discursive measures and now as text in a publication. I do practices that in different ways deals with the body, dance, listening, text, writing, conversation, reflection, reading and now interview and self-interview. I switch between initiating by myself or together with others, and/or take part in other people’s initiative: my work arise from collective situations where it isn’t always that easy to trace where the initiative came from. To me choreography is language and situations and the constant negotiation that exists between them. It is always the dance I’m looking for. What kind of relationship do you have with appropriation as an artistic practice, meaning a practice or technique that makes use of or quotes an already existing material? For a long time I had a need to practice improvisation on a regular basis. I could go on for hours without stopping. With dance as a mission the empty studio was the perfect playground. I especially enjoyed the performative improvisational dance, instant compostition, that made everyone turn on the charm. We were first of all going to perform with this rather than to fiddle around in endless bound flow or shake like a real contemporary dancer. We wanted to take the outward rotation seriously. The future dance became the substitute for the contemporary dance. Elizabeth Lyseng initiated the instant compostition practice Goldfish Project in her studio Centrum Yoga during autumn 2011. Elizabeth, Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness, Sigrid Marie Kittelsaa Vesaas and I with several others were practicing once or twice a week switching which one was leading the classes, it was for free and after a while we also opened up for any one who wanted to join. Ann-Christin organized a showing platform for instant composition called Anti-loop, in an empty store through the architectfirm
The Tøyen Office—space for art and urbanism. It happened ten wednesdays in a row during spring 2012, with musicians and visual artists. I thought that this is how the future dance looked like; a dance of inquiry with a lot of lash, humour and guts, made by people that would drink beer together with their audience after the show. I thought we were doing something new by insisting on a kind of lightness; «practice ease, and don’t worry, difficulty will come.» Several of us were inspired by Julyen Hamiltons work regarding the relation between the dance we were practicing and the language we would use. The language that was practiced and developed between us every time during the next three years with Goldfish Project soon became more important to me than the performative dance practice. I experienced that I was running dry in the improvisation and felt like I was going on repeat. I felt the need for a different situation that could fascilitate a different dance than the one we had worked on and build up during several years. In spring 2014 we ended Goldfish Project while the traces from it are still present while I write this text.
The phenomenon can in the worst cases take the focus away from hassles deriving from structural racism, the moment this becomes something the whites need to be protected from. After the improvisation appropriation became an opportunity to take back working with dance as form. To copy other’s movement language is a method to acquire dance, especially in meeting the artform for the first time. To work with dance as form means to go through the surface of the other’s body to acquire movement material. Here there are infinite possibilities for transformation and socialization; all bodies has a surface and we can follow
each other’s movement language until no one really knows where the initiative behind the movement came from. Some people’s and group’s movement language has been certified, written into dance history and become public domain, the way we come to know different dance styles, dance genres, dance techniques or methods. What we don’t have access to in immediate proximity we can find on youtube. The shapes are visible and recognizable, one can work on referring in several different directions within one choreo graphy and exercise a dialogue across works, cultures, social situatedness, history and distance in general. To relate to material that already exists says something about one seeing potential beyond one self, one turns towards the world to find new connections between things that already exist; situated things with names and therefore already inscribed into language. Appropriation as an artistic practice gives infinite possibilities. With infinite possibilities comes the responsibility towards the material that is being appropriated. From whom is it one appropriates and how to think copyrights in relation to this? How to practice sensitivity in relation to the conditions that a material arose from? In what context does one plan to place the appropriated material and what does one want this to produce? With social possibilities come social considerations. One has to get underneath the appropriated material’s surface and up to the surface of one’s own body. What are your thoughts on doing artistic work that springs out from a culture you yourself are a part of, and what consequences does this have for your artistic work? While working on the interviews of Thomas and Elle Sofe I was located in New York to attend American Real ness, a festival for dance and choreography, that shows works at three different scenes by artists that operate both within and outside of the New York context. During a sunday matinè I am witnessing two happenings that will turn out to have great influence on the
Marte Reithaug Sterud
work I am in the middle of. The lecture I am black (you have to be willing to not know) by Thomas DeFrantz, professor in dance and African and American studies, is described as a dialogic manifest-lecture where he among other things mentions the strong lack of black critics that could write about art from their point of view. The performance #negrophobia by Jaamil Olawale Kosoko deals with «the erotic fear associated with the black male body (...) with referances to grief, misogyny and black patriarchal’s construction of masculinity within the chaotic frame of a body and a mind on the brink of psychosomatic collapse.» During the performance I am witnessing a community I know nothing about. People are responding while the performance is happening and I try to read the codes, try to figure out what’s going on around me. After a while the only thing I can do is to keep watching and keep listening. When the performance is over I want to cry but I don’t dare to. Many people are crying and holding each other. I move slowly towards the exit, shaken by the experience of bodily otherness. I don’t understand how to behave in this situation and I get paranoid on the behalf of my own skin. It suddenly stands out as a relief and I feel the need to defend or protect my body. I am completely put off and go back to the place I’m staying at to go to bed. When I wake up two hours later I’m thinking that this is what white fragility is. “White fragility”, a text written by Robin DiAngelo, describes the phenomenon white fragility as a state people of Western origin experience when confronted with questions regarding race or ethnicity, that often appear as violent anger or fear. The phenomenon can in the worst cases take the focus away from hassles deriving from structural racism, the moment this becomes something the whites need to be protected from. She describes whiteness as a structure that supports the whites sovereignty over the rest, an ideological mindset that didn’t disappear with slavery and colonialization but that still to a large degree is widespread and effective. My fragility takes the shape of apathy
and I wonder how it is possible to walk around with an experience of being without race for thirty years. Why did I have to travel all the way to New York to realize that also I am a part of a sociological community that ties me directly to others visible bodies? Back in Norway and Oslo I have gone from being an artist at work with an assignement to becoming a human being with a strong need to take my body and the structures it takes part in seriously. My body is full of other cultures’ movement expressions. Expressions arosen from survival mechanisms during oppression, through dance as a strategy to handle others exercising power. Strategies that deals with not being victimized, that is about standing up for oneself, that is about dealing with a situation and not the least dealing with ones own body. I started to dance hip-hop when I was ten. At the public dance education I attended I received classes in traditional jazz dance, lyrical jazz dance, old school hip-hop, lyrical hip-hop, salsa, tango, jive, electric boogie, popping, locking, breakdance and house. How do we relate to cultural appropriation? In 1978 Edward Said tried to account for Western cultural appropriation in the book Orientalism, which specifically dealt with the relationship between the West and the Middle East or Asia, at that time called the Orient. The name came from a cultural study that Said meant was reinforcing a Western contruction of an oriental essence, that stood in a dualistic relationship to the West, where the West was placed in an hierarchical relationship with the Orient. He meant this was expressed through among others stereotypes in the representation of Asian cultures in Western art and literature, an image that fitted with Western political and economical dominance in the region. Said wished to make visible that power and knowledge were closely related and that a representation of another society can’t be treated as isolated from relations of power; the one who observes defines the notion/image of the one who is observed. I’m wondering if appropriation as an artistic practice isn’t particularly new when it comes
to dance and choreography after all. I’m wondering if future discussions on copyrights when dealing with appropriation will also cover the question of collective copyrights in relation to race and ethniticity. I’m wondering if it’s okay for public art institutions in Norway to educate dancers in cultural appropriation without giving them access to the origin of the material. I have come to the surface of my own body. It is white. I’m operating in a white body. As a dancer, choreographer and human being I try to again place the outward rotation in my gaze, this time to approach a more global presence. Translated into English by Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness
BIO Thomas Isak Michael Prestø, founder and Artistic Director of Tabanka Dance Ensemble, and originator of the international T alawa Technique a dance technique/system designed for Africanistic Kinaesthetic dance mastery. Having experienced extreme and violent racism growing up, Thomas gave up on the idea of fitting in, focusing instead on expanding and developing new spaces for bodies like himself and others to exist. Thomas believes in life as art, and art as activism. Elle Sofe Henriksen (b.1984, Guovdageaidnu/ Kautokeino) works with dance, choreography and film and is engaged in presenting Sami expressions from an insider’s perspective to a wider audience through these medias. She has a MA in choreography from Oslo National Academy of the Arts and BA in Dance from the Laban School in London. Elle Sofe was the initiator of KOLT in Riddu Riđđu indigenous festival in 2010, and organizer for KOLT Kautokeino in 2011, as well as one of the initiators of the establishment of Guovdageainnu dáiddakollektiiva (Artist Collective in Kautokeino). Marte Reithaug Sterud (b.1985, Hamar) is educated from Oslo National Academy of the Arts and The School for New Dance in Oslo. She works with dance and choreography which manifests itself through performances, platforms of discourse, teaching/sharing events and text in publications. She has shown work at amongst others Black Box Theater in Oslo, Henie-Onstad Kunstsenter at Høvikodden, Prøysenhuset in Ringsaker, Ivar-Aasen-tunet in Ørsta and Kunsthall Oslo. Marte is spesifically interested in working with making structures of power in the field of dance and choreography visible.
I am sitting at an espresso bar on a popular street in Brussels. As I look out the window I see the letters Beurrshowbrug—Bourchaubirg—Beursshouwburg —Burscebur—on the building opposite me. The unpronounceable theater I attended yesterday to see a dance performance and of course have a few glasses of red wine in the foyer afterwards. The theater’s name and this artwork on its facade is a perfect figuration of the multilingual and often confusing city of Brussels. While I sip my coffee a dancer-colleague walks in through the door and greets me, this café is normally filled with dancers and other freelance artists. Oh the life of a freelancer... I have been living in Brussels for over 5 years now. It is a city full of dancers and choreographers. There is a large dance-community here and I probably see new dance performances every week. I realize that this is quite privileged. Especially for me coming from the isolated and underpopulated island of Iceland. I lived and studied dance in Reykjavík before I moved to Brussels to venture new studies. I had some expectations about what I saw as the highly acclaimed, international and important dance scene of Brussels. I had been told it was the Mecc a of Dance, where all dancers had to take a pilgrimage to be finally noticed and verified as dancers on this earth. So understandably I was very excited to finally visit this golden location of contemporary dance. The grass is always greener on the other side no?
In her essay Second-Hand Knowledge (In Slalom Through Yugoslav cultural-artistic space) Ana Vujanović lays a quite good explanation of the notion of secondhand knowledge as the kind of knowledge that travels from a defined central location to a more peripheral one. She starts her essay by stating the following:
Now, however, I often miss the small community of the Icelandic dance scene: The almost incestuous relationship where everyone knows each other, the interactions with other local disciplines of art and the isolation from the outside world. Having gained some distance, I now have a different relationship to Iceland’s dance scene, like how you appreciate your mother differently when you finally move out of the family home. I can see her tendencies and influences in a new way, I see her taste and trends from an outside point of view, but mostly I have gained higher respect for all her hard work and great care. Not only that, but also did I realize that much of my teenage ideas and imagination about the famously acclaimed Brussels was partly based on misconception. While studying in Reykjavík my feelings and thoughts on the larger dance scene were mostly gained through short trailers and clips on youtube or based on others’ accounts on the topic. It was therefore largely built in my own imagination. It was gained by the means of secondhand knowledge.
1 MISPERFORMANCE: essays in shifting perspectives, Edited by M. Blažević and L. C. Feldman. Ljubljana: Zbirka Mediakcije and MASKA: 2014. P. 79
“It is commonplace or even commonsense that the bulk of knowledge that reaches the periphery is second-hand knowledge. And the periphery—that is us, Serbia, Southeast Europe, Yugoslavia, the Balkans. There is no irony here, for these regions are peripheral, provincial, and marginal with respect to the centers of the First World, Europe, the European Union, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, or the Ottoman Empire.1” I want to elaborate on her theories and extend the notion of periphery to all countries that can either culturally or geographically be considered peripheral to a collective contemporary dance history—which most of the time is quite Western-Eurocentric. I believe Iceland, and even all the Nordic countries can fall under this definition in some way—at least as a train of thought for this text. But to continue we must understand what is secondhand knowledge? As often it is good to start with defining it by its negative. By understanding its opposite. Namely, I should introduce you first to the notion of firsthand knowledge. Firsthand knowledge is empirical knowledge, it is experienced directly and gives clear insight into its subject-matter. Firsthand knowledge is perceived as neutral and objective. Secondhand knowledge is however considered to lack these qualities. Secondhand Knowledge is by definition a knowledge that moves from one person to the other and is therefore a mediated knowledge. It is subjective and relies on the personal context of the one on the receiving end and a belief in the one providing it. Consider the barroom oratorical tradition of referring to something you’ve ‘heard somewhere’ or ‘read somewhere’, or what happens in the game of Chinese Whispers, when a word transforms on its way while being mediated from one person to the other. Secondhand knowledge is often considered the bad sister of the firsthand knowledge, she doesn’t have her facts straight and she has a style of information which changes all the time. She is ‘second’ to the firsthand knowledge and is therefore often considered less worthy. I question this hierarchy of value and furthermore I question the dichotomy. To look at this further for the sake of this text, I will relate to Iceland as the periphery and Brussels as a notion of center, as this is my personal context. The Icelandic dance scene is not only peripheral and isolated, it is also quite young. Dancing was for a long time forbidden in Iceland and the Icelandic cultural dance is, save to say, not the most elaborate dance I have learned: it is precisely one step to the left and then two steps to the right continued while
holding hands standing in a circle. End of dance. From a modern perspective Iceland’s cultural development in general started quite late compared to western countries, people were few and lived spread around the country. Isolation, poverty and intermitted natural disasters resulted in a nation that at the turn of the 20th century could be described as in a cultural arrested development. It was only around that time that any kind of city life started to form. Very few artists from abroad ever visited Iceland and until the year 1983 there was only one radio channel which would curate what people could listen to. Some artists would travel to ‘the foreign-countries’ and mediate their knowledge to the people of Iceland in their return. Dance did not really appear as an art-form until 1952 when the National Theatre opened the first dance school and much later the first professional dance company was formed, in 1973. When it comes to the live medium of performance, knowledge is not easily passed to such an isolated community like Iceland. Music could still be played on that radio station, movies could be shown in the theaters, books and plays could be read and one could often find good photo-documentation of visual art works. When it came to dance one could only rely on oral descriptions from others or from books and other written information on dance. When the internet came along it provided numerous mediums distributing abundance of knowledge on dance, but I would still argue that all those knowledge-spreading-machines continue to produce even more secondhand knowledge. During my education in Iceland I could borrow recordings of few dance works from the library. That was mostly Rosas danst Rosas and dancefilms by DV8 or Ultima Vez. Which I watched repeatedly during my teenage years. I was also an active visitor of Youtube where I watched all contemporary dance videos I could find. But that was mostly trailers and short clips. I only remember seeing one international performance live and that was Pina Bausch’s Agua in the City Theatre. Even though a few teachers travelled to Iceland to teach at the Academy of Arts, my personal understanding of the contemporary dance scene was mostly through the means of secondhand knowledge. It was therefore largely built in my own imagination from fragments and I had to fill in the gaps myself. As I came to Belgium and saw live the performances I had only viewed briefly online before, I realized my own misinterpretation. This type of misinterpretation, or information which gets lost in translation, is common to Icelandic culture. However it is my thesis that this does not diminish its value. Maybe it even gives more artistic freedom? Another person has explained the benefits of secondhand knowledge way better than I try to do. When Björk (yes, the Icelandic singer who makes
everyone shouts out when I say I’m from Iceland, “Oh like Bjooohrk”) was asked about her musical development in Iceland and on the music scene there at the Late Night with Conan O’Brian she answered the following:
2 https://www. youtube.com/ watch?v=oowg0i_ l0tw
“Oh it’s a lot of sort of isolated people who actually know how to control and operate electricity, but uhm, (...) they are kind of isolated and they kind of sneak in and listen to American radio and they kind of like, get sort of what’s going on in Europe as well, and then they kind of, like, misunderstand it in a kind of beautiful way.2” Here I think she really summarizes it, with a bit of irony towards the popular belief that Iceland is still quite underdeveloped (at least before it became a tourism-trend), she somehow explains the way Icelanders relate to the ‘outside’ and how playful they allow themselves to be with the information they gain. A new creation is in a sense already happening there in the transmission itself—through misunderstanding. Secondhand knowledge has been the main means of knowledge-providing in art throughout history. Craft masters had disciples whom they passed their knowledge onto, stories were told in households and then passed on by travelers, folk dances were passed on between people and places and always changing in the meantime. No one can really pinpoint when it was made and who made it. Secondhand knowledge also plays a big role in society in different ways. In religion, for example, it is the most common kind of knowledge passed on, the source is absent and therefore it relies on belief and trust in priesthood, representatives or mediators. In law secondhand knowledge plays a major role in forms of testimony and in interpretations of lawyers and judges. More broadly one can also find this in media reports and other testimonies. Now with the existence of the internet the distribution of knowledge is made easier to all places, considered central or peripheral. It is both easier for unverified knowledge to be passed on but also it is easier to fact check. When it comes to art and dance in particular, this brings another kind of experience of art. We can all agree on that it is not the same to look at a google image of Rothko as to stand in front of a big red painted canvas at Tate Modern. We can all know more, but at the same time somehow less. But this is also a creative process, as the information passed on by the internet is continuously changing between the provider and the receiver—a new form of folk culture is already happening on the internet and without boundaries of nations. The utopia of a verified and objective firsthand knowledge can also quite easily be debunked—well at least when it comes to societal knowledge. We always have some way of
interpreting and understanding any objective and neutral influence in a way that is only related to one’s own personal context and can be argued to always produce secondhand knowledge in the end. The boundaries between the two are therefore not so clear anymore. The international dance scene is filled with different experiences of dance and dance history that have not all been given the same weight in its collective history. I am soon starting a research project where I aim to take from my own experience of both sides: Having lived in isolated Iceland and in one of the biggest dance cities, Brussels. As an attempt to decentralize the hierarchy between the center and the periphery—secondhand knowledge and firsthand knowledge—by giving focus and value to the peripheral countries. In many countries on the edges of Europe, dance has been blossoming for centuries, and like Iceland, each country has its own relation to the international dance history as well as its own history. I want to emphasize how dance knowledge moves between places, gets reinterpreted and re-understood on its way, without being centralized again in the established narrative of Western dance history. All the information and gathered data on the research will be published online, where one can follow it and get another kind of secondhand knowledge about secondhand knowledge.
BIO Rósa Ómarsdóttir is an Icelandic choreographer based in Brussels. She studies at the Icelandic Academy of the arts and in 2014 she graduated from P.A.R.T.S in Brussels. She has made several performances, with Inga Huld Hakonardottir (sjekk hvordan navnene er skrevet tror det er strek over o og a, men min maskin har dritttastatur); Radiodance, Wilhelm Scream and their latest, The Valley. They are now starting s new production for the Icelandic Dance Company. Rosa is also conducting s research project called Secondhand Knowlegde, the first edition will be focusing on the periphery of Europe and in later versions the project will visit other continents as well.
Victoria Cruziana —
t n e v e e v i l e h t as
a performative reality 1 and context
I am among those who regularly visit the Victoria house in the Botanical Garden in Oslo where this giant waterÂ lily grows:
Photo: Axel Dalberg Poulsen / NHM.
Victoria Cruziana2. It is native to the shallow waterways of subtropical South America and blooms only once a year, and then for two nights only. Its floating leaves are circularly shaped and can be until a meter in diameter, with high-rimmed edges and undersides studded with sharp spikes. The flower bud is sized as a grapefruit, and the flower itself can be over 30 cm in diameter. The large flower is a sight at night when it lifts itself above the water surface and unfolds slowly, one petal at a time.
As the flower has countless petals, the unfolding takes time, but when it finally is fully open at midnight, its white floral splendour and scent attracts certain beetles that carry out the pollination; when the flower closes in the morning after its first night, the beetles are kept within its petals all day, but when the flower opens again for a last time the following night, the beetles are let out, fully loaded with pollen, ready to pollinate other water lilies. At this peak, the flower has turned pink and has no more need for new visitors.
Photo: Anne Finnanger / NHM.
Photo: Axel Dalberg Poulsen / NHM.
Over the next hours, the flower head will wither and sink into the warm water where it will rapidly rot and dissolve; because the flower head itself is heat producing and keeps higher temperature than its tropical surroundings, this decaying process will be extremely quick. As a phenomenon, the blossoming of Victoria Cruziana reminds me of the work of performing arts: Where often huge efforts are made in order to unfold events that will exist only for brief moments in time, and often carried out by an extraordinary and not-everyday, heightened state of awareness and presence of the performers involved. You will have to know where and when the event takes place, if not you will miss it. In that case, you can only opt for second-hand descriptions of what was Photo: Anne Finnanger / NHM. set in motion. As an audience, you will normally be invited into a specific and staged situation that sets the framework for what is about to be unfolded. When the situation ends and or you leave it, the work will close behind you. Some material objects and traces may remain and indicate that something took place
here, but otherwise the event as such has disappeared. What remains, like grains of pollen behind the ears, are your memories of what took place. At 6 PM on Sunday 17 September 2006, the performance A Song to Martin ended its run at Dansens Hus in Oslo. In the choreography, I explored loss and grieving through an auto-ethnographic approach to an interpersonal experience brought on from the sudden death and loss of my friend Martin Hoftun who died in a plane crash in the Himalayas in 1992. The choreography was the first part of the trilogy Life & Death and central for the development of my doctoral research project Docudancing Griefscapes: choreographic strategies for embodying grieving through the trilogy Life & Death (2015). By the time of the curtain fall in 2006, this first part of the performance trilogy had been shown in three different countries, but in total, only 10 times. At 6 PM that Sunday, the performance as such was gone. This fact illustrates why documentation in the performing arts, and especially in artistic research projects, is important: it can extend the outcome of the work to more people than the limited audience that happened to witness it live. In this way, more people can engage in a dialogue with choreographic projects despite that they never saw them “live” themselves. Simply by transgressing the temporality, or the theatrical time of the live performance3, documentation can offer important access to choreographic projects that are not any longer presented as live events. Documentation gives us a means to overcome this temporal displacement and to re-contextualize events of the past, and hence, also to reconsider the future—despite the disparate differences that exist between a ‘live’ situation and the documentation of it. What remains when the live event is physically gone, is the various Each performance leaves traces traces of the activity that took place. From looking at the different traces left by the performance A Song to Martin, I identified and organised this material in four different categories of traces:
Visual Each performance leaves traces
From the perspective of being the choreographer-performer here, the embodied material refers primarily to the experiential experiences and insights gained from developing and performing the performance A Song to Martin, while below follows an overview of the material that each of the three other categories contained (the written traces are here split in two, between material on the process and on the artistic event or outcome):
project descriptions presentations correspondance (collaborators) blog fieldnotes
text used in performance
title & subtitle
program news reports
handwritten log articles
advertisements reviews feedback
floor light patterns set-design design conceptual models sketches costumes conceptual visuals models video projected material photo vblog costumes (process) & prop performance documentation Visual traces
press releases flyers
reference material ‘composed’ auditive
in the event
As the figures above indicate, in addition to the embodied traces from developing and performing A Song to Martin, the performance project had produced a rich pool of traces itself: ranging from various and diverse sources of ethnological fieldnotes, including written-, visual- and auditive material, as well as the specific artefacts or objects that had been acquired and used in the performance itself. On the basis of these different ‘traces’, this performance-archaeological material, a ‘something’, an experience of a total reality that existed in time, can be revisited, reflected upon, articulated and transmitted to others who were not there at the time. Despite that the core decisions regarding the production framework of the artistic process and the means used for collecting ‘traces’—source material that documents the event, both are concerns of critical importance,4 I will leave them aside here to focus mainly on the relationship between documentation
in the process
and art.5 Any documentation of a live event in the performing arts can be understood as a mediation or translation into another format; from ‘live’ real time to mediated time. This shift is not only a matter of theoretical concerns, but highly practical. I will give one example of the radical shift and ‘translation problems’ that occurs when a ‘live’ event is transferred to video: Here perspectives and proportions are altered and the viewing situation made radically different Photo: NHM. than in the live event. The camera will steer the gaze of the viewer toward the central activity going on at the expense of the overall texture and complexity of the live event, the artistic work itself. In a multi-camera recording, this tendency is often paradoxically reinforced even though the outcome for the viewing experience as such is improved in the edited video. For example, in the video version the spatial relationship between a dancer and his or her surroundings in the room, or what I refer to as the negative space, will easily disappear. With the term negative space, I refer to the apparent empty or vacant space between a performer and the other subjects or objects that simultaneously are present in a room, and add rich and subtle perspectives to a situation. These delicate and refined dimensions largely disappear altogether in video documentation, unless the protagonist in the main activity in focus directly interacts with or relates to the other people or elements in the room. Especially, the overall impact of having several simultaneous and parallel activities is greatly reduced in a multi-camera recording, because the camera tends to focus on conveying a sense of immediacy and intimate experience of the event at the expense of the subtleties embedded in the total composition. In using a fixed camera with a wide-angle lens, capturing the entire situation of the event, the overall structure of the composition can perhaps be conveyed, but such recordings are on the other hand very hard to watch; especially on ordinary monitors (not cinema sized screens), because everything is reduced in scale to the immaterial. In video recording the live event, the struggle is to balance these various considerations.
Photo: Anne Finnanger / NHM.
Photo: Hege Bye / NHM.
The mediation or translation from a ‘live’ real time to a mediated one also brings about other artistic concerns related to the handling and processing of the documentation material collected. Including, questioning how to address the sheer mass of documentary material accumulated through an artistic process. We already have musicologists, art historians and dance scholars who are specialized in studying and systematizing the outcome of artistic work within the various art genres. As academics, they both have expertise and knowledge on how to analyse and interpret artistic practices and their outcome and place them into a historical and socio-political context. These traditions of scholarly classifications, analysis, and interpretations can academic researchers take far better care of than us artists. However, what we can contribute with through artistic research is to highlight the professional concerns and deliberations made in the artistic work by describing, contextualizing, and reflecting on the emergence and the refinements, the crafting and the socio-political issues that we encountered in the artistic process. Nevertheless, as choreographers, we still will have to handle how to best mediate or translate our live events, and decide what emphasis or extent the preoccupation with documentation shall have in our artistic practice. For me this is about seeing the concerns for documentation, not as not as separate and archival activity, but as an integrated part of our artistic deliberations, as means to extend and kindle our artistic interest and curiosity for all that can be set in motion and dance thanks to our movements. I would like to extend this perspective to what Tracy C. Davis introduces with her notion of “performative time.”6 With it, she questions our understanding of temporality and what a performance is. Through engaging all three temporalities—present, past, and future—in an alternate model for perceiving and writing about history, she exemplifies how a performance or a historical event performatively can have an impact beyond its theatrical or temporal occurrence in time. Theatrical time relates to the duration that defines a performance or event in real time for an audience, delimited by a beginning and an end. Here, “particularities can be recalled, the afterlives of characters can be contemplated, the story may endure, but the audience cannot add to the performance per se.”7 Performative time, on the other hand, invokes another relationship to temporality. For Davis, it operates “as a function of citationality,”8 which is the underlying concept that Judith Butler also used in her explanation of performativity,9 grounded on reiteration and citation.10
Photo: Anne Finnanger / NHM.
Thus, what the notion of performative time enables Davis to do is through citationality to “track the production of perceptible consequences without necessarily warranting an attribution as strong as causality.”11 For Davis this makes performative time “more ontologically complex” than theatrical time with its emphasis on the serial repetition,12 as performative time not only offers “a distinct way to account for people’s location in history,” but also “allows for non-linearity, or non-seriality,”13 which allows for construction of other
and more relationally based, co-emergent temporalities.14 As Davis stresses, “whereas theatrical time has definitive markers, the performance begins, transpires, has convention-bound interruptions, resumes and ends—performative time may reverberate indefinitely.”15 This concept therefore enables Davis to address situations where an event may create an impact, not only on the people involved there and then, but also by transgressing our linear perception of time with consequences into futurity. In A Song to Martin, I similarly addressed how the sudden and violent death of my close friend Martin in 1992 could have an impact that still affected me years later. Her cross-temporal perspective allows me here in this article to conceptualize how artistic works or interventions can rupture the continuum of linear time and transgress their theatrical time frame through entering the economy of circulating representations, while also revealing their failures. In this way, the artistic works (as interventions) may continue to have an impact (cross-temporally) as long as new readers are reimagining them. Like Davis, I believe that the potentiality harboured in “[c]itationality ... complicates Phelan’s contention…that performance is ephemeral,” and opens up to new questions, such as: “What gets to count as citational, and for how long?”16 From this perspective, “performative time calls attention to who has agency to convey history, as well as how evidence for history is generated, and gives a rationale of what, by other criteria, is vulnerable to accusations of missampling.”17 Without going further into historiography, my main point here is to draw attention to how an artistic event or a performance can, in a performative time frame, have a cross-temporal impact, which resembles how a traumatic event can live on in an individual or society as a trauma. After having made A Song to Martin, I began therefore to question my understanding of choreography as a live act. In building on Davis’ claim, based on citationality and the notion of performative time, I believe that a re-citing/re-siting of an artistic outcome can extend the “live” impact of a project beyond its actual temporal performance, as it also allows for nonlinearity and indeterminacy, in parallel to how a traumatic event can return in a flashback and still be experienced as real, like I explored in A Song to Martin. With this, I am hence suggesting, as Davis is doing, that ephemerality does not equal perishability. On the contrary—the ephemerality of a live performance can have an impact, which may change and move us, and leave traces that may resonate repetitively. Through reiteration and retelling, whether through the means of documentation or live witnesses, the event will re-appear, however different, still intrinsically linked to its live appearance, whether as a physical reality, psychobiological sensations, or conceptual challenge. This transformed liveness comes with a loss and a giving, as long as its impact resonates in people, whether first-hand, second-hand,18 or cross-generationally through reiteration.19 Just as one of the paradigmatic characteristics of performance is repetition, it also likewise performs through its repeats. On this background, as choreographers, we are through our re-citing and re-siting, whether we like it or not, participating consciously or unconsciously, though often insidiously, to re/produce and re/circulate embodied attitudes and ideological claims in our performances. The fact that past events can be re-evoked and put their mark on us, whether through traumatic reminders as in the case of trauma, or otherwise, this potentiality calls into question what constitute the present—the live events that shape our future.
Photo: Axel Dalberg Poulsen / NHM.
A postscript: Last time the Victoria Cruziana blossomed in Oslo was two years ago, in the spring. I have never seen this blossoming live. The information and images shown are courtesy of the Natural History Museum (NHM) in Oslo. Though, in spite of only providing documentation of the lily and its blossoming, I would argue that the images still can convey a sense of this event which, when coupled with my re-contextualization of this story and the concept of performative time, comes with another, and perhaps, even poetic layer or dimension. For me this effect illustrates the reasons for owing time to rethink the understanding of documentation, not only as a means of mediation and dissemination but also as an artistic endeavour in itself.
BIO Per Roar is an artist-researcher that in his choreographic explorations combines a social-Âpolitical interest with a somatic approach, based on his composite background from Oslo, New York, Budapest, Oxford, Trondheim, and Helsinki in choreography and dance, performance studies, social sciences and history. Latest seen in his doctoral research Docudancing Griefscapes (2015) in which he explored a contextual approach to choreography through developing choreographic strategies for embodying situations of traumatic grieving, and in the art project seminarium.no
Auslander, P. (1999). Liveness: Performance in a Mediatized Culture. New York, Routledge. Auslander, P. (2008). Live and technologically mediated performance. The Cambridge Companion to Performance Studies. T. C. Davis. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 107-119. Austin, J. L. (1975). How To Do Things With Words. Cambridge MA, Havard University Press. Butler, J. (1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. New York & London, Routledge. Davis, T. C. (2010). Performative Time. Representing the Past: Essays in Performance Historiography. C. M. Canning and T. Postlewait. Chicago, IL, University of Iowa Press: 142-167. Hirsch, M. (1999). Projected Memory: Holocaust Photographs in Personal and Public Fantasy. Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present. M. Bal, J. Crewe and L. Spitzer. Hanover, NH, University Press of New England: 2–23. Jones, A. (1997). “Presence” in Absentia: Experiencing Performance as Documentation.” Art Journal 56 (4, Performance Art: (Some) Theory and (Selected) Practice at the End of This Century): 11-18. Lepecki, A. (2006). Exhausting Dance. Performance and the politics of movement. New York, Routledge. Mendelsohn, D. (2007). THE LOST. A search for six of six million. London, HarperPress. Phelan, P. (1993). Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York & London, Routledge. Roach, J. R. (2007). It. Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press. Roar, P. (2015). Docudancing Griefscapes: choreographic strategies for embodying traumatic grieving in the trilogy Life & Death. Helsinki, Acta Scenica: 44. Full online version at: https://helda.helsinki.fi/handle/10138/157881 (accessed 30.03.2016).
The article is based on “Botany and Artistic research”—a paper I presented at the Winter symposium on artistic research, organized by the Nordic Summer University in collaboration with Tampere University (Finland) in February 2009, as well as Roar (2015).
For more information, see http://www. nhm.uio.no/besok-oss/botanisk-hage/ veksthus/victoriahuset/victoria-cruziana/. The images used in this article are courtesy of the Natural History Museum (NHM) of the University of Oslo. Thanks to Gry Ekrem at NHM, for giving me access to this material.
Cf. Tracy Davis who refers to theatrical time as linear with a definite beginning and end. In contrast to performative time, which transgresses the temporality of the event, like trauma surpasses the traumatic event that caused it. See Davis (2010: 147–167).
Both with regard to methods and ethics, especially related to questions about representation, agency and authorship to mentioned some issues.
This relationship stirs up ontological questions and discussions about the nature of performance, as set forward by Phelan, P. (1993: 144-166), and further elaborated on, for example, by Jones (1997), Auslander (1999, 2008), Lepecki (2006), and Davis (2010: 142-167).
6 7 8 9
Davis (2010: 142-167). Davis (2010: 147). Davis (2010: 149). See: Butler (1993).
10 Davis (2010: 161, 149). Judith Butler derived the concept of performativity from J. L. Austin’s speech act theory, which “foreground ‘performative utterances’ that bring into being the condition they iterate, such as ‘I do thee wed,’ performativity is defined as a reiteration of norms by the citation of them. With the performance, the performer makes the acts; with performativity, the acts make the performer” (Roach 2007: 457). See, also Austin (1975) and Butler (1993). 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
Davis (2010: 149). Davis (2010: 153). Davis (2010: 149). Davis (2010: 150). Davis (2010: 153). Davis (2010: 155). Davis (2010: 161).
18 Cf. the term second-generation survivors, often used in connection with the impact of the Holocaust. See, for example, Hirsch (1999) and Mendelsohn (2007). 19 Cf. the existence of anti-Semitism in Europe.
D A N C E your abstraction
BIO Josefine Wikström is a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University. In her thesis, supervised by professor Peter Osborne, she investigates the concept of performance within contemporary art and from the standpoint of concepts of labour in Marx, Adorno and other thinkers. Josefine Wikström teaches regularly at DOCH and Goldsmiths University. She writes for Afterall, MUTE, Texte Zur Kunst and Frieze and is an associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal Philosophy of Photography.
Dance your abstraction: A proposal for a new concept of performance from some fragmentet thoughts around the concept choreography, performance and abstraction. 1. PERFORMANCE The notion or term performance has, ever since it was introduced in the humanities and social sciences in the postwar period, mainly been understood in relation to a real (actual), material body with behaviors, habits and social heritage. The sociologist Erving Goffmann argued, for example, how our psychological and socially conditioned behavior should be seen as a kind of ‘everyday performances’. The anthropologist Victor Turner emphasized instead how our so-called, ‘urban rites’ best could be understood as a kind of semiotic reverberation, perhaps best known, antroperformance. When the notion of performance were popularization in the 1990s, mainly with the development of cultural theory in general and gender studies more specifically, it became even closer associated with the empirical body, its gender and culture. Judith Butler notoriously tied performance to a political idea on how we make ourselves into subjects. This partly procedural and plastic understanding of the subject’s self-production return in Catherine Malabou’s work in particular in her cross-readings of Hegel and Derrida. Neoliberal
management theories, and criticism of the same, disconnected performance associated with the body’s ability to work. Jon McKenzie for example deconstructed the motto ‘perform or else’ and Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi related post-operaist thought on work as a production of surplus value in connection with the subject’s cultural production of itself.1 New materialists as Jane Bennett or advocates of object related theory such as Graham Harman further confirms the idea of the performative as a process—a performance—in respect of the constant upheaval and transformation of matter.2 The trajectory of the notion performance in the cultural critical theory and philosophy can be made even longer. This shows not least this terms or notions relevance. Despite differences thinkers however share the idea that performance should be considered from an empirical and positivist perspective. In other words: Performance as a body, matter, reality and culture. Performance, somewhat twisted, as stuck in its own mess unable to move. As if performance was not also dance, art, abstraction or choreography.
2. CHOREOGRAPHY The word ‘choreography’ is a Latin transliteration of the Greek term for ‘dance’ (khoreia) and ‘writing’ (graphein).’Choreography’ in the sense of ‘the writing of dance’ was not coined until 1589 when the French mathematician, dance master and Jesuit Thoinot Arbeau used it as the title of his now well-known manual for social dancing. Orchesographie was produced after a request from a law student who wanted
to learn the art of dance and all the social rules around it. The result was a thick book with detailed step-by-step instructions and illustrations of the vast variety of social dances practiced in the renaissance3. Ever since the publication of Orchesographie the notion of choreography, in Western dance, has rested on at least three ideas: first, in Plato’s footsteps, that the written choreography must be understood as a
1 www.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Workerism
2 For an overview of how the concept of performance have developed within different traditions and discourses see: Erving Goffmans The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956), Victor Turners The Anthropology of Performance (1986), Judith Butlers Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990), Franco ’Bifo’ Berardis The Soul at Work: From Alienation to Autonomy (2009), Jon McKenzies Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance (2001), Jane Bennetts Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (2010), Graham Harmans Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (2009) och Catherine Malabous Plasticity at the dusk of writing: dialectic, destruction, deconstruction (2010). 3 André Lepecki, Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement, New York: Routledge (2006), p. 26.
predetermined ideal and that when interpreted by the dancer will always appear as an inferior copy. Secondly, that movement in a choreography always are produced by a human,
and therefore is organic in nature. Finally, that choreography is a visual phenomenon that is experienced by sight.
3. DANCE The obsession with the body and the subject’s material reality in contemporary performance art resonated of early Western modern dance. Its socalled pioneers, Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, Rudolf von Laban and Mary Wigman was driven by premises borrowed from life- philosophy. The movement emanated out of the
soul and the body materiality. Expression was created through this very movement. The subject was everything. It moved or danced itself. It was the materiality of the body that danced. Dance was the body and the subject expressed in a movement towards the future.
4 POST CHOREOGRAPHY?
4 See André Lepeckis Exhausting Dance: Performance and the Politics of Movement (2006) och Bojana Cvejićs Choreographing Problems: Expressive Concepts in Contempory Dance and Performance, London: Palgrave McMillan (2015).
As André Lepecki and Bojana Cvejić have shown the connection between modern dance ontology of body movement was abruptly broken in the 1960s and above all through choreographers active in the 2000s4. The Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen, the Swedish choreographers Mårten Spångberg and Jefta van Dinther and French and Portuguese choreographers such as Xavier Le Roy, Jerome Bel and Vera Mantero disrupted the idea of dance and performance as an unbroken connection between the body and movement. This disjunction has been extended by a younger generation of choreographers Manuel Pelmus, Stina Nyberg and Nadja Hjorton. They all give precedence to choreography over dance through e.g. an entirely black room, the radio or monsters without making dance disappears. The idea that dance should not be seen as an expression of the soul and the constant movement of modernity was already broken in and with John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s collaborations in the postwar United States. Above all it was Cage’s radical approach to the idea of what a musical score is that introduced a new understanding about dance and, perhaps more importantly, choreography. If the musical score before Cage implied an identical relationship between the written (notes) and practice (voice or music) this was renegotiated in the American artist and composer practice into what the
German philosopher Theodore Adorno would call a “non-identical” relationship . The impaired could instead be understood as a transcendental horizon against which practice could work. The sound and the music were always in front, behind, immeasurable and infinite compared to the impaired ideal. When this anarchist idea of the musical score was used by Cunningham to create choreography a similar transformation of the notion of choreography took place. Instead of, as in Arbeau where choreography implied social ideal, a score became a speculative horizon. Choreography in its original sense meant written movement and were linked to modernity’s disciplining of the emerging urban and contemporary subject. With Cunningham and especially with choreographers Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer choreography instead transformed into a radical material practice. Contemporary choreographers Spångberg, Ingvartsen, Nyberg and other mentioned above also uses an idea of choreography based on a non-identical relationship between text and practice, score and dance, ideality and materiality and mind and body. Instructions and ideas of a work is constructed with and through practice. Dance, choreography or performance instead relates through tension through which the work emerge. The performance is not the same as body. The dance is not identical with either movement or the body that creates the
movement. Through disrupting the relation between movement and body those choreographers also broke the causal connection between performance’ relation to the body and empirical reality. They showed that performance is
not (at least not only), behavioral, body, matter and social reality. They showed that performance—in art, dance and choreography—also implies abstract relationship.
5. ABSTRACTEDNESS It is here that abstraction enters the stage. Chore ography is abstract and must be so. Sure, bodies and objects are moving and they are tangible and are in a reality. But it is not an idea of the subject as identical to the movement and the material that creates this movement. It is instead a split between the material and the ideal, body and mind (thought), the empirical and the transcendental, and between the object and the subject that produces the choreography. But what does abstraction mean here? Immanuel Kant was the first philosopher who described the human subject as abstract by its very constitution. Through his well-known Copernican revolution he could assume that the ability of humans to experience something is the result of a dialectical and synthetic movement between our selves and external matter. In order to understand reality we humans abstract ourselves from it. Abstraction is thus the very basis of human experience5. But it is not until Karl Marx that abstraction
and especially the term ‘real abstraction’ gain the meaning that abstraction has in today’s economic reality. This notions does not appear explicitly in Marx’s writings, but are abundantly present throughout his later works such as C apital as his argumemt is “based on capitalism as abstract culture par excellence” as the London based thinker Alberto Toscano describes it6. It is, above all, through the concept of ‘abstract labor’ that Marx emphasizes the creation of the modern subject. Work is, Marx writes, abstract under capitalism. But this must be understood in its concrete reality. We, our bodies with its materiality and energy, producing surplus value measured through time. Our materiality and concrete work thus becomes abstract. It is only through the abstraction of our work—our concrete social reality—as we the subject is established. Labour, its movement and time, the modern experience, can only move forward through abstraction. We dance, one could perhaps say, our own concrete abstraction.
5 For a clarification of Kants concept of experience as abstraction see Peter Osborne, “The reproach of abstraction” in Radical Philosophy 127 (September/ October 2004: 21–26. 6 Alberto Toscano. “The Open Secret of Real Abstraction” in Rethinking Marxism: Volume 20 Number 2 (April 2008), p. 273.
6. PERFORMANCE AND ABSTRACTION What can we make of these sporadic and fragmentary thoughts on the notions of performance, dance, choreography and abstraction? Firstly, I think, with Marx, that we must understand that it is the capital of abstraction which we now live through. It shapes and structures our daily lives. Second, it must be contemporary choreographic practices, from the early 1960s to the present, of course, as abstract art practitioners. Choreographers like Cunningham, Rainer, Le Roy and Nyberg break in their works the identical relationship between the body and movement and instead make it into a non-identical relationship and thus an abstraction. Thirdly, as a consequence of the first two,
this means that the notion of performance that today dominates and that is born out of a vitalistic and materialistic idea-tradition does not have the ability to understand the essence of much contemporary dance, post-choreography, post-dance or whatever one wishes to call it. This requires instead a new dialectical notion of performance that understands dance, choreography, and the bodies and entities who perform them, not only as concrete and empirical things, but also—and at the same time—as truly abstract.
Translated into English by Mårten Spångberg
Branching â€” a
Janne- Camilla Lyster Solveig Styve Holte
Throughout the last months we have met to discuss text and choreography, poetry and dance. The result is this topographic essay “Branching”, a structure composed of points of interest and notes that make visible and proposes different links and relations. Thinking through conversations has developed possibilities to expand the understanding of the other. Thoughts and reasoning create occasions to intersect and entangle; making it in a productive way, easy to loose track of who started and who finished a given reflection. Working with choreography and dance is often carried out in spider-web-like ways of collaborating, treads woven together, and one’s own voice and movements continuously being influenced by others and responding to its circumstances. The pages that follows are an attempt to make a reasoning together, with two singular and at the same time interwoven voices. It is also an attempt to choreograph new relations, a nexus for the reader to continue to find new connections within. Through this, we hope that our initial conversation can continue to open and expand through your reading.
Janne-Camilla Lyster (b. 1981) is a dancer, choreographer and author. She studied at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts, where she is currently an artistic research fellow at the Academy of Dance. Through her artistic research project, called Choreographic poetry: Creating literary scores for dance, she investigates the potential of combining the practices of dancing and writing poetry.
Solveig Styve Holte (b. 1984) works with creating and performing dance and choreography. In her MA work in Choreography at Oslo National Academy of Arts, finished in spring 2015, she explored how choreography could manifest itself in different expression. The work was made up of the book “Lightness: Opningar”, a series of solos for The Contemporary Art Museum in Oslo and a group-piece for Black Box Theatre. Holte has engaged herself in developing existing structures for dance and choreography in Norway through proposing different ways of working together and sharing knowledge.
5 What are others thinking while dancing? 4 poetry as something to attend to, something to participate and engage in; something that can be activated
visibility invisibility unlikeliness 8 Momentum. The moment dance (art) do not have to confirm itâ€™s own existence through identification, i.e. does not have to be recognizable as what we already know as dance (art), a new/other space opens up. A space where dance can let go/drop and not have to be dance, and also let go to being non-dance/postdance/minimal danceâ€”only be dance by power of the fact that we want it to exist as dance regardless of recognition 2 Dance and poetry exist through potentiality, to bypass expectations to create potentiality ref: The moment of performing / a possibility to oppose representation/ oppose analysis 13 Choreography and text can be analysed, translated, subdivided and noted. Text and choreography are both structural and generic capacities compared to dance and poetry as specific, indivisible manifestations and expressions that can only be compared to itself 1 The choreographic as a proposition in language; we are not writing dance, we are writing choreography, we are writing premises, restrictions and potential to let the language or materials exceed the structures it has made up for itself.
6 Can notation be understood as the sum of words, signs and gestures that supports the becoming and performing of a piece?
scores3 ĂĽ to participate4 in a poetic language5, to engage in poesy notation6
choreography 9 10 layers architecture11 landscape12 text13
c reating reality1
3 A score can have generating capacity by approaching movement through the active qualities of language; what changes over time, both the dancer’s movement and what the dance consists of. A score can allow for the audience to trace the dance(r) in time-space-presence, which may contribute to a temporal and material expansion of the dance. I think these are important aspects when it comes to scores; where the text is written from, and what the text is written for, a trusting relationship between the performer and the score, the possibility of trusting something else than my own idea/ thought, and what such trust can lead to. 9 Can text and choreography be read as structural keys; where there exists a relationship of translatability between them in a greater sense than between dance and poetry? 12 A choreographic landscape lets different phenomenon arise side by side. Choreographing a landscape is to let things coexist, be juxtaposed, have temperature, scale and colour. A choreographic landscape exists through the premises of choreography, where a choreographic text can be one premise, but where the landscape isn’t the staging of that text. Using the term post-dramatic in relation to choreography is pointless, as there is no tradition in choreography for the dramatic text. However choreography in itself can be considered a text, a phenomena and a structure that organize phenomenon and events. 7 Moving through space, the body inscribes a path, tracing and leaving traces of a landscape (or some sort of drawing) continuously developing. The landscape is embedded in the viewer’s memory and in the dancer herself; a collection of material and experienced traces of the space, time and dance she has moved through. 11 Choreography and architecture organize events in and through time and space, and can be manifested and adapted to a diverse set of structures and materialities. 10 A choreographic premise changes it’s own condition and hence, what is possible
24 “… a being racing into the future passes a being racing into the past, two footprints perpetually obliterating one another, toe to heel, heel to toe.” Yeats, A Vision
the moment of performing14 14 The moment of performing is in need of facilitation; without facilitation, only expectations and habits will arise and become dominant
15 Can dancing, or seeing dance, be a way to enforce the embedded and temporal aspects of human experience?
attention15 as a tool16 amazement interest18 concentration alertness, vigilance tension astonishment revolt sensation stir
18 To subject oneself to structures in order to reorganize ones daily choreography. To let go of boredom and loneliness, to find structures that are interesting enough to participate in and to keep oneself in a state of attentiveness
20 Can dance be considered as a source for situated knowledge emerging over time?
22 In the abundance of information, the absence of, and the need for a space of resonance becomes urgent.
24 Writing presence into time Writing time into presence
17 This is one of the key questions in the performance practice of the American choreographer Deborah Hay. It calls for and embraces a sort of sensory gaze of the performer—and the question intertwines and expands this sensory gaze in such a way that “outside” and “inside” ceases to exist in the experience of the moment
“What am I attending to?”17
23 The observer who continues to return in one’s own creative and performative work. The objective of creating a moment of performing claiming no attention or recognition from the receiver. To struggle with utopias, to allow oneself to struggle with the utopias
time20 to go back21 19 The dancer’s experience emphasizes the embodiment and temporal aspects at play when we perceive the world around us
resonanc e (c avity/spac e)22 understanding23 timbre
tone solidarity sympathy ear reverberation abstraction c omplianc e
21 Reflections, what keeps coming back. A reflection is moving and often needs to meet a surface, preferable a thing, an event or another person, to exist
16 Dance as an immersed and at the same time open condition; an intensified presence where perception, sensation and reflection is woven into a sensory gaze where the world comes closer and feels like it is experienced for the very first time; where all things potentially have equal significance or impact
28 A shift in perspective is in itself movement 25 The polyphonic is a composition of multiple singular voices or units who still belong together within a greater whole/ unity 30 What may generate a dance? Tasks, restrictions, questions, paradoxes and states… A score can consist of or evoke these elements, and may function as shared material, something to attend, to trust, that can produce friction, break ones habits and patterns. 27 If we understand choreography as a work of writing in a wider sense and the work of performing as an expanded reading of a manifold of moments. A practice of dance and choreography will be a practice of alternating between writing and reading of signs, traces, structures, affects, emotions and attitudes. A language which lets a diversity of forms arise 31 How to develop strategies to protect the time to be together with one’s own work compared to the time one needs to spend to administrate and promote one’s own work, and through that, project the same work into the future one yet hasn’t experienced? How to break or re-define the structures for artistic work so that all the parts of the work can nourish the work? To continuously be in the contemporary or in the future of one’s own work seldom feels to be enriching the work itself 32 “The atomization of labour into practice objects is not so much derived from the need to demystify the mystery of art creation, as it is a symptom of rationalization and accountability of artistic labour. The fact that discourse on creation methods (poiesis) has been overrun by discourse on artistic work (praxis) points that economic rationalization took the place that used to belong to poetic clarity” Sergej Pristas
polyphony 25 the polyphonic polygraphy26 multiwriting inscribe 27 dedicate, carve inscribe space inscribe time format28 formality formal form friction, to think through something30 outline, inscription the non-linear
biotope inflation31 cultural inflation32 the heterogenous33 (non-homogenous)34 the contemporary as a genre 35
sensitivity29 materiality sensibility sensing making sense the non-chronological
26 How to produce a bodily polyphony in the body, between bodies and between what the body at every moment is capable, and its traces which are allowed to leave. A multifaceted writing in between modes of production, structure, method and format.
33 An experience of dance is direct and singular; it happens at a specific moment in time and at a specific place
34 How would we imagine a heterogenic practice in art, a practice that would in itself be incompatible with expectations, funding and the existing markets?
29 Format sensitivity; to practice sensitivity for the format, crossing and contradicting what is already attached to time and space, a practice of continuous removing and displacing. The sensitivity between the format and the work is seldom given attention, since format often is predefined before the work exist, or maybe the work exists in one format, but would have better conditions in another. The potential of being sensitive to the format is to let the format be a premise of choreography that forces upon the work a sensitivity through being out of shape, too big or too small, not looking at itself. While through this producing a sensibility and sensitivity; not fitting to standards, conventions, expectations or ones own ambitions.
35 The paradox of the biotope. How to facilitate the arts and the art field so that it can exist and grow as a singular biotope? So that the field both would be close enough to substantial veins of life, but at the same time far enough away to be out of the pace of the contemporary? How to be â€˜off â€™ without being out-dated or ignorant towards knowledge and community? Like closing your eyes when youâ€™ve got the eye of an eagle, to know, but let one self not know and get lost
a reading practice
I move, the city moves, the Earth as an ecological entity moves, space moves. I never come back in my life-time in the universal scale of movement. Organisms are constructing various relations to their environment; migrating birds come and go, some butterflies wait for the chilly night to ooze away in order to be able to fly, whales move in regard to the warmth of the sea, various creatures hide and come out in the rhythm of the day and night, cold air masses collide with warm ones, the tree next to the house where I live grows, blooms and drops its leaves, my body regenerates, gets older, gets worn out—the effect of the gravity increases. From the cellular level to the cosmology surrounding living condition organizes, takes shapes and exists in a constant movement, which I perceive and onto which I react every moment. I am surrounded and part of the infinite network and sets of moving relations. My life is in permanent motional tangle of perceived, conceptualized and lived, which I am aiming to recognize and structure —not necessarily organize, but to take place in these relations in a way that continuation of my life is possible in re-generative and sustainable way. INTRODUCTION
This writing discusses the question of the relation between the practices of reading and writing when it comes to choreography. My purpose here is to examine the question of the position of a choreographer as a reader based on the on-going artistic experiments, thoughts and experiences within the frameworks of my current artistic research process titled Contextual Choreography. Thus this text is an invitation for further discussions about the topic within choreographic art. I approach reading and writing as modes of knowing that are activated in and with the choreographic practice. I understand both verbs ‘to read’ and ‘to write’ broadly, i.e. that they are intertwined bodily processes instead of separate completed actions. I focus here on the experiences of kinesthetic alertness and bodily responsiveness to the movement, which are the operative sensitivities in the making sense of the sense of the world through choreographic thinking and art.
I have worked as a professional choreographer from 2003 in various frameworks in the field of contemporary dance. In the early years of my choreographic work, I was interested in inventing, creating and making dance-steps, bodily states and dance-moves to be composed on a proscenium stage i.e. to make repeatable choreography as an author who writes movements and composes them as ‘phrases’. These works were meant to be toured in various circumstances as repeatable dance-objects without changing the structure or movements of the ‘piece’. This kind of production-based approach and cultural professionalism in the field of contemporary dance got emptied from its significance after a few years of professional work. I realized that dance as an artistic discipline is just one of the possibilities to explore and process movement and its dis/organization with choreographic thinking. To understand this meant practice-wise an extension out from
the realm of dance in which I experienced that movement was something to be possessed and mastered in order to produce dance. I found this approach insufficient in terms of the choreographic practice that I was interested in. Dancepieces as rehearsed, produced and repeated/ repeatable human-centered artistic forms were not anymore of my interest, but the dis/organization of the movement understood broadly was. As an artist I did not recognize myself anymore as a writer of dance-pieces in the realm of contemporary dance production.
1 When it comes to the dance-notation and reading and writing –practices it would be worth to take a closer look at their relations through translation-studies. There is no space enough now to go into this interesting area.
The starting points for exploring the possibilities of the notion of choreography as a reading practice lies 1) in my experience based on multi-sensory perception that the world is in constant movement and 2) in my attempts to make sense and comprehension out of these perceptions and experiences. With ‘a’ world, I mean here a complex eco-, bio-, geo- and meteorological multiform sphere, which is affected by and in dialogue with the material forces of the human actions and movements. The human body is in movements and motions with non-human moving bodies forming the above-described world. Non-human bodies have a different temporality than my body and some of their movements go beyond of my lifetime. It seems that some of these bodies, for example buildings or my working-table, are stable and cohesive, but according to the new materialist views their material solidity and inertia is just a perceptual illusion (Coole & Frost 2010, 1–36 .) To be grounded and to be surrounded with and among these bodies, my movements are co-created. The quality of the surrounding materiality and movements affect the way I move. The material circumstances perceived in this way makes it impossible to master the movements, but instead I am in various continuous sensory-motor relations with them. Historically to emphasize choreography as writing practice is motivated through its etymology. The development, purpose and aim of the dance-notation -systems affirm this perspective. But the notation is also something to be read in order to know how to move.1 To think of choreography as a reading practice can be motivated with the same historical situation
when it comes to the beginning of the dance-notation. Historical moment of combining movement, place and printed symbol to choreography-writing (Foster 2011, p. 17) can be thought of also as the moment when a choreographer became a person who was supposed to have a skill to read that notation. It is worth to think through the possibilities, which the operational shift from writing to reading generates; especially when choreography has expanded from human to non-human and from everyday dynamics to virtual dimensions. Choreography as practice no longer operates only as a human formal order or superimposition to moving bodies but also a way to examine socio-ecological systems and structures in which human bodies move and in which movement is controlled and regulated with various systems and apparatuses. Choreography operates as a way to comprehend the moving world. This offers new possibilities to choreography, choreographic art and choreographic thinking. The idea of mastering the movement as a starting point for choreographic art is insufficient and rather suffocating. When using the word movement, I mean by it an experiential phenomenon. I perceive movement through lived experience. Movement is how the world is and how I perceive it, including the life and death of the living. For example, when I go out from my working-space and stand in the big crossroads by the Theatre Academy, I listen, watch, smell, taste and sense how the movement is dis/ organized and regulated in the crossroads. A stream of bikers and walkers with various ages and outfits, the rhythm of the traffic lights, various cars accelerating and braking, robust forms of the buildings, a seagull randomly spiraling over the crossroads, the temporality of the growth of the trees in the middle of the crossroads, the breeze of a wind on the leaves and on my skin, breezy air in my nose, variations of colors in the asphalt and the grass, knowledge of standing on earth’s surface moving in space and sense of grounding gravity pulling me onto the tectonic plate come together in a simultaneous dense experience. The density of the experience and the recognition of the multiple simultaneous movement-information are vertiginous. This experience reminds me of the
final scene of Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point2 (1970), in which a singular composed static becomes beautifully decomposed plural in the framed images (in a composed film). Thinking movement as an experiential phenomenon is part of the historical development of ways out from the concept of movement that has prevailed since western scientific revolution. In the scientific perspective the movement is approached with the human motivation to master the outside world with universal physical laws with causes and effects (Parviainen 2006, pp. 15-26.) The desire to rule and control the movement with various technological applications and to perceive movement as an external phenomenon which can be directed prevails, but the art of choreography is a perfect field to bring out alternatives when choreography is understood as a dis/organization of the movements. Movement is thought and conceptualized by various contemporary philosophers as a profound way of being in touch with the world, comprehending, knowing and making sense out of it (Noë 2004 pp. 75-79, Johnson 2007 pp. 19-32, Manning 2009 pp. 13-28) and by various social scientists as a way to comprehend how movement functions in the formation of, for example, the concept of freedom in the lives of kinetic elite and the ones whose movements are constantly repressed (Kotef, 2015, pp. 1–26, Sheller & Urry, 2006 .) From the manifold appearing and definitions of movement, the movement that is in focus here is relational, perceptually multi-sensory and affective, and as such it does not have a clear beginning or end. My interest is in the movement that operates through coupling the individual human body to the larger moving bodies. This means that as a choreographer I do not aim to master the movement in the sense of possessing it in order to dance. That is one of the reasons why the choreographic art that I am articulating is processual and virtual. It can take various material forms in various disciplinary areas. I have let go of the idea that a choreography functions as a construction of, or for, human-accomplished movements and instead I have started to think of choreography as a way to recognize how various surrounding relational movements are continuously formed, dispersed and re-formed, regulated, controlled
and dis/organized. This shift is based on the experiences in which the entanglement of the perception, sense and experience of the world and its movements is not referring to a sense of construction anymore. With this view I contribute to the thinking in which choreography is no longer understood as composing of a linear coherent unity but as processing of simultaneous incoherent multiplicity. Choreography thus is a way to comprehend the world that escapes the logic and practice of construction. From this point of view, choreography as a human artistic activity can be thought of as a processual inquiry of the situation in which the interpretation of the surrounding movement takes place. This inquiry, which entails the re-examination of the position toward movement, I call reading.
2 https://www. youtube.com/ watch?v=x4DhYAT-Feg (accessed 14.2.2016)
As a choreographer-reader I am interested in the material and social conditions of human movements more than movements accomplished by a human body. This inquiry is aesthetic in its core and here choreography as a reading practice can be thought of as a strategy to recognize choreographies that form the mobile planet in many levels and scales, from microscopic to cosmologic. If reading is understood as decoding the written symbol in order to comprehend or make meanings, I can turn my decoding gaze from the materiality of the written symbol toward the materiality of the surrounding and environment. Thus the quality of the reading changes from decoding the printed symbol with the movements of the eyes to decoding the in/organic with the sense of movement. My purpose is not to develop the idea of reading understood as decoding printed symbols but to understand reading as a process, which brings together multi-sensory perception and interpretation of the surrounding movement-materiality. Focusing on the surrounding movement in this embodied decoding, the multi-sensorial input, and processing it, can be thought of as reading, which provokes an awareness that unfolds artistic possibilities. These possibilities can be processed into responsive, emerging writings.
as a relation between the human body and movement could have multiple approaches instead of being defined by the history of writing?
REFLECTIONS It makes a difference to think of a choreographer as a writer or as a reader as well as considering the practice of choreography as reading or writing. As writing this text my fingers are moving in the frames of qwerty –system on the keyboard and my eyes are moving from a written symbol to another in order to activate a linguistic comprehension of the traces that the movement of the fingers on the keyboard leave on the screen. Isn’t this choreography in which writing and reading is literally and simultaneously coupled with the movement? If this writing is considered a choreography then the movement of the eyes is needed to perform it. What could the shift from the writer to a reader mean in contemporary choreography or more broadly in the realm of art? What could that choreographically generate when the human centered perspective is displaced to object-oriented or geo-centric? What are the lines, marks, symbols and signs to be written if movement is not to be mastered?
With this short introductory I would like to invite choreographers and colleagues to discuss how choreographic art could contribute to the paradigm shift from the choreographer who masters the movements as a means of human-centered construction to the choreographer who disengages him/herself from the mastery and couples him/herself with the complex multi-directional relationality of surrounding movements that form the conditions for organic selfhood. The inquiry is open for further developments. In order to acknowledge and recognize the simultaneously unfolding multidirectional movements I can think of choreography as a reading practice, which locates and offers a place to my body in the surrounding movement-mesh (Ingold 2011, pp. 63-65, Morton 2010, pp. 29-38.) With the help of environmental philosophy, human geography, ecology, geology, astronomy, biology and mobility studies to name the few from the fields of Humanities and Natural Sciences, choreographic art contributes to the thinking of our place on this planet. Reading happens through lived recognition of movement patterns and through parsing them in relation to the moving human body. At the same time, this inquiry can be a poetic choreographic interpretation of the social-material situatedness of the body.
In the dark sci-fi scenario the movement of the planet Earth will be stopped with military technological applications as an ultimate power display. But before this end happens, what could be the life-generative place-taking and artistic act within and what could that aesthetic process produce? What are the sensitivities, skills and abilities that a person who can be called a choreographer needs, develops and shares today? Should the discipline of choreography be re-named in the art-academies for example to the direction where choreography understood BIO
Simo Kellokumpu is a choreographer and a doctorate candidate in Artistic Research in the Performing Arts Research Center at the Theatre Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki. His on-going artistic research –process Contextual Choreography focuses on the relations between the notions of choreography and context. The research process has been shared as artistic proposals, performative lectures, presentations and workshops in places such as Reykjavik Dance Festival (2014), Cité International des Arts, Paris (2015), The Research Pavilion in Venice Biennale (2015), CARPA the fourth colloquium on Artistic Research in Performing Arts (2015) and Senselab, Montreal (2016).
REFERENCES :—Introduction from The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities, ed. Peter Adey, David Bissel, Kevin Hannam, Peter Merriman, Mimi Sheller, Routledge, 2014. Casey, S. Edward: The Fate of Place: A Philosophical History, University of California Press 1997. Coole, Diana & Frost, Samantha: New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency and Politics, Duke University Press, 2010. Foster, Susan Leigh: Choreographing Empathy —Kinesthesia in Performance, Routledge 2011. Ingold, Tim: Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, Routledge 2011. Johnson, Mark: The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding, The University of Chicago Press 2007. Kotef, Hagar: Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governancies of Mobility, Duke University Press, 2015. Kwon, Miwon: One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity, The MIT Press 2002. Manning, Erin: Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy, The MIT Press 2009. Massey, Doreen: For Space, Sage Publications, 2005. Morton, Timothy: The Ecological Thought, Harvard University Press 2010. Nancy, Jean-Luc & Barrau, Aurélien: What’s These Worlds Coming To?, transl. Travis Holloway and Flor Méchain, Fordham University Press 2015. Noë, Alva: Action in Perception, The MIT Press 2004. Parviainen, Jaana: Meduusan like: Mobiiliajan tiedonmuodostuksen filosofiaa, Gaudeamus 2006. Sheller, Mimi & Urry, John: The New Mobilities Paradigm, Environment and Planning A, volume 38, pp. 207–226, Sage Journals 2006.
The art of making space for
Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness
Is structure something that exists in the world, something that is already everywhere and that we try to uncover or notice? Or do structures actually not exist at all and we just construct them in our minds? If we construct them that means that structures are subjective matters. I construct them on the basis of my own logic, the way I function or think, from the sizes that stand out as the most clear to me. Structures are a question of negotiation. We construct them to be able to handle the chaos that we call reality, as a tool to achieve a certain overview, so as to be able to mess things up in the right places. Can we then imagine that structure belong to the reader, the receiver that uses them to take responsibility for their own reception and the possible influence the work might make upon them? In that case the structures that we use need to be subject to updating and contextualizing. Then there is no eternal structures, only an eternal process of survival, where we try to not become victims of our own confusion. I think through dichotomies to be able to think beyond dichotomies, to evert them and show how something allegedly stable and constant is actually subject to eternal negotiation. We cannot isolate a quality from all other qualities. Everything is in relation to each other all the time. I go to theory, not to legitimate my own thinking about my artistic practice, or constitute this thinking within something already established and approved. But some theories give resonance, they confirm suspicions and support my own reflections.
clarity is always a matter of time nothing is a problem understanding is a feeling this is as far as the thought extends the marking of an outside
I find resonance within literary theory. The line of structural thinking that keeps me company can be traced back to the linguist Ferdinand DeSaussure. In the beginning of the 20th century he introduced the thought of language as a system of signs, where the signs are arbitrary in their relation to what they denote, but then they become conventions in our practice of practice.
TheÂ words, the signs, are not formed based on their meaning but to be different from the other signs. The origin of the words are thus based on the principle of differentiation, and they operate in a system that uses differentiation to create its parts. This principle is not only used to separate words from each other, but to separate different meanings from each other, on the basis of the notion that form and meaning cannot be separated. The form, the word in itself, is called signifier and the meaning is called the signified. A signs meaning, the signified, is however not an object that exists out in the real world, but a concept, a category created by us. In practice we of course use these concepts when dealing with specific objects, the concepts then get concrete referents out in the real world. Meaning is made possible by every sign being different from all the rest, but also through the structureâ€”through the relations between the signs that make up a language.
I miss out on language as I let the body get too far ahead I dance to avoid losing myself in thought I want to think with my hands behind my back
Roland Barthes develops this theory further at the end of the 1950s in France, and uses it as a method to analyze all kinds of cultural phenomenons; every activity gets picked apart down to its smallest parts, that can be understood as the signs that makes up this specific structure. Then we look at how the different signs achieves their meaning from their difference from and relation to all the other signs. This cultural structuralism is called semiotics or semiology. Poststructuralism is both a continuation and an undermining of structuralism. Structuralism never really explores the consequences of this gap between language and the world. Poststructuralism however internalises the fact that we are only able to say something about language through making use of language. In this respect there is no outside of language. There is no objective point of view from where we can describe something that we are not a part of ourselves. We are all tangled into language. All structures we may discover are in danger of being subjective projections, rather than objective presences. Language is fundamentally unreliable. There is not one single word that is the way it is because it couldnâ€™t be another way, that is directly tied to its referent out in the real world. No words are therefore stable or fixed in time. And because the meaning, the signified, in every word is a product of differentiation from all other meanings, this meaning will never be pure. In its
relation to all other meanings it is also contamined by them. A meaning will in this respect always carry with it all other meanings that functions within the same structure, have them present within it. All word have traces of other words in them.
I feel things that aren’t there until my soul begins to flutter the ideas that frame us all in everything I take in becomes part of me the emansipated question to stand there, without an answer
The process that gives words their meaning never stops. Every word achieves its meaning through the words that came before and the words that will follow after it. In this way meaning is also subject to an eternal process of exposure. The meaning will necessarily be changed over time, potentially from one moment to the next, through among other things to be repeated in different contexts. Language never offers final meaning, but it is not completely vague either. It’s more like language swings between decided possibilities. Everything we say needs for us to add something, and even what we add needs for us to add some more. We are in this way not only part of a structure, but we are part of overlapping structures. A text has no end, but is rather an eternal network that spreads in all directions. However, there are means that any text uses to appear as closed and stable in our presence, despite us now knowing better. These measures are what deconstuction, Jacques Derrida’s method for reading texts, aims at revealing. Any text constructs centres of meaning that stop the potential never-ending flow of meaning. And the moment we have a centre we also have a periphery or a marginal area. These makes up an hierarchical structure, where the centre is put above the marginal. These hierarchies take shapes as binary opposites, and the text uses these to achieve stability and create order. These opposites are often quite difficult to come across, also because most of the time only one of the poles are mentioned explicitly. Binary opposites are not only in an oppositional relationship but are also mutually dependent on each other to exist in the first place. We cannot have light without darkness, because we wouldn’t know what light was without the concept of darkness.
Any value contruction is also only temporary, relative and contextual, the binaries are in themselves neutral, it is us that add the colour of value to them. to cancel all expectations to fascilitate others imagination to confront all certanties to hold on to two different things, one in each hand insisting on not letting any of them go to get lost on purpose trust that we will return
In the text Sorties Helene Cixous address that thinking through dichotomies is really the fundament of all western thinking. She focuses especially on the fact that all the dichotomies can be placed underneath an executive one, namely the one between man and woman. The masculine (and all the qualities/ phenomenon we associate with masculinity: activity, culture, rationality, light and so on) is always placed above and dominates the feminine (and passivity, nature emotionality, darknessâ€Ś). Poststructural thinking both borrow from and contribute to thinking within the fields of feminism, queer theory, postcolonial theory and marxism. Within these traditions thinking focusing around structures is used with the aim of making visible and challenge or take down hierarchies of power in our society. Structural thinking can in this respect be about making other voices than the dominate ones heard, to let also marginalised and oppressed groups in society have influence and power of definition, so that their take on and experience of the world also counts. A good question to ask is what set of values follows or motivates a way of thinking? Is the goal to achieve more power? And if this is the case, from what position, from an oppressed or privileged position? What about the art, do we use this way of thinking to confirm and reproduce or challenge and take down former aesthetic regimes?
we switch worlds we switch words definition creates space this word is a universe
What sizes do we place these dichotomies in? Do we think the dichotomy man â€”woman distributed between individuals, or do we think the scale between man and woman as existing within each individual? This change in format gets huge consequences. A potentially oppressing practice can in this way be transfromed into a potentially emansipating practice. A practice that reduces and simplifies can through changing the size format we are thinking through become a practice that fascilitates complexity. In artistic processes I use this scaling within the work, when I come across dichotomies that appear every now and then. In stead of considering if the work should contain the quality of lightness or of heaviness, I am thinking that both qualities, and the whole scale that they set up for us, are present in the work. Then I try to figure out in which aspects of the work I want to place the different qualities. With all the different elements, expressions and disciplines we have at our disposal in the performing arts this method can get huge consequences for the performance in the making. It opens up to increasingly acknowledge the complexity a work contains, as a product of a complex reality. The question is no longer light or heavy, but where to place the heaviness and where the lightness?
the everlasting paradox I tidy up to make space for the chaos the moment I get an overview of the landscape I find the right spot to make myself fall
Any quality also contains its opposite, becomes itself through its relation to its opposite. All things become themselves through their relation to all other things. In a thematic approach to an artistic work I will therefore not place the phenomenon I want to focus on in the foreground of every tool or element I have access to. The phenomenon will stand out with more clarity if its opposite also is present, this way the spectators can put it up towards and see it in relation to something else. This approach deals with subdivision. In the same way as in musical notation we must construct landscapes made up by different sizes that we relate to. Through the use of whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eighth notes and sixteenth notes we get access to the whole specter that makes up the musical universe. In any artistic work it is about finding the sizes that gives me the most information about my work, this way it gets easier for me to place all the things in relation to each other.
Structural thinking as an artistic method is for me an analytical practice, it is about cleaning up your own (or possibly others) mess. At the same time the wish to both allow and fascilitate complexity is strongly present. I donâ€™t want to shed a light on everything all the time, but to also let certain things be left alone. I want the work to also contain dark corners where even I do not know what is going on. The satisfaction by tidying and messing up is just as big. The need to understand and to not understand is equally there. Everything is both true and not true at the same time. I need the analysis, with its direct involvement with the matter it deals with, just as much as I need the intuition with its indirect and circling way of being.
orbital in its approach specific in its sensitivity intimate in all formats sensitive towards all sizes familiar with risk
Structural thinking as an artistic strategy is about expanding my work as a producer of an artwork or art experience to also involve me receiving my own work, reading or experiencing my own work. To do this I use tools developed within aesthetic theory, which is based on a receiver competence and position. I create on the basis of my own experience as a spectator, through switching between producing and reading what it is that Iâ€™m producing. Through this approach the dichotomy between producer and reciever, between artist and spectator is undermined. In the same way as the role of the spectator is incorporated into the job of a producer, the receiver is partially creating their own experience of the artistic work in the moment they receive it. It is interesting how this way of thinking deals with time. The shift from finding one (and only one) complete truth to fascilitating a neverending line of revelations. A text or a performance understood as open and eternal, as something that is created again and again. These statements resonate with and support experiences from artistic processes. The complex and compound does not only exist in a spatial matter but also in a temporal one. Everything is always already undergoing an everlasting process of update. I make different priorities during a process to be able to place and define my work to a certain
extent. But these priorities are all the time subject to evaluation. In this respect any artistic process always deals with a practice of temporary hierarchies. This text, like all texts, makes use of dichotomies to appear as coherent. The moment the words get typed they transform from potential to manifestation. They land somewhat safely as themselves and not as any others. But this landing is temporary, as you start reading the text you also open it up. You make the words realize that they contain so much more than just themselves. Their infinity becomes visible, and like this it just goes on and on.
the dialogue between the potential and the actual potential is always applicable to give yourself consequence your words rupture in me language is keeping me company we cover each other floating out sideways we are each otherâ€™s continuation
BIO Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness (b. 1987) is based in Oslo and is educated in dance and choreography from among others School for New Dance, at the moment sheâ€™s studying aesthetic theory. She works as both performer and choreographer and has done several productions, where the relationship between dance and poetry is a main interest. She also writes, organizes discursive events and is the editor of the webpage framtidsdans.no, a platform for writing as a choreographic practice, where dance artists share reflections from and regarding their artistic work.
Structural thinking as an artistic strategy
Sonya Lindfors and Mai Veronica Lykke Robles Thorseth / Leo Preston were contacted and interviewed by Ann- Christin Berg Kongsness on the basis of their specific contributions (that can also be seen as challenges!) to infrastructure within the field of dance and choreography in respectively Finland and Norway. They have answered questions regarding structural thinking as an artistic strategy with their roles as both artistic, curatorial and administrative actors as a starting point. Sonya Lindfors
I am a choreographer, an artistic director and a teacher and in all these different roles my work deals with questions of power and power structures. I guess I’m always trying to find ways to create space (both physical and mental) and shake or break existing (power) structures or at least make them visible. For me choreography is an art of relations. Performers, spaces, ways of being, aesthetics, ideologies, movement, objects… things in relation to each other. So I feel understanding structures and systems is crucial. Our lives, this world is full of adjacent and overlapping patterns, structures, rules and rhythms. So my values, dreams and motivations are in relation to the societal systems I am living in. The so called “artistic freedom” actually isn’t that free. It has structures. Or rules. Eg. I’m working in a specific context (Finnish white western post-modern art tradition in an European capital), I have a certain education, certain resources and certain people around me. All of these things alongside many others are affecting my choices and motivations. So these structures, canons, traditions, systems and constructions are limitations against or with which I’m working with. Actually it’s interesting to question which choices or ideas actually are ours? Does actual artistic freedom really exist or is it the system telling us what kind of ideas to think and what kind of art to make? What I’m trying to say is that my motivations and values are affected by the structures I work in.
The platform UrbanApa was created in 2010 as a response to many needs. We wanted to have a platform where we could try out new concepts and working methods. We were tired of working alone and being uninspired. We wanted to have a community, more artistic freedom, more fun, more sharing, but less production pressure. We wanted a platform where we could change, grow and evolve. The Finnish art scene consists of big art institutions, production and theater houses, museums and schools, which are guarded by “gatekeepers”. If you don’t have the right education/background/style/aesthetics/brand/ friends/gender/nationality/language some of those institutions are hard to access. So one could say that the Finnish art scene feels quite exclusive. Probably because Finland is so small we seem to have a lack of small, independent, radical or anarchist platforms, groups and collectives that would truly challenge the existing system. In Finland there is only one art institution that gives university level education in dance and choreography. The BA is in contemporary dance and it’s taught in Finnish. So the system is per se exclusive. So if you are for example a street dancer without contemporary training it will be harder for you to get into the education system, get a grant, get a production place, enter any of the art institutions or get a job as a performer/ choreographer. If or when you get a job it will probably be by a choreographer who doesn’t have your background, but has an education and access to some
resources and spaces. So basically the choreographer will benefit from the background /skills that prevented you from entering the institutions in the first place. So that is basically reinforcing the unfair power structures. Knowledge is power. So by sharing knowledge, choreographic methods, to artists from different backgrounds we give them tools to eventually have access to resources and make their own work. So back to us. We, a group of young artists, decided to build a platform that was inclusive, that didn’t have gatekeepers telling us who could enter, what was good or valuable art and what was not. We started by using resources of existing structures but we refused to “play by the rules”. By trying to re-negotiating questions like what is an art institution, what is choreography or who get’s to decide what is valuable art we were challenging the existing system. Six years have past, so the platform has changed quite a lot (… and hopefully it will keep changing in the future.) But here goes, a fictional set of UrbanApa’s structural strategies (in 2016): SHAKE / BREAK / RENEGOTIATE / HIJACK / BORROW CREATE SPACE WITHIN EXISTING STUCTURES (mental, physical, artistic etc) SHARE EVERYTHING (power, knowledge, resources, duty, work, space, dancing) COLLABORATE WORK TOWARDS INCLUSIVITY KEEP IT LIGHT AND SIMPLE MAKE SHIT AND DIAMOND CHANGE, GROW AND EVOLVE IF THE STRATEGIES DON’T WORK BREAK THEM AND MAKE NEW ONES Curating has always been difficult for me. Curating is always including certain people and artists and excluding others. I don’t want to become the gatekeeper. For me curating is very close to choreography. Similarly to choreography as an artistic director/ curator I’m trying to facilitate a platform where different artists, pieces, aesthetics and practices come together, meet,
negotiate and resonate. Together these different artists and elements become more than a sum of their parts.
redistributing and sharing power and resources we can shake the existing system.
production places, but still works long hours in multiple projects for free or a small fee.
We are living in a hierarchical capitalist system where some have more (resources, opportunities, privileges) than others. The system is inherently unfair. So in order to make the world a bit less unfair, we need to first understand how the current system and the microstructures inside it work. By
Secondly I think that the neo-liberal capitalist logic is not the logic of art. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Still many of my colleagues are exhausted. It seems that the 21st century artist is well educated and international, constantly creating, collaborating, networking, constantly applying for grants, residencies,
I guess I am asking myself what probably every artist is asking—how can we make being an artist more accessible, more sustainable and less draining. At the moment collectivity, solidarity and sharing are the best solutions I have found.
Mai Veronica Lykke Robles Thorseth Leo Preston
V In my opinion my structural thinking is political and essential both for my own, and for other peoples integrity, for freedom, development and power distribution. The aim is to uncover abuse of power, to find alternatives and promote more collectivism and solidarity. There is also the task of protecting art’s position as an explorative entity, not merely a commodity or a channel of expression. The respect for difference and a development towards a different economy is essential, not only concerning capital, but also in a broader sense. I’m very skeptical of the patriarchal structures that many of our mindsets are build upon, and I have made it my task to search for different mindsets, with the goal to move boarders and restrictions inspired by these. There’s much that might be hard to discover, and to dare to challenge, that’s why being alert, sensitive, brave and critical is an important attitude and a conscious position in dealing with my work. L «I have a “life project” which is still based on ideas that I started thinking about in my early 20’s (probably even before that). It’s a project with multiple levels, so some things have already been achieved, and the hardest levels are so ambitious that they would probably seem ridiculous if I were to explain them in detail. Basically I would like to develop a combination of cultural and physical infrastructure that supports an inquisitive lifestyle where people control their own resources as much as possible, and where dichotomies are less pronounced between work and
recreation, commercial and experimental etc. People talk a lot about the creation of knowledge through art, but to really develop and share knowledge properly you need a community and you need experience. V One’s structure is maybe an expression of ones attitude. I often think of how I, and others experience different structures, both abstract, physical, social, big structures and small detailed structures. I compare structures. Structures that are distinctive for certain occupational fields, how structures have led to milestones or historical events in my own area of work, and how projects are structured. To me, within the projects that I am involved in, structural thinking happens automatically in relation to the desire for something to happen, or for this something to happen in a different way. Wrap arts centre was established by Leo Preston and Veronica Thorseth in Bergen in 2003 and is an independent production centre and a catalyst for new models of collaboration across various artistic fields. The centre offers a wide and flexible selection of facilities for artists and groups that need professional working spaces for a reasonable price during intensive production periods. The facilities cover wood- and metalwork, music, film/video/animation, photography/graphics, dance/theatre/ physical and electronics. Wrap is run by professional artists, technicians and producers. As active continuously, these people are in close contact with the art field and facilities develop the risk taking and the concept through experience from their own and others art projects. Since Wrap is a project that operates with prices that are compatible with independent artists
realistic budgets and situation of production this enables artist to go through with very ambitious projects. This often involves experimenting and risk taking—which again contributes to new discourse and new development.
L Wrap is the place were I develop my skills within various artistic disciplines, and as we both develop our skills, we develop the facilities. Sometimes someone points out that we should have a new piece of equipment, or consider other new factors, but most of the time we are observing how different people work, and how different projects come together, and we develop Wrap based on our own understanding of what is called for. All the facilities at Wrap are based on skills that we have ourselves, and projects we have been involved in ourselves. To develop as an artist I think it’s essential to share ideas and approaches with others, this kind of thing happens very naturally at Wrap, because we’re happy to share from our own broad range of experience, but we’re also very interested in how other people work. I think this has been an important element in the success of the project, because people feel that there is a kind-of user’s support community connected with Wrap. At the same time we’re careful to give people the space and autonomy to work on their own projects with their own collaborators, without imposing any demands. If you like to protect your own trade secrets then that’s up to you. V Wrap is possibly both a practical,
technical, political, social and artistic project. Our inspiration and background comes from squatting communities in London and Berlin in the 90s. A Do It Yourself-culture with lot’s of freedom and creativity tuning into thinking broadly and outside the box, also when it came to structure and interpersonal relations. A sense of community and a culture of sharing was also an important part of it all. The networks in Norway were different, and renting your own working space was very expensive. When we first started Wrap we didn’t pay any rent, Leo found a building that we could rent for 0,– and we fixed up the building ourselves and with voluntary help, this way we could make sure that content and good equipment was our number one priority. Kunstikit was a dogma project initiated by Wrap in the period from 2010-2012. The starting point was 30 identical kits, each consisting of 12 artistic works supplied with three dogmas. The kit was designed by 10 artists from different disciplines and 2 scientists. The aim was to put together a kit that reflected something of the breadth of Norway’s arts scene at that moment. The commissioned works in the kit were made with a common starting point in mind, which the artists could interpret freely. An open call was announced and workshops dealing with the concept were arranged. 26 different performing artists and groups then created new performances by using the kit with the supplied dogmas. The performances couldn’t be defined in advance, as the basis of the project was the meeting between the performers/performance makers and the kit/dogmas, and what this resulted in. Several performances were shown together as series, in batches over two days, so that the audience where able to experience the diversity. The kit was displayed at each venue, to simulate the experience of meeting the kit for the first time. An art-theoretical program, relating to the project was presented at all the venues -in Oslo, Bergen, Trondheim, Stavanger and Tromsø.
L As Wrap grew, it became more and more clear how beneficial it was to see how different artists approach their work, and how important it is to be part of a creative community. Kunstikit developed out of the wish to highlight these simple observations. Norway has the established trio of programming theatres in Bergen, Oslo and Trondheim (BIT Teatergarasjen, Black Box
teater and Avantgarden), which have been important in spreading an awareness of contemporary performing arts, and to an extent creating an audience community, but we felt that there was much less of a production community than there could be, and we thought Kunstikit could play an important role in improving that situation. V Through Kunstikit we wanted to offer challenges, create meeting points between different fields and create something that was quite huge, unpredictable and ambitious. Something that could challenge both us, the institutions we were collaborating with (most definitely the Arts Council), and the artists. We also wanted this project to embody (as much as we could manage) a democratic process. People should be able to create whatever they wanted, this went for both the creators of the KIT and the performers, everyone had to follow the same rules, and was offered the possibility to show their work in all venues. During a discussion I seem to recall Leo saying that our field was in need of more movement, we talked further about creating a project where the premise basically was more challenges, more discussion and more risk taking. How to give challenges that are interesting and that enable development beyond ourselves? What is taken into account, what is not, and why? We were also curious about what was to be found out there. L The structures we developed behind Kunstikit were utopian rather than practical, and in fact that’s pretty much how we like to work—start with a mind experiment where you imagine what the ultimate outcome would look like, and then do everything you can to find appropriate solutions and collaborators. It might sound like quite an obvious approach, but I think most people are actually quite strongly influenced by existing structures of funding, production and presentation, so that they take certain things for granted and avoid ideas that might go against the sensibilities and logics of programmers or funding committees.
V In my experience the restrictions and possibilities that structure offer feed each other, and create new possibilities and restrictions when they meet. An ongoing process, where (artistic) dialogue with oneself is part of the work. In my experience, structures can open up for unexpected developments of content and material, and vice versa. Material and content might become a hindrance for structures, and become non relevant because of lack of structure(s) and structural thinking. I also think these relationships within a work are deeply intuitive and personal. Ones experiences, eagerness, and moral meets fantasy, personality and creativity. One already has a lot internalized through ones daily practice and experience, both mentally and physically, that one doesn’t necessarily want to, or is capable of being analytical or conscious about, but that still contributes a great deal (presence, dynamics, vulnerability, humour, response).
BIO Sonya Lindfors is a Helsinki based choreographer, performer, curator and artistic director. She has been working freelance on the Finnish art field since 2001. Lindfors is also the founder and artistic director of UrbanApa art platform(www.urbanapa.fi). Both in her work as choreographer and artistic director Lindfors deals with questions of power, authenticity, inclusion and exclusion. At the moment Lindfors is busy with the themes of blackness, cultural appropriation, bad girls practice and fakeness. Leo Preston is co-founder and artistic director of Wrap, in Bergen. As a performer and multidisciplinary artist he has worked with companies such as Mundo Perfeito (PT) and Non Company (NO) as well as creating several performances with his own company. He is also known as a lighting designer with groups such as Happy Gorilla Dance Company (NO) and Deep Blue (BE) and as a sound engineer and video artist. Mai Veronica Lykke Robles Thorseth is co-founder of and works with Wrap, she’s also a dancer and artist, alias thud! moving endangered spaces. She’s educated from Laban Centre (GB), University of Bergen, Academy of Art and Design in Bergen and Wrap. Works as curator, performer and artist with dance installation and endangered spaces—space as both a physical place, situations and incidents.
My name is Stina Nyberg and I have a bad eye sight. I hear bad on my right ear and inside of it is a wound that keeps bleeding because I keep scratching it. I have a slight scoliosis, which means that my spine is making a curve in the wrong place, and one of my legs is longer than the other. I have rosacea, a skin disease that makes my face blush when I get hot or cold or drink red wine or do anything else that might upset my face. Every now and then the pH status of my vagina gets out of balance and then it starts to smell pretty bad. I have a phobia of seeing blood, especially in the cinema and particularly if it is including slow violence against genitals. I faint real quick if that happens. I have a low blood pressure. I still have braces on the inside of my upper teeth. This is me and some of my flaws. Here I am two nights before a deadline of a publication, writing down a trail of thought about how creativity is making me sick, and how maybe I don’t mind that. At a kitchen table, in someone’s apartment that is rented for me through a friend of the producer at the theatre which I am currently working at. I am a choreographer, seated in front of this computer screen, eating granola as if it was candy because I am too tired to go out and get some real candy, and trying to think creatively about how to write. I think that I am getting a cold. Are the days past in which the melancholic, hysterical or hypochondriacal are considered artistically productive? Has creativity become such an integral part of contemporary, western, capitalist life that my individual creativity has become too big of an economic asset for me to leave it out of work? And if creativity has become the norm in my work, can sickness and disorders be interpreted as healthy symptoms? My work as a choreographer is 50% creativity and 50% management. The sad thing is, usually management comes first. And with management I mean all the things I do in order for the creative acts to take place within more or less paid working hours. It is the phone calls, the emails to collaborators, the writing of applications, the calculating of budgets, the reports for the unemployment agency, the reports for
the funding institutions, the technical specifications for the theatres, the presentation for the board of the touring network. All of that. However, if I do not manage to organize myself and others as to set up an economic structure, a time and place for things to happen in an organized way, I never get to creativity. (I wonder if the other way around, starting with creativity, would simply leave me out of the financial system.) I am creative in a lot of things that I do in life, but as soon as I start to tell people about it, they tell me that I could get a grant for it. And I buy it. And I apply for the grants. And I manage my artistic life over and over again. The hunt for further and further creativity, the many years of investigation into method and procedures for creating work, the strategies for more or less intuitive dancing, the doing nothing in an interesting way, the reoccurring talk about how everything I do—from talking to drinking to reproducing—is already capitalized upon and creativity is the motor that spins the wheels too fast until I will crash into the wall and get burned out. All of this. All of this. I hear this and I sometimes believe it and it makes me think harder on how to create outside of creativity as we know it, and I start to get really fed up with it. And then, the critique of criticism of capitalism and the fear of political depression and apathy. Understanding that this description of life, a description leaving no space for something actually new to happen and where
creativity is a bad word, can function passivating. No space for resistance. No need for action. And so I start to think, how can I exercise my way out of political passivity caused by obligatory capitalism, by an embodied capitalism, by self-control? How to un-control myself ? So I go to the gym. My curl-ups becomes a symptom of the self-controlled creativity-demand that always keeping me in the realm of the potential, knowing that I can always, in all ways, get better and that I am never, ever enough. So people get fit. We get politically fit. And the artists keep working. I, the artist, keep working. I make up a movement therapy against passivity. I construct a somatic practice for having emotions. I make a deskercise training for workers. I am creative nevertheless, and I know how to be critical to creativity, so I am a bit depressed myself. But I am also funded, because being critical and creative is rewarded. So I am fine, really, I have an apartment, a partner and vacations that are not paid but that are for free. Because I have a friend in Barcelona. This is where I keep writing, hoping that I will write myself out of what I already know. And so, through movement therapy and critical reflection I realise that being sick is completely normal. It is the most reasonable reaction to the current state of being. I think, well, if the current state of life is shit then maybe being sick is a sign of health? Sickness as a means out of society as we know it. And I start to look at myself and others with our diseases and illnesses and laziness and symptoms and try to think that here, in the unfit, I can rest. And I rest for a few minutes, finding a distant comfort in the outsiders nest. But I get disturbed by the unsettling feeling of being far to well to have any idea about how it really feels to be sick. There is nothing romantic in being ill, nothing cool in being sick. Being sick hurts, sometimes it even kills, and besides that, other people find you really disgusting. There is no social acceptance of bodily fluids flowing from places where they ought to be contained. And inside, somewhere inside, there is a small doubt that there is something bizarre in this turnaround. There is something bizarre in spending so much hard work to get to the point where I can be creative only to serve a constant demand of creativity and then
to turn away from it only to find myself rather uncomfortably joining the laziness appraise. Is being sick really a great place to be in? Sure, in that place it is not creative (there is nothing inventive creative that can be capitalized upon), no potential (no one believes in you and you are not a promise of a future to come), no self-control (because the cancer controls you), but what is it? Besides what it is not, what is it? I find myself again, following the line through a long history, balancing myself on a dichotomy between polarized zones. The sick and the healthy. The active and the passive. And when the demand for compulsory health, for potential, wellness and fitness, became too much for me, from my critical viewpoint all I could see was the other side, it was sickness. I am only able to see from the point of describing myself from the point of already being well. But we are not born healthy, we become healthy. Being healthy is not a natural state from which we fall in despair or distance ourselves from with the help of critique. We were not healthy then and we are not sick now. I will try to think from the point of what is already here. The sick and the healthy and the messy zones of allergy and common cold, of having concentration disorders and procrastinating. Susan Sontag says that the kingdom of sickness is a place that all of us goes to. To be healthy seem to no longer be defined through the absence of illness but as a constant project of self-improvement. When health becomes a matter of cultivating the body, an activity of producing a self that can always become better and where only I myself can say if I am good enough, I will never be fully healthy. And yet there is no one to blame but myself. Am I sure I am my best self ? Could I not become even better, healthier, stronger? Or, just more at ease? To be un-sick is different than being healthy. The kingdom of sickness is a socially constructed monarchy. There was a time when the tubercular was a public intellectual. When a hint of hypochondria was a suitable male accessory and a melancholic woman made marvellous paintings â€œdiscoveredâ€? years later. There was a time when girls invented anorexia as a pretext for leisure,
and for dismissing bourgeois obligations in order to live only for one’s art. A diet provides an elaborate system of self control, a constant search for well-being and personal improvement living as a prospect. Fat activism must be heard. This is a time when culture workers run fast. Keeping up speed with short (but not very disruptive) outbursts of crisis until they hit the wall. Burned out. My work as a choreographer is 50% health and 50% sickness. Creative used to be a fun word. It used to be what I did outside of work, a promise of freedom and self-expression, the joy of being over the top, the emancipation from dull labour. It used to be playing with paper dolls, making collages with cut-outs from magazines, making radio shows with sound effects, drawing postcards for Christmas, writing a song for a best friends baby shower. Then work came along and sucked all the creativity out of my home and into the culture factory. Or moved the culture factory into my home, to this kitchen table. Now, for me, creativity is work, and the joy of free time always runs the risk of being hijacked by the project. The creative person used to be sick. At least the rich and reasonably acknowledged one. She used to sit in bed and paint with water colour, be a gentleman with hypochondria or a bohemian know-it-all with clay on her fingers. Now, the creative person is fit. At least the rich and reasonably acknowledged one. I want my free time back. I want the activity that happens outside of work to never be able to become work. My free time will not fit into your project. My sit-ups will not make me stronger for your production. But you will also not stop me from enjoying them, neither my free time nor my sit-ups, because they are mine to share with whom I want. Regardless of how creative your project is organised around my free time, I will not succumb. My morning run will never reach the deadline and it will never be an interesting process. And if I can’t get my free time back, if we cannot any longer draw the line between work and leisure time in order to safeguard creativity from work, I want to reclaim creativity. Can we reclaim creativity from the stigma of the unpaid, autodidact, home craft artist as well as the managerial life of the entrepreneur? Can
I dare to be creative and avoid being it for its own sake? I do not want to get cred for being creative, neither do I want to avoid creating, I just want creativity back. If you have a job with a creativity demand you should call in sick. And if you can’t have leisure time because you do not have any work to have leisure from, or a work without work hours, just call anyone else and tell them you are sick today. Call your teacher, call your employer, call the union, call your kids, call the unemployment agency, call the theatre, call the church, call your dog and tell it that it is free to roam the streets. Sorry, today you are sick and you are not planning on getting any better soon. Stop trying to cure anything, stop trying to curate anything. Stop calling to order the disorders of the psyche. Stop managing your creativity. Call me and tell me that you will not manage in time because you are suffering from creativity, in a bad way.
BIO Stina Nyberg lives in Sweden where she makes and performs choreography. Her departure point is a feminist approach to the body; its social and political construction and ability to move. She often works in collaboration with others, among others with the group Samlingen, and sees the way we organise work as an important part of the work. At the moment, Nyberg is working on the performance Shapes of States, about the relationship between the healthy body and the healthy state. In conjunction with her choreographic practice Nyberg is a participant of the one year programme Critical Practice—Made in YU, a platform for writing and discursive methods within the performing arts.
Double Interview between Mette Ingvartsen and Mette Edvardsen Written during four hours on the 15th and 17th of February 2016
This double interview was done while sitting together in one room writing and exchanging questions and answers simultaneously. Both parts were made in parallel and started from the same question. This text is a response to the invitation we received to write together about methodologies and modes of production in relation to our work. We have used the format of the double interview as a collaborative tool to discuss, share and think together about our practices. What concerns you the most for the moment in relation to making your work? I am thinking a lot about the quality of performing within one of my previous pieces called 69 positions. I am thinking about it because I am in the middle of writing a book about this performance, where I try to documents the performance itself, but also my thoughts behind it and the concerns it came out of. The piece is a guided tour in 3 parts, in which I am restaging sexual performances from the 1960’s, performances from my own working history, as well as describing contemporary sexual practices that can be found within our society today. The piece lasts almost 2 hours and I spend at least one and a half hour performing naked among the spectators, who are free to move around me as they like within a kind of exhibition set up with images, texts and videos on the walls. In the text that I am working on, I am for the moment busy with articulating how the actually performing produces a “soft” encounter with the public, where questions precipitated by sexuality, nudity and their relation to politics can be experienced by an audience, without this proposing a confrontational or aggressive situation, that could lead to an easy rejection of the topics at stake.
Right now I am trying to create conditions for work where formats of different kinds can exist next to each other in a somewhat equal way. This is not new for my practice, but still it is not so obvious that works of different formats exists as such, by themselves. This is partly due to the project logic under which I have organized my work for many years, but also because the more ‘regular’ pieces are the ones that get invited and presented in theatres and festivals. So even for myself it feels like that these works, the pieces, gain another status in my practice, in the care and time I spend with them. In the last years I have developed works that grow out of the project frame, because they continue to evolve over a long period of time, new forms are being explored, new formats emerge—or some works are on a extremely short term and almost invisible as formats. These works however, are equally part of the development of my artistic practice as a whole, and from the moment I decided to also take better care of these works I could sense a shift and an opening in how I develop and consider them. So recently I have tried to actively reorganize my work so that I can regard all these aspects more attentively.
What do you mean with a “soft” encounter? I am thinking both about the fact that you are naked and we, the audience are not, but also about the proximity and time spent in space together. It is as if we create a space in that time, even if it is one that is changing. There is a directness of the address, it feels very open, and yet I am never loosing my “place” as audience in that I feel that I need to behave or do or be in another way—even if there is a part which includes interaction. What changes is how I see, think, relate to you, and to the space I am in. Is this also part of what you call “soft” encounter?
I would like to know more about the almost invisible formats of work that you describe. Could you give an example of what such a format of work could be? On a more social or political level I am also interested in whether or not you considered this approach a mode of consciously resisting the increasing demand for visibility, self-exposure and self-promotion that is growing not only in the arts but also in the rest of society today? Last year I made a work called I can’t quite place it. It was presented during a symposium ’Imagining Commons’ organised by Volt in Bergen. In this context I
What I am trying to figure out is how the softness of the encounter is actually created by how I am performing; in how I am adapting the fixed script to the situation in relation to the audience each night. When I started working on the piece I wrote a small text called “soft choreography”, where I tried to elaborate a form of theater that would not be based on a clear distinction between the performer and the spectator, or between the auditorium and the stage. When I wrote that text, I thought I would make a performance that would differ quite radically from night to night, that would be half improvised and dependent on the reactions and participation of the audience. In the end I ended up making a performance where the script is actually very fixed. Nevertheless, I feel that when I perform it, I am in a constant negotiation with the affects and sensations created by how the audience reacts. I think what you say about feeling that you never loosing your “place” as an audience, has to do with the soft encounter I am searching for. I am trying, through the direct address, the openness with which I look and interact with people, to create a space that feels intimate and safe, at the same time as being fully public. (this is quite a challenge as normally the feeling of being intimate and safe belongs to non-public spaces). In most of the performances people do step into action in the piece, which blurs the border between being a spectator and a performer. Some spectators dance, some enter into sexual positions with me while I’m naked and they are dressed and some even agree to perform an orgasm choir in front of the entire audience. I have a feeling that this form of direct participation becomes possible due to the softness of the encounter. It might also happen because the entire piece actually deals with how participation is not just something you do, but also something you negotiate whether you want to do or not. Participation happens also in the way people position themselves within the space, the closeness or the distance they take to what is presented, the gaze and the social control that takes place in the room.
placed a table outside, on the street, and the idea was to engage with passers-by, to try to rethink context. I was sitting on one side of the table and there were two chairs on the other side of the table for the audience to sit down with me, or they could stand next to the table. I wanted to create a common space, a new space, a common ground where we could enter imagination and some sort of experience of a shared situation. For me this was equally a piece, even if it would just exist in small moments. In the context of the symposium program the work was announced to take place in a certain place of the city, and during a certain amount of time, about four hours. The table being an object out of place, or misplaced, was a visible intervention though not that imposing. I had a pencil and a paper, and I would consider the table to be a table, but also a space. I was working with micro and macro dimensions in order to create or propose different spaces to appear, and a certain ’writing’ to take place. When this would work, the audiences there would enter this imaginary world with me, and we would experience it together. There was no structure or score, but different strategies available for me to use and play with at any time, including what I would do, how the environment around would interact and what this would create together. For this work to actually work, I think this nearly invisible set-up is necessary. If this would be proposed as my next piece in the foyer of a theatre or somewhere in a festival context, I think it would be more difficult to make it happen. But still the reflection about context, relation to space, how to work with imagination and the writing is as valid as in other works I do. But I needed this more discrete situation for it to take place. It could be that I will develop the work with the table in other formats too. The table and chairs are recurrent objects in my work. But this kind of open writing is unusual for me. The fact of insisting on the continuity of my practice is a way for me to not only resist the increasing demand of visibility and production, but in order to insist on the work as a whole, that the work is more than the pieces we do. This is of course also a political stance. The pieces are not isolated ideas, but grow out of a development and process, in tension with each other. I think this is also the reason why I wish to bring the attention to smaller things, to other things—not only the projects that are touring. There is a constant dialogue between the work and what it needs, and what it needs me to do.
From what you say here about the participation of the audience, one way to understand this is that it is in fact quite a “hard” space, that I as an audience am participating in, as a spectator and performer, whether I want it or not. Because even if I say no, I am still “trapped” inside of that space, that piece, and cannot lean into the dark, in my safe (and
soft) seat. So I am as you say, negotiating how I perform myself in that context or situation either way, that there is not much room for choice. I am interested in this notion of space, and what makes a space. I think that the “soft” encounter has also a lot to with the eye contact. What is your experience of that, what does that do? It is hard to imagine a “hard” space when we are looking into each others eyes.
You mention imagination as a practice you propose to do collectively with an audience member in I can’t quite place it. To explicitly ask the spectator to imagine together with you is an interesting move in your work, because imagination seems to me, to already have been one of the main strategies in several of your more recent stage works. (I am thinking about Black and No Title in specific). Could you say more about how imagination is one of the long-term interests you have developed over several works and through different contexts and formats? And perhaps also something about how the possibilities of our imagination (as spectators) change depending on the format the imagination is presented in?
You are right, soft does not mean easy. I do know that the experience of being in the space, where the audience has to negotiate their position as spectators is a much harder situation than then when they are invited to sink into their soft seats in the dark. The performance is surely also about that, the discomfort and the negotiation. I think the fact that I am performing in so close proximity to the audience and that eye contact is permanently used throughout the entire piece helps to dissolve this potentially difficult situation. What interests me is also the social aspect of coming together to look at something in the theater, and how what is shown creates a social reaction. (which is of course always the case in theater, but sometimes this is made more or less explicit and visible.) To me the question of the how to deal with the public has always be very important and I have made many different performances where I experiment with the format of presentation. I often made pieces where the configuration of the audience is completely different from the frontal one that continues to dominate. I am thinking that “soft” and “hard” is about a certain definition of space, a perception of it rather than difficult or easy. In this sense I think that the eye contact you establish, next to being a direct address and a way to bring the audience with you, it is precisely proposing another kind of space—a space within a space, and perhaps this could be in plural. That there is a certain elasticity, again, of space. So something that is soft has a capacity to be elastic, and something hard does not. I think that also in other pieces you have made there is a sense of space in this way, even with audience being seated—frontally or on all sides. If I think about “Giant City” and “evaporated landscapes”, where
For me art needs to be about imagination and the capacity to evoke, to create poetry, to make things up and propose visions. It can of course be about other things too. But you are right, imagination has for me been a strategy and desire in making work for a long time. As an artist I want to propose something, not just show or represent ideas, but to create an experience, to invite the audience into something, to open new or other spaces in or through our imagination. It is the only thing I can do. I don’t know anything else or more or better about life or the world than what the audience knows already. I believe that imagination is an important tool, in life and in art. How can we change something if we cannot imagine other ways it could be? When this works, experience (or experiencing) and transformation (of some kind) can take place. In the pieces that you mention (Black and No Title) I was exploring the limits and possibilities of language. Through language another access to imagination opened, I found. Language is both very concrete and abstract at the same time. It allowed for another kind of writing, language offered capacities that are different from when working with objects or movements in space. The relation to space itself also changed, it was at the same time more and less there, present. I think now of what you say about “soft” encounters, I think of the space through language as a “soft space”. And even more so in the work Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine where we have learned books by heart and spend time in libraries as ’living books’. Readings take place as one-to-one encounters and as we are in a public space (a library) the
the audience is seated around or on two sides, but also “The Artificial Nature Project” where the audience is seated frontally. Perhaps it is too quick of a gesture to say now that these are all “soft spaces”, but I find it interesting to consider how all of these pieces propose a certain elastic space, even if in different ways. Scale also play in here as an important element I find, the distance of the audience—close or far, and the mere size of the space itself. Can you say something about how you work with space in these pieces and how it is part of the writing of the work?
activity around is ongoing and not something we can decide or control. The space here is both important as a context, and at the same time non-existent. There is a sort of fluid state between different layers of space existing together, simultaneously. This elasticity of space, and of language, I find very interesting to work with.
I love the idea of the elasticity of space, it is a word that funnily enough also came up in a conversation I had with someone yesterday about the notion of soft choreography. In the original very short text that I wrote about soft choreography, I was opposing it to hard choreography. I defined hard choreography as the type of pieces that have no space for deviance, where the presence or absence of the audience does not change the choreography, which is any way written down to the smallest detail. With your question now I understand that it is not so simple!!! In the text there is also a part about how soft choreography creates soft space; an undivided space where the performers and the spectator can circulate freely and where bodies are part of creating the scenic room. This is in fact not very far from “Giant City”, where as you mention above the spectators are sitting on four sides becoming an integral part of the scenography, where the audience also physically participate in how the show comes across. In all the works you mention above, I have been working on notions of immateriality. On understanding movement as something that does not only take place within bodies, but also between bodies, objects, environments, spaces, thoughts and imaginations. Proximity to the choreography I think is also crucial, for instance in “evaporated landscapes” the audience is literally sitting with their feet in the dry-ice that cover the stage that is only 5 × 8 meters. In that piece we (myself, lighting designer Minna Tikkainen and musician Gerald Kurdian) worked on how to create changes in scale, even when the audience do not move around during the performance. The first scene in the performance is a model landscape seen from a bird-eye perspective, like looking down on a mountain chain, a sea or a cloud formation. Then we create a more human
I had a very strong experience of listening to one of the books in Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine. The book was Crash by J.G. Ballard, and I was picked up by the book (man) and lead through the space to some backroom of the library, no longer open to a visiting public. We sat down in front of each other and he started talking. The experience was very strong because I could smell the real books on the shelves, but not the man who was sitting in front of me telling me about the car crash and the sexual desire that it produced in the characters. By listening to his story I got very interested in the potential of language to create sensation, the relationship between language and the body —evoked actually by the absence of the real bodies that the book described. In your work called No Title, you also use language to evoke things that are no longer there. Could you speak about the structure of language that you use to achieve this form of imagination and sensation? Well, first of all Ballard’s writing is amazing! For me to listen to Crash being spoken by heart, embodied but not performed, brings the language and the writing really to the foreground. In relation to space, I would like to add as well the space of reading, what is the space of reading? It is the places we go to through the writing, how we imagine them, but there is also another kind of space. This is interesting to me when we are proposing these kinds of reading experiences for audiences. Language offers certain capacities for me to work with when making my pieces. I work with language as material. I am not a writer, but I conceive of what I do as writing—writing in space and in time. In the first place I am interested in how to write in space, then occasionally this can also extend to work on a page. Having made the piece Black, where language (words) made it possible to make things appear and to affirm the existence of things, No Title proposed another feature,
perspective, where the materials are flying in the air in front of the eyes of the spectators and in the end they end up underneath a red sky (created by smoke and a thin line of light), as if they would be looking form a frog-eye perspective. The size and set up of the space is always very important, it changes everything! I like to do silly experiments like testing when the size of a dance floor stops looking like a dance floor. 10 × 10 is the most conventional and if you use that you know that you inscribe yourself into the history of dance in a particular way. If you make a 5 × 5 stage with people sitting on all sides you immediately have to reconsider everything (of course other inscriptions into history as well). I like to search for the how the configuration of the space is directly connected to the topics of interest I want to explore within a specific piece. Then (and this is horrible) there is always the economic conditions to take into consideration, knowing that strange and experimental formats are very welcome by theaters as long as they can still sell their tickets. This means that experimenting with formats and frames of performance, implicitly also is a way of experimenting with the modes of production and circulation that exist within the performing arts.
namely that of negation. In Black I discovered the efficiency of language to name and make appear, and in No Title I was negating and looking into what is not. And I found a certain elasticity in language, in the possibilities and limits of language, of naming and knowing. You can easily make something appear by naming it, but it is not enough to say that something is gone in order to make it disappear. In this gap I could work, with the power of evocation, to imagine, to feel, to think, to see, to remember—both what is there and not there. Trying to remove or negate in the imagination is an interesting process. Through negation I could in No Title move further out, not only in space but also in time, and in what kinds of topics I would address. For this another writing was needed. I was not only playing with words and what is here or not, but I was moving through all together different constructions in the writing. In Black I used repetition, for example, as a way to make things physical, to insist on them being there. In No Title I performed the piece with my eyes closed, and by this proposing another address and relation to the words I speak in space. Later, with the piece that followed, We to be, I worked with the tenses (past and future). This allowed for another access to the moment and the imagination of what is taking place. In these pieces I work in a theatre space, and I write with the space. The texts do not precede the pieces but they are the pieces. All this to say that I cannot separate the writing (in language) from the rest so easily, it is operating within the work and perhaps it is not so much an interest in language as such but more what it makes possible.
With your work, and certainly over the last years, you address a very important question about the distribution of space in our field today. Typically experimental work is presented in the small venues and is not so easily admitted into the larger venues. As you say yourself here above, just the mere size of space changes everything. So it is an obvious equation to make, experimental work cannot only be for small sized venues, some works need a big space in order to be done. And needless to point out here is the importance of experimental work within any field. By insisting on working on a large scale with experimental work (big spaces and many performers), you produce resistance to this way of operating. It is easy to understand how this must be important for you in order to make the work you want to make, so artistically motivated. But also to bring that thought further, as a political stance— in relation to the audience, to the field, and to the future of our art form. Can you say something about your thoughts on this?
The elasticity of time and space that you manage to create by bringing the outside world into the theatre in No Title— by naming what which is not there—is astonishing. Do you think we could finish this interview by reading a little extract selected by you from your script of No Title, where this notion of bringing the outside in becomes clear? Ok, here you have to imagine me in space with my eyes closed. I trace a circle with one arm towards what I think is the back of the space, then I say: the sun—gone up and gone down the distant horizon— the sea itself—a boat disappearing out of sight
Mette Ingvartsen I think it is very important to think about the transformation of the big stages; what is possible to present on them, what kind of experiments one can be allowed to do there and how this can push the limits of those spaces further. It is important for several reasons. First because it is very sad if big theatres become reduced to entertainment businesses devoid of any critical or experimental potential. Second because if big stages are reserved for non-experimental entertainment work—which to a large extend is still the case today, the space for smaller scale experimental work could become very hard to preserve. At least this is something I have been speculating about; is there a link to be made between small scale experiments and big scale performances, that could help to defend the need to support the experimental scene? Then, on a more personal level, the link between small scale and large scale experiments is something very stimulating to try to figure out. What are the relations within my work, from one scale to another. How do questions translate from one frame to another, what do I learn from my living room experiments and how do I take this experiences with me when I work on small or larger stages. I think it is good to always come back to the living room (micro levels of production), it is where it all starts, at least recently this is how it has been for me.
Mette Edvardsen mountains—earth threatens to erase sky birds—migrating thoughts—drifting away I can see everything and nothing at the same time everything is gone—not everything nothing is gone—not nothing not a sound not a wind not a thought not awake not asleep not a dream a shooting star one more or, less
Mette Ingvartsen is a Danish choreographer and dancer. She lives and work in Brussels where she graduated from PARTS in 2004. Her practice involves writing, making, researching, lecturing, teaching, performing and documenting work. In her ongoing PhD research on choreography at UNIARTS in Stockholm, she is currently elaborating notions of extended choreography that reaches beyond the human body into materials, objects, words and other non-human performers. Notions of kinesthesia, perception, affect and sensation have been crucial to most of her work, recently in direct connection to societal questions.
The work of Mette Edvardsen is situated within the performing arts field, also exploring other media or other formats such as video, books and writing. With a base in Brussel since 1996 she has worked for several years as a dancer and performer for a number of companies and projects, and develops her own work since 2002. She presents her work internationally and continues to develop projects with other artists both as a collaborator and as a performer.
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Venke Marie Sortland
What happens to art when we begin to experiment with the way we structure our artistic work? Can such experimentation be seen as a critical practice, and can such a practice, if its consequences are taken seriously, create new artistic expressions? Or is the opportunity for restructuring our artistic work just an illusion—because the conventional structures within the field are too strong, and the need for visibility too great? The number of contemporary artists concerned with examining alternative ways to structure their artistic work is increasing. The motivations for this are many and manifold: To some, this is a necessary development of the formal experimentation within the field—from movement qualities and composition, to challenging theatre as a venue, the choreographer as the leader of the artistic process, and the handling of rehearsal time. To others, this must be considered as an attempt to avoid standardisation—a medicine against authority figures, conventions and traditions. To experiment with work structures can also be understood as a protest against art institutions’ and businesses’ treatment of art, and the artist’s identity, as a sales object.
to her, this is where the relationship between capitalism and art proves itself to be the most problematic: “The contemporary relationship between art and work is closely connected to the relationship between work and life as well as with the ways that life (subjectivity, sociality, temporality, movement) has been entering the core of contemporary production.” (Kunst, Artist at work, page 176 ). In other words, art as such is not what capitalism pays the most attention to, but rather an artistic lifestyle—in which flexibility, creativity, performativity and projective temporality are central keywords. The potential to oppose neoliberalist exploitation of the artist and mitigation of art lies, according to Kunst, in rethinking our work structures.
None of the above-mentioned motivations are new, not in the Norwegian nor in the international field of dance. But in recent years, experimentation with artistic work structures has grown more widespread as well as more extreme. In light of recent publications, such as Bojana Kunst’s Artist at work (2015), this kind of experimentation also is experienced as more contemporary and acute. Kunst describes how the field of contemporary art is interwoven with capitalist structures, and examines the consequences of this, in the artistic work as well as its effect. Among other things, she draws attention to how it restrains art’s potential to create societal change and present alternatives to societal consensus. In other words, she questions if art can still be political.
DOMINANT WORK STRUCTURES IN THE NORDIC FIELD OF DANCE
In her analysis, Kunst is particularly concerned with today’s artists’ work processes. According
Necessities, tradition and convention still influence Norwegian dance artists’ work structures to a large degree, despite increasing experimentation. Further, the experimentation that is taking place in Norway gives the impression of being inconsistent—it simply doesn’t seem as if the experiences made in these alternative attempts are taken seriously. I find it paradoxical that such experimentation doesn’t lead to more of a discussion about dance art’s role in society, how to define artistic work within dance, and how to convey artistic creation in dance. Traditionally, the art of dance has been bound to massive structures. As dance artists, we have been educated for years through leisure time activity and higher education, prior to starting
our artistic work as creative or performing artists. Between the idea and the realisation of a project there are often long application processes, expansive dissemination work directed towards possible performance venues and potential spectators, and a long and costly production period with many involved. The production facilities are large and expensive (preferably with a specially constructed dance floor, lighting rig and options for full blending). On the audience side, spectators often need to be familiar with or have a connection to the field of dance, just to seek out the venues in which dance performances are shown. In a way, this forms a crude contrast to modern- day society’s most widespread culture forms, such as homemade videos posted on the internet, broadcast directly into the sitting rooms of millions of viewers at the same time. This way one may say that the art of dance is yet to recognise global society’s dominant tendencies; the development and rise of technology, the explosion in education, democratisation and decentralisation of culture, and with that, the end of the work of art’s aura and the shift from observing spectators to co-creating users. Rather than revelling in new, cheap, audience- friendly and decentralised opportunities for production and dissemination, the field of dance is still wrapped up in how a work should be structured to be recognised as professional. Further I find that a traditional separation into subprofessions—pedagogue, dancer and choreographer—even now impose rules for what is included within and what falls beyond the field of dance’s idea of art. In particular, I refer to how the pedagogue is almost seen as an antagonist to the artist. In fearing that the art of dance is to become pedagogical (and thus instrumental?!) we shut the pedagogue out of contemporary art discourse. The pedagogue’s role as a link between today’s art and future art is something nobody values enough to mention. In other words, the transition between art and pedagogy is weird and problematic. This does not just obstruct a truly interesting discussion about the potential for aesthetic experience within the art of dance, but also rethinking what artistic work can mean.
Hence, the field of dance can be accused of inflexible, tradition-laden and conventionally locked work structures. At the same time the prevailing work structures can be described as fundamentally superficial. Driven by what Kunst calls “the projective temporality”, the project, in neoliberalist society, becomes the ultimate measurement of our work; “…the new spirit of capitalism turns work and production into an endless economic expansion and manipulation, making the project the basic model for productive work, as well as the basic trait of life and work in general.” (Kunst, Artist at work, page 153 ). According to Kunst this projective temporality brings along a hollowing of the artistic work; “…their activity is becoming increasingly amateurish because they actually no longer have time—due to implementing projects in the future and taking care of upcoming ones...” (Kunst, Artist at work, page 157). In other words, experimentation with work structures ought to be high on contemporary dance artists’ agenda. For better to be able to discuss how we structure our work, and how rethinking work structures can function as a critical practice, I find a specification useful. Thus, in the following I have tried to sort the dance artist’s work into three different levels: The organisational level, the temporal, relational and contextual level, and the artistic level. The aim is to clarify how experimentation with work structures is possible at each level. At the same time, I would like to remind the reader that the levels are not necessarily easily separated in practice, and that all the levels should be considered fundamentally artistic. Eventually, they all concern the artistic practice and expression.
THE ORGANISATIONAL LEVEL The first level of the dance artist’s work I have called the organisational level. This involves how we as artists organise our work beyond the singular projects we take part in—in other words, if we work as hired employees or run our own businesses. As opposed to the former norm, the dance company, an overwhelming majority of dance artists within the field of independent performing arts is organised in
sole proprietorships. The dance company was often a non-profit foundation, through which choreographers and dancers could be employed. Today each and every one of us, as mini-businesses, enter different short-term (more or less contractual) relations to each other. Company structure had some challenges, including the close correlation to a hierarchical work structure based on the division between dancer and choreographer. At the same time, the power of being part of something greater than oneself, should not be underestimated— not at an economic, legal, psychological nor artistic level. Bojana Kunst reminds us of the problematic side of the sole proprietor structure; “...artists now adopt a position of pseudo-autonomy; they are subjectivised as creative joint-stock personalities or functioning service monads. The artist is their own (autonomous) entrepreneur and heteronomous (employee) at the same time.” (Kunst, Artist at work, page 10). In this, Kunst puts the emphasis on the price of autonomy. These warnings aren’t new. The artist associations have long worked to inform the field about economic challenges in the organisation mode, and the individual’s subsequent responsibility. But Kunst’s analysis goes further than the economic and legal. According to her, the sole proprietorship structure has deep consequences for art’s and the artist’s position in society. Within this structure, where everyone is responsible for his or her own performance contract (and thus, can’t afford conflict with artistic directors, or make attempts one doesn’t already know will be successful), genuine criticism and genuine experimentation become difficult. As an example of an alternative organisational model I would like to call attention to the Swedish initiative called Interim Kultur. Interim Kultur is first and foremost an attempt to escape the many challenging, time-demanding tasks that goes with the sole proprietorships—such as the need for reporting and accounting, and the limited access to illness compensation and other welfare benefits. Through joining forces in a larger enterprise, the involved dance artists have gained status as employees, with the
corresponding social rights, but they have also freed time to focus on the artistic work through outsourcing administrative tasks. Interim describes its enterprise as; “work that is art that is organising that is politics” (https://dilettant.se/sv#project-39). Like labour unions were lifebelts for the vulnerable, exposed industry workers, Interim Kultur has understood that the size of the enterprise is of significance in efficiency as well as influence in capitalist society.
Within this structure, where everyone is responsible for his or her own performance contract (and thus, can’t afford conflict with artistic directors, or make attempts one doesn’t already know will be successful), genuine criticism and genuine experimentation become difficult.
THE TEMPORAL, RELATIONAL AND CONTEXTUAL LEVEL I have chosen to call this second level of the dance artist’s work for the temporal, relational and contextual level—in other words; the who, where and when of the work. This can, to a larger degree than the first level, vary on a per project basis, even though, obviously, there may also be a fixed pivot to an artist’s work. As this second level include many aspects, I have subdivided it into three secondary parameters; time, relations and context. The first parameter concerns the artistic work’s social and/or relational aspects: Do I work alone or in collaboration with others? Do I work with other dance artists, or in interdisciplinary collaboration? Is each of us responsible for specific parts of the production or do we work in an approximately flat structure? This parameter also includes experimentation with audience influence and participation. The second parameter concerns the context in which the work takes place—that is, if we, in the process or display, choose to be in a dance studio, a stage venue, or make use of other rooms, places, contexts or environments. Site-specific works need to be placed within the contextual level, as do projects developed with other (more or less specific) arenas and target groups—such as the production and touring system The Cultural Rucksack.
In many cases, using alternative contexts for production and performance is an artistically anchored choice. As often, it is likely connected to pragmatism and economy—not all dance artists have access to the facilities most often associated with the art form, such as dance studios and stage venues. In other words, limited resources force many dance artists to experiment with work structures. However, this doesn’t reduce the importance of the reflection upon what to choose (or not to choose). A collective installation project, taking place in the facilities of a shut-down factory can—despite the production’s point of departure— be endlessly more boring and superficial than a stage venue performance with the traditional division between dancer and choreographer. One way to deliberately relate to one’s choices is, as Kristin Bjørn discusses in her article Produksjonsstrukturer som kunstneriske virkemiddel (literally: Production structures as artistic effects) (ed. Sidsel
these suggestions are (more or less directly) connected to alternative structures for the temporal in the artistic work—simply put, it concerns slowing down the pace to be able to go in depth rather than fluttering around on the surface; “…many contemporary artistic works are interested in methods of creation that have an interesting and incestuous relationship with laziness and non-work: mistakes, minimum effort, coincidence, duration, passivity etc. The intertwining between work and non-work, or between activity and laziness, is also connected to what I discussed earlier: visible senseless spending. It reveals the materiality of work, which is closely connected to time and space, and is no longer considered project-type headway towards the goal, but can also embrace long periods of passivity, sleep, inactivity etc.” (Kunst, Artist at work, page 183).
THE ARTISTIC LEVEL
Graffer and Ådne Sekkelsten, Scenekunsten og de unge. En antologi fra Scenekunstbruket, literally: Performing Arts and the Young. An anthology from The National Touring
) to develop new production structures for each production, springing out from what is to be examined rather than from conventions and habits. At the same time, it is important, as Solveig Styve Holte has reminded me in the work on this text, that not all experimentation should take place outside of the institutions. To contemplate the choices made at this level can (and should) be a way to practise institutional criticism. Network for Performing Arts, 2014
Last, but not least, this level includes the temporal parameter—the progress of the work, if one likes. In this regard, Bojana Kunst’s own suggestions for experimentation are interesting. In the last part of her book Artist at work, Kunst suggests three methods for being “disobedient”—as an attempt to meet neoliberalist exploitation of the artist and mitigation of art, and rethink art’s possible value and public position in contemporary society. In short, the suggestions imply to see art as senseless spending of resources (rather than a value one can put a price to and thus streamline the production of ), to turn laziness into an artistic virtue, and to resist the pressure to produce through simply producing less. The way I see it, all of
At a third level, one can discuss experimentation in choice of method and form of display. In other words, this is where the discussion of what method is, and how an artistic work could best be shared, belongs. Because of this, I have chosen to call this the artistic level, even though I, as I have already mentioned, find that all the levels influence the artistic work. At the same time, it is hard to define the limits for artistic method. First, the method can be the premise, what we plan to do. But it can also be the specific realisation of the project, how we actually end up working. Method can be a specific tool, a score, a receipt or a protocol—or an all-encompassing practice. Method can be random or habitual decisions, or it can be a set of conscious choices based on an idea, a topic or a concept. Method can be limiting, but at the same time, it is what materialises the idea. Rather than delve into a deeper discussion of what method can be, in this context it seems more important to point out that the choice of method is central to the artistic work. It is important to contemplate which methods one has acquired and makes use of, and why one chooses to use these specific ones. Choice of
method seems to be the area in which most dance artists experiment the most. This could be due to several reasons, but with the dissolution of formalised, tradition-based dance’s hegemony, method has become something every dancer or choreographer has to take a stand on. Further, the discourse surrounding artistic research in recent years has increased the focus on method’s role in artistic work. On the other hand, within dissemination of arts, there is a lot less innovation and experimentation. I would claim that it is symptomatic that there is so little change to forms of dissemination. It shows a fear of letting unforeseen consequences of experimentation with work structures play out. In other words; even though many dance artists experiment with method, context in production and display, plus group assemblage, most of us still choose the performance as product or form of display. Those who test other forms to communicate their artistic work, often produce this in addition to the performance. I find it particularly interesting that the performance seems to be a standardised entity to such a degree—it takes place in a theatre, in a more or less stripped venue, with relatively conventional ideas on how the audience and performers are to behave, and last, but not least, a limitation in time, with a duration of 45 to 90 minutes. The degree of standardisation is made clear not least when we as artists approach the artistic director of a theatre; in pitching a production one soon becomes painfully aware how little it takes before a work deviates from the performance standard. I am perfectly aware that dance artists are in need of visibility, because visibility is so closely connected to economy as well as access to an audience, and thus also the opportunity for working artistically at all. At the same time, as Solveig Styve Holte has reminded me, we have to dare ask to which degree the dance artist’s work exist through the idea of the performance. I would claim that the performance as a product or medium is a strong structural force in our thoughts of what is possible. Or, in the famous words of McLuhan; “The medium is the massage (message)!”.
STRUCTURING WORK AS A CRITICAL PRACTICE As initially mentioned, there are several possible motivations to experiment with how one structures one’s artistic work. First, one may be interested in exploring structures as such, that is, as expanded formal experimentation. Second, experimentation may be a way to meet, or protest, topical challenges and demands. To experiment with work structures can also be seen as a critical practice. Which is the content we can attach to the term critical practice? According to the German philosopher Immanuel Kant criticism must be seen as a rational form of reflection rather than depreciation (the way the term is used in daily speech). In the context of his philosophy Kant uses the term’s Greek meaning (krinein), to observe the difference or to systematise. With this as a root, I’d claim that critical practice is about reflecting on one’s actions, for the sake of being able to act differently through reflection. At the same time, I would discriminate between reflective practice—which I understand as internally focused criticism, in which the aim is to improve or better to understand one’s artistic field and oneself as an artist—and critical practice, the way it is regarded in critical theory. According to critical theory, the social science movement that can, directly and indirectly, be linked to the Frankfurt School thinkers, criticism is directly connected to the discussion of relevant social realities, combined with an interpretative approach to scientific research. A leading principle is the belief that knowledge holds potential for emancipation. Even though I would be cautious in promoting a possible potential for emancipation within this context, I will use critical theory as an inspiration in my claim that critical practice (as opposed to reflective practice) to a larger degree is directed outwards, aiming to provoke change in the world we are part of. So, to experiment with the structures of one’s work as a critical practice is about applying oneself to provoke change. In other words, it can also be described as political work. However, this should not be confused with political
art, seeking change through a thematic discussion of relevant problems. To work with political themes is difficult in contemporary performing arts, Bojana Kunst finds; “In a world of politics as spectacle, creative economy and capital governed by institutionalized critical and political discourses, it is very hard to believe in the undiminished autonomy of the political artist who presents works at festivals of ‘political art’ and gives rise to provocative art at global festivals.” (Kunst, Artist at work, page 9 ). Within an art of dance perspective one can also add that the art form’s marginalised position makes it near impossible to reach others than those who already share the view, if one does have a political message. As Kunst puts it; “Art may provoke, show different views, warn and take critical stances, but there are few cases where it interferes with ways of being so radically that it can actually open up possibilities for life that lies ahead.” (Kunst, Artist at work, page 16).
Why are our discussions so fruitful, why are the studio previews so interesting, why are the performances so often better topics for conversation than aesthetic experiences? In other words; why is the potential in our reflections larger prior to being translated into action?
To experiment with structures in work situation as a critical practice, on the other hand, is about working artistically at a different political level. However, the opportunity to provoke change only has a potential if this experimentation is taken seriously, and allowed to have consequences. It is about daring to say: Not all choreographers should work in studios! Not all projects should end as performances! Not all choreographies should contain dance!
CHOREOGRAPHY AS A DISCOURSE Since I started working as a dance artist within the field of experimental performing arts in 2005, I have had an often recurring notion that the reflections we produce as a field are more interesting than the artistic expressions we bring the world. Why are our discussions so fruitful, why are the studio previews so interesting, why are the performances so often better topics for conversation than aesthetic experiences? In other words; why is the potential in
our reflections larger prior to being translated into action? Within parts of the field of dance it also seems as if reflecting is more important than doing anything at all. There seems to be a screaming need to rethink the relation between reflection and production, between idea and communication—and so to finally confront the idea that this relation should in any way be implicit or possible to imagine in advance. The way I see it, this tendency is linked to the development of choreography as a research field of its own, a field that, as Mårten Spångberg describes it, is not causally connected to dance. Spångberg describes choreography as structure, with dance as one of many possible strategies for realisation. To separate choreography from dance makes it, according to him, possible to see choreography as a research field of its own— thus, it becomes possible to examine choreography as an area of knowledge in itself, released from the above-mentioned possible realisations, open to use in analysing many different phenomena. “Recently the term choreography as expanded practice has been used (to) emphasize how organization is non-linear to expression, choreography to dance and that choreography needs to be considered a cluster of tools that can be used both to produce and analyse autonomous to expression, i.e. choreography has become a generic set of tools, a technology or a field of knowledge.” (https://spangbergianism.wordpress.com/). In a conversation about choreography and text at Black Box Teater in Oslo (Text and Choreograpy, November 15 2015, arranged by the dance artists Ingrid Berger Myhre, Bastien Mignot, Julie
), Bojana Cvejić sketched out her thought of the review as a communication forum for artistic expression. To some of the earlier experimental filmmakers, working as reviewers, most likely forced by lack of economic means, became another, alternative way to create art—a kind of art that was growing like a parasite on other people’s works of art, materialising itself in the imagination of the reader(s). Gouju, Solveig Styve Holte, Ann-Christin Berg Kongsness and Marte Reithaug Sterud
If we, with this, return to the need to rethink the relationship between theory and practice in the field of dance, seeing choreography as a way to develop discourse, and this development of
discourse as a way to operate in the world, a possible way to examine. A relevant example within this context is the work European Attraction Limited (or The Congo Village, as the project was re-labelled by Norwegian media) by the artists Mohamed Ali Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner. The work, produced on the occasion of the bicentenary of the Norwegian Constitution in 2014, was inspired by one of the attractions during the centenary exhibition for the Constitution in 1914—the Congo Village, in which Senegalese were exhibited in an artificially constructed village in The Frogner Park. However, the interesting part of The Congo Village anno 2014 wasn’t its physical realisation, but how the work unfolded through conversations and debates among individuals, in groups and in the media. Through steadily increasingly heated discussions, in a steadily increasing number of forums—not least daily newspapers—the work invaded the public room in such a way that we, as a society, had to relate to it. However, more important than sketching up implications and possible projects, it seems that to understand that the idea of choreography as a field of knowledge (which, as established, can potentially be applied in, and communicated through, a diversity of mediums) is the end of performance as choreography’s instrument par excellence. With that, choreography as an expanded practice makes experimentation with structuring one’s artistic work an essential task for those who wish to work in choreography.
CONCLUSION My aim with this text was to challenge the Norwegian field of dance, through encouraging experimentation with work structures. I think that such experimentation can lead to a larger discussion about art of dance’s role in society, how to define artistic work within dance, and how to convey artistic creation in dance—and that such questions can potentially produce other work, discussions and motivations than those that are dominant in the field today. However, I am fully aware that using alternative models for work structures often (at least in a transition phase) leads to lessened visibility, and
that visibility is essential in building an audience and in accessing financial and material means. Visibility is, as mentioned above, closely connected to the opportunity for working artistically at all. In the article Produksjonsstrukturer som kunstneriske virkemiddel (literally: Production structures as artistic effects), Kristin Bjørn separates what she calls internal and external production structures. As opposed to the structures the artists control, she regards external production structures as “... what is outside of the artists’ control—such as economic conditions, political decisions and the implementation of supporting systems, such as Arts Council Norway.” (Bjørn, Produksjonsstrukturer som kunstneriske virkemiddel, page 130 ). Even though external production structures can also, to a certain degree, be changed, or that one can at least operate independent of them, one can’t deny that they impose restrictions for the range of experimentation, through influencing which artistic works are given visibility. That dance artists’ work structures to a large degree must be said to be determined by external conditions, is an important subexplanation for the observation that today, there are few alternative attempts in sight. Within this context I find it relevant to comment the paradoxicality in the way art institutions control artists today, directly and indirectly. Even within a Scandinavian context, in which institutions are built on a Social Democratic foundation, market liberalism argumentation for what is good and bad, what should be given visibility and not, take over for argumentation based on tradition and convention to a steadily increasing degree. My initial question in this text was whether the opportunity for restructuring our artistic work is just an illusion, because the conventional structures are too strong, or the need for visibility too great. Unless the institutions in the field start to see it as their responsibility to facilitate experimentation with ways to structure artistic work, the answer to this question, as of today, is that such experimentation is left to the brave artists: Artists who personally find this sufficiently interesting, important and valuable to be willing to risk their artistic work along the way.
Translated into English by Lillian Bikset
Venke Marie Sortland (b.1982) is a performer and choreographer based in Oslo. She was educated from the School of Contemporary Dance in Oslo, and at the University of Oslo. Sortland has worked as a performer for several Norwegian and international choreographers; most recently Ingri Fiksdal and Jana UmĂźssig. She is the 1/3 of the curatorial team of Rethink Dance forum. She also does her own work within the frame of the production unit Landing. Sortland writes regularly for Danseinfo.no, Scenekunst.no and Periskop.no.
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