ART FOR EARTH’S
ÂŠ Dan Harvey
© Urška Boljkovac
© Céline Gilbert
ART FOR EARTHâ€™S SAKE Climate Change is one of the biggest challenges for todayâ€™s society. For the 2020 network: Thin Ice, and its successor the, Imagine 2020 network, the next ten years are crucial for attempting to bring about the change that would stabilise the climate and the effects of climate change on the planet. All partners believe that artists and the cultural sector can and should play an important role in the cultural shift that is necessary to maintain hope for a sustainable, human and beautiful future. Artists have always responded to the burning issues of their times. Many, if not most, recognise the urgency and seriousness of what humanity faces today. Over the last two years, the six European arts producers of the 2020 network: Thin Ice have worked locally and as a network to encourage and stimulate artists to engage creatively with the subject of Climate Change and to increase public awareness and a desire for change. The network piloted a series of practical measures from 2008 through 2010, and built a pool of over fifty artists whose projects and productions are to be commissioned and toured in the coming years. The artists who worked with the network are listed at the end of this publication. Thousands of people across Europe participated in collective workshops and installations, visited exhibitions, or attended shows, conferences, films, and debates. Artistic projects, residencies, laboratories, seminars and conferences with scientists, policy makers, NGOs, schools and other partners have connected artists with new audiences and opened spaces for debate and dialogue. Starting with their own practice the 2020 network: Thin Ice partners also explored how to maintain a high level of artistic excellence while promoting and producing artwork that generates a minimum of CO2 emissions. But more needs to be done. Over the next five years IMAGINE 2020 will build on the successes of the pilot phase to initiate and support new artistic projects and increase audience diversity. The new network wants to communicate more effectively with audiences and like-minded organisations and aims to recruit new partners within Europe or across the Mediterranean in order to broaden its geographical scope. It will continue to research new ways of producing and presenting exciting artworks with minimal environmental impact, and share its learning in order to encourage the European cultural sector as a whole to include climate change concerns in their everyday working practice. In this publication seven artists are interviewed by art historian and cultural theorist, Lars Kwakkenbos with whom they share their artistic process and involvement with the Thin Ice network. Together they represent a variety of possible artistic strategies in the challenge of establishing a firm relation between art and climate change. 13
John Jordan & Isa Fremeux ........................................................................................
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker ....................................................................................
Frédéric Ferrer .................................................................................................................
Martin Nachbar & Jeroen Peeters ............................................................................
Via Negativa ......................................................................................................................
A conversation WITH JOHN JORDAN (UK) & ISA FREMEAUX (FR) Founders of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination London | www.labofii.net
ABOUT 13 ATTITUDES There is a little booklet about permaculture lying on the table, which is also found on the website of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination. It is called 13 Attitudes. John Jordan Permaculture is really important to our practice. It is a design philosophy that was developed in the seventies. Its main question is: how do you create sustainable, resilient human cultures? Permaculture suggests that the best way of achieving this is by observing natural systems. Let’s look at a meadow or a forest for example, they are incredible in terms of their ability to be resilient, to create no waste, to be energy efficient, self supportive and entirely sustainable. The idea behind permaculture is to learn from the book of nature, and to use its knowledge as a way of thinking about how we design human systems and cultures. From building your house, how you design a poltical action, a festival, choreographing a performance… anything. Isa Fremeaux Although its origins lie in agriculture, permaculture is applicable to anything that can be designed. Anything that is social, as well. There are 13 design principles, all derived from attentive observation of ecosystems. These range from “Stack Functioning” which means that everything you design should have more than three uses, to “The Problem is the Solution”’ which encourages us when designing something to not ignore the problems, but to see the answers within them. These principles are framed by three key ethics: people care, earth care and fair shares. If we combine these three, we are automatically living within limits. Ecological and energetic ones. Which is what capitalism does not do at all, it has the fantasy of perpetual growth, of infinite resources… In our publication here, we illustrate the principles of permaculture with images and little stories. These stories come from art, activism or the natural world. JJ Permaculture brings together contemporary ecological science and indigenous wisdoms. We’ve got stuff to learn from both of these. There are many other theoretical backgrounds to our work, from anarchism to situationism, but at the moment this is a strong one. Some people even describe permaculture as “revolution disguised as gardening” or “the art of creating beneficial relationships.” What might a sustainable society look like? JJ Fundamental to sustainability is diversity. Why is a forest sustainable? Because there are so many species in it, and even more different beneficial relationships between the species. The moment it becomes a monoculture, it is not sustainable anymore. One bug can wipe it out. The same goes for society: there isn’t one sustainable model. There are many, and all of them are bound by the context of their culture. For us sustainability is not only about ecological sustainability, but about human sustainability as well. You can’t have one without the other. Permaculture is a holistic view that helps one navigate the present crisis of our culture. IF Which is why permaculture is such an inspiring framework. If you have organic farming with people working 18 hours a day, then that’s not sustainable. JJ Or when solar panels are produced by a multinational oil company as greenwash, and 19
windmills are built in Chinese sweatshops, or organic healthy food that only the rich can afford, or carbon rationing that is imposed by an authoritarian government… IF In coercion there is no sustainability. For me these are totally mutually exclusive. It is not as if we are in search for the single blueprint, and once we have found it, the idea would simply spread. Permaculture illustrates this: you can only have healthy forests if you have healthy meadows, and healthy meadows if you have healthy bees, and thriving bees if you have blooming flowers, and only if the soil is alive, etc. You need the rich diversity. Japanese communities are not going to want or need the same thing as kids growing up in the east end of London or Sudan or Brazil. Trying to imagine that the same model could work for everyone makes no sense to me. It needs to come from the ground up. People have to find their own models. JJ What we see in contemporary political movements is a shift away from singular, monocultural ideologies. We are moving towards a kind of DIY-politics, framed around very basic ethics but with many ways of acting. We see ‘direct action’ as key to this; if there is a problem you act directly to solve it, you don’t ask others to do it for you. It is living as if one were already free. It is all about politics based on ways of doing, it’s the art of moulding the world in the way you thinking it should be now, not waiting for some ideological perfection. The Lab sees its role as helping political movements be more experimental, more imaginative and creative. In these times of crisis as artists we need to apply creativity to radical politics, because there could be forms of terrifying authoritarianism around the corner, arising from economic and ecological meltdowns. Sustainability could be used to call for nationalism, protecting land for the nation etc., and for xenophobia and the rise of fear. As artists we have to work against this drift. For us permaculture is a map to help us in the fog of the future. You are both co-founders of the Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination. Can you give a brief overview of the history of it? IF The Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination was co-founded by us two, and another artist activist known as the Vacuum Cleaner. We co-founded it in 2004 for the European Social Forum that was taking place in London. The Social Forum was a coming together of tens of thousands of alter-globalisation movements to talk and debate for a week, it was something we felt inspired by and we believed in. But by the time it came to London it was taken over and monopolised by traditional left movements. The way they were going about it was against everything we believed in. It was done in an extremely hierarchical and manipulative way, it was not transparent or democratic, and their take on culture was traditional and, as we felt it, quite boring. They just wanted to show films, a couple of exhibitions… it was political art as representation, something we hate, for us art is about changing the world not showing people how bad the world is. During the European Social Forum a few non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian groups started what they called the Autonomous Spaces. Being part of the Autonomous Spaces we created the Lab, based in a squat in London, and put a call up to our networks. We wanted to create a space between culture and politics, between creativity and resistance. A space where artists and activists could meet, so that it wouldn’t be the artists working for the activists, or vice versa, but trying to have a synergy between the artist’s creativity and the engagement and audacity of the activist. For a week we had over a hundred people sharing their interventions, and creative resistance tactics and then going out and doing things in the streets, it was so successful that we 20
just carried on. We are not like a troop though, we’re a very loose collective that kind of crystallises around projects, and then disperses again. It all depends on which opportunities there are. JJ What happens when you bring artists and activists together? Artists have an incredible imagination and creativity, and an ability to think out of the box, they create form and craft and beauty and poetry, and all that, but they are often totally egocentric as well, wrapped up in their own practices, their own world and inflicted with the disease of representation: thinking that one can’t change the world, only show it to people. We want to sabotage representation. Among activists there is an incredible audacity, as Isa was saying, courage, radicality, critical thinking, desire for and knowledge about collective practices and a real desire to transform the world. The forms they use though are often boring, unpoetic, unsuggestive and propagandist. By bringing art and activism together, you can create incredible moments. We don’t learn at the art academy how much of this coming together is part of the history of the last two centuries. You don’t learn that Courbet stopped painting during the Paris Commune to bring down the Vendôme column, having decided to apply his creativity to organising the popular uprising… You don’t learn that artists have always merged creativity and activism, working to make radical change irresistible. We see this as our role at the Lab. IF Activists tend to think that mere facts and figures will bring people into action, that the only reason that people don’t act is because they do not know how bad things are. But facts and figures alone don’t necessarily bring people into action. What makes people want to change themselves, their own everyday life, but also the world around them, is a sense of hope, a fantasy of what things ‘could be like’. Dreams and desires are what make us get off your bum and do things. My first visit to your website began with listening to ‘Lady in Red’ by Chris de Burgh, while looking at filmed images of red flags. I began to laugh, and got into it immediately. Never before has an activist approach seduced me so easily. JJ That’s the key, really. We know most activist approaches aren’t sexy. That’s why capitalism wins every time. iPhone or boring activist meeting? What will you choose? The left is very scared of using desire and the body, and capitalism and the right are brilliant at it. Capitalism works because it is constantly manipulating our desires. We think it is important to reclaim such desires, therefore our work involves pleasure, play and adventure, but not within the frame of art. These adventures are real. They engage in real illegality and real disobedience. For us it is about giving to people a sense of collective creativity, enabling them to believe that you can be creative in a collective without any hierarchy, using consensus methods. It is also about making them understand that disobedience is not necessarily frightening, and reminding them that everything that we take for granted – whether it is women wearing trousers, contraception, an eight-hour working day, the weekend or gay rights – was gained because people disobeyed. In the art world, people disobey the cultural canon, but social change only happens when you refuse normality, when you disobey in the real world. In your work you are constantly challenging the position of the spectator. Why? IF One of the aims is to dissolve this position. Not the notion, but the act of spectatorship. A lot of what we try to organise is for people to step out of their spectator’s role and passive position. To become actors. Most of what we feel sad and angry about in the world happens because people 21
feel they have no agency. Most recognise that we are at a moment of historical crisis, and yet they don’t think they can affect change and so we simply sit and watch, we become the audience of the apocalypse. JJ Our work might begin with a brief moment of spectatorship, but it will never stop there. It might use it as a way of getting people involved at the beginning, because we often create frames within which things happen; improvisation and uncertainty are key. Can you give an example? JJ We call our projects experiments, not pieces or shows. Partly because we want to reclaim the right for experimental politics. It’s okay to have experimental literature, arts, music, science… but not politics. The concept of creating new political forms is less accepted. And experiments are constantly open processes, which is also important for us. We want to be able to say, look, these are never finished and anything is possible. IF By calling ourselves a Laboratory we are allowing space for failure. JJ One of the most successful projects we did, was the Bike Bloc. We began with the question of how do you use bicycles in acts of civil disobedience? It was prepared for the UN climate summit in Copenhagen. Originally we were invited by two art institutions: Arnolfini in Bristol and the Center of Contemporary Art in Copenhagen. We put the two commissions together and came up with “Put the fun between your legs, become the Bike Bloc!”. One of the principles of permaculture is use your local resources. Don’t wait for the perfect moment, use what you have, Joseph Beuys said it as well. And in Copenhagen there are thousands of abandoned bikes, so we decided that that would be our material. After three months of discussion with the Center of Contemporary Art, having made very clear what we wanted to do, we suddenly had this phone call with the curator: “Oh, but you must remember that there are certain laws around about what constitutes a bicycle in Denmark.” I answered: “Well, we will use these bikes in acts of civil disobedience anyway, so it doesn’t matter whether they are legal or not.” IF She had imagined we would stop at the discourse and not leave the museum with the bikes we had built, that they would simply be objects, or a symbolic performance. So she pulled out of the commission saying that the city funders would not approve of non-violent civil disobedience. We had to find a new space and ended up in a social centre run by squatters and artists. We are very critical of the art world. John regularly says he doesn’t belong there, and then sometimes he says he does. JJ I put my foot in and I kick around a bit, and then I come back to activism. It’s more about straddling different worlds, art and activism, and feeling free to critique either one because my identity is not stuck in either. JJ It was another interesting lesson of how the art world prefers artists who pretend to do politics. In the Arnolfini Gallery we had organised open public workshops to design the disobedient bikes, and they only allowed it because the action would be taken in Copenhagen! Even the curator 22
admitted this! In Bristol, bike hackers, bike mechanics, artists, activists… lots of people learned skills, which is fundamental to our work: people learning and sharing things. It was wonderful having 30 people in an art gallery, most of whom would never consider themselves artists, building bikes. We devised three prototypes. The Swarm meant using lots of bikes, like a swarm of bees, The Double Double Trouble (DDT) meant that bikes were welded on each other, so you got double high bikes with a chariot in between, and then there was The Machine, a secret thing that didn’t even exist, a myth. When we got to Copenhagen, CNN and everyone tried to find this Machine, and the police came looking for it as well, confiscating all our DDT’s. Art that is mainly representational doesn’t work for you, but the aesthetics of your work do seem very important. How do these aesthetics work? IF The aesthetics of the final outcome is as important to us as the process. We are very aware of not wanting to fall into the trap of community art, where so much attention was put on the process that the aesthetics of the outcome were often terrible. We don’t want to produce work that we don’t feel proud of because it looks shit. If you don’t have strong aesthetics, the only people who can feel pride and ownership, are those who were involved in the project. But the social relations have their own aesthetics that are as important too. JJ For me aesthetics are about the capacity to really feel the world, to sense it with our bodies, to be deeply aware. Which brings us to the question of paying attention, really being “in” the world by observing it, which is one of the keys in permaculture. For me art is simply paying attention. In Buddhism one might call it mindfulness, neuroscientists call it direct experience, Christians might call it contemplation. It’s about being in present, a place of absolute freedom. In the Lab we try to build a convivial, sensual space where everyone is allowed to feel and be open to each other. We use lots of techniques to create friendship and closeness. Lots of people coming to our work, say: “Oh my God, we have only been working together for a week, and we feel like we know everyone for years.” Which comes back to Beuys again, and his notion of warmth: you need to create warmth to melt our structures, and to arrive at creativity and freedom. JJ Each project is creating a temporary community of creativity and disobedience. But it is never the same community, and the people are never the same either. Actually, we want something a bit more permanent now. In 2007, we went for a seven month journey around twelve utopian communities in Europe, ranging from a free-love community in Germany to occupied factories, squatted villages, self-managed farms. The idea was to study and experience more permanent forms of collective, non-hierarchical living. Our long-term aim is to set up the Lab as a space. It may sound ambitious, but the question is: what would the Bauhaus of the 21st century be like? Something in between Black Mountain College, the Bauhaus and the Laboratory for Insurrectionary Imagination. A place where we learn to bring art, activism and everyday life together. That’s our long-term aim. The society of the spectacle is a society of separation, audience separated from actors, art objects from processes, the future separated from the past and the present. In the Lab we say: Don’t separate. Especially your ethics from your aesthetics. Don’t separate your everyday life from your art, don’t separate making the world beautiful and changing it. We have to constantly rethink how we can resist separation. Because that is what capitalism is fantastic at doing. 23
Capitalism separates us from everything. From our labour, from our ability to have our own land and create our food. The word art comes from the word fit: to fit, or bring, together. That is its role, to heal this world of chasms. The examples you give while criticising the art world are mostly examples of institutions that work within the field of the visual arts. What about the world of the performing arts, where people come together in one space? IF I don’t come from the art world at all. I am an academic. Founding the Lab is what I believe in, and in that sense the question whether we belong in the art world has little importance. I see myself as an educator. That’s what I am really passionate about. Principles of popular education. How do you give people tools to find their own power and find themselves? JJ I studied theatre before I did a fine art degree. Our main goal has always been bringing art and life together, and therefore performance is important for me. In a lot of our work we use ritual structures, and the live presence is fundamental. But for us the best theatre is moments of mass civil disobedience, of protest and resistance. These moments, like at the G8 summits or Climate Camps, are spectacles that even an opera house could never afford. For example, during our Great Rebel Raft Regatta experiment we had had 3,000 policemen, several helicopters and the world’s media lined up against us. Whilst we had over a hundred people running though the woods with treasure maps, digging up buried boats which had bottles of rum in them and then simultaneously launching onto a river to go and block a coal-fired power station. I mean these are great moments of theatre, adventurous, poetic and also pragmatic – one of the boats shut down a third of the power station. We think that the world changes through storytelling and myth-making. The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army, which we founded in 2002, was a perfect meme: a simple idea that can be reproduced by lots of people and spread like a virus or a piece of DNA. The question was, how do you mix the contemporary act of civil disobedience and the ancient art of clowning? It was about using the archetype of the clown and bringing it back to the street and real disobedience. Now people are doing Clown Armies all over the world. We hope the same will happen to the Bike Bloc, it’s about the simplicity of the idea and not owning it. What about the concept of the stage? During C.R.A.S.H. you used a theatre stage. JJ It was the first time the Lab really worked in a traditional theatre space. For three weeks long we used that stage as a working space with students and developed a performance as well as planted gardens, learnt about activism and permaculture and consensus decision making. In the performance the audience came onto the stage. They entered by the fire exit in the dark, sat on the stage with the curtains behind them, looked into the auditorium, Some performers came into the auditorium, although the audience did not know they were performers, and the audience became the show for a minute, and then a film was projected behind them. After the film the curtains opened, and there was a very traditional theatrical moment of a tiny woman with a huge feather hat, saying: “As you may have noticed, this is not theatre.” At that moment we invited everyone on the stage to join workshops and play games, they learnt to make working radios out of pencils and toilet rolls, and how to make seed bombs. Basically the stage became a working space like any other. Finally we taught the “audience” consensus decision making and 24
invited everyone to make a decision about where to set up a camp using dozens of wheelbarrows we had made: to either leave the theatre and set up illegally in the city, or stay in the theatre and set it up on the stage. The decision had to be taken by consensus. One person could say I don’t want to break the law, I’ve come to see a theatre piece and we would have had to re-discuss until we came to consensus. It was absolute improvisation in the real moment of the present. The script, what would happen next, was made up by all the audience sitting on the stage. IF It was really scary. How do you introduce consensus? How do you make it a genuine consensus decision where people feel they have been heard and not manipulated into it? JJ People said: “Oh my God, in the next hour I have to decide whether I will break the law or not. And for what? For art, or for what?” People’s senses were really like: “Oh, this is real!” All this comes back to our idea of not wanting to represent feelings, but to create spaces where you can genuinely have these feelings, where you feel an energy of tension of collective becoming and being motivated to have the courage to break normality, and in this case also the law. IF These are not only theoretical positions. Quite a few members of the “audience” tried to look for the trick and the manipulation. Well, there was none. It was a real invitation to disobedience. We want people to realise that we can break down these structures that say, you need to have permission to go into the public realm. There has never been such an historical point of emergency. We no longer have the time to safely explore things within the boundaries of an art gallery or theatre. We have to bloody learn how to disobey, because if we don’t, we are going to see the end of the world as we know it! The fact that you were doing this on a stage, might have helped to convince them. JJ A stage creates a different space. It helps create a focused moment. But only if those people had been on it while a crowd was watching them, it would have been a ‘stage’ and they would have felt self conscious. For us there’s an interesting line between paying attention and selfconsciousness. If we say that we can turn everyday life into art, then everybody becomes an an artist. For us radical revolutionary change lies in the moment when the separation between art and life, work and creativity dissolves. Stages get in the way of this, so do audiences, but whilst they exist we can use them, but simply invite everyone onto them. IF In 2005 we organised a tour of nine cities in the UK, which led to Gleneagles in Scotland, where the G8 was taking place. In each city we set up a show, which did have a stage and was very much based on clowning, because it was organised as part of the Clown Army Recruitment Tour at the time. It was about clowning and civil disobedience. After the show there was a two-day training in rebel clowning, and at the end of each training there was an intervention in the public realm. JJ In each city we turned up in a square with our caravan and gave away free chips, which is a great way of getting an audience. Anyone could come to these shows. So we did have a little stage standing in a square, but really it was just a creative form of promotion to get people inspired to do the trainings. The trainings were just as important to us and the real theatre was on the streets during the G8 weeks later, with the 200 new rebel clown recruits picked up the tour. Disobedience in the streets is the real theatre. 25
But no one is a clown in real life. JJ No, and there were situations where this fictionalization of reality worked very well. We had situations where we had seventy clowns walking straight through lines of riot policemen. You saw the cops thinking: “Are there really seventy clowns coming towards us?” But even if they knew it wasn’t a complete fictional thing, the fiction destabilised them to some extent. A very good clown is a powerful thing. It is the hardest performance, because it is just about being. Not doing, not pretending, just being in the here and now, the absolute present moment. It involves years and years of training. But we gave people only two days of training, which is nothing. Although it was powerful. I believe the space of the clown is a magical space. You do enter a space that is somehow beyond one’s everyday life. People were really touched and moved by it. What happened though is, that when the meme got really popular lots of activists wanted to be in the Clown army but without doing the trainings and they just started dressing up as clowns and going on protests and being silly which was totally not the point, It was meant to be about training a new disobedient body, it was about a new discipline of disobedience. The clown has no armour. He has no skin. It’s just this kind of body that is so in the moment and so sensitive to the world that the world pulses through it. Many young activists often create an armour around themselves, and then they start to not feel anything, because when you know how bad the state of the world is, feeling too much can be paralysing. One of the aims of the Clown Army was to break this armour down, and to get activists to feel deeply again. So the technique also had psychological aims. IF The real moments of magic with the Clown Army were the ones when it was good clowning. At such moments, the clowns genuinely forgot that they were dealing with danger, because they were totally in the moment of being a clown. They were not acting. Now I think these moments of magic have gone, because the cops have learned how to deal with the clowns and so we stopped doing it. For me our work is also about going against the machismo of direct action. Activism can be a very macho world. I am interested in defusing that and turning direct action into something else. Something fun. The techniques of the art world help to make our work convivial and warm, and at the same time we create a sense of solidarity and belonging that I don’t think the art world can give you. Like in the activist world, where people are looking out for each other, we also try hard to give individuals the sense that they are not by themselves. In a society like ours it’s crucial to know that I will be looked after, cared for, and I will look after other people and care for them myself. That’s one of the things we try to achieve through conviviality.
ABOUT THIN ICE Thin Ice was set up by a network of six European art institutions, called the 2020 Network. Together they wanted to “harness the power of the artist’s imagination to raise debate and find solutions”. Do you believe in this? JJ To deal with climate change you need a culture change. It is not about “Oh, we’re gonna continue our cultural system as normal, but we will just have green theatres and we’ll tour on trains”. That’s not the point, and for us it is really important to reiterate that. Right now the whole system is in an enormous crisis, economic and ecological, and there is no doubt that the system 26
will try and use climate change as the next way of regenerating capital after the crash. Green technologies, green economies… still based on growth, still based on coercion, hierarchy and all the things that capitalism does. What we are saying is: let us use climate change to rethink our entire culture and the entire system. Which also means: how do we make art and what is art? We need fundamentally new ways of thinking. IF Mark Godber of Artsadmin is definitely on board. Our experience of working with him is that he is really trying to push the boundaries from where he is, that is inside Artsadmin. JJ We had two of Artsadmin’s staff members involved in part of the planning of the G20 Climate Camp, and held our press conference in one of their rehearsal spaces. These are people who are taking illegal action, and while the newspapers were saying that anarchists were coming to tear down the city, they were openly saying: “Yes, come and have your press conference in our building.” That’s amazingly brave for the art world. IF The curator in Copenhagen said that she had been working on political art for 14 years… But when people in Artsadmin decide to say to the Climate Camp “Yes, you can have your press conference over here”, they step over the boundary. If you look at the history of any revolutionary change, such places were often at the forefront, and do have the space and the resources to be open to more radical approaches. The cultural world normally has such a lack of audacity when it comes to politics. IF A lack of imagination, paradoxically. JJ Suppose we were having this conversation in 1987, and I show you a film of the Orange Alternative: happenings, performance artists, punks, hippies… all working together in Poland under martial law and doing big theatrical events in public space. Most famous were the gnome ones, in which they all wore orange gnome hats. They got 4,000 people into the streets. Under martial law you are not allowed to do anything in the street, but the military men didn’t shoot them, because they were gnomes. If in 1987 I would have said to you “OK, you watch, this is the seed, little groups like these are opening up the public space for discourse again, in three years time the Berlin wall will come down and the Soviet empire will collapse”, you would have probably said, “Yeah yeah…” But it did happen. Often such little small cultural experiments open up space and possibility for the bigger changes to happen. The real seeds for revolutionary changes can grow in artistic practices.
a conversation with ANNE TERESA DE KEERSMAEKER (BE) Dancer, choreographer and founder of Rosas Brussels | www.rosas.be
You often speak of sustainability, a theme that also appears in your productions. At what moment did this theme come to the fore? It might sound simplistic, but I’ve always had a strong bond with nature. It would be a bit of an exaggeration to call myself a farmer’s daughter, but I did grow up on the outskirts of Brussels and my father was a farmer. I come from a family of farmers, and in the past, I spent a lot of time on the farm, where I also experienced firsthand how agriculture in Europe has changed in the last fifty years with respect to the production and distribution of food. I am referring here to the industrialisation of agriculture. For a large part of the population, the production of food used to be the main activity from which you made a living, and around which you organised your life, and from this emerges a relationship with nature. The relationship with plants and animals was based on a natural rhythm. This has changed radically in the last fifty years, with numerous consequences for the organisation and quality of our lives. More by chance, through my activity as choreographer and dancer, I came into contact with Eastern thinking on energy. The discovery of macrobiotics (the food prepared at Rosas and P.A.R.T.S. is macrobiotic, LK) and Taoism ran parallel to the way in which I as dancer and choreographer deal with the body and experience it close up, but also with how I deal with sickness and health. Very close to me, I experienced the death of my parents and other people in the family. At these moments, I saw the difference between how Western and Eastern medicine view sickness. While the West has an incredible amount of technical knowledge at its disposal, in Eastern thinking, the person is viewed in a more holistic way. The person is a totality of mind and body, as part of a larger environment: mind and body intervene in the environment, and the environment intervenes in the individual. You are now speaking of insights that are also related to your personal life. When did these begin to become a part of your artistic process? Fifteen years ago, after the birth of my children, this happened very quickly. The birth of a child brings a very concrete confrontation with things that are literally close to or in you, and with how you care for these, and bring them in balance with that which is outside you and your body. And you attempt to find an answer to the question of whether something like ordering principles exist: Are there patterns in nature that we must respect in order to arrive at a certain harmony? This question on the one hand arose via my past as – shall we say – a farmer’s daughter, and on the other hand, via the significance that food has for me. Food constitutes the most immediate relationship you have with your environment. Something created by this environment is put in your mouth, enters your body, is transformed, enters your blood and becomes a part of your body. We live in a specific environment. This environment influences us in a very literal way, and we manipulate it. I am interested in the continuous interaction between the greater totality and the entire individual. Once this becomes your focus, you are confronted with a search for the essence of things, and you inevitably arrive at ecology. When you destroy your environment, you destroy yourself. When you have children, you begin to view everything from a different perspective. You look at the future differently, and children ask you very explicit questions: why is this the case, we’re certainly going to do something about it, right? You then begin to think twice. What does one do with this feeling of powerlessness? How do you handle the complexity of this huge problem, and what role does hope continue to play in a world confronted with something like this? How is the 31
small related to the large? The large intervenes in the small, and the small in the large. Once you formulate the challenge we face, it also becomes a political and philosophical issue. In the year before An Inconvenient Truth (2005) appeared, things began to happen quickly for me. I became convinced that I had to treat the issue in a dance production. Because I was truly concerned. And once you try to find forms with which to speak within your own medium, specific questions of course are very bluntly formulated. What is your ecological footprint, and that of your company? However, I must be honest and say that in my work as dancer and choreographer, this was in the first place an artistic line of questioning. After making so many productions over a period of twenty-five years – usually successfully, not always but in any case often, and with a public that appreciates my work – in which the relationship between music and dance is a sort of constant, a need arose in me to get rid of all the trinkets, and see things as nakedly as possible. It is as if you enter a sort of laboratory and must ask yourself: what is the essence of our experience, and what in fact are the things with which we organise time and space? What disappears? Quite a bit. In The Song, music disappears and silence remains. Costumes became more sober. Decors… you just don’t need them. What you need is… a human body, in all of its simplicity and complexity: The most global and the most individual of things. In which we all recognise our humanity, as a sort of materialised energy in the most literal – but also the most abstract or most spiritual – sense of the word. I gradually began to reject everything related to the spectacular, to ‘excess’. I have an intellectual and ecological-aesthetic aversion to evoking emotions in productions. Especially when this evoking is created by increasing the spectacular. Let’s keep things simple and return to the essence of things. Thus, in parallel with this, we decided, okay, we will no longer tour with truckloads full of decor, and we will no longer use lighting that consumes a lot of electricity. Even when it concerns these types of things, it concerns movement. It’s about flexibility, literally, and about the movement of energy in time and space. Including the risk that it all becomes very ascetic. Back to basics. At a certain moment, this becomes challenging and liberating: all of the curtains are gone, yet it remains an incredible performance. In fact, the performance becomes even better. It is a sort of deprivation that at the same time is extremely fruitful… In the most recent productions, everything related to decor has been systematically removed. With The Song, our use of electricity is virtually zero. While Rosas danst Rosas used 80,000 watts, The Song uses 2,000 watts. With 3Abschied we used more energy, but nothing needed to be transported because the opera houses and theatres that hosted us provided everything we required on stage. You use the items that are in the theatre and bring nothing with you, but standard theatre lighting uses more energy. The neon lighting in The Song uses virtually nothing, but you must transport it yourself. Thus a lorry is needed for The Song. The big problem remains travel. We use air travel much too much. You can create all sorts of rules – we will no longer go to faraway places unless there are enough productions to justify it – but it remains difficult. Very difficult. For a number of places where we had to travel by air, I had the nerve to say: “If there are only two productions, we won’t do it.” Today we will no longer travel to the other side of the world for two productions. But you could also say: we simply will no longer fly.
You could map out a range of action that is responsible. Europe, and now and then a long tour using air travel. But it would be hypocritical to say that we are already doing this. To truly be consistent, we would need to go further. Is it possible to be consistent at this time? It’s difficult. The survival of a company like Rosas brings with it tremendous financial pressures. We can drop faraway places from our schedule, but Europe itself also presents problems. You can go to Berlin by plane or by train. But travel by train means more working hours. And what are you asking of the dancers? You are known for a high level of commitment to your own company. For you, are there then two contrasting notions of sustainability? Absolutely. Your company is not a dance company, but a company of dancers. A choreographer works with people. With dancers. A production is what it is, and becomes what it becomes, because you write it with specific people. A production written with other people, would be a different production. This has to do with uniqueness, with that which is specific to each dancer, but also with the fact that a body is always also a social body. A line is drawn via the interaction among people. With me, there will never be a large preconceived strategic plan that must be realised. There is always also a body that presents itself. That looks and is looked at, and the entire dynamism surrounding this. In addition to the work, can you also make life in such a company sustainable? Here again we must be modest. You have relatively little influence on the lifestyle of others. These are personal choices. Flowers may no longer be presented at a premiere. No, we have dropped that custom. We previously had the habit of always having flowers in the house, even in the middle of winter. But when you buy flowers today, you know they come from heated greenhouses or are transported by air. Flowers are for the summer. It’s the same for strawberries. They are best not eaten in the winter. Of course flowers are nice, but abolishing them at a premiere is certainly not overly ascetic or anything like that. The image of all those greenhouses, and how they are all heated… simply not buying flowers is the only way to do something about it. Finally, dance. The body on stage. Do you approach the body differently than before? Keeping Still – Part 1, The Song and 3Abschied are called a trilogy, but before these, there was also Once. In all of these productions, I see a body that absolutely wishes 33
to distance itself from the spectacular, but that also can sing or make music make, for example. Viewed physically, singing is – quite literally – extremely intimate. Your living breath forms its basis, and your body is the sounding board. Because it is a relationship of the most inner to the most external, singing is also a way to explore space. It’s a mirror of the soul. That sounds a bit romantic, but it’s true. Our body is also the most ecological instrument that we have – clapping with our hands and stomping with our feet. The perception of your body is the perception of the world. You carry the world in your body, and the world carries your body. The world in which we live today has undergone a sort of gigantic acceleration, in which we – somewhat hopelessly – try to find a foothold. The only foothold that I find is a tension between movement and stillness. According to me, today we find ourselves in the middle of a whirlpool, and before we get completely drawn in, the only foothold is a sort of immobility. We need to live more peacefully, and I see signs that we are beginning to understand this. I am here at the request of six European art organisations, who together have taken a stand. They are putting this theme on the map and saying, look, this is important to us. In this way, artists become part of theatres that clearly have their own story to tell the artists and their public. What do you think of this? One might think that this diminishes the artist’s freedom of movement. I don’t see it this way. It’s always a very strong and challenging signal when you feel you’ve arrived in a theatre that stands for something: That you are part of a larger idea, of a specific body of thought about the place of dance theatre in the performing arts, at that spot, in that city, at that time. Unfortunately, however, this is increasingly less the case in certain countries. What does a sustainable future look like for you and Rosas? In recent years, I have produced an incredible amount at a fast tempo. Absolutely not ecological. Absolutely not calm or slowed down. The physical and mental toll such a company takes on your life is significant, and ensuring its continuity is also more difficult. Fewer and fewer dancers wish to participate in a story that consists of years of working together. It’s difficult for young people. I’m now making a production for next year, but after this, I’m not so sure. I believe that I must approach things somewhat slower, and produce less. That’s the first ecology. And for me, the most immediate perspective on the future.
interview with FRÉDÉRIC FERRER (FR) Writer, theatre director, founder of theatre company Vertical Détour Neuilly-sur-Marne | www.verticaldetour.org
Could you describe the creative process of Kyoto Forever? Before that, I’d like to tell you about another show that I created in 2005: Mauvais Temps, which is about the attempt of an orator at discussing climate. It was the mise en scène of an impossible, doomed conference, and a way to come back to my past career as a geographer and climatologist. At one point during rehearsals, I suggested to the actors that they work on an international summit. For three days we improvised the meeting. Then I looked at what we were doing and said: ‘Stop. There is enough material here to do an entire show on climate negotiations’. This is when I decided that it would be the theme of a future show. Then I received Christopher Crimes’ call for projects at the Théâtre Le Quai in Angers within the framework of Thin Ice, revolving around the issues of art and climate change. I sent my application and offered to do a climate conference on stage. They selected my proposal and decided to co-produce the project. Henceforth, I started work on Kyoto Forever. Some time later, when a large part of the show had been thought of, written, and rehearsed with the actors, Theresa von Wuthenau of Le Quai asked me to meet with a French climate expert, Jean-Pierre Tabet, who works for an organisation called ADEME; an organisation that the theatre wanted to set up a partnership with. During the meeting, I realised that he had been in Bali as part of the UN French delegation. Facing me was one of the people that I wanted to put on stage… We met another two or three times and he gave me an insiders’ view of the international negotiations. Then he told me: ‘Look, if you’re interested, I could get you to come along to Bonn with the French delegation…’ I immediately accepted his offer and the French government gave its consent. In the mean time, I’d watched the Bali conference on TV, and I’d seen the images of Ivo De Boer, who was in charge of UN negotiations, as he broke down before the world’s television channels. As I saw him overcome by tears, I realised that this was where true theatre stood. This was the intimate tragedy of a man, and at the same time, there was something quite universal about it too, mankind facing climate change, mankind and the future of the Earth. In June 2008 – I’d already written the entire play – I attended the Bonn UN conference, where I stayed for four days. I filmed a bit, and was deeply moved by everything that was going on around me: the stakes, the protocol around the speeches, the way in which people communicated… Because I didn’t understand every thing due to the highly-technical nature of the debates, I focused on other things: how people link up together, how they speak in public and how they talk amongst themselves, their behaviour in some technical groups after having worked for hours on one text, what are the main challenges between the various countries… On the Friday night, I hopped on the Thalys to return to Paris. During those four hours, I rewrote the play completely. Being on site had given me the need for something concrete. For the set, I wanted to set up some tables in a rectangle with 30 non-actors around them, I wanted to give these people a microphone and a text and tell them: ‘That’s it, go for it, start negotiating’! The text of Kyoto Forever includes quotes from some of the debates at the Bali and Bonn summits. It is thus not a re-enactment. Why did you finally settle for the fiction of theatre? I’m not sure. I take reality, I look at it, and I really want to show the same thing on a stage. The idea of such a re-enactment pleases me, although every time we rehearse on stage, I always feel like changing something here, going further there, modifying it, twisting it around and then, before you know it… we’re in the land of fiction. Given that reality is much more intense than any 37
attempt at reproducing it, what I find most interesting in this process is not the mimesis of reality but rather the fact that the proposition is anchored in reality, and that this reality is the beginning of the possibility of creation. For my next project: À la recherche des canards perdus (In Search of Lost Ducks), I draw my inspiration from a scientific experiment that used yellow plastic ducks in a Greenland glacier to measure the current speed of global warming in the region. This play will be a conference with a public discourse. The conference format allows me to find a balance between reality and fiction. This form often falls into the real, it can transmit something genuine, and at the same time, it allows for all sorts of shifts in meanings, particularly when taking place in a space like a theatre… The conference moves around, sometimes in spite of itself, and stirs the listener. It moves from reality to somewhere else, just like in a dream… When we talk about NASA’s real experiment with ducks, there is the true experiment, and there is also the life of those ducks… and this is where you can take off into the imaginary. I need to start from reality or documentaries before I can start imagining. Are you intent on making people conscious of climate change? This was not my original motivation. Why climate? Because it interests me, I worked with it, I trained in this field… But I have no will to educate people, and I don’t want to militate either. As an artist, no. I could easily have put together an international summit on any issue. As a man and as a citizen, things are different, but I won’t pretend to be invested with the mission to make the world conscious of climate change. The question of climate fascinates me because of its vertiginous aspect. It allows, it forces us to think and to re-think mankind and his relationship to the world. This is what feeds my desire to create, not the will to deliver any sort of message. I draw more inspiration from reality than fiction. In all my shows, I start off with facts that have taken place. I really have a need to start off from reality, because it gives me the urge to create. I’ve never wanted to create a play when reading a novel. With this play, what interests me as an artist is the complexity of finding an agreement. The objective of climate negotiations is that the entire international community must get along in order to reach an agreement that is binding for all parties. Most international conferences are generally organised to solve specific conflicts. Here, for the very first time in the history of humanity, the human species is trying to think of its own survival on the scale of the entire planet… What I saw in Bonn was breathtaking and gave me a plethora of ideas, because something truly essential was taking place. But why do I want to stage this? Artistically, I’m not driven by any desire to change the world, but rather by the will to invent a world and transform it into a theatre. And to do this, I often start with reality. The journalists covering the Bali discussions and events literally wrote: ‘dramatic turn of events in Bali’. The word is said: drama. My only job was to rewrite and invent what had taken place. Could art demonstrate that it is possible to change the world? Probably, yes, but I don’t think that this drives the artist in any way. A work of art may be visionary in spite of the intention of the artist. Indeed, the artist did not make his work thinking: I’m creating this to change mentalities or to change the world. An artist reacts to what he sees, to what moves him, to what touches him. He uses that and does something with it. Then, once the work is complete, he is no longer capable of changing the world or not, it’s beyond him. 38
Six cultural institutions created Thin Ice and want to suggest solutions to climate change with the help of artists. Do you think that this sort of positioning is possible? Yes, and perhaps more than a positioning of the artists themselves. Putting together the proposals of different artists, thinking about the role of creation today, about the way in which to create now, mixing together artists working in different fields, different art forms, could allow the cultural institutions to think about tomorrow’s world and to invent directions and proposals. But I won’t say that the artists have to relinquish that. Artists can very easily be at the core of such reflections. The Thin Ice call for projects to which I responded fitted into something that I wanted to do. I did not feel trapped by it in any way. Quite to the contrary, it allowed me to trigger something that I had already thought of creating. It was not an order. It can resemble the way in which today’s attention to climate change is felt: whether in a framework of international negotiations or at the level of the individual, you can reduce your impact if you want to. Nothing needs to be experienced as an order from the outside. Is there such a thing as ecological theatre? I’m very mindful of recycling and other stuff, but I don’t think that Kyoto Forever is a green play per se. Although the theme and the content refer to climate, the way in which I devised the play is not ecological. What is a green show anyway? Perhaps it is a show whose ecological footprint is known and can eventually be reduced. This is not something I did for Kyoto Forever, but it’s something that I would attempt to do for further projects. I would like to try and measure the carbon footprint of a new show. But let’s not discard theatre because it emits too much carbon dioxide… Do you suppose that the show will be played abroad? If I had to play in Canada or in the United States, we could eventually calculate what is more beneficial for the planet. Should I get the entire cast of actors on a plane or should I arrive a month early and work with American actors to recreate the show? What is most rewarding from an ecological point of view? Since your company Vertical Détour was founded in 2001, it’s been housed in a psychiatric hospital in Ville-Evrard. How do you manage to work there? Two hospital patients participated in my last shows, with the exception of Kyoto Forever, which, from the start, had been thought of as a show that had to go outside the hospital walls. It’s the first time since I arrived there that I did not create a show specifically for that place and for the building in which we work. The participation of patients does not pose a problem as long as the shows are played in VilleEvrard alone. Difficulties arise from the moment we try to come out of the hospital, particularly with regards to the care given to patients and their accompaniment. If this were not the case, I would have done it for Kyoto Forever, as some of the hospital’s patients participate in the company’s work on a regular basis and feed my theatrical desires. I have tried to make the VilleEvrard psychiatric hospital a permanent place for theatrical creation. I want people to come 39
inside the hospital to watch the shows. We always have a mixture of the hospital’s patients and outside spectators when we stage a show. Today there is a fragile project to make it into a permanent location for the theatre company. I have not yet managed to find financing that would allow me to carry out this mission in the optimal conditions. On the other hand, I still work in this place of pure freedom (which is paradoxical: I am at most free within the walls of a psychiatric hospital…). This allows me to create when I feel like it, at my own rhythm. In France, when you get an idea for a show, you have to wait on average two years before rehearsing and putting it on. Thanks to this location, I can start work on an idea within three months, which is more in line with the usual rhythm of creation. This is a colossal advantage. However, I need the support of theatres that are willing to work with me so that my shows can continue to live on, so that my creations can be seen elsewhere and meet new audiences. It just goes to show that you’re never completely free once you cross the door of the hospital… But there was a time when you did not get support from other theatres That’s true, but now I need it. Today, State, regional and departmental funding no longer allows me to put together shows as I would like to, and as I have done until recently. The funding is constantly diminishing and some shows have become ludicrously expensive. Then there’s the fact that, after having spent five years at the hospital I want to get out a bit. Even though the hospital structure is low cost, I do need to travel. I need to go back and forth between the inside and the outside. I’m a bit like one of the patients really (laughs). We still need you to tell us a little about your current project: À la recherche des canards perdus À la recherche des canards perdus consists of a small conference on a NASA experiment conducted in September 2008 on Greenland’s Jakobshavn Glacier. The aim of the experiment was to measure the speed of climate change. The ducks were expected to arrive a few weeks later in Disko Bay, but never reappeared. Where did they go? Are they still prisoners of the glacier? I decided to look for them. The conference will present this experience and this quest. I’m also in the process of preparing another small conference on Greenland from the viewpoint of the Vikings. Indeed, the latter have recently reappeared in the news, at the heart of a scientific polemic opposing the ‘warming clan’ to the ‘climate sceptics’. When the Vikings return, I think that theatre is not very far off, and that it can easily capture this event. Finally, after Mauvais Temps and Kyoto Forever, I’m now working on the third show of this cycle centred on climate change. I want to stage a cruise ship going to the North Pole. There is currently a development in the trend of end-of-days tourism, where people pay to go and see the ice field, the last icebergs, the last polar bears, and I really want to make a play about this entitled: Comment j’ai appris à ne plus m’en faire et à aimer le réchauffement climatique. This is a thinly veiled reference to Dr Strangelove, which is one of my desert island classics. Stanley Kubrick grabs something contemporary – the phobia of the bomb in those days – and turns it into a funny, burlesque work that tells me about the world I live in… You often use burlesque strategies
Since I was around ten years of age, or since I have watched films and seen plays, I have always been enthused to see my contemporaries caught in mechanisms beyond our control. When I was a kid, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil stirred me very deeply. This is what I also enjoy in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times and The Dictator or still, in Jacques Tati’s pictures. I love their amused outlook on the world and on its complexities.
a conversation with MARTIN NACHBAR (D), choreographer, dancer | Berlin & JEROEN PEETERS (B), writer, dramaturge, performer, curator | Brussels
Lars Kwakkenbos Can you first briefly explain the role the issue of sustainability plays in both your work and lifes? Jeroen Peeters Since 2002 I have been writing for Oikos, a Flemish journal that has also become a think tank for social-ecological change. Initially it was because of my association with the journal that Guy Gypens, artistic director of the Kaaitheater, asked me to co-curate the first Burning Ice Festival in January 2009 that was built up around issues of art and ecology . I was in charge of the festival’s afternoon program, which consisted of lectures and debates, that addressed the themes of landscape, mobility, waste, and narratives for the future. Meanwhile I also became part of the Ecopodia study group of the Flemish Theatre Institute, and a few months ago I joined the atelier Ecocultuur of Cultuurforum, a sort of think tank linked to the Flemish Minister Joke Schauvliege, who is in charge of culture, nature and environmental matters. Martin Nachbar I got interested in sustainability when I was sixteen or seventeen. I decided not to get a driver’s licence, I was a vegetarian, I was part of a foot co-op, and I stopped skiing. Since then, this zeal has faded a bit. Nowadays I am no longer a vegetarian, I do have a driver’s licence, and I do fly. But I’m still very concerned, and since becoming a father even more so. In my artistic work sustainability has never been a theme initself. Looking for Johnny, the project I developed together with Jeroen, dealt with a north-pole expedition and was presented during the first Burning Ice Festival, but it doesn’t thematize any particular topic linked to sustainability. Instead it deals with the inner human condition though examining phenomena inherent in nature . The starting point was John Franklin’s 1845 expedition whose aim was to find a Northwest Passage. It was a state-of-the-art expedition, three super great ships, all the stuff you need… They failed tragically. They ended up eating parts of the bodies of the deceased crewmembers, everything got lost and everyone died, and afterwards even more people died in expeditions to find them. It seems to me that discussions about ecology and sustainability are not so much about saving nature, but about saving our own lives. Talking about and discussing ecology is a cultural activity: how do we communicate, and how do we relate to what is outside culture? Ecology and sustainability are about how to relate to each other, in order to relate with that other thing that is called the outside, for our own survival.
THE HOUSE (1) “Ecology is the science of the house.” MN How do we relate the inside to the outside, and vice versa? The distinction between culture and nature touches on what ecology basically is. Ecology is the science of the house: Oikos is the house, and logos means science. How do you keep house? a private house? is your city a house? the globe a house? We could call this whole environement that we want to take care of, the oikos or the house. Though there are still things we are afraid of and that we would rather keep away from us, like crocodiles and sharks – if not, we become prey, and we don’t want that. Seen in such a perspective, not only the distinctions between what is public and what is private are sliding, those between nature and culture, and subject and object are as well. If we get eaten by a shark or a crocodile, we are nothing but an object to that animal. When you realise this, relations between man and nature become very different. Over the last two decades post45
humanity studies have been trying to redefine subject and object. I find their outcome really exciting: they are pushing sustainability into a realm where the view of the house as a shelter is changing. Even a house can then become a subject: it is no longer there to shelter you but it exists as such without my projected needs for shelter. For me such thoughts inspire me to think about sustainability in concrete artistic projects. I am now preparing two projects, one that deals with animal dances and the other with walks. JP This whole new philosophy that reconsiders the relations between people, animals, objects and so on, reminds me of Bruno Latour. MN He is one of the main thinkers, yes. JP He has this notion of inter-objectivity, and he also writes about political ecology. I am not very familiar with his work, but it involves loosening up the existing dichotomies between subject and object, and creating new possible hybrid connections. Maybe it is up to artists to test them, and to use imagination to bring them into this world, instead of having them live only in books. MN Biological engineers are already busy with this. There is this one really interesting artist, Adam Zaretsky, working with bioengineering labs. He invites people to come, and says, “here’s the leg of a goat; you cut it open, you take some tissue, and let it grow.”. Apparently, in some professional labs, nowadays scientists’ imaginations are taking huge leaps . They are beginning to consider humans as objects. With the exception of themselves though, and that’s the problem. JP That’s the whole issue. If we test this new realm of thought, how can we then rethink the ways we are making art and how we relate to art, and to the world we are living in? It seems to me that finding new answers to this will take quite a bit of imagination. MN Dance and choreography are primordial art forms when it comes to exploring these fields. Any dancer can tell you about the blurriness of the subject-object dichotomy. We are specialists in this. What Bruno Latour writes about, we know by experience. But of course the question remains: how do you make the awareness of this blurriness between subject and object an aesthetic experience felt by both dancers and audience, rather than just one felt by the dancers alone.
THE HOUSE (2) “The only houses australian aborigines have, are songlines.” MN I would like to return to the house. If you want to think about ecology in the arts, you have to think about the kinds of houses the arts live in. Municipal theatres in Germany are looked at as houses. With one or more companies inside, they seem to be hermetic, almost sealed, as if they were machines. The only entrance that is visible to everyone is through the fourth wall. The main entrance is at the front. Then there is the artists’ entrance. It looks kind of small and hidden. You have to sneak in. This second entrance reflects an understanding of hospitality that seems very strange to me. And now I make a jump to the Aborigines in Australia, who traditionally don’t have houses. Traditionally they don’t build. The only ‘houses’ they used to have are their ‘song-lines’: walks that 46
are inscribed in the landscape. These song-lines go via landmarks that, in their culture, reveal the genesis of the world. A song that tells a story describes each walk. Each of them consists of a set of what one could call relays, where you can meet someone else and sort of hand over the song so the walk will be continued. You can also go to the territory of another tribe, but you can do it only by walking along your own song-lines. The whole Australian continent has been mapped like this: through interpreting their song-lines Aborigines are able to paint quite accurate aerial maps of the region where they live. My theory now is that such song-lines, together with the walks and the dances being connected by them, become shared habits that are so strong that they embody a house. They become a house in the sense that they become a cultural activity in the landscape. Song-lines shelter, because they also convey knowledge about how to find food or water. They shelter in the sense that they tell you how to survive. Something about these song-lines intrigues me very much, because they form the kind of house in which you can hardly think of dichotomies. This house only exists through repeated behaviour; therefore it could be seen as a set of choreographies. Let’s go back to the municipal theatr, that I know from direct experience. Do I want to apply the Aboriginal model of the house, consisting of song-lines, to our theatre houses? I am not sure, but their song-lines do help me think about the model that we have, which is simply that of a wall. The separation. Besides wanting to constantly produce new stuff, another problem that we have is thinking separations all the time. As important as they may be, what would happen if they took the walls away? Once you allow the public to go in by the small artists’ entrance, everything changes. How do you think about differences once the walls are gone? How do you think about the difference between the stage and the street once you tear the walls of the theatre down? JP The two models you are talking about come together in Peter Sloterdijk’s notion of the sphere. According to Sloterdijk, a sphere is a kind of cultural immunity system, say an imaginary house that shelters buildings, a city, a community, and so on. Both the model of the municipal theatre and of the song-lines come into being through the re-enactment or reiteration of habits and practices, which create a context of intelligibility for our doings – as described by the philosopher Judith Butler. They both embody a repetition of history. The Aboriginals’ song-lines are a tradition of oral transmission spanning the generations. In a municipal theatre Goethe, Ibsen and other repertory are kept alive. Seen within such a perspective, the notion of the wall also has a historical component. Hearing you mention the song-lines of the Aboriginals made me also think of something else. Such song-lines don’t allow one to take an aeroplane, because then one would lose the connection with the landscape being a house. Nowadays we fly a lot, which makes it difficult to think locality. We often cannot think of travelling in terms of spatial continuity anymore: because most people take the aeroplane between Brussels and Berlin, we simply don’t know how to connect the two places anymore. Nowadays it is just two spots on a global map we are talking about. But if you read novels written in the sixties, people on the continent would mostly travel by train, and by doing so, they kept landscapes in mind. What I want to say is this: also here in Europe there are cultural habits, practices and histories of travelling to be found, which are none other than choreographies of a shared history that we have lost in a short amount of time. People that are one generation older than we, might still have European song-lines in their heads, and because of these song-lines they relate differently to the environment. They have a different sense of locality.
MN Goethe even stepped out of the horse carriage when he was travelling to Italy because it drove too fast for him. That could also be interesting, having Sasha Waltz Company or Rosas walk all the way to Madrid (laughs). JP Pina Bausch’s company would mostly travel by bus. At the same time the globalised way of merely putting spots on a map already existed in the eighteenth century. Kant and Hume got to know their world thanks to receiving books and letters, carried all over the continent by messengers. Though Hume was an avid traveller, Kant never left his native Königsberg. So this other pole of a disembodied relation to space also has a longer history than Ryanair – an issue that would be worthwhile looking into. We have a very short memory. We don’t remember what our lives looked like only fifteen years ago, when we flew less and didn’t have Internet or cell phones. Life was actually possible back then! The same goes for cultural practices. Recycling also means rediscovering cultural techniques and practices that we have lost. One could think of growing one’s own vegetables, but also of what it means to travel by train rather than by plane. Once you connect sustainability issues to cultural practices shared by a large group of people, the discussions are no longer about things being cheaper or more expensive, or being better or not for the environment. Sustainability issues gain much more weight once you know how to define them in cultural and historical terms. That’s where we enter the realm of imagination. THE HOUSE (3) Is the world of endless ideas ? LK Most people agree that the world of objects isn’t endless. The question might be whether the same goes for the world of ideas. Throughout the modern age we have often thought, and most people, such as Karim Benammar, still do, that the world of ideas is endless. We might have to rethink that modernist idea. The world of ideas might also need a sustainable approach. MN Yes, I think so. Some of the solutions are not to be found by pushing work in laboratories even further. Recycling is in itself already a reiteration of old cultural techniques and knowledge. Not stretching the envelope that you put the ideas in, but slightly deflating it and having a look at what is already there. JP The same goes for scientific ideas and technology. A well-known example is the electric car, which has been around for a while, but its implementation has been blocked by the oil industry lobby. LK Does the same go for the art world? The main idea about making art is still that artists have to invent something new. MN According to Elisabeth Grosz one can only appropriate or steal in the arts. By appropriating things, you still discover slightly new aspects of what already exists. And when I see something that might have been done by someone else fifty years ago, I cannot but see something no one else has yet seen in it. A good way to reveal that ideas do not need to be ‘new’, would be not to assign financial value to them anymore. If we stopped doing that, it would not matter whether an 48
idea is old or new. Its value would then be the way it relates to other ideas. JP Travelling and meeting people – common practice amongst artists nowadays – also yields embodied knowledge that is rarely made explicit yet needs to be properly documented. And once the chain of reiteration, which we might just as well call re-embodiment, is interrupted – for instance by the flight of an aeroplane, to take up that example once more – we have to ask ourselves how to pick up the end of the chain once it is lost. By trying to restore the chain, you discover time and again that ideas and memories are easily lost. MN That indeed is a massive problem. I encountered it when doing the reconstruction of Affectos humanos of Dore Hoyer. Between 1962, when Hoyer made the piece and when Susanne Linke reconstructed it in 1987, there was a cut. And when I picked it up again in 1999, it was very difficult to relate to. I sense a certain interest in gesturality, expression and readability that Dore Hoyer and I have in common, but the way she embodies her movement and penetrates space, is extremely different from mine. I cannot reproduce that, for it is totally new to me, but at the same time my attempt to restage the movement does create an effect of sustainability: over the years something was sustained by a document, twenty years later the document was embodied again, and now, more than another twenty years later, this document again has a new life. However, to make it alive again feels like torturing oneself: as it took me ten years to understand the similarities between Dore Hoyer’s approach and mine, one could ask if it is still worth the effort. In the context of what we are now talking about, I would say yes. Reconstructing a dance piece that was made in 1962 made me understand that a choreography is a subject: it has a life of its own that you cannot kill. In Cover #2 (which took place earlier this year in Amsterdam, LK) I saw Nicole Beutler relating to two pieces by Lucinda Childs. They still work and have a presence of their own. You cannot kill them. They are there. They really are. The fact that they are not being performed, doesn’t mean that they are gone. Why is it possible that, after a period of twenty years in which they have not been performed, they can be performed again and have such an effect? Because they exist, and since Lucinda Childs created them, they have never ceased to do so. There is this whole idea of a choreography being some ephemeral thing, that doesn’t exist unless it is performed. But it does exist all the time. Even when not being performed, it keeps on existing, which is quite uncanny. When the choreographer, the dancers and the last witnesses have died and when all documents have been lost, it might be forgotten, but even then one might have told something about it to someone else. Choreographies continue to exist. The ideas that existed once, keep on existing, and they remain in the envelope. They are there, and while being there, they need space to exist. The proof is: twenty years after the fact, a piece of Lucinda Childs is played again, and it still works because it is a strong choreography. It is there, and it has always been. JP And it has a right in itself. I see a huge discussion opening up. We have been talking about continuity and reiteration, but there is both repetition and difference. It is only through difference that we are able to make things possible or change them. Each time a sense of possibility comes into being, one also presupposes the opposite: a sense of impossibility. In order to imagine possibilities and change, there must be a limit to human activity and behaviour. The awareness of such a limit is at the core of every ecological debate. How do you define your own place in the world? You meet someone else, you get to know other ideas, you discover another place, other people, other histories… lots of things we encounter are ‘other’ than ourselves. Their otherness 49
puts a limit on our own behaviour, and it questions the idea that everything is relational or symmetrical. MN You marked the threshold, now you have to describe the space that has opened up.
THE HOUSE (4) Discontinuity : you cannot put everything in the house JP A choreography that has a right in itself puts up a certain resistance towards how dancers or spectators deal with it. By re-enacting or reiterating a choreography, part of this resistance transpires and allows for change. Not only people or places put a limit on our own actions, ideas do so as well. A choreography can be such an idea. To be able to think in terms of change, we also have to include a sense of discontinuity. The fact that we are faced with discontinuity in unexpected places makes us act differently. The whole ecological discussion is very much about that: an awareness of limitations. MN I agree. We do have to think sustainability and ecology in terms of discontinuity as well. JP Resistance and history are helpful notions to counter the happy idea of continuity, of an evergrowing, interconnected landscape of new possibilities and imagination. MN How continuous or discontinuous do you have to be to be sustainable? Let me redirect this question to the idea of the house. Walls create discontinuity. Let us not talk of cultures with or without houses, but more in terms of houses within houses. If you imagine the atmosphere to be a house, then within that house you have a certain climate. In this climate you have forests, that, being natural shelters, are houses too. In these forests you can build a hut, and in this hut you can have rooms. My point is: all these ‘houses’ act like frames within frames, and each frame creates continuity and discontinuity. Walls and borderlines create discontinuity, but windows and doors create continuity. Once you frame the world like this, the word ecology makes sense again. Ecology is the science of the house, but which house are we talking about? Why is it that ecology deals with nature? It makes only sense if one thinks of nature as an extended idea of a house. And then you do not only have to talk about domestic and nature’s life in terms of discontinuity. Of course both concepts of life are separate and therefore discontinuous, but there is also continuity between them. JP That is how the spheres of Peter Sloterdijk work: they are porous as much as they create separations between different bubbles. I want to further develop the notion of discontinuity. One of the lectures in the first edition of Burning Ice was given by Martin Drenthen, an environmental philosopher who spoke about wilderness and the concept of primal nature, which doesn’t exist anymore in Western Europe, although it still might be found elsewhere. Despite the fact that most of nature nowadays is regulated by mankind and therefore part of our culture, Drenthen says we can still think about nature as having a life of its own and a right in itself. According to him, nature does have a history and existence that exceeds every human perspective. He therefore proposes to create monuments of wilderness: wilderness parks have to remind us of something that Western Europe might have lost forever. But they also place wild nature as something radically 50
different within the realm of culture. In the concept of wilderness there is a notion of discontinuity that you can never exceed, yet in the form of a monument it becomes, in a paradoxical way, possible to relate to it. Let us now return to the house. According to Sloterdijk’s model of the house it can grow and grow and grow, as if it were a process of self-intoxication. It is like homeopathy: by intoxicating yourself with small doses you create antibodies and resistance, so the body or house can expand at its fringes and include heterogeneity or otherness while becoming bigger and bigger. But even when there doesn’t seem to be an end to this process, there might still be an absolute outside to the house, which can never be absorbed by it. Martin Drenthen suggests that this absolute outside to the house is wild nature. MN You are right. It is true that there is something that will always remain outside of any house. The ultimate thing of course is death, and I think the ultimate fear we have in relation to nature, is that death is inflicted on us by another creature. The otherness being at stake here, really is ‘other’. It is not understandable, neither is it embraceable by any technique. It is not me who devours, once I am prey, I will be devoured. I will be swallowed. Any cultural imperialism stops at this moment. I read this really great text by the Australian feminist ecologist Val Plumwood who, while on a canoe trip somewhere in Northern Australia, got attacked by a crocodile. In this text she describes the attack and, without being sensational, she reflects on herself becoming prey, which is totally different from being killed by another human. For me this triggers something that totally escapes us: death, inflicted on us by another creature with two eyes and a mouth that feels hunger like we do. So when we do try to imagine this radical outside, this notion of otherness that cannot be culturally appropriated, a good exercise might be to imagine becoming prey. Once you’re prey, you are out of control. A lot of things happen physically, and you have to deal with an ultimate, that is last, relation. JP The one artist I can think of that symbolically reflects on respecting otherness as being totally ‘other’ is Maurice Blanchot. His poetics revolves around this, and Martin Drenthen’s idea of wilderness as monument is a Blanchot-like idea, integrated within an ecological and environmental philosophy. The problem is though: what do you buy for it? Such symbolical thinking merely acknowledges the impossible. I can imagine that some Land Art artists use these Blanchot-like poetics to produce art and to place the idea of wild nature within our culture and make it an object of debate and imagination. But it remains a somewhat specialized discussion. LK Martin, your work often deals with sensations. Do you think it would be interesting to imagine what it would feel like to become prey? MN Once you imagine yourself becoming an object for someone else, you are thinking of becoming prey. As a dancer that is what you are dealing with when you are working for a choreographer. You make your body available for another person’s ideas and in that sense you are devoured. What is great in dance, is that it is always about one’s body. The exercise of imagining becoming prey, the pain, or the shock, as much as it is at all possible to imagine, is an extreme exercise in being aware of this. JP We have our next workshop theme, that’s for sure. 51
THE CHOREOGRAPHER “I think there is a third model.” MN I heard in England this transition culture is so strong that some people don’t even travel anymore. They attend conferences via Skype, because it is too energy consuming to travel. For me professionally, there is a border. When we talk about sustainability, we are talking about our relations to each other and to other species as well, and the necessity for these relations to be physical. You need to meet people, to be able to sustain the dialogue. So you need to travel. JP I totally agree. Artists and choreographers can contribute to the discussion about what it means to work locally. Staying at home, in your transition town in London, and only communicating with the rest of the world by screens, is a very narrow understanding of locality. If you travel somewhere, and you engage with the surroundings, the people and the history of that place, then you engage locally. That is something important to take into account when you are thinking about how to reduce your ecological footprint. Instead of isolating yourself from the rest of the world, you better start by asking: how much local weight does a project need to have, before you can say, ok, it is really worth the trip? MN The word experience comes from taking a step out. In German Erfahrung comes from fahren, to drive. Er-fahrung means to drive away. The first thing I always ask myself, is: how do I travel? Do I fly or not? That is something we can discuss. If you look at people like Mary Wigman and Martha Graham, they also toured worldwide, but they did it by ship and by train. JP It is also about calculating time. By only calculating your own time, a trip by train takes eight hours, while the plane might take two. However, there is also the indirect time needed for such a trip. All the time needed to pay for it, to produce the energy for it, to repair the environmental damage caused by it, and so on. If you count time this way, it might turn out that we better travel through Europe by bike. MN Maybe, but for the economy that might be really bad. Some environmental damage produces labour. It puts people to work. There’s economy and ecology. Both deal with the oikos, the house. One is the logos or science of it, the other one is its nomos or law. I don’t know if there will be a contradiction. In Germany there are ongoing discussions about the possibilities of the ecological factor becoming an economical one. JP Germany is quite far with it. LK I agree, but their socio-economic model still presupposes economic growth, and in all the other European countries it is no different. Without pretending I know any alternative for this model, it becomes more and more clear that the ideal of sustainable living is hard to combine with the dogma of economic growth. JP This reminds me of a lecture of Karim Benammar. In the first Burning Ice festival he spoke about excess and abundance, in relation to economy and the writings of Georges Bataille. He gave the example of Java, where people spend 15% of their time working to fulfil their basic needs. They still have 85% of the time left for sleeping, raising their children and other activities. There is 52
a very lively artistic culture there because they have so much spare time. They are not constantly obliged to produce and consume more. MN There we get to an interesting point that can be transposed to artistic activity. I make a dance piece every year, or every second year. Doing this I also feel the demand to make something new, to innovate… the market is constantly looking for the next hot shot. The mechanism that reigns the art world is very similar to the one that reigns capitalism, only it is more about fame than about financial profit. How does the fame flow go? That is our currency. How can we make art sustainable? Not by making new work, but by referring to old work.. Why can’t Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker be busy for five years with Rosas danst Rosas, and keep rethinking and reworking that, until it really becomes something else. Lots of artists do work like that, but the overall attitude doesn’t highlight this aspect of their work as such. It highlights the newness of their creations instead. So maybe we should develop another kind of attitude towards the production of cultural goods, comparable to the one in Java. JP I recognize two different ideas in what you propose. One is to invest more time. Rather than producing one piece a year, you say ‘I have one specific topic of interest, I spend several years on it, and, from time to time, a product emerges from the process’. This product could be a piece, a text or something else: artists would also research, engage in dialogue and so on. The second idea is the one of recycling. We talk about re-enactment all the time – it is the new European hype – but what if we consider re-enactments or reinterpretations of older work as a form of recycling? MN When I created Urheben Aufheben, I didn’t think of recycling at all, but looking back, I think it deals with it to some extent. Recycling by re-contextualizing choreographies is an interesting thought. In doing so you consider a choreography, an artistic thought or authorship as something that is material, without having to refer to its financial value, which is the bourgeois notion of authorship: this idea is mine and I can make money out of it. JP Up to now we have been speaking about two models as possible sustainable ways of creating choreographies or other cultural ‘products’: recycling and infusing more time. I think there is a third model that also relates to locality, and to the idea of art as something immaterial, for which I refer to the open source idea. Belgium and Germany have very different production systems. In Belgium there is an institutionalised independent scene, while in Germany the municipal theatres are still the strongholds of culture, and next to them you have a ‘freie Szene’, or independent scene. An interesting model for me would be to rethink the role of the municipal theatres, where you have ensembles and local groups of actors or dancers inviting artists from elsewhere to make work or recycle other artists’ ideas with them — the local ballet ensembles are a good example of this. When it comes to recycling we always think: ‘Let’s do a piece from the sixties’, but wouldn’t it be interesting to have contemporary artists work with local groups, rather than having large companies travel. Instead of, let’s say, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas travelling to Japan, it is just Anne Teresa or her assistant that goes and works for two months with the local company. MN This is how they work in classical dance. LK Could you see yourself working like that? 53
MN Yes. I did it once in Freiburg, where I made Looking for Johnny. You need some time though. In Freiburg it was tricky, since they were used to a very different approach. So first you have to teach your approach. I like doing that, but to make a piece you need a bit of time. Deborah Hay works like this a lot, but she is a kind of specialist. She knows how to instigate a certain way of thinking and moving hyper-quickly. Teaching new approaches really requires expertise. Talking about ecology in terms of relations might be the new expertise that you need as an artist of the future. It is all about how to relate to people, and how to channel desires, develop kinships, familiarities… They shouldn’t become other people’s desires, though, because then we would become a global family, and that’s not what I am thinking about. JP If you want the new model to become part of the general consensus, you need to find a bridge between its development in schools and its relevance for the ballet or the municipal theatre ensembles that we don’t consider to be places where experiments can happen. How to combine them and wipe out the cliché of the ensemble, while promoting the way the model is developed in schools in the mainstream?
a conversation with Katarina Stegnar, Barbara Kukovec and Boris Kadin & Bojan Jablanovec (SI), members of the performing arts project Via Negativa Ljubljana | vntheatre.com
In most of the pieces you make, it seems as if you are going against a common assumption about the role of the audience in front of a stage, which is that one sits and watches a show without having to be involved in it. Why then do you need a stage for the things you are doing? Bojan Jablanovec For me the relationship the audience has with the stage is the most basic situation one can use in the performing arts. We have been doing performances in galleries as well, and in open-air situations and site-specific contexts. But even then you are always in front of the people watching you. This is the basic situation, and in the theatre it is the strongest and clearest. Though it is easy to break down the boundaries between audience and performers outside the theatre, the initial situation would remain the same. What I like about the stage is that it is bound by strong conventions. Everyone can understand these conventions, and therefore they provide you with a context you can relate to. They are full of prejudices, expectations, but you know they exist. On stage it is a bigger challenge to test them. Katarina Stegnar Other relationships are often too arbitrary. Then anything goes. But working in the theatre, whose tradition is about 2500 years old, makes things easier. You go on stage and you reveal yourself. First you have this huge panic, like: ‘Whoop, I’m revealing too much.’ But nobody will believe that what you say is actually true. But during the process of acting I found out that the hardest thing is to act yourself. Because you are still there and are therefore acting. It is a role. I am always playing a role. At the beginning we were saying ‘It’s not acting, there are no costumes, there is no make-up’, but for me the hardest thing is to act myself. BJ No matter what kind of situation you are in, you are always in the position of representing yourself. There is no other way to do it. It is quite naive to think, well I am just being myself. It is impossible! Every artistic situation is artificial, so you are always representing yourself. You are always in the situation of representation. What is the link between this and the focus on the real that has characterized your work until now? In the early writing on your work there was a strong focus on the real on stage, but in recent performances I have noticed that this focus is changing. KS We got fed up with pissing (laughs). No, seriously. All these actions with bodily fluids were right for what we wanted to say, but now they’ve become stupid or funny. We can no longer use the same tools anymore. Otherwise it all would have become a fixed system, and the focus on the real would have become a style. Barbara Kukovec We were talking about transgressive actions. Being naked on stage often looks like a gesture you make to support your statement. But for me it didn’t work anymore. How do you push yourself beyond that? This is where the real still remains. But the body is still crucial in your performances. BJ The body is a basic tool. You can always relate to it. Let me return to the question of the real. What can be real in an artificial situation called theatre? How can we open up a safe theatrical framework so as to be interesting and challenging again? What is real here is the situation itself. 57
We can detect ourselves in this situation. The relationship between the audience and what is happening on stage is real. This relationship seems to be a game. We can play this game for real, but it’s still a game, and the audience likes to play it. You need to find good, solid and understandable rules though, and that is where the hard work starts. How are we to open up these rules, and make them understandable, interesting, provocative… In order to do so, the body becomes the basic tool. It immediately opens up that sort of relationship. KS In the beginning we did lots of actions that involved torturing or draining the body. They were more like performances than actual theatre pieces. They are still present in our work, but they function on a different level now. It might have become more a question of theatre, instead of mere performance. Think of what we do in Out (created in 2008, LK). The message is completely turned around in that piece. It is a bit like flipping the responsibility, from asking the audience to observe what we are prepared to do to asking it to see what it is prepared to do itself. BJ Let me explain what Out is about. We play a simple game with the audience. All the performers act as dogs, and they throw a ball to the audience. The dogs bark like hell, and ask: give us the ball, we want to play! This game goes on as long as the audience wants. You can see that the performers are getting exhausted, that they can hardly bark anymore, but still the audience throws the ball. Then another performer appears on stage and asks: “Stop throwing the ball! If you don’t, they won’t stop either.” So it’s their decision. They have to decide to stop the game, and this is hard for the audience because they came because of the game in the first place. Often they start throwing the ball to someone else in the audience, instead of to the dogs. On three occasions someone left and took the ball with him. And then the play stops. BaK The audience should take the decision. KS And the audience understood the game very well. Once one of us was told to “Sit!” before getting the ball. Mostly we think that the one who is on stage has the power, but we often try to show that it is vice versa. Of course you are on a stage, but the issues you are dealing with concern real life as well. The hierarchy between the audience and the dogs reminds one of power relationships, and of course they are not only to be found in a theatre. You are reminding the viewer of the fact that he is at least partly responsible for what happens on stage. In so doing, do you also remind him of a kind of civilian responsibility? KS There seems to be a huge convention: when you are inside a theatre, you are completely free: if you don’t like it, you can go. As if it were a place of complete democracy… What you are saying sounds more like consumer logic to me. If you don’t like it, you don’t consume it, and you do so by leaving the theatre. BJ For me the relation a consumer has to what he sees or wants always reflects real situations. I don’t think that theatre reflects a democratic situation. By creating things, an artist is always building a kind of system which he somehow he expects the viewers to fit into. As if you were building a kind of state, explaining the rules to its citizens, and adding: “Don’t think you are right, 58
because you don’t know what will follow.” As an artist you are always a step ahead of the audience. But the audience is also a step ahead of you. Spectators can expect things, and anticipate them. Who is following whom? KS It is a bit totalitarian. You look at the world, and then you can like it or dislike it. BJ And when you are building that sort of situation in theatre, you are probably using the civic logic you live by. Because you know people will recognize it. They might not do it consciously, only unconsciously. You are always using models of civilian life. Can theatre help to change society? KS You can educate people, but can you change what they do outside? I don’t think so. What they see is cathartic. It is still Aristotelian. Unless it totally breaks every rule and it provokes you so much that you get pissed off and leave. For instance, can theatre persuade you to recycle your coffee cups? I don’t think so. Some might put them in the right bin when leaving the theatre, but I think I would put it in the wrong one, thinking ‘Fuck you’. Boris Kadin Take the knife game Kristian Al Droubi and I play as a part of the performance Not Like Me (which provoked sensational media responses, as Boris Kadin, a Croat, and the Kristian Al Droubi, a Serb, performed it in Zadar, Croatia, on August 16th 2007, LK). It is totally different when we play it in Croatia, Serbia, or over here, in Slovenia. This knife game did create a cathartic moment that went beyond the context of the theatre itself. BJ When you use art as a political or activist tool, it is a style. I cannot perceive theatre as something that can change my life. All you can do in theatre is recognize situations… KS And what you do after recognizing it is your own responsibility. We don’t offer any solutions. It is very classical, and this may sound stupid, but it is all about holding up a mirror, saying “We are all in the same shit.” BJ Here in Slovenia the common idea is that our independence was pushed by Slovenian writers, intellectuals, artists… They talked a lot, they published a special magazine, they were writing clearly about the possibility of being an independent state. All this happened years before Slovenia became independent. How should we interpret this moment? Does art then change the fate of our country? According to me, their writings were not artistic, but were strictly political tools. Could art create a space of imagination in which other ways of thinking become possible? We are living in a capitalist world, and it seems to be getting harder and harder to find a position outside this world. Katarina, the discussion you and Bojana Kunst set up about shame in No one should have seen this seems very interesting to me in this perspective. Following Bojana Kunst, the feeling called shame might embody one of the few critical positions regarding what is happening in our world that is still possible today. KS Yes, there are still ways to be critical of society in the context of a play, and provoking the feeling of shame might be one of them, but does it change anything? According to me, anyone 59
who tries to change things by means of theatre is naive. What about the relationship between viewer and performer? By changing that, you might suggest another way of communicating outside the theatre as well. You often do address your audience as a set of individual subjects that need to take decisions while watching the piece. KS Maybe people occasionally allow themselves to be more daring. Take Would Would Not for instance, which we created in 2005. The main theme of that piece was lust. Each performer had to do things with the audience’ bodies. So there were different games on stage, including masturbating spectators, going out with them, spanking… And the audience did participate. Word spread and people came and at each performance they became more relaxed, and more daring, and they went to fuck each other in the toilets here downstairs… This performance might have changed the mindset of the spectators, but as far as I know, it only lasted for the duration of the performance. God knows what would happen if it was extended further than the time-span of the performance. BaK Sometimes 80% of the male performers were spanking me. But it only happened because the rules of the game were clear. BJ Artists probably should say they would like to change the world. This is probably something people would like to hear. That we would like to free ourselves, and we should build a better society… BaK We should. (everyone laughs) BoK An honest society… (everyone laughs) BJ But I can’t say this. Not that I like the world I am living in. I don’t like a lot of things. Maybe I don’t like this world at all. My basic question is: what should in general be changed? What should be better? Throughout the last ten years politicians have constantly been changing things to make life better, to connect nations and to make our lives easier; they are fighting for the environment, for a healthy society, defending ideas of democracy etc. I think Al Gore running around the world with his video stinks. I don’t want to be one of them, fighting for a better world. Because this fight stinks. Politicians are here to fight for a better world, every institution is here to make our world better, so should I, as an artist, be one of them too? KS If I look at the art that really had an impact on me, it never changed the way I live. Did it make you think differently? KS Yes, of course. But did I act any differently afterwards? No. I am not saying that an artist should change the world, but the outlines of a space of the imagination might be interesting. Revealing to the viewer that there is still a space in which he is able to think that things could be different, but without him telling that they 60
should be. BaK But I think people already know that. Everyone knows that it could be different. The imaginary level works in the theatre, and that is great. Everyone can believe that it can be different for an hour or two. You can actually think this is possible, and that is the power of theatre. But then, if the transition of imagination into an act actually takes place, that is a bit of a bigger step. Theatre presupposes the presence of different people, different bodies. Imagination takes on a tangible social dimension here. Therefore I do think that a theatre space can have a political meaning. BJ I agree completely. We do make political theatre. This is political theatre. But for a long time I was not sure about it. What on earth is political theatre? But then I realised that we had already been applying a lot of key elements from Bertolt Brecht’s theories: awareness of the performer, being aware of acting, showing that you are acting… this is Brechtian logic. With these tools he was giving the audience the opportunity to reflect on the situation in itself. This is what we have been doing since the beginning of Via Negativa. We are using the relationship between audience and performers as a situation that reflects the political reality. Questioning gender issues, let’s say, and open sexuality, in Would Would Not, challenging the cult of money in Incasso (created in 2004, LK)… So yes, we are always referring to the concrete situations we live and have to deal with ideologically and politically. So yes, this is political theatre. Definitely. You are revealing the viewer as a political subject. BJ Viva Verdi (created in 2006, LK), for instance, starts with a protest. I walk onto the stage as the director and declare we will not perform the show today because this festival is bullshit and full of manipulation, and we therefore refuse to play. This is how we start. People definitely believe it. So this is a political move. A protest. What kind of strategy is the protest? It is a way to express dissatisfaction, a way to declare that one is against something, but at the same time it is a demand that someone must do something. A protest is often an expression of powerlessness that takes the form of being loud and provocative. And we use these tools in the context of laziness in order to conceal artistic laziness. We didn’t know how to do the show and we made up the protest against the festival and production system, which we are part of. So Kristian Al Droubi, a performer, starts the piece by protesting against the festival. He holds the festival booklet in his hands, saying: Well, this festival is pure bullshit!, throws it on the floor, and pisses on it. But throughout the performance we reveal what kind of strategy we are using to conceal the artistic laziness. In the National Croatian Opera there was no big scandal about it. But the Italians – we played it in Teatro Verdi in Terni as well – were completely pissed off that some Slovenians were pissing on the stage of their Teatro Verdi. KS And they used it. Some politicians used it as a political tool, by regretting publicly that so much money had been given to produce such shit. What did you think of those reactions? BJ I would be happier if people understood the strategies and did not stumble over this simple 61
test of provocation. The performance was not about making a scandal, but about revealing the logic of laziness. BoK In Interview with the artist (created in 2009, LK) Kristian Al Droubi again pisses on stage. He is Serbian, and when we played the piece in Zadar, in Croatia, there was big fuss about it. The girl from the festival told me that the local government said: “OK, you have the guy pissing on the stage, is that it?” From a two-hour performance that was the only thing they wanted to remember. It is also a media thing. The media headlines were “A Serb guy is pissing in a Croatian church”. The place wasn’t even a church anymore… So we also have to deal with the logic of the media. Without having it made into a topic in your work, do you have a view on a sustainable society? KS We are very sustainable! All the costumes we use are our personal clothes, we don’t have any scenography, we don’t use much material, and we don’t make a big fuss about the theatre we make. BJ When I heard you had planned to do this interview, I started thinking about the logic behind ecological thinking. Basically it is not about the environment. Environmental pollution is just the result of a wrong way of thinking. If something is polluted, then so is thinking. What we are trying to do, what we are fighting for, is to clear our thinking. BaK Clarifying the thought. BJ When we connect with the issue of ecology, it is three steps before one gets to the level of concrete ecological problems. The pollution is in the brain. What are the important thoughts we have to stick with? Can I communicate on the level of pure thought when I am forced to communicate by forms? In the productions we make we push ourselves to be really clear and simple about everything. You could say, OK, this is an ethical position, but it is also political. We could use a show with a lot of costumes, but we think that is not only a waste of money, but also a waste of time and energy. By creating a network called Thin Ice, six European cultural institutions are saying they are taking a stand on the issue of ecology by programming artists who reflect on this issue and share our values. How do you perceive this as an artist? BoK I think it is a good thing. It is the only way they can really work and produce things. KS There is always a context. Do you fit into that context or not? It depends on how inventive you are. That is what’s funny about art. We perceive it as something that is really free, but it’s not. BoK This ecological issue is connected to several other issues. Real ecological issues are not connected to ecology in the strict sense of the term, but to others: power, money and so on. But I am rather pessimistic about all this. It seems to me that there is no way out.
BJ I really like the ideas that Bojana Kunst put into No one should have seen this. How do systems function today? What is a democratic system? Until today it has always been the most totalitarian one. Why? Because democracy absorbs every deviation of itself. Everything is in it. You can protest, because this is a democratic right. They will give you money to protest! A democratic country without any protests sounds totalitarian. Everything is incorporated into this logic. The system eats everything that surrounds it. So how is one to find any focal point in it? There is not one big general idea about this system, as there is in a communist idea of society. You always fit into it. Even as an activist, you still fit into it. But some activists do things against the law, and they convince others to do the same. BJ That’s a matter of civil disobedience, which can be an effective form of artistic expression, but in my opinion it can only happen if it doesn’t become an instrument for political goals. In the ideology of contemporary Western culture it is really important to use every opportunity to reveal that, rather than living in freedom, we are living in a system defined by a set of rigid ideological rules – some of which are really absurd and even stupid – the law being the essence of it. I am probably really suspicious about the possibility of creating a better world. I am nearly fifty; I was brought up in such an ideology. We were told all the time: “Maybe, at first sight, those living on the other side might appear better off, but we have certain values, like community values.” We were living under the constant logic that we were building a better world. As I was suspicious back then, I am suspicious today. When Slovenia became independent, it seemed that the promise of a better world suddenly shifted to the other side, to become an instant reality. We still fight for a better life, but the problem is that we have lost the Idea. Although Slovenia was never a hard-boiled communist country, it was not the change in the economic system, the brutality of capitalism, or the liberalization of our political system that struck us the most. It was the loss of the Idea, and that’s what we are still fighting against. This was the biggest and most unexpected change: we’ve been trained to believe in big Ideas or to fight against them. Suddenly there was nothing left to fight for or against. Anyway, although I am really suspicious about the possibility of creating a better world, Freedom will always remain a utopia worth fighting for.
2020 network: Thin Ice (2008-2010) member organizations
ARTSADMIN, London, UK - www.artsadmin.co.uk Artsadmin is a unique producing and presenting organisation for contemporary artists working across the spectrum of theatre, visual arts, dance, live art and performance, producing, supporting and promoting arts projects locally, nationally and internationally. At Toynbee Studios in East London, Artsadmin has developed a creative environment for artists and arts professionals, with a theatre, five rehearsal spaces, offices and studio spaces and the Arts Bar and Cafe. Artsadmin runs an education programme, a Summer School and offers various support services for artists including a free advisory service, mentoring and development programmes and a bursary scheme. Through our work in commissioning, and presenting artists’ projects, from the biennial Two Degrees festival of work that crosses the line between art and activism, to oneoff projects in a variety of locations and media, Artsadmin hopes to influence participants and a wide audience into engaging further with the subject of climate change. We are also working to reduce Artsadmin’s environmental impact, and that of the performing arts sector as a whole, organising the Slow Boat in June 2009 to investigate how we can make international touring more sustainable. The ongoing green improvements to our building, Toynbee Studios, have been recognised by a Silver Award from Green Tourism London.
BUNKER, Ljubljana, Slovenia - www.bunker.si Bunker is a non-profit organisation, which produces and presents contemporary performing art projects, constantly stimulating the Slovene cultural landscape with innovative approaches. Bunker brings together one of the most noted international events, the Mladi Levi Festival and manages the programme of the Stara mestna elektrarna – Elektro Ljubljana – an industrial building converted into a theatre. For some years now we have engaged in projects not strictly dealing with presenting art but also linking the soft tissue between social responsibility, local engagement, education and art. In the frame of the 2020 networks we are trying to closely follow the aims: to produce art work which raises questions and awareness on climate change issues, as well as trying to propose inventive and proactive ways of dealing with issues as ‘energy saving’, ‘recycling’ and ‘consumption’.
DOMAINE D’O, Montpellier, France - www.domaine-do-34.eu Based in a large park in the north west of Montpellier, and owned by the Département de l’Hérault, le domaine d’O is a unique project supported and financed by the Département to give a wide audience access to artistic and cultural events. Different venues, both indoor and open air encourage varied and exciting new projects from artists of all live arts disciplines. The main objective for le domaine d’O is to encourage the art and science communities to work closely together on the global theme of climate change. The winter programme, between the equinoxes of 21 September and 21 March invites the audience to discover artists, scientists and philosophers who probe major social topics. The artistic, cultural and scientific programme fosters engagement between artists and public, between companies from the Hérault and Europe, between arts and sciences, between culture 65
and ecoethics. The summer festivals from May to August gather many diverse audiences: Children festival “Saperlipopette” in May // “Arabesques” Encounters of Arabic World in May // Theatre festival « Le printemps des comédiens » in June // Operette festival “Folies d’O” in early July // “Après la plage” music and street art festival in mid July // Music and open air cinema sessions “Nuits d’O”, late August
KAAITHEATER, Brussels, Belgium - www.kaaitheater.be The Kaaitheater is a Brussels arts centre with an emphatically international approach. It has been a leader in theatre, dance and performance for at least thirty years. A number of artists and companies have been closely associated with the Kaaitheater for many years: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Rosas, Jan Decorte, Jan Lauwers & Needcompany, Meg Stuart & Damaged Goods, Thomas Hauert/ZOO, tg STAN and Tristero, and from abroad Raimund Hoghe, Jérôme Bel, Jonathan Burrows, The Wooster Group, Nature Theatre of Oklahoma and many others. The Kaaitheater receives its audiences in two superb venues in the canal area in Brussels: the Kaaitheater itself (the main theatre, on Sainctelettesquare) and the Kaaistudios (smaller theatre and rehearsal studios, near Dansaertstraat).
LIFT, London, United Kingdom - www.liftfestival.com LIFT is one of Europe’s leading arts organisations, connecting some of the boldest and brightest theatre makers with the people of one of the world’s great capital cities. Founded in 1981, LIFT has introduced international artists, productions and events from over 60 countries to over 800,000 people in London. LIFT has a long-standing reputation as one of the world’s most adventurous and influential producers of international contemporary theatre, creating extraordinary cultural events, festivals and experiences for London and all the diversity it encompasses.
LE QUAI, Angers, France - www.lequai-angers.eu Le Quai, a multi-disciplinary performing arts centre in Angers, France, opened its doors to the public in May 2007. The entire project subscribes to a High Quality Environmental approach, conforming to the sustainable development policies set by the City of Angers. An environmental approach is also an integral part of its artistic agenda, with conferences, films, debates, workshops, encounters between scientists and artists, and the commissioning of four artworks presented during the week-long Ponctuation Planet’Terre in October 2008.
imagine 2020 (2010-2015), additional member organizations: • Rotterdamse Schouwburg, Rotterdam, Netherlands - www.rotterdamseschouwburg.nl • Kampnagel Internationale Kulturfabrik, Hamburg, Germany - www.kampnagel.de • New Theatre Institute of Latvia, Roga, Latvia - www.theatre.lv • Transforma, Torres Vedras, Portugal - www.transforma-ac.com • Domino, Zagreb, Croatia - www.queerzagreb.org
Names of Thin Ice artists and contributors:
Annie Abrahams [FR] • Heather Ackroyd [UK] • Maria Thereza Alves [BR] • Petra Ardai, Luc van Loo/SPACE [NL] • Jennifer Baichwal [UK] • Lulu Balladart, Kandjura Coulibaly [FR/Mali] • Orla Barry [IR] • Rebecca Beinart [UK] • Mustafa Ben Saada [FR] • Camille Boitel [FR] • David Buckland/Cape Farewell [UK] • Tom Carr [ES] • Rosa Casado/Mike Brookes [ES/UK] • Enrico Centonze & Anke Trojan [UK] • Lottie Child [UK] • City Mine(d) [UK/BE] • Diana Clements [UK] • Collectif Argos [FR] • Siobhan Davis [UK] • Richard DeDomenici [UK] • Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas [BE] • Stijn Demeulenaere [BE] • Frederik De Wilde [B] • Alan Dix [UK] • Emergency Exit Arts [UK] • Elena Fajt [SI] • Luc Federmeyer [FR] • FemAdLibKolektiv [UK] • Valério Ferrari [IT] • Frédéric Ferrer / Vertical Détour [FR] • David Fryer [UK] • Peter Gingold, Dick Robertson, Angela McSherry/Tipping Point [UK] • Daniel Gosling [UK] • Mia Habib [IL/NO] • Dan Harvey [UK] • Caroline Hayeur [CA] • David Hinton [UK] • Mette Ingvartsen [DK] • The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home [UK] • The Institute of Ideas [UK] • Aernoudt Jacobs [BE] • Marko Jastrevski [HR] • Anne Jenny et Gisèle Sallin / Théâtre des Osses [CH] • Mustafa Kaplan [TR] • Kapotski [BE] • Mala Kline & Max Cuccaro [SI/IT] • Laboratory of Insurrectionary Imagination [UK] • Guillaume Lacamus & Françoise Lazaro / Clastic Théâtre [FR] • Pierre Lafon/Hiromi Kashiwaga [FR/ JP] • Franciska Lambrechts [B] • Duncan Law [UK] • Philippe Leduc, Marc-Antoine Mathieu, Lucie Lom [FR] • Selma Lepart [FR] • Victoria Long [UK] • Magnificent Revolution [UK] • Kate McIntosh [NZ] • Laurence Mellinger [FR] • Eva Meyer-Keller [DE] • My Dads Strip Club [UK] • Martin Nachbar [DE] • Alexander Nieuwenhuis [NL] • Ishrat Nishat [BD] • Non-Specialist [UK] • Rachid Ouramdane / L’A. [FR] • Clare Patey [UK] • Cornelia Parker [UK] • Jeroen Peeters [BE] • Kennard Phillipps [UK] • Philippe Piau /Cie Spectabilis [FR] • Platform [UK] • Lemi Ponifasio /MAUI [NZ] • Project Phakama [UK] • Quantitative Teasing [UK] • Philippe Quesne [FR] • Tanja Radez [SI] • Vlado Gotvan Repnik/Martina Ruhsam [SI] • Kate Rich [AU] • Jan Ritsema [NL] • Fabio Santos [BR/UK] • Ricky Seabra [BR] • Anne-Eve Seignalet / Compagnie Nocturne [FR] • Amy Sharrocks [UK] • Lemn Sissay [UK] • Filiz Sizanli [TR] • Nawel Skandrani [TN] • Stan’s Cafe [UK] • Subathra Subramaniam [UK] • Tassos Stevens [UK] • Shiro Takatani [JP] • Olivier Thomas / Le bruit des Nuages [FR] • Tretaroka [SI] • Will Tuckett [UK] • The Vacuum Cleaner [UK] • Sarah Vanagt [BE] • Bart Vandeput – Bartaku [BE] • Angelo Vermeulen [BE] • Gosie Vervloessem [BE] • Kris Verdonck [BE] • Bojan Jablanovec [SI] • Franck Vigroux [FR] • Miet Warlop [BE] • What Next? Anonymous [UK] • 67
Colophon Published by: Kaaitheater vzw For 2020 Network: Thin ice (www.imagine2020.eu) Akenkaai 2 - 1000 Brussels Design by: Jonas Maes Cover photo: Lulu Balladart Printed by: Maes Printing bvba ÂŠ Kaaitheater/2020 Network:Thin Ice All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any manner or form without permission in writing by the publisher.
Published on Oct 21, 2012
In this publication seven artists are interviewed by art historian and cultural theorist, Lars Kwakkenbos with whom they share their artisti...