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DECLARATION OF DESIRES - NOTES FROM A DISCUSSION ON INTERNATIONAL EXCHANGE

LAURA PALMER FOUNDATION // LIVE ART COLLECTIVE MELO // NEW THEATRE ON PECHERSK 2009


INTRODUCTION TO THE PROJECT/MEETING

In 2006, Stockholm-based Live Art Collective MELO and New Theatre on Pechersk in Kyiv were involved in a cultural exchange - the 'democracy project' Swizhe - in Ukraine, initiated and funded by the Swedish Institute.Â

What exactly is an 'exchange'? What does internationalising mean and why is it currently a political buzzword? Are the existing, established financial structures open, developing and supportive? What values do they promote? What is the political agenda of the investor and is there a transparent and open discussion about this? In what ways is art used as an instrument for foreign policy production and a part of bigger trade issues? What ethical responsibility lays on the artist? In short, the groups wanted to discuss how artists relate to the political frameworks within which they work.

The project created strong connections between the participants but also raised many questions about the structures of international cultural exchange projects and their political aims. What is a democracy project? Is democracy something that can be taught? In that case - whose conception of democracy is valid? What could be considered a reciprocal exchange in a project like this?

To give many angles and experiences to the meeting, other people with experience from international collaboration projects were also invited to join the discussions. Because of the place and context of the meeting, and our guests from Swedish funding bodies, some parts of the text focus on how the Swedish structures function.

In order to shift the Swizhe project's focus on the meeting between two nations, MELO and New Theatre decided to invite a third group; the Warsaw-based art collective Laura Palmer Foundation. Currently, the three groups are working to build an artist-run platform for long-term cooperation. The first meeting of the cooperation took place in Stockholm at the residency program of The International Dance Programme, The Swedish Arts Grants Committee, 12-14 October 2009. The aim of the meeting was to discuss the issues, challenges, needs and the complexities related to international cultural projects, for example our differences in resources and political climate.Â

The second aim of the meeting was to plan for further cooperation, articulate strategies for support and development, and to set up a direction or platform for long-term collaboration and democratic decision making, that takes the issues of our very different political situations into account.

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This publication

Core group participants:

In order to share some of the thoughts from the discussions, MELO - the hosts of the meeting in Stockholm - asked journalist Sofia Cottman to listen to recordings from the talks and to choose some of the most urgent topics. The text has been worked out in collaboration with Sara Soumah and Anders Jacobson, and contains questions, thoughts and statements that were put forward during the meetings. The text is not a direct transcription of the talks, and the statements are not quotes attributed to a specific person. This means that the text is pointing in many directions and that statements are sometimes contradictory. Our hope is that it can encourage further discussions on how artists can strive to always become more aware of their political contexts in general, and in international projects specifically.

Oleksandr Kryzhanivskyi & Olena Lazovich (New Theatre on Pechersk) Zuza Sikorska (Laura Palmer Foundation) Anders Jacobson & Sara Soumah (MELO)

Invited participants in the bigger discussions: Anna Efraimsson (The International Dance Programme, The Swedish Arts Grants Committee) Ingrid Cogne (choreographic artist) Ellen Wettmark (The Swedish Arts Council) Sybrig Dokter (dance maker, LAVADansproduktion) Sara Regina Fonseca (Choreographer/dancer) Anders T Carlsson (has initiated and coordinated exchange projects between Sweden and Georgia since 2000) Wato Tseriteli (artist/curator, Centre of Contemporary Art, Tblisi)

The second part of the text is a summary of what the core group participants decided to use as a base for their further collaboration; a 'Declaration of desires', guidelines for further 'Mobile Multilateral Meetings', and more.

Note: We also invited representatives from The Swedish Institute and Intercult, who both unfortunately had to cancel the meeting due to illness.

Finally, MELO would like to thank all participants, The International Dance Programme and Sofia Cottman for a great work with all the hours of recorded discussions. 2 (12)


NOTES FROM A DISCUSSION ON INTERNATIONAL CULTURAL EXCHANGE, AND ARTISTS AWARENESS OF THEIR FUNCTION IN A WIDER POLITICAL FRAMEWORK

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Internationalising Swedish dance?

In the current political situation in Sweden, the concept of 'internationalisation', has become a buzzword. What does it mean? Why is it important? How does it happen?

As the second biggest funding body of culture in Sweden (next to the Swedish Arts Council), the Swedish Arts Grants Committee has been mandated by the government to 'internationalise Swedish dance'. With regard to this mission an international dance programme has been set up with the aim to support individual dancers or choreographers who are interested in working internationally. Still, there is ambiguity among artists as well as administrators at the Arts Grants Committee in what 'internationalising dance' means, and what is to be achieved by it.

As one aspect of this task, The Arts Grants Committee is in a process of setting up residencies for Swedish dance makers abroad, or inviting artists from other countries to work in Sweden. Are residency programmes a way to internationalise Swedish dance?    

  

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To spend a longer period of time in a new environment is sometimes essential in order to fully understand the new context. When you know something about a place – the system, the culture, the language - you can also make something valuable there. But there is of course no guarantee that long-term residencies will promote contact, since many artists isolate themselves in their studio or venue. And on the other hand, very short residencies can create strong relations, depending on how we choose to collaborate in the local context. For residency programmes to be meaningful they should be custom tailored in what each specific artist needs in terms of time, space etc. There is no model that works for everyone.

Internationalisation does not happen simply by putting people from different nationalities together. If we consider that artistic exchange happens on the individual level, exchange seems to be more about individuals meeting each other, rather than about collaborations between different nations (or other types of categories).

To internationalise Swedish dance should therefore not only be about supporting Swedish dancers to go abroad, but also to work for diversity and integration on a local level in Sweden. This could include collaborations with foreign artists who live in Sweden as well as projects between Swedish dancers with experience of international work.

Or are people from other countries that reside in Sweden too close to our own reality to be interesting for the purpose of internationalisation? Is it the 'otherness' of foreign countries and people that we need in order to internationalise in a way that is 'politically visible'? Why are notions of nations and nationalities still so important?

Other terms to think about regarding the concept of internationalisation is for example mobility (everybody's possibilities to travel), transnational (across national boundaries, rather than between nations) and intercultural (between cultures, also within a country) - since they, in different ways, might be more accurate in relation to what it is that we want to achieve.

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It is important to keep the dialogue about all these issues active between artists, producers and the administrators working at art councils and political institutions. The effect of engagement will be bigger if we see each other as partners and as in one community working together.

What is exchange?

Often when engaging in collaborative art projects we like to call it 'exchange’. Especially so if it is an international art project. In a sense this is not wrong – everything could be seen as exchange: teaching, collaborations, absorbing a new environment, meetings and workshops. But what do we actually mean with 'exchange', and how is an equal, reciprocal and meaningful exchange project set up?

exchange verb 1. The act of giving or taking one thing in return for another which is regarded as an equivalent; as, an exchange of cattle for grain. 2. The act of substituting one thing in the place of another; as, an exchange of grief for joy, or of a scepter for a sword, and the like; also, the act of giving and receiving reciprocally; as, an exchange of civilities or views.

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Exchange - or any collaboration - could be a way to discover different points of view and to compare knowledge, and we have to be open-minded in order to find partners to have this dialogue with. It is more important to find people who you find interesting, that you trust and can communicate with, rather than what tradition, nationality or art form we belong to. It is equally important to start from a common vision - the idea of what we want to do together - rather from our financial possibilities or current political priorities. Politically initiated projects often start from the opposite end.

exchange noun 1. An act of giving one thing and receiving another (esp. of the same type or value) 2. A visit or visits in which two people of groups from different countries stay with each other 3. A short conversation, an argument 4. A system or market in which commercial transactions involving currencies, shares, commodities etc., can be carried out within or between countries

In exchange projects the notion of 'new' is often used when describing positive outcomes: 'we learn new things' and 'we get new ideas'. Since 'new' is relative and changes within different contexts, 'different' might be a more suitable word to use. When thinking in terms of 'different' both parts of the exchange project have equal possibilities to enrich one another despite what political, financial or social context we belong to.

In order to experience meaningful collaboration the idea of 'us developing them' or 'them developing us' is very problematic. The meeting has to be interactive and both sides have to be open for dialogue and learning. If not we will contribute to a globalisation in art as a new way of colonisation. 

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Contact and dialogue can arise on different levels. Some artists experience contact as either human and concrete, or political and abstract. Their experiences show that true meetings between nations happen when there is contact on the individual level, hence, this is where we have the power to challenge and change. Contacts on the human level is also essential in order to maintain the work and connection between groups of artists, also when official funding ends due to change in political priorities.

Another way of seeing this is that the political level is not more or less abstract than the human level. Some pointed out that the levels of contact should not be seen as separate, but working together as one body.

We can also think about whether it is at all necessary to use the word 'exchange', when we could simply call things for what they are; working, collaborating, teaching, performing etc.

What does the money want?

Art is not autonomous or separate from the rest of the society. Even if we make great art we are not free from the responsibility of being aware that our practice is a part of 'bigger issues' and that it might be used for other purposes than our own primary artistic interests. This is rather a question of how we choose to relate to the agendas of the funding bodies, than to consistently refuse cooperation. From experience we do know that it is possible for positive aspects to arise also within perhaps problematic frameworks. When we have knowledge about how political institutions - such as authorities and funding bodies - work, and about their political aims/tasks, we can choose if or how to work with them.

The Swedish Institute, the Swedish Arts Grants Committee and the Swedish Arts Council all have different aims and functions when funding international art projects. Swedish Institute answers to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and mainly funds art projects in countries in which they are developing trade or aid cooperation, and where Swedish art can be used for promoting Sweden. The Arts Grants Committee and The Arts Council, on the other hand, answer to the Ministry of Culture. The Arts Council funds organisations, and on the international field it promotes Swedish art, supports intercultural projects and is involved in aid cooperation with specific, prioritised countries. The Arts Grants Committee focuses on individual artists, but aims also towards geographic dissemination and gender diversity and has, as mentioned, been mandated to internationalise Swedish arts.

Art has come to be seen as a great tool for promoting countries in international trade or other inter-political contexts. Some international art projects in Sweden are accordingly funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. The ministry is primarily interested in issues such as trade, promotion of Sweden or EU- and aid corporations, and not in cultural exchange for the sake of art.

Artists should also not be overly afraid of being part of for example international trade. Just like art is a part of society, trade is too, and even if there is a tendency in the art world to think of trade as something notoriously bad, this is not always true.

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Some artists experience a gap or incoherence between the artist’s project and the political aim of the financier, and that this is a problem that must be discussed. A common attitude among artists is to be content as long as they are funded, and to not care so much where the money comes from. This is also an explicit impression that some representatives of the Swedish Institute have of artists.

Even though politically initiated art projects are claiming to promote democracy, dialogue, integration and development, the political agenda might actually be the opposite, with results that generalise and separate, build walls and create distances. For example, one could see Swedish and European engagement in Georgia as a means to support Georgia to keep its national sovereignty which is being threatened by current Russian ambitions in the Caucasus region. There is a risk that this creates a separation towards Russian artists in the projects done. Artistic cooperation should search and work beyond political international struggles. 

Some artists have experienced that it can be easier to get funding for projects which support and maintain the hierarchical idea of 'the first world's superiority over the third world', that it often seems to be important that the project is defined as 'rich country helping poor country', and they express that it is important to counter-act this system as much as possible. The Arts Grants Committee expresses a need to collaborate more with experts on international relations and economics, to learn more about this issue. 

What is 'poor'? Poor is a vague definition; on the one hand, a country can be generally poor but have rich art communities, and on the other hand you can find poor art communities in rich countries. An active and diverse cultural field is not only depending on financial resources.

Context awareness

Artists need to be aware of the different contexts within which they work and live – cultures, political systems, finance situations etc. Artists have to consider these contexts when setting up collaborative projects in order for the work to be of relevance for everybody involved.

When setting up an exchange project we need to look at the different resources available. Some can contribute with money, others with space and someone else with an audience. These are all resources. Even poverty can be a capital in the sense that it can be easier to get funding from a wealthy country for doing projects in poor countries.

It is important to continuously communicate different needs and situations, in order to support each other in specific situations, in relation to the different types of resources we have. International 'support structures' can be essential to discuss alongside the notions of exchange and collaboration.

Situations of inequality regarding financial issues are not uncommon in international exchange projects. Experienced inequalities regard salaries where artists from the various countries involved in a project are paid different, or not always fair, salaries and per diems. Contexts where one part/country of a project stands as the only financier - as was the case 7 (12)


with the Swizhe project which the Swedish Institute funded - can also create an unequal situation, even thought this does not necessarily need to have any negative effects on the art-making process. What is important to remember is that even if, for example, a project funder proposes a certain economical setup, artists can still create the necessary space for internal agreements that ensures a situation that is considered equal/fair for all parties involved. •

The notion of culture have different meanings in different countries. Since Ukraine’s independency from the Soviet Union, culture has come to be defined as 'true Ukrainian art' such as folklore or the National Theatre - culture is about the past, not the future. Many younger and non institutional artists in Ukraine express that international collaborations are very important since it gives them the opportunity to meet with different ideas about art.

How we think and use time is important. Long term and short term projects bring out different things. The different contexts we live in influence how we work with and relate to time; in Sweden the consumer society of today demands constant change and artists are encouraged to, and strive to, continuously reinvent themselves and develop new projects. In Kyiv, New Theatre on Pechersk usually performs the same play for years. This is possible much due to the space – the theatre – which New Theatre on Pechersk is free to use as they like, and to the fact that they have a big and active audience. To give the actors a chance to reflect on and develop the project with time is also highly valued by the artists in New Theatre on Pechersk. This is an aspect which is uncommon for most Swedish artists today but could enrich their art-making. For example, MELO was only able to play their latest performance - created site specifically for Dansens Hus - three nights, since guest venues normally don't programme the same piece twice or for longer periods. In contrast, Laura Palmer Foundation - who are working with site specific actions, conceptual exhibitions, participation events, staged situations and performances of very different time spans - has experienced very rewarding projects that were created to only happen once.

To achieve continuation even though their projects might only be performed a few times or sometimes only once, Laura Palmer Foundation gives lectures and publishes books about their art making and projects - which is another way for projects to develop with time and to 'live on'.

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WHERE TO GO NEXT ? CONTINUING THE COLLABORATION BETWEEN LAURA PALMER FOUNDATION, NEW THEATRE ON PECHERSK AND MELO

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This section briefly describes how the participants of Laura Palmer Foundation, MELO and New Theatre on Pechersk decided to continue their collaboration. The text will not go into details on specific artistic ideas or projects, bur rather focus on some of the principles that will be used as a platform from which to work. 

1. Declaration of desires

This is a long term, ongoing activity, not a time-based project aiming for a specific result/ product.

We operate in a small scale, and in a non-official mode of organisation.

We share the material produced to others (through texts, reports, conversations, web-sites etc.).

We strive to always expand our networks by sharing contacts and knowledge and always invite others to participate in our activities.

Our form of cooperation is open and free; we only engage in what we want to engage in. Not everyone has to do everything. All proposals don't need to be collaboratively created - we can also take part in each other's projects, by invitation.

We support each other when a question is posed or initiatives taken. For example regarding collaboration on smaller/other projects, setting up contacts and contexts in each others countries (for example interventions/actions, performances, workshops etc.).

We give each other the ambition to devote one hour a week for reading/writing/thinking about questions related to the work. We can share and recommend texts, projects etc. on the web. This idea wishes to promote and encourage us to take more time for reflection and deepening our knowledge.

Our collaborative practice is interdisciplinary, and can involve people/participants from any field.

Anyone involved can modify/delete/add the collaborative material that we produce (for example this platform). BUT: it has to be motivated. For example: "I took this paragraph away because..."

There is no central administration of our collaboration. This means that all initiatives must come from the individuals involved (no one else will do it for us). All different levels and types of engagement are important and valuable.

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2. Mobile Multilateral Meetings

We meet once a year in our different countries for discussion/meetings/working and writing sessions.

The meetings will be organised by the people involved in the project; everything is initiated and proposed by the individuals involved.

Rotation of responsibility for hosting and forming the meetings.

The meetings mix theory, discussion, reflection and practice.

The meetings can be combined with showing earlier works.

The meetings work with open processes, in order for our audience to follow our work and thoughts, through public activities and by sharing on the web.

We attend the meetings as individuals and can initiate projects in any kind of constellation.

                                                                                                                                                                               

3. Writing/journal project                                                                                                                                                                                 We discussed how to develop ideas through continuous writing practice, that could be shared through an "online journal". The writing could be about our projects (individual or collaborative) as well as revolve around topics of international and intercultural work. (This publication - "Declaration of Desires - notes from a discussion on international exchange" - is the first attempt.) The writing project can be used for:   Practice writing about the questions and situations we are engaged in. • •

Working with a 'digital publication' (A4, easy to print). As for now, we will not make it regularly, but make material public when there is enough interesting material.

Discussions and perspectives on the challenges of international and intercultural work.

Encouraging us as artists/practitioners to reflect on and write about our situation and work in a broader perspective, e.g. what is the relation between my art-making and the political movements/structures?

Report from ongoing international collaboration projects - benefits, challenges, problems?

Report from seminars/conferences/workshops, the current (local and global) political situations/changes etc.

Discuss further thinking about modules for mobility, economic structures that doesn't fall down depending on current political priorities. Strategies of organisation.

Critically examine the political rhetoric and projects that promote splits, gaps and prejudice in the name of 'exchange', 'dialogue', 'integration' etc.

Contact-making, education, research, tips and mobilisation.

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Continuing the project The next meeting will take place in Ukraine 2010 and the New Theatre on Pechersk will be hosting it. The form of the collaboration depends on the location and the context we choose to work in. One proposal is to work in the “Arsenal”, an old military building in Kyiv, which will now be used as a museum for modern art. Please contact any of us for further discussion! MELO: info@melo-collective.se Laura Palmer Foundation: info@laura-palmer.pl New Theatre on Pechersk: a13@voliacable.com

LINKS AND TIPS Web-sites: New Theatre on Pechersk // www.newtheatre.kiev.ua Laura Palmer Foundation // www.laura-palmer.pl Live Art Collective MELO // www.melo-collective.se Konstnärsnämnden / Swedish Arts Grants Committee // www.konstnarsnamnden.se Kulturrådet / Swedish Arts Council // www.kulturradet.se Svenska Institutet / Swedish Institute // www.si.se European Culture Foundation // www.eurocult.org Lab for Culture // www.labforculture.org Culture Action Europe // www.cultureactioneurope.org  IFACCA (International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies) // www.ifacca.org Intercult // www.intercult.se Inpex (International Performance Exchange) // www.inpex.se

Some texts and authors that were recommended during the talks: Rustom Bharucha - The politics of intercultural practice Sara Regina Fonseca - Anthropology and performance Nicolas Bourriaud - Relational Aesthetics

The meeting and this publication was supported by The Swedish Arts Grants Committee - The International Dance Programme. The meeting in Stockholm, October 12-14 2009, was coordinated by Sara Soumah.

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Profile for Collaboration Unlimited

Declaration of desires  

The first publication coming out of the collaboration between Melo, New Theatre and Laura Palmer. It focuses on the issues and challenges of...

Declaration of desires  

The first publication coming out of the collaboration between Melo, New Theatre and Laura Palmer. It focuses on the issues and challenges of...

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