This is research project that Diego Agulló started in 2016 in the framework of Tanznacht Berlin and further developed during 2017 in the research frame of PINPOINT TV. It consists on a series of video interviews with people that, in many different ways, are engaged with Dance in Berlin. The interviews are not meant to be portraits of particular people: the attention is not put on them but rather on how can we see dance in Berlin through them, as if they would be a filter or glasses that render visible a particular perspective of dance in Berlin. This blog brings all the interviews together within the frame of a research with the following double question in mind: in how many different ways “is” and “can” the ethico-political be articulated in dance in Berlin?
The question is double because first, it attempts to make a diagnosis of how the ethico-political “is” already articulated and how in the present time things operate and function, what are the bad habits and the main obstacles to confront so as not to reproduce models based on the dominant ideologies of success, career ladder, the demands of the market and the logic of networking and competitiveness. And second, it is also asking how the ethico-political body “can” be trained differently: what are the different reasons we give to ourselves to do what we do? How to maintain alive heterogeneity and singularities when there is a dominant homogenization that makes individuals desire the same things? How can “we” dance politically and act/do politically? What are these other forms of imagining the political and constructing dance in Berlin based on other metaphors, logics, paradigms of being, dancing and making work ?
“Measuring the temperature of the ethico-political body of dance in Berlin” serves as a metaphor to imagine every single interview as a chance to insert the thermometer and to measure the temperature of the levels of engagement, pathos and the different intensities that are rendered tangible through a conversation that is trans-personal and travels through different bodies with different voices. This project is an attempt to render tangible a diagnosis of the different intensities and tensions that resonate behind such a continuous murmuring.
Local and international
This project also wonders what “local” means in times of global economy. Berlin Dance scene is considered to be highly international. But what are the repercussions of it regarding the political life? On one hand, during several decades, Berlin has been selling out to the world its cultural artistic creative scene for the sake of gaining an appealing city-image with the economic rewards that this implies. Berlin has become a paradigm of post-fordist social organization. There is a problem of continuity, people are not in Berlin all the time and the level of personal engagement and reliability is always relative. There is a continuous flow of people from an international network moving in and out of the city generating short term alliances in the so called ecosystem of cultural industry. These ecosystems tend to homogenize the individuals that are part of it by imposing models, ideas, ways of being that constitute the norm, for instance, professional standards. On the other hand this context allows the generation of heterodox practices that claim to constitute an alternative to the dominant logic. Do they succeed on their attempt to escape from being absorbed by the processes of homogenization? However, it exists an urgent need to claim heterogeneity and a constant process of resingularization.
Another problem is when nomadism turns into the style of life of “international” artist. It appears then the friction between locality and cosmopolitanism. What if “somebody who can live anywhere gets involved nowhere” would be true? The negative aspect of the nomadic life and the free floating artist is the lack of commitment with the local. The commitment becomes short term and any attempt to train the political engagement encounters the problem of lack of continuity.
What is a “scene”?
One of the starting points was to find out what do we mean by the term “scene” when applied to dance in Berlin and what are other metaphors for it. I did not want to take for granted that such scene or scenes already pre-exist. The scene is not one and neither a totality, the scene cannot be reduced to a network of people that belong to it, the scene has no master plan and there is no inside neither outside and yet it is possible to identify degrees of engagement and levels of implication. What seems to be important is to generate the conditions for saying “we”, regardless of who these people are. To be able to say “we” also means “mutual encouragement”: to encourage each other to dare/attempt to live and work in heterogeneous ways. To support each other does not mean to be similar or identical but rather to reinforce our singularities.
The problem of the term “scene” is that it immediately implies a game of “visibility”, “being on the stage” and the paradigm of vision as the main parameter to understand coexistence. Hence, people have to manage the tension between being seen and not seen (scene and obscene). In addition to that problem, the scene actually also functions as an “ambient” for individual “ambitions” to fulfill particular desires to spread oneself around as much as possible. Ambition and ambient share the same etymology which means “going around”, not only as being seen but also in terms of how much your name-brand is being mentioned and called around when people talk about it or when the name is written anywhere. To be famous in the scene implies foremost that a name is constantly being heard and resonates in the ambient.
What happens if we replace the term scene by other terms such as environment, home, collectives, politics of friendship, companionship, ecosystem, communities, complicities, orbits…? How much does it change the scenario of personal aspirations and ways to relate to each other? For instance if we apply the metaphor of the earth that needs to be nurtured. To take care and nourish the conditions in which we we work, to exercise togetherness within a local frame and assuming the challenge of keeping the continuity of the engagement/commitment towards constructing together such conditions. It is not enough not complain. If we miss continuity in Berlin then let’s create together the conditions for such a continuity.
What is Dance?
Throughout the interviews dance has been understood in at least 5 different ways:
- as an art form: what are the boundaries between dance, performance and choreography? Is it important to distinguished dance from any other art forms? In many occasions this debate is driven by political interests in the frame of funding system and the expertise of the members of the jury.
- as a training: a method or technique to acquire skills and eventually virtuosity.
- as a practice: a development in time of a set of conditions for movement to happen.
- as a social activity: a physical activity done by a group of people not in the context of art.
- as a concept: for example as an affirmative force or a metaphor for movement in an abstract sense.
- as an spiritual exercise: ritualistic dimension of dance
Professional trajectories and orbital movement
From the perspective of a “mental ecology”, what are the mindsets we follow when making decisions in our artistic trajectories? How homogenized are our minds with ideologies and dominant ways of conceiving our trajectories as artists?
It is a matter of fact that mediators, curators, programmers, juries have the task of objectifying and shaping the artist´s professional trajectories. The consequence is that artists themselves do not decide which trajectories are legitimized and validated within the professional field. The artists submit to professional standards that they themselves have not chosen. The artists perform the renunciation of the self becoming passive obedient agents that submit to an evaluation of professional control system and public critical approval. A professional artist, applying a premeditated career plan, survives only if the judgement of the others is favorable. Professionalism becomes the ultimate criteria to validate and legitimize an artist.
In Berlin there is the feeling of existing a “glass ceiling”: at some point there is no more advancement in the career ladder, so “you better go somewhere else”. Is Berlin not the right place for a professional career? Is Berlin a city of dilettantes? Is there in Berlin a dominant understanding of how a choreographer´s trajectory should look like? One of the most urgent things to continue talking about is how many different ways of understanding professional trajectory exist or could we propose? The dominant one is the metaphor of the career ladder ruled by an opportunistic mind and achievement ideology (success, recognition, symbolic value…) The consequence of this is that main the concern for an artist is to engage and invest time and energies mostly on self management hoping for the best case scenario of profiting from external validation/recognition. It is urgent to propose other ways of conceiving movement in life. To be an artist is not only a job or a profession but first and foremost it is a way of living. Ethics plays a huge role giving value to “other” ways of understanding what it means to be a choreographer or a dancer and not be mainly driven by success, achievement and managing one’s own symbolic value. To propose heterogeneous ways of living and ways of being an artist without submitting oneself to the tyranny of professional standards and market demands.
To encourage each other to embody the anomaly in the way we perform our role as artists, to encourage ourselves to exercise self-validation and to believe in exceptions, in deviations and heterogeneous ways of making work and being artists without having to fulfill expectations of any kind.
Orbital movement. There is a proposition to replace the notion of “trajectory” for the notion of “orbit”. This implies the replacement of a linear conception of one’s own life for a “circular” understanding of movement in life and work. Circular movement is endless and does not imply an
external goal but is rather fueled by immanency. The only reason to move is to continue moving regardless of the external position of power one occupies. The idea is to avoid establishing oneself as an artist or to stagnate in static positions.
The problem of Self-precarization
The problem is to see only one side of the coin and to fall into victimism and endless complains about how unstable the life of an artist is. It is a well known thought in the dance scene that “self chosen” precarization contributes to feed the neo liberal political and economic relations. As Isabell Lorey pinpointed, there is a paradox on being in a double process of subjugation and at the same time of empowerment. The problem is to choose economy as the only criteria to give value and to be the main filter to make a diagnosis of the situation, which implies the risk of having a narrow minded perspective of the problem. It is necessary to constantly remember that art is intrinsically precarious in the sense that art depends on chance and uncertainty and maybe this is what makes art powerful. Art is not securely held and is dangerously likely to fall or collapse and eventually to let other things to fall and collapse too. Art has an intimate affinity with instability, uncertainty, risk and boundaries. Actually art´s mission could be understood as to render the precariousness in the heart of the hegemonic power. What I would find inspiring would be to understand precarity as a fuel of the artistic practice instead of as a source of resentment. The question would be: how to turn the negativity of self-precarization into an affirmation?
Affirmation and mutual encouragement
It is crucial not to be moved by resentment or frustration, otherwise the movements are a consequence of a denial and produce even more negativity. Courage is needed to venture oneself through the paths wholeheartedly, keeping intact the immanent driving forces to do what we do: to trust the reasons we give ourselves to do what we do. Courage to move from affirmation and courage to affirm what we do and to believe in the intrinsic value that it has. However, there is a risk on the excess of self assurance: it can potentially lead the artist to the isolation of an ivory tower: the artist becomes a self sufficient body that does not need to dialogue with others. There is the danger of immunity, detachment and enclosing oneself in a defensive relation with alterity; self validation becomes “idiotic” stagnation. This is why the importance of the encounter between self validation and external validation, the continuous negotiation between the intrinsic values and the other values we encounter. It is a never ending process of autopoiesis as life practice, across dilettantism and professionalism.
The advantage of coming together is to encourage each other despite of how different we can be. This mutual encouragement does not mean a self indulgent self celebration but rather a reinforcement of each other´s driving forces and persistence when confronting the question of why are we doing what we do? There is no need to become a collective or a group or to belong to any specific identity, political agenda or ideology. Mutual encouragement means to inspire, stimulate and shake each other through our actions, not only through our words. Despite all differences we came together to acknowledge the importance of heterogeneity and strengthening our singularities and yet being critical with each other. We can provide ourselves the continuity that we are missing in Berlin.
It is also possible to identify levels of the mutual engagement and social binding within the scene. Below is a list of different ways of engagement:
- Being audience of each other, supporting each other´s presentations, which sometimes implies making work for each other (knowing who´s going to come to see your work)
- Being engaged on each other’s working processes: playing all possible roles (rotation systems): performing for each other, choreographing each other, advising, giving feedback, making music, lights, etc.
- Sharing practices and exercising together: outside particular projects there is an exchange of methodologies, having conversations about work…workshops, learning together…
- Spending time together: politics of friendship, love and companionship, going out, conviviality…
- To gather for a strictly political purpose: to engage on common mission transforming the conditions of being together: not only to meet and talk but also to act together.
There is a general assumption to say that there is no time neither energy to do things other than being busy managing one’s own professional career as a dancer or choreographer. Of course we can be political with our works and the way we work, but this implies to be isolated in one´s own artistic process and missing out on the power of the encounter with others in order to train together the ethico-political body and to come together outside particular projects to think, learn and make decisions together.
What makes people engaged in dance in Berlin to come together? How can “we” be united while being increasingly different? To look at the “scene” as a form of social organization, what divides or organizes people in dance in Berlin? What are the criteria/ parameters?:
- To be part of the same project.
- Somatic practices, methods, techniques, training’s
- To work or attend the same spaces, venues, Institutions
- Context of friendship
- Networks of collaboration
- Speaking the same language or from the same country (Poland, Spain…)
- Same generation
- To have the same status as artist (reputation, recognition, symbolic value)
- Cultural identity: gender, music…
- To share the same aesthetics
- To have something to say/think in common: a political claim/need.
The gap between thinking, speaking and doing
In both cases the gap implies ethical and political consequences.
The first gap refers to the question: what is it at stake when we say something in front of a camera? Do we really say things as we think or do we say something different from what we think? One of my experiences doing interviews has been to realize that the interviewee will say different things when the camera was not recording. Does it mean that there is fear of saying in front of the camera what we really think? What are the reasons that makes us filter out our thoughts? When I asked this question to some of my colleagues they gave me several answers such as: because of the precarious conditions where we work in one must be careful what to say in case somebody (specially in a power a position) might take it personally and the consequences would imply missing out future opportunities or bad reputation.
The second gap refers to to the question: do we act accordingly to what we say? To say many things it is easy. What is difficult is to act accordingly. An interview can turn very easily into a thorough promotion of the good image of oneself, a kind of green washing process where the interviewee will try their best to project a positive and politically and ethically concern image of them selves regardless of how do they actually behave or if they act accordingly to what has been claimed.
This project is can be seen as an invitation to have “face to face real presence” encounters with other people, specially with people that you don´t know, and to engage in a conversation about what is important for each other when discussing about dance.
Interviewing each other becomes a way of training the political body and to exercise the ability of articulating oneself in front of a camera that registers permanently (taxidermy) a living speech and by uploading the interviews online it turns the conversation from private to public. One of the purposes is to bring the awareness on how we talk to each other and which are the ways of speaking ruled by habits and trend topics. I have not prepared the interviews before hand and in some occasions they turned into a conversation. Most of the times I changed the frame moving away from the interviewee´s face in order to frame the space between us (surfaces of tables most of the time).
I have never done interviews of this kind before and the format has been revealing itself as the project goes. My role has been to travel through different temperatures and enter into different orbits, letting the camera be the thermometer that registers those intensities. From the beginning I had to allow myself to be influenced by what is said by the interviewees. My function was to make a cross-pollination of temperatures possible and to carry with me the pathos and intensities of previous conversations, bringing them to the next interviews. I started without a clear personal agenda and slowly and inevitably throughout the process I have been influenced by the conversations. I also have a responsibility when creating this blog and launching it into the public sphere and I have been confronting myself with the same questions I was asking others: how to prevent myself from falling into the same bad habits I am pointing out and, for example, to prevent this blog from becoming another frame for visibility in the scene? What notion of ethical and political is this project/blog constructing? How is it articulating the political in a worthy way? Why is it important to continue doing it? What kind of political space is this blog?
Practicing political promiscuity
Promiscuity means “bringing together what is different”, it means a mixture of diverse or unrelated parts or individuals mingled confusedly. It is crucial to continue practicing and experimenting on how to make sense out of differences disorderly mixed. It seems to be important to try to break the isolation of the different circles of practices and disciplines and to make an effort for cross pollination; not in the aesthetic level but in the political (not necessarily cross pollination of aesthetics or practices but of ideas, commitment, engagement. Coming together for the single reason that there is one common denominator: the need to create a world where heterogenous practices can coexist together.
This project counts on the precious collaboration and interviews from:
Barbara Greiner, Alice Chauchat, Dmitry Paranyushkin, Siegmar Zacharias, Thomas Lehmen, Sheena McGrandles, Claire Sobottke, Alessio Castellacci, Sonja Augart, Jared Gradinger, Begüm Erciyas, Simone Willeit, Kasja Wolinska, Alexandre Achour, Jassem Hindi, Nik Hafner, Katia Münker, Ludger Orlok, Juan Dominguez, Peter Stamer, Jasna Vinovrški, Peter Pleyer, Stephanie Maher, Maria F. Scaroni, Marcela Donato, Jeremy Wade, Nina Kurtela, Joni Barnard, Elsa Rauchs, Nina Kurtela, Heike Albrecht, Renate Graziadei and Arthur Stäldi, Canan Erek, Florian Feigl…
To be continued…
Diego Agulló, 2016-2017, Berlin.