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    • Text
    • displacement 13 January 2015
      posted by: Guido Lucassen

      A group of artist becoming organic bakers or bee-keepers, curators turning into urbanist developers, managers following mindfulness courses, right-wing politicians using left-wing argumentations. In a deeply-felt anti-disciplinary movement, ‘workers’ today not only seem to question their ‘spaces of belonging’, but they actively start to reinvent them. For now, we call these acts displacements.

      'Displacement' was the title of the end presentations of Luanda Casella, Raquel de Morais, Helena Dietrich and Nibia Santiago Pastrani. Click 'more' to read the interview with Nibia.

      Nibia Pastrana Santiago

      A critique of not-doing

       

      It seems to me that ‘displacement’ already was an inherent part of your work before you entered a.pass. Can you relate your previous work to your research here?

      I guess in my choreographic work I developed before, displacement played a role as a theme: I was looking how I could speak of the displaced body, mostly the body of the ‘immigrant’ through dance. This work was always closely related to my identity, my history as a Puerto Rican woman, artist, living in the States. I was working a lot in the context of post-colonial concepts. For example in the piece I did with six women tackling their intimate experience of living in Puerto Rico and Panama under US military presence. I was thinking how the female body carries that displacement of land and space within it. How it occupies this in-between zones between militarized and civilian life. Through the choreography it became a labor of intimacy. Or, I tried to exaggerate this displacement to understand it better. Like, I would wear an apron with the American flag, and for seven days I wouldn’t speak English at all, just Spanish. I did this in my daily life: in my contacts with other students, at home, on the streets, ... So it was me pushing myself in an exaggerated position of the immigrant. In a.pass you chose to go for a more conceptual research.

      Could you explain why you took this turn and why you decided to change the focus of your work?

      Yes, displacement was in the beginning not at all a term I wanted to bring into this research. Only in retrospect it slipped back in. When I came to a.pass I wanted to strip away any type of investigation that wasn’t coming out of the work process itself. What I proposed was to limit myself to the role of the performer. And to be a kind of archive from all the people that added to the accumulation process. I made a drastic change not to pursue this series of more politically or ideologically driven work, and to see what were the conventions that drove my work. Because even if I did field-work interviews, I used the dance studio to make sense of them. And so I wanted to pause and see what choreography was doing to my research, who I was in my work. Maybe this now sounds simple, but I really needed to experience the limits of me being a performer, or a choreographer.

      Is there then not a third role entering into the research, the one of the researcher itself?

      The researcher attempts to take a distance, she looks, collects and questions. But the research started with dance making, and what it is to me. The basic structure was to enter to the practice of the performer and ask other people to work with me, to propose material to me in the studio. For the second part I envisioned becoming the choreographer that deals with, or destroys this accumulation of material and its history. But the rich part for me was that every person came with a different agenda. Some people proposed material in the strict sense of the choreographer making me repeat and rehearse material, others proposed more of a dialogue, or feedback session, became facilitators.... And I saw myself activating certain aspects of both roles during the whole process. Even if I tried to keep them separated, they always worked together. For me it was opening up the non-fixed nature of all of any role in the choreographic process. And out of this blurring of roles, the work all of a sudden became seriously displaced. After the accumulation work in the first block, the dance floor already became unhinged. It was displaced from its function or origin, although it was still part of the studio space. So in the second block I had the intention to stick to my research proposal and start a process of destruction. But since this had actually already happened, I wanted to take the research to the city. There was an intimate relationship between the floor and my body, which is not uncommon in dancers. So I cut the floor the size of my body, and took this ‘body’ out in the city.

      I see the use of displacement popping up in artistic discourse a lot, when there is a need to make things relevant again, when you want a question to pop out once more, to be readdressed.

      Yes exactly, and in this case the change of context brought a special attention to this material (of the floor), that it didn’t have before. I used the particular propositions of the people that took part in the accumulation in the first block, and I took these as guidelines to deal with the dance floor in the city. What the dance floor makes clear in these surroundings is how other objects in the city are domesticated or have a particular functionality that the dance floor does not have. And also, if you don’t recognize the material as a dance floor, it could be seen as a kind of trash bag, or a left-over, a residue. I think with this material the displacement is ambiguous unless you know its origin. So it really depends on the effect this displacement has to somebody who does recognize the floor for what it is, and knows its history, or not. But also, the material was no longer just a material, it also became a subject by its placing in the city. It became an anthropomorphic presence somehow. It wasn’t only about the displaced object, but also the surroundings it is in. For example you start looking at the city landscape and textures differently. The spots for blind people, the street grills, the left-over trash, the Oriental carpets... I started to see the surroundings around the displaced object more than the object itself. Also I started getting interested in turning myself into the floor, becoming an abandoned sleeping person in the city, an unemployed dancer, all these images were there.

      How did this displacement change your research?

      Well the studio practice is very intimate, one-on-one, just you and the person that comes. In the city you enter into a certain vulnerability, towards an outside. The material, the body, these artifacts in the city, how do I want them to be seen by an outside world. That was a big change. The city is not the answer to these questions of the art worker, of this arts economy, but it helps to make sense of the value of what you do. Like the horizontality of the body, that in a city is completely unproductive, but still performs in some way a critical position. Towards the economy of mobility in the city, but also toward the arts practice. I think the fact that someone can identify with the material also desacralizes the dance floor. Which you normally never walk on wearing shoes. And now i’m treating it as whatever kind of material. On the one hand it became part of the city. And from the point of view of performance, it produced a critique by not doing, just being there. How do you see the relation between the emancipation that was triggered by the practice in public space, and the vulnerability it produced? I think what I went through in my research in a.pass was a process of emancipation of conventions. The body is institutionalized by your schooling, the conventions of your discipline, and the sector etcetera. And when you take the dance floor out into the city, not to dance on it, something appears. You become hyper-vulnerable, because you no longer know how to relate to your material in the same way. For me the vulnerability comes when I can no longer name what I do: ‘dance’.

       

      interview by Elke Van Campenhout

    • Text
    • tools for research 12 January 2015
      posted by: Guido Lucassen

      Thinking about tools in the research environment of a.pass is a tricky 'thing'. When we think about tools in everyday language, we think about 'things that do something'. But not whatever. Tools are things that have their function inscribed in them, that are optimized for achieving a certain goal, like the radically specified instruments IKEA offers you in its DIY packages. In an artistic research environment the question thus to ask in the first place is: what kind of tools do we need to do what we do?

      In a recent conference a.pass organized under the title 'Don't Know', this question took central stage. Is a platform for artistic research supposed to 'produce knowledge', as the current politics in arts and education seem to suggest. Is artistic research actually a veiled normative restriction to the messiness of the arts practices in general? A field within the arts where the outcome is supposed to be communicable, replicable, usable in other domains? For me this question of demanded outcomes and, accordingly, of fitting tools is a complicated one. Very often the categorizations used in the arts reveal their own limitations rather than open up clearly defined fields of knowledge.

      In that sense we might argue that art (and artistic research) does not in the first instance produce knowledge, but that the arts keep on opening up the cracks in our systems of understanding: mislaying the knowledge that in the gridlocked pre-defined contexts that define our society can only be understood according to the conventions of the discourses (be they political, aesthetic, psychological, ...) the knowledge 'belongs' to. When speaking about artistic research, would it then not seem more appropriate to talk about 'knowledge processing' instead of 'knowledge production'? Art as a game of misplacing informations rather than creating 'new' ones? Research as a process assembling and reassembling bits and pieces of knowledge, opening up perspectives, rather than formerly uncharted territories? And does this in a lot of ways not echo a contemporary understanding of knowledge in a wider context than the arts? If we embrace this hypothesis, this move from understanding artistic research as a field for 'knowledge production' to that of 'knowledge processing, mislaying, misunderstanding', we have to rethink our tools accordingly.

      For one, I don't feel artistic research should be meddled up with any kind of naïve laboratory metaphor borrowed from the applied sciences: artistic research is rarely full-proof, and often the results obtained are hard to transpose to any other situation without a significant loss of contextual relevance or performative power. The same goes for the tools used in the research. Rather than the surefire tools of industry or certain branches of science, artistic research mostly makes use of 'broken tools', in the quasi-Heideggerian sense of the words: tools that point to themselves as much as they fulfill a specific task. If we were to set up a manual for recognizing useful tools for artistic research, I would say that rule of thumb number one could be:

      IF IT TALKS BACK IT'S PROBABLY A GOOD TOOL

      A tool in artistic research is never smooth and flexible. It is an artefact, a concept, a thing that resists any kind of suave usefulness. In its being-put-into-practice it never stops talking, demanding, negotiating with the researchers and demanding to be taken into account as an equal partner in the discussion. In the past years I have used mostly 'prickly objects': tools that when put on the table, produce irritation, a slight weariness, an uncomfortable unwillingness of the research partners to engage with it. 'The Symptomatic Body' for example exasperated the psycho-analytically inclined and was a constant source of misunderstanding for the performers involved. Just as my ongoing practice-based research project around 'Critical Hope' transformed the gallery space of my Natural History Museum of Hope unexpectedely in a bureau for social and psychological first-aid. In the last case this side-effect was not foreseen nor desired, which resulted in the tool and me saying our goodbyes at the end of the project. Which brings us to rule of thumb number two:

      IF THE TOOL IS YOUR PARTNER PREPARE FOR A DYSFUNCTIONAL RELATION

      The tool is never yours for the use. It comes with a logic and a performativity of its own. A tool does what it does within certain circumstances, but cannot be projected upon without a loss of its functionality. I therefore advise to take tools seriously, to listen to their concerns. A particular brand of dangerously instable tools are the metaphorical ones. Using a metaphorical tool runs the risk of your relationship running amok very quickly. A metaphor comes with so many associations, with such a complete pack of previous engagements, it doesn't allow you a lot of projection or intimacy. Personally I can only relate to the MT by taking it literally, by 'doing the metaphor', and see where this brings me. Often the metaphor turns out to be inappropriate when living it, but again here the side-effects can produce unexpected, possibly valuable results.

      The project tool I'm working on right now is one of these half-breeds (half-metaphor, half performative frame). 'The Walk' takes the idea of the mobile archive and the nomadic quality of research (as independent of a specific discipline) at heart, and takes the form of a one month walk with the researchers, walking a specific score in which every one of them develops their own research narrative, leaving traces on the way for others to pick up and reconstruct throughout the journey. The traces and the interpretations assemble and reassemble the surrounding landscape, adding a fictional layer to the territory, rendering at the same time familiar (through framing/narrativizing) and unfamiliar (through the sheer incompatibility of the traces left) the journey you are going through. In this case the tool is particularly resistent to any kind of different use. The physical demands of being on the road, sleeping outside, the limited budget, ask for a certain discipline and attitude that will influence the research results greatly. In other words: we deal here with an imposing and demanding partner with its own set of instruments (the walking score, the time restrictions, the financial limits, ...) that possibly will result in pointing almost solely to itself, turning the research into the tool. An accidental transfer that for example marked a lot of the new media research projects in the 1990's.

      In other words, the tool is what makes things visible, and hides others. Taking this into account we could say that:

       

      AN INTERESTING TOOL IS ALWAYS (PARTLY) APOPHATIC

      In dealing with tools one of the most interesting things is the realization of what they do NOT produce or process: the information they cannot bring to the fore, the things they make invisible or impossible to achieve. In that sense working with different tools is also a powerful critique on what can be said where and when (as in Rancià ¨re's partage du sensible). In an 'advanced research project' this critique then in turn can become part of the experimental set-up. In the after-days of the conference, for example, the a.pass researchers tried to map out the results of the talks, laying out hypotheses and conclusions, and trying to devise the appropriate tools to do so. Since a bonafide research environment always aims for an enlarged visibility and partnership, we started up a wikipedia page under the title 'Don't Know' and from there on enlarged our ambition to continue with a working period constructing the (strangely enough non-existing) wikipedia page around 'Artistic Research'. Since the limitations of the wikipedia format are what they are, though, the working process is sure to unveil more and more hiatuses in its potential to deal with the archiving question. The tool is limited and shows its limits quite quickly in this case. The work for us is thus to keep on addressing this impossible task, producing on the way more and more by-products, left-overs that cannot be dealt with (we use as instruments workshops, invite guests, case-studies of individual researches, bologna rules cc artistic research, etc...). And these materials will be used to make a publication that, for us, addresses exactly what interests us in the topic: the multi-layered, the illogical bends and turns, the disagreement in terms, the non-acceptance of some practices that the negotiated process of wikipedia's peer-to-peer process excludes. We use the wikipedia-tool in other words to come to a better understanding of the particular field we move in, the field that as yet cannot be recuperated in a clearly informational format, that needs its temporary exclusivity to thrive.

      A tool in this case works as a vehicle, an impossible destination, a black hole around which to gather, to speak, to think, to process. A tool is only a tool as long as it 'does' that. Its power lies in its mutuality, in its potential to create change, if allowed by its partner to do so. When falling out of grace, it loses its power to speak, it can only work when given all of our attention. When passed on its behavior is unpredictable, but then again, this instability, this demand to be heard in the specificty of the new situation, is what makes the tool a thing to reckon with.

      a.pass is an artistic research environment at post-master level, open to artists and theoreticians. a.pass offers an experimental space and instruments to develop research skills in a shared and collaboratively created knowledge environment. Every researcher can translate his personal project into a tailor-made curriculum.

      a.pass = a.pt + a.s + a.rc

      a.pt (advanced performance training) is mainly aimed at artists and theoreticians with experience in developing work in or on the field of performance that don(t fit into a standard institutional framework.
      a.s (advanced scenography) welcomes artists and theoreticians who would like to investigate the notion of scenography on and off the stage. The program offers practice-based to professionals who want to expand their thinking about scenography.
      a.rc (a.pass research centre) is the place the workings of a.pass are analyzed, documented and opened up to critical debate. a.rc also functions as the platform for the development of long-term or PhD-level research within the arts.

      www.apass.be

    • Text
    • spaces as tools 12 January 2015
      posted by: Guido Lucassen
      spaces as tools

      This text was written for the magazine of the Steirischer Herbst Festival (Austria). Although the text addresses the specific spatial situation of PAF (Performing Arts Forum) in Reims (a place where a.pass goes at least once per block for a week during End Week), the thinking and writing process around this text was largely constructed around the notions of space as developed in the series of Settlement workshops that were created by current APC Vladimir Miller, and that greatly influenced the notions of ‘performative space’ and scenography as they are developed in a.pass.

      SPACES AS TOOLS
      One lonely dancer lies meditating on the grass, a challenging philosophical treatise opened on page 213 next to him. From the open windows of the nearby room the sound of a theatre rehearsal, eerily repetitive, its harshness clashing with the idyllic surroundings. The peacocks look through the window of the corner studio at a yoga session. A group of American runaway brides (with fitting gowns) returns from a work session in the nearby woods, their conversations incomprehensible to the uninitiated onlooker. And in every corridor, every time you enter the kitchen, two or more people are discussing politics, the arts, food, practicalities, planning parties, the evening film program, or inviting the others to their showings or work. Not the most typical PAF-day maybe, but surely a possible one.

      PAF stands for Performing Arts Forum: a former convent reoriented towards artists, actionists and thinkers in the French Champagne. The 6400 sq feet building was bought by the Dutch theatre maker Jan Ritsema in 2007 (2008?), and has since then functioned as an open space for artists and theoreticians from over the whole world. On its website, the place introduces itself as:
      - a forum for producing knowledge in critical exchange and ongoing discursive practice
      - a place for temporary autonomy and full concentration on work
      - a tool-machine where one can work on developing methods, tools and procedures, not necessarily driven toward a product
      - a place for experimenting with other than known modes of production and organization of work, e.g. open source production.

      1. The malaise of a generation

      In a way this description echoes the concerns of artists in the performing and other scenes of the last ten years and more. The artistic scene has little by little found itself squeezed between governmental compartmentation (through often ill-fitting and politically motivated subsidy systems) and the seductive call of the enterprise-funded 'creative industries', paving the way for an understanding of the artist as either a well-prepared and policy-aware dossier-writer, or a self-proclaimed entrepreneur totally in line with the neo-liberal ethics of self-realization, mobility and economic common sense.

      Trying to go against the grain of the times, countless artists have expressed the need and the urgency to escape these corsets of survival by pointing out their toxic by-products: the subsidy system in the well-founded European scene has started to create a way of working and an aesthetics that is not primarily based on artistic choice and necessity, but on the possibilities of touring (and reaching your minimum quota of presentations), networking (getting as much prominent arts centres to back up your project), and formatting (ideally a performance should fit as many venues as possible, not be too costly, and be adaptable to the regular programming strategies of the field). The kind of work that escapes these constraints is often overlooked or doesn't find its way into the regular programmation.

      In that sense the self-organized artist model, which depends largely on grants , sponsoring or cooperation with commercial institutions and enterprises might seem a less hypocritical choice for some. And it is true that some company grant systems (Cartier, Siemens, …) have in the last decades built themselves a reputation on supporting often experimental and challenging artists, without posing banal economic constraints on their output. But even in these 'ideal' circumstances, for a lot of artists this kind of recuperation of the artist's position, equalling it to the position of any middle-of-the-road creative worker for any progressive neo-liberal company, does seem to deprive him of any credible critical bite.

      Now, it is not the case that in the time span of the last twenty years nothing has been done to accommodate this malaise in the arts. The (European) subsidiary system for example, has invested a lot of resources in the creation of residency spaces, laboratory situations, exchange programs and learning environments that should fill the gap between the artist's needs and the governmental policies. On a large scale, networking and exchange between artists from different countries has been promoted, festivals have echoed the concerns of the neo-liberalisation of the arts, economy and ecology have entered the arts debates, etc… But in the end, the last word was and is still given to the subsidizer: the one who pays decides. And however close the bureaucratized commissions, jury's, cabinets and programmers might come to an understanding of the arts, their strategies and ideologies will always be primarily oriented towards the survival and sustainability of the institution, on the uni-formization of the field (to make it more efficient and manageable), and on the transparent and seductive promo-talk demanded by the communication departments.

      And, even more importantly, the artistic sector these last years has been cringing under the hot breath of the increasingly right-oriented politics. Recently, in the Netherlands, the funding for the experimental performance sector got all but eliminated. Portugal since one year no longer has a Minister of Culture. France is giving reign to a neo-conservative arts ideology and so forth. Not even speaking about the countless countries in the East that have no budget for the experimental arts scene whatsoever.

      2. Artistic self-organization as a way out of the impasse

      In answer to the above-mentioned reserves, artists everywhere in the world have been working on creating alternative models and frames for the development of their own work. An endeavor that has been tinged by the pull from both the comfort of the subsidized scene, and the self-promoting grandeur of the self-made artist.
      On the one hand for a lot of artists it is hard to survive out of the subsidiary system. Moreover, their dependent statute is often even structurally enhanced by the dole regulation, favoring the artist's special needs by equalling his practice to a gilded form of unemployment. Artists in the well-to-do-countries of today have grown up with the promise of employment, however badly paid. In Belgium, whole weeks are organized under the title First Aid for artist, in which the statute of the beginning artist on the market is discussed. The concern is how to get all these aspiring young creatives working in a field that seems to be overproducing already. Much like the Swiss cows whose milk production largely surpasses the European needs, artists seem to be kept (barely) alive for the wrong reasons. Where the cows are necessary props in the creation of the 'typical' Swiss mountain landscape, the artists kind of function as a band aid for the total lack of political resistance and discussion that rules the current political era.

      So artists have been residency-hopping and networking and realizing themselves like the projects they are, no longer only to sell their goods, but to attain the necessary visibility that will get them invited in think tanks, experimental set-ups and laboratories all over, the one even more critical than the other. However productive these environments might have proved to be, most of these projects come with a price: the working spaces are institutionally tagged, have a limit of validation, have to answer to certain expectations and norms. Just like any other sector in society, the arts have to prove their in- and outcomes, their future visions, their unique selling position, and the originality of their discourse. Not unreasonably, if you follow the logic of the subsidizer. From an artist's point of view, however, these discussion groups and projects often don't reach their goal: for economic reasons the time of working is often too short, or not completely answering the needs of those present. Nor do they feel the need to comply to the desire for the clear profile marketing of the institution inviting them.

      Also, as makers, artists have expressed the need to think of other production systems than the 'typical' career model proposed to the artists in the 1980's. The model of the sole author-artist, inventing his or her own esthetics, has been replaced by a much more critical and historically anchored view on how these artists themselves very quickly become commodities in a system that is in constant search for the 'new'. Artists have started to look for other ways of being together, of producing 'symbolic capital', of developing discourse, that can not so easily be recuperated and branded by the artistic economy. Mixing up recognizable solo identities, artists have been working under collective names, often changing the belonging to the 'group' underway, or working on ongoing researches involving very different participants at every stage. What they put into question is not so much the value of the artistic gesture, but the ownership over the material, the ideas, the producing and creation of the artistic material. Whereas in the practice of the Artist (I represent the model of the sole self-created artist from here on simply by adding the capital A) was largely concerned with the unicity of his production, creating his value on the artist market on the basis of scarcity, newness and shock-value, the artists we talk about in this text are rather concerned with the practices of sharing, of questioning themselves as the centre of gravity, of relating to other (historical, political, economic, discourse) realities. In these contexts, the practice becomes as important as the outcome, the way of organizing the work as important as the work itself, the way of dealing with collaborators a significant part of the trajectory leading up (or not) to a public moment.
      But for this to become a viable artistic practice, another kind of spaces has to be created: spaces that are no longer governed by subsidy policies or economic (un)common sense, but by artists themselves. Places that are not under the reign of profiling and networking, not dubbed as subsidiary placeholders for artistic merit, but simply places to work, that take into account the simple but pressing needs of the artists and thinkers concerned.

      3. Spaces as tools

      It is important at this point to focus a bit more closely on this need for sharing, for flexible collaboration, that seems to encompass a lot of artist's projects in the last decades. In a lot of the PAF discussions over the years, these notions have been put into question: what is the common ground explored here? What is to be shared and in what form? What is the underlying logic of the space? etc…
      Since I just spent three weeks in a space called 'The Settlement', created by artist Vladimir Miller, let us just elaborate a little bit on these notions. As mentioned in the website description of PAF describing itself as a tool, The Settlement as well functioned not so much as a metaphoric space mirroring society, nor as an artistic project to be realized through collaboration, but simply as a 'protospace': an open space filled with non-functional materials, used as a workspace by an unlimited group of people during three weeks time. The participants of this group could rearrange the materials to their own content, and adapt the space every day to the needs of their personal projects. What resulted out of this way of working was a space in constant transition. Momentary moments of clarity, of crystallization of function or meaning (a heap of wooden crates and metal rectangles becoming a recognizable 'desk', three isolation sheets used repeatedly as 'cinema') dissolved into new constructions over the days, charging the space with ever-changing points of focus of attention and activity. What was shared in this settlement was thus not an idea of a theme or a goal, nor a drive for the creation of spaces for 'sociality', but simply the need to work and be of everyone of the participants. In other words, instead of a group of people gathering around a project and a shared belief about what this project could be or lead to, their only stronghod was an idea of 'commonality': a 'mentality of being together', always on the verge of crystallizing into a temporary self-understood community, but always as well dissolving before this point of a shared understanding and identity was achieved.
      If we try to distinguish the community from the communality, I would propose for this text to talk about 'community' as a group that is bounded to a shared value system on the grounds of a recognizable ideology or idea system on which the members of the community agree (or choose to disagree). A community in that sense is based on an initial agreement, however flimsy, and with that agreement comes the appropriation of the individual's contributions, placing them under the banner of a shared territory. In that sense the community is settled, no longer in motion, but as any closed system, in constant dialogue with the outside world.

      (Now, we are talking about an abstract understanding of 'community', since on an individual level, we know we nowadays live under the banner of (often a lot) of very different communities, often in flagrant contradiction to each other on the level of ethics, esthetics and politics. This is exactly what makes agency and decision-making, in and out of the artistic sector, such a difficult endeavor today. But this is another discussion).

      In contrast and in accordance to this understanding of 'community' I would like to place the sense of 'commonality'. Not based on territory (1), commonality has to be understood as a process, as the forming-of-temporary-localities, as a movement on the way to another one. In this context value is not created on the basis of a common belief, but can only be relative to the situation and what is happening in it. Value in this sense can not be recuperated in this temporary zone, it can only be negotiated through the handling of the objects, through the creation of fleeting situations, through the (unspoken) communal debate. Value is, in other words, not dependent on ideological agreement, but can only be understood as 'practice value': whatever enhances the practice and makes it move is valuable for the commonality. Therefore the politics of The Settlement is a politics of circulation, of knowledge and ideas moving from locality to locality, often separated from their original creators, picked up by someone else and left behind again for someone else to find, interpret and restart with.

      In relating this experience to PAF, I think the rephrasing of a space as a tool, as a temporary locality for people to move through, work with and reinterpret, is a valid one. Although radically different in scale and scope, The Settlement and PAF have this in common that they undo the strings attached to artist workspaces as they are mostly understood. The building is both an instrument and a project in itself: whatever you get out of it, you somehow give back to the space, charging it with renewed perspectives and ideas. PAF only has three rules that have to be followed by all residents:
      1. Don't leave traces
      2. Make it possible for others
      3. The do-er decides

      In other words: all residents somehow share a common understanding of the building as an instrument for the development of their personal practice, but every one of them can develop another perspective on what that means. But at the same time, the building is not a silent partner: it is a resistant object, that carries a lot of traces of former use, not always literally materialized, but certainly abundant in the atmosphere, the kind of discussions that prevail, the working attitude, the library, the books sold etcetera… As a privately owned initiative, PAF does carry the stamp of its owner, the critical attitude induced by his presence and legacy. But its sheer size (50 rooms, 15 working spaces) makes any kind of controlled discourse or practice impossible. The uniqueness of PAF probably lies exactly there: that the size and the potential of it gets picked up simultaneously by very different groups of people, which makes it at the same time ungovernable and inspiring. The diverse uses of time (long-time residents mixing with hazardous weekend hoppers), space (the same studio used for performing, midnight dinners, exorcisms and political discussions), and exchange (everything from the lone wolf to the societal preacher), keep the space from closing up, from becoming a territory with a recognizable and forbidding identity. Although three times a year PAF organizes communal activities (the SummerUniversity, WinterUpdateMeeting and SpringMeeting) for more or less restricted participants, even those gatherings are proposed rather as a space for re-thinking and re-arranging than as moments of 'passing on the candle' to the next generation. Also at these moments, the different temporalities become clear within the unlimited body of potential residents: some struggling with questions that were circulating since years already, others looking for a way forward, thus stretching up the current moment towards past and future. Digging up the remains of former discussions for redigestion while planting new seeds at the dinner table.

      (1) The thoughts on territory and locality and the rest of this paragraph are largely based on a conversation with Vladimir Miller in The Settlement

    • Text
    • environmentalism 12 January 2015
      posted by: Elke van Campenhout
      Curating as environ-mentalism 'to find a frame, a timing or a situation within which suggestions of others can be realized' tom plischke (1) 1. In this text I would like to focus on a particular form of curatorship: a practice that grew out of (and in opposition to) the 'new' style of programming of the 1980's institutions. An attitude in thinking about curating in which the role of the programmer and the role of the artist start to intertwine. I'd like to talk about a curatorship that tries to redefine the boundaries put up by the institutions that were built for the production modes and logic of a generation of autonomous artists, a rethinking of the role of the institution by introducing the notions of vulnerability, risk and imperfection into the programming idiom, and a translation of the 'relational esthetics' of the visual arts towards a more ecological phrasing of the time and space shared by the performers, 'spectactors', public members and the resisting (art)objects they encounter. An important experience for me in my role of spectator, and a starting point for this ramble through the focus points of my memory, was the 10 day performance event BDC/Tom Plischke and Friends organized in 2001 in the temporary site of the Beursschouwburg in Brussels (which was at that point being renovated): the BSBbis. Talking to then dance programmer Carine Meulders, it became clear to me that this project already introduced a lot of elements that in the next 10 years would become important tools in rethinking the performance arts notions of curatorship and the role of the artist/curator, but also the re-creation of the institution by introducing derogatory practices within its territory (another use of space, time, and the distinction between performers and audience members), and another way of thinking the social body of participants of the environment created by (but not limited to) the programmed events. Practically BDC/Tom Plischke & Friends started as the idea to show two of the BDC performances (Affects and (Re)SORT), while at the same time creating a completely new environment of parallel performances, workshops, discourse sessions, concerts , films and informal encounters. Collaborators to this projects were artists like Marten Spangberg, Hygiene Heute, Alice Chauchat, Davis Freeman, Lilia Mestre. There was a theoretical programme with workshops organized by Jeroen Peeters and Steven De Belder with contributions from Gerald Siegmund, Jan Ritsema, Stefanie Wenner, Kattrin Deufert etc... The project ran for 10 days, 24 hours a day, and invited both artists and audience members to share the space not only for the performances and workshops, but also to spend the time in-between together, even spending the night at the venue, maximalizing the potential of the unexpected, of the informal encounter, of experiencing the changing atmosphere of the space-at-work/at-leisure. An important factor in this project was the fact that it was set up initially without a definite space in mind: the regular Beursschouwburg was at that time in reconstruction, and the working of the theatre had not yet found another location, nor was it clear if another theatre space was exactly what the artistic team needed at that point. In that sense the project that was being developed in an important degree also changed the thinking about the institution-in-transition, and the project location BSBbis (in a relatively un heimlich part of Brussels)also became the temporary location for the adventurous working of the Beursschouwburg in the years before their move back to the renovated theatre in the centre. Two timings in this sense were developing simultaneously: the creation of the project, and the search for a location, and both logics became intertwined on the crossroads of the need for mobility and flexibility of the programme and its realization. What was important in the realization of this project was the coming together of different social bodies: the first 24h group of 60 artists, opening up to a wider group of participants for the workshops and discourse sessions and folding open to the 'regular' public around performance time. Interesting in the thinking about the role of the curator in this case was the fact that Tom Plischke himself spent a lot of the most 'public' moments together with Kattrin Deufert in a reenactment of Andy Warhol's Sleep in bed in the café, preferring the nightly hours for experiencing the 'other' space of the BSB bis, another kind of performativity only visible to the night watcher or another sleepless soul. The traditional 'visibility' of the curator (as we know it from the classical view on curatorship in the visual arts, where the curation, in itself an artistic gesture, is signed and recognized) was broken up in the working of the project, by the curator giving up his central function, only shaping the timing and the situation of the event, but not the content frame that had to be filled. In other words: the curation was not so much about creating an agenda for discussion but in negotiating the format of the agenda in the first place. What these 10 days also produced were the blurry boundaries between 'performance' and 'daily life', between social rituals and performative work, between production time and performance time, reevaluating the value of the moment, of the difference between 'full' and 'empty' time. As Tom Plische said himself: 'I think that every collaboration has its time and that you learn throughout the collaboration to discover its mechanics.'(1) He was talking about BDC in this quote and not specifically about the BDC-event, but as a reference point in understanding the mechanics of the kind of curatorship that would be developed more intensely in the years to come it is an important one. The curatorship not only being about bringing together works of art, creating different resonances and echoes, rethinking one work through the other, thinking about differences and repetitions, but also about creating openings and weaknesses in the curating, allowing vulnerability and 'empty moments' to be fully part of the experience. The importance of this stance on curatorship is that it takes a clear distance from the power and control strategies of the regular performing arts field, allowing risk to enter into the project set-up, and putting into question not only the authorship of the artist/curator, but also the market value of the artistic product. Again Tom Plischke: 'The utopia probably doesn't consist of creating a temporary community or communitas. Rather it shows that if we gather for a performance, every momentary created element is part of the social or communicative system that we set up together. If you look at it from the point of view of Luhmann's system theory you know that there are only these momentary elements and not also something like an overall system. The possibility of failure, vulnerability, is there when you no longer know when you will lose your ground. That is what is important to me: to introduce the conviction that the system for which the public pays and that in fact is created by the performers and the public together, at the same time is not there at all.'(1) The BSB bis event had a follow-up in the arts centre Vooruit in Ghent in 2002: b-visible, a 72 hours event, curated by Tom Plischke, Kattrin Deufert and Jeroen Peeters. This time the project had the theoretical content-focus of queerness and visibility, and also in this case the project inspired a different kind of working and curating within the institution: the 'intensification' of performance events, transdisciplinary programming and parcours work, folding open the building and showing it in different states of living and working, became one of the driving forces of the artistic programming team of Vooruit in the years to come. 2. Curating as institutional prosthesis and critique To understand this kind of curating and even the 'institutionalization' of these forms of curatorship, we have to take a look at the scene as it was at that point. As you could read in the interviews with Hilde Teuchies and Hannah Hurtzig elsewhere in this issue, the 1980's had produced arts centres and later on as well subsidized work spaces for artistic production and research, but with a new gulf of artists entering the scene, with the need of rethinking the disciplinary boundaries, and the cry for a more 'holistic' thinking about arts practice and discourse development, these institutions proved not always to be the ideal spaces for rethinking production parameters and disciplinary boundaries. A lot of these spaces by the beginning of the new millennium had found their specific ways of cyclic programmation, working with yearly program books and subscriptions. For the new generations of artists that no longer (wanted to ) fit the institutional agenda's, it was important to find new formats of working. On the other hand, also another generation of programmers wanted to find a way of breaking open the institutional formatting to once again free the space for the artists. It is in that middle field, in this open space, that the programmer and the artist/curator found each other: in the want of the programmer to challenge the ways of the system, and in the need of the artist to escape the programming logic of the subsidiary system (first you get a residency in a workspace, then you get (not) picked up by one of the bigger arts centers, etc...). The need to break out of this production logic produced a kind of solidarity movement within the artist community to translated itself into different artist initiatives, that all in their own ways, tried to break open the logic of the arts scene market. An example of this is 'Praticable', an initiative created in 2005 by Alice Chauchat, Frédéric de Carlo, Frédéric Gies, Isabelle Schad and Odile Seitz, as an answer to programmer's demands. The 'open collective' share no more than body practices, out of which each member can create his/her own work, in collaboration or not with other Praticable (2) members. But the interesting part is that whenever one of them is programmed, they program one of their colleagues as a 20 minute opening programme to their own show. The curatorial aspect here has nothing to do with content, nor with a specific kind of esthetics, but everything with reclaiming the fundaments of the production mechanisms of the performance scene. In Belgium, these curatorial initiatives rarely thrive outside of the institutional framework. More often than not we could speak about a curatorial redistribution of the institutional: the artist/curator claims his/her position within an (or more) arts house(s), and than re-distributes the means his position produces with a larger number of networked artists and thinkers. It is a way of working that is sustained by for example a workspace like nadine(3) in Brussels, who 'lends' its house and (part of its)budget for six months to an artist/curator that will in these months open up his working to other artists, opening up for public moments every now and then and to varying groups of interested, participating or involved 'spectactors'. Talking to artists these last years, the remark that always comes back is that they want to 'escape' the institutional logic that renders them passive, that makes them wait in the row to be 'picked up', be 'chosen', to go through all the predescribed steps to become a recognized artist. Not only do a lot of them no longer aspire to this notion of 'the artist', since they are involved in rewriting the rules for artistic authorship in complex ways of collaborative and/or communal practice that defy the programming system, but they also want to get rid of the frustrating passivity they find themselves in when confronted with the ways of the subsidiary system. Not in the least since this system seems to be crumbling down a bit more every year. In that sense the curatorial position regains its good old etymology of hospitality, of 'taking care' of the networked community. But on the other hand it also creates a new paradigm for the re-distributer, the artist/curator who is at the same time claiming his vulnerability by offering an empty frame for working by sending out an (open) invitation to the scene, and defending his position as the creator of this frame as an art work in itself. It would bring us too far to analyze all the different possible models of re-distribution here, or to define the criteria for 'good' or 'bad' positioning between the institution and the independent field. But it is certain that in every one of these projects the boundaries are put into question again, in the best cases producing a sense of renewal within the institution, as well as in the artistic and curatorial practices of all the participants. 3. What we see happening in the performance scene is thus a transition from curating the artists, over curating the art works (as it happened in the two Klapstuk festivals for contemporary dance, curated by Jerôme Bel in 2003 and 2005, and claimed by him as his 'art work' in a newspaper interview)to the curation of a space, of a social body, shared by artists, audience members, and 'art objects'. A space in negotiation and transition, under constant threat of on the one hand folding into itself or on the other opening up to the spectacular, the easy-to-consume festivalitis of the arts. It is a space that demands time and attention for a sense of belonging (beit critical or engaged, active or passive) to grow, that bridges the all-too-easily claimed positions of the artist, programmer, spectator or critic. An extraordinary example of this kind of curating was achieved by André Lepecki in his two In-Transit festivals in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. Although in this case his curatorship had a clear discourse stamp - colored by (neo)post-colonial performance themes, and in that sense certainly was more than an empty box for gathering and exchange - his creation within the quite heavily institutional frame of the peculiar architecture of the Haus of an open house for discussion ( opening up out of the Lab sessions (the first year assisted by Brian Massumi and Erin Manning, the second year self-organized), interacting through the public discussions, entering into the fabric of the bar discussions) was a beautiful example of how even within the institution the rules can be bent in such a way as to produce a subtly different common ground to work on. Artists and theoreticians, lab students and critics sharing the same space for a prolonged period of time, for discussions, concerts, parties, eating in the garden, and working, broke the frame of the 'festival' as consumerist high-point of the cultural year, and produced a quite different, vulnerable working space that didn't fall into the trap of easily created critical oppositions. Instead what appeared was a generous atmosphere for engaged thinking and working, always bumping into the prickly theme of the festival's programmation: the resistance of the object. Understood out of the postcolonial context the festival referred to and the distinctly non-Western attendance of the artist and theoreticians, this thinking frame was in itself challenging enough not to have to refrain to the well-known strategies of 'interesting' discussion, which are mainly quoting and opposition. In-Transit was an example of an 'environmentalist' approach to curation, a careful ecological balancing exercise between given elements, the creation of a frame for the formation of a social body in constant transformation, and the channels for the inspiration and flow of knowledge to find its way to the different sub-groups of interests participating in the festival. What made that this festival didn't get trapped in the festivalitis context, (unlike for example the Trance festival organized by HAU a couple of years ago), was its attitude, its openness instituted by the curatorial organization of space and time, by the distribution of proximity and accessibility of the different participants groups, by the care for the food, the library, the focusses of attention. In that way the difference between working and watching, between practicing theory and performance, between participants and audience members was minimalized, without giving up on the challenge, the invitation for positioning yourself within the given parameters. Here, as in the BDC example, the space for the arts was stretched out into the surrounding park, the cafetaria, the hall ways and the metro back to the hotel. 4.In short, if I speak in this text about an understanding of curatorship in the performing arts, I speak about a very specific understanding of curatorship: a shared curatorship, putting into question the authorial roles and introducing new potentials for exchange and sharing of (artistic) material, a curatorship that extends the invitation to rethink the ecology of the arts system from within, without introducing definite new ideological standpoints or stubborn critical certainties. A curatorship not so much as a statement but as a redistribution of power that makes us rethink the fabric of our social bodies and belonging. A curating of the now, in the moment of its unfolding. I like the definition Nigel Thrift gives of a rethinking of a political attitude in his 'Non-Representational Theory': 'a potentiality that is brought into being only as it acts or exists in the interstices of interaction'. If this is so, the whole idea of curating is no longer based on fixed points in space, performances in venues. The real curating is the non-curated part of the interstices, of the places in-between, of the potential of the situation for changing one's attitude, one's mind or one's sense of belonging. The curatorial practice in that sense opens up cracks in the system in the space, where things can happen that were not programmed nor foreseeable. Encounters between people, between people and objects, architecture, history, thoughts and ideas roaming the space that can be picked up by anyone, rephrased and relaunched in another conversation, left as a trace for someone else to pick up, etcetera. The environmentalism is about allowing for that to happen. In a space like that, the role of the curator and the artist become interchangeable, as does the role of the spectator. Since the curatorial attitude is one of creating a space in which anyone could feel empowered to start creating or changing it by their input, the spectator is confronted with a serious challenge here, albeit possibly in the guise of a somewhat obscure invitation. It is an invitation to allows them to get affected by the circumstances, to actively open up to this potential change, not necessarily by actively getting out there, but by opening up their perspectives on what might happen. It is this oscillating promise that creates the space and the social body within it. This kind of unspoken promise that something is going on, connecting all elements within the given parameters, rendering palpable the intuition that any kind of change happening within it also creates a change in the whole of the constellation. The radical change in the position of the spectator, is one of attitude, is precisely that he leaves behind his position and starts looking for a connection, that he inscribes himself in the bigger story that is being written, not so much for him, but with him. Although this might sound as a bit of an ideal situation, with the right set-up of time and space, allowing for gaps and interstices, and (very importantly) including the whole organizational team in adapting and communicating this attitude, it has proven itself to be possible. At that point the curatorial politics are no longer superficially provoking an (un)wanted interactive dynamic between spectators and performers, but about allowing them to rethink their role in the whole. Whatever is being said or done in that space is no longer an abstract message sent out to an abstract receiver, but becomes a piece of constantly changing information, that passes through every individual present in a personal, although non-autobiographical, way. It is for him to pick it up or leave it stranding, to make a choice or give over to the flow, to be critical, enthusiastic, a glitch in the circulation, or a conductor or the environmental energy. But he will know that whatever position he chooses to take on will in some way change the outlook of the constellation. (1) Translation of fragment out of 'De belofte van 'het'' (The promise of 'it'): Tom Plischke in interview with Rudi Laermans , Carine Meulders and Kattrin Deufert, in relation to the performance BDC/Tom Plischke and Friends in BSB bis, 2001. Complete text can be found in the anthology of Rudi Laermans on www.sarma.be (2) www.praticable.info (3) www.nadine.be Elke Van Campenhout
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    • the tender institute 12 January 2015
      posted by: Elke van Campenhout

      "In the whirlwind of changing subsidy policies, and political crisis, the Institute has become a partner to be mistrusted. What has become clear from all the waves of institutional critique that have fueled the visual arts production in the last decennia, is the Institute's extreme flexibility to reinvent itself, to recuperate and produce the ruling discourses, in a constant craving for the new. The Institute in this understanding has become synonymous with capital power struggles, with normative regulation of the arts scene, and with an unsavory attachment to a global economy that creates and sustains inequality, poor labor conditions and a sanctimonious elitist attitude towards knowledge and its distribution."

      Who's afraid of the Institute?

      In the whirlwind of changing subsidy policies, and political crisis, the Institute has become a partner to be mistrusted. Paraphrasing Dorothy Parker you could say that the Institute in most contemporary engaged art practices is 'not one to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.' What has become clear from all the waves of institutional critique that have fueled the visual arts production in the last decennia, is the Institute's extreme flexibility to reinvent itself, to recuperate and produce the ruling discourses, in a constant craving for the new. The Institute in this understanding has become synonymous with capital power struggles, with normative regulation of the arts scene, and with an unsavory attachment to a global economy that creates and sustains inequality, poor labor conditions and a sanctimonious elitist attitude towards knowledge and its distribution.

      In the last ten years however, more and more artist initiatives have been re-thinking the Institute's mandate. Taking the term up on its potential, rather than its historical accomplishments, the Institute once again has become a point of address: a specific place where people share their concerns and interests, where you can find topical information and engage with it, where knowledge is archived and opened up to public interest and scrutiny. Although it is a bit of a stretch to compare all these particular initiatives, I will venture to formulate some comments on these practices that place them within a larger field of enquiry in today's art field.

      Compared with the more established Institute's the arts' initiatives seem less embedded in a universal idea of knowledge conservation than in a dynamic reformulation of knowledge processed in situ. In that sense we could use the term 'environmental' for these newly constructed spaces for encounter. The environment here is constructed by the relations and the interests of the people participating in the particular context (of the Bureau, the performance, the work table, etc..). In other words: the institute (without capital I) has lost its clear horizon of social valorization and functionality. It is not transparently embedded in a supra-structure of similar houses of power. Instead it has a nomadic feature that is permeable, a qualitative openness that connects it directly to a context of particular participants, diverse spaces and a larger politico-social context.

      Another important feature of this institute is that it allows for a differential approach of interests. Although the institute clearly functions as a point of address of a certain problematics, as an environmental space, the processing of this information can be shared by anyone participating. Turning the monolithic space of recognition and representation into a heterotopic openness to different interests. What we see here is a constantly shifting maze of connections and reconnections, allowing for a constant and simultaneous shrinking and aggrandizing of the issues addressed. Connecting now only with a group of 4 participants, and at the same time addressing a global or political question that overrides by far the mandate of the artistic initiative at hand.

      The institute's boundaries in that sense are highly flexible, but not in the way they’d adapt to whatever kind of interpretation. Like in any other institute - and especially in the Tender Institute - the practices and the encounters are prescribed. There is an etiquette ruling the space that makes it possible to engage. There is an invitation that opens up the potential of the encounter. But at the same time the level and focus of engagement stays open for interpretation. For the mutual recognition of a common interest. Based on the smallest of details, or on the largest of analytical frameworks. The institute in that way questions our 'sense of belonging', of being part of the event unfolding: do I engage in the practice as an artist, a citizen, a woman, an agnostic or a believer? What does this engagement then produce in the event? How do I relate to the information that is swirling around? How do I add (or not) to the particular context unfolding?

      Infolding the Institute

      The institute (I make the distinction between the Institute as the power house and the institute as the environmental settlement) is a particular space, situated not outside of the logics of classification and order, but standing at its limits, 'at the edge of the void that lies beyond every order of recognition or normalization' (professor Peter Hallward on Foucault's use of the specific). It is this de-normalization process that is of interest to the artist community rethinking its own complicities. All too often the engagement with 'what lies outside' of the arts is taken up on the level of the reinstallment of an oppositional logic of understanding. In the embrace of a politics of trying to understand the other (the precarious worker, the poor, the immigrant, …) the artistic practices process and produce again and again this dichotomic sense of 'normalcy' in contrast to the 'exotic' feature of the have-nots, not taking into account the complicity in the construction of exactly these knowledge divisions, these 'states of exceptions' that sustain an unequal access to the declaration of 'what is important', today as well as in history or in the near future.

      What the institute can do is exactly to redefine the grid that limits our entitlements of knowing and taking action. Turning the strictness of the dividing horizontals and verticals in an interesting plane of 'wholes and holes', for every individual to navigate through. What the institute archives in these circumstances, is then not a universal, nor even a particular kind of knowledge. Rather it archives the processes that keep these different knowledge field connecting and communicating. The institute expresses a desire to address, to weave a grounding but fragmentary mythology for the becoming of the social fabric. No longer a clear road map to navigate our relations in past, present and future, the institute infolds the very diverse ways to deal with the 'situation', with what we think is at stake in this slice of time and space.

      Methods and tools

      If we said earlier on that it is a precarious endeavor to put all recent artistic institute's projects on the same line of interpretation, that is largely because all these initiatives claim a particular and concrete point of departure and an other methodological logic. In all their quirky singularity they break the demand for seamless reproduction that governs still a big part of the arts scene. The development of work here is drawn out of its mold of quantifiable recognition (through number of performances, partners, spectators and critiques) and into a much murkier field of the development of 'qualities' of working and sharing a space for exchange. As we know every method of work is somehow reproductive of a certain world view, of a particular way of relating to your collaborators, of a certain way to understand what 'work' today can still mean. Aesthetics are in that sense always prescriptive, or even – in some cases – normative, in the explicit demand that the situation should be recognized, and the division of roles that this implies. The art work here could be seen as an interface of social relations to unfold in the encounter. A relationality that can reach far beyond the limits of the arts factory.

      If we understand the institute as a possible tool to deal with these relations, this is not a tool that is to be judged by its efficiency, by the results that it provides. Rather, the tools used by the institute are at the same time highly specialized and highly dysfunctional. You might say that a good tool in this context is not a tool that hides itself behind its own surefire functionality, but rather one that talks back. A tool as an obstacle, as something that has to be reckoned with. Undermining as much as opening up the process of relating and dealing with the situation. As Isabelle Stengers mentions in her 'Ecology of Practices': “This is how I produced what I would call my first step towards an ecology of practice, the demand that no practice would be defined "like any other", just as no living species is like any other. Approaching a practice then means approaching it as it diverges, that is feeling its borders, experimenting the questions which practitioners may accept as relevant, even if they are not their own questions, not insulting ones leading them to mobilize and transform the border into a defence against their outside.”

      In that context the tool functions rather as a 'symptom' of the way we perceive our being together. Of the ways we consider an object, a situation, a relation, as a piece of knowledge to be dealt with. Every environment constructs its own value system. Not on the basis of a mutual agreement, but on the practical basis of 'what works' or 'what doesn't work'. In other words: what creates a situation is a change in the status quo, a performance. Opening up the method to the participants (both the 'users' of the institute as the creators) makes it possible for anyone to rethink its metabolism, its inner working, its outer organizing affect. Instead of the ideological reinforcement of the hierarchic status quo proposed by the Institute, the institute reappraises the circulating mythologies that cross the space, the specificity of the current proposal, the value of what is to be kept alive for the future (performances). The institute is what turns a 'state of exception' into a 'state of attention' for everyone to appraise.

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    • artistic research 12 January 2015
      posted by: Guido Lucassen

      "Other than the ‘artist’s research’, artistic research overwrites the isolation and the hermetics of art production in the classical sense, in addressing in one way or another a socially relevant problematics. This kind of artistic research opens up new ways for the creation of a ‘generous cultural memory’."

       

      1. 'artistic research’ 

      To clarify what kind of research a.pass sustains, a minimum of conceptual transparency is needed. When we combine the terms ‘research’ and ‘artistic’, most of the time we are dealing with a research ON the arts (art history, musicology, theatre sciences, aspects of cultural sociology, esthetics etc...) or a research IN the arts (a research that is part of a (regular) artistic practice). What we in a.pass consider as artistic research - a term that is often understood in reference to the Anglo-saxon models for practice-based research - often is the result of a research In the arts, but cannot be reduced to it. a.pass doesn’t want to limit its range of research to the ‘artist research’ full stop: the necessarily research-oriented attitude that accompanies any kind of serious artistic endeavour, which does not necessarily have any link to the communication and valorization of research results as it is demanded in an academic context. ‘Research’, as it is understood in the artistic practice, is an evident part of this practice which allows for a result-oriented reflection on the work, or in other words: a research oriented towards the production of the art work as a product, as a repertory and/or as an oeuvre.

      In the a.pass environment, and in a playful questioning of the ‘academic’ research mind-set, this individual artist is not the sole focus of attention, or at least not in the sense that we perceive our researchers as artists tout court. An artist research has an inherent logic and validity, but does not necessarily have a need to be communicative to an outside community in any other form than through the production of art works. a.pass reflects on a research in the arts that is more than a report - in the art work itself or in the accompanying dissertation - of the individual research of an artist. What we consider an artistic research project is rather:

      ‘a new practice in the arts, which differs from the individual artist practice, as well as from the art historical or scientific research practice. One researches not only the art through the art works, but the functioning of art and the breadth of the art practice by way of interdisciplinary interventions in the (semi-)public, societal domain. Artistic research is an interdisciplinary concentration around a ‘binding’ problem that catches the attention of a pluriform group of participants.’ (Jouke Kleerebeezem, De Witte Raaf)

      This means that a question in the research of a.pass is always situated in a broader context than that of the sole artist: a lot of the questions that are posed in a.pass generate collective discussions and critique, find their way (partly) into other researches or attempt temporary coalitions in the defining and/or broadening up of a certain problematics. Important in this environment is the shared reflection concerning ways of working, diverse understandings of artistic research, the development of (post-disciplinary) perspectives and the experimentation with methodologies and strategies. The work of the artistic researcher does not coincide with the work of the artist in the sense that it is self-conscious, and explicitly communicates and circulates this self-reflection within a wider group of stakeholders.

      In other words, the emphasis in this kind of research is not so much on the conception and production of an art work - although this undeniably and unavoidably is part of the whole of the research - but rather on a questioning that puts the individual art practice and even the recognizable mono-discipline in a wider perspective. This kind of research originates from and builds on the demands and problematics of a shared debate, and can be approached by different specialist researchers, each addressing the question out of his own domain. The length, the quality criteria, the form, the communication strategies and the required ‘relevance’ of the research - and thus also the understanding of the requirements of the PhD-project that might eventually result out from it - are thus in principle dependent on the context and have to be negotiated on a project base between the researcher and the institution(s) involved. It is in this case very important to recognize a wider ‘public’, the potential users of this research, as a partner in this trajectory, and to develop the appropriate communication channels to make this participation possible.

       

      2. “A new art terrain escapes in the best case scenario the doom of splendid isolation, WITHOUT losing the special and meaningful privilege of unusefulness that characterizes the symbolic practice.” (Jouke Kleerebeezem) 

      Other than the ‘artist’s research’, artistic research overwrites the isolation and the hermetics of art production in the classical sense, in addressing in one way or another a socially relevant problematics. This kind of artistic research opens up new ways for the creation of a ‘generous cultural memory’. But at the same time the societal relevance of this research cannot coincide with its utilitarian value, since the direct impact of the research practice and reflection necessarily develops through artistic, affective gestures of experimentation and communication that resonate with, but never answer to, the concrete questions posed within the societal fabric. This kind of research thus will only influence the daily social, political, economic or scientific reality by a detour, through the unsettling of its self-reflection and imagination(s). This independent position, free from any preconditioned political preconceptions, economic value or socially determined relevance is a necessary and undeniable characteristic of this research practice.

      More than a pragmatic laboratory for the production of answers on societal questions, the research lab that is a.pass offers the possibility to construct an ‘general intellect’: a way of working wherein researchers collectively give form to diverse practices to produce and articulate knowledge in an open, shared research environment.

       

      3. ‘Old cultural dichotomies have come to collapse: those of knowledge and imagination, thinking and doing, language and image, truth and illusion, theory and practice, object and process.” (Camiel Van Winkel)

      In a.pass the relevance of the research is measured by the degree in which researchers, out of their different backgrounds and knowledge horizons, manage to formulate innovative perspectives on potential knowledge production, as well as on the development of tools to share and experiment this knowledge on the public scene. It is clear that the development of this kind of research environment also resonates with other institutions for art education on an (inter)national scale. Artistic research in a.pass can be seen as a third way, wedged in between the artistic practice as such and the more academic understanding of knowledge production. Different from the artistic practice the research is not limited to the individual trajectory, the personal questioning and aesthetics of the artist. But at the same time the art practice does take a central role in the development of new perspectives and methodologies, a way of working that relates to, but doesn’t coincide with, and even explicitly questions an academic AND an artistic framework. Artistic research in a.pass is not limited to the development of arts-practice-related knowledge, but also involves the creation and testing of formats, methodologies, communication strategies and shared practices, ‘tools for collaboration and communication’, that broaden up the understanding of artistic research from an art work with paper validation form to a more critical investigation into the statute, the circulation and the valuation of divergent forms of knowledge.

    • Text
    • hunger artist 12 January 2015
      posted by: Guido Lucassen

      1. Food and Hunger

      Knowing about food and where our foods come from, or even knowing what exactly it is we are eating, has been the leveller for a new movement of engaged and interested citizens-artists who want to come to an understanding of the different factors that are running the all-encompassing trade of our alimentary products.

      Talking about global food production, we must come to the conclusion that making ‘healthy’ decisions is an almost impossible task. Faced with the everyday realities of food miles, (the lack of) farmer’s organization or union support, the huge gap in economic power between the industrialized mega-states and the (often poor) production regions, the carbon footprint of global distribution, the non-ecological industrialized farming methods and the subsequent constant production of toxins, the limited range of possibilities of the ‘fair trade’ label etc, we come to the conclusion that eating healthily and taking care of your body does not necessarily mean you are taking care of the community nor the environment. Taking into account the situation of the workers that are producing your food for less than the money they put into their work, as a direct result of the so-called ‘free trade’ (but heavily subsidized) food policies promoted by the strong industrial food powers, it is hard to find your way around the shopping isles of your supermarket. But even the neighborhood shop or farmer’s market is not above suspicion. In the food industry nothing is what it seems. 

      In answer to this seemingly insurmountable problem, artists and citizens alike have taken up the challenge in very different ways. Collectives concentrating on city gardening, gathering food in public parks, working on solar energy, devising alternative economies, are all interesting and locally invested initiatives that somehow try to grasp some of the left-overs of the individual agency in matters that seem largely to surpass its level. Because there are few characteristics that shape our current food production that are not so easily airbrushed by good intentions and local initiative.

      The first, and probably most important fact is that Food is Class-Conscious: the way food production and distribution is organized today has created, aggrandized and sustained major inequalities in our society: on the city level as well as on the global level, not to forget the discrepancy between the attention dedicated to city (consumers) and the rural community. In the cities American studies have shown that it is hard to find any decent supermarket in predominantly black neighborhoods. The ‘good’, but also often the cheapest food, is to be found on the outskirts of the city, impossible to reach by foot or public transport. Local, inner-city shops often offer lower quality products at a higher price. Which offers the have-nots only a limited choice: since no fresh produce is available they depend on nightshops, local, relatively expensive small-scale super markets, or just don’t bother and go to the Mc Donald’s, which in these neighborhoods is always just behind the corner. Although this study was performed in the megapolis areas of the USA, which structure does not exactly mirror similar sizes cities’ organization in other countries, it is safe to say that the equal access to fresh, healthy and nutritious food is limited to those who are living on limited means. This glaring inequality does no more than reflect the same kind of imbalance produced by the global food market system: over-subsidized food industries in nations like the USA and China dominate the market by artificially bringing down the prices for the goods produced in other parts of world. Since they are not forced to sell, they can sit back and wait until the market turns out more profit, which is something most other regions cannot afford to do. On top of that the USA has been consciously overproducing (especially corn and grain), and dumping their excess produce on the world market at prices that often are below the cost of production. Which is a sure way of cutting down all concurrency, forcing whole countries into the subservient state of mono-culture produce for mega-companies that are putting even more pressure on the farmers, and rendering them in that way completely dependent on the often capricious swifts and turns of the market and the weather.

      What concerned artists-citizens are concentrating on, is to find ways out of this globalized and subsidized inequality system that is fed into us every day when we go shopping ourselves, and come to the understanding that there is no locally grown produce to be found, since it seems cheaper to transport apples over a 3000km distance to the supermarket than to eat the ones the soon-to-go-out-of-business local farmers are producing. What they reclaim as human beings is their right to food sovereignty: the right to be able to make the right choice. Or as the activist group Via Campesina formulates it in mock-answer to the WTO demand for the elimination of trade barriers between the nations: ‘Access to markets? Yes, we want access to our own markets.’ Food sovereignty in the first place has to do with accessibility, as said before, and with the communally constructed rethinking of sustainable food architectures in our communities. But there are also more radical ways to put into question the hierarchies and dependencies of the food market, as the hunger artist exemplifies.

       

      2) Hunger as artistic attitude

      Working as a hunger artist means you take a distance from the world. Food is what greatly shapes our social relations, our daily schedules, our meetings and our professional environments. Try to imagine not being able to go out for dinner anymore, have a beer with a friend until late in the night, go to a business lunch meeting, have a glorious Sunday brunch with the family. What does it produce if you break off all these easy and light engagements that somehow keep your network, your links with the world outside of you, intact. The hunger artist will always be the one that introduces a kind of friction in the social setting, the one that doesn’t play the game anymore, the one that sits soberly watching the other ones. It is an awkwardness that creates distance, provokes questions, and -more often than not- a certain degree of scepticism or even hostility. For the hunger artist the body turns into a completely different vessel: slowly hollowing itself out it becomes little by little a pure exterior, a testimony of the practice that carries itself outwards into the world, the inner core emptying itself out every day a little bit more. The hunger artist is, to speak in Deleuzian terms, the ultimate Body without Organs. Deleuze speaks about different types of BwO’s: the masochist, the anorexic, the addict, etc… Each of them developing a ‘micro-politics’ that will leave the body undone, stripped of all it organs, of its most essential machinistic sense of functioning. The body seen as a machine that has to be filled up every so many hours is dependent on the food architecture he/she lives in to do so, has formatted his/her social environments to fit into these pigeon holes of meeting and exchanging. In contrast, the Body without Organs opens up the possibility of a body that is no longer mechanic, that frees itself from its dependencies, only to reconstruct them from a new perspective. A BwO is assembled out of a desire for experiment, for the potential breaking through. It pushes the organizational lines of time and space that regulate our ordinary social encounters. ‘If the machine is not a mechanism, and if the body is not an organism, it is always then that desire assembles.’

      The hunger artist, much like the anorexic as Deleuze sees him, reorganizes the social space. When distanced from the initial desire to consume, prompting us into obeisance and consumerism, food items start to tell a completely different story. Walking through the aisles of the super market, the long rows of repetitive food items take on an almost alien characteristic. The absurdity of the abundance of food, of this constant movement of goods from the other side of the world, from the rural areas, into the city, keeping the heart of our community pumping takes on an almost grotesque character. Taking a distance from the food object is a first step into questioning our dependencies. Not only to eating, but to how these food items shape our lives and relations. The reason the hunger artist is often looked at wearily is because he questions our sense of pleasure and the social bonds that create it. Food has off course more than a nutritional value: food marks the important moments in our lives, food is an indicator of good taste, of worldliness, and of – not unimportant – class. Food places us fixedly on the social map of belonging. We buy certain products because our parents did so, because the advertiser sold me his body image, because of the comfort of its proximity, because of our craving to be ‘filled up’. ‘Comfort food’ as preached on so many TV channels and in countless cook books, is not by coincidence often fatty and ‘nostalgic’: referring to a previous age, childhood recipes which remind us of home, of the clear safe boundaries of a house in proper order. Comfort foods are our vessels of consolation, not by coincidence mostly targeted to single consumers. They are the consolation for not fitting the social pattern (yet). Comfort food is what creates food addicts and a dependency on food as a social and/or professional readjuster. No wonder then, that from this perspective the hunger artist is seen as a loco, and the anorexic as diseased. In reaction to the full plate of richess offered to him, he declines politely, as Bartleby did before him: ‘I would prefer not to’. (It is no coincidence that Melville’s Bartleby dies of starvation at the end of the book). But if we look at the hunger artist with a bit more distance, we could argue that he is probably the true ‘relational aesthetics’ manager. Having become a pure exterior, he rearranges the borders of social conduct. If we go back to the anorexic, we see that the ‘I’ of the anorexic undeniably rearranges the fabric of the family constellation. In the same way, if we see the hunger artist practice as a public, artistic practice (which it would have to be to overcome the limits of the narcissistic experience), the ‘I’ of the artist is restructuring the relations among the bodies he is closest to. His collaborators, curators, programmers, public, providers, care-takers and so on. By refusing the imposed organ-ized ways of dealing, by making them impossible to apply through a pure passivity of food denial, he rewrites the potential outcome of the situation introducing this simple moment of openness for what might be there on the other side. As Deleuze notes the anorexic is not the one that refuses his/her own body, but the one that refuses a particular ideology of the body. It is not the one falling victim to his/her own body, but the one emancipating it from the all-encompassing demands of its environment. It is a twisted logic of the current food system that on the one hand produces more and more fatty and unhealthy food items, and on the other hand glorifies a perfect, trained, ‘normal’ body, shunning the rest of us out of vision. Out-of-size bodies are the ones that launch a counter-attack against these hypocritical and often obtuse moral hygiene of the food market. Why anorexics as well as overweight people are regarded suspiciously is because they trespass the norm, the middle space, the common ground we all agree on. But if we make a more militant reading of this ab-normalcy we could say that ‘The anorexic void has nothing to do with a lack, it is on the contrary a way of escaping the organic constraint of lack and hunger at the mechanical mealtime.’ The psychiatric reading of anorexic practices or the undue fear of the hunger artist ignore other traditional ways in which these practices were considered spiritually liberating and ascetic practices experimented with for thousands of years. As echoed through the witnessing of these traditions the hunger practice is an emancipatory gesture taking a temporary distance from being subjected to the body’s incessant and dictatorial demands. During le Château Marcella.B picked up on these intuitions and sent out a call for hunger artists all over the world (in response to the score of Morice Deslisle), to strive for an artistic practice that is built on social transformation, fair-trade and the rethinking of the relation between our and other bodies out there in the world. In a second phase she works on the development of her ‘Pratiques Anorexiques’ in different, public residency settings. In her practice she point out the parallel between the ways we deal with food and the ways we deal with our arts practices. Using the body as a transformative tool in the exploration of current societal questions off course places the artist right back into a tradition of long-durational body arts. But also, and more importantly in this context, in the middle of a societal debate that is larger and more accessible to a larger group of stakeholders than the restriction to the usual suspects of the arts scene. The hunger and anorexic practices open up a field of debate that can be shared by anyone, offers an opportunity to digest various concerns, and incorporate them into the empty body of the artistic work. Off course the Hunger Artist is only one way to deal with the questions raised by global food production. Overall the strategies that deal with these questions are based on creating a ‘state of attention’: which can be achieved through creating zones of attentive cooking, building sustainable food architectures, inventing new foods, etc… What the Hunger Artist in this whole debate is a moment of standstill, a period of tranquility in the middle of the roaring velocity of movement and speed that directs our existence. A moment of suspension in the eye of the storm.

       

      3) Fair trade in the arts: take out the middle men

      If we talk about fair-trade in the food industry we talk about returning to the farmers the right to be paid fairly for what they grow. We talk about the unfairness of the middle men, the refiners and distributors of the food, the supermarket chains that push the prices up for the customers and down for the growers. We talk about a clear policy on what exactly it means to deal within ‘free trade’, when the big industrialized nations are paying massive amounts of money to over-produce bulk food which destroys the (potentially) healthy price concurrency regulating the markets. We talk about over-subsidizing governments that don’t take into account the needs of the farmers nor of the consumers. But most of all we talk about the right to decide how and what to grow (from the farmer’s side) and to be able to make healthy and informed decisions on the part of the consumer. If we talk about the arts market, we seem to have entered into that same state of deadlock. Policy makers and commissions, curators and programmers, everyone is trying to make sense of something that should be fairly simple. There are artists producing a multicultural (in opposition to the monocultural agricultural practices) range of practices and art works, and there is an equally multi-oriented public, looking in the arts for a satisfactory reply to questions or cravings as diverse as critical awareness, aesthetic pleasure, soothing reassurance, political insights, historical framing, and lots and lots more. What is been happening in the last ten years though is a subsidizing policy that grew out of a more or less sane self-organizing artists field, and that now has become regulative to an almost absurd height. (We write here from our background as a respectively Dutch and Belgian artistic researcher). In his State of the Union at the performance festival in Belgium, a few days after the Dutch cultural subsidy system all but collapsed under the weight of populist demands and managerial efficiency, cultural sociologist Pascal Gielen rightly remarked: ‘The arts field follows a ‘neutral politics’ strategy. One doesn’t utter politically tinged statements, one speaks with just about all democratic parties, one provides evenly divided political distribution in the boards and even sometimes in the governmental commissions. At the same time one incorporates the efficiency and management rhetorics that please today’s policy makers: the arts sector as well wants to prove its ‘good management’, while research ought to legitimate the arts sector economically.’. As a direct result of this managerial approach though, Gielen claims, the arts sector opened up the possibility for its most interesting, experimental, ‘non-efficient’ practices to be cut from one day to the other. Because this kind of understanding of ‘good policy’ ‘has a politically colored history, stemming from the UK politics of Margaret Thatcher, and is certainly not politically neutral since it joins forces with the neo-liberal rhetorics of the free market as the fundament of our society. And does that with all semblance of political neutrality’ As pointed out before, the cultural scene in the Netherlands was crushed by its own embrace of neo-liberal Newspeak. In Belgium, the sector is crushed by the slowly suffocating motherly hug of the subsidiary system. Mom says what we should wear, where we have go to school, how we should behave and present ourselves in public. Mom tells us which words to use in our dossiers, and who to speak to to ‘step up’ the social and professional ladder. The problem is that also in this sector the cards are being dealt by the middle men, by the producers, and subsidizers. Although of course most of the programmers and curators also are stressed into defending their ‘niche format’, their ‘name’ and their ‘brand’. Just as the many commission members and cabinet members and other advisers and decision takers probably have the sector’s best interest in mind. The problem is not situated with the individuals, trying to grasp the reality of what is happening, and responding accordingly. The problem is that the system little by little has made itself indispensable, has become the (half)hidden ruler of the arts. A system that has produced format after format for production, creation, research, distribution and sales is now desperately trying to fill in the holes of the raster, but cannot see over its little devising walls what is happening outside. What people are processing outside of these well-prepared holes in the wall. Which is no wonder, since nobody will ever be able to see what these artists are doing since they didn’t fit the profile of the venues they were supposed to be shown in, or meet the people that might have appreciated what they do. If we talk about a fair-trade in the arts therefore I think we talk about a fair chance, not only for artists, but also for experimental programmers and curators that don’t tick all the salonfähigkeit’s boxes of what is hot today. We talk about the public as well, that often is confronted with a made-to-custom program that is supposed to serve all tastes. And we are evidently also talking about policy makers that should not be burdened with the power to decide on who has and who has not. If we talk about a fair-trade we’re talking about giving the power (and the money) back to the artists: let them decide what to do with all these heaps of bricks supposingly built to host the artist’s and the public’s interest. Let them meet with these publics directly, uncensored, and let them find out what it means to take position. What it means if art again starts to mean that you stand for something, and that we can disagree. Violently or not. And that we can do this directly. Where free trade meets fair-trade. What would the sector look like then?

    • Publication
    • It, Thingly Variations in Space 10 March 2015
      posted by: Nicolas Y Galeazzi
    • texts by: Elke Van Campenhout, André Lepecki, Christophe van Gerrewey, Nele Wynants; ed. by Mokum, a.pass
    • 01 January 2011
    • book
    • case of: Lilia Mestre
    • It, Thingly Variations in Space

      This book explores the position of the object in contemporary performance.

      price: 15

      What happens when the object is no longer dealt with as a reference point in the multi-layered language of theatre? What if the object takes centre stage, or even better, becomes the stage itself? Who is the spectator the moment you become aware of IT staring back at you?

      The texts and images in this book refer to the works of performance makers Lilia Mestre, Joanna Bailie & Christoph Ragg, Laurent Liefooghe and Sanja Mitrovic. This publication contains texts by André Lepecki, Elke Van Campenhout, Christophe Van Gerrewey and Nele Wynants.





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