COLLECTIVITY? YOU MEAN COLLABORATION
*This is a transcript of a lecture presented
at Context # 1 in Hebbel am Ufer, Berlin, February 22, 2004, the
festival curated by Bettina Masuch.
When about a year ago, Emil Hrvatin and I proposed a performance
project addressing collectivity, the project which Hrvatin initiated
and I collaborated in developing its project proposal, I couldn't
anticipate the resistance and confusion the term alone would bring.
We asked about twenty programmers, critics and theoreticians from
the European networks presenting the experimental field of performance,
to give us an expert critical reflection on the project proposal,
and their responses resonated in a consensual cluster of questions:
"Aren't you aware of how ideologised and outmoded the term
is? Do you mean collectivity as a mode of production or as a topic
of research? In other words, are you working collectively or on
collectivity? We would be happier if you substituted it for a term
more suitable to contemporary practices - collaboration, namely
- as collaboration involves a space of negotiation of individual
differences." We started off with a similar misunderstanding.
"We" here means seven performers and/or authors collected
around the fact that our previous work, as well as current label
status in the performance market, is associated with choreographers
and directors, we called, "strong authors," such as Jan
Fabre, Meg Stuart, Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Jan Ritsema and others,
either by company ex-membership or through recognised influence.
Collected without a common will to form a collective that, presupposedly,
emerges out of an urgency to collaborate with a shared cause, goals
or tactics, we spent a month of luxury struggling to clear away
the confusion around the concept: to work collectively on collectivity.
It sounds like a circular impasse, but it was going to be fruitful
for unfolding doubts. Is it possible to experimentally investigate
a concept, more social and historical than artistic and contemporary,
as we were told, whereby authorship would not be assigned to the
initiator of the project?
The mistrust in the possibility of reconfiguring collectivity without
central leadership and the relevance of such an attempt was further
asserted by programmers who repeatedly failed to announce the performance
by the title "Collect-if" and signature "by Collect-if."
Perhaps they were baffled by the indistinction of the producer and
the product. Can a temporary one-performance set-up account for
authorial signature? Or were the promoters bowing to the pressure
of having to present a work with a name with a face, a proxy that
guarantees the contract, as if "a return to the originator"
was a precondition for presenting the collective work next to other
performances with author-labels? Our insistence on "Collect-if
by Collect-if" and their excuses aroused a range of social
affects: Emil's being angry about being given the role of director,
the whole group's dissatisfaction with not being able to manage
the context of presentation, programmers' feeling embarassed for
obviously giving in to convention.
Collectives do undergo external pressures, and back-stage interrogations,
like "who is the leader", can eventually affect collaboration,
but this business of misunderstanding concerning the brand title-or-name
"Collect-if," wouldn't be interesting as such, were it
not a symptom of uneasiness with the concept of collectivity itself.
The shame is on all sides, I would say, as if collectivity only
conjured images of failure. One would rather cross to the other
side of the street than bump into an old friend who has strayed
in an alternative marginal activism - as the friend now smells of
an obsolete revolutionary model. Is collectivism necessarily understood
as the synonim for emancipatory politics in the theatre and performance
praxis in the 60s?
The libertarian heritage: Images of collectivity
"When we feel, we feel the emergency: when we feel the emergency,
we will act: when we act, we will change the world." Julian
Beck, the founder of Living Theatre, was saying. It's not the utopian
model of society and the formula of theatre invoking immediate political
and social action that we are ashamed of nowadays; rather, it is
the values that the legacy of the 60s built into present-day liberalism.
"He allows himself to be possessed by whatever forces are
available to him. The community helps him to take his trip. They
watch him intently but don't hinder him. The community becomes involved
in the essence of his trip. They follow his changes. They do not
seek to soothe him, nor to bring him back from where he is, but
urge him to go further in the direction in which he is going. In
this way they support him, and by the support of sharing his changes,
they give him the courage to take the trip into the unknown."
This is a scenario description of a scene from the legendary performance
of Living Theatre, Paradise Now. It takes no vile parody to imagine
a community of therapy instead, transcendental meditation at work,
for instance, whose assumptions of spiritual and physical liberation
don't differ so much from the dance jargons about individual self-expression.
"And what was your experience, what did you feel, what did
you learn from it, what kind of openings did it create for you?"
Living Theatre was proposing the spiral voyage of social, political,
cultural revolutions in rites of actions whereby the group was merging
with the audience in order to reach the transcendent state of permanent
innovation, the ultimate of which was to be - now curiously enough
- the landing on Mars. They called it the rite of new possibilities.
Becoming collective, thus, became stigmatized by the ideals of primordial
essence and identity, man becoming man, supra-individual, transformation
through purification, with which any imagined being-together would
thereafter be connoted. A totalitarian construct - whose second
image, we would be even more ashamed of - is belief the movement
beyond cannot proceed without an instrument, an Other that has to
act as the middle-man, and its prototype Christ. The problem of
guru and guruism isn't a matter of a dictatorial master who should
be dethroned. If one invested in examining the persistance of guruism
in group dynamics today, it would be far more challenging to explore
the social and economic mechanisms of submission, which engenders
charismatic authority, the patterns of behaviour, the process of
decision-making, transfer of artistic responsibility forcing one
to submit to guidance in finding one's own way.
Is the model of centralized authoritarian collectivity mistaken
for the generic condition of collectivity, thus ruling out any possibility
or interest in collectivism today? Practitioners, sadly enough,
tend to confirm this by way of conventional wisdom. In a recent
publication on collaboration, one of the key-figures of contact
improvisation Daniel Lepkoff gives his definition: "Leadership
comes, in the field of collaboration, under fire. It is an art to
know how to follow. The collaborations where the participants seek
to establish equal voices leads to self-destruction; as each voice
nuances the other, the message is lost in defining a process of
coming and going." (Van Imschoot, 16) But the dis-position
as a dispersal of positions without hierarchy should perhaps be
the condition for collectivity beyond any conception available under
this name. Symbolic for this condition would be a gesture Xavier
Le Roy describes. During the process of Namenlos (1998), when he
invited about 10 artists to collaborate on improvisation and body-image
presentation, in discusions after each improv-session each time
they had to reach a decision about the use of music, the participants
looked in his direction. Le Roy would then face the wall behind
him to make clear that he didn't represent the authority in the
group. (Ibidem, 34) The instinctive urge to appeal to the one deemed
to have the answer and, conversely, the last in the row then deciding
to face the wall not only shows the mechanism of delegating others
with one's own responsibility but, more importantly, it manifests
expectation, a knee-jerk reflex persisting long after the despotic
regime of guru-groups has been abolished. It shows that this something,
which we gather for, has to be entrusted to a position which authorizes
concept, quality and style of work. It demonstrates that the act
of initiating a project, even when it means inviting people for
collaboration on egalitarian basis, establishes authority. But the
social habitus should not justify the common-place complaints which
authors of collaborative projects shrug shoulders with, this is
how things are, there will always be one who bears knowledge, power
and responsibility representative for the group. The tendency toward
a transcendent regime in establishing one beyond or outside collective
and its members is, paradoxally enough, tied with project of emancipating
individual via a collective process.
It is the collectives founded upon the essentialist premises of
humanity being at work or the mythology of merging life and art
in the 60s, that are all the more responsible for concluding an
end to the interest in collectivism. The dramaturgy of the ascending
ritualist voyage, be it in the life of a tribal commune or in stage
representation, dissolved its own project of social and political
change, because in the final stage of the process, it narrows it
down to the abstract idea of individual freedom. What I'm saying
here is that we should thank historical collectives from the 60s
for providing food for liberal individualism today. They handed
down a legacy of libertarian depoliticizing thought: practice freedom
as the exercise of free will. Take one of those imperatives of Living
Theater, like "Change is the natural state of being",
strip it from its 1960s-anarchist vogue, and what you get is a slogan
"free, different, creative", who? The sovereign individual
chooser nowadays: the author, the programmer, the spectator. Collectivity
in the models we chose to remember is relegated to ideological disasters
or social breakdowns, as if doomed to always fall into fascist regimes
of collaboration. What should be more important is to examine the
present-day situation why collectivism isn't just abandoned but
repressed or, why the very idea of collectivity is repulsive or,
are we allowed to rethink it in new terms which would serve the
critical needs of the present?
Inoperative community : Networking
If we bury the embarassement and disgust resulting from historical
examples, there will still be one more social affect to do away
with: the May 68 sentiment. The only law of abandon, like that of
love, is to be without return and without refuge. It's there, it's
not there anymore, but the regret with which the ex-May 68 intellectuals
clamoured about the collapse of communism, was at least useful to
table the question of collectivity again. Fifteen years after May
68 the question of collectivity returns in the guise of community.
In 1983, the editor of the magazine Aléa, Jean-Christophe
Bailly, proposes the topic of community ("la communauté,
le nombre"). La communauté, a word forgotten, or should
we say, reserved for the European community more than twenty years
ago, emerges as a term more appropriate than communism. The call
for the issue inspires many debates and fires a series of corresponding
essays between leading French intellectuals like Maurice Blanchot,
Jean-Luc Nancy, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. Their concern was to reconstitute
the status of community in the aftermath of May 68.
"Communism indicates an idea or a project, whereas community
seems to stand for a fact, a given. Communism declares itself in
favor of a community which isn't given yet, which gives itself as
a goal." (Nancy, 2001, 27) Which project are we speaking of,
certainly not the communist, but neither communitarian or communal.
Under collectivity as community, what is it that accounts for so
well known a word - the common - but also for a concept that has
become so uncertain? "The collapse of communism was met with
a liberal response that involves nothing more than an eager repression
of the very question being-in-common (which so-called real communism
repressed under a common Being)." (Nancy, 2000, 43)
That's not true. Under neoliberalism we do enjoy a "being-together,"
if you like. What we have in common is commerce and communication.
In one word: the network. The network organization of work provides
the illusion of surpassing the boundaries of local dance community
and breaking into the field of discipline "contemporary dance."
In April 2003, when I was engulfed in endless discussions with a
group of dance and theatre-makers at Tanzquartier, Vienna, in order
to research the concept of research in contemporary performance
praxis, we were happy to reach consensus by way of an example. Willy
Coyote and the Roadrunner, the well-known cartoon and metaphor,
where the Coyote tirelessly chases the bird, traversing the boundless
flat surface of the desert, keeps always the same never-to-be-bridged
distance from the bird, until he flips over a cliff, the end of
the road. He never dies, just leaves the full imprint of his body
at the bottom of the abyss. Only to reappear running again. The
running after the Roadrunner over the desert expands in a virtual
map which constantly deterritorializes movement, each action generating
a fresh redeparture, and a line of flight only measured by the inventiveness
and speed of movement. We took it for a metaphor of the concept
"field," the field of research. The sudden break of the
chase marking the fall from the cliff, and the vertical landing
on a bound territory, we called: community. The two-dimensional
image of the body inscribed into the surface, ends the pursuit with
a trace. The Latin terminus means "limit, border" and
was originally the name of a classical deity whose human-like body
gradually faded away into a dot firmly planted on the ground (Agamben
According to this see-saw model, research happens when one advances
onto a new ground with potentialities to spread into a field of
research. And the inevitable pull-force of the community, the localization
- drags the fleeting individual down into the hierarchies of cultural,
historical, political contexts, institutions which prescribe discourses
and set limits to actualization of possibilities. But this would
be just a more cynical version of the Sysiphus myth, and we're lacking
material coordinates, why not name them properly? The field is not
just a plane of consistency, an abstract idealization, as the popular
Deleuzian discourse has it. In effect, it is enabled and represented
by networks of venues, festivals, research labs, one-time collaborations,
flying programmers, showcase platforms, online criticism platforms,
the international scene at which makers are all forced to seek a
value and a position. Or to be more modest, we could say, we are
not only seeking, but depending on a positionality, a focus of positioning
internationally rather than aspiring to the position as positions
seem extremely mobile and unstable. All this because local community
confines one to a fixed place, a frame of belonging to a personal
history, the role and the right to certain meanings, as well as
to production facilities assigned by communal consensus. So, community
- international yes, local no. For local also involves bearing the
burden of micro- social and -political problems of that particular
community. The strategy of a would-be radical figure of such a networked
subjectivity is to constitute their own parallel network.
"You are an artist and that means:
you don't do it for the money. That is what some people think. It
is a great excuse not to pay you for all the things you do. So what
happens is that you, as an artist, put money into projects that
others will show in their museum, in their Kunsthalle, in their
exhibition space, in their gallery. So you are an investor. You
give loans nobody will repay you. You take financial risks. You
speculate on yourself as an artistic asset. You are a trader. You
cannot put all your money into one kind of artistic stocks. So you
diversify your activities. You manage the risks you take. You would
say it differently. I know. You say you suffer from a gentle schizophrenia.
You are multiple personalities. You are a photographer, but also
a DJ. You have a magazine, you are a publisher, but you also organize
parties. You take photos from party people. You throw a party when
you present a magazine, you make magazines with photographs of party
people, you throw a party and you are the DJ. You have a DJ collective,
so you can walk around at your own party, you talk to people and
ask if they want to publish in your magazine, you make CD's, you
present them with a party, you make CD-roms with photographs of
party people, you insert CD-roms in your magazine, you want your
readers to listen to your music, you want your party people to read
your texts, you invite those who write in your magazine to come
to your parties, you make installations from photographs. You do
interviews with people you meet, you do interviews with people you
would like to meet, you tell the people you meet about your magazine.
You distribute flyers announcing your parties in the bars where
you meet people for an interview. You buy records in flee markets,
you distribute flyers announcing parties in the bar where you have
a coffee after visiting the flee market, you make videos recording
how you destroy the records you bought at the flee market, you liberate
your country from its bad music, you show the video in a gallery
and you are a DJ at the vernissage where you invite people who wrote
for your magazine and enjoy the party and being photographed. You
invite other DJ's to DJ with you, you are an MC and someone else
is the DJ, you welcome the people who came to the party, you introduce
people to one another. You are an artist and you are a mediator,
you mix records and you want people to mix, you even mix photographs,
you mix photographs of people you want to mix. You talk to the people
you photograph, they invite you to their parties, where you talk
to other people about photography. You make T-shirts with your name,
you have people wearing those T-shirts, you make them swear to wear
your T-shirt when they go to parties where you are not. You are
everywhere and you make people wonder where you are. You are at
home, you are working on your laptop, you are taking up all your
e-mail conversations where you left them, you are updating people
on your projects, you are doing projects all the time. You call
for tickets... "
(Lesage, from "A Portrait of the Artist as a Worker")
The contemporary figure of author as producer resists the externally
instituted market which would commodify its work, because it is
the mediating machine itself, producing not artwork, but producing
productivity and a self-governed networking. The business of freelance
author involves multiplication of activities, contacts, formats
of work, collaboration and presentation, especially allowing for
the work-in-progress character for almost entire opus, artist as
a project of oneself.
The model also lends an image for a community without work, without
end-product, that is to say, communauté desuvrée,
an inoperative idle community. Idleness and inoperativess here should
be understood in allusion to the Leninist question (what is to be
done). There is nothing to be done, all that is needed seems pregiven
or superfluous, and therefore, there is no economic or political
urgency to mobilise a community collectively for. The current systems
of networking seem to offer a sufficient strategy for artists to
organise their economic and artistic independence without the frames
of collectivity. On the other hand, I could be countered by the
argument that the theatre community of the lowlands, which I belong
to, is famous for collectivism and a Bauhaus-like ethic of collaboration.
It cherishes a saturating number of theatre actors' collectives
without directors, Tg Stan, Dood Paard, De Roovers, 't Barreland,
to name but a few who sprung under the influences of the then innovatory
practices of Maatschappij Discordia and who organized a system of
circulation independent of Stadtsschouwburg repertory houses. But
then we would be speaking of collectivities dominated by an instrumental
logic: artistic affinity plus instrumentally rational needs to collaborate,
since the Dutch and Belgian welfare states are also generous in
providing structural funding.
The contemporary theatre collectives are not founded upon a quest
for another framework of collectivity, another division of labour,
by those very demands to go beyond professional specialization,
medium specificity and instituted production, that formed collectivities
like Living Theatre, Open Theatre, The Performance Group, Werktheater
(Amsterdam), Judson Dance Theatre or Grand Union in the 60s and
70s. For these demands are now partly fulfilled: the need for networks
supporting experimental work, the urge to experiment and go cross-disciplinary
no longer transgressive, the then pressing concern for collaboration
not to speak of the cooperation arising from the climate of political
and social movements. The more collaboration is spoken of, the more
it is lacking, symptomatic of crisis, says Myriam Van Imschoot,
critical of the fetishization of star-system matches and artists'
mobility. "We shouldn't forget that collaboration doesn't undermine
the aura of the Artist, but it multiplies it," she comments
(Van Imschoot, 17-18), and this applies to the type of collaboration
in favor today. Meg Stuart and Gary Hill, Jan Ritsema and Jonathan
Burrows, Jérôme Bel and Forced Entertainment/Tim Etchells.
Not that these encounters shouldn't be intriguing in themselves,
but I would here like to point out that the phenomenon of temporary
productive contact shifts emphasis on its programmation as a spectacular
double-bill event. Authors will exchange their specialities in the
frame of one or two projects so as to hopefully arrive at something
third, new and unknown, beyond their respective disciplines. However,
their intention to collaborate isn't aiming at modifying types of
authorship or producing a "third-hand" identity, to borrow
Charles Green's term for conceptualizing collaboration characteristic
of the 70s: the composite subjectivity of Gilbert&George, Marina&Ulay,
or the "bureaucratic" conceptual teamwork of Art&Language
group. The work resulting from those long-term collaborations drew
its diverse interests from a critique of "natural-born"
self-expressive, individual artistic identity and, therefore, centered
on constructing alternative modes or figures of authors. Within
Context #1 is a similar strategy displayed in the performance Xavier
Le Roy, commissioned and signed by Jérôme Bel, realized
by Xavier Le Roy. But we have to be careful not to reduce it to
a cynical game dealing with accreditations only. This work doesn't
only disclose the contractual basis of authorship, the conventional
act whereby artworld baptizes author by declaration. It is more
significant to note that Xavier Le Roy chooses to work with Bel's
collaborators-performers, and takes his own point of departure from
Bel's The Last Performance, thus further reinterpreting and perhaps
even exhausting Bel's procedures of staging "death of author."
Instead of the speech-act tactic (I am Jérôme Bel,
I am Andre Agassi, I am Hamlet, I am Susanne Linke...), Le Roy takes
the reversibility of sign to display theatricality: to hide, to
show. The performance takes place between a paravan wherefrom a
disguised performer comes on stage putting on different iconical
mime-acts (Michael Jackson, Marylin Monroe, Jesus Christ et al).
Xavier Le Roy by Jérôme Bel realized by Xavier Le Roy
comes out of collaboration where there was no collaboration, as
Bel reports: "My collaboration with Xavier Le Roy on my piece
entitled Xavier Le Roy was on one hand total, because I did nothing
and he did everything, and none as we almost never spoke about the
work, if not a little before the premiere." (Cit. adopted from
Van Imschoot, 28.) But it is, indeed, a perfect case of collaboration,
where the common is grounded on a shared discourse. Here we arrive
at the point that seems to me most directly linked to the current
states of issues like authorship, collectivity or collaboration,
and community intersect in contemporary European praxis. The dimensions
of this entanglement should be carefully specified, though.
The states of authorship, "aboutness" and criticality
in contemporary conceptualist methodologies in face of collectivity
The distinct paradigm, which authorial positions and related questions
overtly, critically and with methodologies conceptual to different
degrees and directions collects performances The Last Performance,
Xavier Le Roy, (untitled) by Tino Sehgal, Powered by Emotion (Mårten
Spångberg), and perhaps we could add to this series Urheben
und Aufheben - ReConstruct Revisited (Martin Nachbar). I would like
to pinpoint what is the common and the shared in the discourse -
its criticality, and its political relevance and relation to the
matters of collectivity and community. In these performances, as
well as in other works of Bel, Le Roy, Sehgal and Spångberg,
criticality involves different procedures of performing spectatorship
and, in some cases mentioned here, undoing the dispositif of dance/theatre
performance. Criticality rather than critique or criticism, here,
means the importance of a non-affirmative focus on strategies and
tactics in which the spectator is confronted with the displacement
of dance as an aesthetic (modernist) object and forced to deal with
her own disposition to receive the work.
With a praxis of performative criticality, Bel, Le Roy, Sehgal and
Spångberg, have contributed to another understanding of authorship,
not to be associated with Barthesian or Foucauldian demise of authorship,
even though Bel's Last Performance is rehearsing the thesis. I would
propose, here, a type of authorship based on discursive INTERVENTION,
by the effect of disturbing the spectacle of performance and writing
the writing - écriture - of choreography. One thing is certain:
they are doing it alone. I want to stress: this work can only be
done by the author of concept alone. At most, these authors share
a community of discourse, out of which collaborations can spring
occasionally, but there is no need to form collectives as such to
help establish the sovereignty of these authorial interventions.
Collectivism, hence, is abandoned as it can't support the most critical
practices in dance today whereas it once used to be the engine of
experiment and critique, like in the Judson Dance Movement and Grand
Union collective. Is the comparison with Judson out of place?
Not quite so. When Xavier Le Roy proposed E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S.
four years ago, he created an extraordinary working situation whereby
the modes of production and perception would be experimented with,
inside a flexible collective structure formed of dancers, performers,
artists, theoreticians. In its beginning E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. was
set up as a workshop and later on appeared in different forms: as
workshop presentation, as a mixed programme with works by the different
participants, as scenic quotation in the frame of the lecture performance
Product of Circumstances, and as E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. workshop as
a piece (see Husemann, 2003). I remember reading a debate in which
Nachbar criticized the idea of comparing E. with the Judson events
on the grounds that Judson's political activity included choreographers
administering a financially independent autonomous structure (see
Xavier Le Roy, Martin Nachbar, Mårten Spångberg, "To
deviate from the deviation itself..., 32). Personally, I don't think
that the condition of financial independence is crucial, especially
as I don't see viable alternatives to programmed production today.
What I'm more intrigued by, however, concerning the comparison with
Judson, is another one of today's impossibilities: the symptom of
confining critical attitudes to the object "dance" or
"theatre". That's why we prefer to speak of politicité
of dance/theatre medium to claiming that critiques of spectatorship
or dispositif are political with the outside of the medium relevance.
The social being is revolving around itself and no longer around
something else. Is the "aboutness" of critical practices
today doomed to be utterly self-reflexive in respect of dance and
theatre? How else could it be critical? Even for the Judson performances
in the 60s which every once in a while attempted to connect with
political actualities symbolically with protests, public marches,
benefit performances, Judson Flag Show, for instance, Yvonne Rainer
denies any political relevance (see Burt, 9). The Judson performances
were addressing a select audience who were always already complicit
with the work both artistically and politically. To indicate a gesture
to the outside, the impossibility to engage with social and political
realities directly, Robert Barry stuck a note on the door of the
exhibition space in 1969, saying: "My exhibition at the Art&Project
Gallery in Amsterdam in December, 1969, will last two weeks. I asked
them to lock the door and nail my announcement to it, reading: 'For
exhibition the gallery will be closed.'" This gesture was reiterated
in 2001 by the French group Bureau d'études, who chose to
seal off the exhibition space of a converted industrial building
in the port city of Le Havre. Instead of Barry's sign, they presened
the visitor with a book, Juridic Park, which proved to be a detailed
set of maps to the "legal subsoil" of the city. My reason
to digress into visual art practices shortly here is to show that,
curiously enough, there is a number of art collectives rising in
the 90s with a particular mission and model of collective art production.
Collectives such as the abovementioned Bureau d'études, the
Milan-based agency for territorial investigation multiplicity, the
New Dehli Raqs Media Collective, to name most famous ones, have
in common a heterogeneous set-up of artists, theoreticians, media
and science experts, architects et al, who gather for projects that
can only be realised collectively. Their work departs from the conceptualist
shift from object-production to context-intervention, but the use
of the theoretical framework similar to contemporary dance conceptualism,
doesn't have an aesthetic but political purpose. Theorisation of
borders, power networks, the public and the private in the society
of spectacle, leads out of circular conceptual self-reflexion in
art laboratory isolation into an engagement with "the outside",
an intervention in the actual social and political realities, making
visible what is invisible in media spectacle. It has thus produced
a new model of artwork as documentation, using methodology of research
and analysis and presentation in case study, new media, carthographic
diagrams, such as this one: Communisms by Bureau d'études
where we can get an exhaustive insight into types of resistant communities
and collectivities practiced in art and society today. What could
be concluded out of this story, is that visual arts practices two
decades after conceptual art have reinvented the critical use of
visual medium beyond art autonomy. Unlike the art exhibition, the
dispositif of theatre/dance performance and production with its
bias on charismatic authority for leading and branding a collective
process, and with insistence of entertainment, isn't disposed for
the kind of anonymous impersonal collective commitment, both as
a frame of working-together and as a critical and political necessity.
Self-determination and the question of art labour
With an apocalyptic tone we might as well complete the range of
social affects aroused about collectivity in performance. Collectivism
is dead, it never had a chance in performance arts either as a social
phenomenon or as a political project, not after its breakdown in
the late 60s. The truism has it. It seems as if subsidized autonomy
is necessary to make experimental and critical attempts in the field
of performance. And then we're speaking of authors-individuals,
not collectives, who are capable of obtaining and guaranteeing quality
for money. In 1999, Bel, Le Roy, Hrvatin, Christophe Wavelet, among
other distinguished choreographers and theatremakers, signed a manifesto
for a European Performance Policy:
- We are European
- We are citizens
- We are workers
- We are artists
- We are performers
- We are independent
We want the European Community to:
- resource artists as much as art
- invest in the ongoing needs and long-term growth of independent
- actively support artists in research, development and in the
ongoing process of their practices, in equal measure to the generation
and placement of new works
- facilitate strategies for cross-disciplinary dialogues, collaborations
and funding initiatives
- support new strategies for increasing audience awareness and
- demonstrate a genuine commitment to innovation, risk and hybridity,
- actively develop, recognise and support a more important number
of active, flexible and inventive artistic structures and infrastructures,
Inasmuch as I would subscribe to the same demands, as a maker,
I wonder if European Community would or should answer them. It strikes
me that a manifesto, as a genre of expressing collective will, appears
to mobilize a community when it comes to struggling for financial
support. But if we are disappointed by the fact that the only common
instance to mobilize a community is money, even when it is meant
for exploring "hitherto unknown possibilities", then we'd
better know we are falling back on the expectations from community
which communism and socialism are responsible for. It is the old
modernist hope of rupture and innovation from which there is no
turning back, hope for a re-creation of the world, even when it
only applies to artworld.
With the motto: "let the world back in", "assume
relation to social and political realities", we cannot plead
for a recourse to collectivism, because the same motto didn't work
for past collectives, such as Living Theatre or Grand Union, either,
so why should it work now when there is not an ideology to stimulate
it? If we rethink new terms of collectivity, shouldn't we consider
its politics without ideological consolidation but politics thoroughly
critical of the economic frame of working, production and presentation?
What could be considered as potentially transformative and politically
relevant in the present-day critical resistance in dance/choreography
is the power of SELF-DETERMINATION. At this moment, it is determined
to articulate: "This is choreography, " it is, in other
words, self-determined by way of speech act, assuming the role of
analytical or critical self-interpretation. So far it manages open,
flexible and contingent definitions of dance and critique of how
we are habituated to perceive it. But the dependency of its critique
on internal, medium-specific matters of dance, because operating
in the institutional context of theatre makes its critique bound
to theatre dispositif, could be dispensed with, if self-determination
would also apply to the frame of working. What if there were a situation
where makers wouldn't act as authors in an institutionalized collaboration?
And a frame of collaboration whose result wouldn't need to comply
with art-market requirements? A framework which would allow but
not force production of contacts, not in terms of searching for
new phenomena like contact-improvisation, but an opportunity for
singular connections, frictions, mutations between independent actors,
experimentation which demands readiness to disown one's intentions
or materials, because one isn't primarily concerned with establishing
her authorship. Sounds like I'm advocating an interest to form a
collective, no, only a proposal to redefine itThe definition of
collectivity I am getting at dispenses with the conditions which,
we think, make collectivity as a political force impossible, the
conditions I discussed here, namely:
- totalitarian closure of collectivism in the 60s
- type of authorship constituted in critical intervention in dispositif
- cultural policies regulated by liberal economics.
A community beyond these conditions, or in spite of them, could
start from four points, which I'll presently propose and use to
conclude this text:
There is a number. A growing number of dance practitioners engaged
in experiments and new concepts of dance and choreography. There
is as usually always a number of participants gathering around a
project. What is the importance of the number? Increasing the number
of people involved in interaction, even if only from two to three
qualitatively alters the situation. What are the qualities of interaction
that could result from working outside established authorial and
There is no pregiven sense, essence, identity or meaning to collect
or mobilize for with ideological confidence. Fair enough. "Decisive
here is the idea of an inessential commonality, a solidarity that
in no way concerns an essence." (Agamben 1993, 17-18) Nancy
says: "We do not "have" meaning anymore, because
we ourselves are meaning..." (Nancy 2000, 1) "We"
could only stand for the circulation of possibilities, resistances
and experiences of limits when differences between one another are
affirmed and constitutive for collaboration.
So, for "us" or to be able to say "we", there
is only something like taking-place. The "taking-place",
in other words, signifies a contact of singularities in the attribute
of extension. The law of touching in this contact is not fusion,
but separation. It is the heterogeneity of surfaces that touch each
other. Heterogeneity that stimulates further heterogenesis, and
not homogenization under the responsibility of one or the attraction
to one author. But the virtual taking-place needs a material projection,
a space which would allow production and experimentation without
the theatre performance dispositif hovering above it.
We will speak: Who is this "we"? How can I say "us"
for those of you who are reading this? How can I say "us"
for me? I ventured to write in first person plural, first of all
- naturally - since I departed from the story of the project Collect-if,
and slowly from then on, "we" migrated and came to be
affiliated with a few contemporary choreographers Bel, Le Roy, Sehgal,
Spångberg... At this moment of the reading, my "we"
is a bit violent, or, manifestative. It wants to say:
Ego sum = Ego cum.
(Nancy, 2000, 31)
The fourth term. To rethink collaboration in terms of undesired
contacts; that "we" isn't unison, but taking responsibility
for relations "with" in working one with another, with
no compromise of tolerance, but sustaining the differential in contact.
"We" as "with" wants to push for a bit of violence.
It's not Hobbesian warfare of competing interests, but the desire
in persisting in a process whereby irreducible and not desirable
and manageable differences are productive for new configurations
of working, a process whereby no overarching conception should provide
a prior self-regulation.
Considering these four statements, it is clear that the critical
praxis of performance should determine its politics in stepping
out of established roles and ways of producing and presenting work.
Perhaps, redefining the "working-with" frame, taking this
condition rather than the autonomous self-validating concepts by
authors, has the power of becoming a starting point for experimental
collaboration. One thinks that such a collectivity would better
be called collection, if it's defined by a "number of working-with-one-another
ones without an essence." A question would be how a collection
of authors-performers without one author initiator comes together.
It's not merely a technical question as it puts forward a more important
concern. What might be worth doing together in dance and performance
vis-à-vis society today?
Works cited or consulted
Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities, Collected Essays in Philosophy,
trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen, Stanford, CA: Stanford, 1999.
_______The Coming Community, trans. Michael Hardt, Minnesota, MA:
University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
Sally Banes, Terpsichore in Sneakers. Post-Modern Dance with a
new introduction, New Haven CT: Wesleyan Unievrsity Press, 1987.
_______Greenwich Village 1963: Avantgarde Performance and the Effervescent
Body, Duke University Press, Durham and London 1993.
Ursula Biemann (ed.), Geography and the Politics of Mobility, Generali
Foundation, Vienna, 2003.
Julian Beck and Judith Malina, Paradise Now. Collective Creation
of The Living Theatre, New York: Random House, 1971.
Walter Benjamin, "The Author as Producer, " in: Reflections,
Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. Edmund Jephcott,
New York: Schocken Books, 1978.
Maurice Blanchot, La Communauté inavouable, Paris: Les Éditions
de minuit, 1983
Ramsay Burt, "Dance, History, and Political Relevance,",
Maska, Performing Arts Journal, Ljubljana, vol XVIII, no. 5-6, pp.
Collect-if by Collect-if, Collect-if: Bojana Cvejic (ed.), Ugo
Dehaes, Alix Eynaudi, Emil Hrvatin, Rebecca Murgi, Katarina Stegnar,
Varinia Cantovila, Ljubljana: Maska, 2003.
Context # 1, February 19-28, 2004 in Haueins Zwei Drei, Hebbel
Michel Foucault, "What is Author?", Essential Works of
Foucault 1954-1984, Aesthetics, London: Penguin Books, 2000, pp.
Charles Green, The Third Hand: Collaboration in Art from Conceptualism
to Postmodernism, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2001.
Brian Holmes, "Maps for the Outside," u: Ursula Biemann
(ed.), Geography and the Politics of Mobility, Generali Foundation,
Pirkko Husemann, "Choreography as Experimental Practice. The
Project Series E.X.T.E.N.S.I.O.N.S. by Xavier Le Roy," http://www.insituproductions.net/_eng/frameset.html
Bojana Kunst, "Politics of Affection and Uneasiness,"
Maska, Performing Arts Journal, Ljubljana, vol XVIII, br. 5-6, 23-30.
Xavier Le Roy, Martin Nachbar, Mårten Spångberg, "To
deviate from the deviation itself. A written conference between
Xavier Le Roy, Martin Nachbar,
Mårten Spångberg," Frakcija no.19, March, Zagreb,
2001, pp. 24-32.
Dieter Lesage, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Worker"
in (forthcoming): Vertoog over verzet. Politiek in tijden van globalisering,
Antwerp: Meulenhoff/Manteau, 2004.
Sinia Maleevic and Mark Haugaard, Making Sense of Collectivity,
London and Sterlin, Virginia: Pluto Press, 2002.
"Manifesto for an European Performance Policy", group
of authors, 1999.
Jean-Luc Nancy, La Communauté desuvré, Paris:
Christian Bourgeois, 1990.
_______ Being Singular Plural, trans. Robert D. Richardson and
Anne E. O'Byrne, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press,
_______ La Communauté affrontée, Paris: Galilée,
Yvonne Rainer, Work 1961-73, New York: New York University Press,
Blake Stimson, "Conceptual Work and Conceptual Waste,"
Discourse 24:2, Spring, 2002, 123-51.
Myriam Van Imschoot, Lettres sur la collaboration, manuscript,
in forthcoming publication of Centre Nationale de Danse, Paris,
to index texts