Realizing the Unready

In the last post and the one before that, I’ve done some process reports on an ongoing work with choreographer Uri Turkenich. In the end of March 2016, we did a series of presentations at Skogen in Gothenburg with the support of Konstnärsnämnden, also sharing the space with some other artists. A long and complex conversation about the necessities of sharing spaces and processes led us to that conclusion. In our program folder for these evenings, this is how we explained it:

Uri Turkenich: This text introduces Tova Gerge’s and my thoughts about the curatorial aspects of the three evenings we organize in Skogen in the end of March. We invited three other artists to share these evenings with us and show unready work. We want to explain why we did that.

Tova Gerge: We did it because we will also be unready, and we think unreadiness can be a beautiful condition to be in, for both audience and artists. For audience because unreadiness gives access to a certain kind of vulnerability, and maybe also a power to influence. For artists – well, it’s too lonely a condition to be in a process of artistic production where the end result is our first encounter with others. And for us specifically, to meet the audience at an early stage makes even more sense. Our whole project is about differences and getting to know the other as separate from the own identity. This means for us to explore the vulnerability of being together as we are – audience and performers alike – with all our fragilities.

U: We also enjoy thinking about conditions of production of art, and wanted to try producing under different conditions than what we are used to. Producing art alone is a precarious condition. If we do it together, it can become more sustainable. So we are very happy that the author Khashayar Naderehvandi, the choreographer Svarta fåret and the visual artist Anna Ehrlemark agreed to participate. It’s not so obvious to be willing to expose artistic processes to an audience and present work before it’s ready. It takes a certain kind of courage to do it.

T: I agree, but also it makes total sense to do it. To me, art is about being in dialogue, with friends and strangers. When we invite audience to a traditional, finished stage product, the dialogue sometimes only happens on the level of fantasy. Me and the audience are in the same room during the time of the performance, but we never meet.

U: For me every time I perform for people it is a kind of meeting. I hear how they breathe, I perceive their expressions and reactions. And they see me too. So this dialogue can also happen with the traditional finished stage product.

T: Maybe what I’m trying to say is that when it’s a finished product, we tend to give up on the conversation – including the breathing and the expressions and all that – because we know not much can change anyway. If we don’t have the means to continue working, the opinion of the audience becomes our potential adversary. It’s like when you have a conversation in your head with your lover, and you think it’s pointless to have it for real because you know what they are going to say. We hope that this format of presenting unready work would make it possible to have the real conversation with the audience.

U: Last month, I organized a similar event in Tel Aviv and my mother came there. In this event, I showed a video work about being lost, and this scared her. Maybe she was afraid that I wasn’t doing well. And when we spoke, I understood that for me, being lost can be fun. Maybe more than that – I see a value in getting lost, because it means I took risk in doing something I didn’t already know how to do. And I put myself in a vulnerable position, which means for me that I am more open to others. I couldn’t see it before talking to my mother; I didn’t realize it was in the video before talking with her.

T: I like this story, because some kind of ideology of getting lost is also part of why one would like to present unready work. When we don’t know exactly where we are or where we are going, there is the possibility of allowing ourselves to share the space differently with the audience; not always taking them for a ride but also asking them for directions, being inside a question with them.

U: Yes, we are sort of asking people – Where are we? Either in words, or just by seeing their reactions.

T: Sometimes the mere fact of sharing something can make me realize how much I actually know about my position, even though I might not want to admit it to myself before sharing. It could be that I have a darling that I don’t want to kill, or I have a problem that seems unsolvable before I show it to someone else. While it’s a horror having people commenting on this if in the bitter aftermaths of something, I become grateful if I’m allowed to see it with the help of others before the crisis, fight, publication, premiere, release… So to show things that are not ready can reverse my approach to criticism.

U: So we show something that is not ready yet, but at the same time it needs to be ready in some way. I think there are different phases of unreadiness. I show it when I know there’s something to it, but I don’t know what it is yet. In a way, it’s the point in the process of production when the performance needs the audience to realize itself. I also think that at this point it’s more enjoyable for the audience to see it. I wouldn’t like to show it before that phase, there’s no reason to show it yet.

T: It is also a question of why one would like to show it. To “realize” it as you say – or to just get better tools for working, using a test audience as your motor. As I usually work with audience participatory work, to try things out in practice has been absolutely crucial for me also really early on in my processes. But I would call it testing, not showing. Maybe that’s why it was you – usually doing a stricter separation of the performers vs the audience than me – who from the beginning insisted on the importance to meet the audience mid-process also for this work. Together, we had to reconceptualize what showing to someone then means. I think now what we are doing here in Gothenburg is not testing something; it’s sharing something.

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