authorship

Residens på Kritiklabbet

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I september-oktober 2017 har jag bloggat via mitt residens på Kritiklabbet. Gå gärna in på länken och läs och lyssna! Där finns många samtal, texter och tankar om konstnärers relation till kritiken och kritikens roll i samhällsutvecklingen.

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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.

There Is No Outside-Text 2

As I mentionned in the previous post, me and the choreographer Uri Turkenich have spent one week preparing working methods for a common project. Among many other things, we started learning the first verses of Inana’s Descent by heart. Being one of the oldest texts known to mankind (approximately 6000 years old, from Mesopotamian times), it might actually predate writing, as it has the characteristics of a song learnt by heart and passed on from mouth to mouth. Here, I’m sharing one of our first Inana improvisations, where we sort of summoned the goddess:

 

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Burn After Writing

Burn After Writing



I write this text as a solo study for an imagined group piece that has the same title as an imagined exhibition. I also write this text as a piece for someone else, a performer, namely my friend and colleague Josefine Larson Olin. When she accepted to take on this position in my piece of writing, she also altered my modality of writing. Although I am still the author in terms of initiative, I cannot write without her. And although we will both take the consequences for how we structure our work, I am responsible for the outcome. One likely consequence of this is that people will perceive Josefine’s occurrence in the text as a vehicle for my thoughts and desires. Both of us can try to disturb this order in different ways, but it will still be my signature under the piece of writing, and her name in it.

The reason why I put us in this tricky relation is that I had a text commissioned by the master students of choreography at the Stockholm University of Dance and Circus. They asked me to write something about their festival Ok Show Kids Return (May 22-29 2011) that took place in four different locations around Stockholm. Six out of the seven performances in this festival were made precisely with the demand that they should function as solo studies for imagined group pieces that had the same title as imagined exhibitions.

With me and Josefine joining in, seven pieces out of eight now fill this criteria. The festival also goes on for a considerably longer period than originally planned – i.e., until this text can no longer be read. This modification of the format of the festival is our way of responding to the strive for prolongation that often comes with the wish to have someone write about or document live events. Instead of trying to capture, break down or by other means make these live events accessible after their disappearance, we wanted to address the very question of the ephemeral and the continuous in different kinds of performance. As our title Burn After Writing indicates, we are primarily thinking of the performance of writing and about in what ways the activity of writing could take on a value beyond the text that it generates. Of course, text and writing are then also to be understood as an analogy to choreography and dance, i.e. what value can the performance of dance have beyond the choreography that frames it?

Even though the seven other performances in the festival clearly influenced this piece – not least in its festival-infesting format – there are also other influences that made the theme of ephemeral writing particularly interesting to me. One is an unfortunate tendency to lose my diaries and never find them again. Another is my many experiments with creating text material through actively altering the rules that frame the writing – experiments that in their turn can be traced to a long tradition of scores for writing, most commonly exemplified by dadaist and surrealist poetry practices such as cut-up techniques and cadavre exquis.

Texts such as A Room of One’s Own (1929) by Virginia Woolf or Queer Phenomenology (2006) by Sara Ahmed also play a part. From two different points in time, Woolf and Ahmed address how writers and thinkers challenge or confirm the limits for recognition by writing through and about material conditions that are not so easily altered. As both Woolf and Ahmed point out, the recognition of a text as a text is not only about the criteria of selection set up by different social or cultural institutions. The questions of readability start already before the process of writing has taken place, and questions of this character can of course also be put by, through and to choreography. Where are the social and spacial stages for the performances of writing and dancing? Where are the material resources? Where is the subject legitimized for an authorship within those fields?

Those who, for some reason, have sufficient resources to become recognized as authors can of course stretch the scope for recognition through insisting on leaving traces of material conditions that might not fit into all legitimate categories. They can also try to undo some of the readability of their authorship by willfully introducing an element of disturbance. The latter is one of the functions I imagine that Josefine could have in this text. This by no means implies that Josefine could stop me from making this text readable – I am too much of an author for that. On the other hand, not even the author in me can stop her presence in the text from embodying the idea that writers are also practitioners inscribed in a complex sociality, and that writing is an activity that always happens outside the text.

To embody the idea of the complex sociality of writing is of course also a function that the presence of Josefine fills in this piece. And yet, this is not a process diary where me and Josefine give an exact account of how we worked together with the text. Instead, I have covered all traces of my specific ways of working with Josefine, so that the circumstances of production of this piece are present mostly through their absence. The honesty of this solution is that it mirrors the power relation that we engage in as writer and performer, as well as openly admits to the fact that we are still prioritizing perfect form and clear authorship over the process of writing, even if we indicate a possibility of something else.

To speculate in what futures an ephemeral writing could have, i.e., what is to become of the imaginary group piece and the imaginary exhibition called Burn After Writing, is one such indication. To propose any exact protocol for the future is of course risky, since it must rely on the experiences of text and writing that I and Josefine already have and thus repeat the thoughts that we can already think. But even from this figuration of hierarchical power exchange and half-hidden contextual bodies that is ours, we will propose.

In this solo piece, I use Josefine’s unclear bond to the authorship of the text as a way of underlining that the idea of putting writing persons on display or making writing a part of a performative set-up is definitely not what I am after. How it looks when one writes says very little of what it does. Rather than imagining writing as a spectacular practice, I imagine it as a relational practice, whether or not the text that results from it is read by anyone else than the writer. Even to write something that is unpublishable – unsharable, unreadable, fragile in its to and from – is to simultaneously rewrite one’s position in the social. This not only because writing culturally represents a specific act of withdrawal (and this might be a point where the analogy between writing and dancing falls apart), but even more because the writing as such structures the experience of inner and outer worlds. Writing a memory note is not only about being able to look at it later. Writing a letter is not only about who receives it. The writing is a process of inventing binding notions between fragments, choosing experiences and framing realities.

Thinking writing like this gives an opportunity to imagine how it could have priority over text, for example in a group piece and exhibition named Burn After Writing. As this title suggests, immediate destruction is a possibly useful tool if one wants to isolate the practice of writing from the traces it leaves. The destruction of text is in this sense not necessarily a memory loss or a threat to shared intelligence (as in the culturally charged image of burning books), but rather a way of getting to know something about writing that the preservation of the text would not have allowed the writer to know. The written is thus in its destruction replaced by an affirmative loss, a loss that gives back meaning to an act of writing that is all to often co-opted by the text, just like dance is frequently co-opted by choreography.

Towards the end of this solo piece, Josefine and I keep insisting on the possibilities of writing and destroying the written as two nodes of desire that can overlap and constitute each other in ways that disturb the privileges of text. In this insistence, we simultaneously criticize and reestablish our positions as writer and performer. All this said, it is too late to burn this text.

By Tova Gerge with Josefine Larson Olin

The other pieces in the festival Ok Show Kids Return were:

40 minuter by Nadja Hjorton, Chrisander Brun, Cicilia Östholm, Per Sundberg, Emelie Wahlman, Erika Thalinsson Ranhagen, Anna Strand Andersen and Elvira Roos.

Burn Your Fun by Kim Hiorthøy with Ilse Ghekiere.

We Made a Piece from Thin Air by Stina Nyberg with An Kaler.

So What by Zoë Poluch & Valentina Desideri.

One on One by Juli Reinartz in collaboration with Liz Waterhouse with Linnea Martinsson.

Gear and Tactics, You Know What It Is What It Is When We Do What We Do, To Rely with Confident Expectancy, The Precious Moments Are All Lost in The Tide, Sidestep Translation, Again and Again and Again and Again, Metaphor Motion by Rebecka Stillman in collaboration with Ulrika Berg.

The Authentic Ludvig by Uri Turkenich with Ludvig Daae.


More dance and more fire: