organisation

En karta över A Map to get Lost (in Swedish)

This text was written in Swedish, so I post it in Swedish.

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Den här texten tillkom i samband med STDHs slutseminarium, dit jag var inbjuden som extern gäst för att reflektera över A Map to Get Lost från publikperspektiv. Den handlar om mina erfarenheter av föreställningen utifrån hur olika segment opererar och kontrasterar mot varandra, snarare än om en dramaturgi där ordningen är fast.

En del av A Map to Get Lost är en den utan levande kroppar. Där spelar ljud, ljus och doft ut mot en miljö som främst ramas in av ett antal stora lackdraperier. Denna miljö tycker jag innehåller en inbjudan till åskådaren att vistas med materia och rytm på ett annat sätt än i vardagen. Min relation till rummet och även till viss del kostymerna har en sensorisk eller rent av taktil aspekt. Utan att jag som åskådare någonsin rör vid ytorna som finns i lack, päls, sammet eller flytande choklad så gör ljus och ljud så att säga det åt mig. Det finns en glans eller vibration som förflyttar sig i materialen och närmar mig till dem.

Men kostym och rekvisita innehåller även andra kvaliteter; jag tvekar inför att kalla dem symboliska. Låt säga att de i alla fall efterliknar någon sorts figurer eller platser. För mig bryter huset, tältet, fåglarna, och dräkternas karaktärer av mot det ickeföreställande, introducerar en sorts fokuspunkter som gör att jag inte länge koncentrerar mig på material i rörelse utan mer på att försöka avkoda ett teckensystem med tydliga skillnader. Det låter sig dock inte göras på något enkelt sätt. Tecknen hinner aldrig fastna, ta form. Scenbilderna byter av varandra snabbt och associativt; fåglar följer på andra fåglar, det finns inga hårda klipp – saker tycks höra samman. Men därmed inte sagt att till exempel fågeln får samma betydelse från scen till scen, eller att en karaktär kan beskrivas på ett entydigt sätt. Symbolerna varken laddas eller töms. Formen varken etableras eller frångås.

Texten utgör ytterligare en faktor i spelet med betydelser och tolkningsramar. Den är på ett sätt ett bakgrundselement i sammanhanget; många scener utspelar sig i andra ljudbilder än talets och några talhandlingar tycks inte heller gjorda för att höras. Texten växlar därtill språk, uttryck och form, vilket gör att den inte riktigt går att beskriva som en text. Den rör sig mellan tyska, engelska, svenska, den rör sig mellan ett teoretiskt modus, dirty talk, interjektioner och fragment av narrativ.

Samtidigt är vissa textuttryck framförda på ett sådant sätt att de starkt färgar min läsart av verket som helhet. Eftersom texten inte alltid är förlagd till specifika kroppar utan också till högtalarna tycks den stundtals kommentera föreställningen, erbjuda ”nycklar”. Här finns bland annat en teoretiserande röst som talar om frånvaro av mänsklig agens; materia utan sorg och utan mening. Samtidigt är texten, både när den situeras i skådespelarkropparna och när den situeras i högtalarna, upptagen av sexualitet, våld och disciplinering – ämnen som traditionellt sett är djupt förknippade med den mänskliga historiens materiella villkor.

Texten blir därför en för mig motstridig nyckel, kanske en nyckel som vittrar sönder om jag försöker använda den alltför ihärdigt. Men jag ser ändå rörelserna på scenen i ljuset av textens behandling av sexualitet, våld och disciplinering. Öppningar i dräkter och scenografiska objekt slukar återkommande andra kroppar hela. Skådespelarna arbetar ofta med mångtydiga omfamningar, låsningar och fasthållningar. Ibland tar det sig mer koreografiska uttryck, men främst är det teater i bemärkelsen att det på någon nivå porträtterar känslor i relationella förlopp mellan en sorts karaktärer som ibland framför repliker.

Det är också i första hand mot skådespelarnas aktioner som min blick riktas när det befinner sig kroppar på scenen – de ställer för mig det övriga görandet i bagrunden. Detta trots att det finns ett sammansmältande mellan skådespelarkropparna och scenografi/kostym. Kanske är det i A Map to Get Lost snarare så att skådespelarna tvingar föremålen att spela teater åt dem än att kropparna blir likvärdiga objekt bland andra. Om kropparna är sysselsatta med att iscensätta inklusion och exklusion genom mer eller mindre explicit våld, så blir föremålen också det. Samtidigt gör de visst motstånd, talar om annat och mer än kropparna – till exempel genom sin taktilitet, vibration eller glans.

Ljud- ljusbilderna är kanske det i föreställningen som är mest konsekvent – för mig hänger de samman både med sig själva och med varandra på ett annat sätt än det övriga jag har beskrivit. Starkt färgade ljus, strob och rök går i linje med olika loopade technobeats, ibland med mänsklig röst som en del av ljudmattan. Allt det här skulle för mig kunna höra hemma på en klubb.

Men huset, dräkterna, texten och skådespelarnas aktioner hör inte riktigt hemma på samma klubb, eller de hör inte alls hemma med något jag kan tydligt kan urskilja. Det skär sig, och jag tänker mig att det är meningen. Som åskådare försätts jag i ett tillstånd där jag är vilse i referenserna. Ska jag gå till spekulativ realism, psykoanalys eller genusvetenskap? Ska jag gå till Lilla huset på prärien, Min pappa Toni Erdmann eller Tadeusz Kantor? Ska jag gå till Sarah Kane, Mr International Rubber eller MoMa?

Jag upplever att föreställningen upprättar ett formspråk som frånsäger sig många av mina egna krav på form. Det är för mig ganska ansträngande att gå vilse eller inte veta vart jag är på väg, att få mina förväntningar brutna, att inte hitta bärande trådar att hålla fast vid, att inte få stanna upp i bilderna, att inte riktigt veta hur eller vad jag så att säga ställer till svars i min dialog med den estetiska upplevelsen. Men det är också intressant och inte så vanligt. Föreställningen sätter igång en process hos mig i efterhand där jag behöver arbeta för att identifiera vad jag har varit med om. Jag tänker att det finns olika sorters kraft i ett formavvisande formspråk, inte minst därför att det ställer frågor till vad form är.

Jag tänkte på olika inslag i normkreativ formgivning, som jag har lärt känna lite genom till exempel Moa Schulman, Sepidar Hosseini och Sara Kaaman. Jag skulle beskriva normkreativ formgivning som att den medvetet använder sig av formgrepp som är motstridiga eller anses fula i syfte att utmana gränser och normer inom och bortom formgivningens fält.

A Map to Get Lost gör mig så att säga som minst vilse när jag tänker på den som en sådan utmaning av scenkonstens former. Varken dans eller teater brukar se ut såhär i Sverige idag. Kanske är A Map to Get Lost en del av en rörelse som håller på att framträda, ett språk som upprättar nya nycklar till vår samvaro i scenkonsten.

Om det är så tror jag att föreställningen kan ställa fler frågor till mig än vad jag kan ställa till den, eftersom jag bara kan fråga utifrån de kategorier av estetiskt tänkande som jag själv så att säga hittar i.

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The Intimacy Records

The Institute of Political Therapy (home page in Swedish), a project that I run together with Lisa Färnström at Skogen, did not only offer political therapy but also hosted a program where related themes were discussed and examined. One of our guests was Valentina Desideri. She is a wonderful thinker and artist. We have also had a number of interesting conversations, and this text (that will also be published in Skogen’s yearly documentation book) is the result of one of them.

6th of September 2014
Valentina Desideri and Tova Gerge

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Recording N° 1.

T: We have a starting point: we are holding hands on a bench. And we’re on an expedition to look for intimacy as if it was a drug.

V: No, to look for intimacy the way one would look for drugs.
So looking around, following trails and sequences of events, but also looking for it as in looking for something that one wants to know about. One might also not find anything but that doesn’t diminish the experience.
What is the interest that you have in intimacy? What is the assumption you have about intimacy?

T: I think I’ve been busy with it from different perspectives. In terms of performance, I’ve been interested in this way of handling precarity that is a part of working with intimacy in performance. To be a performer working with intimacy is to meet people under very ephemeral conditions. And for some reason I desire that ephemeral quality. I wonder why and I wonder how that is connected to the precarious conditions of performance workers in general. Also, for me personally, intimacy is connected to questions of when I feel that I let something close in a way that is meaningful to me. How much closeness can I handle, why/not? Things like this. I mean then closeness in quite a broad sense, not only physical.

V: I wonder if we can extend – when we think that intimacy, it’s not only between people. You can also be intimate with an idea or with a certain way of living. It is also a form of knowledge. You know the other person when you can be intimate. So for example holding hands produces an intimacy because it produces another knowledge. So I can feel the temperature of your hand, if it is sweaty, how you hold, if you release. There is a lot of information we’re dealing with. I don’t remember, I think it is from Isabelle Stengers, but there was something about hesitating together, it was the definition of something…

T: What was it?

V: Hesitating together. I’m not sure. I think it was about practice, that to practice is to hesitate together. But whatever, the formulation “hesitating together” has a lot to do with intimacy to me…

[Someone passes by]

What are they talking about?

T: I heard a few sentences. It was like: ”It just becomes more empty. There was this hysterical man running at me, and I just…” And then I missed the rest.

V: Let’s follow them.


Recording N° 2.

T: I think we lost track of the people we were originally following.

V: We were incidentally walking behind two women begging for a while, so we started to think of the intimacy of begging. We speculated that a situation may be intimate when it puts power relations or power into hesitation. When it makes power hesitate. The question “Do you have some spare change” between two strangers is not only a question about the change, it is also a question about how the people involved should and could relate to each other: will there be any other exchange than money and so on…

T: If intimacy can make power hesitate, it is also constitutional for how we perceive the world. What I mean is that the hesitation that the request for some coins can put in motion usually ends in a specific situation, something that no longer vibrates, and that “end product” is easily  understood as representative. So both the active parts in this interaction, and other people witnessing it, might think that they get to know something about society as a whole from what happens in the singular situation. And whether they are so to say “right” or not, what people think they know about this situation constitutes certain dynamics in our shared lives.

V: This is also one example of how intimacy is not that fuzzy little cute sense of connectedness with somebody you love. Rather, it is about the moments that open up vulnerabilities in the people involved. And sometimes of course you are willing to share this so you go for an intimate moment, but sometimes it comes whether you want it or not. These are also the moments when you can be very embarrassed or ashamed…

T: Totally. To be ashamed is to be at the hands of something bigger than you; an imagined and real society that points finger at you, reveals you in a way that you don’t want to be revealed. And that is intimate if intimacy is about getting to know something that you didn’t know before.

V: Intimacy makes something known, reveals something, but maybe what it reveals is power, the power relations at play. It gives a picture of how power is distributed, how it is operating. Not as a fixed picture, but as a picture that is twitching, hesitating.

T: One more thing. I think intimacy is always something happening in between: in between people, objects, words. It is not belonging to one or the other even though it happens also inside the people involved. Like a position that becomes available for a while, something that allows us to acknowledge that we exist not only in and by ourselves, but also through the perception of something radically other than us. Us consists of you and me, and you are always radically different from me.

Recording N° 3.

T: We started to speak about the intimacy of the masses, like when you’re a part of a crowd and you lose your face in that crowd, no longer knowing who you are outside of it. Like being in a party, dancing and sweating and sharing other people’s sweat, and also going in the metro and feeling the pressure of other bodies against your own. And then I also thought about Järntorget, a square that we were walking over. In 2001 in Gothenburg when there were big political protests, a lot of my friends were held there for several hours. They couldn’t go out from the blockades of the police and they were just sitting around. So there was this forced intimacy with others where thirst and hunger became a part eventually. When you are hungry and thirsty and don’t have water and food yourself, you are at the hands of whoever has the decency to share. That kind of collective experience was deeply radicalizing for many, also because of the aspect of being forced into it I think.

V: So what you say is that violence can produce intimacy? Also right now, we are sitting close to the hunger strike of Palestinian men. These 25 men are sharing their living space in this occupation of public space because they got caught in this situation. They can’t return to Palestine and they are not allowed to stay here. In a way this specific collectivity, and the intimacy it comes with, is being produced by this violence: Both the intimacy within themselves and the hesitation they produce in any passers-by. The hunger strike is both a result of, and show, the absurdity, racism, violence of the situation. It confronts everybody with it.  And rightly so, because we are all involved.
Of course it’s not a matter of glorifying violence, it’s not that you suffer and then from that, don’t worry, great things come out, beautiful collectivities etcetera. But we have to take it into consideration because we are all subjects to some form of violence and we do perform various degrees of violence every day. It’s not something we can just avoid because it’s “bad”. This hunger strike is just a more clear example because they aren’t just activists in the classical sense of people who decided that this is a good action to make the conflict visible. They are the conflict. It’s happening in and on their bodies and lives.
And this also has to do what we talked about earlier today concerning the recurring question of how to become a ”better” ethical subject, what organisation to join with so many problems in the world…  like we could pick and choose between other people’s problems. For me the starting point is another one: Even if you think you’re some privileged Swedish middle class white person, you have enough problems of your own, because you are a very active part in making this world what it is. So there is no extra organisation or charity to join if it is not something that allows you to really understand the violence that is done to you as well and how you reproduce certain patterns of it. From there I see a real possibility to recognize the political consequences and value of what you are already doing and how that can/should/could reorganize. And not because “Ok now I got it, I have a plan and if I do that then I will be fine and the world is gonna be a better place” but because you try to associate differently, to assemble differently, to produce yourself and the world you live in differently, already now. I mean it simply, like in the way you live or love or pay the rent or not pay the rent…
I also then think a lot of intimate relationships like lovers or friends, how they are organised and reorganised and how we take risks with them, what we want to know with them. I consider it an interesting field of experimentation because those relationships have the capacity to unleash very strange forces! Certain close relationships can bring us to such impasses that we feel we can potentially be destroyed. And for me that space of intimacy with myself and the other is a great rehearsal space. It’s a place where we can prove ourselves wrong, when we can perceive ourselves in contradictory positions that do not exclude each other. There I can sometimes have a sense of knowing, feeling, being A and not A at the same time without it destroying the world, the relationship or myself – it’s an amazingly empowering feeling.

T: I’m thinking that the A and not A can be both empowering and alienating, and that it is symptomatic for the urban condition in general, or maybe even the human condition in general. Like we sit around in the closeness of this hunger strike and also we are somewhere else, in our own bubble. Thrown in and out of it.

V: I really like now, this is the best moment.

T: With the people jumping on the springboard?

V: The guy was jumping on the springboard alone listening to music in his headphones but just by his ways I almost could feel the music. And I also felt like I felt yesterday walking back home at night listening to music and having a great time on my own.

T: One guy there was more like passing through. Taking one jump at the springboard and then continuing.

V: It’s funny how intimacy works through distance too. How the gaze in this case brought together not only us but also different moments in time, and songs and people who are not actually here now.

T: There is a kind of tactility in the gaze.

V: Yes, maybe intimacy could be understood as touch…

T: I feel that the air is touching me in a way that makes me a bit cold.

V: You’re just being intimate with cold.

T: There is this play… No, now I’ve forgotten the title of a play that I haven’t read. It’s a nice combination of words.

V: Oh, now he is there with a joint too…

T: Do you feel tempted?

V: I feel connected. And these three guys hugging. So nice. It is also how being cold prompts physical proximity or movement. The have to get closer, cosier…

T: Oh, I remember this thing from Paris… You know on the ground, on the streets sometimes there are these grids where hot air is streaming up. One winter night when it was at least five degrees below zero – kind of cold in Paris – I walked past three quite young guys sleeping on this grid, completely cuddled up. I don’t know who they were, but obviously in some kind of precarious situation. And it was such a beautiful and odd image somehow. Like you would like to join almost, because there is this bunch of sleeping…

V:…bodies on warm air…

T: Yes. But then at the same time it is a completely bad situation to be in.

V: Imagine that intimacy would be administered, organised or felt differently, that it could be possible to join because it wouldn’t be such an inappropriate thing that I can’t also lie there.

T: But it’s a question of trust also, I think. For both them and me. To get close to someone sleeping… that’s very violent.

V: True. But when I was in China everybody was sleeping in the street, it’s normal. You know, people are working and then they just snooze. You can always take a nap anywhere. And I thought it is good because you are so vulnerable when you sleep and yet you practice this in public. I think there are all sorts of things that must affect us on some level. You can’t sleep here, you can’t eat here, you can’t pee there… Is it possible to imagine a system of power that allows body function to be self-regulated?

T: I don’t know. I think our bodies are always social and depending on each other. But how we approach that aspect of the body can of course change, also from context to context, time to time. Sometimes I have the feeling that before I started to work with movement professionally, there were different kinds of touch that felt more intimate to me.

V: I think becoming aware of what I do as i do it is a way to get more intimate with it. Looking for example. The more I practice looking, the more looking at anything feels closer, more intimate. And I realize there is no natural look, nothing more than what is agreed upon. You know the thing they says that you only look into the eyes of someone for a certain amount of time before it gets weird? It doesn’t work like that. There is no natural way of looking. It’s just like with words, the more you are aware of them the more words you have to express what you want to say. I never think there is a risk of exhausting the words because they are made of the world and the world is always in excess. I don’t think we will ever know too much.

T: It is a question of how we use it, I think. With something that I incorporate as a technique; a goal more than an awareness or process, I could maybe be possible to know “too much”. But this also leads me back to what we said about not confusing connection with intimacy. A technique can get under my social and actual skin and get to know me in a way that is not necessarily fuzzy and sweet. But I could also find more tools to relate, to be aware of how I am relating and be empowered through the technique, let it become my tool rather than the opposite. It’s a throw of dice, again.

Language is also an interesting parallel I think. When I learn a new language or fragments of a new language, sometimes I get so touched by the fact that a stone is called a stone, or a pierre or a pietra. I’m getting dizzy thinking about the fact that something has a name, sort of. With Swedish, this only happens for me when I have been away from the language for a long time. It’s like I forget how intimate that language is to me, how it is constantly shaping me. It doesn’t mean it isn’t, just that I can’t always be in the discovery of it.

V: Yes for me too, language is never a knowledge that pins down; like ”stone” is ”stone” and that’s it. It is also pietra, pierre, ah Pierre like my friend and so on, you know there is always more to the things than…

T: Sten. That’s what we call it. Which is also a name.

V: Sten. And Stina also?

T: No that comes from another name, and I learnt that yesterday because one of my hosts is called Stina. It was short for Kristina which is ”the Christian”. What’s the meaning of your name?

V: Valentina is ”valente”, something with value.

T: That’s an interesting name, I think. For someone who is into philosophy and movement…

V: Well, the surname is Desire…

T: Value and Desire. A wonderful name. Let’s not close it down. Maybe we walk a bit.

Recording N° 4.

V: We are holding on, holding hands again. That is our ending point. We are sitting on, well, not a bench, but something else. Holding hands until we let go, and then it’s over.

T: We sneaked away from this party and we are in a yard with a barking dog.

V: Also stone dogs. Statues.

T: Very big ears.

V: The dog that barks we can only hear.

T: Do you think the bark is real or recorded?

V: It’s real. That would be too much of a conceptual turn for this messy backyard.

T: I’m also sure that it’s real. I wonder why, but I really strongly hear that…

V: Yes, you can feel it.

T: There is someone there.

V: And about tonight, during our mission, did you see any intimacy? I mean in the way we defined it. I could see people hugging and screaming and dancing together, couples holding hands, but…

T: But you mean this hesitation, ondulation, vibration of power?

V:  Maybe unless you are involved in an intimacy you are not going to be able to know that it is there. That is also the nice thing, that you may not be able to see it from the outside. So maybe it is the wrong question to ask if you have seen it. Maybe if you sensed it?

T: I think we were in a kind of intimate bubble, though if we put something at risk, I don’t know yet what the outcome was or where we are heading with that. I also think we observed people and some people observed us and wondered what was going on when we took out the mic. Couldn’t that be something that vibrates?

V: I’m gonna take a picture of ourselves. If someone would walk into the scene… they would see this.

T: It’s like ghosts. Very pale light. Beautiful.

V: It’s over. We unleashed the hands.

Identity in and out of Time

I wrote this text for The Black The Box The Theatre – Texting Textures, that was a series of events programmed by Pontus Pettersson at the stage Weld in Stockholm 11-15 mars 2014. The text was part of an ongoing exhibition, originally edited in a font made by Pontus and written about the piece Preparing for Battle.

mopa

MOPA, My Own Private Army, is a triology. This text is about the first part of that triology, MOPA – Preparing for Battle. Pontus once told me that he thinks of the triology as a series where the last part is a preparation for the preceding, and the middle one a preparation for the first. I find this description meaningful, also because each part in itself does something with time – letting the history, the now and the future of an individual body mingle, addressing experiences of being out of time in different senses.

I saw MOPA – Preparing for Battle at Dansens Hus (Stockholm) in early 2012. To come back to the alternative chronology of MOPA, it is strictly speaking the last part of the triology; the one that concludes the two following. However, I think it is fair to say that that this show also had a past outside its future, that the battle it was preparing for in a sense already took place. The battle that I am referring to is one about the timing of identity – what it takes in order to be perceived as consistent and readable subjects over time. For me, MOPA – Preparing for Battle was very much a work about precisely that.

Before I continue analyzing my experience of this piece, I wish to use myself and my route to writing this text as an example of why the question of identity in time can have conflictual aspects, also in the most mundane social situations – that is, not only in the dramatic transfer between carnivalesque explosive parties and the-day-after confessions/discoveries. It seems reasonable to not think so much of who I was in early 2012. It does not seem reasonable to hold myself in 2012 accountable to any higher degree for what I do now, and even less reasonable to hold myself in 2014 accountable for what I did in 2012. Retrospectively, however, it seems like I was in some sense preparing for writing this text about MOPA – Preparing for Battle already that night when I spoke with Pontus after the show, even though none of us knew it back then. Because I got the question to write this text now two years later, I have the possibility to establish a reassuring line of coherency in my self-narration, introduce a sense of meaningfulness between now and past. Who I was that night two years ago obviously has useful consequences for what I become now. At the same time, the very thought that reassures me of the meaningfulness and consistency of my identity can turn into a worrying potential of losing control of my self-narration. What other things did I do on different nights two years ago? What are the lines, consequences and coherencies that I cannot identify between then and now? What am I forgetting? What am I remembering? Why? In this way, my identity constantly remembers and recognizes itself as other. If the goal of identity is to stay the same, to be identical, then it is indeed very easily thrown into conflict with itself in relation to time.

Let me thus bring this conflictual knowledge of remembering it differently into my relating of what happened that night in 2012. When I saw MOPA – Preparing for Battle, it was the second show of two the same night. The one before was Between Dog and Wolf by Frédéric Alstadt, Kajsa Sandström and Ulrika Berg. During the course of this text, I will get deeper into the fact that shows lined up after each other always influence each other (no matter who is the choreographer). But I will now leave Between Dog and Wolf  behind.

MOPA – Preparing for Battle consists of solos, almost like a set of separate shows within the frame of one performance. Each dancer – the night when I was watching, it was Pontus Pettersson, Bosmat Nossan, Linnea Martinsson and Robert Malmborg, but on other occasions also Anna Pehrsson and Joe Moran – has their own stylized characteristics in terms of both costume, scenography and movement. Generally employing one signature color (blue, red, yellow, green, grey…) and one signature object (clothes, spoons, pearls, metal, boots…), as well as directing open gazes and striking poses towards the audience, the solos give an impression of presenting individual identities as readymade commercial units, like a series of warrior dolls or boy band members.

At the same time, the cuteness, sexiness (in the sense of presenting a lustful carnal quality to, or even for, the gaze of the audience) and general accessibility of these solos have an aspect that withdraws from being locked by the frames of identity. Or rather, if identity has a strive towards sameness, the solos insist that any sameness will inevitably negate itself. This, identity reveals itself as a process or action rather than an object: a constant movement between recognition and lack of recognition. In the solo where Pontus dances himself, timing in its most concrete sense is a part of that withdrawal from sameness. Movements can speed up or slow down in a way that connotes both fast forward, slow motion and the twitchy speed of silent films. This cinematic physicality inserts a certain unpredictability in the commercial unit of identity, something uncanny. Also the other characters presented in the series of solos have different uncanny qualities inserted in what first seems to be a solid, sellable frame. In Bosmat’s solo, the glittering pattern on a bright red cardigan reveals itself to be tea spoons that fall out of the knitwork, giving an image of metal splinters or splitter on the floor, which is also somehow consistent with the sense of inside pouring out that permeates her movement. In Linnea’s solo, she is busy with eating, spitting and spreading pearls all over the space, insisting on it until it changes meaning from fun to compulsive and back again. Robert in his turn engages with the isolation techniques and stop motion aesthetics of street dance in a way that completely overrules the established commercial identity of these styles, and taps into a very human, sulky, and messed up doll-likeness. In this sense, the solos are not only connected by their respective claim to specific and distinguishable salability, but also by how they insist on attacking themselves from within. My Own Private Army thus gets a double meaning in relation to the subtitle/module title Preparing for Battle. It is not only question of a neat collection of war dolls, but also a question of launching war on oneself, breaking down the exact thing that commodifies or locks identity into objecthood.

This said, I think MOPA – Preparing for Battle should not be understood as a piece that presents a critique towards commercialism in a polemic sense. Rather, it proposes an examination of the commercial as an aesthetic category, thus getting the audience hooked through playing on the basic desires and fears of having and losing identity. ”Commercial” becomes a language with versability and adaption as defining features, since its goal is to grab the guts of the consumers and keep them hooked, with whatever means at hand – but also to keep a healthy parasitic balance through refraining form consuming the consumers. Otherwise, the consumers have no chance of regenerating themselves and return for more. With this abstinence oriented way of addressing the audience, MOPA – Preparing for Battle does not have to argue for its own discursive usefulness, cultural importance or political urgency – or at least not anymore than a cup of bubbly dark brown soft drink with a red and white logo does.

Yet, MOPA – Preparing for Battle can never be that bubbly soft drink completely. It breaks out of its own salable category, inscribed as it is in a cultural economy of giving things away for free, and working as it does on and with live dancers that also embody different kinds of resistance to the reduction that commercial unification demands. Thus, the piece becomes a game where the audience can try out different experiences of both selling and buying into the longing, yearning and anticipation that is at the core of commercial exchange, which in its turn leads us back to a three-fold relation to time. To be able to wish for something implies both a feeling of having missed something in the past, of wanting to have it now and of being able to project it as a possible thing to have in the future. Longing is thus a promise of getting control over time – but it is a promise that cannot really be fulfilled. The history and the future is always out of control; the now always cracks, explodes into something unexpected. And this is how MOPA – Preparing for Battle operates: Inviting its audience to mirror both its strive for controllable identities and its capacity of letting go of control.

A Neutral Manifesto

The Neutral Manifesto was written in 2011 by Tova Gerge, Josefine Larson Olin, Magdalena Leite, Juan Francisco Maldonado and Helena Stenkvist as a part of the process with The 90° Project in Mexico City (see film below). Please use it to mess with dance. Thank you.

  • Neutral does not take sides, it is not a political statement because it only works with pure matters of fact. Artists are like activists but neutral. If they wanted to be political they would have chosen another field of activity, because what is political it is not really art.
  • Dance is the most neutral art form because its main means of expression is the body, and the body does not represent anything, it is just real.
  • It is neutral to have a body that is soft to hug, yet can make a handstand and an arabesque. A body that can mold into anything, but quickly return to its own neutral shape. Neutral is the open body school concept, the humble middle class, the body that has not been hurt or that heals quickly.
  • The neutral body has trained a lot of release technique, which is present in its appearance and in its calm, yet very hearable, breathing.
  • A neutral dancer does not exaggerate. S/he stays close to the point 0 in Laban technique and has the expression of a Berlin dancer.
  • A neutral body is clean, without tattoos, piercings or scars. Or if there is, it must be discrete enough to pass as a small variation from a clear standard. The body is often off-white, but not so blond, with the hair-colour cendré/gris. No make-up of course.
  • The body doesn’t need clothes to be neutral as long as it presents a clear gender without pushing sexual aspects. It is neutral to be a man or a woman, or everybody shave and wear all covering leotards.
  • Neutral dancers can also come like they are, in ponytails and a sloppy outgrown what-used-to-be a proper haircut for men, in white or off-white t-shirts, in the whole collection of Lacoste colors for t-shirts, in sneakers nikers and blue jeans because its the uniform of normality, because its the symbol of a casual imperium, and last but not least because its not what you would primarily choose to move in since the cloth is not flexible. This makes it more neutral: the dancer is just like everybody else, almost a non-dancer (but not quite).
  • Even a black dress can be neutral to wear. Everything goes with black; “the little black” is a manifestation of neutrality within the world of fashion since it impersonates the clean femininity without stating anything about class background, ethnicity or sexual preferences.
  • It is neutral when the performers fix the performance space by themselves while the audience is entering. The fixing should give an urban feeling.
  • The neutral space for theatre and dance is the black box, but used in a casual way, showing that the users are aware of the criticism towards it and thus entitled to keep it the way it is. After all, the least implying and most allowing space is the classical theatre space, since it has been used so many times it is practically emptied of meaning.
  • The neutral space for art is the white cube, and as with theatre, tradition has emptied it from disturbing political implications. The white cube is just a discrete institutional frame that makes art accessible as such. It is there in order to not create any misunderstanding about what is what, because neutral doesn’t like misunderstandings.
  • The neutral does not show any history. The neutral doesn’t express anything, but in a very clear way. It appears simultaneously as the first of something and as one in an endless mass. The neutral action is an action that has been executed so many times, ie. is so dense with history, that it cannot be distinguished as a specific historical phenomena unless if you watch it from some uncomfortable angle that no-one really wants to watch anything from.
  • Tasks involved in a neutral performance can be for example the neutral walk, the neutral position, the neutral water-drinking on stage or the neutral throw of a neutral ball; a throw that has no history and tells nothing about the thrower. On the level of physical engagement, this could mean relaxed hard work or hardworking relaxation, like having relaxed but working feet with no point and no flex.
  • It is neutral to be oneself, especially on at the front of the stage. To be oneself is to be neutral, staring into the audience with slightly horny ‘n cool looking gaze, expressing very little other emotion. It is also neutral to not exactly look but not exactly avoid them either, as if they where an unidentifiable wall of jelly.
  • It is neutral to find very organic movement phrases that are repeated without any fault, working in the oxymoron between robotic and organic: organic robot, robotic organity.
  • Making dances from the Fibonacci numbers is neutral, because it reproduces beauty that anyone can see, even if they do not know about the golden ratio. It is as neutral as it is natural, like shells and snowflakes. Consequently, it is neutral to canonize Rosas’ principles of work, but without letting it show in terms of repertory because you don’t want to be entangled in that dirty capitalist Beyonce Countdown conflict.
  • It is neutral to not feel anything specific or to not give any weight to whatever feeling might occur. To act neutral is to act without question or interpretation, postideologically and post identitically.
  • Neutral means no mysticism. There can be kitsch, but no belief in it. Charged symbols must be emptied before using.
  • Neutral doesn’t have climax, except in the case of playfully reappropriating Hollywood dramaturgy, but even then the climax happens more on the surface – the subjectivity of the performer is still kept safe, unmoved, untransformed.
  • A neutral lighting is a lightning that makes “everything” visible, yet not blinding. Just a general swash of white and yellow. It can also be neutral to let the light change in the rythm of sunset.
  • English is a neutral language and broken English is alright if it is not commented upon. It is neutral to assume that everybody speaks broken English. The vocabulary cannot include any patois, but possibly a bit of well assimilated slang. Neutral talk must have properly crossed the borders of integration: it resides where there is no longer provocation.
  • A neutral way to use English on stage is to call a practical instruction with a neutral voice tone. Like: “Jessica, can you put play to the sound? Thank you!” The sound that Jessica puts play to is hearable, still not dominating.
  • Silence can be neutral, but it is even more neutral not to insult people. The weather is the most neutral topic of conversation, it does not discriminate, this is why people love talking about the weather, they don’t want to insult anyone.
  • If there such a thing as talking neutrally to the audience, it should be done tenderly, as if the audience members were very close friends in an intimate moment. Being personal without being irreplaceable is neutral. There should be intimacy without implication, not stating, just saying…
  • The neutral performance starts around 7 pm. Welcome!

 

Fill In the Blanks and Multiple Choices (Reappearance)

This is another text written before PAF 2011. It is a slightly frustrated reflection on the difficulties of finding functioning structures when you work within the realm of art. As a reader, you’re mentally filling in the blanks with whatever information you find suitable to describe a situation, choosing one of the given suggestions in every multiple choice. What you can’t do is rearranging the order of things or rewriting the whole form. And this is also pretty much what happens when you try to organize yourself officially…

You are … persons in … different cities (leave or add blanks if necessary):
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………

, in … different countries (leave or add blanks if necessary):
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
…………… .

At least … of you have a valid a) passport b) green card in at least one nation state.

What you all have in common is a strong interest for the artistic field of …………… and the ideological field of ………-ism. You also have an interest for alternative organizing, and you decide to somehow formalize your social network into a platform for actions that actively promote, perform and support ………-ist  …… -ing.

You a) are a group where everyone knows everyone else in the group b) are a group were most people knows someone in the group before, but noone knows everyone c) are a group where some people know everyone, and some people only know someone.

Your initial intentions are to work according to founding principles not so different from your normal informally structured sociality. You want to define your network in terms of actions and encounters. You want to work with dissensus in the sense that noone needs an absolute majority of votes to start a project or act in the name of the network. You want the keep the borders fuzzy and fluid in the sense that noone needs a formal legitimation to invite someone to act in the name of the network, and there is no precise obligation to fulfill in order to stay in. You also want a system in which no chosen leader or official core is necessary.

The difference from just leaving things as they are consists mainly in centralizing communication and explicitly announcing an interest in acting collectively. This also implies using democratic meeting technique, transparence and systematized information sharing. You thus have open meetings … times a a) month b) week and you set up an internet platform where you can discuss how things proceed.

To be able to do certain kinds of projects, you realize that you need a formally registered association of some kind, for example a non-profit organization, a joint-stock company or a general partnership. In one meeting, you decide that you will found a …………….

Some of you have not been able to participate in the meeting, mostly for the following reasons (leave or add blanks if necessary):
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
……………,
…………… .

The ones of you who were absent think
a) that the chosen association form is good.
b) that the chosen association form is bad or that you don’t know enough about association forms to tell wether it is really good,
b1) but since you were absent, you accept the choice.
b2), and thus, you raise objections. You think that the association form is a decision way to important to be concluded without a consensus, since this decision will structure     many of the possible actions that the network can do in the future.
b2a) Your objections are overruled.
b2b) Your objections are heard, and the matter is more thoroughly examined before you proceed with the decision making.

…. a) days b) weeks c) months later, the research is done and the authorities in the field make a strong recommendation for founding a ……………………. However, to be able to conclude this affair, you have to agree on some association bylaws and a name.

Some minor discussions occur during the process of setting up bylaws, mostly concerning economy, membership and stated activity. Some of you don’t really care, others care a lot. However, reminding yourselves that you can rewrite most parts of this guiding document later, you settle for a solution where the possibilities of having economical support from the members of the society are quite ………………. , where it is quite …………… to exclude or include a new member and where it is fairly ………………….. what kind of activity you as a group will engage in.

When you start to speak about the name, you
a) agree completely and settle for a name. If this is the case, jump the following multiple choice section about names.
b) don’t agree. You discover that despite your common interests in …………….-ist ………………-ing, your opinions on what this means and how it should be practiced, promoted and supported vary more than you thought. No matter how much you all insist that the name could be anything and that your organization will be whatever you do together, the name activates ideological questions. Should the name for example make reference to a specific canon of …………-ing in which you would like your projects to be inscribed, and can you in that case agree on such a canon? Should the name be an acronym for all the members in the group, as so to symbolize each and everyones individual agency within a crowd, and in that case, in what order should the letters come? Should the name mirror the open platform-thought by making reference to a fictive or abstract place by which your future activity is framed? Or is the idea of a name that connotes name-ness or place-ness problematic altogether because, in the long run, it is a reaffirmation of identity, legitimacy, belonging and borders rather than actions, alliances and fluidity? And how should the name relate to different centers of power? Should it try to communicate with them, appear as reasonable? Or should it rather make itself uninteresting or even admit an aggressive approach towards other figurations of power then the ones that you imagine as your closest allies?

After these discussions,
a) you choose the name ……………………. by consensus.
b) you choose the name ……………………. by democratic voting.
c) you choose the name …………………… through a conspiracy by a fraction of the group, that send in your papers without telling the rest.
d) you don’t choose a name.

Once you are done with the name question,
a) the project of organizing yourselves is abandoned,
a1) but the cooperations that existed before this initiative took place are still functioning, and you all continue with your ………-ist ……………-ing.
a2) and the cooperations that existed before this initiative took place are abolished.
a3) and pretty much all of you abandon the field of ………-ist ……………-ing, especially in relation to each other.
b) the project of organizing yourselves through an official platform is abandoned,
b1) but the cooperations that existed before this initiative took place are still functioning.
b2) but you have discovered a lot of new friends and potential new cooperations. Over all, the initiative keeps enhancing and enriching your practice of ………-ist ……………-ing, and you are a network or platform in the sense that you keep on communicating and exchanging knowledge.
c) you proceed in organizing yourselves officially
c1) and you use the official platform in most of you activity.
c2) but you don’t really ever use the official platform for anything.
c3) and you do both activity that demand the official platform and activity that demands no such platform.

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