performance

The Ethics of Employing Intimacy in Audience Participatory Performing Arts

I was invited to give a lecture at a conference with the title Post-Epic Dramaturgy –International perspectives on the dramaturgical practice taking place at Stockholm University of Arts the 28th-29th of March 2018. On the 28th, when I was scheduled, the headline was Spatial Interventions. I ended up talking about the ethics of employing intimacy in audience participatory performing arts. I also ended up recording the lecture. Here is the recording:

If you would rather read than listen, you can download this pdf:
employing-intimacy-tova-gerge.

Advertisements

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

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

tumblr_op0f33oXxa1w6xphlo1_1280

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.

Where Were We, documentation

dsc00090
This year, I’ve established a project together with Israeli choreographer Uri Turkenich. The project went through different forms. First, we played games with Inana, then we had a Derridian episode at Skogen, after that we danced with the cool kids in Berlin at 3AM and now in October we went physical in Weld. The project deals with intimate conversations as a performative practice. During the coming year we will tour a bit and we would like to tour more (so ask us to come by writing to me!).

Here is a documentation of the performance – a part of me learning to video edit, by the way. Above is an image from the performance (snapped by Marika Troili or Sofie Anderson; unsure) and here is a link to the festival we were part of at Weld. The project was supported by The Swedish Arts Grant Committee, but also by c.off, who made an interview with us here.

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.

The ambivalence of being identified with resistance is totally not bothering me right now

A text from a small solo project I recently run in the context of a residency at the University of Dance and Circus in Stockholm.Skärmavbild 2015-09-01 kl. 16.52.52

I was pulled back into this Lithuanian bowling hall from Soviet times. The party organizers had filled it with a thousand balloons popping in irregular outbursts as the feet of the dancers hit them. The soundscape was a divider. I had already spent some time out on the porch with a girl who had flashbacks from air raids. Others just hated balloons. And then there were the drinkers who would never opt for a dance floor in the first place.

I made a toast with pickles and cheese at the post midnight snack table. I was sincerely considering putting ham in despite my vegetarianism, but in the end I was being put off by the sweet and fleshy smell. I experienced some kind of vague relation between that and the fact that someone who was maybe flirting with me earlier (maybe?) seemed to be busy with something else. I didn’t know if I was mostly relieved or disappointed that I wouldn’t have to deal with it anymore. Balloons were still popping, messing up the beat of some techno remix. My head then started playing a third beat; I was invaded by Lady Gagas Just Dance like some kind of prophetic voice.

I started by shutting out the welcoming smiles. I felt my deep tissue, the pressure of damp air against my skin and the slight movement of the old wooden floor as I gave my weight to it. It was not a question of enjoying it or not. It was just what was at hand, the only reasonable thing that I could give myself in this situation. As the sweat started running I had no questions to myself anymore, just an ongoing imagination of movement in space. I could not be interrupted, because there was no sequence, just the necessary grip of my body around the circumstances. And then I spotted the hopscotch.

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.

Social and political soundscapes

I wrote this text (Niki Woods translated) to the festival Dans ❤ Stockholm in early December 2013, where Band by Ingri Fiksdal and Atlantic by Juli Reinartz  were performing in a double bill.

Fiksdal and Reinartz present two in many ways different works on the same evening. Band is a quartet, Atlantic is a solo. The dancers in Band are quiet with covered heads, while Reinartz turns to address the audience. At the same time, the two performances share a common theme. They both explore concert moments – not the type of concert moments that occur in controlled, bright, state-funded places, but those that happen in cramped and unpredictable club environments. Such concerts alter or direct a nocturnal collective state, injecting rhythm to social and chemical movements in people’s bodies.

Most of us – many more than those who have ever seen a dance performance on stage financed by public funds – have had such a concert experience. Some of us have also had pivotal political and social experiences in such rooms. Identity and relations may emerge in the fandom. And the darkness of the club incites stepping outside the norm, with the potential of both strengthening and undermining the prevailing order.

Fiksdal and Reinartz approach the concert each in their own way as a cultural artefact, relation and sensation. Reinartz’s work with the socio-politics of music forms a piece that likens a concert, not least in the way it paraphrases the “between-song banter”. But this talk is not there to provide an answer as to what the piece portrays. Rather, it aims to establish another type of presence among the audience, getting them ready for what is to come, from the dance or from themselves. Atlantic is on the cusp of the kind of concert moment where many different bodies find their own inner swing, together, and are surprised by it.

Fiksdal’s Band can be described as an almost silent psychedelic concert. The audience sit close to each other by the stage, mostly in the dark, inciting listening with ears and skin. How do the dancing bodies sound? How does the synchronised breathing of audience sound? How does the warmth that radiates from one body to another feel? In the darkness, with the rhythmic repetition of movement, the audience is given the chance to sink back into sensory impressions, blurring the contours of identity.

Band and Atlantic are being performed at MDT, a scene that incites other forms of existence than the singular, unpredictable pulse of the club concert. Nonetheless, this pulse is perceptible in the dance works, explored and offered both as a memory and possibilty for the audience.”And so, watching Band and Atlantic can be like seeing two dance works and two concerts at the same time, but it can also be way of finding new tools for interpreting the so-called regular concert happenings that break into our (night) life, move us and bring us together.

PS.
In preparation for the double-bill show, Reinartz and Fiksdal interviewed each other about their respective works. Their dialogue is published in the MDT program. Not to be missed by those interested in immersing themselves into the two pieces and learning more about the encounter between the choreographic domain and various concert experiences!