About a year ago
when Emil Hrvatin and I proposed a performance project
addressing collectivity, I couldn't anticipate the
resistance and confusion the term alone would bring.
A dozen responses
from programmers, critics, and theorists from the experimental
field of European dance and performance, whom we asked
for a critical reflection on the project proposal, resonated
in a consensus of questions:
"Aren't you aware
of how ideologised and outmoded the term is? Do you mean
collectivity as a modus operandi or as a topic
of research? In other words, are you working
collectively or on collectivity? We would be happier if
you substituted 'collectivity' with a term more suitable
to contemporary practices - collaboration,
namely - as collaboration involves a space of
negotiation of individual differences."
If collaboration is
a buzzword for a working habitus in performance
today, collectivism is abandoned, or even repressed and
repulsive in its very idea. The uneasiness with
collectivity is more than a symptom of the politics of
liberal individualism in performing arts.
It entangles intersecting
interests in a few "c-terms": collectivity
and community, criticality and conceptualization. Here
I will resume a number of questions and points I discussed
in a speech held at Context #1, Berlin, Hebbel-am-Ufer,
the libertarian heritage
What does an investigation
of a concept, more social and historical than artistic
and contemporary as we were told, reveal about the current
state of experimental performance in Europe? Is authorship
always already assigned to the one who initiates a project?
How can an initiative to invite authors for research
reassure an egalitarian basis of collaboration, a frame
of collectivity without central leadership?
in Western societies today only conjure images of collective
political action in a strong ideological vein abolished
after 1989? Is collectivism necessarily understood –
and therefore, dismissed - as the tool for emancipatory
politics by an obsolete model of the theatre and performance
practices in the 60s?
"When we feel, we
feel the emergency: when we feel the emergency, we will
act: when we act, we will change the world."
(Julian Beck, Living Theatre)
is the collectives founded upon the essentialist
premises of humanity being at work or the mythology of
merging life and art in the 60s, that are all the more
responsible for concluding an end to the interest in
collectivism. The dramaturgy of the ascending ritualist
voyage of an individual within a collective, be it in
the life of a tribal commune or in stage representation
– as the theatre collectives in the 60s pursued
– dissolved its own project of social and
political change, because in the final stage of the
process, it narrows it down to the abstract idea of
individual freedom. What I'm saying here is that we
should thank historical collectives from the 60s for
providing food for liberal individualism today. They
handed down a legacy of libertarian depoliticizing
thought: practice freedom as the exercise of free will.
Take one of those imperatives of Living Theatre, like
"Change is the natural state of being", strip
it from its 1960s-anarchist vogue, and what you get is a
slogan "free, different, creative", who? The
sovereign individual chooser nowadays: the author, the
programmer, the spectator.
in the models we chose to remember is relegated to ideological
disasters or social breakdowns, as if doomed to always
fall into fascist regimes of collaboration. What should
be more important is to examine the present-day situation
why collectivism isn't just abandoned but repressed
or, why the very idea of collectivity is repulsive or,
are we allowed to rethink it in new terms which would
serve the critical needs of the present?
Such scenes from
the performances of Living Theatre, Performance Group,
even from some of Judson Dance Theatre performances,
have also transfigured into a hidden matrix of self-expression,
appearing in the format of solo work or communal improvisation
makes a fetishist aura of dance in Western society:
"And what was your experience, what did you feel,
what did you learn from it, what kind of openings did
it create for you?" The interrogations we so often
hear reflect both the spectator's and the performer's
New-Age-like occupation with the individual self.
of artistic or cultural producers, especially in the
corporeal outfit of the dancer is, moreover, the admirable
capital of the values such as creativity, complexity,
mobility, flexibility, or innovation.
It is the individual
and not the collective enterprise of performance which
inspires the figure of the contemporary worker in the
context of neo-liberalism. Does s-/he belong to the
frame of collectivity or community today?
community: the networking
The political history
of community, a word forgotten or reserved
for the European community more than twenty years ago,
shows that "community" emerges as a term more
appropriate than "communism" was fifteen years
after May 68 when the French leftist intellectuals brought
forth the subject of collectivity again.
In 1983, the editor
of the magazine Aléa, Jean-Christophe Bailly,
proposes the topic of community "la communauté,
The collapse of communism
was met with a liberal response that involves an eager
repression of the very question being-in-common (which
so-called real communism repressed under a common Being)
(Nancy, 2000, 43).
But in neo-liberalism
we do enjoy a "being-together," if you like.
What we have in common is commerce and communication
– in one word: the network.
the illusion of surpassing the boundaries of local professional
community and breaking into the international field
of the discipline contemporary performance. Such a mechanism
can be illustrated by the well-known cartoon and metaphor,
Willy the Coyote and the Roadrunner, as I discussed
with a group of makers at the Tanzquartier's lab on
research in April 2003.
The Coyote tirelessly
chases the bird over the flat boundless surface of the
desert, keeping always the same never-to-be-bridged
distance from the bird, until he flips over a cliff,
the end of the road. He never dies, just leaves the
full imprint of his body at the bottom of the abyss.
The desert expands
in a movement of deterritorialization, each action generating
a fresh re-departure, and a line of flight only measured
by the inventiveness and speed of movement. According
to this see-saw model, research happens when it breaks
a new ground that can potentially develop into a field.
And the sudden break
of the chase marking the fall from the cliff, the inevitable
pull-force of the community, the localization - drags
the fleeting individual down into personal history and
cultural and political contexts of regulation.
The field is not
just a plane of consistency, as the popular Deleuzian
discourse would have it. In effect, it is represented
by networks of venues, festivals, research labs, flying
programmers, showcase platforms, online criticism platforms
etc.: in one word, the institutional market on which
makers are invited to seek a niche for a desirable commodity.
The only tactic of
resisting the institutional market for the freelance
artist is to become the mediating machine him/herself,
producing productivity and a self-governed networking.
His/her work shifts to a multiplication of activities,
contacts, formats of work, collaboration and presentation,
allowing for the work-in-progress character to take
on almost his/her entire opus, a working without work.
The kind of immaterial
labor the artist undertakes is to: either operate in
self-organized conditions of working together with other
self-organizing artists – independently of the
supply demands and opportunities artistic venues provide
– or produce the production of one-individual-self
as the spectacular commodity in the institutional market.
The latter shapes the immaterial production as information
in the form of a performative promise: "I am a
project of myself," where the works of performances
are taken as temporary, unfinished 'previews' of a project
in process. The freelance artist, in order to pursue
a so-called independent position in the institutional
market, is forced to commune with the programmer,
his/her material producer on the grounds of this promise.
But if s-/he steps out of this relationship, as I propose
in the former tactic, s-/he is to organize her/his own
field in cooperation with other artists and cultural
producers, which necessarily involves transforming and
mobilizing a community into something based more on
the need to collaborate, a frame of collectivity.
by state- or private-funded apparatuses or hacked by
a free entrepreneurial self of the author, the artistic
community likens a community without project and end-product,
communauté desœuvrée, where desœuvrement
(inoperativess and idleness) should be understood in
Community is a given
fact, rather than an agency of mobilization, for there
is nothing to mobilize for collectively. The demands
which brought performance artists to new experimental
frames of working in the 60s are now fulfilled: there
are networks supporting experimental work; the urge
to experiment and go cross-disciplinary is no longer
transgressive. The then pressing concern for collaboration
arose from the climate of political and social movements
calling for cooperation.
However, for the
artist to act as her/his own producer rather than the
self-produced commodity of the programmation, s-/he
is to redefine and reconstitute collaboration and production
beyond the needs for individual self-affirmation.
and the question of art labour
In the types of collectivity
and collaboration practiced today dominates an instrumental
logic: artistic affinity plus instrumentally rational
needs to collaborate. A saturating number of theatre
groups, actors' collectives without directors, such
as Tg Stan, Dood Paard, De Roovers, 't Barreland, sprung
in the Low Countries under the influences of the then
innovatory practices of Maatschappij Discordia, organized
a system of circulation independent of city theatre
They represent a
sustainable model for continuous collaboration that
does not question its foundation and methodology or
seek political or social action. On the other hand,
contemporary programmation favors a star-system matching
of authors like Meg Stuart and Gary Hill, Jan Ritsema
and Jonathan Burrows, Jérôme Bel and Forced Entertainment,
whereby the phenomenon of temporary productive contact
is motivated by an exchange of different specialities
so as to hopefully arrive at something new, unknown,
''third'' to the respective disciplines of collaborators.
However the encounters
between established authors can be intriguing in themselves,
they are primarily stimulated by taste and box-office
measurement of the programmer.
The more collaboration
is spoken of, the more it is lacking, symptomatic of
crisis, says Myriam Van Imschoot: "We shouldn't
forget that collaboration doesn't undermine the aura
of the Artist, but it multiplies it"(Van Imschoot,
17-18). Collectivity and collaboration, thus, no longer
appear as viable models of experimentation and critique
as they are already subsumed under the institutional
order and a cultural policy trend.
However, it is criticality
as an antiessentialist stand that has formed a new common
and shared perspective in the choreography
of the 90s. Jérôme Bel, Xavier Le Roy, Tino Sehgal,
Mårten Spångberg have developed a non-affirmative
focus on strategies and tactics in which the spectator
is confronted with the displacement of dance as an aesthetic
and modernist phenomenon and object.
The spectator is
forced to deal with his/her own disposition to receive
choreography as a writing of a performative text. These
choreographers have contributed to a distinct type of
authorship based on discursive intervention, or the
effect of disturbing the spectacle of performance. One
thing is certain: they are doing it alone.
I want to stress:
this work can only be done by the author of concept
alone. At most, these authors share a community
of discourse, out of which collaborations can
spring occasionally, even conceptualize the contractual
basis of authorship such as the performance Xavier
Le Roy, commissioned and signed by Bel and realized
by Le Roy.
But there is no need
for collectiveness as such to help establish the sovereignty
of these authorial interventions. Confined to the object
''dance'' and ''theatre spectacle,'' these critical
practices target the 19th century theatre-goer
by producing the ''meaning'' of a work in self-reference
The power of self-determination
in the concept of dance could be potentially transformative
if it also applied to the frame of working, production
and presentation. At this moment, it is capable of articulating
something like a speech-act: "This is performance,
this is choreography," assuming the role of analytical
or critical self-interpretation, similar to the conceptualism
in visual art.
So far it produces
open, flexible and contingent definitions of dance and
critique in how we are habituated to perceive it, but
it remains dependent on internal, medium-specific matters
of dance because operating in the institutional context
of theatre makes its critique bound to the theatre dispositif.
Would the circularity
of conceptual methodology be broken through if authors
collaborated on the exchange and confrontation of concepts,
risking their constructions? Such a framework would
allow but not force production of contacts, not in terms
of progressive searching for new phenomena like contact-improvisation
but as an opportunity for singular connections, frictions,
mutations between independent agents, experimentation
which demands readiness to disown one's intentions or
materials, because one isn't primarily concerned with
establishing his/her authorship?
What could be the
conditions for such a collectivity of authors, as well
as its specific difference to the frames of collaboration
we know of today? I'll conclude this text with four
points redefining such collectivity in its potential.
There is a growing
number of performance practitioners engaged in experiments
and new concepts of performance, theatre, and choreography.
As usual, there are always a number of participants
gathering around a project.
What is the importance
of the number? Increasing the number of people involved
in interaction, even if only from two to three qualitatively
alters the situation. What are the qualities of interaction
that could result from working outside labor market
requirements and cultural policy orientation?
There is no pre-given
sense, essence, identity or meaning for which to collect
or mobilize with ideological confidence. Fair enough.
"Decisive here is the idea of an inessential
commonality, a solidarity that in no
way concerns an essence."
We can exemplify
solidarity when our differences are the commonality
we trust. Nancy says: "We do not "have"
meaning anymore, because we ourselves are meaning..."
(Nancy 2000, 1). "We" could only stand for
the circulation of possibilities, resistances and experiences
of limits when differences between one another are constitutive
So, for "us"
or to be able to say "we," there is only something
like this phenomenon taking-place. The "taking-place",
in other words, signifies a contact of singularities
and the law of touching in this contact is not fusion,
It is the heterogeneity
of surfaces that touch each other; heterogeneity that
stimulates further heterogenesis, and not homogenization
under the responsibility of one or the attraction to
But the virtual taking-place
needs a space that would allow production and experimentation
without the theatre dispositif hovering above
it. Should we transform institutions (studios, performing
spaces) into resource centers or platforms for working
rather than presenting?
The fourth term.
To rethink collaboration in terms of undesired contacts;
that "we" isn't unison, but taking responsibility
for relations "with" in working with one another,
with no compromise of tolerance, but sustaining the
differential in contact.
"with" wants to push for a bit of violence.
For the desire in persisting in a process whereby irreducible
and not desirable and manageable differences are productive
for new configurations of working, a process whereby
no overarching conception should provide safety to a
the "working-with" frame, taking this condition
rather than the autonomous self-validating concepts
by individual author, has the power of becoming a starting
point for experimental collaboration – a collaboration
One thinks that such
collectivity would better be called collection,
if it is defined by a "number of working-with-one-another
ones without an essence." A question would be how
a collection of authors-performers without one author
initiator comes together. It's not merely a technical
question as it puts forward a more important concern.
What might be worth doing together in dance and performance
vis-à-vis society today?
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