My encounters: Group Works #10

In the festival’s only artist talk, White Horse said that they initially were defined as a group not by themselves but by the outside structures (programmers, festivals etc.). This means that you as a programmer have to be aware of your power to define the essence of the performances but also to categorise the artistic work as being group work.

In the case of Works at Work, I wonder what thoughts the festival team has had about their power to define? How do they see it? In the program, they write “We have invited international performance collectives, who are continually working together. And the specific collaborative model of each performance collective is far more complex than sharing an office and a coffee machine!” This is not problematic in itself. It is merely a description of the foundation of their curatorial choices. But to me it becomes a problem 1) when the festival does not choose to leave any space for the groups to talk about their performance collective and thereby gain agency over the term instead of it purely becoming a curatorial assertion 2) when we by chance learn that many of the groups do not work in the performance collective any longer/have just started/only does it when they have a project. Instead of the program text being a generous invitation to understand the festival’s curatorial praxis and the artists’ way of organising themselves, it becomes a statement that tells more about the political agenda of the festival than the artists collaborative model.

That a festival wants to promote a certain agenda can be important and create discourses in the cultural landscape. I think WaW has managed to do that (as the artistic director Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt also herself implies in an in interview in the Danish newspaper Weekendavisen), but I also believe a festival has to carefully consider what means it uses when promoting its’ agenda hence its’ power of definition. Do you invite the artists and the audience to think with you on the subject matters or not?

Attending Works at Work for the first time made me wonder why the artistic director has chosen the festival format as a method for talking about working conditions for artists. In my view, traditional festivals like Works at Work forces the artists into a problematic capitalistic working model where the artists are reduced to workers whose sole purpose is to create performances/products to feed the market. Today, one of the biggest challenges for the artists’ sustainable working life is the constant demand for new artistic production to fill out the programmes of festivals and theatre venues. I am curious to know how the festival programmers see their role and their responsibilities when talking about working conditions for artists?

To their credit, the curatorial team has programmed restagings of old performances. This choice is interesting because it touches upon a discussion about the status of performances in post-dramatic/performance theatre. As in performance art, most of the pieces are closely connected to the artists who made them but what happens when the artists/artistic collective are gone is that the end of their performances? White Horse deals with this problematic in an interesting way but since it is not closely connected to the thematics of the festival it does not get elaborated, but I do wonder what motive the curatorial team had when they chose to show restagings?

There is a lot of ways to compose a festival. Ways where the artists are not merely reduced to the provider of performances but also of discourses, dialogues and processual work outside the black box. Maybe it is the rigidity of the festival concept (solo, duo, group works) that works against the potential development of the festival concept. In the first festival of 2014 where the theme was solo works, the link between aesthetic works and working conditions might have been more obvious than in the third edition. Back then, it might have made sense to separate the aesthetic work and the theoretic work ending up with a feeling of coherence between the two. But when you talk about group works it is a far more complex structure. There are so many ways to realise it, and there is not necessarily an obvious connection between the aesthetic work made by the group and the group’s working conditions outside the black box. So when thematising group works, I think it might be more obstructive than constructive to separate the aesthetic works from the theories/talks since the performance itself only highlights the group work inside the black box, but not the working methods of the groups, the organisation of the groups etc. I wonder what thoughts the artistic director and her team had when choosing to stick to the conceptual structure of the festival? If they thought about adjusting the concept to fit the theme?

During the symposium on Monday, Female Trouble and Samlingen met on stage for an interview moderated by Sarah Charalambides they took over the interview and start talking to each other. Asking about work structures, processes and experiences. Inquisitively. Interested in knowing the other’s work. In these 45 minutes, a lot of new aspects of the understanding of group works were presented to the audience. This tells me that the theme of the festival group works is a viable theme that needs to be talked about in the artistic communities. The question is how you as a festival facilitate this talk – as a listener or as a talker or both?

When this is said I felt an enormous gratitude to have the possibility to witness a lecture of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak. Her insight, clear sight and high level of abstraction opened up to new thoughts and ways of resonating that was so interesting and impressive that I am forever thankful to the curator team for inviting her. Probably in ten years when I think back on Works at Work Group Works this is what I will remember.

Thank you for now.

Best, Naja

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