Although performing arts are essentially inseparable from the exploration and testing of new work methods and shaping work processes and products into different performative formats, in the past decades they have been dominantly overflown by a discourse about labour. Despite the fact that significant transformations of work processes in performative practice were visible as far back as in the 1990s, analytical reception might appear belated, however, given the comprehensiveness and extent of the changes and their consequences, a certain level of sedimentation is in fact reasonable. An interpretation of changes in the concept of production, changes in work organisation due to globalisation, changes of working conditions, changes in aesthetics, working in times of crises and under strict capitalist demands, working overtime – paid and unpaid, working anywhere and anytime came into the spotlight of prominent magazines like Performance Research and The Drama Review in 2012. Although we are accustomed to the fact that a flood of interest usually spreads eastwards, a dedication to the matter was evident a year or two before that in a context close to us, with examples such as the Belgrade-based TkH časopis za teoriju izvođačkih umetnosti (TkH Journal for Performing Arts Theory) which in association with Le Journal des Laboratoires published an issue on immaterial labour in performance (2010), and the Croatian Frakcijawith editorials on artistic labour in austerity times and relations between art and money (2011/2012 and again in 2013). Movements focus on the same subject now, in the context of dance performance. Participants on the local dance scene are very active in the promotion of better working conditions and opposing the system, especially compared to scenes and communities of similar performing and other arts. Also, the critical and theoretical reflection on the methods and manners of their activity and creating is in constant retardation. Dance artists’ involvement, either by seeking concrete solutions, or representational framing, is partly motivated by the fact that they do not have institutions to do it for them. On the one hand there is a demand for the autonomy of dance and autonomy of decision-making when dance is concerned, and on the other there is the fact that the concept of the autonomy of art is already corroded by its relational and participative character. Art is neither autonomous nor fully heteronomous, it cannot be reduced to a pure aesthetic level and is inevitably burdened by social practices.
Movements no. 29 focuses on how contemporary dance art is affected by work in precarious and uncertain conditions, over the long run outside an institution of its own, and depending on the will and availability of other institutions and limited subsidies, as well as how this reflects on the work of dance artists and individual dance aesthetics. Trying to avoid laments on infrastructural inefficiency, the focus is on positioning dance between prevalently state-funded projects which yield no profit and capitalist premises that permeate the society and artistic work, bearing in mind that art as a form of subsidised culture cannot avoid its production profile. On the other hand, remnants of a romantic vision of art as a higher calling seeking daylong or lifelong commitment from an artist make it difficult to attribute economic values to artistic labour. Determining the economic values of labour is also controversial because of the immateriality of labour resulting in a product inseparable from the act of production, a performance. However, immaterial labour proves to be very much material because it requires our bodies even in completely cognitive processes. All forms of work today adopt cognitive work, and the concept of immaterial labour shortly after it was coined is contested even by its makers.1 Theorist Bojana Kunst sees this division into material and immaterial work, the origin of other dichotomies, as a repetition of the ancient metaphysical difference between mind and body, accompanying dance throughout history and creating the division into
think-dance, i.e. conceptual dance, and dancy dance.2 However, immateriality has become a means of manipulation, both in art and in post-industrial economy. Artists change the way work is done, often without finalising a product and rather opting for exploration processes, workshop formats, presentations of works in progress, refusing to reduce a performance to a sellable good. This again threatens to create “immaterial accumulation”, on which the neoliberal market counts on, abstracting immateriality as an element of self-evaluation. A marketable good is no longer a tangible product, anything can become merchandise: ideas, knowledge, experiences, moods, affects.
With a thought on mutual empowerment, Movements no. 29 brings an equal number of texts about dance practice and texts from dance practice, focusing on events and phenomena characteristic of the matter. Since Croatian dance scene is dominantly female and since this women’s work has been, throughout history, among the most precarious, the issue opens with two texts on invisible women’s work. Writing about the performance Dancing Moms by Rijeka-based artists Ivana Kalc and Mila Čuljak, Ana Fazekaš juxtaposes dance work and reproductive and educational work as a cornucopia of capitalist accumulation, because it “produces and reproduces labour”.3
In patriarchal imagery, motherhood “motherhood does not have a competent authority other than the mother’s body, whose sovereignty is still systematically contested”, and at the same time the role of a mother is considered the most valuable in a woman’s life. On the other hand, dance art in Croatia is another artistic discipline fighting for autonomy while, at the same time, both art (the profession) and audience tend to shun from artistic work focusing on female experience. The tacitly female housework, in the spotlight of BADco.’s performance Spores, inspired Jelena Mihelčić to examine Croatian culture, which is still far from the real market. Mihelčić unmasks countless anomalies teeming in today’s system of financing art and the importance of investment into art despite its unprofitability, and its nevertheless more protected and therefore somewhat antagonist position in relation to other social activities ruthlessly exposed to the market. The author also notices that dance is able to slow down the evaluation and devaluation processes and to resist exploitation, at least to some degree. In my text, based on recent events and examples from dance production I tried to determine what is it that proves to be locally specific, how the current conditions affect the establishment of a scene and artists’ perception on the value of their work (both) as a political stake, as well as how global phenomena influence the local dance community.
Maja Đurinović examines the dance scene in a historic continuity, finding similarities to today’s situation and confirming the precarity of dancemakers and performers, who have always balanced the unpayable and cost-inefficient creative impulse with teaching or working in other professions. From the point of view of participants on the contemporary dance scene, the position of ballet dancers with full-time jobs and regulated labour rights is promising and hardly attainable, but Đurinović also points out that neither inside these institutions things are not what they seem. If the economic value of dance projects is difficult to determine, even questionable, Iva Nerina Sibila in her contribution wonders what indeed constitutes the worth of dance, artistic, social or economic, and how to acknowledge the physical activity of dance as work. Between the physical wear of one’s body in a rehearsal studio and conducting administrative tasks in order to even get to a studio or a stage, where and how to find motives to continue dancing after ten, fifteen or twenty years? What motivates and what satisfies a dance artist? Is detachment from dance a solution, as Ivana Rončević’s practice suggests, preferring “creating and embracing the working conditions,” the condition “for free examination and establishment of our own values”? Refusing to settle within the existing boundaries and performance codes, Ivana Rončević proposes new formats and challenges the recipient to a consequential response. The issue closes with Mila Pavićević’s log on the artistic research she is conducting with Ana Kreitmeyer, registering the closeness and distance between the two contexts she is active in, recording facts and the illogical phenomena she encounters. Artistic research with an aim in itself, chosen by dancemakers on more developed scenes also as an aspect of resistance against the materialisation of performance, i.e. equalizing a performance with a sellable good, is still uncommon in our context, at least judging by the categories of open calls for financing such a project might apply for.
I deliberately skipped to mention each of the author’s specific profession because, why let down (self-)precarisation, our working roles multiply, overlap and collide. The small number of texts gathered here only scratches the surface of the matter, but I hope they will spark thinking and dialogue among the readers.
English translation: Ivana Ostojčić