STRENGTHENING DISCURSIVE PRACTICES
Today’s economic atmosphere, spreading over performing arts as well, should definitely be examined as an outcome of a causal series of continuous changes in social and production relations. At the same time, it is possible to keep track of the impact of each shift in the artistic circuit. However, in the context artistic labour and production, several crucial moments usually stand out, leading to a turning point. The first refers to the establishment of a hired labour market, which consequently influences the separation of art and other activities, and the emancipation of art as an independent sphere.1 The second important moment is the appearance of artistic avant-gardes which again endanger the autonomy of art. Although quite a lot of things occur between these two moments, their juxtaposition is not unfounded. The concept of autonomous art is an accomplishment of the turn of the 19th century bourgeois society, which placed, as cultural sociologist Aldo Milohnić said, “all of those previously ‘exalted’ professions” on the market, which is why artists, “precisely owing to the commodification of art” were given the autonomy of decision making in regards to their own creating, which was additionally highlighted in the early 20th century with “l’art pour l’art”.2 However, this modernist emancipation was short-lived because art, since the concept of autonomous art stems from “the ideology of exchange”, is starting to be understood as merchandise and therefore artistic avant-gardes were trying to crush the barriers to other social activities.3 Still, the road to the market has been paved and creativity became a marketable investment: if art is attributed a higher meaning than the simply ordinary money-making, if art implies the artist’s constant commitment, and given that artistic disposition, creative impulse and examination of art cannot be separated from the rest of one’s life, how then to determine the value of artistic labour?
When dance art is concerned, the modernist emancipation of art, starting with early modern dance, turns to the emancipation of the body, pointing to the authenticity of movement reflecting one’s inside. Such emancipated body is a prerequisite for the ontological connection between dance and “the flow and continuum of movement”.4 Another relevant moment is the split with this modernist point of view – very much in the spotlight in the 1990s – as well as the changes in dance production, whose impact is still visible today. A shift from dancing production to the analysis of dancemaking conditions and methods, apart from removing dance from physical labour and establishing it as a thinking practice, has also affected the separation between dance and choreography, in which choreography emancipated as an issue of relations5 affecting materialisation, with dance as just one of the forms of its embodiment. A resistance towards production labour as an oppressing capitalist leverage which dance could not break up with by singling itself out as an independent domain was on the rise in the nineties, and it first evidenced as a resistance to movement, growing with time into a resistance to artistic products, i.e. performance-making. Focusing on process orientation, exploration and different forms of lecture performances, organising collaborative events and discussions on work, inviting audience to open rehearsals and presenting different stages of a project minimises physical labour. Half-finished products pile up, as opposed to “dance that cannot yet begin and bodies full of never achieved potential.”6 Refraining from dance blurs the boundaries between disciplines and work duties, which to a certain extent improves precarisation, but damages hierarchical competition and work organisation, favouring collaboration and participation developed as dance skills. Relinquishing physical labour as a sort of control of the level of training or polish of movement, according to dance theoretician Bojana Kunst, was replaced by a new kind of “virtuosic control”, the imperative to make dancing labour visible and a dancer continuously present and ready for a “permanent exposition of the methods of work, processes and approaches to movement.”7 In other words, the labour of dancers is connected with an examination of subjectivity. This is where the post-industrial capitalism shows its strength, because it appropriates affective, linguistic, cognitive and experiential mechanisms, and erases differences between categories of work; production character changes and it is the production of subjectivity that becomes the main preoccupation.8
As far as the Croatian scene is concerned, the nineties were interesting for several reasons. Firstly because of the regime change, and secondly because of the appearance of new players about to shape the non-institutional scene in the 2000s we know today. In our country contemporary dance has always lived outside institutions, in a somewhat different form, which means that artistic activity in uncertain and unregulated conditions was no novelty. This was probably another thing that made an impact on the acceptance of work as imposed by neoliberal production: project-based funding, adaptability, mobility, focus on collaboration, blurring the line between working hours and free time etc. Such circumstances stimulate competitiveness among dance practitioners, as well as point to a need for collective action in order to position themselves politically, as well, in their demands for improvement of working conditions and re-evaluation of existing production models. This time I would not dwell on the changes caused by the transition from the socialist to the capitalist regime, but rather only indicate that the contemporary dance scene has adopted ideas and action mechanisms from previous periods. Primarily in terms of unionising and solidarising, again partly backed by the fact that players on the dance scene inevitably depend on each other because the institutional framework does not exist or is still at a very early stage. Then there is the idea that the state is obligated to protect art as a common good. Particular environments show that this does not necessarily have to be the case and that art is equally exposed to the market like any other business. Furthermore, both the system and the art scene have adopted the principles of neoliberal production and it is in fact hard to define what market is in our situation, because it does not exist in the real sense. The state budget allocates a certain amount for culture, inadequate for all the beneficiaries, a few of which also draw funds from European sources and international projects. However, most artists do nothing or very little to secure additional funds from the business sector or by selling their work, except at odd occasions of taking part in festivals, mostly locally. Naturally, the question is who they would even sell their work to. The current project-based culture funding model makes it possible to all the existing beneficiaries to enter open calls by equal criteria, without work status differentiation. Why should they, one could say, everybody has equal rights, equal access to information, equal possibilities of applying to open calls and equal employment possibilities, and no one expects that an artist’s existence should depend solely on the money granted for a particular project. Nevertheless, a freelance artist and an artist with a full-time job in similar profession or some other business, also artistically accomplished by implementing projects, are not in an equal position, although their effort and work might be equal. Also, apart from the Fund for Others, launched in 2017 by the director of Queer Zagreb Festival, Zvonimir Dobrović, and dance artist Bruno Isaković to support independent and activist projects by individual donations and funds collected from the public sector, there are no other examples of solidarity in the form of concrete financial aid for emerging artists or artists in a more precarious position. As a principle, the concept of joining in a fight for a common goal exists, but in the end very few would support others unless there is a personal gain involved.
The recent participation in the discussion The System in Which Art (Dis)Appears Today, part of the programme Future II – A Space for People and Dance, organised by the Croatian Dancers Association and Association of Professional Dance Artists Puls, held recently at the 19th Platforma HR festival, only confirmed many illogical aspects of gathering into a collective protesting entity, of which I shall single out those I find important for the matter at hand. The aim of the discussion was to “examine infrastructure for contemporary dance art in Zagreb and advocate for a socially more responsible management of public and common goods in the city.”9 This was the direction the discussion went in, in principle, stressing the fact that most of the gathered participants did not see the Zagreb Dance Centre under current management and subjected to a drama theatre as a place where the dance scene should be active and search for alternative options. And the dance scene rightfully opposes the subjection of a dance institution to the scope of a drama theatre, which puts dance in an unequal position in relation to other art. However, the problem is to persist on relocating to rundown spaces, such as the former craft shop where the programme of Future II took place, as well as to not using the existing resources, the only ones specifically intended for dance, and contesting the ZDC management – Zagreb Youth Theatre, which took over the Centre in collusion with the city government (like all other theatres in the city and most city and state institutions). Rundown urban spaces can be repurposed into a meeting point for the dance community and curated side events, but they cannot replace a suitable space needed for rehearsals and dance creativity. Regardless of the legitimacy of electing board members of the two professional associations under which auspices the discussion was organised, expressing a view on the ZDC on behalf of the entire dance scene does not seem right. It is much easier to try and bring it down when one has something else in store, teaching or making fine arts, for example, or if the author does not need training and rehearsal space for accomplishment in dance because they have given up dancing long ago (by their own aesthetic choice or rejecting the current conditions out of moral or other convictions), then when a freelance artist wishes to embody dance and shape it into a performance. It seems particularly dangerous to impose views on up and coming generations of dancers, recent academy graduates, as though the only solution is an either-or– to acknowledge ZDC’s legitimacy or stand against it – instead of believing they would be capable of creating their own values and finding roads of their own. Because otherwise the long desired academy of dance, launched as a department of dance at the Academy of Dramatic Art (!), which in its educational approach insists on dancing dance, will be producing dancers with no place to dance. Another problem is the transferral of divisions and relations from the existing system to this temporary heterogeneous set, since then the abolishment of hierarchy and equality – to which this set appeals to – become illusory. Art has both the power and the duty to examine itself and the mechanisms of doing it. However, resistance to production, proven to be motivated by external reasons (political delegation) reflecting on dance matters and expressed in the act of communication, produces a homogenising principle and new production conditions with an impact on the aesthetics and performative formats. Moreover, the incessant re/production of conditions actually favours the market, or more accurately, our simplified version of it. Paradoxically, the scene is returning to the idea of dance art’s autonomy, while it is obvious that it depends on the market/state against which it takes a political stand with its demand for autonomy10, on the level of an organised or choreographed resistance, invoking participation, whereas on the aesthetic level politics is visible as a means of changing the system. On the overall, for dance it would be most dangerous to become a platform for political struggle with bringing down the unwanted government as the central objective, and improvement of creative conditions as merely a possible side-effect.
The Future II discussion is only an example of increasingly frequent meetings which could be identified as a social performance or social choreography (Andrew Hewitt) of sorts, since they correlate between aesthetics and politics, and choreography is not realised as structure of movement but rather as a conceptual structure whose performativity is implied by existence in public space and a targeted act of communication. The participants of these meetings acknowledge one another by advocating common values and shaping the space of political agitation. Collectiveness, participation and pursuit of the same goal as a pledge of a potential future one, regardless of the attainability of this future one and of how the consequences of relinquishing production might change the dance environment, come to appear as more valuable than investing in physical work and individual aesthetics. At the same time, joint resistance is deemed a necessity and standing up for aesthetics as detachment and depoliticising, i.e. as failing the community, art or ethics.
Unlike the artists who reduced their activity to discursive practices, there are still those who stick to the connection between movement and dance, creating performances thematically removed from the discourse on work. Some dance authors, on the other hand, implicitly examine dance in actual conditions, with regard to the content of the performances and to the form of work. Irma Omerzo, for example, in her recent dance works To the Bone (Do kosti, 2013), Performers(Izvođačice, 2014), As I Walk (U hodu, 2015) and Differentiations(Razlikovanja, 2017), unlike earlier works where she directly drew attention to the precarious work of dancers, focuses on the matters fundamentally pertaining to dance, to the moving body, to the distinction between walk and dance, why perform, how to earn visibility in the system that continuously marginalises dance and where to find the motivation to keep going. Also in her recent work, maintaining the aesthetics, and I primarily refer to Variations on Sensitive (Varijacije o osjetnom, 2014) and all three Choreographic Fantasies (Koreografske fantazije, 2013, 2015 and 2018), Marjana Krajač focuses on the essence of choreography as opposed to other performance paradigms. On the other hand, the creative team of Glacier(Glečer, 2015) and Glacier Extended (Glečer Extended, 2017), Pavle Heidler, Ana Horvat, Silvia Marchig and Sonja Pregrad, abandon the choreographic shaping of movement, resisting a fixed and definite performance and underlining dancing labour and work on the performance as it takes place. Different performative formats to move away from the usual representation and terminate the distinction between rehearsal and performance, since artistic dance labour implies both, refusing to subject themselves to the domination of unequal funds distribution and making products that support such economy, persisting on the development of choreographic practices are also sought by Pavle Heidler, Ivana Rončević, Ana Jelušić. The project Task, the brainchild of the graphic designer and dance author Martina Granić, realised since 2011 under Platforma HR, considers the possibilities of collective authorship. Promotion of the collaborative principle on the level of sharing author’s responsibility has not always resulted in the desired democratisation of work and collective authorship; on the contrary, highlighting each stage of work in Taskintensified individual authorship. Many others also focused on seeking a suitable performative form to alleviate economic processes, as well, for instance, the Slovenian artist Gregor Kamnikar, active in the past several years on the Croatian scene, who devoted to the format of play etc.
Among the artists who round up performative work with a performance are those who directly focus on labour. These are mostly authors active internationally, who have experienced the demands of a true artistic market, either through occasional collaborations or authors who chose other scenes as their home turf. Collaborating with different international platforms and projects that focus on artistic labour, the BADco. collective in different performances examine the changes in work and their consequences, among which the most obvious are 1 Poor and One 0 (1 siromašan I jedna 0, 2009) and Spores (Spore, 2016). In their project Value Is a Dynamic Surplus of Any Action (Vrijednost je dinamični suvišak svake funkcije, 2013/2014), Marjana Krajač and Sonja Pregrad draw attention to movement as an object and the surplus every object produces as a given, i.e. the value inscribed into the object beyond the production control. This surplus is particularly important in the sense of choreographic endeavours removed from concretisation in the form of dancing, which shift the focus onto a reflection on dance and the linguistic, affective and cognitive aspects of work. The creativity of Jasna Layes Vinovrški, who is not even considered a Croatian author11, has since her emerging creative efforts been characterised by the possibilities and value of artistic labour in repressive regimes and under the pressure of post-industrial economy. In Staying Alive (2015), part of the international project Migrant Bodies (Migracijska tijela)12 before the refugee crisis went in full swing, which speaks about control systems conditioning migration flows, she makes a mention of the position of an artist building a career outside their country of origin. Bureaucratic systems, sometimes better and other times worse structured, are equal in their rigour and lack of interest in the human and in individual problems, including artists and their needs. In Lady Justice (2016/2017) the author expands the issue of human and artistic liberties onto the dependence of artistic labour on market factors. Among other things, she focuses on residencies as a widespread model of artistic labour, which, with other temporary formats of work such as workshops or occasional collaborations, aim at flexibility, mobility, availability, networking as the crucial determinants of artistic labour today, simultaneously assimilated by neoliberal production. Agreeing to creating in isolated conditions, which improves concentration on work because creativity is unburdened by daily life, away from the usual context and the local community, as well, artists agree to produce in dictated conditions, to fulfil obligations related to the presentation of themselves as artists, their artistic strivings and plans, they agree to produce a process, research or another expected product, trying to present themselves in the best possible light, which will bring them another residency or collaboration. By creating from one residency to the other, from one collaboration to the other, artists agree to be part of a bigger process, a market game in which their creating is only one of the many links in the chain and the real control over creativity is only an illusion.
These authors, of course, are not the only ones to innovate formats or focus on work in performances as a subject matter, but they express it more consistently. Among the youngest generation of authors, Antonia Dorbić, Marta Krešić, Lana Šprajcer and Danijela Vukadinović should be underlined. In Sketches(Nacrti, 2017) they correlate the materiality of objects and the immateriality of dance, production labour and artistic labour, work that leaves behind a material trace and work that produces ephemeral products, bearing in mind the complexity of the evaluation of work in performing arts. By juxtaposing objects, sketches, notes made during the process and other material remains, and movements, and by subjecting them to the same choreographic principle, their materiality is examined as a building material, accentuating the fact that both tangible and intangible objects can be equally productive and unproductive, artistic and non-artistic.13 Even before Sketches, a part of the creative team, as students, occupied themselves with performative work, work on performances and performance work compared to machine work and mechanical organisation of movement, as well as material and immaterial work (the dance performance Stitches /Šavovi). Their involvement testifies to the immersion of the youngest generations of dancers in the matters of work and obsession with conditions of creating. This also confirms the fact that today dance cannot be examined or created in isolation, away from the production circumstances, and cocooned in the autonomy of art. Quite the contrary, dancers in different ways depend on the environment they create in, and physical labour makes them capable of exploring their own aesthetic and kinaesthetic assumptions in order to conquer the capitalist dominance of subjectivity as an instance of ongoing transformation and progress. Perhaps the solution does not exist, but why deny the potential of possibilities in advance?