The three-day symposium Working Together Transnationally. Structures, Conditions and Artistic Practices took place from March 31st until April 2nd in collaboration with the European Dancehouse Network. Curated together with the Brussels based sociologist Rudi Laermans and facilitated by Fearghus Ó Conchúir, about 70 international guests and participants discussed and practiced models of solidarity within and between production structures and artists, investigated possible media of collaboration and explored choreographic forms of collaboration.
The first and second day combined panel discussions and impulse statements with working groups. While the first day aimed to develop suggestions and questions on how to improve artistic working conditions in Europe together in a joint movement of artists and institutions, the goal of the second day was to develop a glossary of parameters that facilitate artistic collaboration. On the third day, participants met up in the studio for an introduction to four choreographic approaches to artistic collaboration.
Improving artistic working conditions
By sharing best practices and innovative concepts that try to initiate models of solidarity, fair practices and sustainable and reliable working conditions, the day aimed at identifying key issues, as well as basic standards in order to improve artistic working conditions in Europe.
In two panels the participants gave short impulse statements on different subjects such as:
Brussels and Berlin: Artistic Labour and Precarity in Two European Capitals (Annelies van Assche, researcher, Brussels/Berlin).
Opening Speech (Janina Benduski, cultural producer, Berlin).
Sweet & Tender Collaborations – Exploring Self-Organized Working Methods (Jenny Beyer, choreographer, Hamburg).
Working Together with Public Bodies and Audiences (Roberto Casarotto, artistic director, Bassano del Grappa).
Moving Futures – Network of Dance Structures (Kristin de Groot, director, Rotterdam).
One Step beyond! Risk Taking and Producing (Walter Heun, director, Wien/Munich).
Factor Artists at tanzhaus nrw – Long-term Residencies Stimulating Sustainable Artistic Development? (Bettina Masuch, director, Düsseldorf).
Alternative Modes of Artistic Production in Times of Crisis (Steriani Tsintziloni, researcher/curator, Athens).
The impulse statements served as a starting point for table discussions, which invited all participants of the symposium to exchange and develop a short list of the most urgent issues. The table discussions were led by the speakers of the panels.
In the following plenary meeting, each table introduced the most important questions and results of their talks.
Here is an overview of propositions, questions and themes for further action that emerged in the discussions, as compiled by Fearghus Ó Conchúir:
Working Conditions for Artists: Propositions
In order to develop a plan of action to improve artistic working conditions, it was discussed that the most urgent step is to get to know more about the situation of independent dance artists in different European countries. Research into working conditions as well as the income, tax and social security situations of freelancers in the fields of dance and the performing arts in different European countries can build the foundation for comparison on the European level.
– This should involve a survey of existing research, as well as new research into countries where information has not yet been gathered.
– Data will also give visibility to the imbalances in different parts of Europe, which are increasingly becoming an obstacle for international artistic cooperation and thus reducing access by artists and artistic institutions in some parts of Europe to European funding schemes that require existing financial resources.
– It was recognised that precarious working conditions are not just experienced by freelance artists, and that there is strategic value to linking the research to the wider situation of freelancers and self-employed people across Europe.
– It was suggested that this research could be coordinated by the European Dancehouse Network in cooperation with other umbrella organisations in the fields of dance and performing arts.
– Having data on working conditions would be highly important for political advocacy and for developing minimum fee/working standards in the fields of dance/performing arts in Europe.
Another important aspect in the discussion of how to improve artistic working conditions was the importance of creating flatter hierarchy between artists and institutions. This includes:
– Greater transparency about fees between artists and institutions.
– More equal dialogue between artists and institutions/producers about shared challenges.
– Creating conditions for institutions and artists that enable them to shape history together.
– Helping artists to be informed about political and economic challenges that institutions are dealing with so that artists and institutions can lobby in the political field together.
– Invite decision-makers (producers/institutions/politicians) into emergent creative processes.
– Give time to artists and the public to develop projects and activities together that don’t already have a goal at the start. These emergent processes require patience.
Question and themes, that were raised in the table discussions, but for which time didn’t allow more in-depth talks:
– Does the current funding and production system of performing arts in Europe, as well as on national levels, promote overproduction?
– Could production houses support practice and offer space for research and creation, with its mistakes, solidarities and anarchy, rather than just for products/productions?
– How to foster participatory practices involving audiences that benefits artistic practice instead of mainly becoming a social instrument or a tool for attracting active audiences?
– Is it a mistake to think about artists and public as being separate? Aren’t we all citizens? However, if we make this a ground for equal exchange, what happens to the expertise of the artist? How is it valued?
– How can we pass on knowledge when something dies? When is it time to stop? How do we stop with care?
The media of collaboration
To a certain extent, every collaboration is a social experiment. In an attempt to develop a slightly more objective perspective on this particular mode of togethering, which we call collaboration, the second day focused on the media of collaboration, e.g. friendship, mutual trust, respect and recognition.
In short impulse statements, the participants presented their first approach to a specific medium of collaboration:
On the Use of Digital Communications and Storage Media as Platforms for Creative Co-Collaboration via Collective Text Authoring and/or Editing (Eleanor Bauer, artist, Brussels).
Behind the Collaboration: Presence, Listening, Co-Habitation (Leonardo Delogu, artist, Italy).
Collaboratory (Kristinn Guðmundsson, artist, Iceland).
Listening (Brendan Keaney, director, UK).
On the Bias of Care-Taking (Sandra Noeth, researcher/dramaturge, Berlin).
Protocols and Principles Meet Artistic Collaboration (Biljana Tanurovska, cultural worker, Macedonia).
Who Works with Whom? (Gesa Ziemer, researcher, Hamburg).
The following table discussions and the plenary gave the opportunity to dive deeper into the different suggestions, but also to discuss more general issues of collaboration. While collaboration very often has a highly positive connotation and usually tends to bring together likeminded people, the final group discussion of the day raised the question of how to collaborate with people that don’t generally share the same views. It was mainly connected to the current political developments and the rise of national movements in some European countries. This brought up the issue on how to work together with those you don’t like, whose ideas and thoughts are not commonly/not familiar and not shared, who are usually not widely heard and who contradict current political and social conventions. Again, it became very clear that the political and economic situation in Europe is highly diverse and that it needs deeper research and knowledge in order to understand conditions and efforts of working together in different European countries.
The following short statements build the ground for a possibly on-going glossary of media of collaboration:
Media of collaboration
A medium is literally something that lies in the middle, yet this “middle” is also something that acts as a fluid that relates and through which something can be transmitted. As such, a medium differs from an instrument or a mere resource, which may be used as a means or a quasi-device in a premeditated, calculative way. Friendship and non-sexual “love”, mutual trust, a shared personal interest, reciprocal respect and recognition (eventually sustaining a relationally circulating charisma), the capacity to relate both “professionally” and “diplomatically”, and common value priorities or cultural frameworks are some of the prime media of artistic collaboration. We tend to associate them with the realm of intimate communication, yet productive forms of collaboration precisely cut through the private/public distinction. They therefore also over-code and erode the traditional difference between work and leisure, often with negative consequences such as non-paid or even non-contractually specified labour.
Through the just mentioned media further relations of co-creation or productive cooperation in an intrinsic way, they do not necessarily do so in harmonious mode. Their principal constitutive role can never eliminate the possibility that they start to hamper or block a collaboration, which may eventually result in its destruction. Media unite because they potentially divide: they are both literally symbolic and diabolic, creating consensus because they can be as well a source of (or reason for) consensus. Thus, trust may rapidly turn into distrust because there was that much unwarranted belief in someone’s capacities. Or an artistic friendship can transform into a fierce hate relationship because there was a shared interest in all the senses of the word.
Protocols and principles of “co-existing” in a self-organised collaborative platform
Nomad Dance Academy (2006-now) is a platform for contemporary dance and a model of self-organization that upholds rhizomatic collaborative processes. We have harmonized these processes by means of the principles of balance, invitation and open space, through which we have articulated and ascertained new politics of collaboration. These are based on taking care of each other’s needs, dealing with uncertainty, inclusiveness, taking time, having a dialogue, reflecting (critically)… NDA’s politics of collaboration are rooted in a certain contextual frame (ex-Yugoslavia and Bulgaria), which has resulted in transgressive forms of actions in order to oppose the nationalistic agendas and clientelism of the official institutions, as well as market driven politics of collaboration.
In the art world, principles and protocols are often allegedly regulative and restrictive. NDA never perceives them as given and complete, but sees them as potential processes through which diverse forces are put into constellations that are always specific. Do they regulate or form a mode, which allows diverse media (friendship, togetherness, etc.) and alternative politics of collaboration to appear? We try to use protocols and principles to structure an alternative reality of co-existence that enables us to explore co-learning, co-teaching, co-moviment, co-thinking as collaborative processes.
I have collaborated in many different constellations, as a family member, as a student, as a sportsman, as a scout, as an artist and as a performer. I want to figure out where “I” fits within “we”. Is there such a thing as “I” or do we only exist in “we”?
Building a camp or taking a walk are devices to gather people in public space. Living together, sharing daily actions such as cooking, taking care of others, making common decisions… it is the first collaborative environment. More properly, it is what we call cohabitation. Walking through the landscape, exposing bodies in a “space of visibility”, following signs provided by the environment is what we call “agency”. Cohabitation and agency are the main pillars of collaboration. Looking at both allows us to better understand what collaboration means: a practice of embodying new ways of inhabiting the world. Not producing something together, but being something different together.
Media, currencies, structures
What is the difference between a medium of collaboration and a general faculty of communication? What is the difference between a collaboration and a platform for sharing? Collaboration implies the necessity of a common project, carrying with it some form of common goal and perhaps expectations. How, in (and/or against) an economy and society which finances and honours pieces over processes and practices, can we make space for projects that have other common goals or expectations, such as knowledge production or research? How can we make visible and give credit – both social (recognition) and financial (payment) – to the collective labour force underneath any project or creation? Given that three types of currency support our work – money, recognition, and passion – how can we create situations where everyone involved experiences a fair balance of all three, where passion is not used as a substitute for money, where the importance of recognition is not underestimated, and where everyone is paid for their work time?
The Bias of Care-Taking
Reflection on care as a medium of collaboration does not end with a collective attempt to acknowledge and cherish trust and friendship and humanist values in artistic and curatorial practice. Instead, this proposal is aware of the poisonous potential and the Janus-faced and fragile dynamics immanent to the very idea and practice of care: the power to connect and link ideas, bodies, and people across material and imaginary differences and territories, and, simultaneously, the power to intrude and paralyse the latter. It is a proposal to think about an ethical project in the arts with the body as its centre.
I don’t have a hypotesis or indeed a theory to discuss. I simply have some observations about the importance of listening. I suspect that most people have at least one “megalomaniac” gene, and, without wishing to generalise, or stereotype, many of the creative people I know, appear to have two or more. The key to successful collaboration is making sure that one has a strategy in place to keep these “megalomaniac” genes in check. I am not sure I have yet worked out how to control my enthusiasm for my own ideas. However, I have discovered the disaster that follows if you don’t make time to listen to opinions, ideas and needs of others, who are part of a collaborative constellation or a community.
Who works how with whom? Artistic practice in collaboration with other disciplines
We must encourage discussion on collaboration between dance (artistic) practices and other disciplines such as metropolitan research. Collaboration means working with very heterogeneous actors. Hence, dancers could work with city planners since the latter are trained in city planning, but less in perceiving the city; choreographers could work with landscape architects since the latter are trained in designing public space, but less in how to use it. In this sense, I propose to think and act in terms of transmedia, instead of specific medium use.
Choreographic practices of working together
After discussions on the structural aspect of solidarity, as well as the binding and/or separating effects of collaboration, the third day of the symposium brought people into the studio. Two parallel workshops in the morning and two parallel workshops in the afternoon suggested methods of and approaches to working together artistically, while also involving the body on a practical level.
Eleanor Bauer’s workshop Nobody’s Business was a situational enactment of Nobody’s Business, an initiative set up by Eleanor Bauer in 2015 that wants to facilitate the sharing of practices, knowledge and methods both digitally and face-to-face. As such Nobody’s Business is an initiative for local and international exchange in the performing arts. The ambition is to facilitate the non-exclusive and collective production and distribution of practices, knowledge and methods through specific procedures or meetings guidelines. In the workshop, the participants practised collectivelly writing a text together.
Leonardo Delogu’s workshop temporary settlement took place parallel to Nobody’s Business. It tied in with his presentation on the media of collaboration on the second day of the symposium and aimed at creating a situation in which all participants collectively experience the concepts of presence, listening and cohabitation through walking. Walking in a group, having area to explore, but not a specific path to follow easily becomes an exercise in negotiation and at the same time an aesthetic and political act, and in the end an urban ritual. Thus, the workshop participants went on a silent walk together through the neighbourhood of Kampnagel. There was no indicated route, the idea was rather to find a path together by communicating through other means than words and to finally find the way back to the point of departure.
In the afternoon Eszter Gál’s workshop dance and beyond introduced contact improvisation as a dance form based on the communication between two moving bodies that are in physical contact. Thus the participants went into a shared movement research that focused on a practice of listening and responding to the changing inner and outer environment. The participants practiced relating to each other and the group with contact moves and games. Trust and safety thus turned out to be the key issues and important media of dancing together.
Drawing on the working method practiced by the collective Marble Crowd, Saga Sigurðardottir’s workshop Playing as a Way of Togetherness invited the participants to engage with the topics of the symposium through means of play, suggesting the playful as a practical approach to collaboration: Playing as a way of togetherness – of thinking together, doing together. Participants were offered a playground to “converse” in, that is, to engage with questions, impulses and ideas together through absurd tasks where the imaginative, intuitive and physical is called upon. The participants were split into three groups that alternated in observing and developing landscapes together. Cardboard boxes were offered as basic material for the shared on-going process of building, such as a clinic for Europe, a Japanese garden or a haunted house.