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Critical Endeavour 2009 was being held within the frames of the Working Title Festival in Brussels from December 2 - 13 in cooperation with the Vlaams Theater Instituut (VTi). The project was consecutively lead by art critics Anna Tilroe and Pieter T’Jonck and had 9 participants: Rok Vevar (sent by Lokomotiva – Macedonia), Angelina Georgieva (Stanica – Serbia), Gina Serbanescu (Artlink – Romenia), Ayrin Ersoz (Bimeras – Turkey), Annamaria Szoboszlai (workshop Foundation – Hungary), Hanna Palmanshofer (DanceWeb – Austria), Eleanor Hadley Kershaw (Southbank – UK), Ines Minten (Ultima Vez/VTi – Belgium) and Sébastien Hendrickx (special guest Ultima Vez/VTi – Belgium). VTi was asked to give contents to the workshop, suggesting the mentors and co-determing the programme. VTi also hosted the workshop sessions.

In this workshop Pieter T’Jonck and Anna Tilroe wanted to ascertain what the right attitude might be for a critic to take towards young and perhaps immature work. They encouraged an attitude whose first step is a meticulous examination of the performance. What exactly is happening? What means are being used? Has (s)he ever seen anything comparable elsewhere – possibly in another discipline – and what makes this work different?

On the basis of this careful analysis the group tried to determine whether the work of art found an answer to its own issues and questions or actually avoided them.
One of the main points for an art critic is putting accurately into words what (s)he saw and thought when watching the performance. During the workshop they tested out a variety of ways of talking about artistic work. In addition to the review, these included the interview.

Critical Endeavour has been a successful and enriching project for VTi on different levels.
As a centre for expertise and information VTi is a logical contact point for critics and journalists. VTi has been developing a trajectory for the promotion of expertise for young art critics. After having organized a series of master classes, an alternative (Flemish) corpus of performing arts critique has been set up in 2007 and is being continued since then. Being engaged in an
international project as Critical Endeavour meant taking a logical step further in this process.

VTi was happy to work together with Ultima Vez and WorkSpaceBrussels. The collaboration was both agreeable and interesting. It offered an insight in two experienced organisations working for emerging performing artists. To set up the workshop in the frame of Jardin d'Europe was challenging and gave the collaboration an extra value.

The workshop itself was very intensive. Participants and tutors watched, read, discussed and wrote during ten days. They succeeded in creating a real working atmosphere during the sessions, where everybody felt that his/her active participation was needed and appreciated. There was a constant exchange between participants and tutor and between participants mutually, based on a great openness and respect. Different backgrounds and practices, different contexts and languages, different levels of experience and styles of writing, it all came together in this workshop. This made it a very enriching experience, both for participants and tutors as well as for VTi.

The tools and tips that were given during the discussions, were often immediately applicable in the practice of the participants. For instance Anna Tilroe’s Ten Commands for being a good art critic. Or Pieter T’Jonck’s principle of first trying to describe as accurately as possible what one sees when watching a performance, before judging it.

However, focusing on practical issues the sessions did not treat broader questions or perspectives such as the relationship between artist and critic and the role of the critic in nowadays’ society. Given the diversity of the group, it would have been very interesting to talk about different media, how to deal with it, how to write for a large public etc.

The workshop sessions were intensive and sometimes very long. Participants saw nearly all the performances or installations of the Working Title festival, which means that mostly they saw two or more pieces per evening. This made the whole of the workshop very interesting, with a lot to discuss, but exhausting at the same time. There was not always enough time left for writing and finishing properly new texts and for reading one another’s texts.

The WorkSpaceBrussels’ website serving as a publishing tool for texts and audio fragments from the workshop was a good idea. It gave a degree of visibility and continuity to the workshop and the gathered material. The tool needs further finetuning, as for online visitors it is not clear enough how it works. Besides, some additional publicity for this online resource might (have) be(en) given. For example by mentioning it on the flyers given to the public during the festival and on the website of Jardin d’Europe. Some help with final editing before publishing texts in a public arena  might be helpful too, as most participants are not used to writing in English and would therefore wish somebody to do a final language check.

One of the main reasons for VTi to be engaged in Critical Endeavour and probably also for the success of the workshop, is a general lack of feedback on young critic’s work. This workshop made this point even clearer. “Being a critic can be a lonesome activity. It is very enriching to share thoughts, ideas, uncertainties and questions. It is the best way to create a new generation of high quality critique” (Ines Minten).

Such workshops are one valuable solution to fill this gap. Next step might be an international, long term platform/community, as participants suggested. As the group as a dynamic functioned very well, participants already took some initiative to make such idea concrete. However, this is not possible without the collaboration of a (network of) partner organisation(s).

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