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After a national wide public call, danceWEB chose Nicholas Hoffman (AT) for this residency organized by Station in collaboration with the Regional Creative Atelier “Jozef Nadj”in Kanjiza. Nicholas Hoffman spent two
days in Belgrade to mee local artists and started working on his proposed project ideas.

In Kanjiza, he further developed the ideas that dealt with tourism and the body in a foreign space, using the spaces of the Kanjiza spa populated by many tourists in the spring season.

Nicholas Hoffman presented his work-in-progress “I am happy to be here” to the local audience in the frames of the regular programme of the Atelier “Jozef Nadj”. The project was further elaborated after the residency and presented in Poland and Austria.

 

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report by Nicholas Hoffman

I was extremely excited to be accepted to the Wild Card residency. I had never been to Serbia before and until Katrin Roschangar at TanzQuartier Wien mentioned the possibility for submitting an application to the Wild Card program, I had not thought a lot about visiting Serbia. However, given the wonderful time I had, the complete freedom and support that was granted to me for developing my work, and the fine people I met along the way, I will most definitely be going back to Serbia in the future.

My expectations for Serbia were something along the lines that I would be completely isolated, alone and unable to talk to anyone. I figured I’d learn somehow to say “hello” and “thank you” but aside from that I would probably be on my own. And while this struck a deleterious tone deep inside me, it was also a wonderfully exciting thing to foster. Talk about isolation! But as one of my projects was looming over my head a bit too much, I was mostly expecting to run off to Serbia so I could have complete focus and work intensely on a new project that would hopefully develop even after I left Serbia.

My proposal focused on the codes and tropes of tourism and how these could be used as a means for choreography or performance. So I asked for as much information on tourism in Serbia as possible. One thing that I started to become interested in as I sifted through all this information was the fact that I was totally alone in a strange hotel in a new city. And so I started staging photos of myself in my hotel room. I staged photos of me researching the city, with maps and books and my shoes set into the photos. I took photos of the tiling patterns in my bathroom, and photos of my shoes on the hotel carpet. I wanted to somehow start embodying the role of the tourist and elements like maps, shoes, books, guides and especially the hotel room seemed like good signs to use. So photography seemed like an adept medium to start with.

My time in Belgrade was wonderful, and while I only had 3 days to trek around the city and take in as much as possible, I still feel like I received a fair impression of the city. I was a bit sad to
have to leave the city for the countryside but I knew that this would afford me the best conditions for focusing and concentrating on developing something new.
My work came together very strangely actually. I was struggling to make something that really connected to choreography and tourism, because I was the tourist, and it was quite difficult to observe myself as a tourist and artist simultaneously. Object oriented work was near impossible because Kanjiza only has these strange cheap shops with imported products from China, and no places for artists to buy casting materials or special papers to use. But since I was exploring photography while in Belgrade, it seemed appropriate to use this medium as a vehicle for a work devoted to tourism.

I realized one morning I had to mail a package so I set off for the Post Office. After 45 minutes of trying to explain to the employees through words and quickly drawn sketches that I wanted to buy a box, a man came out with the only box the post office owned, which I acquired for 40 Dinara. This bright yellow over sized box seemed a bit special for me actually and I just could not part with it, though I could not say why at the time. The more I stared at the box in my hotel room the more it enchanted me.
Staying in line with my concept of tourism, I realized I suddenly had a vehicle to explore tourism through: this post box would be a tourist in Kanjiza and using photography I would document Box’s travels around Kanjiza. My process was very straightforward: find a collection of interesting points and spaces in town and snap a photo of Box there. I started to learn a lot about Kanjiza through Box. What types of cars are driven, the importance of the Tisa river, the roofing tile industry and the special Spa that draws many vacationers and tourists to Kanjiza. I put all these photos together into a slide show; reminiscent of something a tourist would do if he/she wanted to show others what his/her trip was like. Then I put Box on my head and recited little stories pertaining to each photo. Weaving a history with fiction to describe Box’s impressions of Kanjiza.

This was a big step for me, firstly because it forced me to explore Kanjiza, to find the places that a tourist would want to see if visiting this town, and secondly because it stimulated the people of Kanjiza as well, I was suddenly known as the strange American guy with the box and the camera walking the city day in and day out, and this was a way for me to finally interact with the public. Also because it was difficult for me to be trapped in the Josef Nadj Cultural Atelier, as the great Josef Nadj himself was working on a new production and I was given little to no studio space of my own. This lack of studio space ended up working out nicely though.

On my last day in Kanjiza I performed the piece, which is called “I’m Just Happy to be Here,” to an audience of no one except my video camera. What I realized about this work is that it needs to be performed for an audience outside of Kanjiza, and that through performing the piece, it becomes a tool for creating an interest in this small city that some may not have heard of before: Box becomes not just a tourist himself, but also a promoter of tourism for Kanjiza. It’s outwardly didactic but also silly and humorous.
I just recently performed the work in Vienna at the Kunstraum Niederösterreich, and I believe I will continue to develop the piece to include more historical facts about Kanjiza as well as more fictional elements, and I am considering learning traditional Hungarian and Serbian dance styles to incorporate into the work.

All in all, I was tremendously pleased with my residency and I think the Wild Card program is doing something extremely important by selecting a location like Kanjiza, Serbia to send artists off to. My time in Kanjiza taught me how to approach my work in an environment where language and communication between artist and community may be at a minimum, thus stressing the importance of communicating through images and performance. For me, residency programs are the most intensive learning experiences and always the best laboratories for expression and experimentation, and I can only hope the Wild Card program and DanceWEB keep utilizing these particular places in Europe to invite artists to. I feel like I left with a project that somehow promotes the unique qualities of Kanjiza and gives reasons for other artists to build a relationship to the town. Also, the two women I met in Belgrade, Dalija Acin Murphy, director of the Nomad Dance Academy and Marijana Cvetkovik at Dance Station were two of the nicest and most helpful people I’ve met in a long time. They were integral in making me feel comfortable and intensely interested in the contemporary Serbian art scene; a scene I am hoping to continue exploring in the future.

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