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introduction

Critical Endeavour 2012 was hosted by danceWEB / ImPulsTanz Vienna International Dance Festival, in Vienna. The programme started on Thursday, 26 July and ended on Saturday, 11 August. Preparation had started in February 2012 when Rio Rutzinger contacted me to ask whether I would be available to be the mentor, a proposal which I gladly accepted. This report summarises the main lines in preparation, conception and delivery. It also outlines some difficulties and proposes points for further reflection with regards to a clearer profile for future editions.

 

thematic focus

The 2012 edition was the second one that did not involve the invited participants to act as the Jury for the “Prix Jardin d’Europe Award”. The question was therefore how to prepare a programme that would make use of the freedom provided by this absence of a clearly defined function while offering a rich and fruitful learning experience. During the discussions held early in 2012, it was stipulated that this thematic focus would be twofold:

  • investigate on general issues of criticism in a rapidly changing and expanding arts world in which genre definitions and segmented expertise are not longer sufficient to create qualified discourse on artistic projects;
  • bring in expertise from various domains of expanded publishing, shifting the interest from classical formats such as newspaper, magazines or radio / TV

With this twofold focus, Critical Endeavour 2012 wanted to strengthen the artistic perspective on own writing practice as well as enlarge the field of public discourse.

Therefore, neither classic journalistic tools nor a limitation to dance writing were at the centre of this year’s edition. (see the point on working sessions)


participants

The group of Critical Endeavour 2012 consisted of ten nominated participants (see list) plus one guest at the invitation of ImPulsTanz (Ori Lenkinski, Canadian born and currently living and working in Israel). According to the open scheme, no specialising in dance and dance writing were necessary to be nominated. Thus, the group was quite heterogeneous both in background as well as in age and in articulate interest in the field.

While basically not a problem for the set-up and delivery of the programme, it turned out that this variety did bring problems in the cohesion of the group and the level of participation. As some participants did have prior philosophical, media technology or academic training, whereas others were basically involved in own artistic practice, not all the working sessions seemed to appeal equally to the participants. This in turn created some tension in the group-building process and led to slightly resisting attitudes with certain participants.

On the whole, though, there was a welcoming atmosphere to the different work proposals. But it must be stated that this was never unanimous.

working sessions

Five experts were invited to serve as teachers and discussion partners during the two and a half weeks of Critical Endeavour 2012. As the time was slightly shorter than in previous editions and the presence of the experts extended in comparison to other organisational models, some of the input was happening in parallel, with two experts being present the same day. This was partly due to organisational and scheduling necessities, partly a proposal to develop joint sessions. However, as each of the experts came with a specific programme, it turned out to be unfruitful to combine certain ideas and proposals. So the days were split in morning and afternoon sessions, with experts coming in either to one or the other. On the whole, this reduced the time for each expert to share with the group and consequently diminished the fullness of the achieved outcomes.

 

Claudia La Rocco largely worked on ideas of writing as a physical activity that involves not only sensorial presence in the act of viewing, but also body movement and body awareness in the process of translating observations in textual coherence. She proposed sessions of automatic writing on physical experience (e.g. laying on the ground for 30 minutes while a partner was observing, then writing on the observed experience both for the laying and for the observing person), on “scavenging on words”, i.e. roaming about the workshops at Arsenal trying to catch words and then use them for own writing, out of the original (teaching) context. Her laid back way of exchange, the outreach into the various festival activities and her accounts of what she calls “Performance Club”, an informal social media initiative, were largely appreciated by the participants. La Rocco also prove helpful in preparing the “Salon critique”, the public appearance of Critical Endeavour. (see the point on results)

 

Pieter T’Jonck is the only expert who was involved in all of the five CE editions since 2008. His method and thematic focus is in a way radical as he systematically calls in question any routine and also many preconceived notions on critical writing. In his introductory lecture as well as in the discussions on work seen during the festival, he challenged notions of “responsibility” or “skill” and insisted on the clear distinction between journalism and criticism, true criticism being outside the journalistic sphere. He opened up a very large perspective of “Criticism as art”, but also troubled some of the participants. However, his focus on viewing rather than interpreting serves as a great means to sharpen the own practice. “What did you see on stage?” is an extremely helpful question, rather than “What did you understand?”

Angela Vadori proposed a condensed, yet very hands-on oriented session. She asked each participant to select one topic on which they would like to write, then organised preliminary research, individual feedback and helped in specific writing practice. The aim was to publish all the material produced in her session on the blog. This practical experience was likewise greatly appreciated by participants who often felt overwhelmed by the festival’s and the workshop’s input and could not organise themselves so as to write in the off-hours.

Boyan Manchev was invited to introduce into some essential terms, concepts and historic aspects of criticality in modern art. At the outset, he spoke about the 1920s initiative le by George Bataille to work on a “Critical Dictionary” (as part of the short lived publication project “Documents”, 1929 to 1930). During the discussions, it proved very helpful to come back on widely used, but unfocused terms such as “representation”, “potentiality” or “situation”. He did not, however, include writing exercises in his work sessions, which caused a slight dismay in some participants.

Marlon Barrios Solano was the expert invited for the longest period of time due to his widespread knowledge of social media in relation to artistic contexts and their application to contemporary dance work. The aim was to prepare a “Finissage Lounge”, introducing and documenting some of the new media possibilities and the reactions / applications of these by participants reaching out into the festival. As his intervention was scheduled to happen in the last week and would have demanded quite intense involvement, the project needed to be altered and downsized. Still, the interest in his work was too mitigated. The common project for a final presentation on Saturday was therefore not pursued.

results

The outcome of CE 2012 is rich but at the same time loose. Each participant was free to choose their specific points of interest, pursue their own writing or investigation projects and follow the festival’s activities in an individual way. As mentioned above, not all of the participants profited in the same way from this offer, some feeling somewhat lost at times, or giving sign of frustration when discussions in the group were going to different directions than they might have expected.

Nonetheless, the blog (http://www.jardindeurope.eu/ce12/) gives proof of many contributions, reflections and directions that were taken during the workshop.

After the first week of the CE project, the group prepared a public appearance called “salon critique”. It was taking place at the Arsenal building in the room reserved for the danceWEB invitees. The idea had been to create “islands” around three key topics: Responsibility, What is the contemporary and Criticism & Art. Islands consisted of a core group of three participants that would talk about the topic in question, a basket of fruit, a small lamp and a computer connected to a beamer on which live writing was possible. As the event did not meet with big public interest, it is difficult to talk about it in terms of impact. However, the event was important as a group buildung process. Both Pieter T’Jonck and Claudia La Rocco were assisting this appearance.

Also, some participants regularly contributed to their home media about the ImPulsTanz festival. I do not have detailed knowledge about these contributions, though.


some (auto) critical remarks

 

It has become clear that some problems both in the planning and organisation of this year’s Critical Endeavour have emerged. They concern the following issues:

  • The specific focus might not have been defined in a way clear enough so as to communicate to the nominated participants that it was essentially their own workshop that should have been created, according to their specific interests, concerns and questions.
  • As the programme was quite intense with the invited experts, too little time remained for monitoring and mentoring sessions. This might have helped to plan more specifically, to be more reactive to certain demands, to clear up misunderstandings and to digest the input of invited experts.
  • As there was no immediate need that all the group see the same shows, it so happened that with one or two exceptions, never had the group assisted to the same performance in due time so as to enable common discussion. While personally I do not see this as a major problem, it did add to the confusion.
  • Even though I noticed some of the difficulties at an early stage, I as a mentor chose not to intervene in the sessions of the invited experts, feeling that it was their conceptual decision to do what they did. This “non-interventionist stance”, in retrospect, seems to have been less helpful as I had thought. Indeed, one of the points raised in the final feedback session was the uncertainty of my own function and availability for teaching.

 

notes for future editions

From all of the above, I would make the following suggestions / remarks for a profile of future editions:

  • necessity of public appearance, both in writing and in discussions
  • define obligations for the participants and communicate them beforehand
  • ask a letter of motivation or focus of participation from the nominated participants so as to know better the varying interests
  • only one working session per day of three to four hours, with individual meetings and coaching ad libidum in the afternoons

 

conclusion

Critical Endeavour is an extremely important and future-oriented project. Its potential lies in the research with regards to the interaction between art practice and translational processes that are essential for contemporary art, both movement-based and otherwise. In order to keep the high standard, some precisions should be envisaged that could help the preparation and delivery of future editions. This precision will have to concern both the practical aspects and set-up of the inviting institution and the engagement / involvement of participants. While remaining wide and open as to desired outcomes, a focus should be developed that allows for structured work / exchange and communication of the programmes findings to an interested public, thus providing more immediate satisfaction to the participants.

 

Franz Anton Cramer, August of 2012


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