Talking about it

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Yesterday evening – after performances by Hungarian duo bodylotion co-dance and German duo Quast & Knoblich – there was a talk in the foyer about duo work moderated by Danish/Swiss duo Chuck Morris (in which one of the two artistic directors at the festival Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt is part).

The talk intended to address questions concerning production conditions when working in two.

Questions regarding equality/equity were brought up and the moderators sought several times to kick-start a debate by giving examples of how they themselves as a duo reflect upon production conditions and what these mean for their practice and the works they create together. Unfortunately – and this was more or less same scenario at the warm-up talk in Malmø last week – it didn’t create much resonance in the interlocutors. It seemed as if these questions were more or less new to them – or as if they just weren’t given too much attention prior to the conversation. And this is in itself interesting. Because how come these seemingly absurd questions (about economy, how to collaborate when in distance, how to share work load when one has a child etc.) do not get their rightful attention? I mean, production conditions is an essential factor in every single work of art.

It was as if the conversation never really grew because the foundation of it wasn’t in place. Perhaps there’s some kind of resistance towards talking about these matters – money matters – an insistence on separating business and privacy.

The moderators ended the conversation suggesting to dare talking about economy in relation to artistic production; “We highly recommend it,” Cecilie said.

And so do I.  Questioning money-matter and production circumstances within the arts is far from anything new – but with the advent of neoliberalism, artists all the more should be doing so. Artistic production and artistic life is more integrated into the economy than previously and the precarious work – that working with art mostly is – becomes a model for labour in a wider perspective. Collective affairs are masked as individual problems – by extension, we talk about self-precarity versus structural precarity without really understanding how these concepts are intertwined.
One can start by reflecting upon the means of the conditions regarding one’s own artistic practice and understand the impact they have – also in a more general perspective concerning working conditions within the wider cultural field.

Yes, let’s start talking about it.

Buy this book!

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This is no longer an add-free blog. I will have to advertise a few things. Mainly books.

First in line is the recently published Artist at Work – Proximity of Art and Capitalism by philosopher, dramaturg and performance theorist Bojana Kunst.
Kunst was present at the first edition of Works at Work where she gave a lecture on solo work and took part in the symposium with political theorist Isabell Lorey and contemporary dancer Kasia Wolinska – moderated by art historian Mikkel Bolt.

Kunst is a pioneer when it comes to addressing issues surrounding the conditions of artistic production today and questioning the autonomy and power of art in a Neoliberal context.
Precarity in relation to artistic labour is a central issue in her writings – an issue also very essential at Works at Work – perhaps more so last year with the theme of the solo worker – but certainly also this year in relation to collaborative work- and economy conditions.


“It started with a kiss”

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by Hot Chocolate.

Couldn’t help but playing along the line of yesterday’s conversation between Siegmar Zacharias and Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt; a dialogue obstructed – or generated – by the premise to initiate every input in the conversation with a song title. An exercise in the mastery of associating and a rather entertaining way to expose laws of conversing.

What I instead wanted to point out with the kiss-reference was something we discussed on the train to Malmø last Friday; the peculiar love affair between two parties in a performance duo. Well, in most cases it isn’t really a love affair in that ordinary sense, you know. But apparently some sort of love there is. One is likely to call the other one his or her duo partner. And more over, one can experience feelings of jealousy if the so-called partner engages with other performers – not to talk about the eventual break up which can be immensely hurtful, leaving the left one in deep, long-lasting sorrow.

And this is where I’ll be that one who quotes from a hopelessly non-contemporary source.
Rollo May, an old fashioned American psychologist (very  annoying reading from a non-heterosexual viewpoint), mostly active in the late 1960s and 1970s, did have a few good points about love – and will. And especially his approach to the many facets of love can be rewarding. In a way. Not so much perhaps. I’ll mention it anyway.
May specifies five sides of love:

  • Sex : Lust, tension release;
  • Eros : Procreative love, savoring, experiential;
  • Philia : Brotherly love, liking;
  • Agape : Unselfish love, devotion to the welfare of others;
  • Authentic love : Incorporates all other types of love.

I’m not going to dive into details about it, but I’d like to just add these concepts of love to the above mentioned discussion about whether to talk about love in the context of artistic duo-collaboration. One can safely speak of love – because no collaboration is likely to be successful without Eros, Philia and Agape. Okay, I guess we’re stuck on the border of Sex. My point is crumbling a bit.

But look at this then:
“Eros cannot live without philia, brotherly love and friendship. The tension of continuous attraction and continuous passion would be unbearable if it lasted forever. Philia is the relaxation in the presence of the beloved which accepts the other’s being as being; it is simply liking to be with the other, liking to rest with the other, liking the rhythm of the walk, the voice, the whole being of the other. Philia does not require that we do anything for the beloved except accept him, be with him and enjoy him. It is friendship in the simplest, most direct terms.” (May, Love and Will, 1969)

Eros, which is essential to creative production, needs the stability of a long-lasting collaboration to continue being active. What duo partners often mention is the period that follows in the wake of the first project as being a period of conflicts. Like when a roaring infatuation subsides. – But then the real cooperation begins to take shape. And This is where May’s point about will comes in. We need to decide for it too. We need to choose the our work partners. Not once. Not twice. But over and over again.

Okay okay, I know. It’s a namby-pamby post this one. But one cannot avoid sliding into the connotations of love when discussing the matter of duo work. I’ll make sure to be a little less fluffy when hitting the subjects of money and precarity.

“Ain’t gonna kiss ya” by The Searchers.


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I might as well introduce myself. My name is Maria Bordorff. I’m this year’s writer in residence at Works at Work, and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on duo-collabs, precarity, performance art, artistic labour and life, means of artistic production in a Neoliberal context and what else to come in mind during the festival.

I recently finished my MA in Modern Culture at Copenhagen University. Besides, I’m a freelance writer with a starting curatorial practice. I’m based in Copenhagen.