Works at Work 2016

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At this time tomorrow the festival has started. Works at Work – Group Works. Third and last edition.

My name is Naja Lee Jensen, and I am this year’s Writer-in-Residence. Working mainly as a practitioner in fine art and performing arts I am looking forward to create a textual painting of our four days together. In my own artistic practice I consider myself as an “I”, but I am curious to meet the possibilities of the “WE”. For that reason my focus of attention will be wondering about what a “WE” can be or do – both when thinking about working methods, social landscapes and esthetic expressions – that the “I” can not be or do and Vice Versa.

If you as I are interested in we, I invite you to join this subjective exploration of us – the artists, the audience and the organizers of Works at Work 2016.

The perfect size of two?

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I’m back after a week’s detour so to say, working on a performance project elsewhere in the city.

But nevertheless, I’ve also had the opportunity to reflect on the performance program at this year’s edition of Works at Work – and here are some of my thoughts.

First of all, I’ve been pleased to experience such variety in terms of form and substance. During the few days of the festival, the audience has experienced works ranging from the very minimal, slow performance with a stripped scenography, leaving the details of the body movements to be the main element to the technically advanced performance with a jungle of props and use of video and music. Also, some of the works involved the audience – or actually built the performance piece on the contribution of the audience – while others operated with the audience-as-spectator-from-the-darkened-rows model.

As such, also this year the performances have drawn upon a wider perspective of fields like dance, theater, visual art and even comedy – which is fully in line with the festival’s blurry positioning of itself somewhere between the white cube and the black box. An advantageous position from which traditions related to production within the various affected fields can be revealed and questioned.

Common to the seven performances is the fact that they have been produced and performed by duos – a great diversity of duos in fact, despite them all (except the students) being male-female composed.

In Quast & Knoblich’s sympathetic Fortune Teller, Hendrik Quast and Maika Knoblich complemented each other in a warm, entertaining and partially improvised hot chokolate fortune teller session with the audience. In Jee-Ae Lim and Pijin Neji’s Reprise there was on the other hand a tightly structured relationship between the two performers, whereas in deufert&plischke’s Niemandzeit, Thomas Plischke was practically the only one of the two being visibly on stage as Kattrin Deufert was inside a tent-like structure to which only few of the audiences had access during the performance.

On the train to Malmø Friday before the festival – heading to the warm-up performance by Lisa Östberg and Kim Hjorthøy at Inkonst – I asked the two curators, Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt and Ida-Louis Leclerc Larsen, about the curatorial fundament at this year’s program – besides the fact that they should all be duo performances.
They replied, that they had stressed it should be about duo practices more than merely duo collaborations – meaning they had an interest in the professional and established duo-identity working together over time.

As such, we did not talk much about the single pieces or about how the performance program is linked to the festival on a more thematic level so to speak. It seemed somewhat less important – both during the informal chat on the train and as such throughout the festival. This is not in itself a critique, but it struck me several times, that the performance works themselves fell into the background during the talks, where the main focus was on the production circumstances. I felt a notable lack of references to the works, which had just been on stage moments before – and vice versa; the works didn’t clearly reflect the ongoing discussion about production circumstances related to the duo practice.

In a way, it was easier at last year’s edition of the festival to find the link between the performances and the talks program. Perhaps that’s because the solo performer to a greater extent than the duo reveals the circumstances behind the work. At least it seemed easier to track key issues related to work production and solo practice – such as economy and precarity – in the works themselves, than it has been the case at this year’s festival.

And this is not uninteresting – for how come the duo seems to succeed in establishing and maintaining a distance between the work and the production?

Obviously, being two means shared work load and thereby also shared handling of all the issues there may be during a production period. While a solo work is somewhat more transparent, the duo seems to be able to blur the production conditions preceeding the work. Often, it’s no secret that a solo work has been produced with help from others, and if that’s not the case, the precarity related to doing everything alone sneaks onto stage – perhaps the size of two is perfect in terms of the illusion of the autonomous work. At least the conditions of the work production are somewhat less clear in a duo work.

It shall be interesting to follow up on these reflections in light of the group works next year! Will the group share the transparency with the soloist or the ability to blur with the duo?

Indebtedness and production of relatively independent subjectivity

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Yesterday’s talk in the foyer between professor of Comparativ Literature Frederik Tygstrup and director of SMK – the National Gallery of Denmark – Mikkel Bogh has been occupying my thoughts this gray Sunday. As such, the topics aren’t new for me as I have had a growing interest in these matters for a while. But many good perspectives and new concepts were brought into play – Besides, the conversation was well moderated by one of the two artistic directors of the festival Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt.

Prior to the conversation, there was a reading of the chapter “Debt and Study” from Harney & Moten’s The Undercommons – fugitive planning and black study published by Minor Compositions in 2013. I wasn’t familiar with  this book, so it was all the more a nice surprise that copies of the book were given out to those present – as long as you had someone to share it with, as the books were intended as share books between two people. The reading of “Debt and Study” served as basis for the conversation, which lasted approximately an hour.

The conversation circled around the matter of indebtedness as a mode of being today; debt as an instrument of government. An indebted citizen is a controlled citizen. Sociologist Maurizio Lazzarato speaks in this context of The indebted man. Also thinkers like Franco Bifo Berardi is a key voice in relation to the wider topic of economy and subjectivity.

Frederik Tygstrup pointed to the fact that we are all both the debtors and creditors – and to how this relationship between debt and credit is a fundamental social element in time. With the establishment of debt a social relation is fixed until full repayment – for the most a distant or unachievable status as debt is not only concrete and material but certainly also immaterial – hence an abstract matter.

I come to think of – and this is a peculiar reference I know – The Enneagram (a model of human personality which is principally understood and taught as a typology of nine interconnected personality types). Leaving out all the critic that one could certainly (and would certainly) direct against this model, the second personality type – the helper – is an interesting figure in relation to the topic of debt and social relations. The helper is apparently a very sympathetic figure as it constantly helps others. What becomes clear though, is that the strategy of the helper is to help others only to make them feel guilty; To make them feel in minus and hence to establish a secured social relation in time. The others will always owe to the helper, and so the helper always has the guarantee of social relations. What it all comes down to here is a fundamental fear of loneliness.

In relation to study – and to come back to the conversation – debt is built into the education system as part of the before mentioned instrument of government; In a concrete sense when students are in debt economically and hence forced to work with the system in order to repay; In an immaterial sense when the concept of a study program is understood as the fulfilment of expectations. When so, the system reproduces itself and the possibility of autonomous action becomes less and less possible.

“Teaching autonomy is a contradiction in terms,” Mikkel Bogh – former head of the Royal Danish Academy of Art – said, and added that good education is training through disorganisation and paradoxes in order to – hopefully – be able to create some kind of autonomous subjects. The total independent subject is not a possibility, he said, so perhaps we should operate with the idea of relatively independent subjects instead.

In extension of this, Frederik Tygstrup brought up the notion of interest as being connected to indebtedness and hence to dependency and the lack of autonomy. Questioning our interests in what we study and in what we want to do could be a starting point in direction of a showdown with the society of indebtedness. Disinterest – as brought up by Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt in the conversation – could be a second step. Not disinterest as in apathy and depression but disinterest as in nonappealing, unfittable interest.

I’ve spend some time this Sunday thinking of my interests – and of possible disinterests. I will return with further thoughts on this – as well as with a reflection on the performance program at this year’s festival. Give me a moment to digest.

Read this book!

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Another book advertisement. – This one can be read online though as well as downloaded for free.

Critique of Creativity, Precarity, Subjectivity and Resistance in the ‘Creative Industries’ – an analogy edited by Gerald Raunig, Gene Ray & Ulf Wuggenig, published by MayFlyBooks in 2011.

By critique of creativity is meant critique of the imperative of creativity so present in our society today. Raunig speaks of a renaissance of ‘the creatives’ – he writes:

“In the hype of the ‘creative class’ and the high flights of the digital bohemians, the renaissance of ‘the creatives’ is visibly enacted. On the resonant conceptual ground of creativity, new social functions are unfolding – or are projected.”

Also among the contributors we find political theorist Isabell Lorey – lecturer at last year’s edition of Works at Work. In the text Virtuosos of Freedom: On the Implosion of Political Virtuosity and Productive Labour, she elaborates on the concepts of structural precarity and self-precarity so relevant in relation to artistic labour and life.

In short, the book is great. It makes one reflect on the possibility of overproduction of art – and more over, it makes one consider how far one is willing to go in realising an art practice, under what conditions, and for what purpose?

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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.


I attend if you do

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In the short, nightly questions, I practice in becoming


Not spoken, neither will they be


I clear the ground by filling it

I don’t say I give it up, but what is need to is yours

I am all,

Are you?


Let’s do it without

To hand over, would you ever

For what is need to be

… is that ethical?


I can take that

Here, in front of

It is not about not striking

A taking part, without using

When we make place without taking it, is that it becomes collective? But for what use …


For the sake of the surrounding



Building a wall to continue failing, to survive living inside it

I can tell you, it is a numb

The wall

As well as the interview, two-sided

A directed void of old interactions

In-between question and answer, could you please come back when you have left the room?

In there

A wall to be written on, in

Never loud

Waiting without asking for


Att svälja det stumma

Jag lovar

A promise a gift a threat a singing monologue


En gåva


Shooting opinions, isn’t it smashing


Don’t make your life so hard – take another turn, have a look: att se är inte att tala


Låt det snurra ett varv till

Med dig själv i mitten; undo the autonomous och sjung till varandra


Passing through what architecture constitutes



If whales had guns, or an aesthetical objective

they would take over


That question


Are you a whale?

You have such a special way of singing

You must be a whale

A stuffed animal

Yes, you are a whale

Open for public only on the Election Day

In Swedish that is a joke

Otherwise it is an entering of a mouth

A sort of unconscious, political chewing

Did you know that this is why we have the chewing gum?

To never chose is a constant loosing, a spitting of a substance

Intended for chewing but not swallowing

3000 years in the belly of the whale

Chicle (a natural latex)

Synthetic rubber (cheaper to manufacture)

A passive confirmation is constituted in there

You are


Aren’t you?

Composed of many repeated subunits

In the belly of the whale you cannot spit


Recycling, recycling, recycling


Make it elsewhere

Se dig om efter närmsta nödhammare, nästa nödhammare

I am rethinking the community




You cannot spit in here

You cannot speak in here

Come in


We are transforming it to the one who will enter


I attend if you do