We could say that there is some education buzz all over Europe at the moment. What would you say about this phenomenon?
On the surface this is an easy question to answer but then if we take a second look it actually offers a complex landscape. Yes, there is a buzz around education, the question is why? The very first concern is related to Bologna and new protocols for higher education in general. Basically this is related to how we understand, conceptualize and distribute knowledge and its production. With the homogenization of education there is a high possibility that it transforms into a literal industry, where the student is being produced in order to become a product attached to certain, predefined prestada. Education, and especially universities, risk becoming mere facilitators of information instead of producers of knowledge, i.e. repeating what is already known instead of producing knowledge.
There are many and good reasons to argue that universities today have lost their potentiality to produce knowledge, but I think it is rather easy to become coquette fighting windmills rather than to propose something productive. It doesn’t really matter if an educational model is disciplinary or controlling, if a curriculum is more or less constructed by the student, changes that really are important are of a structural kind and is concerned with the economy of education. Education has been in an industry at least since Aquinas or Plato and has always been dependent on more or less defined powers and modes of distribution. So the problem is not that it is, but how it is an industry and how it produces and circulates power and exclusivity.
To me it seems most of all that the current hype around education has to do with shrinking economies, and peoples worries of being out of job, have an even smaller office or failing in producing legacy. It is often hard to understand what people find interesting with education since to little of the hysteria is connected to the students, or even teacher’s daily activities.
But then there are also other reasons to be interested in maybe not education but learning process and knowledge production. I think it is possible to detect a trajectory from 1st of July 1981, when MTV was released, until today, with a break in 1989 with the end of cold war, and with a second pillar in 1996 when Hotmail and e-bay were released. The 25 years unfold as a critique of image and display. With MTV, metaphorically speaking, the image became fully assimilated in corporate economies, its critical potentiality was exhausted and its narratives always available for commercial interests. This is a big deal but nothing to mourn, as it also it circumstances that make possible e.g. Sherrie Levine (by the way a totally underrated artist) whose work precisely acknowledge this incorporation.
In dance and performance this is the great period of high tech, both in the sense of the dance and the emphasizing on technical ability, but also in the sense of light and sound design. Long live Bob Wilson. In the 90s the critique of the image in the sense of appropriation collapse and transform into a new wave of institutional critique, or in European dance a critique of the dispositif, or framework, which naturally cancels out the technically amazing performer making us say WOW. What the artist now was interested in was instead the alienation the audience member should acknowledge the conditions of production and thus become critical to capitalism. But you know, it’s a bit easy to criticize a system that has already authorized you, and what happened was that the politics produced often became self-referential and redundant. But it was fun, and shows like Jerome Bel’s “The Show Must Go On”, “Project” by Xavier Le Roy and some of the later work of Vera Mantero really kicked ass. Critique were exhausted and inscribed in commercial interests. To be a critique or produce critique is already an activity inscribed in clusters of economical interests. That was all fine but what wasn’t I think was how failure and doubt were introduced as buzz words.
First image and display and then critique and dispositif. What now? This is where education comes into the image. It is a site not of critique but of critical production, so not of a critique, which always is productive of a detached institution, but of criticality, i.e. the potentiality of non-directional transformation. In respect of image, education is the site of production of images, not of reproduction or economical circulation. Education of course propose a display and so on, but the whole point here is that, education is not producing reproducible products, or text, but instead activate individuals, to involve and empower individuals to make choices on their own behalf. This can be said to be a proto-aesthetics, not to make, or finalize works or art, or whatever product, but produce protocols for others to continue a production. A production that is desired to be emancipating, heterogeneous and individuation. Proto-aesthetics implies to produce circumstances for creative processes, processes that does not exist outside our economical etc. reality but thought is mobility and vague existence is complex to assimilate into corporate interests. What I’m trying to say is that it is logical that we are interested in education today, considering what has happened along side the history of MTV.
On the other hand the obsession with education can also have simple reasons, like e.g. that there are no contemporary educations in dance and performance. And that the art academy as we know it totally sucks. To conceptualize an education is no easy thing, so what we have to do today is really to think twice and make sure that we create educations that are prolific and generative for the expression and its creators and not another domain occupied by the empire of managers.
There is a process of forming an academic dance and choreographic education in Croatia, and there have been different views and initiatives how to set one, what could be your advice? Is it possible to set something really innovative in terms of an education model?
I’d be rich if I could offer a manual for how to radicalize education. Knowledge is a product par excellence today and everybody is looking for the next best thing. In fact the cultural sector is way behind and it’s simply remarkable how conservative we are. Cultural productions worst enemy is itself, and its pathetic belief in autonomy. I think the best idea is to simply start where we stand and begin the workshop. Learning is not dependent on anything else than our creative intensities, and don’t need no building, institution, curriculum or whatever. Today we are spending really a lot of time talking about how and what and when and problem and economy economy economy economy in relationship to education and so little is being done. Let’s instead focus on what the hell it is that we want, or need to learn.
I have often been understood as a rather esoteric character and, whatever it now means, thinker, but in the case of education I’m rather pragmatic. When we speak about education in our fields we tend to speak about one school that can contain all that we together has decided is dance. Of course because we are a small field etc., but I think we should think differently. Let’s make sixteen educations instead, extremely specialized and really tedious. Let’s just flood the educational business with dance and performance education in all kinds of dimension and attitudes, this will be much more interesting.
The discussions around the issue of balance between the emphasis on theory and emphasis on body practice (as a general term) are usually very intense. Now days in European performance landscape we have definitely a number of choreographers working intensively with a broad theoretic approach, so in a way it is becoming, or has already became, some kind of standard also. What are your observations in that issue?
When it comes to education and theory I find rather interesting gaps and inconsistencies. It is not enough to theorize, but I think it is an imperative that we live the theories that we produce. When it comes to concepts of new education there are huge wholes between discourse and action. It’s piece of cake to sit in our sofas with a glass of wine and make up discourse of what the hell an education should be, but it’s not so easy when it comes to who is gonna lock the door or pay for the heating. I must say that my experience in the educational hype, and I have been quite involved, has certainly not been encouraging.
Actually, and I think its an interesting observation, I don’t think that one can talk about a theoretical approach in dance and performance, at least not one that offers an opportunity for a consistent analysis. Choreographers are reading books and from time to time particular interests appear in their choreographies, but there is no dance or performance that I can think of that actually is producing theory. This is an important distinction for me, to use theory to make dance pieces or whatever it is that somebody does and to produce theory, and I don’t mean represent somebody else theory but to produce new theory, new knowledge. To do that it is very good to spend a life time in the library or in theory but it comes down to working with particular methodologies, specific modes of production that has no name yet. Zagreb is the place in the world where dancing or performing theory, or maybe a theory in performance is most tangible and alive. It is to me a landscape with much more interesting relations between thinking and performing than in e.g. Berlin, Brussels or Paris.
Another problem with dance and theory is that it always has to do with what you can see, the representation. What interests me is what theories, or modes of thinking, we apply to the rest of our work. How we organize ourselves, how we deal with economy, collaborate, sell our work, gossip, party, sleep with each other or not, document our work and so on. It’s very rare that I we have discussion on processes and how we think them. And even more important and insane, it is only we – people on stage – the creative motherfuckers – that are supposed to or not use theory or think extensively. What about curators, programmers and others? This is super important, we need theories on programming, a theory of strategies for performance curating.
For me the 90s were very exiting and happy but afterwards we can see that we were rather naïve in how we used theory. Today there is an interesting movement towards theory in action somehow or theories dealing with experience that are circulating in the field. For me this is important that we have somewhat left a semiotic field and are now producing discourses in and of our own turf. This is very good and cool.
Now to your own work: you said in Vienna once "The bad choreographer will not be able to use the dramaturge and the good choreographer does not need one." As I am good acquainted with your work I can quite get what you mean by that, but for the broader audiences, could you explain that point of view on choreographic practice?
The bad and the good is evident. Bad choreographers use the dramaturgy to justify lousy work not to come up with good ideas since that will propose a threat to the choreographer. Good choreographer come up with the ideas themselves and a dramaturgy can be whoever that has a desire to speak about the work. I’m generally skeptical to showings, dramaturges and other kinds of involvement in processes that is based on some kind of institutional distribution of power. You know, the situation of doing a showing for a programmer or something a couple of days before a premiere. That’s totally weird, having somebody that have economical interest in a work but basically knows nothing, to have an opinion two days before show time, and I mean nine out of ten times says brilliant things like: it’s too long? Showings are a very good short cut to mediocrity.
My own work is taking place over two lines of thought. On the one side a practice with an intimate relation to the body and the work that is taking place under International Festival, which is a multi-disciplinary practice where performance is engaged in the sense of protocols and activation and not through the conventional presence of the performer. International Festival function between architecture and performance and take an interest in how performance produce and are productive of relations. Right now we are building a theatre for the festival Steirischer Herbst. The building structure will be temporary and function as an ongoing process, the building process as performance, and we are precisely interested in what theatre as a situation produce more than presenting shows on stage. So in this case it is the theatre as structure or machinery that is the performance. The audience is performing themselves being and in this process we can activate differently how we participate in our environment.
I’m interested in working on expanding what we can know through explorations in, with and through the body. This implies to work against known practices and to refuse to know how to do something. I get very suspicious when somebody says that something ‘works’. If it works it implies that we can fold something into sets of conventions. I’m interested in working towards stuff that doesn’t work, or that we can’t identify as working or not. I have been working a lot with appropriation but lately worked out a methodology, that I of course I’m working on how to escape from – exactly because it works, that is a kind of reversed improvisation, that is build around ideas of discrepancy between reason and the body’s own discourses. For me this is an important issue, to set up modes of production that shortcuts reason, that complexify, not composition, but the circumstances for composition. You see the difference. I’m not interested in complex composition but in the complexity of the discourses that we use to compose anything at all. At the end of the day I think dancing and making dances is just an amazing learning process. And performance is the only art form that interests me, not in the sense of theatre, dance, opera or whatever, but in a wider sense of the word, how performance is the condition for identity, for communication, language and what have we. What I don’t understand is why the hell we stay in the theatre when performance is all over the place and is just there to be used transformed and set on fire.
At the end a difficult one: what is the essence of any artistic action today? Are we making sense or are we making sense?
To involve, activate and empower individuals and groups in society to take decisions on their own behalf.
To produce a possibility of thinking different.
To insist on creating a moment that simultaneously is a place of alienation and of a new happiness.
An interview with author, theoretician and artist Mårten Spångberg, published in 2007 in Magazine for Art and Culture Vijenac. Interviewed by: Marjana Krajač