ANTISEZONA, soft resistance:
not entirely a festival, still not a season.
This text was written
following the invitation of the women of ANTISEZONA,
in the period between April 24 and June 5, 2021, while I was present
at three different regional curated events. I wonder how it is to write a ‘commissioned’ text
and be inside and out,
Saturday morning, 1 AM. I’m in Zagreb. I watch through the apartment window as a middle-aged man in a blue T-shirt washes a window. He’s put a light blue cloth on a long pole and threw half of his body through the open window; the window has three wings, he strives to reach the other two, quite far from him. This task is quite demanding. It requires a lot of coordination, strength and stamina, along with some creativity and elasticity. The goal is clear. Inside the room, his 10-year old son watches him. While washing the window and doing it slowly, devotedly, with calm and poise, the man talks to his son. The conversation seems pleasant, relaxed, casual. I wonder if that man might have blue eyes and I wonder what they are talking about and whether it’ s really his son. I find the way his son is watching him very interesting: how he is giving him support, as if aiding him, as if cheering for him. Every once in a while, the man brings in the pole, rinses the blue cloth or adjusts it, and continues washing. The poetry of the everyday, the magnificence of the ordinary. As I watch them, I ponder on the function of my profession: dance. On the function of watching dance. On the spectrum of possibilities of watching dance. I think about the manner in which dance concern us, how it touches us. And I wonder when and why did we reduce the many functions of dance and observing dance to a single, consumerist function: I like it, I don’t like it, I will buy this and next time I won’t buy that. In a sea of products, this is merely another one, not too attractive. How did we comply with this drastically diminished function of ourselves and the other one? Would it be possible for us, like the son cheering his father, to cheer those who we watch on the stage, because they are doing something beneficial to all of us? Is there a way for us to explore what is beneficial to us together with those we watch on the stage, to discover the reason why we are here together? To explore the multitude of our potential roles without clinging to any one of them if there is no need for that?
Ever since I have known Zagreb, I’ve seen that city and its people as an exception in this part of the world, in the sense of understanding the meaning of public good and the readiness to protect this public good with all means. Many situations in the past 15 years have confirmed this perception: the events concerning Varšavska street, Zagreb Dance Center and most recently the local elections. The public good as a common programme, an aspiration towards common successes, but also as being aware of the common nature of problems or accepting a potential conflict as a prerequisite for birthing a new position. Conceiving the world through the realisation that I cannot be well-off as long as the others are not is a feature of one part of contemporary politics and cultural policy, but also of a part of artistic production. I think that this type of policy is in close proximity – if not one and the same – to developing empathy while we watch people dancing on the stage. Hence by practising watching, we practise to delve deeper beyond the shell of life, beyond the appearance, and search for what it does and what it produces. That is why it is so difficult and so gratifying to watch dance.
Although being curated, ANTISEZONA, the Zagreb initiative and the frame for performing – www.antisezona.space – is a format that escapes the idea of festival; moreover, it is too short for a season. Conceived as an idea to distinguish and feature one part of local production in a separate space, ANTISEZONA explores itself through the collaboration of three co-curators, organisers and artists, who present their works in this frame, occasionally surrounding them with works of others. Hence the performances and events enter into dialogue and create new meanings and connections in inter-spaces, meanings that could slip our attention if we were to watch each performance in their own place and in their own time. Yet how can we grasp something that is constantly escaping everything and, while escaping, creating new meanings? Perhaps ANTISEZONA is a single three-day piece in which we sleep, talk, dance and drink together? Perhaps ANTISEZONA is one long workshop – or, after all, a festival, which doesn’t strive to be that and precisely because of that it is even more of a festival, one that changes the idea of a festival? Perhaps the performances of the three authors are a context in which other works take place – or is it the reverse? Or the various works are possibly creating a mutual context and frame, in the co-existence of the multitude? Also – what is the ‘anti’ in ANTISEZONA? It is precisely because of the ‘anti’ that ANTISEZONA appears prescriptive and offers us a possibility of viewing all of our seasons through this perspective; that is why the ‘anti’ could be interpreted as ‘for’: as a proposal of a different season. A season that opens, asks questions, blurs the boundaries and serves as a polygon for learning and not merely as a series of products, which don’t wish for and don’t deserve nothing more than an applause.
Our Ljubljana delegation has arrived to Zagreb upon the invitation of the curators and organisers of ANTISEZONA, although it is perhaps true that, to a certain extent, we have invited ourselves. The first day of ANTISEZONA, Gregor Kamnikar and myself were invited to unravel for the interested ones our long-term practice entitled Obed. We intended to do it by proposing that all of us go through a three-hour process utilising one or two tools extracted from Obed. At first, we were all working in a narrow, bizarre, non-performing stuffy space with a glass wall; then we moved to the big space of the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art on the first floor.
At that very moment, chance decided to bring in Sergej, our long-time friend and colleague, who came to fetch me some materials. Thus, he accidentally became the audience for something that didn’t have the intention of being performed for the audience. It was an immense thrill for me to observe how Gregor and I, up until then immersed into exploring body, voice, space, imagination and other various parameters of research that we agreed upon, were prompted to decide, the moment a genuinely external gaze came in, whether this was a performance or not and whether we were still exploring. We had to find out how to remain within what we were doing, without being pushed out of balance by that external gaze. We were actually pushed out of balance, while this twist from exploration towards performance enabled us to immerse ourselves even more into exploring under scrutiny. Our work has obtained a new dimension, yet another layer of attention. We were observing ourselves doing something, and then all of a sudden, we were able to observe ourselves while being observed by someone else, and see how we reacted to it. Dwelling in those dichotomies and inextricable relations, I found it extraordinarily important that we were having an external gaze – both a gaze of an unexpected audience as well as a gaze outside of our locality, outside of (any) borders. It is only through such a gaze that we are able to realise what is it that we are doing and how it could be interpreted. Only through juxtaposing different viewpoints we are able to see new possibilities. As long as we all agree with ourselves and with the others, we are doomed to remain on the same spot and to maintain the status quo.
I am continuing to write this text between two events: ANTISEZONA in Zagreb and Antistatic Festival in Sofia, Bulgaria, while we are preparing Cofestival in Ljubljana, postponed for the fourth time. As co-curator of Cofestival, I am in dead panic: Will it be possible to carry out at least a part of the planned programme, after 9 months of total lockdown and four date changes? How will the audience, who has grown out of habit to attend live events, react to it and is this programme going to be a full-blooded festival or merely a shadow of something we used to do up until 18 months ago? Why are we incapable of radically changing our approach, devise for ourselves a limited access, and organise time and space so that it’s a win-win situation for all? Why aren’t we capable, even after 9 months of lockdown, to acknowledge that what we are doing is something exclusive – a sort of luxury, meant for a different kind of elite? What compels us to pretend that everything is as it used to be?
Before March 2020, most of us have incessantly travelled; that was our way of life. We were squandering money on airplane tickets and overpriced coffees and sandwiches at the airports. There were many days when we didn’t know in which city we woke up and which day of the week it was. March 2020 has brought a major change. We were thankful that we didn’t have to rush like mad anymore, that we could sit down, relax and deliberate. Yet this period of calm was soon to be followed by something I see as its by-product: what happened was the localisation of artistic work, in some parts even provincialisation, both in a good and in a bad sense. It was an inward turn, getting to know those who are in our immediate vicinity. In Slovenia, my domicile, one of the most usual ways of organising artistic production is through family, i.e. a type of production that involves family members, usually in partnership. Thus, it seems that, eventually, everyone becomes family and people start behaving like in a family even within the working process.
Contemporary art has to be performed in a dialogue with something outside of the local context. Contemporary art has to be international, one way or another. Not because this is the criterion of the applications for funding at the Ministry of Culture and Media or because this way, we appear even more contemporary; it is in the nature of what we are doing to observe ourselves through the perspective of someone else and vice versa. The nature of contemporary dance is such that we need to see what our colleagues are doing in various places. Without this, we cannot provide for a minimum of hygienic distance required for the vitality of the perspective, so that it doesn’t wear itself out or becomes overwhelmed; last but not least, we need it so that we can comprehend what is it that we have done.
Do you also have the impression that we hear way too often that an artistic event – exhibition, performance, installation – is radical? As if the very word ‘radical’ in the advertisement will attract more customers, raise the price of merchandise? We go to all those places, visit all those performances and exhibitions, read books and ask ourselves – what is radical in all of that? Is it really possible to produce something radical in a limited stage space of ten square meters and if yes, what could that be? Is it a shocking theme, a radical manner of moving, a radical relation towards the audience’s attentiveness, relinquishing working methods thus far explored? In its literal sense, radical means influencing the unfolding at its root. What is in the root of a dance performance or a format of knowledge exchange, what is in the root of a stage work in broader sense? What is in the root of ANTISEZONA? The experience of being at ANTISEZONA tells me that ANTISEZONA is radical because it tackles relations and the ways in which we, as humans, co-exist in a certain space and time. The consequence of those relations, which are only partly agreed and reorganised along the way, is the change in hierarchy and in the method of deciding, an activation of potentials; through time and as a result of relations, we achieve the changed methodology of work, aesthetics or theme. It is not possible to speak in advance of a result as a radical one unless it is a marketing strategy.
ANTISEZONA is clearly radical. For, without referring to itself as radical, it influences that, which is the most dangerous and sensitive: the tissue of our relations, the incisions into the predetermined hierarchies and roles. Hence it enables work on creating new knowledge. That, which goes into the heart of all things – bravely and resolutely yet gently and sensibly – is essentially radical. We exercise life through the formats dedicated to contemporary dance and then it all returns together on the stage. We use functions when we need them, when they are useful to us. We don’t hide behind them because something else is in the foreground. We don’t know exactly what that is, it’s not even important, but we know that our functions are of no help. Hence Sindri, who was in charge of video recording ANTISEZONA, danced, lied down and recorded Obed in turns. And occasionally, she would be dancing and recording at the same time. I believe I saw something like this for the first time in my life: someone who is using her possibilities in this way, and at the same time, not stepping out of all the other possibilities. Everyone involved in ANTISEZONA is first and foremost involved as a human being, their knowledge stepping in when it can be useful. Filip, Tea, Sindri, Silvia, Sonja, Iva Nerina and all of us, together with the audience, are here as humans. This means that there is no dilemma concerning the person and his/her function, and that the values that we cherish as humans find their way of realisation through professional engagement. David Bohm claims that dialogue is possible exclusively in groups between 25 and 40 people. It would be therefore important for us not to acquiesce to the conditions imposed by various financiers, media, abstract and perhaps non-existent instances, but to count on the presence, interest and desire of those who are present.
The dominant feeling I’ve had during ANTISEZONA was that I haven’t entered a pre-formatted space, a space already half-digested and spat out for me and in my name; that the space of ANTISEZONA is constantly in the making and that here we deal with the potential of true creativity, neither pre-formatted, nor half-finished. I’ve felt a difference similar to the one I feel when I give to my child a piece of white paper and a pencil, as opposed to a glossy colouring book with only a small percentage left for creativity. When you enter a non-defined and non-allocated space, where you are uncertain of how the evening will unfold, certain new forces and fresh thoughts are activated within yourself (as an individual and as also a part of this temporary collective). A space for learning opens up. This is connected to the roles, which are at our disposal, but not entirely allocated. It is also probably connected to the short tradition of ANTISEZONA of addressing us precisely that way. It is also connected to the possible overload of local space with various other contents and formats.
Two performances that we have seen at ANTISEZONA – How Many Cubic Centimetres Can My Body Take Up by Sonja Pregrad and Close-ups by Silvia Marchig – suggest a serious and thoroughly thought-out work on the process of gathering material. Both performances feature three women (in How Many… we see four of them but I will speak about the three dancers with whom Sonja has worked) whose presence on the stage reflects the methodological immersion in the subjects they were dealing with. That is why those two performances are rather a continuation of previous work and research – us as the audience participating in the working process – than a display window of finished products. Needless to say, we cannot see those six women prior to and following the premieres of these performances, but we can clearly see and feel that their work has essentially transformed them; that each one of them has dived deep within herself and has retrieved a jewel of sorts, certain knowledge that they share with us now. If I go back for a moment to the thoughts on the functions of dance and watching dance, both performances have de-stratified various manners of participation in the act of performing, of performers and the audience alike. What is common to both performances is that, although they seemingly deal with identities, they depart from that subject, into singularities, and back, into universality. Identity in those performances is not two-dimensional, superficial and hollow, but full of flesh, liquids, movement, true needs, ideas and suggestions.
Sonja Pregrad tackles the identity of Drag Queen performed by women; thus, we witness a double masking, a double entendre of sorts, which constantly keeps us in limbo and ushers us to decide for ourselves what is it that we are watching. The dancers (members of TRAS collective, who invite choreographers and commission choreographies for their performances, which is a remarkable production precedent) are busy with searching for precision independent of previously learned movements; hence it seems that they are going through different states manifested through movements. Sonja’s choreography is one of attention, tensions, thoughts, intentions, self-observing and observing those who observe the dancers. At a certain stage of the process, this choreography decides to become visible, to become movement. Yet that movement is not devised to entertain us or give us food for thoughts on the subject of Drag Queens – or any other subject, to that matter. It leads us through the process of deciding what is it that we watch, as a process of finishing the work initiated by the choreographer and the performers. We are the ones who are finishing the work, precisely because we are there at that particular moment, and we all understand it as a common task. It is therefore clear that, if we understand the audience as a homogenous mass who is there to consume the choreographic work as a whole, this process is impossible to conclude, as much as it is impossible to arrive anywhere. Hence it is necessary to de-stratify us too and to operate with our attention so that each presence makes a difference. If we accept this as a possible interpretation of Sonja’s and TRAS’ performance, we might actually say that its thematic and aesthetic frame is merely an excuse for something that is happening through the encounter of the dancers and the choreographer with the audience – and that is a research, which doesn’t cease in order to enter the performance, but rather a research, which you witness and which expands onto the audience during the performing.
Unlike the thematic frame of How Many… the performance Close-ups by Silvia Marchig deals with self-immersion into the closeness between the three performers: their femininity, aspirations, stage and private personas, differences and similarities, discovered connections, which are not only shown, but also re-created during the performance. The performance introduces a view into the intimate spaces of each one of them. This individual view, helped by the other two, occupies the space, both physically, on the stage, and symbolically. They operate as mutual catalysts and frames, as spaces in which there is enough trust to disclose certain things about ourselves and, moreover, due to a great amount of closeness, touch upon some emotions or states that are yet unknown. Together with the dancers, Silvia is involved in building a space of belonging, which in turn is capable of self-multiplying, both in theatre and outside of it. The performers venture into storytelling, or even more – into building worlds to which they belong and into which they invite us. The subtle humour employed in performing the material, touches the gentle and funny parts of ourselves. In this sense, the form assumed by the performance – dance theatre, storytelling in dialogue with abstract dance – is actually what it is: just a form. It could be any other form, but this one is welcome as it conveys even better the intimate stories, and we can all relax within it.
The encounter of those two performances in an amazing proximity produces a mutual offering. The montage deriving from watching the two performances one after another is highly interesting: a montage that keeps me busy the entire evening and the days to come, overlapping and differentiations of images, feelings, colours, scents, but also ideas and messages from those two universes. Meditations on the spectrum of femininity and the questions of identity outside the politics of identity or political correctness. The opposite of political correctness is not incorrectness, but something else…
I am preparing for the opening of Cofestival, which is tonight. It is an international dance festival, which I co-curate with a group of colleagues from Ljubljana.
It is the second, ‘live’ part of the festival originally planned for November 2020, when it was not possible to perform live for the audience, and the screen was nowhere near that exciting. Hence, after six versions of programme and four reprogrammings, we have found the dates at the end of May. Our programme is always carefully conceived. We have always been against two ideas that we find detrimental for both curatorial and dance work: one is the idea of a supermarket of shows, buying anything available; the other is the idea of a tit-for-tat trade in which we are forced to show certain works only because we are members of some networks or European projects. We see how such kind of blackmails and coercions obliterate the free thought and the autonomy of deciding; therefore we strive, on the one hand, to avoid compromises and, on the other hand, to create a space of freedom and pleasure in performing and watching, writing, conversations – generally, in consuming the programme. Over the past 6 years, the conditions in which we create Cofestival have significantly improved, so we operate with a budget that allows us to set our imagination free. Consequently, we have developed the relation with local audience, which keenly follows the festival and inscribes in it in various ways. What I see as the greatest difference between ANTISEZONA and Cofestival is our rigorousness and persistence in curatorial deliberation. It’ s a kind of unyieldingness that guides us to first and foremost create space for others, in which very rarely – and only if it derives from the authentic necessity of programming – we present our own work, either as artists or producers. Born out of different motives, ANTISEZONA is naturally doing the exact opposite, but I believe that this is not the greatest difference. As ANTISEZONA unfolds four or five times a year, it seems that there is much more space for mistakes, for learning and communicating with various audiences. Concerning its current focus, ANTISEZONA is each time freer to turn to whichever side, hence its inner dynamics is more layered and intricate.
I feel that we all have got used to different limitations and that we discover the fact that, no matter how much we put an effort in our curatorial deliberations, the external conditions – finances and production – are essentially the determining factors of our curatorial position. This seems to be the main trait of nearly every festival in the region. After 15 months of obstructed work during the Covid-19 pandemic in Slovenia and facing the limitations that don’t mark the working space but bring the impossibility of work itself, we have tried to do what we could, out of the feeling of indebtedness to ourselves, to the artists we have invited and to the audience, which has become quite large – or at least this is how it seems to us.
Today I am going back home from the Antistatic festival in Sofia. This is yet another one among the festivals that we have initiated in 2007, in the frame of Nomad Dance Academy, as an answer to the need for a somewhat different format of festivals that feature the most up-to-date international productions and create a dynamic relation between the local and the international. Antistatic also contains ‘anti’ in its name. While ANTISEZONA’s ‘anti’ refers to expanding the frame of potential interpretations of a certain event as a season, or part of the dance season, ‘anti’ in the name of the Sofia international festival refers to the unfeasibility of people, relations and projects being static, fixed. ‘Anti’ in Antistatic stands for every kind of action against the conventional and the widely accepted, against complying with the present state of affairs.
Unlike previous editions, this year I have visited Antistatic only partially – I was present at four out of ten festival days. The festival programme offers a remarkably wide spectrum of aesthetic and methodological approaches and views of and through contemporary dance. This time, the image that struck me as the most powerful was that of six blind people visiting an Indian elephant. They didn’t accept the fact that they were blind, but were insisting on seeing the elephant, which in itself is interesting when applied to the behaviours, organisational modalities and modalities of learning that we practice in dance. It is even more interesting that the six blind people see the elephant each from his own perspective; thus, they can never reach an agreement on what in truth is the appearance of the elephant.
I’ve had a similarly strong experience while watching merely a part of the programme of this year’s Antistatic festival. This festival broadens not only the way of viewing contemporary dance, in the sense that most different things may be dance – a presentation of what is contemporary dance – but with this approach to curating, it expands what contemporary dance is, how it works and what means it takes.
In the course of the long history of Nomad Dance Academy, we have tried on several occasions to do exactly the same thing – to temporarily invert a certain system, to change the function and purpose of a certain space. During the 2013 ten-day encounter of Nomad Dance Institute, we’ve had a wish to turn the Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova into a 24/7 living space – namely, we wanted to sleep, live and work in the Museum, together with our guests. We felt that thus, our conversations, decisions and agreements would ensue from our entire experience of living in the museum and that we would by-pass the project/ productive time with which we’ve struggled for decades. Of course, this was not possible, so we had to adjust the programme to the possibilities and conditions we were given. Claire Bishop says that the relation between a museum and dance is always a one-way street; that dance enlivens the gallery spaces, but that the museum always turns dance into something more superficial and flatter that it actually is. Marten Spangberg says: “The reason why museums are currently showing an interest in dance lies not in the fact that the curators have all of a sudden become fond of dance, but in the fact that they have no choice. An art dealing with objects is so obsolete, and the new fashion is movement, as well as any activity that sells tickets and which can fill the space with something else than sculptures and tourists.”
It seems that in the moments when the tourists are gone and the sculptures are also temporarily absent due to renovations, the empty or half-empty rooms of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (MSU) may legitimately be filled with dance. The ensuing question is: what will happen when the tourists are back, or when the sculptures are back, after the entire MSU is back to function again?
MSU Zagreb has bravely welcomed different formats; it takes trust for that kind of courage, but also a sense of safety. On the one hand, we can interpret it as trust towards different forms and formats, but it might also be caused by the benign nature of the field of contemporary dance. The edition of ANTISEZONA that I’m writing about took place in a white box on the first floor of the permanent collection instead of Gorgona Hall, which is ANTISEZONA’s domicile of sorts. That space is one of the reasons ANTISEZONA was so special in several aspects: the set-up of works in the space, the heterogenous nature of the space and the relation of that curated programme towards the existing content of MSU. This particular relation and the dwelling of a part of the Zagreb dance scene in MSU is certainly more of an excess than a regular type of collaboration. During one of the conversations in the frame of the Hangover series, moderated by Dejan, it became manifest that this form of collaboration is far more productive both for ANTISEZONA and for dance, as there was a clear feeling that here nothing is or can be either prescribed or absorbed into the modes of art production, circulation and consumption. Hence ANTISEZONA produces an excess, a crack in the smooth surface, and bends the perspective there where museums in the ‘Western developed countries’ for years strive in vain to create something similar within their frames. Dejan doesn’t agree with me: he thinks that it’ s not good for sustainability. But I think that all those crucial words – audience development, inclusivity, added value – and all the other empty concepts that we took from other fields, will have to be replaced with something else, something that makes sense to us and what generates genuine conditions for the future.
One more thing: the demands of Western civilisation for transparency, clarity and articulation increasingly grow, and with it our problems grow as well. On the one hand, it seems that this mode of excessive availability and transparency makes us mutually passive and infantile; on the other hand, we merely give off information both to our allies and our enemies on where we aim, where our perspective takes us to and what we strive for. I believe that now it is equally important to explore how we can be partially hidden, secretive and unintelligible. I suggest that this operating mode is useful for our collaborators, our audience, media and all others in our ecosystem, to invest some work and some effort to bring something to conclusion and to close the arch of attention that looms upon us. I therefore propose that we explore the possibilities of incomplete disclosure of our work, of opacity and inaccessibility, at least temporarily. For we don’t want to disclose our positions, neither to allies nor to the enemies.
will he begin to talk to me
in which language
in which rhythm
the room looks like a hospital or like a gallery
this shirt isn’t mine
it’s a gift
is performing different from everything else
is the presence of the audience sufficient for it
and the applause
i have never performed before people in masks
i don’t shy away from gazing into their eyes
everything becomes funny and arduous because of that
i am absent in my efforts to
we have to work on the common
in spite of the fact that everyone is selling their product
we have to insist on the community
on in-between spaces
on the fact that i cannot be well if someone else is unwell
on the condition that our work on the common
on the market of products
TRANSLATION: Katarina Pejović
PUBLUCATION DATE: April 2022
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dragana Alfirević (1976.) is a cultural worker in the field of contemporary performing arts. She is co-founder of the Balkan Dance Network and Nomad Dance Academy, as well as producer of Nomad Dance Academy/NDA Slovenia. She is co-founder of STATION, Service for Contemporary Dance in Belgrade and co-curator and co-producer of CoFestival in Ljubljana from summer 2012 onwards. She works as a choreographer, performer and curator. She writes and produces art.