Curator's statement by Ewan McLaren


The intense meetings and discussions which took place at the first meeting of associated partners from 15 countries to kick-off IDENTITY.MOVE! made us think hard. Before the meeting I was experiencing the silly delusion there is no historical precedent for such collaboration between artists in our neglected part of Europe. I felt like we could break out in a completely new direction, that we could quickly solve many of our troubles as independent creators and thinkers. It seemed to me that simply by working together, performing arts innovators and their supporting organizations can unlock hidden potential, break through the petty institutional barriers and limited visions of authorities in our countries to create whole movements of new artists creating performance works of enduring value. Fortunately I think we all realized quickly at our opening meeting that there are good reasons to curb enthusiasms and focus on practicalities to make sure our efforts have a longer-term positive influence for the artists and their communities. If there was some kind of conclusion we arrived at, it was the understanding that our challenge is to create the right space for organic working relations and heightened international awareness between independent performance creators and theorists from our part of Europe, without imposing an expected esthetic, expecting immediate results, or transforming artistic ideas into “value“.

It’s tempting to take a quick look at history and conclude that you are the first to do something. On deeper examination though, you notice those progressive and international movements in the arts of Central and Eastern Europe in the aftermath of the First World War and the collapse of some empires. Inspired by scientific revolution and what seemed to many the promise of communist revolution, daring movements appeared, enabled by a brief period of mobility and a strong impulse to develop new directions. Those times really led to a brisk, crisscrossing exchange of interdisciplinary ideas, works, exhibitions and sympozia between our cities, an exchange focusing mostly on the visual and musical arts, but even to some extent, dance. All this was soon stunted by fascism, unbridled nationalisms and the rising extremes of communism in practice, which just goes to show the meaning and importance of such artistic movements. Still, were they indigenous? Though they had strong ideological connections to movements in Paris and in Moscow, many were beginning to develop in original directions... Did they have time to cross into the lives of the population at large in our own countries? They hardly had time to... So today it‘s still tempting to “think big“ and imagine how we can break new ground with new works and ideas that can capture the imagination of the general public in each of our countries, without unquestioningly gazing further East for guidance. Nor West! 

The strong, long-term tendency among many of us independent artists and cultural workers to seek inspiration in Western Europe and America since the collapse of the communist governments is a hope which needs some recalibration. Of course we have admired the performance creators, companies, and even whole movements that have risen to prominence over decades in the U.S.A., Western Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the U.K. We still envy the secure infrastructure of the production and residency centres, funding systems, festivals, and touring houses in Western Europe. Above all we admire a situation where Western artists developed relatively free of direct political invervention, relatively free of the world of business and the consumerist mainstream, with a great deal of room to think anew and grow independent thought and approach. But as we learn more and more about how many of those systems and opportunities have calcified into institutions, how intertwined some of these innovations have in time become compromised by consumerist thought and approach, how increasingly creative work is expected to prove or create value, we realize that we have the opportunity to take some paths less trodden and explore and celebrate shifts in identity without just copying other identities and following old examples of artists from a very different milieu.

Here’s hoping that we can balance the right amount of rigour, boldness and new inspiration to grow a grassroots platform that allows artists and other creative thinkers in our countries the freedom, resources, and mobility to incubate their ideas over a longer time, and share and compare, to then develop acts, events, meetings and works with the depth and focus that they so well deserve.