Identity as a process
A summary of the IDENTITY.MOVE! Symposium
Performances, commentaries of performances, experiments
The Symposium in Lublin – the first public display of the IDENTITY.MOVE! project – was opened with Anna Nowicka’s performance. Where is the boundary between the authentic, the real and the created? Why are we convinced that authenticity is possible? And what does this mean in the first place? These are only some of the questions which constituted an axis for the solo project by Anna Nowicka.
1. Anna Nowicka “the truth is just a plain picture. said bob”
The performer is stretching her back and bending her body. Her hands are on the floor, and she is then supporting herself only on the hands.
The performer puts on shoes, a skirt, a blouse. She jumps over a cube wrapped in a shining foil.
The performer grabs a camera. The tally light is on, she starts filming what was inside the cube.
“the truth is just a plain picture. said bob” is an artistic research of identity, which is constantly built, constructed and is a process.
A different view on identity was presented in another performative element of the Lublin Symposium – a screening of the film „America is not ready for this” by Karol Radziszewski. Radziszewski’s picture is a critical and multifaceted research work on the American art scene in the ‘70s. Its starting point was the story of the stay in New York of a Polish artist, Natalia LL. The method that he used, the scenes which didn’t make it to the film and the artistic contexts were presented by Karol Radziszewski on the following day.
2. Karol Radziszewski “America is not ready for this” – a lecture complementing the screening
“It is commonly thought that the flat, the surroundings we live in say something about our identity. However, I decided to film my characters on a white background so that they’re equal and can enter into a dialogue like partners. Watching >>America is not ready for this<< the viewer has an impression that the characters are having a discussion with each other.”
“It was important for me to tell the story of the “Western banana” and the “Eastern banana”. When I started dealing with Natalia LL, the comments I heard were: okay, so it’s going to be feminist, because Natalia LL was a feminist, and it’s going to be gay art because Karol Radziszewski is gay. But maybe it is worthwhile to think that by showing the banana we simply wanted to make an allusion to Andy Warhol’s banana. Sometimes it is good to see the bigger picture, to leave your own little periphery”.
The story in Radziszewski’s film inspired the seminar’s participants to ask questions about how artists became part of the propaganda system during Communism and the opposite – how they resisted. Another issue addressed in the discussion after the film was the boundaries of self-creation and how it becomes material for other artists.
The lecture was followed by a show for a wider audience gathered in the theatre hall of the Centre for Culture in Lublin – the remarkable ”Romanian Dance History” by Florin Flueras and Brynjar Bandlien.
3. Florin Flueras, Brynjar Bandlien “Romanian Dance History”
“Do it with your body and you will be able to touch your sensibility”
“This is a dance exercise and it also happens to be the beginning of the performance”
The starting point for the artists was the iconic show by Stere Popescu, which is over four decades old. Or rather what history has constructed on top of the show – the memory, deformed, full of mythicizing. In what ways is identity formation based on canonical texts of culture? How can we transform them and draw from them – these are some of the questions which defined the research field of the performance.
The last performative point of the Lublin Symposium was the show by Damian Rebgetz.
4. Damian Rebgetz “Something for the fans”
“Even if the fans made me feel really cold and I had to put on a lot of blankets, I still wanted them on. It wasn’t about the temperature.”
“It seemed that the fans can do everything or become everything.”
“And suddenly I understood. And suddenly I didn’t want to talk with other people about fans.”
The show is kept in the style of a musical, mixes elements of the pop culture and intrepidly uses three language layers – German, English and the Polish translation. Rebgetz filled the stage of the Centre for Culture in Lublin with fans – seemingly insignificant objects which in his acting story he transformed in factors that construct the identity.
Lectures, speeches, inspirations
On top of the performative part, the Symposium also included lectures, inspirational speeches, a presentation of the IDENTITY.MOVE! curators and the invited guests. These parts of the Symposium acted as catalysts for the debate on understanding identity: they were intensely discussed and proved to be the part that distinguishes IDENTITY.MOVE! from other festivals, conventional workshops or meetings of dancers, choreographers, performers.
„I’m interested in things which already exist (…) knitting, connecting holes with holes, in every direction. Creating a matter of loops and weaves also creates empty spaces between them. (…) Maybe this material can become a first model of identity.”
Thomas Plischke’s lecture and workshops were spun around a red knitting wool. By passing the ball to each other, the participants made a network of connections, a new structure and made materialise a metaphor on which Plischke’s lecture was based – the spider’s web. He cited the myths about Arachne and Ariadne and contemporary studies by scientists including the media scholar Gunnar Schmidt and the medieval scholar Barbara Baert, and touched upon several basic questions concerning identity and the identity of the artist in the modern world. He also presented his idea of cooperation, which is fundamental for him, as a process of reformulating meanings.
In his perception, one of the key aspects of identity is “contact of difference” – connecting matter with void, defining oneself in accordance with or contrary to the existing order, categories, and rules, creating a structure of connections with the reality around us. Another key aspect is the „potential for reformulation” – from an unraveled yarn a new stitch can be made – the potential for change, adjustment and creating a new quality of identity is equally big.
This variability, creating by adding, changing, reformulating is also a characteristic of the artistic work of Thomas and his partner Kattrin. Much like the stitch, in this method, the material and the nonexistent is equally important – the void opens up the possibility of creating a new quality. Can the artist’s task then be creating discontinuity in structures of facts, creating a space which raises the possibility of change? The key to understanding this approach to the artist’s role and the purpose of art is the myth about Arachne.
Arachne can be considered the first famous female artist. She is a self-learner, she learns through practicing and creates her own form of an autonomous expression. For the sake of art, she risks everything she has, even her life. She is a symbol of art that doesn’t escape the reality and become obscurant, narcissistic, nor does she seek empty beauty. She reminds us that we can ill afford to be naïve and self-centered in the face of the dominating hegemonic power. She gives an example of how one can be engaged in the world we live in and in the coexistence with others, she stresses the importance of being conscious of the relations and structures around us.
“Creating holes is a prerequisite for conception, for experience, for coming to language. But this act is never for oneself. Arachne did unveil violence publicly, not for herself.”
This is similar to how Plischke sees his and Kattrin’s work – “(…) our work is based on not being our work, but always emerging from a social and circular correspondence.” Thus in his understanding, “Identity is, with a thought of Houellebecq, not self-identity. Self-identity, who I am, remains fiction. But the identity of the other is much more clear.”
„Dance history in my country (…) is said to be “conceptual” – (…) it is like this because the lack of resources. [Romanian dance] is said to highly exploit theatricality – but it does that because that’s where the resources are. (…)”
„Today, >>Hammer without a master<< becomes a bit of a ridicule of the dance avant-garde.”
Can the adjective “Eastern-European” be read as clearly positive, associated with having to respond to interesting, demanding challenges? Is constructing something “inherently Eastern-European” really an act towards building our own identity or is it rather legitimising the Western-European canon? In her speech, Iulia Popovici asked several questions which were directly derived from the piece “Romanian Dance History”. Her lecture was a pars pro toto of sorts – it was a contribution on constructing the identity of dance theatre in Romania but also a story about the methods and ontological problems of this field. This way it was a perfect theoretical starting point for the following presentations.
„Let’s begin with the quote by Emma Goldman: >>I don’t want to be part of your revolution if I can’t dance<<. I think that in today’s context we should reformulate it and say: >>We can’t be part of a dance project if we don’t tell you about revolution.<<”
“(…) If you live under the conditions of biopolitics, what you can do, and what I think we must do as theoreticians and dancers, philosophers, political subjects, is reclaiming our body, because the body is par excellence a political subject.”
Srećko Horvat’s speech proved to be one of the most heated moments of the Lublin Symposium. It was conceived as a theoretical commentary on the contemporary social and political events including the events at Taksim Square in Turkey. After his presentation on phenomena including hunger strikes and terrorism, Horvat was criticised for being radical and overexposing horror. The philosopher was quick to point out that he didn’t want to glorify terrorism and that his presentation was a commentary to the fact that many socio-political movements use the body as a means of resistance.
“All the categories that make up identity, such as race, class, gender or age, are performative categories. This is what identity is, we perform it. There are no pre-defined identity categories, they are emergent.”
“We have to state clearly that language exists internally and externally for the speaker. It is pedagogic – it teaches us who we are – and at the same time performative – it is only through speech that things acquire meaning.”
Rozita Dimova’s lecture was clearly different from the preceding speech by Srećko Horvat – she used academic language and mostly spoke about the history of anthropological research and methods of analysis. Rozita Dimova mentioned the meaning of classical anthropological categories in order to examine closer the category of aesthetic style and its national affiliation. Is there such a style as “Macedonian Baroque”? Do the pompous monuments of Alexander the Great really construct an identity? These are only some of the questions asked by the researcher. The visual aspect of the presentation – slides showing new urban planning concepts of Skopje and the monuments in the city – was subject of many behind-the-scenes commentaries.
Processes, conversations, reflexions and other things
The Lublin Symposium was made up not only of inspirational lectures and performances. Equally important were also informal meetings of over fifty experts, artists, curators and an exchange with the audience taking part in open shows. This created an opportunity for an animated, often surprising but in the end a very constructive discussion on the future shape of the project and to take a closer look at the local context – Lublin and the activities of the Centre for Culture in Lublin.
Lublin is performative / The Ergonomica performative walk
“What you are going to see today is a set of tools showing how to confront urban space using the body. And conversely – how to confront the body using urban space.”
“At one point, the body has got lost in architecture.”
The Symposium guests, gathered in front of the Krakowska Gate, and other spectators were greeted by Elisabetta Consoni who was dressed up in a diving suit. This is how the performative walk in the Lublin Old Town began. The Italian performer and her partner Carlo Venegoni made their way through narrow streets, stairs and courtyards trying to find as many common areas between architecture and the body as they could.
In different parts of Lublin the time zone is different – what does it tell us about identity?
The building of the Centre of Culture, a former monastery, also includes the “Greenhouse Lounge” (“Szklarnia”) – an “in-between place” which combines the functions of a café, a gallery and a pub. On the main wall of the “Greenhouse Lounge” hung about a dozen simple clocks, each of them having a tag with a name of a district of Lublin underneath it. Old Town, Kalinowszczyzna – a clock above each of those names showed a time. It made a bit of a mockery of cosmopolitan places, such as hotels, conference rooms, airports, where different time zones are shown. Here, all the clocks were intended to show the same time. In real life though, this proved to be different. The participants of the Lublin Symposium could see microdivergences, e.g. the time in Czuby was 3 minutes ahead of Kalinowszczyzna… As the performers, choreographers, dancers and theoreticians had assumed, each of Lublin’s dictricts proved to have its own identity…
The duos have already emerged – before the LABs in Athens, Essen, Poznań and Prague
In June, the project had its continuation. In four European cities, there are meetings, workshops with coaches and activities in the form of a short artistic residency in a duo. During the Lublin Symposium, the participants got in pairs in which they are working during the current activity of IDENTITY.MOVE!