Recently I attended the Juncture festival at Yorkshire Dance, which ran for 4 weeks in March and was curated by Charlotte Vincent of Vincent Dance Theatre. I had a great time taking part in workshops, watching performances and attending debates.
One of these debates was titled 'Considerations in Contemporary Performance Practice', and the panel of guest speakers consisted of Professor Liz Aggis, Wendy Houstoun, Claire MacDonald and The Two Wrongies.
There was some really interesting points discussed, but for me the most thought provoking were that of Wendy Houstoun. She brought to my attention things I hadn't considered before, but are vital to what it means to be living as an artist in 2012.
Wendy topic for discussion was that the autonomy of the artist is being lost, and that there are a number of seemingly small, inconsquential things that contribute to this. In her talk Wendy posed a series of questions to us that were expanded throughout the discussion. I feel its my responsibility as a 'blogger', but mainly as an artist, to share those questions with you (with Wendy's permission). On reflection of why I felt this way I concluded that it is because Wendy has come to these questions by observing changes within the dance industry that have occurred since the 80's. For most young artists and students the questions Wendy raises are the norm. Some of the questions she posed to us had never come in to my mind because I don't know what its like to have a system that works any other way - but its vital we are aware this is not how it has to be (or was).
So here they are:
1. What year did the star system come in for reviews?
2. When did the first post show discussion happen?
3. When did the idea for demystifying process start?
4.When did marketing departments start re-writing the copy of the artist?
5.When did listings people start entering their own commentaries on the artist?
6.When did spaces start become places where you couldn't make a mess?
7.When did commissioning start to rely on paper outlines of ideas?
8.When did cameras start to be put up in dance studios?
During the expansion of these questions things arose such as the 'offcication' of working hours for artist studio time - in most spaces the cost of the building is so great they have to rent out the studios for classes, so artist may only use a studio from 10am - 6pm. Which, as Wendy pointed out is often not how artists work. What happens if your in to something and want to work longer? This then linked in with the time for admin responses getting shorter and shorter - requests for information from artists today. With most admin tasks being completed in office hours, this then cuts in to the 10am-6pm studio/creative time.
The use of space was discussed - that money has been pumped in to buildings, so consequently buildings are put above people. Wendy recounted one incident at a University where she had asked to perform without shoes because the floor cost so much they didn't want it to be marked. Creativity isn't always neat and tidy. I myself have been thinking of using raw eggs in a solo, but a thought that cross my mind before I have even started this process is who will let me play with that idea? Who will let me make a 'mess'.....
We talked about the urge, and often requirement to document, which is usually related to funding. But that actually online is not the same as an 'archive'. There is no context to the work.
The practice of bidding for commissions was discussed, along with paper applications. I have always found the idea of paper applications bizarre. How can you judge a yet unmade dance piece from a lump of writing, with out having ever met the artist? What happens if an artist struggles to articulate ideas? Some artists have their applications written for them, but what about those who don't have that option?
Also mentioned was that independent work can never stand up to the production values of bigger venues/artists. Does that mean it deserves less stars?
Things change for sure, thats a fact of life, but for me the most important thing is to move through life with consciousness - to observe, connect and question what is around us. And I think the point here (or my interpretation of it) is to be conscious of the shifts that have occurred, to listen to/talk with artists such as Wendy and utilise their wisdom and experience, to notice how the system (spaces, funding bodies etc) works now, in 2012, and ask is this the best it could be? Does this allow artists to do their job, to be as creative as they can be? And if not what do we need to do to change it?
Wendy finished off the discussion with the statement 'freedom is the base line'.
Referring to the idea that art is ultimately about expression, and all these small things start to restrict the individual, and in the end expression must be about freedom.
The human scale of ambition is against a lot of policies. W. Houstoun 2012.
(To read Judith Mackrell discussing Deborah Jowitts' dismisal and the star system click here)