Interview Gavin Kroeber and Ant Hampton

english,interviews — simber op 31 oktober 2013 om 10:13 uur
tags: , , ,

[Voor de krant van DasArts]

In architecture it is an honorable tradition: the design of imaginary or even unrealizable buildings. How would this translate to the performing arts? Block mentors Ant Hampton and Edit Kaldor invited New York based artist an cultural entrepeneur Gavin Kroeber for a workshop on ‘imaginary interventions’. “Can you write a description of a site specific show that is so fantastic that you don’t have to do it?”

The day after watching eight Dasarts students give a public showing of their work Ant Hampton and Gavin Kroeber look back on their work and express their ideas on interventions and alternatives for the ‘show’. “The presentation was the result of two days work with Gavin, starting from a one page prompt he wrote for us”, explains Hampton. “We wanted to create a sort of ‘charrette’, a term from the design field meaning an intense, responsive working environment designed to open things up to a lot of new ideas. Beside small, quick projects, on the market or other sites in the city we wanted the students to work with slightly less restrictions of time and resources.” The results were eight proposals for speculative performances and interventions.

Imaginary performances of course have a strong utopian dimension. “I like this Steve Lambert quote: ‘Utopia is not a destination but a direction’”, says Kroeber. “We try and stimulate the students to use the utopian aspects of this exercise as a critique, not as a model. During the working sessions it turned out we had to calm the utopian impulse. Students would think up worlds in which the performance would take place that would render the proposal moot. Yet the starting point should be that the proposed performance reveals something about thís world.”

Kroeber emphasizes that this kind of work has two aspects: “First you have to create an imaginary work of art, and secondly you must write and present it in such a way that is resonates with the audience, you have to make it into something palpable.”

Hampton praises Kroebers wide expertise in the fields of socially engaged arts and outright activist practice. “When we met to discuss his contribution our conversation turned to the concept of unrealised art, unrealised performance, or speculative performance as Gavin prefers to call it. I already led a workshop called ‘fantasy interventions’, where I would use a specific urban site for imaging and sketching performances. Using an actual site as a handhold, participants could reflect on site-specific work, allowing this very immediate chrystallisation of vision: you can easily imagine what might actually happen.”

“I completely agree with Gavin that this second aspect of speculative performance, the writing of a convincing presentation of the idea to an audience, is very important. It’s about using language to make an idea palpable, and were trying to look into some of the tricks used by novelists in our presentation. The question really is: How can you write a description of a site-specific show that is so effective that you don’t have to do it?”

Kroeber’s extensive experience in various fields comes from what he calls “the odd trajectory of my practice.” Kroeber started out as a stage designer and became more interested in performing arts and later in urbanism. “As a designer I was working in an industry that was based on touring a project from theatre to theatre – similar spaces where the show is supposed to have the same meaning within the same context. Besides, the economy of it wasn’t rewarding for me: load-in and load-out have to happen so fast that all the work had to happen on paper beforehand. I had a desire for a different pace, and for sites and context to matter.”

“So I wound up working as a producer in the social performative wing of the performing arts (or whatever you want to call it). There I found that in the shadow of conceptualism artists have become formally very promiscuous. They are doing everything from stage performances, to street actions, to organising dinners, to protests. I was interested in working in extra-institutional spaces and through that I became interested in cities, so much so that I took a masters degree in urbanism at the Harvard School of Design.”

“In the last year and a half I came back to the performing arts, in the experimental theatre scene in New York. And there I discovered that this formal promiscuity was pretty much absent. Theatre artists celebrate that they have killed the drama and embraced performance, and yet we all continue to make ‘shows’. The embrace of performance art was supposed to open doors, but it seems to me we didn’t get far enough. And I wonder why that is.”

“So my interest in in working with the Dasarts students comes from the desire to shed the form of the show, and to affirm the right of theatre to inhabit other cultural forms. For me that’s very exciting.”

Hampton has a slightly more ambiguous take on this matter: “In our conversation in New York I found myself more or less defending the show, and I will defend the need for darkness and the captive audience. I don’t think it’s a solution to work completely outside the show market. However, six weeks into the block I’m less sure. There is a great sense of urgency in working in and with the city. There is a rising literacy for decoding cultural urban spaces; from graffiti, to overheard conversations and the use of social media. It has become infinitely more complex than twenty years ago, and as a performing artist it’s fun and energising and enormously empowering, all the more because we have new, great tools for subversion. So I’m wondering: Aren’t we potentially wasting our time making shows in black boxes?”

Kroeber: “To make myself clear: I’m not against shows. And I think there are many artists today who do great work within theatre spaces. It’s just that for me the black box for theatre and the white cube for visual arts are profoundly disorienting perceptual technologies. I find myself looking for sites that are cacophonous, in the way that cities are cacophonous. The city is often seen as this mad, tangled, disorienting space, but actually I understand it more. If I encounter images of the city, it’s somehow more resonant, concrete and tactile for me.”

“I agree with Ant that there is a rising literacy in understanding cities. And interestingly it comes at the exact moment our cities are transformed into theme parks. The thinking of urban developers is about turning the city into something legible, fun, safe, sterilized and incredibly inequitous. We shouldn’t celebrate that legibility. Being out in the city doesn’t free an artist from an institutional framework. On the contrary: in many ways you feed a dominant wave of culture making that is deeply problematic. But the transformation of cities is a form of scenography. So artists versed in theatrical techne, a dramaturgical way of doing things, have a very appropriate role in the urban field.”

“What I like about working with Ant is that it’s made clear to everyone that moving out of the theatre into the streets doesn’t put you in some blank field. Ant and Edit always emphasizes the specifics: who are you working with? Where does it take place? What’s the audience out there? So to me there is an ongoing dialectic of shows and non-shows. I’m not rejecting theatre in favour of other forms, but I think of it as an affirmation of theatre, an expansion of what theatre can be.”

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