People who live in the inner city are used to being able to pierce through shop windows dressed with products to catch a glimpse of the back-room activities, but also to watch people from creative industries work. Architecture firms and graphic design studios feel right at home in former retail shop units and do not mind displaying the precarious creative industry existence in which self-exploitation seems to have replaced a daily 9 to 5. Professional dancers and performers are also not unfamiliar with those kinds of working conditions. Thus, it only seems appropriate that there is now a shop for choreography in Vienna. Alexander Gottfarb’s Negotiations is a kind of durational performance, which lasts for 365 days, eight hours a day, and makes it possible for everyone to watch someone dance or rather watch someone work with dance. No day off, no weekends – one year of continuously working with movement. Even though local residents and passers-by are used to the working creatives behind computers, who have been put on display, and do not care for them or their activities anymore, they are all the more attracted to Negotiations’ shop window. Although you cannot spot any excessive movements or provocative actions, the things that happen inside this shop seem too strange not to be intrigued by them. Generally, there are no more than two performers, out of 14 dancers – including Alexander Gottfarb, in this empty room together at the same time, which is not particularly big and looks like a New York gallery due to its iron columns. The working dancers focus on movements inspired by social rituals and explore the corresponding potential of repetition and transformation. Alexander Gottfarb has been developing this specific movement vocabulary for some years now. The Negotiations project offers an ample scope of continuity to delve into and further develop this kind of work. Compared to the time frame usually given to dance and performance productions, this production’s time frame could be called a luxury. These days, choreographers are under constant pressure to produce and create something new in order to receive public funding or to be programmed and booked by cultural institutions. A lengthy rehearsal process indicates a precarious economic situation for everyone involved. And then, there are not even that many performances until it starts all over again. Gottfarb’s work on Negotiations means breaking this ever-turning wheel; it offers the opportunity to consistently work at one place. Nevertheless, this kind of production process, which is that different to the contemporary production system and breaks with the requirement of innovation, is in itself challenging and demands another sort of responsibility. Being permanently on public display requires precise logistics for the room to never be empty. But it also means the choreographer needs to learn to let go and to control less and less and instead to observe. He supplies structure and setting; the schedule for the working team of dancers needs to be drawn up. Just as with an actual retail store situation, where the boss is not permanently at hand, they must act as they see fit. Alexander Gottfarb and his team deliberately tackle the idea of this sort of nostalgic Fordism by means of their yearlong choreographic process. Renegotiating alternative approaches to the systematics of contemporary dance production is not the only kind of the eponymous negotiations in this process. This performance also renegotiates the relationship between the individual and the community or, specifically, between performer and audience. This kind of long term continuous work on a very specific movement vocabulary poses an immense challenge for the individual dancer. There is not only the general setting and structure Alexander Gottfarb introduced at the beginning of Negotiations, but there is also a theoretical backdrop. For the dancers to have a good understanding of the task ahead and for them to work constantly and precisely with the motif of repetition is more important to the choreographer than the execution of singular forms of movements. Thereby, the dancers are also empowered to work independently, to approach each day’s work differently, to try something new each time or to focus on certain movement sequences over the course of months. Other than working on individual motivation and movement – “where am I at the moment and where do I want to go?” –, there is also the aspect of negotiating the positioning of the performers in relation to each other in space; together as one vs. side by side. It is intellectually demanding to dance for so many hours each day. Combined, the highly focused repetitive practices and the long duration could elevate the performers to a state of trance. But even if their thoughts might stray, they need to remain focused on what is happening in this specific room. This communicative proposition, this interplay of conscious presence and mental absence also translates to the role of the audience. If the act of observing the dancers enables you to find any peace of mind, you can either look for a place of contemplation or a place of no conscious thought at all. No one will suffer from sensory overload, on the contrary, all action decelerates. Minimal variations of the dance vocabulary will lead both dancers as well as spectators to start asking themselves one question: “What makes time pass?” Like any other performance, Negotiations manages to create a community. However, unlike most other performances within institutional set-ups, it enables passers-by to literally “come across” it. They look and behold in front of the shop windows, some enter to stay for a while. They try to make some sense of what they are seeing. Though there is always one staff member there to answer any possible questions people might have, they do not approach visitors without request. This intimate setting makes it possible for Alexander Gottfarb and his team to create a community of dancers and audience and to experience a whole new meaning of (being an) audience. Some spectators even start dancing at some point (there are no restrictions as long as the general structure of the performance will not be “destroyed”). Others will become regulars and come back again and again.
Negotiations succeeds in creating continuity, not only for the performers but also for the audience members, who are able to come back over the course of one year and are able to experience something new each time. This shop in which there are no goods but experiences on offer makes for a great change: an urban isle of contemplation and thoughtfulness amidst the stream of restlessness. Enter and exit (the hustle and bustle of the city)! You still have the chance until January 2019.
Astrid Peterle joined the Jewish Museum Vienna in 2010. In 2018, she became chief curator. Since May 2017, she has been curator of Donaufestival Krems’ performance section. After her university studies in history and art history in Vienna, Berlin and New York, she obtained a PhD in 2009 and was a lecturer at universities in Vienna, Graz and Salzburg. She is the author of several articles on Jewish cultural history, on contemporary art, especially performance art, choreography, photography and feminist art practices.