While we work…
The dancers have left the factory (Encounters #1) and have moved into the offices of Tanzquartier Wien. Before that, in 2018/19, they carried out their work in a retail outlet during opening hours for a whole year in Negotiations. Alexander Gottfarb’s artistic and cultural-political work poses fundamental questions about how labour is structured in our society and the way in which dance, or artistic creation in general, is recognised as labour.
A strange biotope
Even on my way through the library to the offices I am acoustically introduced to a biotope: a soundscape, at times reminiscent of animal noises with its constant repetition, at other times resembling vocal exercises or transforming into a chorus of moans, accompanied by a cool background noise. The secret joy of bureaucracy comes to mind, part of a book title by sociologist David Graeber, who also caused a sensation in 2018 with his book Bullshitjobs.
Whispers, individual words that gradually change through repetition, revealing their tonality and materiality in the process. Genotext. This is a place of production. In every sense of the word.
“Choreography casts light on one of the ways we are organized, that we are organized by dancing.”
My first encounter: A forlorn look from Charlotta R., who emerges from behind a large plant in the open-plan office and casually performs leg exercises (‘tendus’) at the desk while uttering plaintive, foreboding ‘a’ sounds in various pitches. Then she disappears behind the plant to start the process all over again with a small variation. Going down the stairs, I next come upon Nanina K. and Raul M. in a common room. In a constantly minimally varying feedback loop of mechanical movements they look like androids and at the same time make me curious about the setting in which Encounters #3 will take place.
Walking down the hallway, I see Alexander G. holding on to the wall in the executive office, turning his body back and forth on its own axis. In this world of work it is no longer the machine that sets the pace but the person themselves, having assimilated it. One spectator plucked up the courage to cross the doorstep and has made himself comfortable on the couch in the office.
At the same time in the office next door Katharina I. walks hand over hand along the desk, moving her fingers in the air one by one. In the same room Anna N. repeatedly falls off a chair, only to find herself back on it through elaborate effort. Vocal cords vibrate, sounds are being slurred, suppressed curses and internal tensions find ways to express themselves. The rooms are acoustically connected by means of directional microphones and speakers. Musician Stephan S. sits at a computer in a storeroom (that boasts a clock without hands, what a lovely detail). He constitutes the counterpoint to the presence of the dancers and – as one may imagine the kinaesthetics throughout the day – often sits motionless in front of his screen for several minutes, not focusing on the fact that he himself is also being watched.
The performance develops a meditative pull that is hard to resist. The abstract biotope consists of overlays that sound together due to their simultaneity. The ‘inappropriate use’ of the workspace reveals it to be a living space, calling into question the everyday performance that occurs there.
As if placed in a parallel world, the dance-performing bodies seem depersonified, not least on account of their sometimes vacant, sometimes firm looks; placeholders that constantly change their shape and carry out their work in a balanced ratio of tension (flow). Their physicality contrasts with the artificiality of the straight-line, rigid architecture and furnishings.
Like the other visitors, I wander from door to door, mostly staying at a safe distance from the performers, and suddenly I too find myself in a feedback loop. The strictly repetitive movements make me aware of my own freedom of movement, but I don’t dare to step out of my role of considerate onlooker and interrupt the productive performance machine. The encounters (which means (chance) meetings as well as confrontations or conflicts) are left to the individual, according to the post-Fordist paradigm.
“Choreography […] displays us, we human beings, as dancers; choreography shows us dancing; choreography exhibits the place dancing has, or can have, in our lives. Choreography puts the fact that we are organized by dancing on display.”
A questioning shake of the head from a dancer leaning against the door frame of one of the offices with a view of the other dancer rushing out of the same office, who had performed ‘pliés’ and waltz steps on my previous round. A slurred sound from a dancer sitting at a desk and looking at the shelf as if choking back his*her anger. Over and over again.
In the hallway I run into another dancer: it’s his*her lunch break.
About an hour and a half later I decide to take a break myself and find a seat in a quintessential Viennese workspace: a café, where I meet other working people with their laptops despite the late hour. I ask myself what value our society ascribes to labour and leisure respectively. The latter became necessary not least so as to be able to consume what was being produced. The reduction of working hours triggered the emergence of new economic sectors such as tourism, shopping and wellness… Where are we going these days?
After my last sip of red wine I order an espresso, but the machine has already stopped working for today.
Back at TQW, I am warmly welcomed by the staff and led back into the biotope. I consider them part of the performance as well, working and repeating their activities in constant variation. Now I dare to stroll more freely through the offices, sit down at a desk, and study the bookshelves. In the middle of the open-plan office where I have sat down, a dancer moves around, enclosing the space with lock steps like a predator surrounding its prey.
At 11 p.m. the dancers will finish their work for the day. I too leave, as if my shift was over, and say goodbye to the TQW staff. Not to the dancers, though. They are still absorbed in their work and I don’t dare interrupt their flow.
David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joy of Bureaucracy, Brooklyn 2015.
 Alva Noë, Strange Tools: The Art of Human Nature, New York 2015, p. 14.
 Cf. Giorgio Agamben, Profanations, New York 2007.
 Noë 2015 (see note 2), p. 13.
Inge Gappmaier works as a freelance choreographer, dancer, dance educator and dance scholar based in Vienna. In her own work she examines the contemporary conception of the human body between poetry and socio-political structures. Her artistic research articulates itself primarily in the fields of dance, performance and installation. She studied choreography and performance at the Institute of Applied Theatre Studies in Gießen, as well as contemporary dance education at Konservatorium Wien University (today: MUK – Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna). Her artistic works have been shown e.g. at brut Wien, Kosmos Theater, TanzhafenFestival Linz, Festival Pelzverkehr Klagenfurt, Mousonturm Frankfurt and Novi Ganz in Zagreb. ingegappmaier.at