Four Questions on Imagining otherwise – How do we move from here?

JEZEBEL © Bas de Brouwer

Christa Spatt asked the four artists of the thematic focus Imagining otherwise – How do we move from here?, who couldn’t show their work in November 2020, about their artistic approach.


Katerina Andreou on Zeppelin Bend

Christina Spatt: In Zeppelin Bend, you keep moving forward on your track, as another exploration on how one can or could be autonomous. But this time, you chose a duet and you are wondering about how we can co-exist, too. How does your interest in specific movement phenomena, such as training disciplines, interact with your more philosophical and political questions? Your methods to dive deep into formal practices and choreography – how do they relate to notions of freedom and hybridity? 

Katerina Andreou: For me, the trained body and its internalized discipline is a field of observation of a common reality: one of a complex (explicit or underground) structure of power and of opposite forces that affect us. Training – technique, labor, rules, codes of/for the body and desire – means manipulation. The pieces I make are not always explicit in that sense, but the above-mentioned methods inform a continuous background activity that also makes me ask myself: which practice for which project? One of my methods is to explore, transform and translate different contexts of training, for every skill and technique has its own philosophy and physical embodiment. So, I continue to learn new skills and switch and confuse different discourses and ideologies concerned with body and movement. This way, I am forced to adjust to new contexts and environments each time, and that creates confusion but also potentiality. I try to think of these skills not just as techniques but as “technologies”. By navigating these different disciplines, I am continuously asked to be critical of any practice I choose to dive into, and this helps me redefine my relationship to my own body, to the other. I keep on learning in order to keep unlearning, and this is my way of feeling that I act of my own free will.

In Zeppelin Bend, I was not alone anymore. With Natali, we followed the strategy of insisting on a kind of training that was constituted by very simple actions (hanging from a rope, jumping together with a certain momentum, headbanging, lifting each other etc), without aiming to get more out of it than the observation of how it might or might not stimulate our imaginary as individuals and as a “couple” on stage. This labor that had a certain ascetic aspect for us, led us to “vain” materials that seem to have zero sophistication craftwise, but in their simplicity/naivety they are nihilistic and emancipating for both of us… This is the kind of vanity, but also of tension, that I suspect is part of any training, any kind of “quest” for achievement and any regime of discipline; including the paradoxical situation created by my own efforts to achieve a certain degree of autonomy. What ultimately matters to me is to be able to shift contexts and practices, to keep on working on THAT kind of choreography, to attempt to construct new knowledge in order to deconstruct old knowledge (that, in a way, defined a certain identity), and to observe what is actually at work on the pretext of any training experience: in BSTRD it was the feeling of “belonging’’ that was something more than identity itself; in Zeppelin Bend, the importance shifted to the uncanniness of my link to the other in a relationship-knot that goes beyond the choreography itself, that makes us look alike and might make you see two instead of one. And in this sense, it gives us another paradoxical reason to feel free (of ourselves or of what defines us as ourselves) in our self-made chains.


Jaha Koo on The History of Korean Western Theatre

Christa Spatt: How do you find and develop artistic strategies that enable you to introduce controversial issues like colonialism to a stage work? What kind of artistic approaches do you consider appropriate and useful in this regard? In how far do the political aspects of your work shape your decisions as regards the form, the formal decisions you take and the composition of the piece?

Jaha Koo: When I deal with controversial issues, I try to think about suppressed or silenced voices in society. The majority of the voices is without agency. For dealing with these sensitive issues, one of the most important artistic tasks is to not rely on sympathy in the dramatization of the issues. It’s rather crucial that I should take precautions in order to avoid any political incorrectness. I think that live performance must cultivate solidarity or create a certain consent with the audience at a given time and place. So, I always try to make my performance artistically, content-wise, media-wise in correspondence with the audience, to achieve solidarity as a result of my performance.

In general, I conduct three separate strands of research simultaneously during pre-production: Artistic research (AR), Content research (CR) and Element/medium research (ER). The AR basically focuses on concept and form. It also gives me space to think about my role both as a maker and a performer on stage. The CR functions as a contextual investigation into dealing with subjects. It can also be an academic study, depending on how controversial the subject matter is. The ER aims to create a platform for aesthetic experiments and developments regarding content, including such diverse elements as music composition, sound design, video concept, installation, text, scenography, etc. During this stage, the focus is not only on the style of each medium but also on the overall instrumentalization of the elements on the stage.

Usually, the political aspect of my performance is established during the research stage. If the balance among the different research strands collapses, then the performance can be downgraded and function as a sort of report for the CR or ER, not as an artwork. It means that checks and balances among the research areas are important. In this sense, I want form to be represented by content, and the content supported by diverse elements on stage, very sensitively.


Joana Tischkau on BEING PINK AIN’T EASY

Christa Spatt: Your piece BEING PINK AIN’T EASY makes the fragility (and the questionability) of social constructions like race and gender visible while retaining a playful tone – how do you find the balance in your approach and in your working methods to make debates artistically fruitful that are at times very harsh and acrimonious? How do artistic processes and political motives/concerns/issues interlink in your practice? Can you describe whether and how the subjects impact on the formal processes and the decision-making?

Joana Tischkau: The connection between these debates, as I see it, is the inherent absurdity. Racism doesn’t follow any logic, it’s an extremely changeable and flexible system that keeps reinventing its mechanisms of suppression. I’m interested in the banal, the everyday aspects of that; which aesthetic forms of expression can be used to distinguish between black and “white”, and to what extent, as a spectator, am I even able to decipher this?

The acrimoniousness and harshness mentioned here also refer to the emotionality and the affects evoked by such discourses. We immediately enter into an emotional and therefore also physical confrontation, there is no rational logic, or rather, the desire for it only serves to make white affects – such as, for example, white fragility – invisible. My practice is more about depicting this complexity, a long way from didactics and simple promises of solutions. As a black female choreographer, I assume authorship of the performance of black masculinity, performed by a white male body in BEING PINK AIN’T EASY. If we engage in a discussion about cultural appropriation in this case, which I definitely want to provoke with my work, we will soon realise how unproductive such an endeavour is. As a woman of colour, do I have the authority of interpretation and also something like a license of legitimacy when it comes to the portrayal of blackness? Is what is being conveyed here more authentic because the work bears my signature?

My aim is to push the boundaries of what is considered possible for black women in this patriarchal system of white supremacy. There is an empowering element in the decision not to put myself on stage in the context of the history of black people in Europe, because historically the stage has always been the place where black bodies or the performance of them (e.g. blackface) were/was visible.

The piece is also a criticism of a practice that Nuray Demir (dramaturge for BEING PINK AIN’T EASY) calls the curatorial paradigm of identity politics; but the visibility of black, queer or disabled bodies does not guarantee structural and lasting change in and of itself. Especially in the context of art and performance, the piece is intended as an invitation to make spectators aware of their viewing policies and watching habits. To me, there is something pleasurable in this rupture, this confrontation.


Cherish Menzo on JEZEBEL

Christa Spatt: What was your starting point for developing JEZEBEL? Was it rather an artistic/aesthetic interest or a political one?

Cherisch Menzo: The starting point for developing JEZEBEL was the simple question: Where are the Video Vixens today? The women who featured in the music video clips that I watched and admired in my pre-teen and teenage years.

While working on the concept of JEZEBEL, my attention was drawn to movements like #MeToo and very vivid discussions about social gender injustice. I felt that the female body and sexuality was (re)claiming space and tried to emancipate itself from oppressive power relations and body objectification. Simultaneously, I could feel that artists were strongly questioning heteronormative conceptions of the female body, sexual stereotypes, and the romanticization of certain bodies perpetuated in the performing arts field by a heteronormative art history. Even though these portraits and questions triggered me, they also led to confusion and friction. There was a dissonance with regards to the female references that I grew up with and relate to. I guess I felt that these portraits and questions may rather refer to the white or western female body… I realized that relating these questions around the female body and sexuality to black female bodies would have different connotations.

I started to question archetypes of black female bodies echoed in hip-hop video clips from the late 90s and early 2000s: Video Vixens, hyper-sexualized women that were the product of male fantasy. A fantasy that some of today’s female rappers in pop and hip hop culture, like Nicky Minaj, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion, still keep alive. A hyper-sexuality that seems to have been reinstated but which can also be seen as a reclamation of space and as a stance on social gender injustice. (Depending on who you ask.) I was triggered by these collisions and contradictions and felt the need, somehow in this context, to investigate and create my own ecosystem and agency. My interest grew more naturally from creating something that felt very close to me and that touches different layers of my experience, questions, conflicts (frictions), and aspirations in the performing arts. So, the next step was to figure out how to create and realize my own universe around that.

C. S.: What is your take on the question in how far the arts have an emancipatory potential, and how did that manifest itself in the process of creating JEZEBEL?

C. M.: I guess it depends from which point of view one asks this question…

As an artist, I feel that within the performing arts field, there are new cracks from which emancipatory forces emerge. I have the sensation that there are new, more diverse voices with different approaches and proposals. They create their own platforms and they are significant and important additions to the field.

When it comes to the position of the performing arts within society, I feel that the current pandemic has been a revealing mirror. On the one hand, it feels as if the performing arts field is powered by its own engine, yet outside these walls it relies on financial structures that don’t fully acknowledge its importance.