This conversation, edited by Simone Frangi, took place during one of the activities included in the European project More Than This (Short Theatre has been a partner since 2018) and that will come to an end this year: the Displacement of Festival. Part of Short Theatre 2020 is the result of the collaboration and co-existence with another project partner, the Materiais Diversos festival of Minde, Portugal. Materiais Diversos will move to Rome to open a window, to set a different temperature in the locations of Short Theatre, creating a new climate for both festivals. In the past months we were supposed to work together in person but the health emergency forced us to devise other, and in the end unexpectedly fruitful, ways to collaborate. The ideas of hospitality, identity, diversity and mobility became more profound, urgent, radical and imaginative than ever.
Participants: Simone Frangi, curator and researcher; Daniel Blanga Gubbay, co-director of Kunstenfestivaldesart – Bruxelles; Elisabete Paiva, artistic director of Materiais Diversos – Minde; Francesca Corona, co-director of Short Theatre.
Daniel Blanga Gubbay: separating the concept of “hospitality” from that of “territory” has its own importance, also in relation to Jurema Mombaça’s reflections here and in other contexts.
The notion of hospitality is usually based on geography: the borders of the host’s territory define the place where the guest is invited and accepted. This implies the possibility of its opposite.
One of the elements that interested me the most as we developed the More Than This project and our curatorial practices, is how the dichotomy between host and guest can get more complex, apart from definite territorial spaces. How can host and guest consider themselves as both contemporarily hosting and being hosted?
This concept can determine the structure of a festival and not only of a project like More Than This, that is based on displacement. Through time, festivals have always been conceived as occasions for welcoming new artists and new audiences. But how can a festival feel welcomed inside a territory that is not its own?
Simone Frangi: what’s your opinion on the notion of inclusivity? This is the most critical point in Jurema Mombaça’s position.
D.B.G.: the concept of inclusivity has its limit in the distinction between an inside and an outside that are predetermined according to the political performativity. There is a predetermined limit to and a political acceptance – the latter being intentionally problematic – of the inclusion of something or somebody in a predetermined territory. This translates into a colonialist occupation of a territory, defining rules and deciding who can have access. Inclusivity, especially in Western society, is considered as an exception to the rule, based on the fact that every territory has its unwritten rules that allow someone to be included without being really part of the community. The point is imagining a territory that is not defined by regulatory or naturalisation rules, and that can be founded on equal rights and possibilities for everyone living, even temporarily, there.
Simone Frangi: I’d like to ask Elisabete and Francesca how this subversion of the political order can translate into the work of a curator. How can the binary notion of hospitality – applied to the practices of the artist and to the formats – be dismantled? Can some curatorial rules be dismantled through new programming practices? And how?
Elisabete Paiva: as you were talking, I was thinking of the importance of conceiving a festival outside of its natural territory. Materiais Diversos is usually considered as a festival strongly linked to its territory and to the specific identity of its community. I – differently from the previous director – am not from that territory, so things became more complex and mixed-up almost immediately. When we were organising the Displacement at Short Theatre, we realised that we weren’t relating to the subjectivity of a festival or a territory, but to all the subjects composing it. I think that the introduction of the individual, of the dialogue between two persons, between two organisations – rather than the dialogue between territories – can add a new layer to an issue that can potentially be very fruitful.
In this process, we try to avoid the possible simplification of the territories where our festivals take place; instead we promote the dialogue between groups of people that direct and develop festivals in and with those territories, without trying to represent them.
Francesca Corona: I was thinking about the relationship between territory and hospitality. The Displacement section of More Than This will include practices very different from the ones we had imagined, adding another gap to the relationship between territory and hospitality. As it was impossible to physically host Materiais Diversos while preparing the festival, to share the same spaces while we were imagining this Displacement, the relationship between hospitality and practices (including the ways of inviting the other) emerged as more important than the one between hospitality and territory. Making room for a festival, therefore for “someone” already used to invite and host the Other, implied a sort of training, maybe more intensive than what I expected, even with respect to the real possibility of mobility we are operating in now.
E.P: I totally agree. It was very frustrating not being able to come to Rome and spend more time with our workgroup. We knew that according to Short Theatre work method, we needed to read together, walk together, eat together and – in the meanwhile – to think about the Displacement. Our only solution was to hold our meetings on Zoom and this required some – unexpected – training. It was intensive, as Francesca said, and forced us to summarise without simplifying (that is not easy at all).
While Francesca was talking, I thought about how everybody sees a festival as a complete map, a finished product that represents a discourse, a vision, a territory. Instead I consider it as the small, visible part of a bigger concept, a work process that is never really finished, complete.
During the organisation of the Displacement in Rome, I felt that some choices were the result of a series of temporary elements: the unusual work of these past months, not being able to be together and, at the same time, the desire that some of the artist might travel with us.
D.B.G.: I’d like to add a word to the imaginary lexicon of the project More Than This that was drafted two years ago using such key words as hospitality, complexity, displacement – as the project aimed at cancelling the rigid distinction between the territories of host and guest. The word I’d like to add is “contagion”. Hospitality practices imply a potential contagion and “infection” in relation to the use – and non-use – of defined practices. In this peculiar year, how can we reconsider the possible contagion implied in these practices? And reconsider the elements that constantly and sometimes subtly redraw the line between who infects and who is infected, as we are also infected by the practices of the Other? In my opinion, the Displacement can be seen through the lens of infection, of what gets inscribed in the DNA once the infection has taken place.
S.F.: Replying to what Daniel just said, I’d like to analyse the notion of complexity, challenged by this idea of “contagion”.
We usually consider complexity as something additional, while the real challenge we are facing now is the need for a new narrative of complexity. Another challenge with theoretical – but also practical – implications is represented by the need to redefine complexity through the questioning of diversity. Is it possible to renounce diversity? Sara Ahmed in “On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional Life” analyses, with an extremely critical approach, the rhetoric of diversity with respect to institutions. Often artistic-political subjects considered as foreigners in a territory that, as Daniel said, is extremely well-defined, usually cannot access it at all. They are then included in institutional narratives to prove that the institution itself supports anti-racism, anti-sexism, complexity and diversity. Sara Ahmed underlines that this is all emotionally hard for these subjects because, in addition to being “othered”, when they are included in an institution, they are asked to harshly criticise the institution itself. Therefore, the institution operates a form of secondary exploitation.
In terms of organisation, curation and creation of the locations, how can we work complying with complexity without exploiting its rhetoric, in a more fluid dimension? How can we conceive a mutual interaction and use institutional locations in a different, maybe “risky” way? This happens when a festival or an institution opens to audiences that don’t have many keys to interpret the woks; in this way the worth of artistic or curatorial projects could be endangered.
D.B.G.: In this question there are two very interesting elements. When we organise a festival, we are organising something that will be the result of what we observe and how we observe it. Performing art requires that we train ourselves in the way we look at things, but at the same time it is part of colonial history and therefore has to deal with the meaning of looking at another body, at another practice, and has to do it in a way that brings into question not only the body being observed but also the way it is observed, acknowledging that the eyes that look are part of a political and historical system in the history of “vision” in the West. This is what comes to my mind when I consider Sarah Ahmed’s proposal to try and understand how this political discourse can undermine the history of pedagogy and not only its content. There have been several interesting analysis lately; while you were talking I remembered something Su’ad Abdul Khabeer said «You don’t have to be a voice for the voiceless. Just pass the mic». We as curators, shouldn’t always follow the idea of giving someone the chance to talk, instead we should find out what are the structural elements that enable someone “to pass on the mic”, in order to shift from welcoming the other to empowering the other.
E.P: as far as we are concerned in our work, we try to give as much space as possible even in the curatorial process – to all the artists we invite. It was very generous of Short Theatre to give us space to continue our dialogue with the artists. I especially care about the notion of complexity, that is usually linked to the idea of summing up and that instead now deals with the necessity to subtracting, removing. It is very complex to work when so many things are missing.
F.C.: you were quoting Sara Ahmed and stressing how minorities included in institutions can end up being vampirised. I think this is the most important issue of the present time, it’s the closest risk – the one closest to our generation of festival curators, of minds thoughts, emotions. We described this Displacement as some sort of training; but we could also talk of an “untraining” of our way to look at things, of learning not to underestimate this risk and activate practices to remove layers from our eyes. How much can we trust our eyes?
S.F.: I believe the Displacement is the tool devised by More Than This to implement processes of decolonization with respect to some national and behavioural habits of ours on one side, and on the other side to pave the way for new collaborations that doesn’t result only in exchange of skills but that also in the creation of “risk zones” for all the institutions involved in the project. There is a theory very dear to me by Susan Leigh Star, a sociologist of science, that describes how we conceive our life, our activities and our formats according to the concept of space. Think of space as an arrangement of priorities: Things that are more important are closer to the centre; things less important are farther away. The centre is always defined with respect to a set of questions. […] How are formal (mathematical, computational, abstract) representations defining the space of our world? What are the moral consequences of using formal representations? [Ecologies of Knowledge: Work and Politics in Science and Technology, edited by Susan Leigh Star]
A map is always the result of a set of rules accepted by the society. How does this spatial tool named Displacement revolutionise the rules of community acceptance? What does the Displacement teach us?
Cultural objects emerged in a determined community space, once moved in another space, do take on completely different meanings and put at risk artistic practices, institutions and the ideas behind them. My question revolves around the efficiency of the Displacement as a pedagogical tool. Do you think it produced any changes from the institutional point of view?
F.C.: As we are talking, the Displacement we built together yet has to take place, or we can say that it happened in the world of imagination and we still have to watch it while it happens. The issue of de-subjectivation is the first mechanism to become apparent during the organisation of the Displacement. The moment we renounce our claims about the territory and the community we want to build or we think we have built, we also need to renounce the idea of the curator as someone who oversees everything, who imagine all that will happen in the future and that happens now. The Displacement includes, in a radical way, the negation of all this. It’s not a co-curating work or an invitation to another curator, it’s another kind of practice: it means stepping aside and observe things as they happen (something we do when the festival finally takes place and not when the festival is imagined).
Short Theatre 2020 will open with a lecture/assembly held by Elsa Dorlin. Understanding the value of Elsa Dorlin speaking in front of the Ex Gil is fundamental to see the differences between the territorialisation and localization of the discourse. These two completely different elements are not to be confused, and I say that to myself as well. We have an educational responsibility as institutions and therefore we have to work in a clear and well-defined way, on the concept of localization, avoiding any anthropological perspective.
S.F.: It’s very interesting to oppose the idea of anthropological perspective to the idea of pedagogical perspective. Pedagogy includes in the critical process also the subjects that voice the needs of the education sector (i.e. institutions themselves); while anthropology usually does not consider the subjects asking questions. What you say is very important with concern to an expanded pedagogy, a pedagogy of institutions and monuments, a process based on and permeated by real complexity.
E.P.: in our case we had to delegate to Short Theatre this part of the work, a part we usually see to in detail. We know nothing about the Roman audience, we guess it can include also people who are not from Rome, because Rome – differently from Minde – is a Capital. We think there might be some minorities, numerous artists, but we are not sure. We left the matter of the audience and of the pedagogical approach in the hands of our workgroup. It was a strange training. I’d like to highlight this: we hadn’t planned to travel with four Portuguese artists. We decided it in June, while we were organising the Displacement. It’s so strange to realise that we are a Portuguese festival presenting three artists from Portugal and one from Brazil. As Francesca said, we don’t know what will happen; the Displacement is in progress and we will know what it has meant for the workgroup, the audience, the artists and the festivals itself only at the end of Short Theatre. I am very curious to see that will happen to the artists, who have not been presented as “the artists of the Portuguese festival”. All four performances deals with the notion of place but in different ways; this is the common thread: they all find themselves in a place, in a certain condition and each of them is distant from an alleged “Portuguese question”.
I’d like to add something about complexity and curating, as both I and Francesca underlined. A festival is not a finished product. It’s a point on a long journey. It’s an exercise, a train of thoughts and it can’t be locked up in a product. It’s the creation of a community constantly under construction, a community that does not wish to assert a single identity but to evolve together in a never ending transformation.