Personal Basics (English)

Sarma 23 Apr 2006English

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Contextual note
This is the statement of Constanze Klementz held during the Sarma-colloquium „Unfolding the Critical“ at Tanzkongress Deutschland 23.4.2006. The text was originally written in German and translated by Martin Nachbar in English. Constanze Klementz is a Sarma-critic, if you want to read more about here, please visit the following page Constanze Klementz

I work as a critic. Not only, but also because of this I have an understandable interest in stating that the critic as a function in society has not lost his role – although most of the traditional understanding of the profession’s performance no longer catches up with cultural practice. Connected to this is the question, whether one can think a changing potential of the critical only without or also and maybe exactly along the example of the critic.

The profession “critic” goes back to an institutional understanding of criticism, which has hardly anything to do with my perception of reality and of the participation in this reality in contemporary art and society. The critic knows like no one else about the omnipresence of criticism as the king’s road of analyses and judgement of the world (or of art) and how this follows an obligatory and pre-fabricated set of categories.

He is asked in almost all areas of the journalistic everyday to follow the old pattern: Analysis, interpretation, and judgement through the templates of his special knowledge and by help of a hopefully complete apparatus of notions, which encompasses his object in order to unlock its hidden sense. Or: The critic is reduced to his product, criticism as text. Once the believe in the one and only ”truth” to be unveiled in the arts starts to dwindle, often also the readiness to pay attention to the, how ever formed, responsibility not for but in face of the object dwindles. Then everything is about amusement, brilliance, and sparkling polemics, an entertaining piece of text.

The feature pages, as a format in that art has its place in the information-medium newspaper, understand themselves as the reflection of cultural discourses. Letting selected representatives have their say, produces this reflection.
Between their “relevance” for disentangling, understanding, and judging reality contexts and their privileged access to a public, a connection is constructed. The representational character of this selection of representatives equals the representational character of the reflection.
The critic is representative, because he is supposed to be not just a, but a special, an especially trained, experienced, in short relevant watcher. By installing the critic as a “independent”, “incorruptible” authority in the service of an editorial office, the editorial office ensures itself of its sincerity and competence and so does the critic of his. In this double setting-up of the critic as authority, personal and objective aspects of his perspective are mixed up in an unhealthy way, which can easily lead to a distortion of the critic’s self-image. But in the moment in that he can’t (or doesn’t want to) distinguish anymore between his person and his function, between the own strategies and the ones of the system he moves in, the critic disconnects from his contemporary work reality.

One should never identify his work with the system that it takes place in and at the same time, work has to actively and constantly slave away along the mechanisms and implications of this system. I didn’t learn this at the desk but in the theatre.

Similar to the traditional model of criticism, the black box has survived so well and for so long, because it installed itself next to respectively over and not in this world, as system aligning ways and qualities of our perception like a stencil. I made my first experiences as critic in a time in which dance started to regard not only the ones hither the imagined forth wall as its agents, but the entirety of everybody present in the theatre. Dance was now interested not only in the dancer but also in the watcher as hubs of movement, being moved, and sense. I was impressed and formed by pieces that didn’t just serve the theatre or castigate it as the hierarchical, authoritarian, anachronistic machine, which it is in many aspects. Instead, by blocking or letting run hot specific wheels, they forced this machine to moments of running on the spot, of collapsing, and of interrupting rhythm. These weren’t limited to the demonstrative showing of functional disorders. They were open pores and waited for what I would do with them. In such moments, I was urged mainly as a watcher (and only as every critic is just a watcher, also as a critic) to deal with my role in this game. I was not a representative, also not an authority, but a collaborator. In the beginning, this put me under quite some pressure to justify myself with the definition of critical distance in the back of my head. At a point though, whether I wanted or not, I had to stop defending a terrain that was not mine.

What I want to say is: I learned what I do in a context of artistic research objects that urged me to understand, that my so-called object is not an object. Not a piece of art that I in my role as critic could harm or be useful for, but a process of communication, resulting from the meeting of art and watcher. Described as a dialogue, this communication is not to do with the critic asking questions and art answering or vice versa. I rather sense this talk as an unpredictable, inspired and inspiring, and infiltrated monologue. Every reflection of a critic about a piece is to a large extent: Monologue. Nice for him, one could say, and ask, who should be interested in this self-reflection after just having said good-bye to his role model function as super-watcher.

I think that criticism can develop a new form of potential, when the critic enables the reader to see in him “only” another watcher with another point of view, and when the reader has every right (and no other choice) to appropriate the text he is reading as alertly as the piece he watches. Just as in the theatre, this happens via in-between spaces that remain unoccupied and that prevent the machine from just running smoothly. I don’t have a blueprint for this. I know by experience that in nine out of ten cases one will fail in this attempt that might seem pretentious at first glance. Nonetheless: Only when not just articulating criticism but when also allowing or even causing blurriness in its own system, criticism can become pervious. The blurriness that I mean is not an invitation to the author to become vague or imprecise in his approach towards a piece. On the contrary, the blurriness I mean only turns up through very exact watching and text work along myself and the objects I perceive – not with the aim to put the system “criticism” well over an object, but to let the system’s boarders fray out. Thus, as an alternative for criticism (and not out of pure self-preservation), I don’t plead for no criticism but for a criticism that is willing to put itself out of action.

When Beuys said that every person is an artist, he didn’t mean that every artist therefore would become generally superfluous. And when scientists such as Irit Rogoff demand that the critical should no longer be acquired with a licence and be defended as a domain but, as pathetic as it might sound, be shared and lived out, I don’t automatically feel threatened in my existence. On the contrary: What contemporary choreography has found right, criticism can only find fair – to refer to itself and the system it emerges from, not from the distance that is always the privilege of “others” but right from the practice.