Experimental Practices

6 Months 1 Location 1 Jan 2009English
Mette Ingvartsen (ed.), 6 Months 1 Location, 2009, pp. 69-72

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What does it mean to set up an experimental practice? What are the social/ political implications of insisting on an experimental practice being important in itself, beyond the results the practice might reach?

Does an experimental practice have visibility? Who are the spectators of such a practice? What can the sharing of artistic strategies create within the field of performance, not as a self-affirming act but as an opening towards a critical space that insists on questioning and moving the borders of choreography further, even beyond bodiless performance, choreographic objects and dances without dancers etc.

Does art, when being concerned with affirmation, actually loose all its critical potential?

Is the sentence; «it was great!», followed by a smile so much better than the… »it’s interesting but I am not sure I understand what you really want» followed by a disappointed frown?

If we are speaking about works that are not about dancing well or feeling good, but works that create problems, works that force you to ask yourself what the hell the performers are doing, works that leave you space to think, works that are not entirely complete and closed off and ready to be consumed, works that want to find out something and works that articulate their own area of interest, then maybe we have to reconsider these criteria of evaluation.

Say…you just presented a work that stretches time on purpose for very specific content related reasons and the remark you get is “I liked it a lot but it was a little bit too long…”, then all you can say is; GOOD, that’s exactly what I had hoped for.

How badly do you really want to make a GOOD piece, if a good piece would be the end of reflection, of searching, the finishing of a process that fixes the performance into an object?

I guess it depends on the alternative. If trashy, dysfunctional and bad would be the other option - then yes, I would prefer to make a GOOD performance. But, if the alternative would be the risky, the not-yet-established, the exploration of different modes of presentation I would definitely prefer that, and sometimes that might even be the trashy, dysfunctional and bad.

The terminology of good and bad is maybe exactly what we need to get rid of. Finally, the reception of an artwork is always much more complex than what we can reduce to binary judgments. It is composed by the relationship between the artist, the spectator and the artwork itself, but I would say at least as much by the institutional frame in which it is presented, the discursive or artistic environment that it has be created out of, and not to forget the social, political, contemporary or historical conditions the work has been defined by.

Once all these parameters have been clarified we can maybe attempt to ask the question about when an experimental practice becomes interesting to share with a general audience. In which state of development should experiments and practices be shown and for what reasons? Because why should an audience not be confronted with the different steps within an artistic research, if these steps could be the place where the complexity of the artwork would be unfolded? Are artworks only relevant once they have found their final form or can they also be discussed on the way, can this way even be the artwork in itself?

However much we (artists, curators and spectators) would like to predict the future, all we can do is to speculate; what will be the next break-through, the next new thing on the market, the next master piece that will tour for 10 years… In the meanwhile we (artists, curators and spectators) might as well stop wanting, favouring and making GOOD performances and start making whatever it is that an invested practice produces and fight for the possibility to exist in as many different forms and products of presentation as possible. Of course, this does not mean that the performances produced are bad, or unfinished, rather that they put emphasis on the integrity of the practice and allow the outcome to result from that.

I am not interested in showing you my process; I am interested in what the process performs.

It is not the same notions of performativity and intention that appears before, during and after the making of a work. The question is how to allow all these modes and times of producing to differentiate, to find their specificity and particularity and, more importantly, their frames.

OPEN UP, I want to see your rehearsal!

To rehearse is not something interesting to witness in itself, it can indeed be very boring to watch people repeat the same thing over and over again. But, this is not to be confused with what rehearsing can perform. The type of expressions that are impossible to reproduce once placed on stage. To “write” in experience, to solidify in the act of speaking/doing/rehearsing and practicing can in itself be seen as a performative practice. We cannot or should not distinguish practices into categories of rehearsal, performance, reflection and preparation if we want to invent new temporalities and spaces for performance. We should rather try to find the right frames of presentation that would allow different modes of interaction to exist, without misunderstandings being the result of that process.

We have to do away with preparations taking place in our spare time, with rehearsals taking place in dance studios, with performances always being connected to theatres and institutions. We have to do away with after-talks being the only place for explanation and reflection, away with applications being the only place for conviction and speculation.

In order to rethink research within the field of performances… Please, do not tell me what I should do!

If performing artists are only supposed to make their work public in the moment of showing the finished result, and in this moment they become subject to public opinion and the mechanisms of the market that tends to reduce art practices to mechanisms of failure and success, it will be the sure way to an art that is scared to fail. With an art that is scared to fail I mean practices that rely on formulas that have already been established, so that the chance of audiences not understanding or not being able to follow would be eliminated. Practices we could call anti-experimental.

On the other hand, to remain marginal on the outskirts of the market, not “making it” into the popular circulation equals that one simply does not exist as a performing artist. Without a stage to perform on, there is simply no performance… or is there?

Do we, as performing artists, not have to insist on making work visible on many different levels of production to avoid the danger of this marginal invisibility? In other media the time of existence is not limited by the “running time” of the artwork. Films, sculptures and video installations, for instance, do not disappear the moment they are not being shown. Within the performing arts we have to continue finding ways of existing beyond the hour of presentation, extending the life of performances beyond ephemeral disappearance.

Coming back to the question of defining experimental practices. Maybe we should try to think them in terms of practices that make the medium of dance differ from itself. From its own fundament, its history, conditions and modes of production. Of course we could say that hybrid practices, practices that think choreography through other media, could qualify as experimental today, but that does not suffice to create a definition. Experimentation must have to do with breaking with what is normatively established, it cannot have to do with what one actually does. It has to be an approach rather than a way of working that can be clearly defined.

To practice experimentation must be

1. to differ from the normative code that is established within the field
2. to differ from oneself
3. to finally produce a difference both within the field and within oneself

Think of sexual practices, for instance. What might be totally new and experimental for you might not at all be new and experimental for somebody else. Naturally, this does not mean that you won’t feel the effects of the experimentation, nor does it eliminate your curiosity or desire. In this sense experimentation for the sake of oneself, to differ from one self, must be considered an important parameter in relation to having a motivation and a drive to experience something new. However, when thinking about this in relation to artistic practices the impact on the wider field cannot be substituted with this kind of personal satisfaction. The practices have to produce an effect on the broader context as well, which is why we should insist on the sharing of these experimental practices as well. The work we do for ourselves might exactly be what works for somebody else.

Nevertheless, you can never know when the others will be flabbergasted by your experiments, so at least make sure you will be flabbergasted yourself.