These are some thoughts by Quim Bagas Bassart from the European Dancehouse Network Atelier, “Who am I? An exploration of how artistic identity is maintained in a nomadic life”. The two day event was held at the DanceHouse Dublin, 11-12 December and featured performances and discussions. For most contemporary dancers, sustaining their practice involves continual mobility punctuated perhaps by residencies of weeks, months, or in some very rare cases, years.
“I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming,
the house protects the dreamer,
the house allows one to dream in peace”
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space.
Each time I enter into a new place full of people the same certainty arises: I am an outsider. it is not my home and I am not allowed to dream in peace.
At some point, someone will come to me and ask:
– What do you do?
– Who are you?
There is, in fact, something very awkward happening when I meet someone for the first time: a need bound with a certain imposition to explain and describe myself through the job that I do. Lucky enough, I’m not the work that I do though work takes an insane amount of time and it is the reason behind being approached with this kind of questions in several places.
Andy: So what do you do?
Frances: Eh… It’s kinda hard to explain.
Andy: Because what you do is complicated?
Frances: Eh… Because I don’t really do it. (1)
It is rather odd to answer this question with all the quantity of things that I do during a day, during a month or during my already lived life. Anyhow, I might be the things I do. Including being bored, of course.
Nevertheless, we all know what we should answer. Often, that is very depressing.
The whole explanation of who I am might generate a whole discussion on labels, ways of seeing the scene, assumptions made about the field of dance and choreography and the need to put people in boxes. Actually, I belong to many boxes. Some people call it boxes, others call it stigmas.
The etymology of stigma (2) embraces a mark. A mark which is above your body and your own will for identity. As Maria Koliopoulou mentioned during the Atelier, people in the borders are being marked. People in the borders are being marked in 2015 (3);
I live in 2015. I’m a creature of this era together with many others. An era which asks people what they are by positioning them into a specific field and their level of efficiency, an era that is becoming a pure logistic of bodies and duties flying around between one place and another… In fact, I am a carrier. I am a commodity.
By saying my name, I am allowing myself to be many others and, at the same time, be everything that I am not.
Instead of thinking about myself as a body I like to think of myself as a constellation: resonance.
My body is in many places and many of my words are still in places that I don’t remember anymore. Someone said that our body leaves traces in everywhere we go.
My body might be affecting the living experience of the people around me; my body can provoke fights without even knowing it.
My body is part of many technologies that are prolonging my experience of self.
My body is not mine because it belongs to too many.
Six degrees of separation is what connects one person to another human on earth. Those connections are alive and they are a constant potential to have in mind.
At the same time, right now, in this exact moment, there are pieces of land that are slowly separating; the earth is a moving entity which doesn’t understand about a human concept of borders or identitites. In millions of years, the earth, as we know it, will not be the same.
It is actually relevant to acknowledge that all around us is movement: from the movement of the land to the rotation of the sun, to the spiral of the earth or to the fluxus of the Facebook network we have or decided not to have. We are surrounded by a movement that is happening right now: movement is here. We are moving and being mobilized; “the world is already here”. (4) Now.
Maybe it is important to acknowledge how we are moving. That movement might be the source of many identities.
Things. Things are all around us. Those things are ours in the same way they are not. So, I am whoever I am in the same way that I am not.
Even though there is a market that is trying to push artists to have specific discourses and specific ways of talking about their work, we should decide which language we are talking every time we are opening our mouths. “The change of language, changes us” (5). In fact, “We must urgently find our artistic language and artistic arguments again.” (6)
Maybe it is time to stop giving things for granted; stop thinking that artists deserve money for making work, that dance only happens on stages, that we care or that there is a privilege on what we do.
There is no privilege about trying to work despite your identity. There is no privilege on having a house that you are actually paying for. There is no privilege behind the idea of travelling. There is no privilege in the world of dance. There is no privilege on being instrumentalised by cultural politics and fund by governments that wants you more out of the country than inside the country. To sum up, there might be no privilege on the feeling of privilege.
I tweeted: “Can we find ways of talking about art-world/making from a sense of commonality?” (7)
And I continue: Can we find ways of talking about art-world(s) from a sense of continuation? Can we stop talking about “my own work” and start talking from a bigger perspective that goes beyond defending one’s own position? Is there a possibility to engage in conversations that are not about gigs, opportunities or taking profit but instead about building up something bigger, that we may never see? How do we make sense together?”
I’m good enough.
I’m moving forward an accepting that my body is in a constant transformation. My body is evolving together with many things and others that are part of my body too. My body is the relations I have, the family I created an the family I was born with, my body is this “I” and the extension of other bodies and devices. My bodies are fragmented and tear apart by many labels that don’t belong to me but to many others.
Facebook data centre. Several places in the world.
Nevertheless, I need to re-construct the pieces of identity I have left and, as Fanon says, “In the World through which I travel, I am endlessy creating myself.” (8) Becoming subject and object, substance and liquid, presence and disappearance…
It doesn’t matter. I am here and I will be there. Nevertheless, I reject to be a nomad. I have the suspicion that there is no wander in what we do; we are not nomads because we have a purpose. We are not immigrants either because our movement is not permanent; our movement is not mean to stay.
As artists/dancers/choreographer/whateverwewannacallit, we shouldn’t be meant to stay; we are just passing by. We are just policies with political wills. We should have a purpose.
The cultural policies are inviting artists to travel: to move so much that no one knows where you are. As a possible consequence, your opinion will be less present, relevancy decrease and your impact inside of the community diminishes. Furthermore, programs of mobility will keep the protest away of its “origins” and will enhance an ideal of a product which is radical, edgy, confronting to an audience that is less affected by the worries of the project. By moving constantly as European policies are asking us to do, our work dissolves into numbers, logistics, production cost, ticket sales and a long list of numers. By being in movement, we are becoming part of the logistics and statistics of neo-liberalist approaches.
Opposite to that, by being in movement there is also the potential of questioning our own commitment as artist in different ways, which goes further than comfort, patriarchal structures or the need for identity. It is exactly from that commitment that I sense there is a place where we can stand for “something” and start an exchange without knowing if we will ever see the outcomes.
Someone: What do you do?
Someone too: What do yo mean?
Someone: What do you for living?
Someone too: Oh, I’m a choreographer.
(Several animals pass by between those someones)
Someone: And you?
Someone too: I’m a dancer.
(Awkward pause or end of the conversation)
“To see what you have always dreamed of seeing.
But what have you always dreamed of seeing?
… Or else, rather, to discover what you’ve never seen,
what you didn’t expect, what you didn’t imagine.”
George Perec, Species of spaces.
(1) Lines from the movie “Frances Ha”. Directed by Noah Baumbach. More info: imdb.com
(2) “stigma (n.) 1950s (earlier stigme, c. 1400), “mark made on skin by burning with a hot iron,” from Latin stigma (plural stigmata), from Greek stigma (genitive stigmatos) “mark of a pointed instrument, puncture, tattoo-mark, brand,” from root of stizein “to mark, tatoo,” from PIE root *steig- “to stick; pointed” (see stick (v.)). Figurative meaning “a mark of disgrace” in English is from 1610s. Stigmas “marks resembling the wounds on the body of Christ, appearing supernaturally on the bodies of the devout” is from 1630s; earlier stigmate (late 14c.), from Latin stigmata”. Online Etymology Dictionary.
(4) Dr. Gerry Keans note on his contribution at the Atelier “Who Am I?”. 12/12/2015. Dublin.
(5) A note I have from Guy Cools on my notebook. Atelier “Who Am I?”. 12/12/2015. Dublin.
(6) Frie Leysen: Embracing the elusive. 2015.
(7) Twitted at Quim Bigas Bassart account the 12/12/2015.
(8) Frantz Fanon “Black Skin, White Masks” New York Grove Press, 1967. p. 229