“Product” and “Repeatability” The new norm?
I have been holding The Improvisation Summer Course in Amsterdam since 2009. This project gathers international experimental artists to create real time compositions that are played live in the Freakatoni Witchy Weekend festival. I moved this project to the OT301 Cultural Centre in 2016. Due to the Netherlands’ coronavirus restrictions, the OT301 building was closed for gathering until further notice. The Improvisation Summer Course and its Freakatoni Witchy Weekend festival was postponed until 2021.
As the lock downs began, I witnessed experimental artists turn to technology as a theatre and to social media for audiences, with films, live streaming concerts and online classes. This activity proved how experimental artists have an endless dedication and persistence to continue their work. Public funding has offered less and less support to experimental artists, but they have found independent economic systems, niches, loopholes and spaces for their work. And that is what they did in the lock down with technology and social media.
While this online presence did not help with artists’ economic issues, it provided a reason to continue practicing. But in this effort, we need to continue to address essential questions that have arisen over the past years of research in contemporary art practices: “what does ‘live’ performance mean now”, and “what is our relationship to the public”?
Questions of liveness can be addressed by using technology as theatre and social media as an audience only up to a point. But performances are eventually challenged simply because the audience does not have to make an effort to go to the theatre and gather. Gathering creates the platform for them to listen, focus and feel the work. The theatre creates the situation for art to be recognised as a choice they made to be there and interact.
These questions did not occur out of people toying around with notions of liveness. We have invented scripts and scores unique to our times, and have had face to face understanding about our role with the live public. As a result, there are many books, theses and articles emphasising the role of improvisation and experimentation in what we now understand the contemporary cultural aesthetic to be.
We cannot gather until it is safe. So we use technology and social media as our new norm. But when we can gather, will this new norm replace our niches, loopholes and spaces?
Experimental arts and sub-culture spaces exist within the same public funding system as mainstream and/or museum art: artists go to panels of academics, who go to the government, who go to the public for taxes. This process has created a competitive spirit. It is a difficult path for an experienced artist and established theatres, and an extremely difficult path for artists who are just emerging and theatres that are just beginning to exist.
Art funding systems have little patience for theatres or artists who are experimental and choose to continue to be in a process. They have slowly become entirely biased toward “products” and repeatability in an attempt to defy the ephemerality of liveness. Artists, academics and educators all talk about it, yet there is very little scrutiny within funding bodies regarding how this phenomenon occurred or why it persists. There is no context provided for audiences to understand the role that experimentation and process plays while funding systems treat them as consumers and squeeze the life out of Art projects and art spaces as it dwindles towards a product. What was lost with the restrictions of touch and gathering has amplified what was already happening in relation to experimental art spaces before the pandemic, “social distancing through exclusivity”.
I created an independent economic system for The Improvisation Summer Course with its Freakatoni Witchy Weekend in order to maintain autonomy for the future of this project. But it cannot continue in 2021 if the spaces are shut down. This is not a time for complacency. Demand that the panels and the government listen. If social media is your audience, address them directly with your work online. Social media are living human beings who pay their taxes towards the future of art.
Improvisation Summer Course
Freakatoni Withchy Weekend