Ana Vujanović and Marijana Cvetković in collaboration with Zampa di Leone
OPEN GLOSSARY – ENTRY No. 03/08
Society – politics: context – THEORYPHOBIA (Ana Vujanović)
One of the specificities of our social context is anti-intellectualism. “Theoryphobia,” as the irrational and persistent fear of theory, is only a part of the atmosphere. It means that you have the jargon and common sense truisms, instead of the concepts, articulated notions and explainable relations. This implies a certain laziness of mind, which further implies grasping beliefs instead of thinking and learning, and thus a vulnerability to being manipulated by the truths offered to us by those we believe in: professors, mass media, politicians, authority of any kind… This simplifying line reveals a bit of the logic that gives the primacy to theoryphobia over the theory that is present on various levels of the local social practice, from daily life to art, through to the university. In our local languages, you can find the indicative curse: Don’t philosophize! Or don’t theorize! Meaning: Don’t waste our time, do something. Within the fields of cultural and social movements, in spite of the heritage of the Praxis group, there is a gap between activists and theorists, and no one has confidence in each other’s discourse and action. Activists accuse theorists of blocking direct action by deferring it into long processes of thinking and re-thinking it, while theorists accuse activists for naïve behavior based on reductive and short-term thoughts.
There is even a fight within the fields of art, art education, and the university. Theory is what is opposed to (art) practice, and vice versa. The opposition is based on ignorance. Contemporary art theory itself already turned (into) it, asking: Is the relationship “artwork – discourse” as clear as it has traditionally been set? Where is the boundary that segregates the artwork from theorization? Or can we talk about the phenomenon without its conceptualization and contextualization at all? …When the distance between theory and practice is so relativized, questions from theory itself follow: How can theory ask for positivism and neutrality, as traditional science did, when it does not act from a trans-social space? If social determination is constitutive of theory, the it is also imbedded in its relationship towards the object. What is then theorized: object or effect, or an investment of grasped object and constructed effect? …In spite of these old thoughts, theory is still considered here as that which stiffens art and neglects its ineffable dimension under the request for discursivity, and art is seen as the object of theory, a matter that should be articulated and translated into discourse.
One personal example: when I was a post-graduate student at the Faculty of Dramatic Arts in Belgrade in 2003, I wrote an essay on the subject, “The problems of contemporary theater directing.” It was a scholarly written essay about Robert Wilson’s production of “empty signs” within theatre by means of the montage of attraction developed by the soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein; it was a theoretical essay with references and argumentations. My old professor rejected the text saying: “It’s nothing. It’s not about art. It’s ‘abracadabra’” (“abracadabra” is used here as a magical word in a negative sense, i.e. as a useless word), and he was serious. I failed to pass this exam six times; this postponed my graduation by several months.
In the 1970s, Charles Harrison asked: “How is it possible to study art without knowing its theoretical presuppositions? Imagine a student of physics, who studies physics and is not familiar with its theoretical grounds!” If you might think that the relationship between art and theory and their inextricable co-existence was resolved long ago, now you have an example that it’s not like that everywhere. However, the newest generations of theorists, artists, and cultural activists have started to think differently. In my opinion, it’s one of the main tasks of the Other Scene, as a platform, to make a space for at least hearing others’ voices, which can empower previous particular attempts at surpassing the local theoryphobia. The new tool that I stand for as an alternative to the binary opposition is: “theoretical practice.” It creates context and even becomes a constitutive element of art or cultural work as its theoretical object. On the other hand, art and culture are also set as discourses that pose questions to theory. In a conversation with Rosalind Krauss, Hubert Damisch said: “[the theoretical object] is posed in theoretical terms; it produces theory; and it necessitates a reflection on theory.” These mutual recognitions and relations are not only about Arthur Danto’s “atmosphere,” but also about making a platform for material interventions into the Artworld or the Cultureworld. Otherwise, you can watch TV; the pre-election campaigns are so relaxing, and promise you a better future without any theory indeed.
Art – culture: independent scene – NOMAD Dance Academy: a regional platform (Marijana Cvetković)
In 2005, a group of dancers and choreographers created the Balkan Dance Network as a regional initiative for the development and promotion of contemporary dance. The initiative originated within the similar social and cultural frames of all the Balkan countries, such as a lack of infrastructure for contemporary dance, a lack of regular supporting funds from the state, mostly neglecting cultural policy, restricted educational opportunities, limited markets and “brain drain” in contemporary dance. Already established links and cooperation amongst artists from the region indicated that significant capabilities of influencing those unfavorable conditions, and a coordinated and focused joint action, could take the entire contemporary dance social-cultural cycle a few steps forward. The Balkan Dance Network is based on the self-organization of individual artists and organizations interested in long-term collaboration and mutual support for strengthening the contemporary dance field in the Balkan region. The partner organizations are Fićo Balet, Ljubljana, the Brain Store Project, Sofia, the Tala Dance Center, Zagreb, Lokomotiva – the Center for New Initiatives in the Arts and Culture, Skopje, STATION Service for contemporary dance, Belgrade, and Tanzelarija, Sarajevo.
The main project of the Balkan Dance Network is the NOMAD Dance Academy, an educational and research program that gathers all available potentials and resources for contemporary dance on both the local and regional levels with the aim of contributing to improvement and professionalization of this field within the Balkans. NOMAD is made as a bottom-up process, offering solutions to the common problems within education, artistic research and production as the three main program lines of NOMAD. Its educational program is an alternative that should fill a gap in the educational system in the Balkans and improve educational opportunities for young dancers and choreographers as well as research conditions for experienced ones. With its largely developed structure and network, NOMAD aspires to promote dance as a socially relevant and inclusive artistic field. The entire set of proactive devices offered by this program is a certain “supplement” for local cultural scenes, and a further development of platforms for cooperation emerging within South East Europe.
The NOMAD educational program is made to improve and encourage the exchange, education and creation of contemporary dance within the Balkans through a set of workshops, lectures, study visits and encounters with artists and theorists from Europe and all other related countries. It provides daily professional open classes, workshops and lectures from contemporary dance practice and theory, space for individual research and contacts with local and international artists and institutions. It started in March of 2008 in Skopje, where a group of 13 selected young dancers and choreographers began their four-month travel through the Balkans. They lived, learned, worked and moved together from Skopje to Sofia, Belgrade, Zagreb and Ljubljana until June, 2008. After the completion of this phase, they will have the opportunity to get a residency in one of the European centers. The research program is focused on the development of the NOMAD program, depending on the different needs recognized by contemporary dance professionals from the Balkans. The production program supports large productions as results of NOMAD research and artistic development or smaller co-productions of NOMAD members and invited artists. This program will foster touring and performing in partner countries and elsewhere. The complexity of the NOMAD Dance Academy and the ambitions towards strengthening a platform for exchange and cooperation in the Balkan countries has given the first results of the improvement of conditions for contemporary dance development in some countries (such as Serbia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina). The next test for the Balkan Dance Network and the NOMAD program will be the reactions of cultural and educational authorities, as well as dance communities in each country after the end of the educational program’s first year.
- Ana Vujanović, PhD, is a freelance theoretician, organizer, editor, dramaturge, lecturer in the field of contemporary performative arts and culture. She is also editor-in-chief of TkH, Journal for Performing Arts Theory, Belgrade.
- Marijana Cvetković, MA, is art historian, art manager and cultural worker. She works at the University of Arts in Belgrade. She is a Manager of Station Service for contemporary dance, Belgrade, and NOMAD Dance Academy. Currently she is working on her PhD on museum management.
- Zampa di Leone works within the parameters of cultural activism in the Balkan region. Zampa first fanzine is In the Arse of the Balkans and parodies the entire movement of balkanization of art practices. Zampa’s experiment that is a sort of aesthetic reformulation of the Balkan creates its anti-history.