Thursday, May 26, 2016

Faki Day 2: Human Trafficking, Creative Class, and 'Civilisation by Proxy'

It's morning at Faki on Day 3, and the festival settles into a familiar rhythm: healthy vegetarian lunches, random happenings and events, somehow a lot of pressure, and at the same time, none. Violence hangs in the air as a kind of general idea along with the sounds of punk metal until 5am, ever-present, acknowledged, discussed - and importantly, never, ever acted upon.

Day 2’s performances were characterised by a more direct contact with contemporary politics and propaganda, as opposed to the shock of yesterday. The neo-Marxist Sketches of Freedom kicked things off, complete with unscheduled stage intruder, followed by Dutch/Malaysian collaboration Can’t See Through Your Eyes and the intriguing The More You Dance the More You Get, a metaphor for people trafficking. Norwegian Terrorist/Capitalist/Christian cult music theatre project U-DUB was the entry for oddest but potentially most avant-garde work of the festival, whilst Japanese dancer Kazuyo Shionoiri’s meditation on death was an intensely personal communion. 

Today’s casualties in terms of criticism are both performers of Emptiness/Fullness and Can’t See Through Your Eyes - being dance performances which I read as not engage a discourse outside of their own logic - not the fault of the works by any stretch, but I am just lacking the tools to dissect such work in a useful way.

I am holding up ok, by the way. I think we all are.

Sketches of Freedom

The term ‘Creative Class’ is used to describe the demographic of young people who are characterised by a particular type of exploitation. Working mostly in culture and tech (or combinations thereof), they spend their time floating from unpaid internship to short-term freelance gig, never enjoying fundamental rights or government support, appropriating/hijacking infrastructure where they can, and scavenging from the edges of societies. A particular type of oppressed, they will never enjoy wealth, and conversely, are powerful influences in symbolically shaping cultures and politics (referred to as ‘change makers’). 

The neo-Marxist dance work Sketches of Freedom asks the principle question of whether it is actually possible to create anything from such a class position – in their terms: “Are we really free to create in Europe today?”. It is question many will be familiar with – the act of creation, after all, requires a certain type of freedom, even extremely limited, as a prerequisite, and if you’re chasing money all the time you are, in some terms, precisely not creating. The economic conditions for artists is therefore important, as it creates the frame from which any kind of self-expression might potentially be reached, and the ‘baseline’ standard – eroded by the poverty of the creative class – is the principle factor of determining this freedom for work whose cultural outcome is not determined by a cost/benefit analysis. Without boring those already familiar, but because it’s important to remind ourselves: the material reality will define the culture produced. If you remove the economic safety net, as is happening under neo-liberalism in many economies, you get a particular type of cultural nightmare - music theatre from corporations, pop-stars playing arena gigs, Cats on repeat. Forever.

Sketches of Freedom borrows heavily from the playbook of soviet-era performance. The beginning sees one performer, Tommaso Monza (also choreographer),  introduce the others via loudspeaker, and announce the structure of the show (first part choreography, second part improvisation). Workmanlike formation dance follows in front of a projection of neo-Buddhist Capitalist slogans, occasionally drifting into parody: “Yes We Can!” “Not in my Name!” “Je suis Catherine Deneuve”. The accompanying movement evokes worker movements updated for the creative class – a perfect formation, punctuated by an occasional deviation from an individual, who is then disciplined by the others and by themselves. The slogans gradually transfer into cynical reversals: “No, We Can’t!” “BUT, The show must go on!” and references to the ‘Grand Tour of Culture’ and the structure of creative capital and city-building. As this self and group discipline continues, the slogans slowly transfer into fusions with dance – “no innovation without improvisation” and some more optimistic – if futile – statements: “Every small dance is a small act of resistance”.

The second act, the improvisation, is announced by Tommaso, who also employs a volunteer to time the 20 minute improvisation. What followed was complete collapse – dancers wandering around, aimlessly, generating the nothing from which to rebuild. A rebuilding begins, and at this point, the performance was unfortunately interrupted by a stage intruder – taking the concept of improvisation a little too seriously – who proceeds to be adopted reluctantly into the improvisation. As inspired as she may have been, it was clearly a bad idea to intrude in what is probably the performance’s most fragile point. Despite their best efforts, the performers never really recovered, bringing an unfortunate end to an argument half-made.

Still – perhaps the metaphor becomes something else: it’s not capitalism that is the barrier per se, but our lack of understanding. It is, in other words, each other, and our communication breaking down. From such a space, it is indeed, impossible to create (among other things).

The More You Dance, the More You Get

The More You Dance the More You Get begins with a dancer (also choreographer, Evie Demetriou) with her face covered by a purple wig (think of a purple Chewbacca head on a female body). She starts to move, hitting herself in various parts of the body, in movements which reminded me of the Maori Haka, evolving this into grabbing different parts of her body as if referring to some kind of lack or disgust. Suddenly she moves her wig up, and looks at us, as though for the first time. “30 Euros”, she says, grabbing her breast. “40 Euros”. And so it continues, becoming an inevitable rhythm coupled with a mantra: “The more I dance, the more I get”. She distributes pamphlets. The performance ends.

The pamphlets describe statistics of human trafficking of women and children (see below), and indeed, this is the surprise target of the performance. According to the program, the character is “a nobody who is forced to expose, sell and resell a body again and again”. As the pamphlet states, human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, with approximately 20-30 million victims globally (though estimates I think vary, given the obvious problems with documentation). There are various structures supporting this trade, not all of them the obvious (brothels etc), and human trafficking is basically an embedded part of the capitalist system – one of its more problematic elements, of course, because it absolutely destroys lives.

The More You Dance the More You Get benefits exceptionally from the specific nature of its target, and the simple generalisations which can be made from it. The huge problem of human trafficking for sex highlights the issue whilst suggesting a way to access the objectification of women in performance, and particularly dance, in as much as it is a display of the body (not the first performance in Faki to engage this). It’s not a huge leap to extend this into the society itself, with the treatment of women coming directly from their disempowerment within modes of looking and to be looked at (see aforementioned feminist discourse).

The More You Dance the More You Get is a great work about a critical, often misunderstood, issue, acting as a metaphor for the imprisonment of women in its various global forms.

The information leaflet for The More You Dance, the More You Get was intended to be about Croatia, but for a last minute mishap. The artist has generously supplied this, and I have published the full text below the reviews.


UPDATE: I'm reliably told that the phone call made to the Norwegian authorities regarding the hijacking of a plane was not staged, i.e it is a real recording of a prank call made by the artists, in which they pretend that a plane has been hijacked and are eventually referred to Norway's Ministry of Defense.

I was more than a little unsettled walking into U-DUB. Maybe it was the candles, maybe it was the small figurines of Jesus Christ, maybe it was the small, human-shaped, raised platform in the centre behaving like a kind of sarcophagus, maybe it was the slowly rotating models of city structures, maybe it was the general feeling of ‘cult’ in the air. Take you pick, I guess.

As the projections began the show in earnest, I didn't get any less nervous. A highly stylised magnifying-glass animation zooms around a damaged scripture of the Gospel of Judas – famous for its claim that Jesus initiated his own betrayal by Judas - finally resting on a section explaining the difficulties of ‘civilisation by proxy’ and dwelling on ethical responsibility. Some eerily reverent live-musical interludes and interventions follow, and a central counter-narrative emerges – performed by two children, it is essentially a gonzo investigation into why people will kill rats with rat poison but not face-to-face. Street interviews, presumably on the streets of Bergen, are spliced with a Flight Simulator journey from Bergen to Molde which is hijacked by (presumably) terrorists, and a – continuously re-directed - conversation with the Ministry of Defense about what should be done (eventually it’s shot down).

U-DUB is part of a larger, 6-part work called DUB-Leviathan, and as a stand-alone piece I got the feeling it didn’t get a chance to explain itself fully. The performance occupies a singular space in its discourse: the dangerous cocktail of Christianity, capitalism, and terrorism creating ethical distance for citizens precisely so that people can defer any sense of personal responsibility. The engagement feels very much post-Breivik, with his contradictions – a Norwegian-bred terrorist championing Christian imperialism - throwing up immeasurable challenges for the famously inclusive Norwegian society, and for the ethics of global capitalism. The symbolism of the child-actors investigating the ethics of the system, given that 69 children died in the tragedy, is unmissable and important. The subject of ethical deference built into ‘Christian Capitalism’ is a difficult, important subject that few address (but which loomed large during Breivik’s case), as it is the principle determinant of the global system and its most powerful ideological contributor. This makes it difficult material, because what it is trying to discuss is so embedded in the western world as to be invisible.

The ethical target, this “civilisation-by-proxy”, is in ethical terms the key issue facing western democracies today, and U-DUB provides an interesting and rare attempt to deal with this on a theological and ethical level. I needed it to be said more explicitly – but perhaps this task is for the full version. The incorporation of child actors is a problematic but key element post-Breivik, raising the key question of what legacy the developments in this Judeo-Christian Capitalist global system will leave for future generations, and how they might negotiate the tragic outcome.


Sketches of Freedom (ITA)

Choreography by Tommaso Monza
with Tommaso Monza, Andrea  Baldassarri and Lucia Pennacchia. 

The More You Dance the More You Get (CYP)

Devised and Performed by Evie Demetriou 

Directed by Tore Vagn Lid

Trafficking women and children for sexual exploitation is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world.

Human Trafficking is a global issue with approximately 20 to 30 Million victims worldwide.
Approximately 80% of trafficking involves sexual exploitation.

Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Croatia is a destination, source, and transit country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking.

During 2014 in Croatia, police and NGOs identified 31 victims of sex  trafficking. Six additional persons were victims of forced labour.  22 of the 37 identified victims were minors. Nearly 90 percent of the identified victims were Croatian.

More Information:                                

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