Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Faki Epilogue: Ghosts in the Medika

Well, it's over. Over the 6 days of the festival, I saw all 26 shows except my compatriots When We First Met by Anything is Valid Dance Theatre (AU), a victim of an unexpected public holiday, and managed to review 20 of them at a rate of about 3-4 per day. If that doesn't seem like a lot, you have never written a review. Engaging with 3-4 shows a day, 3-4 entirely different realities in one gruelling evening, only to wipe the slate clean and begin again with the previous night's shows still ringing in your ears, is difficult. Not to mention talking with artists about their work and what you've written about it, getting to know them, and then not having the time to talk with them because you have to write about the new shows. Human interference is complex but, as I was reminded at Faki, it's part of living in a community. Along with sweeping, cooking, and mopping, making society is part of the work which must be done.

I became a kind of machine at Faki. Like a critical thought computer. If my writing seemed to take on the same rhythm each day that's why.

The art at Faki was revealing of some growing and continuing trends among artists in Europe. The tendency for 'emotional mining of the self' - exploiting and manipulating your own ontology for performance, was pushed to the extreme in some cases. Metaphors, once kind of important in art, were now uncool - much better to simply manipulate and intervene in reality. Collaborations seemed also to lose their power in comparison with the authentic power of first-person story.

To this end, much of the best work I saw was a blend of truth and fiction within the self, creating a distorted mirror for the audience, and a kind of emotional purity (real or not). Such work stays away from the 'safety' of representation and moves firmly into the danger of ontological instability. Poetry gives way to a reality experiment, slightly curated. But it should be pointed out that although this sounds risky, it isn't necessarily. Art is most effective when it is about what otherwise can't be spoken or made visible - to this end, the self can seem like an easy target, or indeed, one which excuses almost any subsequent transgression through the perceived total ownership over our own experiences. This created some moments where the self was mis-used: removed from metaphor, it was simply left dangling like an amputated limb - as a tool to be appropriated and then thrown away.

The humanist in me balks at the prospect of employing the self in this way, at least, without some end goal in sight. I've written previously about the 'Artist as Battering Ram' - this was my paper at the Baku Theatre Conference 2014, delivered to a room half-filled with military and government officials - but it's not a rebel without a cause, and there's an important difference. We don't exploit the self for its own sake, or to generate a narcisstic mirror. It's a means to an end - standing as its own metaphor of the self-hate generated by mass media and the political machine, but also as a means of breaking through the cynicism to find other realities. At a time when dehumanisation is rife across the globe, and inequality remains the invisible, unspoken destroyer, we must find a way to re-humanise life again.

So we evacuate Medika and leave our ghosts to add to those of the previous 19 festivals, stuck to the graffiti-covered walls and ready to add yet more history to the former pharmaceutical factory. Faki is an anti-institutional institution, and with Medika receiving local support in an environment where many companies in Zagreb were massacred - in keeping with arts policy in many other countries - it's likely that the festival receives even more prominence as a site where voices can make their anguished appeals amid rising right-wing sentiment across Europe, and as the humanitarian project begun post-WW2 continues to be broken down by institutional and corporate forces.

No doubt Faki rejects such grandeur. This is in part what makes the festival special - it's not afraid of refusal, and not afraid to be unloved. It even pushes this quite far. But, like an annoying uncle at the dinner-table, it's only asking such questions to try and help you.

So until next year, as Josip underwhelmingly exclaimed after the final performance of Faki 2016: "That's the last show of the festival whoooop!"

And until next year, your correspondent signs off.

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