idocde » Editorial

a fictional season

written by Sabina Holzer

 

Autumn is ending. A couple of days ago I went to a research-laboratory for artistic and structural collaboration (link). Wandering under heavy grey clouds and looking at the golden and dark red leaves around me – their colourfulness brightened up my mood. How wonderfully arranged this shift into the winter’s opacity is, I thought. As if autumn prepares the mind to tune into the different shades and nuances of colours in order to keep seeing and experiencing them when winter immerses the landscape into scales between white and black.

These in-between moments help me to stay with the light and its reflections as the world turns into the darker time of the year.

In Austria we just had elections and another shift to the right happened. Now we have a
turbo neoliberal right wing government, promoting that precarity is a personal problem and
effective performance - and everything is performance and advertisement here - will guarantee prosperity and keep a certain standard of living. Solidarity and society as community is not a promoted issue anymore. To quote the Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann here "Harder days are coming. / The revocation of deferred time / can be seen on the skyline. / Soon you must lace up your boots." (1)

In this climate shift the contemporary dance and performance scene in Vienna started to come together again in order to reinvest into the community and raise voices together. Artists in Austria have an average yearly income from their art practice of € 4 500 (monthly income of € 375,00). In contrast to other European countries (as in France, Belgium, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, or even Germany - even if the ways to support artists differ in ways and degrees) Austria’s artists have no social status and therefore no social system providing income or insurance when they are not working on an artistic project. (2) One gets access to basic support only when one quits being a freelance artist. Probably no one who knows the contemporary dance and performance scene in Vienna – from ImPulsTanz or co-production organisations like Tanzquartier Vienna or Brut Vienna – would imagine these existential threats a freelance artist is facing in Austria.

In the last years, – and one has to say unfortunately still under a social democratic government – the dialogue between the decisions making politicians, programmers and the free scene has drastically faded and become individualized. Where there used to be meetings of the free dance and performance scene with artistic directors, curators and politicians in Vienna, there are now invitations to "personal meetings" with the people who design the art field. This has separated the scene and over the years swallowed the public sphere which was a space to discuss and claim rights over working and living conditions. (3)

During the 90ties it was the free dance and performance scene that claimed, worked for and developed the concept for the Tanzquartier in Vienna. There was a vibrant political exchange between the different actors within the cultural sphere till 2008. Then the relation between curators, the artistic directors and the politicians become more potent. The closing of the Tanzquartier Vienna, as the major co-production house for contemporary dance and performance in Austria (4) over the autumn season – done without communicating this fact to the artists – motivated over 200 active Viennese artists to join forces under the open, constantly expanding platform named Wiener Perspektive. (5) We want to deal with the situation fundamentally, in order to create lasting improvements in the communication between art makers and political administration as well as to create a clear articulation of our agendas. We advocate for communication on equal terms and transparency in the procedures involved and want to be included in the essential decisions that affect them.

Within this reflection how to act fierce and in solidarity the idea for a fictional season was developed. To call for public meetings and discuss from different angles how to re-enforce the free scene and the cultural impact of contemporary dance and performance. How to create better working conditions? What is needed? We want to connect to a different artistic tissue in order to develop structural claims. To start to listen, talk, create together a vision what art could be, to be able to point and reach out into a possible and stimulating future.

I would like to ask the artists, researchers, teachers here on idocde, the questions I am asking myself when I’m wondering what my fictional season could be? What could it include? What do I expect from myself, my work, my field? What does the field need? What would be implemented, would be different in a society which embraces contemporary dance and performance? What kind of support exists right now? What kind of support would I wish for? What kind of personal support, what kind of communal support? How can I support others?

Writing and thinking about these questions, these situation I realize once again the different layers and approaches of being a dance artist - the research, performance, teaching, writing. The friendship, generosity, competition, solidarity, social intelligence and sense of community building, the heterogeneity and gestures of becoming of the contemporary dance and performance field.


A friend of mine started to end his invitation emails with the line “keep it real”. A way to “keep it real” is to trace and treasure your work. To do it in different ways. Ways which inspire and support you. As we try here on idocde. Maybe also MIND THE DANCE can be a companion for you to make our work visible. We have to keep doing that. It is our legacy. It will support us, while lacing our boots.

 

 Sabina Holzer – November 2017

 

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(1) Original title “Die gestundete Zeit”, Ingeborg Bachmann, 1958

(2) The specific situation in Austria is, that as a freelance artist one is a “free entrepreneur” or an “independent contractor”, which means in case of no work - a gap between productions - one is not “unemployed”, because s/he was never employed, but also not “employed” because there is no program by the state, who would employ one then. To get access to the minimum collateral money one has to quit to be a “free entrepreneur”. A “free entrepreneur”, who has difficulties with his/her business usually has the possibility to announce a bankruptcy. This is a non fitting procedure for artists. If an artist agrees to get the minimum collateral money, even if it is for just one month, one becomes officially a “negligible employee”. A “negligible employee” is allowed to earn € 425,70 per month throughout this whole year, no matter how often s/he received this money by the state. There is also no law to support the social & medical insurance for the situation artists are working in Austria. There is a fond, which can be much easier canceled than a law. The support of this fond is rightnnow questioned by the new government. Of course there are many countries, where artist are working under harder circumstances that in Austria, but I think the need for recognition and to value the cultural tissue of a city, a place is shared by many of us.

(3) For instance: There were open workgroups, installed by the former director of the Tanzquartier Sigrid Gareis. Artistic directors, dramaturgs, choreographers, performers, researchers, teachers and also politicians developed concepts for the city in relations to working conditions, working space / rehearsals space, infrastructure, education and touring. There was at least one meeting per year, where the curators of the committee, who are deciding, who gets money, the directors of the theaters and the artists would come together and discuss the policy of the curators and the directors.There was an agreement: there is not enough money from the city and the state. How can we deal with this situation together? How can we keep a heterogeneous FIELD? One would meet artists, each other, hear questions, exchange needs. All different models of production were represented: the 4 years, two years, one year structural founding and project founding. For me as (a young performer) these meetings were very important in order to hear how colleges work, how they speak with the theatre directors, with the curators, the politicians. What they need. What they think their rights to have are. The meetings were organised by the directors of the theaters and dance house and / or by the curators for the city. This changed after the first 8 year of the Tanzquartier Vienna. The curators of the committee invited for a meeting, but did not talk about the content of their decisions, but explained how to fill out the application form properly and said, for other questions they are happy to have personal meetings. It became a service: they kindly provided a personal talk. The whole public discussion was gone. 

Or: Everyone participating the season of the dance or performance house (performance, research, teaching, theory) used to be invited to the press conferences. Again: a social moment to come together twice a year. Just a few artists would be invited to speak on the podium. But there was the possibility to exchange with everyone, while having a coffee and cake, hear about different things; see, hear each other. It was a chit-chat, informal and even boring in some ways, but still a public moment of gathering. Now just some selected choreographers who are showing their work are invited to the press conferences. The rest of the scene does not even know when it is happening. This change was announced to make the press conferences more efficient and professional. For the field another situation to meet with each other, curators, journalists was gone.

(4) The Tanzquartier Vienna is closed for the whole autumn period, before the new director Bettina Kogler and her new team opens a new season, a new concept and a new house in January 2018. Meanwhile the money which should be used for co-productions and services for artists and dance-productions are used to renovate the house. There is no other place provided by the city where performance or the training can happen.

(5) See as attachment the paper from the press conference of Wiener Perspekive