Speech by Lotte Faarup (artistic director of The Experimental Station)
Monday d. August 21, 2023, at the industry day at the Wawes festival, Vordingborg.
Artists are losing power
Thank you for inviting us to this industry day. I’m here today representing The Experimental Station – a workshop for practice-based performing arts research for professional performing artists.
But I’m not going to use my speaking time to advertise the Experimental Station.
I do, however, want to make a political call for art.
You could also call it an invitation – strongly inspired by conversations I have with people in The Experimental Station – who are primarily artists from the independent field and children’s and youth theater.
In 2019, together with colleagues from The Experimental Station, I experienced the Dutch artist Johannes Bellinkx and his work “Reverse” in Copenhagen at the Metropolis festival.
It consisted of having the audience, 1 at a time, walk backwards through the city for 1½ hours through a long route through streets, in and out of buildings, through parks, across roads… The work was inspired by a non-linear perception of time and wanted to challenge the participants’ understanding of past, present and future.
That experience subsequently led to some interesting conversations with the people I experienced the work with:
When you go backwards, looking at your starting point, everything new adds itself as something peripheral, coming in from the side as an addition to what has already happened. The starting point is key. The past is central. And the new impressions come as a non-aggressive addition to what’s already been done.
You could also say that the accumulated experience and knowledge becomes central and new experiences only slowly add up and only over time become part of the overall picture.
Many of us experienced this performance as a striking image of how the artist works and understands their work, namely as a lifelong work of their own, where the artist defines and navigates themselves in relation to their work. its starting point and constantly builds on it. Even when there is a radical change of course.
In other words, artists don’t throw away their history and identity all the time, they build on it. And that’s why it gets rich.
The cultural and art policies of recent years are pulling in a diametrically opposite direction.
A lot of politics has to do with commercializing art, understanding it as a commodity to be sold and therefore constantly changing format to be new new new new, never before seen, better than the others…
Art must constantly evolve…. Development development development development development… not a bad concept in itself, if it is understood as building on already acquired knowledge and experience – but the concept is more commonly used as “if you want to develop you have to create something new we never seen before, something no one others have come up with, something that not at all similar to what you usually do”
Art must grow, art must be consumed and eventually thrown away so that something new can be produced…
A business-oriented commercial rhetoric has crept into the discussion of art and culture in many contexts. There is talk about the economic value of culture, about development potential, about being commercially oriented, about ensuring the best competitive conditions for art…, it is stated that:
“Culture is a good business that can be even better”, even many of the arts and culture’s own bodies have largely adopted this rhetoric.
And so the mouse wheel can turn, people can perish and experience and edification can fall by the wayside, on the terms of the capitalist market…. Because GROWTH is the logic to navigate by – GROWTH?!!!!! The phenomenon that is responsible for the massive climate crisis we are facing right now…
Art is being commercialized. And it’s hitched to other people’s carts.
A political use of art has crept in when cultural politicians talk about how art and culture can solve some of society’s biggest challenges.
Artists spend an extreme amount of man-hours reinventing themselves and thus diluting their own identity when writing applications for increasingly controlled and targeted funding.
There’s a high risk of losing your own purpose, losing the insanely original idea, or the idea that only grows because it’s repeated because you’re constantly in the recipient’s head.
But it’s absurd. What are we doing there?
There is a high risk of losing touch with your own ingenuity and faith in it when you apply for funds subject to someone else’s very precise agendas, such as a cultural policy initiative that wants to create more interest in art and culture in a peripheral area and offers a project at a cheap price that must produce a fairly precisely defined result relatively quickly…
It could also be solved by giving a big pot of money and lots of artistic freedom (and confidence!) to a new theater in that local area. I’ve seen it work.
The focus of public and private foundations is being pursued. e.g. municipal, domestic or foreign policy initiatives where, for small amounts of money and without thorough and extensive preparation or decision-making rights, you solve other people’s tasks, e.g. in social, educational and health areas…
It is not to the artists’ advantage to have their work capitalized, it is not to the artists’ advantage to have their power taken away from them and act as a cheap advertising agency for other people’s agendas.
People perish and the DNA of art is destroyed – I see it time and time again in the community.
It’s to the benefit of art and all of us when artists are given the framework to maintain their own artistic focus, when they have the freedom to criticize power, when they can immerse themselves in original ideas and work in the long term to continuously accumulate their experience.
This speech is a call for performing artists to take power over their work.
The power they should have over their own artistic creation.
What we need:
Serious financial foundations.
A support system that assesses quality and at the same time adheres to the arm’s length principle by letting the competent artists themselves come up with the ideas…
To communicate our art on the premise of art and not through countless other bodies that arise in the wake of art.
We need peace of mind so we can create quality.
We do, because it is art’s most important task to be free to challenge power and turn the world upside down.
Because creating human cohesion through art is our primary mission.
To create collective thinking spaces that don’t navigate by commercial principles, but aim to support the community.