Teaching and learning Performance Art

With Jörn in Fluid Academy. Photo: Evamaria Schaller

I have just arrived home from Bern, Switzerland, where BONE 18 performance art festival was held. It is the subject of ICE HOLE 1/16 (coming out in March/April) that I’m co-editing with my dear colleague Jörn J. Burmester. The issue will have the same theme as the festival: how to teach and learn performance art. Today it is taught on university level. What does institutionalizing do to performance art and is it even possible to teach and learn such a rule breaking art form in a school? I mean, it’s like asking can you teach punk attitude in an institution…

Besides watching performances each night, I spent my days in Fluid Academy organised by Jörn; an open learning and teaching space of five days for anyone interested. It was like a workshop but not exactly. Jörn had chosen some themes for each day and invited some guests but on top of that there were no teachers or students. That was the rule. All participants were teachers and students at the same time. In the first day Jörn wrote on the black board “How to be fluid?” and we all, including him, started improvising in the space with some random objects and materials that were put there. By meeting artists with different ages, backrounds and practises in action was the answer. The following days we observed the streets of Bern through a wooden frame and created performance scripts from the most interesting observations. Then there were guests. Performance Artist Dani Ploeger threw his interest in žižekian objective and subjective violence on to the table and held a music lesson of Denis Cuspert’s music; the rap he did under the name Deso Dogg and the jihad war song he has done as Abu Talha al-Almani after joining ISIS. Artist, Curator and Writer Joël Verwimp instead wanted to find out could performance art be listed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. We went through the criteria by trying out stuff and discussing. In the end I wasn’t sure if UNESCO would accept performance art in the list but I was convinced that it should be listed, as it is the most accessible of all performative arts (anyone can do it, no particular techniques needed) and yet the most “difficult” because of it’s freedom. On the last day we declared 4th of December as the Day of Performance Art in a tiny public demonstration.

Black Market International, an encounter of 12 performance artists world wide, was celebrating it’s 30th anniversary in BONE 18. The members represent different ages and practices and they meet and perform together once or twice a year. In Bern they were all on stage for two performances based on improvisation, the first without objects and latter with objects and materials. Besides this they each made solo or duo performances throughout the festival. I was really moved by them, by their work, by their attitude and their personalities. You could see long experience and love of performance art in them. I had a chance to improvise with some of them in Fluid Academy and it was a pleasure. They were so instantly fluid!

So yes, I do believe that performance art can be taught and learned. By doing it yourself and watching others doing it. For example in a festival like BONE. You don’t need a degree for it but like with any form of art I think the institutional posts, degrees and studies are there to give these marginal ways of being a social and cultural weight they deserve. And of course, to have the possibility to study for example performance art in a university, to specialize, is a great fruit of civilisation. But what will happen in the future, as the genres continue mixing and merging, and performance art, as Jörn pointed out, is the most fragile of them all? Many performances in BONE 18 were as interdiciplinary, as participatory as contemporary theatre or dance performances today. And what will happen if finally all education becomes profit oriented? Is the choice of an artist a profession per se after all? This is what I discussed with another dear colleague, Florian Feigl, who for the time being works as a professor of performance art. This was his punch line:

“I should give them dental floss as a graduation present and tell them to start flossing. Because in the future they won’t have the money to go to the dentist.”

Some photos I took from Black Market International performance on Sunday 6th of December:

Boris Nieslony, Jürgen Fritz, Alastair MacLennan
Elvira Santamaria Torres
Boris Nieslony, Jürgen Fritz, Roi Vaara, Marco Teubner
Helge Meyer, Marco Teubner
Myriam Laplante, Elvira Santamaria Torres
From behind a plastic wrap: Lee Wen leaning against Jürgen Fritz’s back.
Christmas tableau