POSTDANCE Dialogues Introduction:
From October 14-16, 2015, MDT in Stockholm hosted a conference called POSTDANCE. The term wasn’t elaborated in any of the conference’s promotional material, but stood as a flag driven into the ground by an attractive mass of names – Swedish and international dance artists and theorists whose presence in one room for three days promised a lot. And these events are nothing if not promises – promises of assembly, of accordance and affinity, of disagreement, history being made, lines drawn, bottles emptied, of colorful outfits, being there when it happens, loving it with an absurd and faithful passion, being part of it, whatever it will be, but it doesn’t exist yet because the promise is mostly that if you show up, you’ll help create it.
The first content of the POSTDANCE conference was that it was sold out. Calls for tickets piled up on the Facebook page and each morning a line formed of people waiting for seats. The popularity of the conference and the fact that so many people traveled distances to join it, is owing to this on-point and impressive collection of speakers, but surely also to its proposal of this neologism, this elliptical “postdance”. The assertion of a term like this is an assertion of power, and to show up near the term is a reach to align with that power. Write down a word in the style of a title; write your name below it along with the names of four of your friends – there: you’ve formed a group and the group exists. A desire to be part of a vanguard, when a movement coalesces by the very fact of its being named, this is a bit what we were all here for. Of course we existed, of course we were lovers – our names are carved right there in the trunk of that tree.
But instead of a definition or a wave, there was what Siegmar [Zacharias] called the reenactment of a conference, all of us following the score the academy offers – keynotes were followed by panels, panels followed by catered lunches, and once repeated the whole day’s schedule trailed off into “let’s continue this conversation over a beer”. Some of us wondered about form. What if panels were called debates? What if the speakers were self-selected? What if topics were generated by participants?
What I cared about most was this inevitable micro conference – movements of words and bodies flickering below what appeared on the schedule. I handed out maple cream cookies that a friend brought me directly from the Toronto airport. Someone showed me on her phone that three people viewing the livestream of the conference had taken screenshots of her face in the background. Sitting on the benches out back, a few of us disagreed about when to say ‘performer’ and when to say ‘dancer’. We took walks along the moorings at lunch and looked at the houseboats. Mist settled on the water. We winked at each other. People moved about the theatre between at least seven types of seating including windowsills and laps and bits of floor. At one point I had the sense that every second person was messaging someone across the room with a joke or a bit of sly commentary, and that felt like exactly what we should be doing.
Björn Säfsten: We are in the foyer of MDT. It’s the last day of the Postdance conference here in Stockholm. We’ve been attending different parts of the conference. I was here on Wednesday, Emily was here on Thursday, and we’ve both been here today.
I think what was interesting at the beginning of the conference was that it felt like the majority of the people on the panels were reluctant to even feel that they could—or would want to—discuss “post dance” and what would “post dance” be? There were several different notions, like, is post dance: conceptual choreography? Or, is post dance something new and innovative? What is actually ‘post’? Throughout the days a lot of people have been trying to reclaim post, [laughter] I felt, somehow. But in the beginning people were not at all wanting to be a part of that. It was also interesting that in one of the first panels, it felt that there were a lot people that kind of needed to excuse their own appearance in terms of power somehow, of being the selected ones to speak—
Emily Roysdon: It’s because we’re in Sweden.
Björn: but also because I think the atmosphere around the conference has been that everyone is here.
Emily: Let me ask quickly, I have never encountered this term “postdance” before. Did it evolve in an organic way or is this really coming from the curators of the festival?
Björn: I think it comes from the curators of the festival, yeah.
Emily: There had been no prior rumblings of the term?
Björn: No, not that I know of.
Emily: None that I’d known of either. I was curious because sometimes when a term like this comes to prevalence, or there comes a conference around it, it’s because it’s been in discourse, and it’s been coming out of people’s mouths for a while, and then we have to figure out what it means. But this is really sort of coming from the top down, as they say.
Emily: So it should be post dance with a question mark.
Emily: Or maybe in front of it and behind it.
Björn: Yeah. But I’m wondering also if this maybe reflects on the position in Sweden of kind of—the big rupture in discourse started to happen maybe ten, fifteen years ago, when the conceptual dancing came into Sweden with a big shebang and things altered and changed. It was for maybe five or ten years that there was a lot of discussions and debates and blah blah blah, and maybe now it has established itself a bit. I’m wondering if the curators are maybe wanting to ask “where are we now,’ or ‘what is the next step?’ When dance doesn't have to be the old representation of dance anymore, swishing around in a big space. Where are we now?
Emily: Moving well to music.
Emily: Yeah, I’m familiar with Andre Lepecki’s writing so I imagined that once you edit a compilation called DANCE (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/dance), you then have to immediately ask about ‘post dance’.
In the introduction to that, which I like to have students read, his articulation of the choreographic and the absolutely political nature of it. So I assumed that’s sort of what he’s going with, with the ‘post dance.’ I can’t speak for the other organizers.
But it’s very interesting that the post is—people are reluctant. I wonder if it’ll take hold, if it’ll be something that travels, or that continues to be asked or if it’s just falls. I'm more interested when a term comes into vocabulary because its needed, we need it, rather than speculation.
Björn: I’ve been feeling as well that there’s been a difference these days between the theoreticians, somehow who’ve been more interested in the post dance, and the artists are more and more kind of just feeling, ‘well, I do what I do.’
Emily: I heard that yesterday.
Björn: There’s a very strong punk kind of feeling—‘well you can say whatever you want about us, but I’m working on this.’
Not being against having philosophical or political arguments in relationship to the arts that they are doing, but just not so interested in how this discourse, or their art would be placed in the cannon of history.
I think also of, like, for how long should something be post? Because we were having the problem of what is the post modern, which is a long time ago. And then also the contemporary is not either a word that says a lot [laughter] so maybe there’s also just some ‘ah! do we really need another pre-fix?’ to justify what’s what then?
Emily: The first thing that comes to mind is the absurdity of a post-racial or post-identity politics or something which this weekend here in Stockholm we’ve seen is very much not the case. So every time this prefix arrives it should have that question mark.
Björn: I think although one of the things that has been interesting—where I think there is a great potentiality—is just how many people people have been speaking about wanting to separate choreography from dance, even more, and even further than before. Well, there’s been many different versions of this, but it’s been interesting in terms of choreography being the reflective mode of the practice of a choreographer within the field of extended choreography. And then what would then dance then be? So dance would not be what choreography makes—
Emily: It’s not a causal relationship.
Björn: Exactly! And it’s not a causal relationship, exactly. And this has been of big importance, for many people to point out, and almost I would say that dance has the potential of a new encounter with something that we as of yet can’t understand as choreography, somehow. And then from that point, a lot of people have been making the problem of: would we ever be, then, able to recognize dance as anything? Because if it’s not recognizable as something coming from the choreographic, what is it then? And how could we imagine that it would be?
Emily: Was this a specific conversation on Wednesday?
Björn: Yeah, it has been coming up in certain conversations I’ve been having, and also that I’ve been having before this conference. But Marten [Spangberg] spoke quite a lot about that, ’Oh right, quite many of us are already in that thinking.’
Emily: Yeah. I think you just provided a good background for this question of: why would this 'post dance' be a term that they want to ask about now? I love the idea that you think that there is a punk energy that is gonna keep people asserting a practice. That’s really [laughter] helpful.
Björn: Yeah and I think also maybe because of how our artistic research has closed itself down quite a lot in Sweden the last years, which I know you know probably a lot about and I know for my research project and—
Emily: —can you clarify ‘closed itself down’?
Björn: Uh, I would say it has much bigger administrative demands, that’s one thing. And the second thing is actually that some of the art schools, and this is not only within dance and choreography, but within a bigger area of Research in the Arts in general, have also been (almost freely, strangely) going into, like, accepting an epistemological view upon art. That in the wish for being accepted as science within the universities the research should be made and proved through epistemology. Instead of searching and researching on what grounds art can create its own system of knowledge, or perhaps from my point of view even more interesting its own system of learning. And some people have been raging. But I would say from higher up, as well, it’s been washing through the administrative power, or kind of trying to keep and make a small box where a lot of practices and a lot of meaning production would be replaced for the knowledge production of the science—
Björn: —which I think is extremely violent. And I think because of that a lot of artists have been very frustrated, because when the artistic research kind of boomed, it was a new arena, also with a lot of economical power. It felt like a new position to really work in—outside of the production demands of the market within the cultural sector.
Emily: Right. And now art has to justify itself in the academy—and they’re not even sure what the qualifications are for these degrees. I’ll have to clarify that later. But yeah, I think that’s interesting.
Björn: I think it is connected in the sense that: if we are supposed to produce knowledge, as in “truth through arts”, then we have to save dance, right? Also in the sense of the post dance discussion that we had before. It would then be very little try-outs, or activities, or practices, allowed anymore, right? We would need to have cognitive perspective on our arts, which we are not interested in. We know that we are not science, and we don’t wanna be science. In that sense. This is a fight. And maybe that’s also why the the post dance term [triggers this feeling of], Oh no, once again someone from the outside comes down to put a prefix on the activities [we are doing], talking about them rather than doing them. Once again, the same type of violent position pushes forward.
Emily: Even though so much of the theorization this weekend [Adrian Heathfield and Bojana Kunst] is so much about ’liveness’. Adrian, for an hour, [addresses] all these variabilities—passivity and animation and liveness— in a very writerly way he’s trying to move these terms along until there’s some kind of rupture, and that can be an OK place to be. So... I was going somewhere but I forgot.
But let me then just ask, you were just then speaking from an experienced position, that you’ve had this research project and you organized this symposium in Stockholm in the Spring [called?] Translate, Intertwine, Transgress!
Emily: So why don’t you tell us a little bit about that.
Björn: Well, it was a symposium also here at MDT and Moderna Museet. And it was called ’Translate, Intertwine, Transgress’ and it was a place in time during a big opening of an exhibition that was called ‘After Babel’. I’m not gonna go into all the details around that, but in terms of arts that are trying to have a more poetical point of view to language, and I don’t mean poetical as a style, necessarily, but as in something that is changing language as in queer. I’m taking queer here as an example of an over view on a language protest trough poetry. So poetic in this sense is an aim for making the language change, or being more uncertain, fucking up the relation between the language controlling our concepts (our way of thinking) and instead using as poetry does, making up language (as also queer) as in making a protest towards language and the violence of language itself. —[?],We structured the symposium quite differently from this conference. I would say this conference is quite classical in its format, nothing wrong with that. We had an equal amount of performances, or activated spaces for art. And we didn’t have any panel discussions at all. We had lectures where we tried to get as many of the people who lectured as possible to dare to be more performative, or daring to try out things that they normally just speak about. And most of them kept it quite classical but we tried! And then instead of having panel discussions we tried to choreograph situations for encounters for the audience. So we had a lot of curated spaces where there were happenings, or there were just food or just chill out, more generous spaces where these type of conversations could go on—that these type of conversations would be instead of the panels. Because I feel very often that there’s too little time to speak for the audience. And sometimes that’s more interesting to actually have an encounter and speaking with someone about something very specific that was presented. Rather than listening to moderated discussion that can take quite a long time and very often it’s hard to do them well. Yeah that’s maybe a sum of the concepts we worked with, yeah.
Emily: And how did ’Translate, Intertwine, Transgress’ curatorially determine who was invited? Because I understand that you were using it as method. And also, what was the question toward the invited guests?
Björn: Well, first off it was me and the philosopher Per Nilsson that I've been doing a four year research project with. Translate, Intertwine, Transgress was one of the parts of how the Research got public during the years. So we financed, not all of it (because institutions helped us) but most of it. And then Danjel Andersson The artistic Director here at the MDT and Catrin Lundqvist, one of the main curators at Moderna Museet—the four of us were kind of the curatorial team. And then there were long discussions when throwing all the people that we thought could be of interest but also in relationship to the research that me and Per have been doing, (which is a lot about this meaning production instead of knowledge production). And being inside of a practice rather than speaking about it. The violence of language in terms of determining things. Not at all as an anti-intellectual activity but just, making an awareness of this. Like poetry instead of scientific language for example. So we were interested in trying to get the people giving lectures to dare to precutse what they speak about and to let the artist speak through their practice. And then with some of the artists we had a few specific works that we wanted, that we thought were addressing this poetically view on language production. Like for example there was an ‘exhaustion’ piece from Abraham Hurtado, where I think there’s a heightened level of intensity which makes it impossible for the performers to be in a reflective mode and there for pushes them in to a state where they don’t know what they produce but are encountering their bodies in a different type of way. A different way in terms of it then not being reflective…
Emily: Jennifer Lacey.
Björn: Jennifer Lacey was also one of the artists. I like a lot one of the pieces that she did in American Realness. But she had a proposition and wanted to make a piece specifically for this context and in conversation with us. So we didn’t really know what she would present. So with all the people we also tried to have quite a long conversation beforehand, in relationship to their work that they had already done, and the thematics that we were working with, having them to make a preposition for this context. So there was a mix of experiments that they had never done, and actually things that we had seen.
Emily: I think it’s a very interesting juxtaposition to think about what you were working on last Spring and, as you said, the classical shape of this conference here. And that there are really just a few, as they call it, Keynotes, and then these panels. There’s no, let’s call it, ‘performance’ connected and not a lot of discussion time. So if we think about this in terms of the post dance or in terms of the choreographic, there are really very little active spaces. What’s the place of discourse? It’s a lot of lecturing. And in my experience yesterday, I’d say one of the panels didn’t really come together.
Emily: One person was visibly uncomfortable with the term politics being uttered. There was a reluctance to be present under the term, instead, a desire to individualize experience, process, production, to talk about health, one mans health, and not come into a conversation that thinks of itself politically.
That display, and some of the other panels, brought a spotlight to the selection and composition of the conversations. So, anyway, I’m interested in the actual organization of these things that absolutely should be understood in the choreographic practice, especially in something like this.
Björn: Yeah. And I think also what’s interesting in this constantly, I mean a lot of people come back to economy, potentiality… There’s a lot of these terms that of course are taken seriously. There’s been a great amount of thought invested into them. But I think, that for us it was important that our Symposium, maybe because this problem of the artistic research, to say that theory is not higher in a hierarchy. It doesn’t have more to say, it doesn’t have more to give. In terms of understanding the world, or the meaning, or our expression inside of it, or whatever. We need both. And they need to be affecting each other.
Yeah. I mean I don’t think maybe all conferences should take that into account. But it´s interesting that so few take that into account. There was a big Deleuze conference at Konstfack this summer. I went to that.
Emily: Oh you did?
Björn: Yes, of course. And there I was also thinking why were there so few propositions that were outside of the presenting of papers.
Emily: Mhm. Yeah.
Björn: Maybe this question needs to be activated more whether in the artistic research at the conferences that we all have in the arts field. Because if we modulate our conference as the scientific conferences do, and then, we in our lectures criticize epistemological methods [laughter]…maybe we have a problem.
Emily Roysdon (1977) is a New York and Stockholm-based artist and writer. Her working method is interdisciplinary and recent projects take the form of performance, photographic installations, print making, text, video, curating and collaborating. Roysdon developed the concept "ecstatic resistance" to talk about the impossible and imaginary in politics. The concept debuted with simultaneous shows at Grand Arts in Kansas City, and X Initiative in New York. She is editor and co-founder of the queer feminist journal and artist collective, LTTR. Her many collaborations include costume design for choreographers Levi Gonzalez, Vannesa Anspaugh and Faye Driscoll, as well as lyric writing for The Knife, and Brooklyn based JD Samson & MEN.
Recent solo projects include new commissions from Secession, Vienna; Performance Room, Tate Modern, London; PARTICIPANT, INC (NYC); If I Can't Dance, Amsterdam; Portland Institute of Contemporary Art, Visual Art Center, Austin; Art in General, New York; The Kitchen, New York; Konsthall C, Stockholm; and a Matrix commission from the Berkeley Art Museum, Berkeley.
Roysdon's work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the 2010 Whitney Biennial, New York; Greater New York at MoMA PS1; The Generational, New Museum, New York; Manifesta 8, Murcia, Spain; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; Power Plant, Toronto; and Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid. In 2012 Roysdon was a finalist for the Future Generation Art Prize, exhibiting in Kiev and the Venice Biennale.
She is a Professor of Art at Konstfack in Stockholm, Sweden.
In the work and practice of choreographer Björn Säfsten the body and the mind and its connected actions are scrutinized, dissected and exposed. The focus is on creating ‘another body’, another notion of human physicality, bringing images to life that visually problematize our notion of the human nature. The physical practice expose images that occur from a certain physical action, in a chance method. The work thus takes visual turns and bends, often moulding itself whilst being performed, establishing itself a-new each time for each audience encounter.
We aim to expose physical dilemmas, deliberately creating situations where the thoughts of the performer are exposed, opened up to the viewer. The work fools around with the notion of language - striving to confuse and divert the viewer from the regularity of bodily reading. The body is seen as a multiplex of wills, desires och directions, moving away from a notion of a bodily and mental entity. Changing the notion of the body and and the embodiment of the object and the relation between the two entities are central in research and presentation.
Björn Säfsten working at Umeå Academy of Fine Arts as a researcher in choreography 2012 - 2015 and is the Artistic director of Säfsten Production. Säfsten Production is a plattform for choreographic creation and experimentation. A intertwinement of theory and practice that manifests it selves through artist joining forces in speculation and critical formation within the fields of choreography, politics, language experimentation.
The latest works of Säfsten consists of Language fools - 2015/2016, Dance-Thought (lecture performance) 2015, Idiots - 2014, _____AND___ (Skånes Dansteater) 2013, Fictional copies - 2013, Introduction - 2012. His works have been presented in places like The Judson Church New York, La casa Encendida Madrid, Sala Hiroshima Barcelona, The Baltic Mill New Castle, Magasin 3 Stockholm, MDT Stockholm, Inkonst Malmö among many others.