The call for papers for this inaugural issue of TURBA opened with two truisms: “Live arts have existed long before history. At all times, and in all cultures around the world, people have performed for others.” Yet we have just lived through more than a year during which the second of these assertions was falsified almost everywhere on the planet. When performing for and near others was not only, as it often is, precarious or subversive, but outright life-threatening. Was it wise or necessary, at such a historic juncture, to embark on a new journal that focuses on how cultural communities around the world foster and debate live performances? We obviously believe so.
The roots of this journal precede this as yet unparalleled threat to live performance. Over the past decade, and in all the different live arts, one could already discern a critical shift away from simply “programming” events according to habit, taste, opportunity, and moment and toward a curatorial approach modeled after the one that now permeates the visual arts. On the ground, at seminal conferences and seminars, in university programs, special topic issues of theater journals and coffee break exchanges at international festivals, a palpable need for a new discursive forum around this shift became manifest. Accounts of these dynamics across many countries and continents can be found in this issue.
TURBA's immediate origin, however, can be traced to Envisioning the Practice, the 2014 international symposium on performing arts curation that took place in Montréal. Its proceedings gave rise to the first global anthology on the subject: Curating Live Arts: Critical Perspectives, Essays and Conversations in Theory and Practice, published by Berghahn Books in 2018. This publishing house then readily supported the launch of a new journal around the ideas and authors from this book. Just before the pandemic hit, a core editorial team of five live arts scholars, curators, and practitioners was formed by one of the book's editors, Dena Davida. Enabled rather than discouraged by the lockdowns, this much-awaited forum for curatorial exchange gradually took shape.
The unparalleled global curfew imposed on the live arts during the pandemic is not the explicit subject of this issue. Still, its repercussions can be felt in many of the texts: a perspicacity sharpened by enforced distance from the daily fray, a desire to rethink how the live arts manage to transform proximity and immediacy into public affairs. How will this collective expertise fare in a future that promises to extend human behaviors ever more toward the digitized and mediated? Reflections on how to curate in the live arts, a subject that could well appear to be arcane, may suddenly appear to be tools for survival; and curating the live arts may mean to interrogate what indeed is “live” about them. More than before, curating (as its Latin root curare [healing, nurturing] implies) also must involve taking care—not only of the art form and its artists but also of the human beings in the audience.
We invited the members of our editorial and advisory board to tell us why, how, and in what contexts they see a need for curating the live arts. There is, after all, no one way to curate. Ten of them responded. Their often personal answers sketch brief histories and sociologies of curation in the live arts, with a critical eye on its pre-pandemic state in specific contexts, genres, biographies (Takiguchi, Adewole, Vnuk, Fijalkow, Bertels, Ferro-Murray). Or they portray the curatorial turn in the live arts as a welcome opportunity for changes in the practice itself (Ferdman, Farnsworth, Ertem, Gareis/Haitzinger). Does the rise of live arts curation represent just an unfolding, naming, and claiming of an already storied practice, does it just lay bare the forces that have always driven the live arts? Or is this rise, rather, evidence of a profound change in the way societies think of and deal with the live arts—and thus with themselves? By re-formulating the past while attempting to presage the future, these Janus-faced essays set the tone for the entire issue.
Thus, each issue of TURBA will re-visit a historic publication or event that has shaped this rise—and ask its authors or other thinkers to update, re-think, comment on it. In our first issue, we turn to the editors of the first publication entirely devoted to the question of “Curating Performing Arts”: Issue 55 of the Croatian performing arts journal Frakcija from 2010. In a conversation with us, Florian Malzacher, Tea Tupajić, and Petra Zanki reflect on the evolution of the field over the past decade.
TURBA, like the worldwide community that nourishes it, is a deliberately heterogenous journal that welcomes many epistemological perspectives—and with them, many different ways of writing. “New Research” assembles academic papers, some of them peer-reviewed, while the section called “Vantage Points” offers poems, field reports, essays, interviews, conversations, and manifestos that provide crucial insights and questions, experiences, and speculations.
The five research articles in this inaugural issue retrace how and why the term “curation” was adopted for the live arts (McKeon), study the case of an off-the-grid festival without an audience in mainland China festival (Rosarius), explore the blurry lines between curation, art making, and social engagement (Bunt), interrogate how curators throughout the European new music festival circuit generate and converge on the cultural value of certain works and composers (Venturi), and champion live arts curation as a tool to effect shift cultural policy away from market forces (Letunić). In all of them, and indeed throughout this issue, critical examination is entangled with case studies, social critique, and activism: live arts curation always takes place at the confluence of these different ways of engaging with the turbulence of life.
The texts in the “Vantage Points” section extend the scope of the research questions toward the personal and the intimate (Kinner, Archer, Conquet, Jones), offer reflections and reports on what it takes to make curatorial decisions and how disturbing their consequences can sometimes be (Extragarbo Collective, Bautista, Grover), and shed light on the interplay of theoretical discourse, peer-pressure, and programming practice (Scales). Two book reviews complete this issue: both books, as most recent books on live arts curation, are collections of interviews with live arts curators. This prevalence of evidence over theory indicates that our thinking on live arts curation is still in turbulence and has not yet had time to settle. Consequently, the reviewers chose to appraise rather than critique the diverse approaches, interlacing them with their own observations and reflections. They thus allow the diversity of perspectives to flesh out the field, rather than holding them to a non-existent standard.
Each moment of a performance is a writhing bundle of narratives: Does the act of curation seek to tell us which of them we should see, hear, appreciate, prioritize, endorse? Is it thus a narration that creates the very reality it describes? Does curating simply empower the live arts to become matters of discourse—or does it, rather, constitute a move to re-make the live arts? It is our hope, that in its diversity and heterogeneity, this inaugural issue may offer some fruitful responses and open new questions.