Curating within the Storm

in TURBA
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Sandeep Bhagwati
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Tawny Andersen
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Victoria Carrasco
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Dena Davida
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Barbara Scales
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Yves Sheriff
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We are living through a great disturbance or, as Amitav Ghosh has called it, a “great derangement.” Over decades that, in retrospect, now seem like a treacherous lull, many in the so-called Global North could maintain a belief, anchored in the everyday work of transnational institutions, that we had somehow managed to tame the four mythical riders of the apocalypse—death, pestilence, war of conquest, and famine—and that we were on track in curbing the rise of a fifth: the self-harm we as a species inflict by making our planet increasingly less habitable. The rise of self-serving, anti-globalist, anti-truth and anti-reality movements and leaders before and during the last two-and-a-half years of the COVID-19 pandemic—which is now expected to be but the first of many to come—began to erode such benevolent hopes for our future histories. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, with its barbaric strategy based on scorching the earth and systematically murdering civilians, its dire consequences for food chains worldwide, and its sidelining of efforts in the climate crisis, has only brought more gloom. The five riders are not only back—they now reinforce each other.

We are living through a great disturbance or, as Amitav Ghosh has called it, a “great derangement.” Over decades that, in retrospect, now seem like a treacherous lull, many in the so-called Global North could maintain a belief, anchored in the everyday work of transnational institutions, that we had somehow managed to tame the four mythical riders of the apocalypse—death, pestilence, war of conquest, and famine—and that we were on track in curbing the rise of a fifth: the self-harm we as a species inflict by making our planet increasingly less habitable. The rise of self-serving, anti-globalist, anti-truth and anti-reality movements and leaders before and during the last two-and-a-half years of the COVID-19 pandemic—which is now expected to be but the first of many to come—began to erode such benevolent hopes for our future histories. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, with its barbaric strategy based on scorching the earth and systematically murdering civilians, its dire consequences for food chains worldwide, and its sidelining of efforts in the climate crisis, has only brought more gloom. The five riders are not only back—they now reinforce each other.

Being (a)live in a world in which lives are cut short and livelihoods are destroyed on an industrial scale every day forces us to confront deep questions about how curating the live arts might counter such rampant dangers—or, at the very least, strengthen and console those who have survived so far. For this issue, TURBA had called for texts that examine the aesthetic and organizational resilience of live arts-making in the face of unprecedented dangers to its very existence. However, you will notice that the war in Ukraine does not appear in our pages. Our deadline for submissions was 15 February 2022—one week before Russia launched its military assault on Ukraine's cultural autonomy. Such are the time constraints of academic journals: they must resort to reflecting trends, not current events.

What is happening in Ukraine appears to be a particularly violent and cynical symptom of a more general malaise. Moral expectations about our role as considerate actors in a shared world have seriously deteriorated. Political architectures built on mutual trust and purpose have imploded, and sometimes have all but nullified the intense, yet civil, disagreements that have made our politics and our arts vital and relevant over the last few decades. Disputes about the best way to reach a common goal have been replaced with insidious and implacable oppositions that may flare up into violence at any time.

What does it mean to curate within such turbulence? Maybe it means to first take stock. For this issue, Sarah Conn, in a moving meditation, explores the impact of the implosion described above from a strictly personal vantage point. Or it could mean using artistic expressions as activist resistance, as a letter from the Istanbul collective I Am Not Alone in This Shit demonstrates? A letter from Tunis by Selim Ben Safia highlights how attempts at transnational artistic connection and dialogue can be foiled by lopsided travel restrictions that seem to be biased against those who already have less support and fewer resources for artmaking. In such precarity, aspirations for equality, equity, and diversity can be impugned and subverted by cynical programming or practical considerations. Angela Conquet self-critically records her own curator's journey from a “strategic” use of diversity to a more resilient and profound engagement.

In recent years, live arts and their audiences have been caught in oscillations of rebounds and restraints, of opening and closing venues, of reaching out and being forced to withdraw. Can live arts sustain their communitarian engagement through such oscillations? How can they weather this storm? Roselle Pineda recounts how a radio festival attempted to counter the pandemic lockdowns that threatened an already endangered Indigenous community in the Philippines. Chris Dougherty and Athena Mazarakis monitor how a previously remote rural festival in South Africa empowered its artists through the artistic use of social media. Similarly, Myra Beltran critically traces the process of how Philippine choreographers were mentored in transforming their home-based choreographic ideas into “dancefilm,” as she cautiously navigated the terrain of social media's influence on its production and distribution. Gundega Laivina looks at the changing dynamics of artistic communities as travel by artists and audiences is no longer to be taken for granted when curating live events, while Rodrigo Sigal and Ricardo Rozental unpack the efforts of a Mexican experimental music institution to sustain a long-term engagement with artists and audiences in an unstable political and social context.

During the lockdowns, the live arts even had to negotiate their own essence: liveness. How far can the human body reach out into the world? What does an audience require to experience liveness? How much do performers and spectators alike need to feel the copresence of an audience? Do we really need to be together at the same moment, in the same room? Eyal Perry interviews choreographer Lital Dotan on her window pieces that addressed such questions in the strangely quiet household spaces of the pandemic. Other artists and curators have embraced communication technologies as a new curatorial tool: Ipek Çankaya, much like Beltran and Dougherty and Mazarakis, reports on such a reinvention of curatorial practice through digital technology and the transcontinental collaboration it enables. The most detailed account of such a reimagination of the live arts is a close reading of a Zoom “performance” by artist Yan Xing, analyzed from the perspective of a panel of academics whom he staged in the various roles of curator (Andy Campbell), critic (Meiling Cheng), performers (Campbell, Cheng, Hendrik Folkerts), and audience member (Amelia Jones).

In such times of turbulence, the past may sometimes seem more current than the present. Together with its editor Tom Sellar and guest editor Bertie Ferdman, we revisit two issues from the Theater journal that over the last decade had addressed critical developments in curating whose urgency has since only increased. Going back even further, we republish a powerful crisis manifesto by composer Frederic Rzewski, penned in the turmoil of 1968 Italy, that could have been articulated precisely for our present predicament. Finally, the book reviews, while engaging with texts that aim for a slow sustainable impact, trace lasting concerns that the recent succession of crises have brought up: ethics, the public sphere—and the importance of fostering settings in which the live arts might still weather the great storm that Clayton Kennedy's photo essay around a classical music concert tries to sound.

Sandeep Bhagwati, Tawny Andersen, Victoria Carrasco, Dena Davida, Barbara Scales, and Yves Sheriff

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TURBA

The Journal for Global Practices in Live Arts Curation

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