Let’s talk about „Cripping up“, 8 November 2017, Uferstudios, Berlin
1. Introduction: 4.5’s History; the Salon; the Protocol
The evening begins with an introduction by 4.5’s Astrid Kaminski, who welcomed guests and explained that this was the first Salon event, organised by 4.5 and co-host Anna Mülter. Kaminski introduces present members of the 4.5 collective (Sasha Amaya, Florence Freitag, Beatrix Joyce, Göksu Kunak, and Elena Philipp) and explains that the online platform for experimental dance critique was established one year ago at a conference on journalism. Now introducing different formats into 4.5’s repertoire, the first Salon aims to create not a podium or lecture situation, but rather a space in which we are all able to speak and to sharpen our eyes and arguments together on one topic.
2. Anna Mülter opens the discussion with a description of a performance at Tanz im August (TiA) and some examples of other pieces
Anna Mülter, working as a dramaturge both at the Sophiensaele and at tanzhaus NRW in Düsseldorf, discusses how the latter supported the recent show of Marcelo Evelin (“Dança Doente” – Sick Dance). Having become concerned about the piece’s sensitivity (using explicit spastic movements over the first hour of the piece) while it was still in progress, Mülter desires to expand sensitivity and discussion around themes of differently abled bodies. While she believes that many choreographers who work insensitively with material are interested in the way other bodies work, she wants to dispel the naiveté that surrounds many working and critical practices. She is spurred by initial questions including who dances what parts, who makes what pieces, and how to open these conversational topics to creators, curators, and critics.
As I am educated in dance, looking at the movement there is not a movement that is disabled or not disabled but there is a movement which is strong or soft, which is shaking. To me, there isn’t a spastic movement. We see that movement and connect it to a movement called cerebral palsy. And then it is about the context in which we use that movement.
Astrid Kaminski introduces the themes of how we can discuss and disagree without denouncing, and how to appreciate work and not be too scared of mistakes – neither as artists nor as people from the field with a critical approach.
Do we want to laugh with people or laugh at them and make fun of them?
Is the term cripping up generally negative? Because I think it can be applied to movement. A muscle can spasm as a quality, and it is something that also gives life to us, so I think it is a very valid quality to be used by people who make movement. But then of course there is the contextualising…
3. Curation; Definitions, e.g. Cripping up; Ownership; Movement and Context
The issue of curation and how bodies are represented on, and publiciced for, the stage, is quickly brought up. Questions are asked about who curates what and with which body politics we are dealing.
One participant introduces the history of the term « cripping up » (referenced in the initial invitation to the participants) which comes from theatre and refers to a non-disabled actor playing the role of a disabled character. Participants ask if this is a good comparison for dance, and further, if this comparison does hold, if it is different if a disabled artists such as Michael Turinsky teaches his dancers to do movements (“my body, your pleasure“) or if non-disabled dancers produce the movements themselves.
I find there is a conflation of politics going on, like queering bodies, bodies of colour, bodies of disability, kind of being spoken about, discussed, curated under this umbrella of otherness. And it really diminishes the artists who are producing and labouring the work itself. I wonder how we can explode and take apart the discussion of the work itself. Sorry if I am misunderstanding, but I find it problematic this root of blackface or playing a trans-person being synonymous with many bodies and many discussions and bodies that don’t fit under a normative body in dance. I think we need to approach this even before we look at methodologies in creating, because this starts to seep into how things are made. To speak of othered bodies as an umbrella is problematic.
The discussion turns to imitation in movement, and one participant argues that movement itself isn’t anything, e.g. abled or disabled, but later we read that movement based on our personal and cultural languages, as well as how it has been contextualised for us by the curatorial programmers.
4. Curation, continued; Representation and Transformation
The conversation about curation continues with participants wondering about why all othered bodies are usually lumped into one category. One participant argues that lumping all forms of non-white, differently abledness makes whiteness and abledness the norm when it isn’t and reinforces the power relations we are trying to deconstruct.
There is this discussion everywhere in Europe about curators against artists. I am very concerned about it. It is leading to no good. I feel I have lived that before.
The conversation acknowledges the problematic nature of one umbrella for all otheredness and also the need to take in many other factors such as race, class, and gender into any conversation, both acknowledging that these factors play a role, but additionally are not one and the same thing, nor produce the same lived experience for those that experience them differently and to different extents.
Maybe it could lead to something good? I never get to sit at a table and have discussions with curators like this. It’s hard for artists to speak up.
5. The Rights of Who Gets What Role; Role Inequality; Power Relationships
One participant suggests that the issue of cripping up is so important not just because disabled actors don’t get disabled roles, but because they also don’t get roles for roles which are not specifically disabled, viz. abled. Therefore, a disabled actor won’t get an abled role, and often won’t get a disabled role either. The analogy is made also with trans actors. It is suggested that this is a problem of role inequality and power relationships, and that if this were more balanced, the power of transformation would have its own right.
The question of whether imitating or using assistive devices and props is the same or different is raised.
I was thinking about that a lot too because acting and dancing is always imitating or representing something, so where do you draw the line? For example, using assistive devices, like crutches, for me this is okay or something different than imitating so called spastic movements, because there I feel the gaze of objectification so to speak, and this is sort of a prerequisite to imitation. So, I think this would still be problematic even if roles were more balanced. I think that imitating is still problematic because it can be related to insults in social life.
The conversation turns to an idea about the gaze of objectification: objectification happens by choice on stage, but what if one also lives this constantly in their everyday lives not out of choice?
If I can add, those with disabilities, especially those born with them, have a history of being objectified, of being studied, of being an object of medical curiosity, so I still don’t know what to make of it. It is something which is different than objectifying other people — but I still have to think about it…
6. Idea of Empathy
The topic of empathy is brought forth, but participants are critical about who defines empathy.It is pointed out that the idea of being fair or having a friendly approach can be very different depending on who offers it, so many approaches intend to be caring or understanding, but if they are coming from dominant agencies then this might be limited. The powers at the top of our agencies need to be queered.
7. Rethinking „Otherness“
The conversation returns to otherness: is it necessary to curate festivals for the other? And why curate all of these very different things together? Is it good to begin with the making of space for otherness? Or is it better to begin with dominance and rupture that?
I keep thinking about one of the other guests said about the curation of the body, about putting everyone under one umbrella. But I think having those bodies enter the stage is important and we are just kind of stuck in that way that bad curation happens, but at least it is a way to allow in some diversity on stage. So a tricky but hopeful situation.
Curators and artists discuss what they feel is a paradoxical situation: they really don’t want to be labelled as a gay or disabled or other curator or artist, they want to break that open, but at the same time some feel they not in a position to let go of these labels for fear of being subsumed very quickly under white, male, hetero power structures
It’s almost a paradoxical situation: we want to let go of identity politics, we should not only represent people by tags, labels, yet we still feel the need of finding ways to fight the „norm“. In my experience as a gay man, when in conversation with heterosexual friends, I feel every sentence I say is taken as universal about being gay.
8. Question of Education and Access(ibility)
Questions of access to education are brought forth: who is it that has the money and privilege to access academies, particularly artistic academies? It is put forth that the problem begins quite early in education, and that even when post-secondary institutions are willing to accept a greater diversity of students, often the applications aren’t even received. Guests question why Germany is so much more behind other European countries in inclusive artistic education, as well as the public imagination to provide opportunities, e.g. how many disabled children in Germany even think about becoming a jazz musician or a contemporary dancer? How do we change this in Germany?
One participant voices uncomfortability with inviting guests to see performances at inaccessible theatres: one should have to ask for provisions like an elevator, they should just be there, visible and accessible.
The problem starts a lot earlier, in education. So for me the problem starts with the academies which are pre-enacting what is waiting for people even before they enter the stage theatres.
9. Issues of Framing and Funding
We ask how big a role the framing, or contextualisation, of a piece plays. For instance, is it necessary to frame a piece as such, or provide an after talk? Or is it helpful, for instance, to show a piece by a disabled artist without pointing to that fact at all? Does it depend on quality and what does quality depend on?
Some argue that it should be up to the artist as to how they would like to be shown. Some curators argue that this is ideal but there are practical limits, like funding and finding audiences, and framing can help with this. It’s often a compromise, and the way funding works right now is that to get money, one needs a frame.
A journalist relates their problems of having to label their articles to get them published by their editor.
10. Ownership of Movement; on Making Mistakes
The question of who owns movement is asked: is it okay for a disabled artist to sell their technique or aesthetic but not for able bodies to learn it themselves? Do you only have property rights to things that come to you naturally? Who owns movement? What is ownership? Where does the ownership come in culture? One suggestion is that participation is a requirement for use, though not everyone agrees.
Marie Chouinard, this is a valid discussion. I also have a friend who taught able bodied people at Cirque du Soleil how to work with crutches. So is it okay for him to sell this technique or aesthetic but not able bodies to learn it themselves? Do you only have property rights to things that come to you naturally? Who owns movement? What is ownership? Where does the ownership come in culture? I think it is about participation, when you participate you can use something. Sorry. I am very allowing in that sense. Especially for the artist. Creativity doesn’t come out of so many boundaries. I think it goes over things. That is important. I don’t think anyone owns movements. Everyone has Nijinsky movements like this (poses), but at the time they were offensive, now they are decorative. This is the area of theory, this is how we think, we think we theory and concepts, but if art is not a different practice than theory or politics, then we are losing something.
The question of how our ideas of what is appropriate and inappropriate in movement also emerges; for example, Nijinsky’s movements were shocking and offensive when first shown, now they are often decorative. Does this apply to current movements of appropriation?
The idea that art cannot go beyond or apart from theory is proposed as worrisome.
The idea that there is fear of making mistakes is also posed as troubling. One participant suggests that we should make mistakes and we should make them big. And then talk about them. But not be so judgemental.
11. Idea of Voluntary and Involuntary Performance
Expanding on the topic of ownership, the difference between people who perform movements voluntarily versus those who perform them involuntary is emphasised. People on stage perform certain movements which are seen as interesting and appreciated; those with physical disabilities perform them all day where they are involuntary scrutinised, and often seen as stupid or unusual. The stage is a choice, the street is not.
12. Critical Approach
One participant asks how she can approach all of these topics as critic. Her own body is problematic but it doesn’t fit into any categories or labels and so she feels limited in, worried about, and doubtful of what she can say or write.
I ask myself a simple and bad question: can I critique a different abled body? I have a different body, a lot of body problems, but I am not fitting these labels, so my position as a critic is very difficult still. So I wonder about your concerns or advice for my position.
This participant also points out that representation in contemporary dance is very different than in acting. In contemporary dance we are not in a great habit of reenactment: often pieces are performed by persons for whom they have been written. We lack developed criteria and language for interpretation.
I think it has to do with participation. Maybe if you’re really engaged with it, it opens a different level of understanding the body with which you are working.
Questions about participation, engagement, and how to measure that arise. How does one measure one’s own — and especially another’s — engagement? How to judge?
How do you measure that? How do you measure your own engagement? If I need to curate on those terms, how do I know?
It is called on for there to be an appreciation that we often can’t understand or fully appreciate one another when we come from such different places and educations — we speak different languages. Art English comes from only a very small, privileged demographic.
13. Artists‘ Stances
Some artists, like Claire Cunningham, cancel performances at festivals that show work like Chouinard’s. So some artists take this responsibility on themselves and say: this crosses a line.
14. Conversational Direction; The Language of Critique
Two participants cite confusion about the discussion: it’s language, aims, definitions, trajectory.
Another participant sites that she understands the conversation but feels unable to express herself in the same art language as most of the conversation is delivered in. She links this to applications and the trending requirements for certain hot words or topics to get funding. It is added that this question of wording also relates to critiques. A negative but creative critique is more appreciated than one that is abstract and academically written and makes one feel like an object of study.
15. Women in Art; Is It Enough To Be A Successful Woman?
The question of how to deal with conflicting interests is brought forth. The example is levied of Pina Bausch and Marie Chouinard who are two among very few women who have managed to continuously run their own dance companies in the world of contemporary art. Do we still privilege and exhibit the work of, say, Chouinard, who has made great steps in women’s art, if her work is problematic in another realm?
One participant points out that also dictatorship might work well for a while.
16. False Comparisons
One participant questions the constant comparisons between cripping up and black-facing.To them it is a big conceptual leap. They argue that if more than one thing is discussed, many things need to be discussed, e.g. race, gender, class, bodies. It’s more complicated but necessary to understand the whole picture.
I wonder about this: is it okay to critique racism or sexism in a way that it isn’t okay to critique class? Do we use condoned critiques to hide our uncomfortability with, say, class or race differences?
17. Language and Exclusion; Layers of Prejudice
The issue of the theoretical, art language in use is questioned; the idea of terms used to discriminate is brought forth, e.g. not being „Brazilian“ or „black“ enough.
18. Idea of Intention and Patronisation
One participant states the importance of artists’ intentions. Another participant argues against this: how can we really know the intentions? What about the language/culture gap? And isn’t it patronising to condone or denounce someone’s intentions?
But when are we patronising people? That’s something to think about. When am I not putting my values on things? „Goodness“ doesn’t always create good things. “Empathy” can turn into “pity”, one participant says, and “pity” is what she really wants to escape from.
Astrid Kaminski closes the evening, citing the hope that we were not dismayed by the waywardness of the discussion, but inspired by its adventurous turn, and thanks the participants for sharing so openly their thoughts and experiences.
Participants: Sasha Amaya, Ricardo Carmona, Florence Freitag, Mirjam Gurtner, Nik Haffner, Beatrix Joyce, Astrid Kaminski, Joy Kalu, Georg Kasch, Göksu Kunak, Rebecca Maskos, Josefine Mühle, Anna Mülter, Elisabeth Nehring, Elena Philipp, Bernhard Richarz, Liz Rosenfeld, Silke Schönfleisch-Backofen, Martin Seidler, Dasniya Sommer, Ahmed Soura, Virve Sutinen, Sandra Umathum, Maja Zimmermann
Protocol: Sasha Amaya / Fotos: Beatrix Joyce