“Europe is not a place but a project”
In the past years my life has been built on numerous relocations to various cities and countries. There were few times when I had to answer the question of where I am from – especially in the Netherlands and due to the Calvinist-rooted mentality where it is hard to avoid categorisation. The linguistic formulation of this common question implies that origin is a generally accepted notion and in a way understood by everyone in the western society. Everyone except for the subject being asked – which is mostly the case – who probably does not have the same native language with their ancestors, so the main indicator of origin is missing. Performing one’s origin and cultural background together reinforces the constructed imagery of a place – in this case Mediterranean – a τόπος simultaneously blessed and cursed following a Greek saying.
Attributing one’s body to a certain cultural context automatically defines the grade on which this person is eligible to movement, healthcare or is subject to objectification especially when it comes to more vulnerable cases like women/POC/ queer subject. A metaphor that might help visualize and partially comprehend this paradox is movement within choreographic contexts. The moment a subject enters the “stage”, they accept the fact that their presence consciously occupies a certain amount of space and influences how the space is being used by the other users. Similarly, all subjects are provided with the right to move freely and unfold their artistic practice in this specific moment or space. What is mainly interesting about contemporary choreographic phenomena in this context is the fact that it concerns the (human) body as a non-entirely autonomous subjectivity whose movement is the result of an algorithm designed by a third party. This could be referring to a legislation frame or corporate interests when talking about migration movements, GPS technologies or gentrification projects. In all these matters, we detect an essential choreographic element on the basis of each process.
«To decide who is able or allowed to move – and under what circumstances and on what grounds; to decide where one is allowed to move to; to define who are the bodies that can choose full mobility and who are the bodies forced into displacement. The end result of this politics of mobility is that of transforming the right for free and ample circulation into a privilege, and then turn that privilege into a prized subjectivity». (Allsop, Lepecki, 2008)
People who happen to be born in the abstract and immaterial but yet historically significant area called Mediterranean – which etymologically originates from the Latin medius “middle” (from PIE root *medhyo – “middle”) + terra “land, earth” (from PIE root *ters – “to dry”) – are considered to be surrounded by “the sea in the middle of the earth”.
Mediterranean is therefore considered to be the sea of transition that is supposed to bridge these cultural imaginaries. It is the passage from the primitive, poor, potentially sick, crip, lazy and rigidly related to the past attitude South to the progressive, clean, productive and intelligent North. In this cartesian metaphor P. B. Preciado considers the globe as a human body and entity where the first one stands for its flesh and the second for its soul (Preciado, 2017). Therefore, the spatiotemporal transition is not possible to be realized entirely due to the influence of one’s provenance and the irreversibility it carries as a result of a missing of non-western European knowledge production.
Gaia Giuliani, researcher at the Center for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, considers the Mediterranean sea as a stage where “the institutional and non-institutional actors (governance) in the management and biopolitical control of global and transnational trajectories of people, products and cultural mobility take place” (Giuliani, 2016). Within this abstract geographical surface, bodies are being forced into movement or stillness (see the so-called hospitality centers). Stillness is also movement but in a different temporality which causes a deeper confrontation with extreme body conditions and traumatic experiences.
One thing to consider is how the good, solidary (white) northern Mediterranean/European subjects claim to identify with the abstract notion of migrant “landed” in Lampedusa or Lesvos, locations that become semiotically significant only in certain contexts. This is the point where inclusion and hospitality acquires a problematic complexion and risks to reproduce an undercover white nationalism, as there is a subconscious tendency and «the desire to protect and offer political resistance for endangered others. […] By divorcing the ongoing Mediterranean crisis from Europe’s long history of empire and racial violence, these left-liberal interventions ultimately turn questions of accountability, guilt, restitution, repentance, and structural reform into matters of empathy, generosity, and hospitality» (Danewid, 2017).
Hospitality is another common cultural construction often associated with the Mediterranean mentality. It is a core characteristic of the Southern imaginary but its ontology itself leads to tricky assumptions on ownership, implicitly patronizing behaviors and interrogations on what it actually means to host a body and accept one self’s ownership of the national territory. Once having acknowledged the subject as a hosted object, the host automatically assumes the role to consider them as a stranger, as someone who does not belong here and therefore is being under their protection. Sara Ahmed’s study on stranger fetishism defines them as the ones who are «not simply not known in this dwelling, but those who are, in their very proximity, already recognized as not belonging, as out of place.» (Ahmed, 2000)
In the context of the Sharjah Biennial 2013 Re:emerge curated by Yuko Hasewaga, Walter Mignolo discusses the focus on the idea of courtyard, as an alternative terrain where a new discourse is being produced no longer based on the white-washed Greek and Roman “greatness”. The garden or courtyard is a place where roots coexist and shape in its togetherness the “place of memory”.
«[..] shifting the geography of knowing and sensing means: one could not ‘re-emerge’ by pegging one local temporality to the linear local temporality of Euro-centered modernity (and its corollaries). It is no longer necessary to start from Greece and Rome. That is what the ‘courtyard’ means: it is not the place of the Muses, or the solitary place of study, but a place where inside and outside meet – where people live and pass each other. It is also a place where cultural identity is rooted.» (Mignolo, 2013)
A similar effort was made during Manifesta 12 in Palermo, almost a year ago. One of the venues, the Botanical Garden of Palermo, has literally been hosting roots of the islands flora coming from all over the world since the late 18th century as the best narrative of the diversity of populations who have co-existed in Sicily so far but also imported ones as an indicator of the global vegetable and fruit trade. Based on this idea the biennial used the garden as a space where a similar discourse regarding also human beings could take place. One of the artists exhibited there, Leone Contini focuses on this exact linguistic and agricultural conflict from an anthropological perspective that emerge from migration and diaspora and create hybrid subjectivities- in this case vegetables.
On the other side, museums and institutions integrate dance-related performances into their annual curatorial program as a less explicit symptom of the Experience economy and neoliberalism. This recent recognition – less than a decade ago – along with transforming the relationship of the skilled performer and the witness of the performance, led to an amount of results regarding hospitality issues within institutions. Artists and performers who have already been working under precarious conditions begin to face also the difficulties of performing in a space where there is no actual infrastructure – physical or theoretical – to support a similar format.
The lack of the sprung floor or a changing room for the artists to rest is not only because of the institutional building but more of a metaphor of what societies lack when they talk about integration or inclusion (and how problematic these terms can be). As we accept that language is not neutral and the widespread use of these terms might imply reproduction of the patronizing European savior behavior, the same can be said for institutions: increasing visibility and providing space for choreographers and artists to show their (performative) work is not the last part of this process but only its first page and ground for further discussion and negotiation.
As M. Spangberg shares with Filipa Ramos, the interesting relation today is between bodies and bodies, not between bodies and mind, underlying the idea that some people’s bodies are some other people’s objects. This klossowksian perception of the body as a “living currency” is encountered more intensively nowadays in the institutional context due to the performance frenzy. The dominance and dissemination of immaterial work that transposes the value directly to the worker. It is the body itself that becomes a “good” that strives to execute tasks with the maximum performance. The latter does not descend from the capacity of the worker to solve problems regarding the products but rather of their emotional engagement in the project.
Performance, by many means, is a generative force that stands at the base of all social processes according to one of the founders of the discipline Performance Studies, Richard Schechner. As we learn to examine events, actions and behaviors as performative events, we focus on the process elements of those as a result of the Performative Turn.
What is required in order to define a performative action is mainly the physical presence of an external body and gaze who standing across the performer could witness something going on at that exact moment. In the case of dance performances, in contexts such as an exhibition space or white cube, the bodies appear to be partially skilled, artificially constructed and trained in order to deal with this moment (Pontremoli, 2017). Ronald Grimes, Professor of Ritual Studies, defines performance as a showing-of-a-doing practice where the performing subject is aware of that moment and leads towards a more intense observation on behalf of the visitors.
In the current capitalistic neoliberal regime, where the Experience economy embraces every effort of dematerialization, we see how the “flexible” personality does not just add any value but rather reinforces the 24/7 investment to Self and the building of Super Ego, same goes for performativity which in this case does not subtract, but rather adds value to what is traded (Pontriand, 2014).
The product we desire so much is nothing but ourselves, a better version of us. It is always an urgency to invest in ourselves, invent a better self, more flexible, more creative, more multitasking, as our computers used to be. We become the brand of ourselves, these new subjectivities who are capable and mostly willing to perform 24/7. The performers and artists are then considered to be the model subjects of this society since they literally perform in the most efficient way the neoliberal condition: creativity, flexibility and the lack of material need since the body is their main production tool (Kunst, 2015).
In the meanwhile, in the business and entrepreneurial theoretical field, Bob Aubrey, as an expert of self-development and entrepreneurship, claims that the above-mentioned tendency is the result of the anthropologic turn that took place during the transition to the 21st century: the individuals find out that they are more than capable of getting to know themselves, to self-educate themselves, adapt to different social contexts and develop an actual strategy on their own life that would lead to the eventual self-success (Aubrey, 2000).
«Not only performance has become general, but even more so, it has become permanent» (Lesage, 2012)
The umbrella-term of Performance borrowed to describe a vast range of activities ranging from business management, to religious rituals, technologic apparatus and much more, adds a certain dose of theatricality and performativity (Mc Kenzie, 2001). Movement itself is not the core of this operation/action but rather the indispensable symptom of an entire set of habits and behaviours. As Bojana Cvević suggests, the etymology of the word itself originates in the middle French work parfourmer. The latter is a cousin word of parfaire which implies perfection and fournir (= to supply) or even formare which means to give shape. The meeting point of these linguistic references is the action that best describes society at that moment. Mc Kenzie explains how this linguistic dissemination becomes the biopolitical mechanism of control over the bodies.
The individualism, core element of the society of performance, is already absorbed by the labour market; the market itself appropriates every single aspect of the human existence transforming life and work into a continuous expectation that exceeds the time frame of work and leisure (Chichi, Simone, 2017). The neoliberal condition expresses a conception of existence and life inseparable of the financial aspect. Transforming living subjects into living brands is the ultimate background of this performative urge.
On top of this, subjects will embody this general condition by generating a positive reaction to “The Sky is the Limit” (self)-optimization attitude. Byung-Chun Han describes this hyperactive behavioral tendency as the main reason of the burn-out symptom. Han acknowledges the role of dance in this context as a liberation of the human existence that embodies non-linear, non-normative attitudes that subtract themselves form the performance race (Byung-Chun Han, 2010).
The status of precarity that in some theoretical contexts appears as a general human condition is based on the thesis that every human being is precarious in the sense that is dependent on an external condition or force (Butler, 2009). There is however a big difference when it comes to the application of this rather generalised idea since there are subjects exposed to high precarity and vulnerable conditions. This phenomenon has been at a great stake reinforced by the official recognition and establishment of the creative industries through the governmental and tax friendly infrastructure provided in the UK and the Netherlands. By encouraging artists and generally creatives to believe in their potential “value” within the market, would also provoke their gradual distancing from the social welfare and safe labour conditions.
As we saw before, choreography is being lately discussed as an indispensable term that includes a great constellation of concepts that have been extensively used to describe social phenomena and artistic practices. It is widely being used in cases of ambitious architectural projects for institutions, governmental and geopolitical policies where the user/performer assumes the role of the surveilled and manipulated body who is constantly trying to make their own trajectories in defense of the freedom of movement and freedom of choice values.
Its imperative and often authoritative nature contradicts the neoliberal freedom of choice at a first glance. However once we get to look from a closer position, what the neoliberal conditions offer is the freedom to build our own trajectory. While this series of decisions acquires a big importance, we tend to consider this as a personal choice and charge ourselves and therefore our bodies with all the implications that these decisions might evoke. Choreography indeed contributes to the process of subjectivity emergence. By accepting the thesis that each body has its own centrality and decisions are based on and generated from this above perspective, trajectories then appear to be shapes in a three-dimensional space.
The above theoretical attempt to make a confrontation on migration and subjects who are involved in it become fetishized by the white Mediterranean/European gaze while at they same time they are being treated as contemporary choreographic performative actions has no intention of aestheticizing the phenomena, but rather to highlight how problematic both can be. The urge to rethink hospitality as a social and institutional practice emerges and the potentialities and methods of creating more space for new subjectivities; more space to dance and move freely.
Allsopp R., André Lepecki, Editorial: On Choreography, Performance Research 13:1, 2008.
Butler J., Performativity, Precarity and Sexual Politics, Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, Volumen 4, Número 3. Septiembre-Diciembre 2009. Madrid: Antropólogos Iberoamericanos en Red.
Han B.C., The Burnout Society, Stanford University Press, 2015.
Chichi F., Simone A., La società della prestazione, Ediesse, Roma 2017.
Cvevic B., Notes for a Society of Performance On Dance, Sports, Museums, and Their Users.
Danewid I., White Innocence in the Black Mediterranean: Hospitality and the Erasure of History, Third World Quarterly, 38:7, 2017.
Giuliani G., The Mediterranean as a Stage: Borders, Memories, Bodies
Lesage D., Permanent Performance, Performance Research, 17:6, 14-21, 2012.
MC Kenzie J., Perform or Else, Psychology Press, London 2001.
Pontremoli A., La danza, storia, teoria, estetica nel Novecento, Editori Laterza, Roma 2017.
Pontriand C., (Ed.) Per/Form: How to Do Things with[out] Words, Sternberg Press Co-published with CA2M Centro de Arte Dos de Mayo, Madrid 2014.
Preciado P. B., L’invention du Sud, Liberation, Ed. It. Trad. by Federico Ferrore “Il Sud non esiste”, Internazionale.it, 2017.
Angeliki Tzortzakaki (Heraclion, GR) studied at the Athens University of Economics and Business and Brera Academy of Fine Arts in Milan. She is mainly specialized in Time-Based Arts and particularly interested in practices and questions related to labour, hospitality, care and feminism. At the moment that this article is being written, Angeliki is operating as a curatorial fellow of the nomad research program “A Natural Oasis?” focused on geopolitical peculiarities in the Mediterranean areas that are considered insular and liminal. Currently she lives and works in Amsterdam.