Reflection on Summit by Jan-Philipp Possmann
Reflecting on the second summit in Skopje, I realize the importance of reflecting the concept of locality in the current time. I wonder whether the technical innovations around digitization (the internet, social media, the mobile computer/smart tools), or the much older phenomenon of economic globalization, cheaper travel or a more globalized awareness and identity have influenced our current concept of locality. But it appears clear to me, that a statement like „everything has its place“ or the concept of „Heimat“ (Habitat in a social and emotional sense) are no longer useful.
Nothing has its place now, it appears to me. Palm trees in hotel lobbies in Copenhagen, folklore in mega cities, an oversized triumph arc in a Skopje street, refugees and migrant workers in all parts of the world. Not to mention artists from everywhere who work everywhere they get a residency or show. Yet as someone working in the live arts, physical space is crucial. Live art only „takes place“ if there is a space to be shared. And despite all new media innovations, the attraction of assembling to watch a show (or debate or protest), has apparently not weakened much. At least from my perspective as a Europe, I can not say, if this applies to other parts of the world likewise.
The second summit also showed me quite clearly the importance of locality. It became clear that the shared socialist heritage plays a very important role for the activists in Skopje and in the Balkans at large. It is a heritage I do not share. Evident to me, the debates around commons and shared art spaces are miles ahead of those in Germany. There is a different matrix or ground if you will, we met on in Skopje, then in Mannheim in 2017. I can not say whether this can be said for the Skopje society at large, but it appears to me that certain ideas of shared responsibility and shared ownership are much more accessible to the people here in general.
Furthermore, I am very thankful that we began our meeting with a city tour of Skopje 2014. After this, it was impossible to return to a lofty, international (pure) arts debate. The grain of locality was already in the room and in all the discussions that followed.
When meeting in Skopje, it is impossible to ignore what has been going on in the city over the last decade. I wonder if Skopje is a symbol of some sorts, or an omen of things to come. Maybe Skopje 2014 is only the almost hysterical over exemplification of a dangerous new European idea: heritage can be destroyed, memory is weak, history can be reinvented and European identities are currently rewritten. I am thinking about the survivors of the holocaust who will have died in the coming years. I am thinking about all these new/old ideologies in Germany: the resurgence of „Blut und Boden“ (blood and soil), back to nature/ to the village, the reconstructive architecture in the city centers of Berlin and Frankfurt, the neo-fascist language in the government, green conservatism, and so forth.
So I am highly ambivalent about this role of locality (and history connected to locality). As artists, who understand their profession and their professional identities as inter- or trans- or maybe even post-national, we all have a rather loose connection to locality. We need to – out of economic reasons (go where the money is) – but also out of artistic ones: we need the input, the co-operations, the exchange. The local scenes are usually too small to build up on. The artist Sarah Vanhee repeatedly turned down my efforts to lure her to our art space, because she recently decided to focus working in her home town Brussels. Much to my annoyance! But how could I blame her?
So the Summit in Skopje resonated strongly with my own professional and personal questions at the moment. As a director of an art institution, I wonder how far I can move the institution from art to social and neighborhood work, without losing authenticity and functionality. With the director and visual artist David Weber-Krebs I have been working on the idea of a series of events focusing on the following question: Do the things have a place? Starting from our ongoing reflection on the nature of live arts, we think, it might be possible to connect many of the current political questions through this question: climate change, migration and displacement, digitization/virtualization, art restitution, border regime, identity politics.
I think this examination of the role of locality is a very useful and fruitful path to follow further as a network. Because I think that locality lies at the heart of the question of ownership, role and audience – “how do we as art workers relate to the larger society?”. It is definitely not the only question and I don’t suggest to neglect artistic and aesthetic perspectives and issues. In fact, I believe place to be a central category for artistic work. And speaking for myself, I have neglected or over-simplified this category for quite a long period of my professional life.
January 19th 2020
Jan-Philipp Possmann studied Theater- and Political-Sciences at Freie Universität Berlin. From 1999 to 2007 he directed and produced theater performances in Berlin. As dramaturg and producer he has worked with international artists like Rimini Protokoll, Patrick Wengenroth, David Hermann and repeatedly with David Weber-Krebs.
From 2005 to 2007 he curated and directed the international performance festival Plateaux at Künstlerhaus Mousonturm in Frankfurt/Main. 2007/2008 he was the house dramaturg of Sophiensaele, Berlin. In 2007 and 2009 he was the festival dramaturg for Internationale Schillertage. Currently he is a dramaturg at Nationaltheater Mannheim. In his research project he collaborates with David Weber-Krebs.