Solidarity to overcome distance – Tårnby (DK), Skopje (MK) and the summit by Andreas Liebmann

Skopje was not on my inner landscape before 2017 when I first talked on Skype with Biljana Tanurovska. I was preparing the „European Summit – Art, Politics and the Institution“ that Zeitraumexit and Jan Philip Possmann had invited me to organize in September 2017.

 

In this Skype meeting, Biljana told me about the Nomad Dance Academy: A dance education that her organization Lokomotiva in Skopje is running together with Station for Contemporary Dance from Belgrade, as well as other organizations and artists in Sofia, Ljubljana, Zagreb, etc.[1]  I was impressed by the way Nomad Dance Academy applies ethical principles to artistic collaboration and how they offer alternatives to practice artistic work in times of severe financial and political pressure. How can artistic practice survive in a meaningful way when economically being at the edge of existence?

 

I am facing this question as a citizen of Denmark. The conditions in Denmark differ in many ways from the ones in Skopje, Belgrade, and other places in Ex-Yugoslavia. Denmark is a rich country with a pretty well functioning social security system. However, cultural and educational institutions were affected by serious budget cuts, initiated by the right-wing government that ruled the country from 2015-2019.

 

In Denmark, performing art institutions like theatres are rarely seen or described as public spaces. Theatres in Denmark are traditionally supposed to do (mainly) entertainment. There are some exceptions. Debates about how to transform city theatres into “burning” public spaces, where issues and structures of the society are mirrored, questioned, and imagined anew are rarely happening in Denmark, unlike Germany for example. Independent art institutions that create an experimental space in the public sphere are rare as well. This is what I am trying to initiate in the Copenhagen suburb called Tårnby, where I live with my family.

Tårnby as a municipality is a pretty well-financed and quiet place. The urban architecture tells that Tårnby is built to enable people a good private life. Thus, one can ask- Where are public meetings happening?

The Copenhagen Airport lies within the municipality and therefore finances a big part of the municipal budget. It provides employment for more than half of the working inhabitants.

The municipal budget for culture goes mainly into sports (swimming pools) or education in “culture” (like nature, music school). The politicians I talked to, in general, do not see their municipality as a place for art – “what should that be”? Is art is only supposed to be happening in close Copenhagen? Artistic experimentation that plays with issues of public interest is not present or part of a municipal political discourse.

 

The most prominent public cultural space in Tårnby is the library. It is a space where besides books, media and cafeteria, you can attend different events like lectures or social happenings like the „Kulturbazar“ (an event where socially engaged institutions exhibit themselves and create sociality). It is an important and well-accepted place for many people of various backgrounds. It is an easily understandable place for culture. A safe place. It is not providing the experimental aspect of renegotiating the society, of imagination beyond the status quo. Unlike Skopje, Tårnby has been ruled by Social Democrats since 100 (hundred!) years and it rests in that peace.

One can ask: How stupid can one be to try to establish another mode of cultural practice in such a paradise of stillness? Who asks for it?

Learning much from the aforementioned summit in 2017, where different models of cultural spaces and practices have been presented, like Mama Zagreb, Virsodepseio Athens, Nomad Dance Academy, Aurora Budapest,  Heart boven Hard Belgium, I am trying to create in  Tårnby spaces of trust and involvement of citizens and other artists. There, I try to renegotiate parameters of our society, of meaning, of the relation between the private and the public. Such actions led to two festivals in 2017 and 2018: as small tryouts. The artists involved produced performances and also organized the events. They related to local and artistic communities, also creating a space for a gathering of people that would else never meet in Tårnby.

 

No one asked me to start this work, and I learned for myself that it is me that needs to take responsibility for it: I do it, because I want to do it. It is important for myself, in order to feel alive as a citizen in this situation, and I see a necessity in this society for such a place, because I think, social silence can be dangerous.

 

In 2019 we had to leave the first place that we used for our actions, which was located in an old supermarket building. The building was supposed to be torn down. Still, until now, this didn’t happen and the spaces we used remain empty. In February 2020, we moved to another (a former bank) space for three months, and from April to June I will proceed with the work in a local housing area. Then, once again, the future will be open. At the moment, we don’t have a secured plan, only informal clarification that we can get a basement in the housing area. I think, if we stubbornly proceed, the situation might change at some point. How long can you work with a status quo that operates against your interest?

 

In a discussion with Biljana she suggested to me that the structure I want to provide, would be better not to be called an institution, but maybe a durational practice that creates temporary public shelters where public sphere can happen. Besides, we enable the encounter of artistic practices that act within the privatized urban area and interact with social players that otherwise would stay in their own bubble.

 

Skopje is of an opposite dynamic than my surrounding: The right-wing government that ruled the country 2010-2016 did not silence the urban public space, on the contrary: It conquered it. The summit in Skopje organized in December 2019 began with the „Kitsch tour“ – a guided presentation by organization “Square freedom” of the“Skopje 2014” project by the same – right-wing government that changed the structure and appearance of the public space in the city center.

 

The core of the city has been severely attacked. By aggressively rebuilding facades of houses in an absurd classicism without sincere historic references. By building and partially inventing historic figures portrayed in oversized and mostly ugly monuments  – all of it built enormously fast and therefore in a very bad quality. In short: by creating a storm of fake buildings and sites – this government has shown its quality to be able to effectively change the core of a city as a public space. A place where people have been able to gather to discuss, to demonstrate, to show their role as citizens. The government destroyed parks (trees, free space) by placing ahistorical, kitschy monuments or buildings which aggressively attack every sense of aesthetics. They also attacked citizens physically or psychologically that opposed this obscene storm. We learned also in the kitsch tour, that the government didn’t only change the face of the city but also that this project was a very effective way of money laundering: About 80% of the very high salaries paid to involved architects, „artists“ etc. went back onto the bank accounts of the ruling party which, by this, became richer than the CDU in Germany.

 

It speaks for itself that an experimental artistic space like Kino Kultura in Skopje is much more existentially threatened in this environment than my „shelter“  in Tårnby. The public funds are even less accessible, the society is traumatized by the recent history of its country, people with higher education tend to leave the country. Artwork is vulnerable to the physical existence of its protagonists. In Tårnby, artwork is vulnerable as a societal practice.

 

What links us, is a common interest in public space, reformation of the public sphere and advocating or fighting against the mechanisms that are marginalizing or destroying the same. We could see how political mechanisms can interfere, attack, and privatize the public space, such as we directly experienced in Skopje. But also, we can see that different mechanisms with the same intention also function in Scandinavia, under ‘cover’ or disguised in ‘democracy’.  The paradise is not existing here nor there. Democratic procedures, the embracing of the foreigner, of disturbance, of thoughts with transformative potential, are under attack or at least at stake in both societies and many more. We have to preserve such values that can generate solidarity between the different regions, citizens, artists and are showing: We are not alone.

 

The same economic and political games shake our societies and the more we exchange, find strategies, share analysis, the more we can oppose, can resist, or produce positive change. This is for me the essence of the summit, as it happened in 2017 in Mannheim, and now, 2019 in Skopje. It is a semi-informal exchange, an open dialogue, and a generous effort from the organizing institution. A small seed with a future.

 

[1]: “independent, open, and sustainable platform for the contemporary performing arts with the aim to initiate and support education, research, artistic production, and transfer of knowledge in the Balkan region and beyond, co-funded by Lokomotiva-Skopje, Brain Store Project – Sofia, Fico Balet – Ljubljana, Station Service for Contemporary Dance-Belgrade, Tala Dance Center-Zagreb and Tanzelarija – Sarajevo, http://www.nomaddanceacademy.org/

 

Andreas Liebmann

It is a Swiss performance artist based in Copenhagen. 2001 he co-founded the performance group GASTSTUBE°. GASTSTUBE° developed experimental performances and created theatre pieces, durational performances, installations, bus tours, walks and other formats in German-speaking countries and France. Since the group split up in 2007, Liebmann has been developing his own formats and working methods as a stage director, performer, and author. 2016 he initiated the evening school import in Zurich – a school program where refugees and migrants are the teachers. 2017 he founded the Tårnby Torv Festival which is an attempt do anchor experimental performance practices in regular neighborhoods. It deals with questions of public space, democratic participation, public sphere and heterotopia in order to end the time of no alternatives. The festival is struggling with the problem of getting space. As municipal support is not easy to get, it works with the principle of direct action: Behave as if the world you wish to exist had already appeared. 2019, the performance group GASTSTUBE° reunites, developing new performances with a focus on hospitality. Andreas has been teaching at the Universities of the arts Zurich, Berlin and Leipzig and since 2015, he is a teacher for ideabased and conceptual direction at the DDSKS – Danish National School of Performing Arts in Copenhagen.

www.andreasliebmann.net

 

Art Spaces and Residencies Summit is organised by Lokomotiva – Centre for New Initiatives in Arts and Culture in the framework of the yearly program “Contemporary culture and public policies” 2019, developed as part of the project “Program of Lokomotiva in Kino Kultura – project space for contemporary performing arts and contemporary culture” supported by the City of Skopje, Ministry of Culture of North Macedonia and Centar Municipality and Life Long Burning, programme line Performance situation room supported by Creative Europe.