Institut Ramon LLull

MELTING SPACES: When restrictions become options. A text about a talk series on digitality in the cultural field and its practices.

paperllull.  ONLINE, 18/11/2021

In December 2020, we, Gila Kolb and Aina Tur, were asked by the Institut Ramon Llull, in collaboration with the Goethe Institut Barcelona, to curate an online and transnational talk series. The series was to address the question of how cultural practitioners have been confronted with the global pandemic emergency and how this has changed the way cultural experiences are created and shared. Almost a year after this commissioning, we summarise in this article what we have learned and unlearned from these conversations, their guests and audiences. We also want to share the doubts and questions brought by people from different disciplines, cultures and countries as they came together and discussed.




The curating process was in itself a learning process because we come from different backgrounds: Gila Kolb is a researching art educator living in Germany and Switzerland.

Aina Tur is a writer and a cultural agent based in Spain. We have complementary approaches to the same topics and we realised that we should incorporate this into the lectures, and this was of course an important point in the selection of guests.

Hence, we wanted to bring together different perspectives and selected voices from the fields of art theory and digitality, institutional and individual cultural practitioners as well as artists and creatives. Our goal was to offer a space for reflection for those who work in the cultural spheres and do or do not know how to deal with the new situation within the pandemic and its local and global restrictions. The aim of the lecture series was to understand certain logics in the field of performative arts, their relations to digitality and public space.

Therefore, it was important to understand what was and is happening and at the same time to turn towards current and future projects, to identify new lines to follow, to learn about tools and strategies others use. In short: Are there new ways for cultural experiences in digital or hybrid formats? Or is it more about reproducing already familiar experiences in new ways?

After lots of online meetings and prolific discussions we decided to reflect this rather complex endeavour with the title of the talk series: MELTING SPACES. When restrictions become options. With this headline, we want to note that, because of the situation of Covid-19, artists, curators, researchers and cultural institutions more than ever were dissolving boundaries in between the digital, the public space and the traditional ways of coming together sharing a cultural experience.

That is why we decided to make this encounter in a positive way, which meant that we tried to shift the focus from what was lost, which was the shared experience, to the possibilities that the situation offered. We made this decision for the purpose of opening a space to discuss from three different angles: how we could learn from the situation, the chances and difficulties of the digital transformation and the modulation of the public spaces. For each talk, we invited a German and a Spanish agent as well as a creator to open it with an artistic intervention related to the topic.

To begin with a general idea of how the pandemic has reinforced cultural practices and research in the digital realms, and how this has led to controversial positions based on the love or hate for online experiences, we opened the first talk with a question: WE LOVE DIGITALITY. DOES DIGITALITY LOVE US BACK?, because we wanted to play with the agency of digitality and with the fact that our feelings and experiences towards the digital are manifold and often intense.

To enter this multi-layered topic, we invited Mónica Rikić (new media artist and creative coder), who opened the conversation with an artistic intervention, as well as Judit Carrera (CCCB director) and Prof. Dr. Martina Leeker (artist and researcher), with whom we want to have a conversation that starts with these questions: How can a multidisciplinary cultural center shift its knowledge production from analog to digital? And how does the content shift? How does the space shift? How does digitality shift the perception and the staging of the performing body?

For the second and third talks, we decided to take a more focused approach, so we called them LET'S DEAL WITH IT, with each talk having a specific topic: The digital transformation of performing arts and The public space as a cultural stage. The guests of the second talk were Fefa Noia (Centro Dramático Nacional Deputy Director) and Jun. Prof. Dr. Konstanze Schütze and Alla Popp (both from Festival dgtl fmnsm). We invited them to engage in a conversation sharing their reflections and perspectives on performing arts and digitality. The talk was opened with an artistic intervention by Laia Duran (dancer and creator), who helped us to create the atmosphere to discuss answers to these questions: Which are the opportunities that online programming offers to your cultural institution? What is your practice in keeping contact with the audience? How do you deal with working online about being online? How do you create a femnist common space? How do you create a community encounter?

As curators of this series of talks, we also wanted to provide a perspective on the uses and potential uses that public space has had, is having, and will have before, during, and after the pandemic. To this end, in the third lecture we invited Alina Stockinger (founder and member of Eléctrico 28), who presented an artistic intervention in urban space for a digital audience. Also, we counted on Anna Giribet (Artistic Director Fira Tàrrega) and Kathrin Tiedemann (Artistic and managing director of the FFT Düsseldorf) to reflect about these questions: Which are the particularities of the public space as a cultural stage? What can be done outside the conventional venues? Who is the audience then? Which benefits provide the commoning and collective approaches to urban space?

The development of the event was more successful than we expected. Our main aim was to bring cultural workers together in a digital room to share ideas, concepts, experiences and artworks and that happened in a very deep and fructiferous way. We had audiences from all over the world. As we finished, we realized that despite the main questions that opened the talks, more questions were set out. We consider this as a quality, since it is always a good thing to open our minds, to interrogate our practices and to grow. So, without trying to get into every question that was answered or formulated in the talks, we will give our particular vision of the points, the learnings and unlearnings that we encountered during the three conversations and in which subjects, visions and perspectives were addressed in a complementary way.

So let’s get into how we share the different points of view about the digitality realms and the public space for cultural practices after our conversations with Judit Carrera, Martina Leeker, Mónica Rikić, Fefa Noia, Konstanze Schütze, Alla Popp, Laia Durán, Anna Giribet, Kathrin Tiedemann and Alina Stockinger. For that, we are going to focus this second part of our writing in three points: How the lockdowns accelerated the process of the digitalization, how the digitalization changes the way we relate to cultural experiences and how the public space can be used as a contact zone for cultural experiences. We will handle these reflections with the wish to transmit the challenges and the opportunities that this controversial time has brought to cultural agents.

On one hand, we all agree that digitalization, as Judit Carrera said, “is a well known scenario which is not new to cultural institutions”. Nevertheless, the pandemic accelerated the digital revolution that was already underway. So, we want to see it as a process, not as a temporary phenomenon. During the last decades we have experienced how technological revolution transformed the way we produce, access, disseminate and collect culture, knowledge and creativity. That fact is related to the notion of the internet and more specifically, as Konstanze Schütze pointed out, “it is not the internet, rather it is a state of mind”. Also, we need to raise that the internet or its state of mind has its own agency, since it changes our daily lives on a constant basis; not only during a pandemic. But, we all know that it merely became more perceivable because of the restricted situation that we have been living in.

Somehow, the need to be together in the same place during lockdown and to share a cultural experience makes us look for tools and other ways to make these kinds of encounters possible. So we have used the tools that digitalization offers us to meet and share, even though we have practiced long-distance relationships, and as Martina Leeker pointed out, a new shared space is emerging with the digital: time zones; she called it a new form of liveness.

This brings us to questions like: How can we share the same time but not the same space? How can screen sharing cause disruption? Is digital accessible to all? There are downsides that emerge here, such as bias in programming, as many discussions of racist algorithms show. And what if there is no device at all? Not all people had direct access to digital tools during the closures. So how to stay connected and keep the virtual doors open despite all the obstacles? Last but not least, it is necessary to question the agency and co-agency between humans and machines. For this, we draw on the quote of a guest of the talk, Nil Martín: "As long as we humans love and hate digital, digital will bring that love and hate back to us...". So let's work on our love and hate experiences with the digital!

In this period, cultural professionals have been looking for new digital ways to connect with cultural experiences, and this brings us to new scenarios that we could not have imagined two years ago. In the second presentation, Fefa Noia, deputy director of the Centro Dramático Nacional, described how the institution continues its activities under the motto #LaVentanaDelDramatico when physical venues are closed. Her institution was able to create an outreach on several levels: by mixing the disciplines, by creating dialogs between persons, not only from performing arts and also to creating new formats which would reflect the feelings of the people in that particular moment of lockdown.

Nevertheless, for the format of the theatre, a dialogue between digital and life events is always complicated, since a life situation belongs to the essence of the theatre: to see, hear, smell and feel the presence of a situation, the space in a collective moment cannot be replaced by being transported in digital devices. The digital transformation of the performing arts must not lead to live events being replaced by digital events. Digital tools and formats have been a temporary solution for them, but online offerings have never replaced live events. There is still a need for human encounters, but the crisis around Covid-19 gave the chance to try new ways of relating that they could not imagine before.

Within this digital transformation, the collective dgtl fmsm focused their interventions in melting the concepts of performativity and digitality. They centered their work on the impossibility of performativity in the digital realms while creating landscapes infused by a non biased access. This has opened fundamental questions on practices around creating spaces within institutions which are dealing with the digital: How to open space without closing it? How to make a digital space inclusive and accessible? Who is able to attend? Who is addressed? Who is not? How to build and sustain a virtual space? How to build a community in the virtual? How to build sustainable networks with underrepresented actors and voices?

For sure, artists, researchers and cultural agents need more time and more digital experiences to have clear answers to all of these questions. Also more experiences like this talk series to share practices, points of views and doubts. Sometimes, they can’t change the fact of, for example, biased programming; but they can draw attention to it. Digitalization is a process which is happening with or without our participation. But if we participate, we have to reflect the practices, logics and hegemonica; and there is a lot to experiment yet.

We can’t finish this point, without turning the focus to the consequences that digital transformation has for the audiences: the contact towards a cultural institution becomes just a swipe of an index finger on our digital devices away. If access to a movie, exhibition or a dance show is only possible through this interface, the relation between the producer and the audience changes. As Judit Carrera puts it: "The end of the dichotomy between the producer and the audience that has brought us to foster more horizontal, more open and more participatory spaces. The cultural buildings are not culture temples anymore, are intersectional spaces just for exchange, for dialog, for public conversation, for meeting but not necessarily an encyclopedic all fashioned cultural institution".

So, let's swipe more towards experiences which allow audiences to participate who might most likely not attend due to the fact that entering a theatre in real life might also be unknown or unsettling. Then, the relationship becomes easier, because it might be only one click away; and harder at the same time: the next event is also just one click away.

Lastly, we want to review the use of the public space as a contact zone for cultural experiences. It is well known that during the lockdowns artists and cultural institutions moved their work to public space: balconies, rooftops, streets, squares, churches and garages appeared as possible stages. But the streets were not empty before and not during the pandemic, as Anna Giribet pointed out in the third talk: “We have to be attentive to the fact that there is already a group of artists who work and have been working with the streets and the public space now and before”.

Nowadays, the street with all its possibilities is a central issue, and one of the good sides of this terrible pandemic is that, according to Anna Giribet, people realize how important public space is in life, as a common good, as a place for cultural exchange, for meeting new people, for the elderly, for the younger ones to walk the dogs, and it is a space of freedom. But on the downside, we have also discovered how controlled and regulated the public space is through surveillance.

This brings us to the questions raised by Kathrin Tiedemann, which help us to move forward in our reflections: Who does public space really belong to? Does it belong to the artist? Does it belong to everyone? Or has it perhaps become more and more a space that is becoming private space because it is owned by investors and investors have a lot of influence on what looks public but is not anymore?

Our discussions and exchanges during the third conversation made us realize that despite the need to use public space as a contact zone, understood as a social space where different cultures can meet, negotiate and argue at the same time, there is still much to do. After all, community spaces have a potential for use that we as citizens have not yet tapped.

In summary, and in light of all that we have shared under the title MELTING SPACES, the pandemic has in some ways accelerated the question of how we can be together to share cultural experiences, how we can create contact zones when we cannot meet in a traditional place. We agree that recent constraints related to the pandemic have catalyzed forms of relationships in digital and public spaces. These kinds of proposals already existed, but the situation brought us to new scenarios and new ways to relate to them, and also opened up a lot of doubts, questions and controversial feelings about how we love and hate them. As Alla Popp told us in the second talk: “It is about perspective”. She doesn't believe digital will ever be able to replace the physical as we know it today, but it gives us new possibilities, which are also options...

It is important to emphasize that digital and public spaces are also places of engagement and public interaction. Public space allows individuals to play different roles than, for example, a private space. The same is true for digital space, as it facilitates access to space with different physical capabilities. And, not to forget: Online spaces are in a way private and public at the same time; they allow different audiences to participate in the same time zone.

Nevertheless, and as we already mentioned, technology is by no means neutral. On the contrary, it is about who has access to technology, who creates it and who has the knowledge about it. We must emphasise that this also applies to the definition of what is and what is not art. Like this: How can we use technology? What can we learn by engaging with technologies in the (performing) arts?

In addition, the talks opened up a third space where we could communicate, exchange, inspire and be inspired.

We experienced how much we missed each other's presence in the same room. At the same time, we created encounters that would not have been so easily possible in real life. Furthermore, we would like to point out that building networks beyond the physical realm is key. We agree with Judit Carrera: "The experience of the future of performing arts will be a mix of on-site and digital". Cultural spaces have a political dimension, as public spaces and digital spaces are also privatized and less public than we think: so we have to fight for these commons.

In short, we have formulated four points that we invite you to read, discuss, share and develop:

1) Digitality is a complicated thing that mirrors the complex reality of contemporary society. It makes it even more complex and adds another layer to it. We need to understand it, but at the same time we will never be able to fully understand it (as the machines do not understand themselves so well).

2) Creating, planning and realizing a transnational talk series that is planned completely online brings very different challenges for the whole team.

3) How can public institutions, which are promoting culture abroad, support cultural agents nowadays? An open question which we think will be easier to access when taking into account local and global phenomena of the digital condition than before. An open question, which we believe will be easier to answer if local and global phenomena of the digital state are taken into account.

4) We are in need of common spaces where we can meet, share and live together in real life and online. Let’s create options instead of lamenting or losing them. Eventually, those kittens will become cats…

This is an invitation to share spaces with institutions, artists, performers, cultural agents, educators, theorists and friends of the performing arts: LET’S MELT SPACES!


APPENDIX

This talk series was a transnational collaboration that would not have been possible without digital tools. Until today, we worked together remotely via video conference, chat programs and shared documents. This goes for nearly the whole team that made the talks possible. Big thanks to Ester Criado, Teresa Carranza Ramos, Iolanda Batallé, Silvia Gonzales and Sophia Jereczek from Institut Ramon Llull; and Ursula Wahl from Goethe Institute.

The series was a joint venture by Institut Ramon Llull and Goethe Institut Barcelona, who we both want to thank very much for trusting us and giving a carte blanche for the talk format and guests.


Participant bios

Judit Carrera is director of CCCB, Center Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. a multidisciplinary cultural centre that deals with the key challenges of contemporary society through different languages and formats. We invited her because we thought she could give us a deep and open perspective of how the current situation has changed the relation of the arts and the audience with digitality in many cultural fields.

Laia Durán is a dancer, creator, dance teacher and movement assistant. As a performer, he has worked in companies abroad in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, and Denmark, also in Spain. Since 2012 she has been part of the company La Veronal. And she created HOTEL Colectivo Escénico.

Anna Giribet is the Artistic Director of FiraTàrrega, where she has previously been the Deputy Artistic Director. Fira Tarrega is an international performing arts market focused on the internationalisation of the creators and the generation of strategic alliances to develop international street art productions and circuits.

Gila Kolb is a researching art educator. She heads the research professorship of didactics of the arts at PH Schwyz Switzerland. She is co-founder of agency art education and editor of the trilingual blog the art educator’s talk. Her research and teaching focuses on post-digital art education, strategies of agency, unlearning in art education and contemporary drawing practices in art education.

Martina Leeker is a researcher and performer. She is researching digitality and performativity as an academic as well as in performing pieces, Therefore, she is an expert in the staging & performing body & digitality.

Fefa Noia, has worked as a stage director, author, playwright and translator and she is currently deputy director of the Centro Dramático Nacional after four years at the head of the Centro Dramático Galego.

Alla Popp is a digital media and performance artist. Their feministic gaze focuses on advancements in digital technology, in a debate with theories and phenomena that shape our future visions.

Mónica Rikić is a new media artist, living & working in Barcelona. She focuses her work in code, electronics and non-digital objects to create interactive projects often framed as experimental games. Her interest lies in the social impact of technology, human-machine-human coexistence and the reappropriation of technological systems to rethink them through art. From educational approaches to sociological experimentation, her projects propose new ways of interacting with the digital environment that surrounds us.

Konstanze Schütze is a curator and art educator and Junior Professor, where teaches and conducts research in art mediation, media education and media theory. Both, Alla an Konstanze, are part of the the queer-feminist post-digital performative arts platform and collective 'dgtl fmnsm‘.

Alina Stockinger is the founder and member of Eléctrico 28, a theatre collective that nurtures the ecosystem of daily human (and animal) life displayed in heart-and-humor-made immersive street performances such as [ The Frame ] and Stellar Moments of Humanity.

Kathrin Tiedemann has been artistic and managing director of the FFT Düsseldorf (fft-duesseldorf.de) since August 2004. The FFT is a production house for the performing arts, operating throughout Germany and internationally, with a special focus on performing arts for young audiences.

Aina Tur is a playwright and cultural manager. Currently she is overseeing Programming at the Sala Beckett/Obrador Internacional de Dramatúrgia and she is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Centro Dramático Nacional. She published theatre, narrative and essays. She graduated in Catalan Language and Literature (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya) and in Project Management (Universidad de Deusto). She also has studies in Acting (Col·legi de Teatre de Barcelona) and Playwriting (Sala Beckett).

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