Work it- Dance, Community and Capitalism

by Hannah Sampé

One of the things that struck me when looking back at our many questions and insights we shared during the CROWD exchange, is the realisation that as romantic as community- based art making sounds, the role of the conditions of labour and the role of economies around dance projects is not to be underestimated.

What I signed up for as an artistic project very quickly turned out to become something that could have been called “the assessment of the possibility of art and creation of community in the age of late capitalism”. With this I am referring to the countless discussions about the working conditions of free-lance artists with regards to travel, accommodation, interaction and negotiations with institutions, economic security, networking, burn-out, overbooking, double booking, unemployment, isolation from non-artistic communities at home, sustainability of their work:

How can artists authentically provide guidance or offerings to a community? What are the working conditions and access needs for artists to be able to do so? And to do so in a way that leads to meaningful projects, not simply “CV” projects, that sound amazing on paper.

What are the (working) conditions and access needs for members of the community to take part?

What does it mean to facilitate? What does it mean to actively take part in a community? How much time does it take and who pays for this time? Who sees the invisible labour that is entailed in building connection, building relationships of trust? Who pays for trust?

What does it mean to collaborate? How to find a consensus in working structures? How to understand each other access needs when collaborating and deal with each other expectations regarding productivity and progress?

In other words: What is needed as a material base to let the magic happen?

Yet another observation regarding the intertwined nature of community based art making and late capitalism occurred throughout the process: For some reason, the economic histories of places we were visiting and diving into seemed to play a crucial role in the shaping of cultural landscapes we encountered and were extremely prominent in our observations and interactions: Migration and displacement of people, physical ability and protection of certain bodies as opposed to others, absence and presence of people living there or once having lived there, the question of access to certain sites and places, the role and standing of nature.

What was striking is that in most of the places, art seemed to be interwoven into these fields in various ways. First of all, there seemed to be a close link between art and former industrial sites. Be it the deserted island of Varjakka in Finnland or the huge deserted coal mining sites in the Ruhrgebiet in Germany: in both of these places (like in many others) artists seemed to be very welcome guests.

We were very aware of this re-occuring theme when visiting places and also reflecting back on our own practices. What is this interesting relationship between art and post-industrial sites? For sure, it is one factor that sites that lost their economic value often provide what is scare in cities, where many artists work: space.

On the other hand, artist almost seem to appear as being invited to act as the healer of a broken civilization or as the glue to weave nature and culture back together in sites where industry or civilization had a strong impact on nature. Also, the artist almost seems to be used a lens put on a process of decay of buildings or nature to reclaim space, which gains another platform, another form of visibility through the art taking place there.

Looking at this critically, the question arises, whether inviting artists to such spaces is simply another way to re-capitalize those places that lost their economic value and desirability?

The question then remains, how does this dynamic actually cater to the local community of these sites? Who profits from it, who is even involved and in touch with the art that takes place there?

These thoughts and questions remain from our observations and reflections and are what I would like to keep in mind with regards to my own practice and future projects.

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