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Exploring artivist interventions

Marina Rieger

Dear [insert your name here],

After reading up on Emma Langmoen’s mobility experience from DYNAMO in Odense, Denmark, I was eager to explore the artivist (artist/activist) aspect a little bit further. The artist/administrator aspects Emma was addressing in her observation on how the Dynamo-team developed their own strategies to deal with limited infrastructure in the Baltic Nordic contemporary circus sector is a good example of how artivism can manifest.

But activism and art come together in many different settings and when I think of activism, I place it in the realm of revolution and transformation, where art can contribute as grass-root movement or counterculture. One way of seeing art in activism then is as reacting to reality, questioning the status quo, and taking action, such as intervention. 

Intervention, again, being only one aspect of a form of discontinuation of the ‘usual’ or ‘normative narrative.’ An artistic interruption could also be offering way to escape the norm (escapism) or lose oneself in it (spectacle). To not end up falling under the dystopian wheel of the ever re-accumulation of art into capitalist spectacle production right away; I instead introduce the perspective by feminist writer Sara Ahmed, whose perspective opens to dynamics equally disturbing, but also full of potential. A potential that is based on queer-utopian hope, the belief in addressing that what is yet to come in order for it to have a chance to become reality.

So, seeing intervention as a positive impulse to open new discourse I am stepping onto the scene now from my off-stage perspective and would like to invite you to reflect your own stand on this subject matter with me. No matter if you regard circus art to belong in the activist realm or not, think of situations where even contemporary circus performers have been framed in mainstream media as exotics or outlaws in society; or the genre as cultural practice acting against the norm or as interruption of status quo. Thus, appearing to a wider audience as a somewhat counteractive artform. Depending on how much one’s life and the artistic practice intersect, one might come with a greatly varying mindset to see a performance. Leaving the escapism and spectacular to shocking elements aside for the sake of the argument of artivism – where does this leave stage/staging? How is the contemporary circus performance ‘planted’ into the audiences’ daily life?

collage by Marina Rieger 2021.jpg

Collage by Marina Rieger

If you are actively involved in producing and performing contemporary circus have you ever considered: How is your artistic creation or work as a creative professional received by your peers and/or your audience? Have you thought about adapting your performance to fit the specific space of encounter with the audience, or does the audience normally come to a designated place that is made to programme your performance?

From my off-stage perspective I would for example happen to encounter circus arts as an intervention in the space (where I am) or actively have to seek to see it in a designated place (where I have planned and prepared to go to). Primarily thinking from a participating position in the performance where I wasn’t involved in creation, but now happen to (bodily) encounter, what would lead to define what I experience as artivistic and a possible interruption of public life?

How would contemporary circus place itself within the narratives of performance art, linking the artistic form of expression with the staging as intervention and possibly with agenda to act-to-interrupt?

Since I cannot deny that I do live in Western capitalist society, I now wonder how programmers and bookers arrange to segment the possible audience, for example - me? Expecting there is very little commissioned programme within contemporary circus, a rather ‘pick and choose’ scenario comes to mind, where touring works are in competition with each other.

So, would a circus creator’s perspective rather navigate to produce a performance that attracts audience in the eyes of the programmers? Or would they rather produce performance as a voice to directly address a certain audience (segment), possibly even as a counterbalance to current discourse within the circus or performance genre, or by setting new impulses or reflect (in-)directly to the very society they are a part of? 

Thank you for taking your time and exploring these questions. If you are getting really curious now, feel free to continue and read more on Actipedia, the open-access database to inspire creative activism.






Published on: 15. March 2021

NHLP has been made possible with the support of Nordisk Kulturfond and Nordic culture Point, Nordic Council of Ministers, and Lund Municipality


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