Directly after the Christmas holidays, it is now little more than one and a half months ago that we said goodbye to the 30 participants of our Connective Symposium, which took place at Fontys University of Fine and Performing Arts in Tilburg, from 17-19 November. A more elaborate publication of the symposium will be published later, at this moment I just want to share a few quick notes and images, to give an impression of these intense yet very inspiring days. Take this post as a collection, an invitation to browse through the various sessions, have a look at the participants and their work.
Firstly, a huge thanks goes to my whole team, who made everything happen from reviewing the proposals up to organising the various spaces in the building and documenting the various sessions: Heleen de Hoon, Danae Theodoridou, Juriaan Achthoven, Xenia Tsompanidou, Ingrid Westendorp and Ulla Havenga. Thanks also to the wonderful participants: artists, researchers and educators from all over the world, it was such a joy to have you with us and learn about such an amazingly diverse spectrum of practices, ideas, visions and work forms.
In the morning of 17 November, it was finally the moment to welcome the participants of our Connective Symposium. We had spoken to each of them during the preparation phase, and it was wonderful to finally see each of them in person, coming from so many and diverse places, among others from Greece, Brazil, the UK, Germany, Cyprus, and The Netherlands.
Already in the first sessions, it was extremely insightful and fascinating to see our research space, the Kolommenzaal at FHK, being used in the way we envision it: An environment where researchers can share work, and collaborate in different forms and settings.
Lizzie Lloyd and Katy Beinart took the start and reflected on their artistic research project “Acts of Transfer”, which involved revisiting and reactivating socially-engaged works from the recent past. They wondered what the afterlife of such earlier projects might be, and how they might be meaningfully represented and re-enacted. In the session, we explored this in smaller groups, with our own earlier works as a basis.
Danae Theodoridou shared several projects under the larger umbrella of her artistic research on the “Practice of Democracy”. We started this session with an intriguing work form, in which we were asked to step into the empty space, one after the other, place an object or ourselves in it, and find a more or less balanced and democratic way to fill the space.
Walmeri Ribeiro was the first of the participants who took us outside, in an exercise on wandering and presence, or rather co-presence: of our bodies, the trees and other plants and non-living objects in the park near the institution. This practical session was based on Walmeri’s “Sensitive Territories” project in Brazil, which is concerned with the impacts of climate change and contemporary ways of living.
Elisavet Kalpaxi and Ann Shuptrine held the final session of the first day. They presented “Dialogues“, a project that focuses on artists’ connectivity through art. In the first part, Elisavet introduced us to the concept and theory of the project, in which eight independent artists exchanged artworks, installed and experienced them in their own personal space for a period of 10 days. Audiences could experience the work during the period through live-streaming. In the second part of the session, Ann (one of the participating artists) offered a workshop, to give us the opportunity to engage with the project and its concept of connectivity first hand. In pairs, we spoke about small objects each of us was asked in advance to bring to the session, while the other person was asked to listen physically, listen empathically, and practice to understand each other on an emotional level.
This first day ended with having dinner together at “Broodje Aap en Linke Soep“, a lovely place in the West of Tilburg, where immigrants and refugees learn the Dutch language, build a community, cook and eat together.
The second day started with a session by Işıl Eğrikavuk, who shared their research project “The Other Garden” with us, a collaborative initiative with students at the Berlin University of the Arts (UdK). In the garden (a real garden!) the group grows “immigrant-plants”, “non-native” to Germany. The initiative includes a variety of activities and events, such as cooking and eating together, or lectures on topics of ecology and inclusivity.
Marike Hoekstra shared her research project “Making Place for Children’s Studios” with us, in which she explores the practice of creating artist studio spaces for children. Against neoliberal notions of children who “need to be educated” or (maybe worse) need to be entertained, Marike is interested in spaces of participation, shared agency and equality. In the session, Marike let us experiment with possibilities to construct such spaces, and think together about the physical and spatial preconditions for such an inclusive arts space for children.
In “Touch(ing) as Connective Practice”, Marloeke van der Vlugt presented her work within the framework of the larger research project “In Search of Stories“, a project in which an interdisciplinary group of artists co-creates artistic works with terminal cancer patients. Marloeke offered a wonderful autoethnographic and personal account of the work with “her” patient, and particularly paid attention to the physical contact with materials such as cloth, foam, paper, clay, or figures made with 3D print material shaped the co-creative process.
Elena Stamatopoulou shared “Reclaim the City: Creating Liberated Zones”, a project created by her political theatrical collective “Facta Non Verba”, based in Thessaloniki, Greece. The project consists of several workshops in various public areas of the city. The workshops are devised in different forms that combine “energetic disciplines” such as yoga or sound therapy with theatre practices.
Reyhaneh Mirjahani carried out her “Experiment on Agency #7” with us: An intriguing exercise in which we as participants (first individually, then in small groups) were confronted with a series of dilemmas. These were presented as challenging questions on making choices, in which all choices seem to “lose”; with themes of censorship, freedom of speech or diversity.
Anastasia Polychronidou’s workshop and walking experiment “Walking Attendance” took us outside again. We explored in which ways walking as a collective and collaborative method and practice can enable embodied forms of knowing together that happen through an attentive, sensorial way of being in the world. Some of the questions we engaged in were: How does walking-with enact changes to our thinking, feeling, sensing, moving? How can we become response-able for one another?
Friday evening then was the moment in which I delivered the inaugural lecture for the professorship: “In Good Company. Think We Must.” In the lecture, I contextualised the work of the professorship in the field of artistic research in relation to societal issues and questions, and spent some time with the concept of Artistic Connective Practices in particular. The lecture finished with a short overview of the three research lines of the professorship (communities, healthcare, and youth) – all in their early stages – and with the provocation to imagine and re-think our institutions through the notion of artistic connectivity.
It was particularly touching that so many old and new friends and colleagues took the effort to come and listen. Furthermore, a warm thanks goes to Kamila Elżbieta Wolszczak, Valentina Solari-Vodanović and Florinda Camilleri for the artistic interventions.
You can download the published and extended version of the inaugural lecture here.
Time goes fast! Saturday morning was already the last of these intense three days, and it promised to be an inspiring one. The morning was filled with sessions by Jessica Renfro, Magdalena Kallenberger and Eleni Kolliopoulou, and in the afternoon we were about to meet the students of the various master programmes, as our symposium had joined forces with the Fontys Artistic Research Day.
In the morning, our timely community was turned into a group of gamers: Jessica Renfro presented her digital interactive project “We Called it Earth“, in which a group of players has to collectively and collaboratively control an avatar in an online world. The project seeks to address collective authorship in a world of crisis and climate change.
Magdalena Kallenberger presented the work of her collective MATERNAL FANTASIES, a feminist art collective of mother artists and their children. The collective is concerned with creating intergenerational ways of art making, as well as the creation of new images of motherhood. Magdalena uses autotheory as a method to move back and forth between different modalities of thinking and examining the world.
For Eleni Kolliopoulou’s session KYTTAPO/THE CELL, we moved into one of our dance studios. Her session presented a participatory experiment of leading and following, guided by the seemingly counterintuitive notion of the leader being the most vulnerable person in a group. A blindfolded participant was positioned inside a hula-hoop, which was then collectively controlled by a group of participants, “to move the most vulnerable person” in their middle. The form lead to a fruitful and challenging discussion on leadership, ethics, the risk for violence, and care.
In the afternoon, we teamed up with the Artistic Research Day of the Fontys master programme’s. Our group of participants met the master students and experienced two beautiful sessions, among which “The House of Seasonal Cleaning” by Amanda Hodgkinson and Liana Psaralogaki. The presentation and workshop used the act of cleaning as an everyday and connective ritual between people, bodies, and architecture. Amanda and Liana see cleaning as “an often-invisible socio-political act of connecting and of connectedness”, and used this to let us write, sketch and build a virtual “house” together.
In the final session, Chrystalleni Loizidou and Hülya Dede shared their work in Cyprus with us, which is among others concerned with education through art, environmental education, ritual, and harvest. Next to listening and experiencing Chrystalleni’s and Hülya’s work, we also engaged in body percussion and singing traditional songs together.
After the students had left into their own reflection sessions, we ended the day and the symposium with a final reflective session. Questions of method were mentioned and discussed very briefly, such as: Which methods were actually employed in each project? (Magdalena Kalenberger) We also touched on the criticality and ethics of connectivity, two notions that had nog been earlier explored during the symposium. Aspects of friction came to the fore, and questions of “how to facilitate conflict” (Danae Theodoridou). A lot to think and work with in the future!