Becoming Room, Becoming Mac

New Artistic Identities in the Transnational Brussels Dance Community

By Eleanor Bauer

A preliminary version of this text was first given as a lecture within B-Chronicles: A discursive event around mobilities and subjectivities in the dance community presented by Sarma and Damaged Goods in the Performatik series at Kaaistudios, in Brussels on the 13th of January 2007.

1. On Perspective

I was initially invited onto Sarma’s B-Chronicles team in the Spring of 2006 as an artist, in order to create and perform something on the issue of community within the current situation of transnational mobility in the performing arts, centered around the crossroads or focal point of Brussels. Interesting, relevant, impossible: regardless of from which angle I would try to approach this community and its flows, it was immediately evident to me that my own limited perspective would certainly not suffice to illuminate such a reality. To go about investing in this issue with any sincerity, I knew I would have to dive into it head first and invite a shattering of all my assumptions or projections. Interview research with members and participants of the "Brussels dance community" was designed by the B-Chronicles team in collaboration with sociologist Delphine Hesters as a part of the project. The interviews were to serve as a resource to Delphine Hesters in her writing of a paper, and to the B-Chronicles team in designing a community game for the Brussels event. I opted to do the interviews myself, choosing as research for my own artistic output the immersion of my perspective within a multiplicity of others.

Mobility is a practical, formative part of our reality, and the issue of transnational movement is a huge set of circumstances that determines the performance of our lives. Its personal effects are so prevalent in my daily life, especially once I turn my attention towards them as I have done in the last seven months of working on this project that it is no longer possible to separate between the issue and my life or the issue and its effects, much less to distinguish cause and effect within the complex relationships of economic, artistic, political, personal, institutional and physical circumstances that constitute the forces in the life of a performing artist today. To determine why we move where we move as often as we move, and decipher which instability provides for which behavioral pattern is so subjective and inter-circumstantial, that an attempt to explain from a birds-eye view what is actually going on involves more shuffling and cross-referencing than an advanced game of Sudoku.

Interviewing 50 people -- including myself before and after the other 49 -- was therefore an attempt to magnify the individual and personal trajectories that illustrate such circumstances. Doing so I involved myself deeper within a topic that did not initially stir me into action to create a piece, observing as it became more and more apparent and relevant in my surroundings, less and less escapable, more of a "real" issue. What began as a hypothetical issue, a potential frame to place on my surroundings, encounters, and experiences, became my reality.

Now, when I look at my calendar and it appears more as a list of cities and countries than anything else, I am aware of becoming that which I was not critical of before, and might not have questioned. When 90 percent of my contact with friends and loved ones is online instead of in the flesh, I am aware of the chasm between social and professional needs that grows within such mobility. When 80 percent of my friends are in the performing arts field or are also professional relations, I am aware of the conflation between the social and professional spheres that takes place in this field. When I pay rent and receive my mail in an apartment that I will only spend five months in in 2007, and when I only spend ten days a year in the city I call home; when the only place I have voting power (however fictional it may be) and pay taxes (however poorly they are spent) is a 24-hour commute away, and when I have people in three different cities asking me when I am coming home; when I have my own toothbrush in three other cities; when I have to carry with me four different contracts and four Certificates of Coverage from the US Social Security Administration written out for four different countries every time I board a plane, just in case they question my purpose of travel (lucky for me I am an Anglo-Saxon female with a US passport so they usually never do); when I have all my photo albums on the internet instead of in books; when I own more suitcases than pieces of furniture; when I spend more money each year on travel expenses than rent; when I choose one book over another at the airport bookstore because it is lighter and smaller; when I catch myself speaking more idiomatic international English than proper English; when I get emails from fellow danceWEB alumni trying to coordinate residencies together, seeking further international exchange for the sake of international exchange; when all of my closest collaborators live in different places; when my entire artistic career feels like it is on hold because I spilled water on my keyboard and had to send my laptop to the repair center, making me realize that the new requirement for an artist's autonomy and productivity is no longer "A Room of One's Own" as Virginia Woolf would have it, but a Mac of one's own -- a port for interconnection rather than a space for solitude; when I have more "presence" artistically and socially in the places I am not than in the places I am; when I get more email announcements from colleagues about sublets than I do about upcoming performances; when I have more possibilities to apply for residency than I do to apply for subsidy; when the same list of experiences compares to most of my interviewees, colleagues, and acquaintances, and when I come from rehearsal in Berlin to Brussels for one day in order to participate in a discursive event on an internationally fluid artistic community and sleep for one night on my roommate's floor while a subletter working for the EU sleeps in my bed, I realize I don't have to invent a performative answer to these issues -- my life has become itself a performance of them.

Let's be clear that this is not a barrage of complaints, and that I do recognize the amount of privilege that is also inherent in the above portrait. But as much as I do not wish to incriminate the structures that contribute to this lifestyle, neither do I think it appropriate to romanticize the artist as a nomad and to attribute all of her or his movements on the planet to her or his roaming adventurous gypsy spirit. To place a closed and/or unidirectional causality between the institutions and the artists when it comes to their mobility would be foolish and unnecessarily polemic. Simply put: institutions are localized, dance studios and most offices are fixed places, and people are not. People are moveable. So is money, of course, but we seem to have found it easier to traffic people across borders than subsidies.

So we travel very far to make work inside of empty rooms that are not so different from the empty rooms in the city we just left behind, maybe a grey Marley floor instead of a black one, maybe it has a ballet barre, maybe there is a big annoying column in the middle of it, but one thing you know for sure is that the view outside the window is different. And how does all that is outside that window change what is made? Or does it only manifest itself in our personal lives? How is one connected to the world while in the room of one's own? If one puts the Mac of one's own inside the room of one's own, one becomes virtually connected way outside the window, but what about just outside the window? Do we care where we work or not? Can we think critically about the relevance of our presence in one place or another? Shall we challenge ourselves to include what is outside the window? Can we take hold of the international network and use it to our advantage instead of running around the globe chasing after the money and the space? Is it our obligation to move ourselves around all the time, as living breathing art objects or cultural ambassadors and messengers? Can we challenge the institutions to move more money than people every now and then?

Finally, as we are all workaholics in this field, the people will work where they can, and that means that as it is we go where there is space and money. Or do we? Is it space and money that attracts dancers to Brussels? If it were just space and money that we needed, we would all live in Essen year-round. But we do not. Then why do so many dance professionals choose to live in Brussels (even if for only half of the year)?

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