“Citizens vs. Work – Europe” // Juli-Oktober 2014

 

Work has an increasing power over our lives. There is no good life without working, but then, when working there is no time for the good life. It is imperative that we take the time to contemplate, explore and discuss something so self defining and shaping as work. Everyday life does not provide open supportive environments and situations for reflection and inclusive discussion.

This has been the starting point for our first project in 2013 when CAT Cologne e.V. organized a project titled “Citizens vs. Work” in collaboration with US-artist Alex White Mazzarella, NY, and theater director Gregor Leschig, Cologne. Together they developed a trial format in which citizens of Cologne were interviewed about their personal experiences with work, which soon proved to be always substantial part of the story of their lifes. These interviews and stories were part of charge and defense when, in a public trial, work (personified by Alex White Mazzarella) was brought to court. As the subject and concept of the project turned out to be very effective to allow for enthusiastic discussions and participation, we were thinking it one step further: As work/labor is an issue that is at the same time very connected to the site and its economical and structural situation, how would people from different countries connet to this? A second trial took place te same year in New York during Queens International. The assumption was that the specific employment situation and the impact of work to the live of the people but also the individuals’ handling of these circumstances might differ substantially. Which proved to be true in some way: although interviewees also tended to open up to the issue on a very personal level (one stated “This conversation made me look at my work from a very objective point of view. When looking at my work as a third person it made me realize that we went through many ups and downs during our relationship.”), it was quite funny to see how some of them exchanged business cards at the end of the conversation. This year, we finally partnered up with artists from five different countries to push the concept to a broader context. Each of these partners has been working dedicatedly in the field of social and cultural engagement, capturing local needs and tackling this by means of artistic and self-helping projects. We herewith intended to combine the experience of internationally engaged “partners” with local issues.

The group as such met together in Cologne, once before the individual projects took place, once after this. Besides the soft suggestion of the trial format, we started off with no concrete conception. However, already during the first workshop in Cologne it was terrific to see how each partner arrived with absolute different backgrounds and ideas on their own “Citizens vs. Work” project. When following the projects during the months of July until October, we have been impressed what was actually realized in the five countries. Every interpretation has been so different from each other that it will be hard to compare the outcome on same criteria accoring to the respective setting. Rather than this, the projects showed the many facettes work can take when picked up by people with such different backgrounds. All of them straight away found a connection to the subject and an approach that fit in their personal practice as well as to the audience they were confronting. Some of them also used the subject to sneak into realms of identity, liberty, or social surveys and their methods.

in collaboration with Chris Bell and Colin Lalonde / Studio Porte Bleue Montréal (Canada) Gamze Buyukkusoglu / Casa Dell’Arte Istanbul/Bodrum (Turkey) Agostinho Pereira / Tempo Connect Paris (France) Hanna van Mourik Broekman / Tg Nomen Groningen (Netherlands) Stavros Panagiotakis Thessaloniki (Greece) advising: Alex White Mazzarella, ARTEFACTING, New York Gregor Leschig, Bin-ich-Arbeit GbR, Cologne

Chris Bell is an artist and performance practitioner with a passion for developing new initiatives, connecting with communities and engaging individuals in the arts. Chris hold an MA in International Performance Research from the University of Warwick (UK) and the University of Amsterdam (NL), where he focused on the performance of gendered identities and applied theatre practices. Originally from Minnestota, he has been traveling and realizing projects throughout the US and Europe. From July through November 2014, he has been resident of “Studio Porte Bleue” in Montréal and collaborated on the ‘Citizen vs. Work’ project together with it’s artistic director Colin Lalonde. Recent projects include co-founding A PerFarmance Project in rural Ireland, an invited artist/researcher UNLISTED: Second Steel in Pittsburgh, and developing improv based leadership training at Minnesota Life College.

Colin Lalonde is a performer, director, and performance researcher from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He holds an MA with distinction in International Performance Research from the University of Warwick (UK) and University of Arts in Belgrade (RS). Along with his practical work his current theoretical research focuses on the emancipatory potential of performance creation practices. His undergrad was in theatre at the University of Ottawa. During his time in Ottawa he worked as a performer and director with the performance and research collective “Les Atelier du Corps”, which developed new performance training techniques and performances that have been included in the Canada Dance Festival’s program. With “Studio Porte Bleue” Colin hopes to further bridge the gaps between theory and practice within theatre and encourage artists working with the company to think deeply and critically about their practice and work.

“Citizens vs. Work – Generation-2-Generation”

Performed and Created by Chris Bell and Colin Lalonde, Produced by Studio Porte Bleue, Montréal

In August the project made its first station in Montréal where “Citizens vs. Work – Generation-2-Generation” was realized as a performance at Studio Porte Bleue. The five-day-work-week, pulling up your boot straps, two weeks vacation, honor in work, or entrepreneurialism are values of labour passed down through the generations. Citizen vs Work: Generation-2-Generation is a performance that looks at how these values are transmitted from one generation to the next and how they change over time. Preceding the performance our partners Chris Bell and Colin Lalonde made interviews in public and more private space to question people about personal values that have been passed on to them and how they would consider their importance and application has been transformed. Following the presentation on stage was a discussion wit the audience and a trial in which it was voted over these labor related values. “Citizens vs. Work – Generation-2-Generation” asked to consider how your ideas of work and labour have been passed down to you from past generations and if these values still speak to the world we live in today.

Gamze Buyukkusoglu is an artist who splits her time between Istanbul and Bodrum. She currently manages the Casa dell’Arte family collection and the ‘Casa dell’Arte’ International Artist-in- Residence program, a small residency program in Bodrum that aims to provide a personal and pressure-free environment for emerging artists while building an archive of work inspired by the geography, history, or the artists’ personal experience of its previously unexplored location. A library of books recommended by former residents, an online archive, and an exhibition space in Istanbul are among future projects.

“Citizens vs Work: in 10 questions” points out how “work” is an issue that expands into all parts of our lives. The significance, meaning and the value that we assign to work in our own lives is never a straight answer, but a concept that is always in flux. While the workers’ struggle of the 60s and 70s stressed the autonomy of the worker from the organization and valorization processes of capitalism, we have now come to a point where work has become inseparable from our core identity, not just a category of our lives performing economic necessity, but an essential element that defines who we are. Istanbul based artist Gamze Buyukkusoglu was interested in the street interview section of the Cologne phase of the project which led her to explore alternative modes of communication that would help uncover more subjective approaches to work. After a research phase consisting of street interviews, one-to-one interviews lasting for a cup to tea, and an online survey, she decided to start a chain of intimate conversations about work that would be available to a wide pool of participants, without the impersonal nature of an online survey. She produced a set of cards with 10 questions culled from standard questionnaires and self-help books and asked each participant in the project to answer one randomly selected question and recorded their 25-30 second answer. The participants would then pass the card on to other friends, asking the same question and recording their answers, with a conversation that potentially lives on forever.

Agostinho Pereira is a founder of ‘Tempo Connect’ – an organization that beliefs in social engagement apart from monetary support. Many people would like to contribute but do not have the respective financial background. On the other hand, there are many people who cannot participate in cultural life for the same reasons. Tempo Connect therefore functions as a mediator between community work and socially engaged citizens who are willing to contribute within the scope of their individual possibilities in exchange for tickets to cultural events, concerts, exhibitions etc., across France. The webpage serves as a free swap site and sharing network.

Our Paris based partner Agostinho Pereira has focused on yet another aspect of work. “Citizens vs Work: Identité” once more reveals the overall impact work has on our lives. We all know the opening question to many conversations, “so, what do you do?”. Maybe this question is asked to learn about ones “status”. But probably there is much more to it. We are interested in getting the “full picture” of a person and not only what we work in our life but also how we live with our work. Agostinho has been working as a photographer and journalist for the last years. The basic approach for this engagement has been how the image can serve to illustrate and highlight the message of the text. For this project, the starting point has been related to his journalistic work: how to document one’s profession can with a portrait photograph. It soon turned out however that this concept would need some alteration, not only because this series of photography did not seem to be innovative in any way but especially because another element of the photographs became much more interesting: the interplay of the people’s profession and what characterized them in a more personal way. How much does one identify with his or her working life? Is one what he does, the person he or she represents professionally? The identification with our daily work seems to pose an inner conflict to one but the incorporated personage of another. Looking at people’s faces through the camera, the focus soon became to capture the whole person. It is never a representation of our profession alone. Not a pure documentation but exactly a subtle note that adds to this. In Agostinho’s photographs it is sometimes an attitude, sometimes an attribute that seems to complete the picture.

Hanna van Mourig Broekman is a theater director from Groningen, Netherlands. Her work can be translated as “total theater”. She works with actors, dancers, performers and real life. Interested in how different people look at the world, she is telling their stories, thereby searching for empathy. Every story is a myth worthy. In 2011 she started her own theater group “Tg Nomen”. With a history of social engineering Tg Nomen stands open for public projects to research the concept of a public itself. Since 2013 Hanna workes on long-time projects, representing different circles of life, starting with death. Thus, the first circle has been maturity – the last phase of our lifes. Following this, the circle in 2014 has been mid-life, a time within our life that is mostly connected to work.

In February TG Nomen started to work on the theaterplay “Staat van geluk” / “State of Happiness”, which examines the significance of labour in our society, involving the public itself. Throughout the preparations for the play, Hanna has been inviting people to talk about the meaning of labour in their lives, the essence of money, unemployment or self-fulfillment through work. A scriptwriter accompanied these interviews in order to write on the play. After this research Tg Nomen built a stage setting for which has been build by unemployed people. Hanna also performed a lawsuit in which labour was accused and staged an interactive performance focusing labor and status. The central concept of the performance was knitted around four actors who represent different professions and, at the same time, it challenged the idea of a society being composed through people’s professions. Another invitation to scrutinize our identification with work. The all-embracing play, incorporating these performances and research of more than one year will be staged on December 15, 16 and 17 at the Grand Theatre Groningen.

Starves Panagiotakis is a visual artist who graduated with a master of fine art in 1991 from Universität der Künste in Berlin. From 1996-2000 he was general secretary and from 2000-2002 president of the society of artists from North Greece (V.A.A.N.G). He currently teaches architecture and arts at Aristoteles Universität and is writing a thesis on sculptures in public space in Greece. In 2010 he founded the art stage: Choros 18 in the center of Thessaloniki to which he present artists and their works in visual arts but also in other media, performances, screenings, music or lectures.

Stavros Panagiotakis has taken advantage of CAT’s draft to realize a truly total work of art. In a Roma village near Thessaloniki, where about 300 people live under precarious circumstances, he asked children the following two questions: “What is happiness?” and “What is work?”. The children‘s answers have been documented in a short film. At the same place a community cabin has been built from recycling materials. In an performance, which took place on October 10th in the French Institute in Thessaloniki, these elements have been brought on stage and further expanded: the film and thus the thoughts of the children formed the background of the stage, the reconstructed cabin the setting. A classical quartet played Op. 110 by Dimitrij Shostakovich to which a contemporary dancer improvised with a performance. To complete this, a text inspired by Paul Lafargue’s “Le Droit à la paresse” (“The right to idleness”) was distributed to the audience. All these elements can be understood as highlighting the order of an ensemble while stressing the desire and freedom of the individual. What is necessary, what is possible – as individuals, as a community? Citizens vs. Work: freedom – a sparkling, intelligent and almost philosophical roundup to the series, showing what power lies in collaboration but also in the individual‘s striving.

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