Interview Bojan Djordjev

Bojan Djordjev about the Contextual 2013: “Turning inwards can be an alternative way of thinking politically.”

DasArts Contextual visited the Performing Arts Forum in France in March 2013. Every year, DasArts organises the ‘Contextual’: a two-week collective learning programme, or situation, curated by students. This year Bojan Djordjev and Sonja Jokiniemi’s proposal was selected. Says Djordjev: “It was an invitation to turn inward… into the realm of our own minds.”

Ever since the cuts to arts funding, there has been a great deal of public discussion about whether the performing arts are still relevant to society. In response to this debate, many contemporary works speak about politics and address hot topics. But, as Bojan Djordjev and Sonja Jokiniemi point out in their proposal for this year’s DasArts Contextual, many of them do this in a sensationalist, ‘yellow press’ way. They insist upon the scandalous or immediately try to provoke their audiences – who are often in a need of something else. Djordjev explains: “I wanted to open up practices that engage with the political in other ways; the kind of practices that ask us to turn inward, to look at the whole ecology of the planet, to take time, to be silent, to consider the value of the useless, to dream and to imagine.”

What was the main idea behind this Contextual?

“The idea was to design a working environment in which we could explore the notions of emptiness, silence and invocation. An environment for turning inward as an alternative way of thinking politically in the performing arts.”

How are these practices connected to your own interests?

“To a large extent, the Contextual reflects the artistic interests of Sonja and myself, even though we come from very different backgrounds and we’d probably offer different interpretations of these interests: the idea of working with notions of silence, invocation and space. Seeing the performance Black by Mette Edvardsen was crucial to our collaboration: it became our connecting point. But the interest was certainly there before we met.”

Which artists did you invite for workshops and why did you choose them?

“We asked three different artists for the workshops: Olivier Provily (a theatre director from Amsterdam), Mette Edvardsen (a choreographer from Brussels who is working mainly in field of performance art) and Michael Kliën (the former artistic director of Daghdha Dance Company). They were chosen as representatives of three very different author-poetics in their fields – theatre, performance and dance – but dealing with similar tools. For me, the red thread would be the practice of performance as filling, shaping, transforming and opening (public) space with spare means: words, thoughts and the relation of bodies. A very basic and purified notion of theatre.”

Did the Contextual work out according to your expectations?
“I’m very happy with the actualisation of the plans we had. Any surprises lay more in the direction of confirming the concept and dramaturgy for the two weeks, rather than in revealing weaknesses. I think the treatment of time – of stealing time – was crucial to the fortnight. This reflection on time – time that you usually don’t have – was very much part of the working situation. But it wasn’t just there. We also allowed space for time to reflect: the moment that we had every evening after workshops as we prepared dinners, and in communal situations. It gave us the opportunity to digest and comment upon all the information instead of just rushing home – which would have felt like a cold shower.”

What did the residency at Performing Arts Forum (PAF) add to the experience?
“The first week of our residency at PAF in France preceded a second week of intensive workshops. This residency, in a former convent, felt like stealing time: it was almost like a detox. The wound-down schedules of the activities were based on self-initiation, negotiating and making place for the others – which is a crucial point of PAF as a place – and this enabled us to not just open up to each other more, but also to the propositions of the invited artists.”