Mobility, young artist, emerging artist, artistic residency, exchange, collaboration... The system of signs of contemporary art takes our thoughts hostage, leaving us to doubt whether these concepts-turned-jargon foment freedom or contradiction. Ask any artist if she wants to be a ‘young artist.’ She will say no. And then yes. Ask about the role of networks. Fundamental, she’ll say. And then that there are too many. The World of Speed of the 21st century, so different from what the futurists depict in their 1910 manifesto (We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing automobile with its bonnet adorned with greattubes like serpents with explosive breath ... a roaring motor car which seems to run on machine-gun fire, is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace), is a world of internal tension where all victories are paradoxically an instrument of freedom and a prison of circumstances.
DÉPARTS is a network established in 2001. It is a product of the 21st century, of the need for European rapprochement, the growing mobility of artists, and the creation of a geography of art that substitutes historic paradigms with a effervescent coexistence of tendencies, ideals and modi operandi.
Today, reflection on art confronts a question that is no longer concerned with time, but rather the historic position of the work, the succession of tendencies, the invention of hyphenated terms beginning with the prefixes ‘neo’ and ‘post’: we must liberate ourselves from the conditioning of historic evolutionism that can process only with recourse to temporal and diachronic categories.The pursuit of the cardinal points of art implies the selection of spatial and synchronic categories that allow us to consider art according to the order of coexistence, rather than the order of succession. What interests us is not the history of art, but the possibility of a topology of art that takes into consideration and analyses the most varied and contradictory artistic experiences in their continuity and limits. (Mario Perniola, “Art as a neutral mutant”)
Students from all over the world are selected to study at PARTS/Belgium, Forum Dança/Portugal, and CDC Toulouse/France, some with Départs study grants. Upon completing their professional studies in choreography, students are eligible for support for their work and research, through network-funded residencies, presentations or even co-productions. Some of these co-productions launch artists into distribution systems, solidifying their professional reputations in the world of contemporary dance. But what is DÉPARTS really, beyond a gathering of 12 members from 8 different countries who support dozens of artists and students each year? What is the common link between the works of Danish choreographer Mette Ingvartsen and those of Brussels-based American choreographer Eleanor Bauer, both supported in 2009? The Départs network hopes to build a common world from heterogeneous parts—never a whole, but at best a fragile, revisable, and diverse entity. We will not be able to pinpoint a clear esthetic logic behind the network’s choices, rather an image of displacement, drifting, opposed to permanence, rootedness. The topology of DÉPARTS action is Europe, even if the image of Europe is blurred by endless circulation. And Europe is in itself this contradictory tension between a macro-identity and national/regional micro-dynamics. And how to put all of this together – both in the strategies of institutional networking and artistic unraveling – when considering micro and macro dynamics? Take a look at this excerpt from Bruno Latour “Compositionist Manifesto”:
Of course, what is entirely lost today is the notion of a harmony between the micro and macrocosm. Yet, that there is and that there should be a connection between these two fates, this seems obvious to all. Even the strange Renaissance notion of sympathy and antipathy between entities has taken an entirely new flavor now that animals, plants, soils, chemicals have indeed their friends and their enemies, their assemblies and their web sites, their blogs and their demonstrators. When naturalists introduced the word “biodiversity” they had no idea that a few decades later they would have to add to the proliferation of surprising connections amongorganisms, the proliferation of many more surprising connections between political institutions devoted to the protection of this or that organism. While before naturalists could limit themselves, for instance, to situate the red tuna in the great chain of predators and prey, they now have to add to this ecosystem Japanese consumers, activists and even President Sarkozy who had promised to protect the fish before retreating once again when confronted with Mediterranean fishing fleet.
Latour’s text is humorous but accurate. It addresses the question of speed and excess of connection at the core of critical thought about globalization and institutionalization issues. In these few lines, we grasp an image of a multivaried contemporary universe exhausted by the intellectual buzz of non-ending connection and association. In other words, the management between micro and macro points of view can be put in danger by excessive opening and complexification. By applying these ideas to our subject of discussion, Latour’s argument stresses how intellectual activity and art making joined in a “network” mode can be a victim of non-direct empirical experience, generating useless content and frantic activity. This is the danger of “networking” or “extraterrestrial working” (Etworking), an indirect multi-complex tool that is only producing noise. The management of a big project like DEPARTS implies many different layers of thought and care.
DEPARTS is a “European” network. It connects institutions whose identity is already rooted in different countries and follows its own line of action from a local and national perspective, amplifying it to a macro-perspective that we can categorize as “European,” even if some of the artists are from different continents. In the functioning of the network, efforts were made to find a good balance between active cooperation between partners and the possibilities for each partner to further develop its own specific approaches in their local context, so there is a clear connection with the territory. So, there is more to this than being a network. It is both terrestrial and extraterrestrial. It creates an indirect image of European diversity at the same time that it supports the local conditions of each nucleus. The network of distribution and investment is a facilitator of individual and autonomous choices of each member and less an authoritarian strategy of producing European identity. It is also a supporter for artists that are coming from dance professional training institutions that are partners of the network (PARTS since the beginning of the network in 2001 and Forum Dança and CCN Toulouse in 2009). More than X artists were supported since 2001. In this case, we should reinforce how systems often accommodate to artists just as artist change and accommodate to systems.
The reality of art production today is that resources are shared to support “many” artists, instead of supporting “some” artists. It is the result of the direct action of providing access to culture, education and the art market. If excess is a real danger of this change in paradigms, DEPARTS is at its origin a primary tool for democracy and bridging artistic education to art-making in society, because it concentrates its action in the field of providing access to education and means of production, rather that adopting a specific strategy of promoting some “genius,” “outstanding,” or “original” works. Of course, things can very easily slip out of control. Keeping the network on course is the work of the members in their general meetings and is part of the reasoning behind the creation of a website like this. Networking is extraterrestrial work within terrestrial needs and urgencies.It is a transitional work between the direct and local experience of schools, festivals and theaters, and the implementation of a macro perspective that stitches together and replicates experiences. Because, as Perniola says, the aesthetic problems of today are essentially questions of transition between different productions, genres, cultures. These can be considered in a hierarchical manner, attributing superior value to a singular production, a singular genre, a singular culture. Or they can be considered in a reductionist manner, putting all productions, all genres, all cultures on the same level. All of these solutions are wrong. Molecular biology, precisely because it is a transitional discipline between chemistry and biology, leads us towards a theoretical horizon that is neither hierarchical nor reductionist: in molecular biology, selection is born of replication and mutation. Thinking about art as a neutral mutant boils down to understanding that it does not have a definitive identity: rather, that it is an activity that, through modifications, displacements, even minor localizations, produces a meaning, a quality, a selection.
DÉPARTS is ETwork