Bojana Cvejić has long been one of my intellectual idols, a dramaturg and performance scholar whose books, articles, and lectures show one of the most exemplary engagements with philosophy in the performing arts. Together with that other Bojana (Kunst), Cvejić thinks deeply, rigorously, and uncompromisingly about contemporary dance as a system, not merely of signification, but of production; of social relationships, modes of authorship, modes of creative and intellectual labour, modes of being, modes of citizenship -in her analysis, all are produced and reproduced in the arts just like they are would be on the factory floor. Bojana Cvejić’s enormous mind handles it all simultaneously, the ethical and the aesthetic and the pragmatic and the ideological. Reading her is always a pleasure. Speaking with her was momentuous.
“To affirm another politics of authorship means to control the conditions in which value is produced.”
What makes Cvejić particularly beautiful to listen is that she is not one of those thinkers who will throw a lot of ideas in the air as equally weighted possibilities, which cheapens them even when they have been thought through rigorously. Cvejić asserts, posits answers. Her thoughts form slowly and carefully and accurately, and listening to her is like watching a very large edifice – say, a bridge – being built from the bottom up, thought by careful thought, until an entire perspective on the world has sprung up.
“Artists… lack political education. I think it’s unclear to everyone what it means to be a citizen – this sense of belonging, of entitlement, of claiming, how one could be part of decision-making.”
In this conversation, which is so precious to me, Bojana charts the path that contemporary dance, as well as many kinds of participatory performance, have traversed since Bel and Le Roy’s experiments in the late 1990s, from collective authorship to participation and immersion. And this sentence keeps resounding in my mind: “I think it’s unclear to everyone what it means to be a citizen”.
Of all the art forms, theatre is singular in how closely it is related to participatory democracy, and yet how deeply, on the ground, it is immersed in what we might, for a lack of better word, term ‘narcissism’. There was a time when participatory performance offered the dream of restoring to theatre that dimension of political participation, that sense of agora; of us all coming together as people with rights, agency, ethics. To those of us interested in what it means to come together in real space, those of us who know the work of Brecht, Piscator, Boal, there was a sense that theatre was remembering its own political agency. And I still believe that theatre can play that role (as does Bojana, I believe): there have been performances recently, like Hot Brown Honey, like Zoe Coombs-Marr’s Trigger Warning, like Elbow Room’s We Get It, that left such a trail of electricity behind them: we were there, together, and something was happening in the room. At its finest, there is still immersive performance such as Miguel Gutierrez’ Deep Aerobics, which harnesses our being-there-together to make us angry and sad and armed for political change. But too often, theatre invites us to an evening of self-indulgence; of forgetting, rather than engaging, with the world.
The shift between coming together in public for a protest, and coming together for a flash mob – and a flash mob, it bears repeating, exists mainly on social media afterwards – that is the shift that Bojana talks about. Could it be that the immense precarity of our lives, the precarity of our jobs, our housing, our social safety nets, and our relationships, results in a kind of collective nervous breakdown, in which the selfie, the public performance of the self, is genuinely confused for personal agency? I don’t know. But between the extremes of performance where participation is measured in selfie numbers, and the aloof self-absorption of the solo, there is a hypothetical, if rarely utilised, middle ground, in which performance could still be a space of collective agency.
This is what we talk about today.
I started Audio Stage because so often our conversations, in the arts, remain short and snappy and commercial: we put on our best faces to sell our shows, and we sell it as entertainment and as inoffensive and as fun, fun above everything. And yet, we are not doing justice to Australian art when we do so. We are not doing justice to the personal, political, moral, and imaginative quests that our artists are actually undertaking. To give an artist a large space, to let them speak about what they do and how with a greater grounding in our society – that is why these long conversations happen.
We hope you enjoy them.
Discussed in this episode:
Marx, dance in museums, who authors dance?, Xavier Le Roy’s early works, creating new values, dancers associated with certain choreographers – are they ‘damaged goods’?, collaboration vs collectivity, Marcel Mauss and social choreography, “I’ve done Vietnam, I’ve done the Paris Ballet Conservatory, I’ve done Wall St.”, the high-paying executive who gives it all up to find out who he is, ‘selfie-expression’, choreography as a cottage industry, YouTube, and remember when we used to think we could decide to make a viral video?
Listen to the episode: