editor’s questions

To follow up on the previous post about juxtaposing Jennifer Dunning’s article about “black dance” and the artsjournal.com discussion about Europe vs. New York…These are all big ideas that your humble editor is struggling to comprehend and articulate. See below…

In many disciplines, not just dance, we’re reaching a critical juncture: our funding models are failing, our audiences are dwindling and our cultural reference points are shifting. As we move away from past twenty years of identity politics and multicultural, socially progressive cultural mandates, we are looking elsewhere for inspiration. The natural instinct is to look back, yet again, to Europe. But Europe is only one point of reference and could soon become a nostalgic one. The Western European arts model is susceptible to change, as is the idea of a homogenous Western European Monoculture. Angela Merkel campaigned in Germany on a platform that included weakening unions. It is not hard to imagine that we could see, in the not-too-distant future, severe cuts in State-funded arts abroad. As the world economy continues to globalize and the EU is subject to ever-stronger market forces of competition, the European lifestyle may well fade. And as Europe continues to be flooded with guest workers from more disadvantaged parts of the world, it will continue to lose its cultural homogeneity.

So the Europe we turn to now is a rapidly fading idea. How are we going to adjust? More importantly, how are we going to work with Europe to adjust to the new global economic and arts landscape?

Some of the work coming out of Europe already reflects the shifting cultural landscape. We are seeing exciting work from countries in transition (Eastern Europe) and we are seeing inter-cultural work with artists from different countries collaborating. We are also, both in America and Europe, seeing interesting contemporary work from previously unexplored parts of the world, such as the Middle East. So what do we do?

We should probably work with Europe to re-define multiculturalism. As ambivalent as we may feel towards America’s multicultural and diversity-oriented initiatives, one thing is certain: these initiatives radically restructured our language and our context. It provided a language for defining otherness, it allowed for a multiplicity of perspectives on the performed event, it changed the way we saw the world. And now that it has become familiar we see its limitations. But we shouldn’t deny its significance. We should see how it has succeeded and how it has failed and what elements work in a global context.

Because now that we are at the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new one, we must once again embark on creating a new perspective, a new language, a new way of seeing. Something that embraces the changes both in America and in Europe, that works towards a truly global consciousness and culture.

Instead of merely looking at Europe, we will have to work with Europe to determine the aesthetic of a post-identity world in which dislocation and mediated or disembodied presence are the only givens of individual identity, not tribal or ethnic loyalties. We will have to figure out how to acclimate to an ever-growing segment of the world population that doesn’t want to be global.

And we are also must examine the nature of globalization and question its impact. What is the cost? Are we working towards a more just, compassionate and inclusive world or are we merely enabling multinational corporations to more wholly disempower people?

These questions must inevitably inform our aesthetics. The technology-based work we are seeing now is just the tip of the iceberg, the most naive fumbling towards articulation. It is almost impossible to imagine what the future of performance is. How are we to explore the intersection of the body and the machine? Last week’s New Yorker featured an article on computers that are programmed to play chess so well that they actual pass the Turing test! Is a chess match between a human and a computer a performance? Or what about questions of cultural authenticity? Can the work of Michael “Lord of the Dance” Flatley still be considered culturally authentic? Yet he is global.

Culturebot admits he did not go to graduate school. He does not read The Economist with any regularity. He only briefly reads the academic journals (when they are mailed to him). But he does have questions. Do you have answers? Leave a comment.

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