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Virve Sutinen. Photo: Andreas Nilsson

“Artists Are Creative Thinkers – Their Powers Make Us See Things Anew” 0

An express interview with Virve Sutinen, Artistic Director for the festival Tanz im August

- The 27th International Festival Tanz im August -
Berlin, Germany
August 13 – September 4, 2015

 Tanz im August is one Europe's largest dance festivals. This year's program has been put together by Finnish curator Virve Sutinen, and she's placed special emphasis on the relationships between visual art and dance.

The festival will be opened by an exhibition of works from Sammlung Haubrok, the foundation based on the conceptual art collection of Barbara and Aksel Haubrok, at the theater Hebbel am Ufer (HAU1). Taking place on August 13, this one-day exhibition will feature the works of such artists as Olafur Eliasson, Elmgreen & Dragset, Philippe Parreno, Willem de Rooij, Andreas Slominski, Carol Bove, and Christopher Williams, among others.

Taking place at the same time as the exhibition will be a kind of reenactment of a historic event, albeit in a different place. The honor of opening the the festival has been entrusted to Lucinda Childs, the enchanting choreographer of American post-modernist dance. In 1984, Child's dance piece “Available Light” was the opening event for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA), and an altogether radical gesture for the time. The piece saw the coming together of three muses – of architecture, dance, and music. In creating the production, Child worked together with Canadian/American architect Frank Gehry and the composer John Adams.

You've designed this year's program with a special emphasis on the relationship between visual art and dance. How ready is today's viewer for grasping this fusion of dance and visual art? Aren't these fields still seen as two completely separate entities?

First, there is no theme as such in Tanz im August; even I have a personal interest in following the evolving dialogue between visual art institutions and dance. My emphasis was purely on the artists and on following their work and interest rather than forcing a certain theme throughout the program. Rather than focusing on fusion, my intention was to present collaborations done by equally interesting visual and dance artists.

Lucinda Childs on the Remount of Available Light at MASS MoCA

In this year's program we are following some of the historical traces of collaboration between choreographers and fine artists, as well as presenting new works with strong visual images. In 1983, “Available Light” brought together Lucinda Childs, John Adams, and Frank O. Gehry. It is fascinating to try to imagine how these giants of the American avant-garde might have influenced each other's thinking during this collaboration early on in their careers. At the same time, there is a lot of interest in conceptual choreographers in the world of fine arts. This has certainly intensified the exchange and influences between these art forms. Choreography as a way of creating meaning is a bigger concept than dance, which is also about the body.

When it comes to art and artists, there are no separate entities, only choices to be made and skills to be achieved. On an institutional level, the question is about power and resources. Just like fine arts institutions embrace choreographers, I wanted to invite the fine artists to theater. It is a simple reversal, but it will reveal how different these economies are.

How do you yourself perceive this fusion? When you look at a work of art, do you think of dance and movement – and vice versa?

I have learned to look at the work first; I question the ideas of the artists and my own perception. I like to say that one interrogates both ends of the experience, that of the artist and that of the spectator. I think we live in a time of fusion, hybridity and flow, which also seems to make us more aware of the essence of things. The borders are taken down and are being rebuilt at a breathtaking speed, which leaves us with a heightened experience of the contemporary world. 

I think it is interesting to experience dance and movement in many different ways and in different contexts. The contemporary is really the impossible-to-catch; now that includes everything, and looking for a certain type of movement or aesthetic can be misleading. Artists are creative thinkers – their powers make us see things anew.

The Festival is opening with an exhibition organized by the Sammlung Haubrok Foundation [established by the German conceptual art collectors Barbara and Axel Haubrok]. What should one know about this collection?

Barbara and Axel Haubrok are collectors of contemporary art based in Berlin. They focus, as you said, on contemporary conceptual art, and in particular on multimedia art, video, photography and installation. But even more important for us is their openness towards experimenting with the format of an exhibition. At first they used their private apartment as an exhibition space, after which they moved into a white cube showroom at Straussberger Platz; their latest move has been to an old GDR state-run depot and garage center that has much rougher surroundings in its industrial space. And now we have invited them into a theater space, the HAU1. You do not often find collectors of visual art with such openness and a joy of risk-taking. 

Rosemary Butcher. Touch The Earth, 1987. Photo: Chris Ha

Are the works that have been selected for exhibition connected to the subject of dance?

Not at all, for this is a dialogue between these different frames of communication: theater and exhibition. I wonder if hardcore conceptual art begins to tell stories on stage! But there are other artists in the program who work in in-between spaces, like Isabel Lewis and Rosemary Butcher.

Which other parts of the program that deal with the visual arts would you like to highlight?

Rosemary Butcher's retrospective “Memory in the Present Tense”, at the Akademie der Künste, presents both new and old works by a British new-dance icon who often works in a visual arts context. I would also make sure to catch the collaboration between Swiss choreographer Gilles Jobin and Berlin-based artist Julius von Bismarck. Korean choreographer Ahn Aesoon has collaborated with the pop artist Choi Jeonghwa to create a huge installation for Bul-ssang, the Korean National Dance Company. 

QUANTUM by Gilles Jobin

You will be the artistic director of Tanz im August through 2017. The festival will have surely taken on your characteristic signature over these years. How do you envision the festival's semblance?

My wish is to work together with artists and audiences to create a world-class contemporary dance festival that consists of a diversity of styles and aesthetics, and to bring together experimental and emerging works, key performances, and landmark collaborations of established artists.

HAU1 - Hebbel am Ufer is the proud home of the festival, but in August, contemporary dance should take over the whole city of Berlin. With increased funding, I'd like to extend the program into the public space, and increase the participation of the art world and audiences alike in the making of the festival. This year we are already contributing to the development of new works through increased investment in co-productions and commissions. My politics are pretty straightforward in terms of finding a balance in this world of extreme violence, greed and disdain for humanistic and cultural values. I wish to include others as equal partners in making art and culture “happen”, as well as to make sure that there is a balance in terms of geography, age, sex and gender. There is also a pure joy in finding dance again and again, which is something I'd like to share with others by reaching out to those who have not yet been exposed to contemporary dance.

Virve Sutinen. Photo: Oliver Mark