You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness
I meet up with Sergei for a late lunch at L’Espadon. The days of his prime, when he was curating inter- disciplinary practices at the Foundation Cartier awarded him his current position as director of the live arts, at one of the leading institutions in Europe. He looked thinner than the last time I saw him.
Sergei savored the dry Sancerre Les Baronnes before sipping it. He gave a nod to the waiter. Our artichoke- and ruccola ravioli with clams au gratin was served. Sergei talked about how the costs of administration skyrocketed and how the grants for theatre productions decreased in a drastic manner. He didn’t have the energy to accomplish the organizational changes that would work in favour of a more experimental form of programming. The staff was already drowning in paperwork. Sergei himself had regular appointments with a doctor to cope with the stress from work. He sighed.
The lunch-hour din was more muffled than usual, even though the restaurant was crowded. Sergei continued. His colleagues, the audience and the board was happy with the mix of established national and international acts, reflecting a sort of global idiom, so why would they want to change anything? The theatre played for a full house. The local politician who was on the board of the venue applauded Sergei’s popular repertoire. The politician thought it wonderful that the city residents spent their free time being entertained at the theatre.
Another bottle of wine accompanied the fillet of monkfish with black olives, zucchini and pickled lemon. Sergei excused himself to the bathroom. He quickly returned. His eyes were glossy and his furrowed face bore a forced smile. They had recently been given direct instructions from the cultural ministry. They were to redistribute their assets in order to be more inclusive of groups that rarely visit the institution. The pedagogic campaign aimed at the schools in the suburbs gave great results and young people flooded the theatre. Both of us lit a cigarette and Sergei quickly quaffed more wine. Our entree was followed by a tartin-like dessert. Sergei used to rent an apartment, but now he had a mortgage and a pad in the center of town. Even if the down payments and the interest were high, it was a good investment he said and downed the last of the wine. We got our bill, which Sergei glanced at and then paid. We got up to go to Rue de la Roquette.
“The neoliberal global economy is collapsing, and our present financial system seems to dissolve. We only have to wait and see wether it’s a final crisis.”
“A consequence of post-Fordism is that knowledge has replaced human labor as principal agent in the process of valorization, and continually expanding humane capital has taken a leading role in production.”
“The cultural industry is based on exploitation of intellectual property in order to reach maximum profit.”
Huh? Yes, writing somewhat intangible and blanket statements about global politico-economic events such as these seems quite contrived in a Nordic context. The Nordic welfare system is relatively functional, the labor market is OK, the equality between sexes is better than in most countries and the economy is stable enough to face the current financial disarray in Europe. To segue from these statements into reflecting on the development of the performing arts is not only hard, it can also be construed as an exaggerated will to over-analyze. At the same time, all areas of society are being economized, and culture is being instrumentalized at an increasing pace, with raising expectations of commercial orientation. We could benefit from taking the time to think about where these trends will lead, but also speculate on what will happen to the performing arts over time.
That Nordic cultural policies increasingly has been turning towards the market during the last twenty years is hardly news. Institutions for performing arts are expected by the subsidy authorities to examine their commercial capabilities in a larger degree. In other words the audiences’, that is the customers’, influence on the output of the theatres, has increased as a consequence of the commercialization of the theatre, transforming the performing arts into a cultural commodity following the logic of the market in a growing cultural industry.
This structural adjustment is concurrent with the present neoliberal economical order, often described as post-Fordism. A recurrent theme in analyses is that economy permeates through all domains of
society including the cultural domain and that there is no clear border between the commercial and cultural arenas. Put simply, economic growth is the head matrix for political struggle and the fixed point in the dynamic of the cultural field.
As the arenas of culture and economics intertwine, keeping a critical distance becomes almost impossible. This appears to make critical perspectives of their own activities and productions unthinkable for institutions and performers, as they themselves are a part of the system criticized.
In this, participators of the theatre field have lost the conditions they require in order to come up with alternative strategies of defiance. At the same time, the lost notions of being an external criticist of the system seem to mobilize energy as they insist upon re- articulating attitudes of protest. This momentum tends to turn towards analyzing ones’ own practices.
Is it possible to characterize this soul-searching movement as a state of melancholia, where the loss of an ideal is internalized and impossible to let go of? A state of mind alternating between deeply
depressive, negative, passive resignation and energic, radiant, rebellious productivity. Is it possible that this ambivalent state gives rise to either energetically productive actions or gloomy introvert, resignedly negative approaches, that these attempts of re- activations of a critical stance emanate from this state of mind?
The subject in a melancholic process develops increasingly sophisticated defense mechanisms in order to avoid recollection of the original loss. Can the loss be accepted, can melancholia be cured and
what forms of mourning is required?
The Performing arts are drawn to crises. It is used as material to process, transform and develop concepts and imaginary worlds. Rather than being surprising it´s quite conventional to look into the present politics of culture in times of the, so called, crisis of the neoliberal economy and its effects on the field of performing arts. It´s hard to put your finger on what effects the financial turmoil has for the field. Because of that it is worthwhile to survey the symptoms of the internalized neoliberal economy in our culture body and how it come to bear through the event of this turmoil. How do we manage these symptoms as we become acute aware of them, but also how to avoid all-too-common roles of reaction, such as the nostalgic-reactionary naysayer, or the cynical, market-oriented
Aim to look beyond the apparent tendencies of this economic and cultural political climate, such as financial cuts and movements towards commercialization. What is more interesting is how the (political-economical) dynamics transform curatorial and artistic work.
 The business perspective is likewise compatible with a inclusive
democratic view on cultural politics, and may be consider ironic for
those who formulated the culture policies of 70-s and those who
persist for an idea of an democratic inclusive non- commercialize
 The economical order is commonly named post- Fordism. In which
financialization is just the other face of the contemporary
transformation of labor and it´s value. Such labor now coincides with
productive strategies in which workforce´s knowledge and cognitive
competencies, and ultimately everyone´s very life, assume the role
formerly played by machines in the Fordist era.
 “Art and culture professionals, in the belief they master the an
apparatus which actually masters them, defend an apparatus they can no
longer control. Such structure no longer is a tool for producers, as
the latter still believe, but something which is used against them”
This was the introduction text to the 2012 season program at INKONST performing art section.
Public Movement, White on White, Les Gens d’Uterpan, Goro Tronsmo, Juan Dominguez, Ingri Midgard Fiksdal, Heine Avdal & Yukiko Shinozaki, Jefta Van Dinther, Verk Produksjoner, Marita Mukkonen, Knut- Ove Arntzen among others.