Thursday 12 July 2012

Special post: André e. Teodósio on The United States of European Culture

On June 3, André e. Teodósio was invited to address the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth in a conference entitled Current Challenges and Opportunities in the Funding of Arts and Culture, organized by Guimaraes 2012 - European City of Culture. It is a honour and a great pleasure to publish here his thought-provoking and deeply inspiring speech.

First of all, I would like to thank Dr. Rui Catarino for having invited and given me the opportunity to share some words in the presence of the European Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth, Dr. Androulla Vassiliou and her delegation here present in one of the Capitals of Culture of 2012, event where in the long run I will present two performances. 

As an artistic creator I’m very positive towards cultural issues as they are today. I’m reasonably free (unlike many non-Europeans artists, I can say the most obnoxious things and get away with it, even with laughs) and there are loads of European artistic circuits, festivals, subventions and so on for any kind of artist, being them European or not, which offer everyday unimaginable opportunities. But more than the choices, we have to understand the offer.

So the thing that came immediately to my mind as I was writing this text was to state first and foremost that: Europe’s new enemy, probably unlike what everybody here expects, is the United States of European Culture (U.S.E.C.).

Having said that, I understand that you might feel like eye-rolling for I did it myself when I wrote the sentence. I asked: Why another enemy? To what are you opposing to? But then I thought it over, calmed down and actually found some reason in it. What started out as anger soon revealed itself as being anguish, for I was criticizing myself.  I’ll try to explain the previous statement, hopefully not in a boring way; just the point of view of an artist who, of course, will always be seen as ‘too Utopian’. But we’ll get to that!

If we’re to accept the hypothetical fact that Europe is at this moment facing simultaneous problems, we can assert that they can only be coming from within. We cannot accuse anyone, for we cannot forget that the other is always innocent until the opposite is proven. So, embracing ourselves with a problem we need to deal with, we should try to analyze its origin: is it because we were trying to have something our own way? Or were we expecting something when one should embrace everything without prejudice?

To exist a fault, it’s not that of the New Economies versus the Old Economies (there is no such thing as ‘Old Economies’). It’s neither the Emancipation or Rise of New Forms of Democracies or the Spread of Equality against an Established Tradition, in this case being ours (there is no such thing as ‘tradition’ or rather let’s go the other way around, so that people don’t get already mad with me: since there are many traditions and many of them have changed  through time, it would be a contradiction to defend a concept such as ‘tradition’).

Having put aside Tradition and the Emergence of Unexpected ‘New Things’, to exist a problem in Europe it is rooted in itself (and there is no guilt involved in what I am stating or other psychoanalytical passwords). And which problem is that which is rooted in ourselves?
We don’t know. Wow.
We have simply forgotten. We forgot... Us.
But unlike the Belgium detectives, such as Poirot, we don’t have any clues about the crime.
We don’t have an idea.
We don’t have Art anymore.
And if we don’t want to perpetuate this problem infinitely  (the self-eating 8 which is the mathematical symbol of the infinite), then we have to separate the tail from the mouth.

What does this mean in practical terms?

It means that when we read the topic of this conference - “The current challenges and opportunities in the funding of Arts and Culture -, this theme is usually, in the eyes of the public, intertwined with economic, political or social issues. And there are different reasons for this. Being it sometimes a result, a strategy or an issue:

a) the RESULT of Populist Economic Reasoning (either because, as in the left-wing point of view, culture brings economic development or because, as in the right-wing point of view, money which buys food should not be spent in invisible things such as art);

b) a STRATEGY of Cynical Political Democracy (either because, as in the left-wing point of view, culture is a means to give people what they supposedly expect or because, as in the right-wing point of view, governments are viewed not to be engaging themselves in directing public taste);

c) and finally because it is a kernel ISSUE when Defending Humanist Social points of view (in both the right and left-wing points of view, either because culture is seen as a hedonist builder of the community-to-be or because it perpetuates a colonized way of seeing the others).

This is what is currently going on. Every discourse defending culture always embodies one of those pre-given subjects I mentioned before (economic, social and political). But by no means should we fall in this discursive trap, with which the so-called social sciences have seized for about a century what has been one of Europe’s landmarks since its beginnings: being Critical.  And don’t get me wrong: being critical in relation to others but, above all, in relation to oneself.

Choosing among pre-existing options is a survival kit dilemma, not a choice. It’s a forced choice implying that you should forget yourself and stop criticizing. If we dive in a heideggerian way into the word ‘Critical’, we will find ‘Crisis’ as the etymologic root of that word, ‘krisis’  meaning ‘the turning point’.

So where do we stand if we always have to choose and ground our opinions among those pre-given concepts I mentioned before? Then there is no krisis, in the sense that there is no REAL turning point (it’s not enough to change our position on the sofa). And if there’s no turning point, then we are not being critical.

And I bet you already know what I’m aiming at. When we aren’t Critical, we don’t have an  Idea. Only pre-given concepts. And when we don’t have an Idea, we forget Us. And when we forget ourselves.... well, I think I don’t have to go on, you’ve understood me already.

When we aren’t critical for some time, that can be seen as a phase. But when we aren’t being critical for a long period of time, then it’s not a phase anymore. We are doing it. We are forgetting. We have stopped being critical.  We have stopped being Europeans. We are something else. We render and accommodate ourselves to our survival in a community,  the world we are living with its pre-given concepts, and we stop building the world we want to live in. I know it sounds as a cliché. But I have always defended that it is better to start off from a cliché than to end in one.

So let’s start again with a cliché: Building the world we want to live in, that’s called ‘Democracy’, right? The same Democracy that emerged against all kinds of one-hit wonders, right? That was able to write Gnothi Seauton, right? So what happens when we forget Us? When there is no Gnothi Seauton anymore?

We can recall certain dictators saying about illiteracy: “Now we don’t have to be ashamed of not knowing how to read.” Well, I’m ashamed of not knowing what was happening before I was born, but I didn’t choose my time and place of birth. But as demos from democracy, I will take the tools that were given to me and use them in order not to be ashamed of what the world is going to be tomorrow.

Yes, I will say at the borders of other countries: I am European. But what they should hear is: I am Europe. And no, it’s not because of my accent!

You might ask me now: but are those people who built the pre-given concepts, the ones that rule you, the ones that create and moderate invisible dictatorships that lead to forgetfulness, not European?

In the sense of democracy, of the demos, the ones with no part: No.
If they are not in the common, if they are building groups, then: No.
If they keep on forgetting someone: No.

They are not European. I can try not to be so harsh and say that they aren’t totally, but again, that means that they aren’t. They live in a Principality like Monaco, that’s why their point of view is ‘principal’ on all matters; but, unlike the Moneguasques, they are transversely invisible.

They function like Bildeberg Club, the difference being that in the process of its emergence they auto-proclaimed themselves officially as a working group composed by both socially privileged people and also a lot of poor left-wingers.

So no, they are not European. They left Europe a long time ago. They live in a new particularity characterized by true European forgetfulness. And the remainders or the leftovers of their old life are merely accomplishments turned into decoration, atmosphere: Aesthetics. Therefore, the name I proposed for this effect: The United States of European Culture - A federation with a fat duration.

I will explain my insistence, which you must have already noticed, on the idea of Europe and the duality between Art and Culture.

For the first time in history, societies have created something which cannot stand against any other country for the simple fact that it is not one. Europe is supposed to be a Utopia composed of different parts guaranteeing that conquered Universal Rights remain so.

That’s about it. And there is no reason for having inside Europe other different Europes, such as the one I mentioned before (but the list goes on: United States of Economic Europe, United States of Political Europe, etc.), because countries have already their own agendas. So enough of Europe. As it is not a country that fights other countries, so it shouldn’t be a singular Culture fighting other cultures. Europe is about distributing the ‘being equally different’ status to everybody.

In relation to Art and Culture: we’re composed of both, and so they should co-exist in order to fulfill our subjectivity process. But that’s not what’s happening. For one of them has erased the other by colonizing its field of action. Mostly through immobilization: appearing so much that the other one slowly disappears. You know, like those persons that talk so much that they don’t give you time to say that they have spinach on their teeth, and then they kiss you... a mess that spoils the image of love so much that, even if you marry that person later, you can never forget that day. And the other knowing it is condemned to the “Forget-me, forget-me-not” syndrome.

If we accept what Emilie Henriot has greatly said - “Culture is what lives on in man when he has forgotten everything” -, then, in the other way around, we are able to say that: “Art is what lives on in man when he has remembered everything.” There is a huge difference between them, as you can see: Art remembers, Culture forgets... (forgets Art and many more things, by the way).

So whenever you hear the words taste, feelings, aesthetics, anything that deals with pre-given concepts, rules, or remainders of Art: THIS IS CULTURE.  But when you decide - as Goddard very well puts in Je Vous Salue Sarajevo -, to move a bit away from the rule and create an exception, turning your ideal real, building a way of being, then you are in the domain of Ethics: THAT IS ART. They are supposed to be a Yin and Yan.

Having reached page 4 of my text, it should be clear by now that in the U.S. E. C., Culture behaved as the doppelganger of the twins. Culture has risen to a state where it has inside itself Culture and nothing more. And like a girl that in a shipwreck wants to get hold of her teddy bear, so Culture won’t even bother with its own contradictions (artists driving Porsches, festivals in the middle of corn-fields, oversized theaters proud to be empty). The girl doesn’t love the teddy bear, she knows very well it is a toy. She just wants it to confirm that she’s not alone, that it’s faithful to her schemes and mechanisms. Like Culture, she will simply not allow herself to be ashamed of loosing her position as the Master of herself when facing the real.

But let’s face it:

Just like the 'concrete' politics of the 80s in Portugal, with their famous highways, in Culture we have only seen bulldozers destroying gate-kept environments to impose Highways that connect Structures which organize hypothetical Intersections between Players that communicate in the language of the U.S.E.C. In Culture today, as when building highways, someone has to sell their land for someone to speculate over it. In Culture, as in highways, to get in, to that space that years before was your garden, you have to start playing by the rules: pay to get in; be fined and punished if you don’t follow the law; meanwhile, accidents will be fatal; you don’t have to have contact with reality if you are privileged to have one of those voices giving you directions; and you will get anywhere before the others if you have a better vehicle.

The intersection structures in the Cultural Highway follow the same lines: they are all about effort and adaptability skills (talk about being different!), interests (give something in return), group support and politically correct behavior, in case you wanna grab something to eat during the trip. When you cannot fulfill any of the criteria mentioned above, you’re advised that there’s always a non-private path alternative somewhere. And don’t be deceived by thinking that all this is made for the benefit of car lovers: in highways there are never car spotters, for highways are very well protected and promise apparent non-exclusion.

But also as in highways, artificial stress caused by the Cultural Supermarket Logistics which regulate cultural consumption of the Infrastructures in the U.S.E.C. has slowed down critical processes, driving little villages into desertification.

When was the last time you have seen a Cypriot performance in Europe? With the foundation of the circulation of products, the circulation itself asserted what where the products to be circulated (info-applications, pop culture, thematic art, etc.). It is time to put an End to the U.S.E.C. for, if we perpetuate it, on the long run we will have consumed ourselves into forgetfulness.

If fear is to exist, it is not that Art will disappear, it will keep on existing as always, with its ups and downs, off the road. What we have to fear is loosing the full potential of the Utopia we inaugurated. A Utopia where Wei Wei used to be free, where products where in constant flow inside a non-protectionist market, where literally everybody, even the smallest village, was contemplated as a whole; not just in the position of observer and consumer of the traffic, but as a global player in a space where there existed the possibility of accidents, for the unpredictable, for the unexpected, for the difference. A Cultural Utopia that Artists helped to build in order to obtain better conditions to access adequate media for their expression, things which they aren’t getting. What can we do, then, in this era where artists are being shut down and forgotten by a cultural federation? We can demand to stop forgetting.

Artists and their own on-going bio-politics are not strong enough to stop the mimetic pressure with which Culture sparks off paralysis by occupying today Art’s old role of being side by side with power making. To exist Real Democratic Power, both of them have to exist. How do we accomplish that?

By slowing down cultural systems and freeing them from the slavery of the new minority, aka Artists - this is not a joke -, to which they are subject when facing themselves everyday with demands to carry the burden of spectacular entertainment with which Culture colonizes language. Avoiding that production means to be 100% controlled by managers (producers, curators, agencies, Artistic alienated Colleges, Festivals, Subventions, etc.) and dividing those means with the artists themselves independently of their artistic activity, country, influences, groups etc., even if it does not fulfill Culture’s personal optically correct representation of what Art is or the Art that it is looking for.

I could recall here Dr. Rui Vieira Nery’s numerous rhizomatic proposals of embracing and protecting the whole of society’s all different sorts of artistic and cultural communities from garage bands to artistic societies. Let them create, curate, teach, and choose the place, the time and the way they want to develop their activity putting an End to the monopolization of the Cultural Processes of the U.S.E. C. How?

By rewarding generosity (the sponsors, societies, art consumers and art producers) and stop the blind attention given to those Cultural Structures which go on babbling about how they don’t have money to print thousands of posters that no one cares anyway. People go to performances either for the sake of ritual rite or to take care of their own mens sana!

By demanding judgment based as much on sameness of opportunities as in differences on the application.

The Cypriot performance issue I raised before wasn’t innocent (although I feel tempted to suggest that you should try to put an end to Belgium-looking performances which are presented everywhere), I thought that talking to you heart would be more efficient. If we aren’t ourselves able to recognize differences in every singular thing, we aren’t able to globalize, which in Europe should mean to include democratically in the whole all different parts.

It’s not enough to be individually an art lover and consumer, like Dr. Durão Barroso. There has to exist a Europe that accepts its federated governments’ demands but imposes agreements on Artistic regulations (if Agriculture does that for cabbages, Economy for debt, so Culture can do the same in relation to itself). For as we stand here, in this precise moment, Art is living a catastrophic moment in Portugal. We are all aware of its situation: Culture obtains 0,1%  from the whole Governmental budget (the art field being a recipient of 100% less than that); artists depend today directly on the Prime-Minister and his Secretary; artistic production has suffered cuts up to 400% (30% there, 50% here); collecting, sponsoring and cultural consumption are paralyzed due to the absence of rewards for these activities (when will a theatre ticket or the purchase of an art work be tax deductible as a prescribed medication for mens sana?); but above all this, in Portugal we have suffered small visibility outside its borders simply because we are unable to play the Highway games of U.S.E.C.

As I said in the beginning, I have been lucky, for I have found a strategy to play the game as many others. But against the lucky few, many other artists, ranging from all sorts of media, don’t fit the common flow chart products. And if they are still producing Art at all costs, sometimes with unimaginable effort, it is so for they decided not to abandon anyone on the long run. Why should they be left behind?  We know from History itself that after being shut down they will be shot down for being intruders in the immunity system. ‘Critical’ is at siege. Let’s be careful for with their death we will die too. Let’s put a stop to this Oblivion Process and ask: Europe, culturally, could you make a difference?

André e. Teodósio was born in Lisbon, where he lives since 1977, although he lived for some time in the United States of America (during the Clinton era). He’s a member of Teatro Praga (the most megalopsychic ™ theatre company of all times). He studied at Conservatório Nacional de Música, Escola Superior de Música and Escola Superior de Teatro e Cinema, places where he didn't really learn anything, and was a singer at Coro Gulbenkian (where he suffered for many years). He used to collaborate with the theatre company Casa Conveniente, but nowadays he works regularly with the theatre company Cão Solteiro. He has directed individually  performances of plays written by Sylvia Plath, Nikolai Gogol; he co-crearted Super-Gorila and Supernova with José Maria Vieira Mendes and André Godinho, and directed operas by Vaughan Williams, João Madureira, António Pinho Vargas and Puccini. He is the author of Shoot the Freak, Cenofobia and the Top Models cycle: Susana Pomba and Paula Sá Nogueira. Teatro Praga is currently touring worldwide their latest production, A Midsummer Night's Dream (text by Teatro Praga and music by Purcell).

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