On Creating New Trampolines
Closing Statement by Biljana Tanurovska-Kjulavkovski
On Creating New Trampolines
I received the wonderful invitation to give some closing remarks for this Atelier, which at the same time is a difficult task – to talk about these past days as a whole and try not to miss something since we exchanged countless priceless thoughts. Of course, I couldn’t possibly capture it all, but I have attempted to build these remarks based on one perspective, mine, and in which I believe and hope you will be able to find part of yourself. However, when hearing everyone’s reflections today, I felt as though we might have written this speech collectively.
I was facing the dilemma of writing this, trying to decide what the ‘dramaturgy’ of the thinking would be. I decided, in the end, to make it a letter about the past, present, and future thoughts related to festivals, a letter to some of the dilemmas we have talked about during the Atelier, and thus, to explain what has happened during this Atelier and how The Festival Academy has made a difference in my life. This was an invitation at just the right time and moment, extended just when I had started to doubt many things and was trying to find the motivation to sustain my actions; So, thank you, Inge and Mike, for giving me the possibility to be part of The Festival Academy’s Atelier, and for giving me the time to think and reflect. And thank you, Inge, Katie, and Anaïz, for your exceptional work to make it happen, and congratulations.
So, I will start with the past
It has been exactly one year since my life as a cultural worker, cultural activist, and curator changed, just as the lives of all those here with us did, retreating into these virtual Zoom settings. My last travel outside the country was in February 2020 to Sweden, and Holland shortly before… I was there to experience performances with my colleagues, friends – an international family. Travelling, being present, and watching art wherever I landed – these were at the centre of my professional life. Travels and meetings had kept me going through some of my most difficult situations. They were my platform, a trampoline – springing me into new action, an epistemological jump which was transformed through these activities into knowledge, and which preconditioned me to continue relying on these actions to propel myself forward.
But my travels stopped. I was a bit disoriented and needed to find a way to adapt; thus, my trampoline transformed and offered me a different direction and new actions to jump into. I was oriented towards my computer and asked myself, “What does it mean to be oriented? How is it that we come to find our way in a world that acquires new shapes depending on which way we turn? If we know where we are when we turn this way or that way, then we are orientated” (these are quotes by Sara Ahmet were brought by a colleague Una Bauer to me through one of my ‘trampolines,’ or platforms I work on named “Curating in Context”.) However, signs I had previously used to orient myself no longer existed, and so I was disoriented at one moment, trying to find landmarks that could orient me towards new directions. After some time, I found them in continuous encounters, in the zoom boxes, in specific ‘trampolines,’ of which The Festival Academy is a special one. I couldn’t see at first that these new ways of orienting can be empowering and motivating - Zoom could still be exhausting but encounters on Zoom with a specific context or curated events became my new trampoline, a platform that also created epistemologically driven motive. The essence was the communication, jumps towards reflecting on the diverse issues that interest me.
That is why the invitation from The Festival Academy to be a mentor interested me. I was very busy with the notion of festivals in the past and was curating one festival that gave me a lot of momentum, but festivals still occupied my mind, especially in their potentiality as spaces for critical reflection.
I am aware of the debates both for and against the digitalization of communication and agree that it can’t be substituted for physical contact, for touch, for real-life… However, it is here, and it is a space at this moment for international encounters, a temporary space that enables us to be together and deliberate about the past and present and dream and plan for the future. Still, I’m hoping that our next encounter at The Festival Academy will be all of us in the same space, not virtual, but physical.
At this moment, I am in Skopje in the centre of the city, which was developed by the Japanese architect Kenzo Tange after the devastating earthquake that happened in 1963. The city was ruined back then and was rebuilt with the help of many friends, cities and states. It gained a reputation as a city of solidarity. My life is possible here because of this solidarity which enabled us, the next generations, to be educated, to work, to advocate and fight for parks, bicycle roads, cultural spaces, festivals – but also to remember that we are here because of solidarity, not because of dissimilarities and many disputes among us. The citizens of Skopje, my family and many others have been through disaster and crisis, but they were able to restart because they could depend on friends and the communities that supported them. This is a story that other places probably share, but some not. Disparities in this world are huge, but I just want us to take this moment now to remember about the past and remember what can happen when we build the world on different values than those that dominate the political and public sphere, such as populistic ones.
I know that this somewhat poetical narration can seem unrealistic, I am aware, but still, I want to push it, to think how we can ‘choreograph’ or ‘curate’ our current contexts into new ones.
One of our common denominators as humans are crises… usually different ones, but right now, we are facing a moment when we are all in the same crisis. We’ve all faced many other crises before, you name it: - social, economic, financial, natural, wars, etc.… but now we are in the pandemic crisis when the world is in a “state of exception,” as Agamben would name it, or a state of emergency. This time of emergency and crises has brought us together, from privileged and deprived context, to think about our communities, communicate and envision the future – of theatre, dance, art in general, culture, or even societies, communities of us.
We all stopped at the same moment, we took time, and now we are thinking, not only from the position of the past, of absence, of something that we are missing such as theatres, festivals, cities…. but thinking about what they can be. If we strip away many things from the past, we can essentially find what we are missing now – to meet, exchange our artworks, listen and share with others, think together, to assemble – I miss our togetherness…
We have been talking during this Atelier, working to identify what we all are missing and what we need to strip away from the ‘normal’; From our past, e.g., privatization of public spaces, particularisation, exploitation and self-exploitation, polarisation, inequality, exclusionary paradigms, disparities, non-standardized working conditions, uncertainty, in some parts we have even seen assassinations, struggles to build safe spaces of reflections outside of the political arena or a war zone…
These undesired issues and actions in the past made us adaptable, made us able to face crises, address them, think, and find ways to create new trampolines. Made us build a ‘culture of resilience.’
In some of the places we come from, we have complex situations where the decisions that have to be made are very difficult and with equally difficult consequences. As a colleague from the Atelier said, these decisions and choices sometimes make you feel like you are walking in the mine zone or chasing the impossible. In some spaces, freedom of speech is limited by social taboos, political repression, the threat of funding cuts, self-censorship; somewhere else, freedom of expression is in its becoming, and somewhere else, it holds a rich legacy and value.
In some places, my colleagues are challenging themselves by persisting in occupied space. Some are building spaces on common ground for diverse nations that can’t speak in their countries. In many of my colleagues’ environments, they are facing corrupt and partocratic systems, and therefore are trying to develop strategies of internationalization and regionalization or enhancing the work by networking and collaboration. Somewhere, they are opposing the centralized fund systems by developing models for diversification of resources. They are making spaces in garages, somewhere they are working in different villages and sites, developing socialites and relations etc.… I have learned a lot about diverse tactics and strategies to enable better working environments, even in very deprived conditions. I have learned how someone is sensible and open to help those in such conditions by creating spaces for the development of capacities, learning, and investment in local bases, enabling artists, cultural workers, and actors to be present, visible. I learned a lot and was introduced to all these complexities within The Festival Academy, in this safe space, which felt like home, where we have only just begun to discuss our visions for the future.
We talked about the festivals, spaces, organizations in all respective countries and regions of this Atelier, the challenges, needs, and how we can reinforce them through solidary actions and common support, just like how my city was reborn. Festivals, which are the focus of the Academy, were presented as spaces of democratization, for transfiguration, for reformation. They are a vital form of the human urge to summarise and symbolically present their needs, wishes, and visions. Festival has a political power of reformation and critical reflection on contemporary issues such as gender narratives and gender-based violence, social justice and cohesion, decolonization, and post-conflict.
Once I wrote with my colleagues while researching the subject of festivals, but I think this still relevant: – “They/festivals could be permanently open for “textual fragments” of various synchronic and diachronic origins, for representing directories of current and historical styles, forms of expression and presentation. They could engage in a permanent “game” with a variety of cultural codes. They could offer a “retreat” from the norms of contemporary society, being a temporary free public space for examining and exploring new mechanisms, protocols of work, and formats of production, which would turn them into a space for democracy, for examining and producing innovations. Establishing more of these “excesses”, “retreats”, and temporary free spaces could affect the context(s) and change its/their contents.” 
We are aware that festival can be a place for representation that propagates and summarises elite culture, exclusivity, or even exoticism, having a decorative role. We are aware that some festivals in the past, or maybe now in the present, are founded and are paradigmatic of well-planned political strategies to communicate, present, and emphasize culture on the national level. They can be places of “state-commissioned freedom”, in Ana Vujanović’s words, theorist and cultural worker from Serbia. However, here we talked about other festivals, dialectical processes that affect existing models of presentation, and promoting, becoming spaces for intervention, change, creation of societies and togetherness.
These days I learned how festivals can be all the things mentioned before and more. They can extend the horizon, knowledge, create strategies that can enhance concepts of citizen’s imagination, struggle, critical reflection, and they are following bottom-up logic..
By means of their programming practices, these bottom-up festivals are pursuing policies of diversity, decentralization (in terms of organization and programming), solidarity, and the politics of memory and remembrance (Dragićević- Šešić). They experiment in their governance, adapt themselves, and become spaces of resilience and interdependence, provoking critical contemplation of the socio-political context and arts.
I want to mention that some festivals are new some have stopped working, such as mine, Locomotion, a festival that I co-founded with my colleagues and Nomad Dance Academy back in 2008. Sometimes in the ‘turbulent’ contexts is easier to start over than to sustain something, one said these days. Yes, that is also true, since this can be a better strategy sometimes than to drag ‘dead body’ which was killed by the inconsistent support, absence of political will, or else that we can find in some of these countries….name it. We also talked about different sustaining strategies, as reforming, transforming the ‘body’ of the festival, which has the potential of transformation by being the space for socialisation, for meetings, for the community, a liminal and temporal public space for transformation. Culture and art festivals create such an environment in which we transform ourselves while encountering diverse aesthetics, stories, bodies.
And still talking about NOW, sitting in Skopje, seeing colleagues from Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Lebanon, North Macedonia, Morocco, Palestine, Serbia, Tunisia and Turkey, England, South Africa, Holland, France, Brazil and the U.S. and learning more about specifics in the respected contexts, I understand that while we are very different, we also have similar challenges. We all struggle with uncertainty, diverse conflict situations, personal, political or identity concerns, and others that I named already.
Once again, we are aware that we face war conflicts, social and political instabilities that render festival-making insecure, vulnerable, and pose challenges to making curatorial decisions. We are also facing the absence of supportive cultural policy (national/state/local) and related funding. Still, there are issues as visas, stay permits, etc., in some of our regions, making some festival curations unbearable, among many other obstacles.
All these complexities are diversities, which can be an asset – having such a range of possibilities, voices, and directions to consider – but also can be an obstacle. We need to be aware and sensitive to differences and dimensions, backgrounds, history, thus, knowing the context, which we need to take in within the process while we collaborate, curate, create a festival… To be present and address the problems, to be present in the antagonistic space where we can negotiate these differences.
At the same time, we are facing the closure of a political space that is volatile, and the impact of covid 19, which caused a decline in funding and made our work even more precarious; thus, we can see that there are growing instability and inequality.
But on the other hand, we recognised ourselves, among others, as cultural practitioners who can be together in our vulnerability, complex situations, and we can support each other, create a space of interdependence, advocate together and negotiate the problems, impediments and obstructions.
The Festival Academy is such a space, and festivals, the spaces being presented here are places where we will continue to promote freedom of speech, critical culture, rights to reflect, no matter we are facing limitations, which at this moment are even more emphasised.
And we are slowly moving to the FUTURE
We must ask ourselves - How should we deal with limitations? How to put knowledge produced in the culture and art, on the festivals in proximity with the audiences at these times, how to present the artists and their voice?
Some say to risk, despite the political issues and crises – to find a balance between risk and staying alive. And reflect on relations between artists, cultural workers, social authorities, artworks, audiences, institutions, social, cultural and political realities, paradigms, parallel and transversal, or transgressive worlds, discourses, and traditions.
To reinforce a paradoxical machine like a festival where things are real and not real at the same time creates that temporal public space where we can produce new relations.
To reflect and reinforce concepts of civil imagination and struggle, creating spaces for taking care of each other’s needs – by listening, being aware, dealing with uncertainty; naming and identifying problems; Taking time and thinking. We should reinforce festivals to be placed for socialization and collaboration, where the political space as reformative can arise. But we need to understand collaboration as orientation, but also as continuous questioning, distributing personal knowledge as common, which creates personal and shared ‘trampolines’ as further platforms of actions that will endure sustaining our needs.
So, thank you so much to all of you, for your generosity – colleagues, mentors, organisers and curators, participants, for creating together one of my future trampolines, a platform (The Festival Academy Atelier) and I hope many of you will jump with me, together, into a future of action.
- Biljana Tanurovska-Kjulavkovski
 From the writing of Una Bauer, A set of propositions for a curatorial orientation/disorientation, Quotes from Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Duke University Press, 2006) as part of the working materials of Curating in Context project
 A concept developed by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception, University of Chicago Press, 2005.
 The Festival as a “Microphysics of Power” (Foucault)”, Biljana Tanurovska Kjulavkovski, Elena Veljanovska and Ivana Vaseva, published in: Parallel Slalom, A lexicon of non-aligned poetics, ed. Bojana Cvejic, Goran Sergej Pristas, Walking Theory – TkH, Belgrade and CDU- Centre for Drama Arts, Zagreb, p. 354;
 Dragićević-Šešić, Milena. “New Meanings of Artistic Festivals: ‘Artivist’ Practices and Festival Ethics in Traumatized Society – Bottom-up Cultural Policy”, 2010. Lecture delivered in Poznań, Poland, courtesy of the author.
To watch the live stream recording of this speech and other sessions of the Atelier for Art and Production Managers Elefsina-Beirut, click here.