Accomplices: Reinventing structures together

By Esther Boldt

Three labs are researching the structures of collective work and collaborative processes in relation to inclusion, care work, and the relationship between urban and rural areas. Our author Esther Boldt spoke to them.

Even if the myth of artistic geniuses working in isolation still persists, alone and creating from deep within themselves, collective working methods have long taken root, particularly in the independent performing arts. It’s a cultural change that questions the position of the individual artist and establishes new practices of collective action – and indeed permanently. As the theater scholar and performer Mieke Matzke once wrote, working contexts are "constantly being created and renegotiated" in collectives and complicities. The conditions and possibilities of collaboration can also be understood as a free space that must be constantly reorganized and explored. For the philosopher Gesa Ziemer, it is precisely this creative approach to structures, their change, adaptation or even reinvention, that is a central feature of the complicity.

The “Trainingslager für entspannte kollektive Zusammenarbeit” (“Training camp for relaxed collective collaboration”), initiated by the Hamburg-based association Eucrea e.V., explores how artistic practices developed by individual performance collectives can be linked to one another. In December 2022, eight performance groups met at Kampnagel to develop a joint piece as part of the "Democratic Bootcamp". Artists with disabilities worked in four of these groups. Working in tandems, they investigated what happens when artistic practices are shared and transferred into a joint process. How can artistic processes be initiated and negotiated in this new collective? "How can a common language be found? How can something be developed together? How can decisions be made in which everyone is heard and involved?" says project manager Jutta Schubert, summarizing some of the questions that arose during the collaborative work. According to Schubert, time has an important role in the process of collectively developing a play. At the Artist Lab “Theater der Entspannten,” (“Theater of the Relaxed”), the experiences of the collectives are evaluated, the wishes of the participating artists for the future are compiled, new formats for collaboration are devised and sustainable strategies are developed. In addition, the research questions are expanded to include audience and accessibility.

Collective working methods are often temporary and in a state of flux: Their structures are negotiable, they also vary with the needs or requirements of the members. The potential and power of collective processes is also explored by the lab “With Care: Action Lab zwischen Theater, Publika und Sorgearbeit” (“With Care: Action Lab between theater, audiences and care work”). During the pandemic, Liz Rech, Annika Scharm and Sylvi Kretzschmar started the blog project "BEYOND RE:production". They dealt with the clichés and prejudices, but also structural difficulties that female artists face when they have children. This is because the moment they become mothers they are often denied the ability to produce art, making it difficult for them to continue their artistic work. As part of their lab, they are now expanding their collective: In discussions with representatives of independent performing arts institutions, artistic directors, curators and other experts, they are sharing their experiences in order to develop a toolkit.

Their focus is no longer exclusively on mothers, but also on other caregivers, on other working people who are more involved in their social environment. The toolkit they are developing is intended to provide information on how the needs of care workers can be taken into account – in the transformations that many of these institutions are currently undergoing anyway, for example when it comes to issues of accessibility and audiences. The aim is to develop recommendations for action that also shape work processes in a needs-oriented way. After all, working hours in the performing arts are currently often far removed from occupational health and safety standards and do not take place during the opening hours of municipal childcare facilities. For Sylvi Kretzschmar, this raises the fundamental question: “How do we want to organize the theater experience in the future?” Whether asynchronous rehearsal processes, premieres in the afternoon or parallel performances of children's and young people's theater: There are already plenty of suggestions.

The seven-member "Kollektiv nachhaltige Kultur" is convinced that the challenges of the current ecological, political and social transformation processes cannot be overcome single-handedly. The challenges require overcoming long-established boundaries, between science and art as well as between urban and rural areas. Based on the observation that the relationship between the city and countryside shifted during the pandemic, the collective is specifically seeking to rethink the relationship between Berlin and Brandenburg. Since 2020, the collective has developed the fictitious OderlandBerlin region together with numerous local actors, set up a citizens' council and started to develop the foundations for Germany's first sustainable region in virtual "transvisions".

Within the current transformation processes, the arts can, according to director Anne Schneider from the Kollektiv nachhaltige Kultur, “create experiential spaces that explore these processes and provide possible answers. On the one hand, the arts are important spaces for experimentation; and on the other hand, they manage to translate theoretical knowledge into sensory experience.” Organizational researcher Anke Strauß also sees great potential in the artistic-scientific alliance.

In the Artist Lab “Allianzen einer nachhaltigen Kulturpraxis” (“Alliances for a sustainable cultural practice”), the experiences of the OderlandBerlin region are now being evaluated, shared with new publics and developed further. Here, too, it has become clear that cooperation between urban and rural residents works particularly well when given sufficient time. It takes time and persistence to create trust, long-term complicity and an art that really means and includes the other person. This is the only way to create a new network of relationships between art, science, activism and civil society that opens up new horizons.

As part of the Bundesweite Artist Labs, artists, scientists and activists develop collective processes and structures that sometimes go far beyond artistic processes – in the narrow sense. They test and collect complicit working methods and open them up to larger collectives in order to explore the potential for sustainability and change.

In the summer of 2023, in 64 Bundesweite Artist Labs, independent artist groups explored the relationship with the audience in post-pandemic times. Our editor Elisabeth Wellershaus and a team of guest authors observed them at work.

Esther Boldt studied Applied Theater Studies in Giessen. She works as an author and dance and theater critic for publications including, Theater heute, tanz Zeitschrift, Hessischer Rundfunk and Deutschlandfunk Kultur. Since 2019, she has been co-director of the Akademie für zeitgenössischen Theaterjournalismus with Philipp Schulte.