Foto: Andreas Liebmann
Andreas Liebmann, studielektor, Sceneinstruktion, Den Danske Scenekunstskole
Interviewet af Pernille Skov, 9. december 2020
What comes to your mind, if I say we are to talk about sustainability in the artistic practice?
The question of how to use resources is a dominating question in my work. How can we overcome the neoliberal understanding of the artistic production process? How can we reuse and further use material – also artistic material like texts, choreographies, etc. in more than one project? How can we deal carefully with all the resources that are related to our production process like our work-relations, private relations, time? How can we get out of the trap of producing too much because we need to survive economically? How can we find alternative ways of internationally collaborating, which are not perpetuating the climate crisis – by not flying, by thinking and practicing differently?
What do you think about when you think about artistic entrepreneurship?
It is a funny word combination – does not seem to fit. Does it mean entrepreneurship as art? Or do you think of the artist as an entrepreneur? I don’t work with the notion of entrepreneurship though. But – if you wish so – you could describe the whole approach of how I drive my work as highly entrepreneurial: Most of my income is generated by projects for which I organise the funding myself, or in close collaboration with other artists. So – there is a certain contradiction in my attitude: I am not fond of the term but I act according to it in many ways. But I don’t think that „artists must be entrepreneurial“ in the first place.
So how then does that way of practicing become visible in your teaching?
My work practice informs my teaching. I wish that the students become artists with their own minds and own artistic language. For me, this is the core question of my teaching and a part of it might overlap with an entrepreneurial aspect: If you follow your way of working you might be forced (by own will or by the circumstances) to act as an entrepreneur of your cause. But entrepreneurship is not my first criteria and it is not at all in the center of my teaching. First come questions of art, imagination, investigation, artistic practice, the reflection of societal context, institutional critique, etc.
The DDSKS has a strong tradition of „craftsmanship“. The idea is that there is this craftsmanship to be learned and, when you master it, you can be hired by a theatre (to portray it a bit simple). This implicates a stable world and a stable theatre system. But what happens if that system is not so stable anymore? What if you have to rethink your artwork, the modes of productions, and the needed skills? If you need to develop new aesthetics, react to new social or political realities? In becoming more independent from a fixed idea of what theatre is, you, even more, need to create a strong artistic basis – also as craftsmanship – and a core in you that can act based on your very personal artistic standpoint. There the entrepreneurship might start (if you want to use that overused term).
The so-called independent scene is often seen as very entrepreneurial. But it is entrepreneurial also by circumstance – the situation of these artists in a given time and a given society. I am sure that many of the independent artists would love to work on more stable ground with less entrepreneurial focus but more infrastructural possibilities to develop their art.
Values of art-making as I see it are also: generosity, wasting of time, having lots of bad ideas, staring into the sky, being inefficient, pondering about a phenomenon but not knowing how to relate to it, having no solutions, etc. Not really what you associate with entrepreneurship. But maybe my idea of it is a clichéé and you can teach me different?
For us, entrepreneurship is about being able to act and do something, to understand your ambitions, and to realize them. So, I see the entrepreneurial aspect very strongly present in what you describe of your work. Whether or not you make money on it. That is where this mentality comes in. That is also one of the reasons why we talk about entrepreneurship as a knowledge field, and not as a subject as such.
How do you in general in the school talk about entrepreneurship, sustainable working life, realising your ambitions, that sort of thing? Do you have a language for it?
Entrepreneurship is part of the schedule. But we have no overall debate on it. In my teaching, I never use the word entrepreneurship. I point a lot to the responsibility of the individual though. About the responsibility of the artist when it comes to how and what they want from the art – and the institution, they work in or for. I try to address their sense of ethics, and their sense of also disagreement with what is common or what already exists.
Regarding sustainability: Normally I would not think of it as an issue of personal life so much – that is what I associate when I hear „sustainable work-life“, but as something that concerns the whole artistic practice in its context. I think you cannot separate questions of your own sustainable working life from the question of what sustainability means from an overall perspective – if you want to take the term seriously. It cannot be a question of your individual balance only.
The reality of a theatre production often is that the plays are produced in a big theatre machine: You produce a piece in 6 weeks, and then it is out in the market. You have your procedures of how you do it, and then you cannot think about CO2 footprint or the waste of resources because things are how they are. Often you don’t have the resources to think about the balance of time, relations or materials. You just have your set. The deadlines are the deadlines, the product is the product, and the „necessities“ dictate the project.
To implement questions of sustainability into your artwork would mean to question and change your artistic practice, to make these questions artistic material for your theatre – on the level of content, on the level of the production, and the level of organisation, etc. It is a long way to go and I am not saying that I am there at all- neither in my practice, nor in my teaching, nor together with my other colleagues in my field. But I am working on it.
On an overall picture, I think things start to move. I also try to bring the topic into the teaching. It can be hard for the students because in the first place they have very personal and individual issues to resolve. But my feeling is the topic of sustainability is raised more from the students than from the institution itself.
DDSKS has a policy of sustainability and I think it is very important for a public institution to develop in that regard. But the whole process is very slow.
What kind of language do you use, when you have conversations with your students about how they can realize their artistic potential?
I am not using the wording „artistic potential“, but I want them to get a sense of who they are as artists and what they find valuable to fight for or have fun with. I ask them about their artistic idea, concept, the dream that they have before they consider adapting it to the educational frame of the school.
The way the school works right now often provokes conflicts between artistic intention and ideas of education. That points back to the question of what „håndværk“ is. For me, the artistic intention comes first and the struggle with it will produce the craftmanship you need. For the bigger productions that the students can do – which are a window for the students to be seen by the so-called „branche“ – my first focus would always lie on the artistic intention: „Who are you as an artist, what do you want, what do you need from making theatre.“ But that is not always the way the school works or practices its education. Sometimes the school would set a rule like „You have to start from a dramatic text“. But what if the students want to start from something else? From a societal format, from an experimental movie, from a scientific fact, from a problem of digitalisation, etc?
I think that we as teachers have to listen to the students; it is not random, what they are interested in. Their interest tells us something about the world and about the potential of theatre that is about to come. If we focus too much on our own idea of theatre and our idea of stable craftsmanship, we would miss the moment to develop theatre into a vehicle that responds to our time.
My perspective comes much from my artistic practice, but also from my job description. I am hired as a teacher for „idea-and concept-based direction“. That is a very complicated way to describe that my angle on theatre is not dramatic-text-based. It can start everywhere. Then, the question is, how to create a concept out of it, how to create material, and organise a dramaturgy if there is maybe no underlying story. And if the outset for a course happens to be a dramatic text, then I will try to eventually transform it, dissolve it, reorganise or re-conceptualise it.
In my classes „Scenekunstneriske perspektiver“ I show the students examples of artists that have found other ways of making theatre, creating meaning, exploiting the power of liveness: Christoph Schlingensief, Renzo Martens, Gintersdorffer/Classen, Meg Stuart, Einar Schleef – to mention very few. In my courses „performative tilgange“ I cooperated amongst others with performance theorist Storm Madsen, who introduced the students to performance history, mentioning artists like Ligna, Teasing Hsieh, Lygia Clarke and many more, who give completely other views on what theatre and performance can become. The question is how the students can build on that sort of inspiration. Is the institution supporting artistic risks, unknown formats, ways of working that differ from traditional craftsmanship? What is the craftmanship that is needed today? Which stories need to be told? If you dig into these questions, you will not lose craftmanship, but partly find your own.
Is this what you teach to the students?
I could say things like: „There are a million ways to approach theatre.“ I would point to the responsibility of the student as an artist. I could say „The school is a training session of three years, where you can learn to have your voice. Make the school help you with that. And ask for what you need.“ This cannot be working without fights and open debates. And I am not saying that the school always should give in to every demand, but the debate with the students is necessary. I know that many students want to make works that they feel they are not allowed to do. I find that conflicting. Therefore I think that institutional critique is really important. I try to implement it a little bit in the teaching, but it takes time. Institutional critique means to understand that the institution performs on you. You can understand how that works and eventually change it. How can you perform back to the institution, dance on it, transform it? If you don’t understand this mechanism, you will just be performed by the institution and be „a production of the institution“.
In Denmark as far as I can see and have heard, there is not a very strong tradition of institutional critique. In Germany for instance it’s a lot more advanced. I heard someone connecting this to the Second World War. “Germany just needed to develop institutional critique to survive and find a new position in the world. This is mirrored also in the way theatre is thought about and produced.” In Denmark, the institutions are very, very stable.
I think that the school needs to have open space for experimentations and applied institutional critique. That could give a boost also on the production side.
It would be important that experiments become part of the artistic practice – and that every show has an experimental background. Often, the education separates „experiments“ from „real productions“. I find that problematic. It suggests a stability of the production, which for me is an illusion. Also, the productions should embrace the unknown, the experiment, the risk. “Risk” should not only be a learning outcome within the teaching modules that are assigned to be experimental. It seems like there is an unspoken hierarchy between “the real theatre production” and the experimentation. How to make the real theatre production experimental in its whole spirit? Is experimentation over, when ‘the ’right’ theatre” begins?
How do you think this could be interrupted?
First, it needs to be acknowledged that there is an issue. It has to be debated. It has to put into open discussion.
The ‘’branche’’ has certain expectations towards the school, and what we hear is that these expectations are based in market and tradition. The school needs to produce students for the market and its productions. I am not saying it is wrong as such. I can understand that as one aspect of the education. But I think the school should challenge it with pride: „We develop what you don’t have by now, but you actually need.“
I have learnt Danish only in the last three years, so I’m sure there are many misunderstandings on my part. But as long as you as an art school says “We deliver what the market orders”, you cannot open your mind artistically. You will produce the fear that your students don’t match the expectations of the market. I think that is dangerous. I think that the school should say: “We are a school for the development of the arts, and we need to take artistic risks, and that is what the branche actually needs.“
I am not saying this to provoke. I just think for theatre there is so much to develop, to learn, to invent – however it might look like.
A remark here: I am not saying I know what the risk that needs to be taken is. I also don’t know which art the students must develop. This is for the students to find out. But I am observing that many students learn to not dare, because of the demands of the institution. And in my opinion, an art education is also about courage.
That is exactly one of the progressions of entrepreneurship. That you have the strength and the empowerment to do exactly that. To dare to do something and know that you have developed skills, tools, and have the knowledge that can make your position strong in the disruption from the expected.
It’s fun to talk about these things. I thought.. surprisingly funny.
I just have a final question. These conversations with the students about entrepreneurship and experimentations, do you think that they would unfold better in the teaching program or outside of the teaching program? Or both? Or maybe something altogether different?
I think it must be part of the normal routine of questioning and debating, of the normal teaching. Right now, we cannot say that open debates are the strongest characteristic of the school. But it’s good to talk about it here. Let’s see.
Andreas Liebmann (f.1972) er uddannet teaterpædagog fra Skuespillerakademiet i Zürich i 1997 (ZHDK) og har en kunstneriske praksis som performance kunstner, sceneinstruktør og forfatter.
Han er studielektor i sceneinstruktion på Den Danske Scenekunstskole.