Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin 2008
31 May - 16 June 2008
OPEN DIALOGUES: NEW LIFE BERLIN
Laptop in bag, pushing it tight under my arm, I travelled to Luton airport and onto the plane where I sat next to a middle aged Geordie man with an intense phobia of flying. Feeling the adrenaline pumping in the air through my veins as the plane took off, soared and landed, I was presented with a whole state of 'new'. New land, new people and new experience. With no concrete ideas of what this festival would have in store for me, I felt completely liberated as I stepped out into Berlin's hot sun beating on my back, yet uncertain of the possibilities of the next two weeks.
The directors of the recently launched Open Dialogues collaboration, Mary Paterson and Rachel Lois Clapham, set up Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin to develop a community of critical writers within the New Life Berlin festival. The main themes of the festival itself are participation and intervention, transnational communities and artistic responsibility, and its aims are to deal with significant issues relating to contemporary art and life through socially engaged and participatory art projects. Open Dialogues were invited to critique New Life Berlin by the festivals' curators Sixten Kai Nielson and Marin Rosengaard of Wooloo Productions. And as a participatory project, made up of selected international writers from different backgrounds, concentrating on new modes of criticism, Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin closely mirrors each of these three themes as well as provides critical dialogue on the festival at its heart.
At the initial writing workshop each of the Open Dialogues writers chose at least three New Life Berlin participatory projects they would like to write about and were encouraged to become directly involved in those projects; to talk intimately with the artists and participants, and to become actual participants in the work ourselves. Through this closeness, the writers were to write about the art of participation itself, and the different stages of the projects, as well as any critical aspects of the work whether positive or negative. The nature of this new model of critical writing has been both been discriminated against and encouraged. Whereas some mainstream journalists here in Berlin have voiced the opinion that they do not believe the Open Dialogues writers can be 'objective' and critical whilst working alongside the artists, others have noted that all artists and writers work and live within the same circles. And given this fact, how can getting a more informed insight into the projects be negative?
The word 'critical' often sends sparks flying, but here in Berlin we Open Dialogues writers are attempting to explore this 'criticality', yet we have also move passed defining it. As a critical writer who is slap bang, right in the middle of the New Life Berlin festival, I find myself realising that not all critical writing has to be critical in the negative sense. Elitisms found in traditional criticism – such as the 'removed' position of the art critic as opposed to more subjective contemporary critical writing, alongside issues of quality and judgement were discussed at the Open Dialogues Live Review; a public debate on criticism and contemporary practice on 7th June set in the 'New Life Shop'.
In the Live Review presentations from artists in the New Life Berlin festival, Open Dialogues writers, the Wooloo directors and invited guests were given on the role of critical writing in relation to live, participatory and socially engaged art which was then opened up to the audience. Amongst other things, it was highlighted that many artists and writers are well educated often leading to pretentious selective hierarchy and a network clique. By exposing these networks and hierarchies, laying the art worlds’ artistic, economic or familial relationships bare, Open Dialogues are pushing the limits and boundaries of critical writing. And by being invited to critique and become embedded within the festival, Open Dialogues’ new and innovative model of writing is truly inspiring.
I am enjoying writing with the knowledge that I will bump into the artist at the next festival event. It has encouraged me to make sure I am writing responsibly with the both the artist, the artwork and my critical integrity in mind. For instance, I wrote a preview on Fictive Days; a project in which each person takes on elements of a famous film character and live in the same apartment together for the 2 weeks of the festival. Seeing the curator of Fictive Days and the characters themselves reading my text in Issue 1 - the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin publication - was a strange sensation that I had never felt before. After this, I was been invited to a private barbeque at the apartment tonight at 7pm as it is the character Regan (from The Exorcist)’s 12th birthday party. At this barbeque I hope to develop a fuller understanding of Fictive Days and thus be able to write more thoroughly on it. Given the complex and 'real life' nature of the project, this is something I don't think would be possible without immersing myself within it, and in all honesty; I cannot wait!
This text was developed as part of the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin critical writing initiative http://www.wooloo.org/opendialoguesblog/
Artist and freelance writer working in the West Midlands. www.alexandriaclark.com
First published: a-n.co.uk July 2008
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