The New Life Berlin festival is more than half way through its run and as one of the participant projects, Open Dialogues is into its second week of shadowing projects, interviewing artists, writing for the flash publications we are producing and distributing here in Berlin, and uploading our work to the blog. www.wooloo.org/opendialoguesblog.
We are a slightly smaller group now as some of our colleagues have returned home. There are twelve of us or so left in Berlin and we are acting as copy buddies for each other, generally remotely via email. This for me is one of the best aspects of our project. We have academics, art historians, journalists, curators, as well as artist-writers like myself on the Open Dialogues project. That is one of its strengths. It feels progressive to my development as a writer to be showing my drafts to such a diverse selection of writers and taking advice from them.
As well as learning more about our craft, what are we aiming to do here ? We are shaping a model that is infiltrating the network of artists and sharing their experiences with them. Our writing aims to reflect this aspect of being so embedded. It is a unique opportunity to focus and produce a lot of writing in a festival as it happens, as the issues roll out. We can respond immediately and if we need to go back to the source and probe further we can do.
We are trying to address questions such as how can critical writing relate to open source work ? Is invited criticism still critical ? Can we be objective when we are so close to the production and the thinking behind it ? We are offering ourselves as a case study of critical writing in relation to artistic practice. How successful we are being is hard to gauge right now and it may only be later on that we will be able to evaluate this better. To review our project we held a live public forum session last week-end which did provoke some heated debate between the festival organisers, writers, artists and the resident Berlin arts community about out role here as writers in the festival. Tough questions were asked as to exactly what value the model that we are proposing can have. Surprisingly to us, there were too, some accusations that we are jumping on the Berlin bandwagon of hype, that we are supremacist in our very nationality and language that we write in. Most of us are from the US or UK. I asked the Open Dialogues project leaders about this and they said those were the countries that most of the applications came from and so they selected from what they got. We do have several German writers on the project and although they are required to write in English their work is being translated. Admittedly though most of us are from abroad, so it is perhaps not so surprising that there is some local resentment to us.
These are big issues to debate for sure. It was passionate, and it was good to see such determination to define better how and what we can do as writers, and the role that critical writing can play in the support and expansion of art dialogue and production. What a lot it says about the power of the written word that the project on the festival programme that receives the most vehement criticism is the critical writing project !
As well as talking amongst ourselves, we are endeavouring to find out whether the artists feel that they benefit from the dialogues that we are having with them, and from any critical writing produced by us on their work. This is not always easy to do. Artists are in the main pleased to talk to us and to tell us about their projects but seem subsequently reticent about giving us feedback on our writings about them. Maybe we need to look at building in strategies to illicit response from them that they feel more comfortable with ? Email interviews or questionnaires come to mind. We are getting little direct response to our blog and so there is a slightly giddy sense of there being little, if any readership for our writing. We hope that the Wooloo online community and other readers globally are connecting with it. We are assured by the festival directors that we have a big readership in Taiwan !
Meanwhile, the sun is still blazing and the artwork is hotting up too. Projects are progressing and interacting with the art, and non-art, audiences in many differing ways. Some with more success than others inevitably, but that is an important aspect of this process-based work. Outcomes may not be realised or understood until later on. It seems that issues about the artistic or aesthetic quality of the work produced are difficult to address in this "anything goes" atmosphere and some of us are concerned about that. I suspect that there will be more discussion on this as the festival concludes.
There is certainly a great appetite for dialogue everywhere in this city. People talk a lot and they read so much too. I am very aware of how many people on the S-Bahn and U-Bahn spend their journey to and from work engrossed in novels. What does this say about the place ? Perhaps that as well as re-building their city, people here seem open to learning and re-shaping themselves and their culture, by using every opportunity to engage with it.
We visitors can really only observe and admire that, and we do. We are all here unpaid and are as committed as the artists to testing and enquiring our practice and how we connect with audience and readers. It feels relevant and enlightening to be a part of. Oh, and very enjoyable too !
This text was developed as part of the Open Dialogues: New Life Berlin critical writing initiative http://www.wooloo.org/opendialoguesblog/