Marten Spangberg - The Internet,   at Supportico Lopez,    Berlin

Marten Spangberg – The Internet, at Supportico Lopez, Berlin –  Courtesy Marten Spangberg and Supportico Lopez, photo by Nick Ash.

Interview with Marten Spangberg

Francesca Verga: The Internet is the first rendition of a new work, conceived for Supportico Lopez and realized on January 9 – 11 with Hanna Strandberg, Rebecka Stillman and Sandra Lolax. How long have you been working at? What was your main concern driving you towards this direction?

Marten Spangberg: It is an ongoing research in many directions at the same time – part of a long journey that starts in 2007. It took three-four weeks to arrive to where we are now and the first version of The Internet. This was, so to say, The Internet 1.0. At the same time it has also taken twenty years of practice, thinking, reading, writing and so on to get this together and formulate aesthetic strategies and a methodology to make happen whatever it was that happened. Instead of making one piece, one product, I rather think about a practice that has many end, a work is a knowledge. Up until the moment the performance starts I have contributed with my knowledge and the dancers contribute with theirs. It’s very collective in this way, the contribution in respect of knowledge. But it is not a collective work in the sense of the initiation and organisation of resources. This is important, the understanding of collective or shared worked in respect of when, not only if or not but when and under what circumstances.

In any case my or the practice we share is not about making a statement passed on to the audience or the world, it is rather a permission to work with this material, build and learn something, which is a collaboration between you or us and the world. It is not about interpretation, but instead about production and a making of. Organizing a new location that is previously weak, unknown, and inventing a place of relationship and a place of thought.

FV: Often in the piece the dancers alternate moment of stillness in which they perform, resembling Merce Cunningham’s movements, and moment of rest in which they eat, drink, go away, stretch like in a practice room, laugh and talk – in swedish so very little people understand. Nothing seems too serious. How did you merge these happy and open moments within the choreography and what is the spectator’s access to what is lived by the dancers?

MS: The Internet is a piece for a gallery space. I don’t want it to end up recreating the attention that dance performaces normally ask for, in a gallery space, a museum space, an exhibition room the focus is completely different and the piece reflects this quality, or is addressing the tension between the social situation of the theatre and that of the gallery. The lights are up, there are paitings all over the place and then there’s you and me; we talk about them or not, we talk about the art or maybe we talk about children. I like that kind of environment and find myself imprisoned or whatever when I’m forced to be seated, compartmentalized in the darkness of the theatre saloon. It can sure also be totally groovy but there’s nothing that says that dance is better or best over there.

In this case all the talk between the dancers is one way of emphasizing the social capacity of the museum, of the exhibition. The audience is not asked to talk but there is a permission to talk as much as they like. If we wanted people to be silent we would have put up a sign. We neither ask people to turn off their mobile phones. So if you want to use facebook go ahead, we are super happy as long as you feel happy and open. Great. In La Substance, but in english, there are a lot of blankets where the audience hang out, people can have a nap and a little picnic. For The Internet there is no blankets, we don’t want people to become immobile on the floor, or be too comfy. It’s deliberate that they should somehow constantly disturb the show. Like you know a bunch of tourists disturb the painting, or irritates a sculpture.  

I have seen a lot of contemporary dance performances that are often very contemporary on stage, but they are not exactly contemporary in the audience. We are still sitting there like we did in the 18th century, bourgeois installations, silenced and treated like an anonymous mass. Fuck that. I’m more interested in creating a contemporary experience where multitasking is as obvious as any other moment in life, where if in the performance I wonder what is this about, of course I google it. And when somebody is next to me I talk to that person; we look at the piece and the way we talk is influenced by how the piece is confronting us. By the way, I really can’t stand people that come up afterwards saying something bla bla but I’d like it better if I, the audience, could move freely in the space, like in an exhibition. If you like that better super, but that’s like going for sushi and afterward saying to the waitress: Hey, I’d like it better if it was a pizzeria. I also think it’s really great with dance shows with the audience all over the place, but this one is obviously not one of those. It doesn’t attempt to become an exhibition with bodies moving, it exactly is working on the tension between two modes of framing.

And even better one is “I felt there was too much, you know, distance between stage and audience.” No it’s not too much it’s exactly this distance, deal with it. Look, if we wanted a weak threshold or non at all, we’d do another show. But obviously these are comments made by a certain kind of curator that probably also would dizz movies for not being realistic. The thing is that they always want to fix the work to be exactly as they have “learned” that is should be when “good”, but art doesn’t need to be fixed but I’d be very happy to discuss the political consquences of this particular threshold between this or that.

FV: You pointed out at some time that Judith Butler is tightly important in your work – saying that our gender is built on the repetitiveness of gestures, on the performativity in the everyday life. 3, 5 hours long choreography in which gestures are always similar and the songs are few and always in repeat. In which way repetitiveness of music interest you?

MS: I have no idea when it needed to be like this. However, at least the music should be groovy, if everything was bad with the show at least the music is something that should be enjoyable. I don’t know whatever musical taste people have, but for me the music has to be enjoyable. I use music with groove – it’s quite particular how the choices are made – in order to make the audience be kind of hypnotized, the music is there kind of like something between the radio when doing the dishes and suddenly realize you sing along and like when you thirteen years old and listened to like The Strokes because you had a major crush on, what was his name, Julian Casablancas.

In this performance, when the women are dancing almost all the music is the instrumental version of wellknown contemporary R&B and hip-pop songs. In the beginning for example “Stay” by Rihanna is repeated over and over again for twenty times or something but no singing, no lyrics. It produces a particular kind of suspence, but, at least to me, it again suddenly shifts and it’s like you and the voice in your head. I think it produces a permission to imagine, to metaphorically sing yourself. Judith Butler is of course important for more or less everything also to my work and I to some extent agree with her thinking, but I’m simultaneously skeptical to a tendency that everything is performative and performative is good. This is a long story and sort of complicated, not to dismiss gender and identity discourses but to cut a few corners Butler isn’t cental to my work. Everything that is in the world has or carries some kind of performativity, so of course for example The Internet performs something but instead of establishing identity and confirmation its attempt is to withdraw and never coagulate into some thing. I’m faschinated by formalism not identity, also the way the dancers perform is kind of to never become personalities, they are just persons. I love them and it’s a very particular way or technique we use, but they should give the sensation that it’s completely irrelevant who they are, but that that is exactly them is also, and exactly because they don’t claim anything, it is extremely important that it is them. See what I mean, they are whatever but it is exactly this whatever.

Marten Spangberg - The Internet,   at  Supportico Lopez,   Berlin

Marten Spangberg – The Internet, at Supportico Lopez, Berlin – Courtesy Marten Spangberg and Supportico Lopez, photo by Nick Ash.

FV: And suddenly during the piece you sing. And that is not unfamiliar in your choreographies… that could remember The Show Must Go On by Jérome Bel – in which dancers were singing also to show up their failure in a way.  So why you – the choreographer – sing? is that a similar approach to song?

MS: When I sing, along with the singer on top of a song, I become a sort of stupid entertainment. There are also many reasons but one simple thing is that a barrier needs to be crossed. During the performance one of the dancers, Rebecka, puts the music on and I sit with a microphone among the audience. In this moment I produce a kind of bridge and it’s important that I’m not singing for the audience but for the stage. Nevertheless I am also fifteen years older than the people on stage, all women. When I sing I kind of make a fool of myself, doing something I’m not very good at. I don’t put myself in the middle of the stage and tell the audience: here I am and here is my statement and make sure that it’s respected. I do this rather as a way of showing how the piece is allowed to manipulate me. I also want to be in the space and make myself available for the audience, being in the audience in order for somebody to say it is awesome or to be pissed off and be able to go up and say: ‘what the fuck is this?’. The least I can do is to say: I am available for a confrontation.

My singing in the piece is to music with text and it’s only when the dancers are not dancing. I think this produce, or I refer to – you know – like in American ice hockey arenas, when there is a break or they teams are changing there is this organ thing going on. The singing becomes a moment to not care for the situation and still be in it. It’s a sort of half-break.

FV: Sometimes you enter the stage and take something to drink. But what happens if the spectator will stand up and take a beer from the stage too. Could him be allowed to do that?

MS: Yeah, everyone could do this. No one did that in Berlin which was a little bit surprising but sure in a visual art space objects mean something very different than in a theatre space. Normally people take beers and even go on stage and take a few. I want to have this ambiguity, there is never an invitation “come come and take some!” but there is always an almost. All these gestures taking selfies on stage, checking txt messages, having the score for the performance on a paper or in the notebook, chatting with each other, going peeing during the performance without hiding and so it’s all about disempowering the performance, making it weak and to produce lapsus in attention. The barrier between viewers and stage should be clear but should be extremely weak and blurry. It is not interesting if somebody would come on stage and dance with us. But there should be this feeling of collaboration and production of a piece together with the audience.

FV: There are interesting objects and settings around, the wood: e.g. during the show the three female dancers where cutting the wood and later they hold rifles made of wood. What is the relation between these three women and the wood?

MS: I had this image on my mind that is what I have to do. They sit on stage and cut wood using knifes, kind of potential weapons. They are not cutting something to make it shorter but rather cut something to shape it. It becomes a sort of round shape container that invites not something that communciate stay away. I think it’s a very attractive image and although the piece has nothing to do with discourses around labour and that tired term immaterial labour or, even worse anything to with precariousness, it’s something about the three women doing this together. It’s a sort of silent conviviality, they take care of something. I believe that one could think about passivism in two ways: a passivism that resign and an armed passivism. The resigned passivism is conceptually boring and is counter productive, it rather says do whatever you like, we’ll be like Sweden during wwII, just sitting there being cowards and scared.

I am rather interested in a kind of armed passivism, we are armed but we are not gonna use our arms, but just as a reminder. What the dancers are doing in the piece with the nurses outfit is also a way of saying: ‘Check it out, we carry shit. You better keep the cool. We might look like harmless and we are passivists but if you don’t play with our rules we would also have to do something about it.’ This is a very weak performance anyway: they sit on the floor, most of the time lying down, taking on and off the clothes. The performance wants to become weak, and then the rifles show up and that is the moment when they said: ‘we are the ones that decide how things should go.’ I have felt that this was a nice tension to produce. Then again, it’s also very intuitive. I built the first rifle, this oversized wooden one for DJ sets I did a few years ago. Now they are back, there is something childing, pittyful and potential about them that is very appealing to me.

FV: You define this piece as a form of ‘weak monumental sculpture’… could you tell me more about that?

MS: Everything in the piece is thought through sculpture except the piece with the wood and the piece with the rifles. These two I consider to be paintings. The piece is addressing sculptural formation: especially when the dancers are sitting together in a kind of circle, or when they are rolling on top of each other.

I had a conversation with a curator and I asked her sort of playfully, ‘what do you think is the most uncool ever in 2014?’ and she said: ‘Monumental sculpture’. In a way, I wanted to prove her wrong. To me it’s interesting to think about when a sculpture becomes a monument. I think it is when what I look at is no any longer a man on a horse but instead the constitution or the nation itself. It formulates or articulates itself differently than other objects or any other things/phenomenon in contexts.

I think that – hopefully – when something gains monumentality is when it is in a context but it is not off that context, jet it doesn’t stand out from the context. Monumentality is when something loses its meaning in a way, loses its symbolic value and becomes something in itself. A monument and monumental is not at all the same. In this piece this monumental-something is the experience but there are also objects that emphasize this. All these object is there to somehow carry this sensation of becoming itself. Now, to refer to the above, I think that when something is in itself and as such, when something gain the status of monumentality it also exist the regime of performativity. Something that monumental exists but in away has no life. Or something monumental has nothing to justify, it just is, and this ontological status is quite problematic to deal with being human and being a subject. I don’t think this works but it is interesting to me. When something become monumental it stops being performative. When something proposes a trajectory towards being itself and as a such, it cannot be performative because it is the opposite of what I have, which is an ongoing process of not being myself nor a such, but costantly under trasformation.

Something in itself and as such cannot want something from you as a spectator. Cannot give anything neither, it is. This is an interesting moment for me, which is when nothing on stage is there to confirm you being human, or confirm your performativity. It is there to be what it is for itself. In this moment, at least theoretically, we can take away all the layers of performativity from you and what sits there in the audience is you yourself and as such. This process communicates experience as experience.

FV: The dancers continuously changed their clothes, but most of these outfits were about service. Why service?

MS: The costume has to do with monumentality. It’s all stuff that I buy from ebay. The piece is not there to say anything, doesn’t have anything on its mind, but it is like a flight stewardess, somebody always there for you but who is also nobody, and should never become an identity a personality. The moment when she turns away, she doesn’t exist. Gracefully anonymous. But she needs to be there to formulate the experience. The piece has not to do with internet critique, but rather with destabilisation of identity production. They dancers propose a landscape of service work, but they are also costantly changing in order to never become a “flight stewardess”. One of the dancers costantly changes reading glasses, showing up as constantly new personalities. Constantly withdrawing from becoming a personality. Ongoing anonymous.

FV: Why the article “the” is so important in the titles of your last works: The Internet, La Substance, The Nature…?

MS: It is always about things that are one and indivisible, as La Substnace, the Nature, the Ocean, the Internet. It could never be called just ‘internet’. One million thousands web pages but only one internet. One cannot understand how big it is. A small aprt of it is 500 million people on facebook. It is impossible to handle internet because the amount of images that are coming through is so big that nobody can ever “read” the internet. We can’t really see it. The internet is not here to confirm me, and is indifferent to me or not, is equally happy for what I do or not do. I’m interested in making art that is non-perspective but full horizontal, which is not to lie down. Not divided and all around. Horizon is impersonal, its generic, it is and equally. 

Interview by Francesca Verga

Marten Spangberg - The Internet,   at  Supportico Lopez,   Berlin

Marten Spangberg – The Internet, at Supportico Lopez, Berlin – Courtesy Marten Spangberg and Supportico Lopez, photo by Nick Ash.

Marten Spangberg - The Internet,   at  Supportico Lopez,   Berlin

Marten Spangberg – The Internet, at Supportico Lopez, Berlin – Courtesy Marten Spangberg and Supportico Lopez, photo by Nick Ash.

Marten Spangberg - The Internet,   at  Supportico Lopez,   Berlin

Marten Spangberg – The Internet, at Supportico Lopez, Berlin – Courtesy Marten Spangberg and Supportico Lopez, photo by Nick Ash.