Preparing the
If I Can't Dance Studio

Studio Notes

Sands Murray-Wassink, ‘Relax Horse’ (2019), acrylic on paper, 30 x 42 cm. Photo courtesy the artist.

Sands Murray-Wassink, ‘Relax Horse’ (2019), acrylic on paper, 30 x 42 cm. Photo courtesy the artist.

The summer solstice has just passed, bringing with it a new season. In the past month, from within the manifold catastrophes brought on and exacerbated by the global pandemic, Black Lives Matter manifestations have emerged around the world and, with them, new hopes. In Amsterdam alone more than 20,000 people gathered in Dam Square (on 1 June) and at Nelson Mandela Park (on 10 June) to say: no justice, no peace; enough is enough; the 400-year-long pandemic that is anti-black violence must stop. Organisers of the demonstrations in the Netherlands are already working to carry this energy into next fall when protests against the institutionalised racism of the Black Pete figure will – as they have for decades – grip the country. On Friday 19 June, the European Parliament officially condemned all forms of racism, and called for action against discrimination, hate and violence. As with the coronavirus pandemic, it remains to be seen what course the recent uprisings will take and what effect the EP declaration will have. One thing is for certain though: as Audre Lorde’s 1982 ‘Learning from the 1960s’ speech already made clear: ‘Revolution is not a one-time event. It is becoming always vigilant for the smallest opportunity to make a genuine change in established, outgrown responses; for instance, it is learning to address each other’s difference with respect.’

Lorde’s thinking, which we have looked to in our previous communiqués, has also appeared again and again in panels and discussions over the last few weeks, and it has, once again, struck us deeply. Revolution, as she identifies in this 1982 address, comes from changes – even the smallest – to our everyday practices, and, moreover, from our self-reflexive awareness of those practices. It is a project, in other words, always in the making, and always under construction; and it must always be operating at the micro-levels of the intimate interaction.

An attentiveness to those everyday practices that form and inform our understandings of the world – and how to sustain practices of living therein – has grown across much of the long-term collaborative work happening in the If I Can’t Dance Edition VIII – Ritual & Display programme. Here we would like to share with you two instances of such work. The first comes to us from the final reading group organised by our 2019–20 Research Fellow Giulia Damiani. In this last cluster of texts, the work of CAConrad, Victor Turner and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro take up the topic of everyday rituals from very different perspectives. Evoking the horrors of death, destruction and violence, ‘An Essay in Verse by CAConrad, on Memory, Ritual, and Survival’ ruminates on how rituals, and their somatic poetry, can save our lives and the lives of our communities. Rituals can crack the pain, mitigate the grief of loss, and induce moments of transformation of everyday realities, leading us to see ‘the creative viability in everything around us’. This creative viability of the everyday is foundational, for, as CAConrad reminds us, ‘creative people are survivors’.

The second instance we want to share with you comes from the practice of our current artist commission Sands Murray-Wassink. Murray-Wassink refers to his own art/life practice as SURVIVAL ACCEPTANCE ART, and at the centre of his multimedia work is the unquantifiable value of the small – what some might consider banal – gestures that sustain day-to-day domestic existence. Murray-Wassink’s practice is, thus, about sustaining life. It is a testament to the kinds of everyday resilience that are necessary to the project of simply keeping going. With If I Can’t Dance, Murray-Wassink, is, together with three collaborators, engaged in an 18-month durational performance of archiving his 25-year oeuvre. Entitled Gift Science Archive (a title drawn from the 1964 work by Carolee Schneemann, Gift Science), the expansive project attempts to render visible all of the invisible labour involved in keeping going; it is an attempt to make the web of relations and the intimate materials of life (feelings, emotions, thoughts, relationships, behaviours, connections, break-ups and so forth) the founding principles for an archive catalogue that makes no distinction between art and non-art. It makes no distinctions because the everyday rituals that sustain us know no boundaries.

In resonance with such instances – within our own programme and the wider world – we are thrilled to share that in the next few months we will be starting operations of the If I Can’t Dance Studio. Transitioning away from a biennial rhythm of presentations, within this new horizon we commit to continuous year-long programming across various platforms and modes of engagement. Through this shift, we are rethinking passive notions of spectatorship and ‘audience impact’, foregrounding, instead, the working with and in community orientation of our production house. The Studio is a space where experiments, attempts and failures can happen. It is a space that asserts performance as a living methodology – that is, as a practice that does not necessarily come to exist (and, therefore, is justified in its existence) by virtue of having a final outcome. Moving between physical spaces, printed matter and a web platform, the If I Can’t Dance Studio will offer insights into our project commissions’ development and research trajectories, breathe new lives into our archive through various activations of the materials, and initiate new encounters among artists, practitioners and communities in the form of classes, salons, workshops, and support for projects happening around the city and region. The Studio is ultimately about acknowledging and making more visible the collaborative and a-climactic – maybe even uneventful – everyday work of making, researching, rehearsing, writing, organising, convening and keeping an archive. It is about making the situation of being ‘somewhere in the middle of’ an organising principle of If I Can’t Dance.

Team If I Can’t Dance

Marcel van den Berg, Frédérique Bergholtz, Anik Fournier, Sara Giannini, Megan Hoetger, and Hans Schamlé

First published: Friday 26 June 2020

Featured artist: Sands Murray-Wassink