Dance and the Museum: Marten Spangberg Responds


1) What are the most potent questions/ ideas prompted by the recent coming together of dance and the visual arts?

Good question, is not a bad answer, but hmmm maybe one could elaborate slightly, though this question probably would extend into PhD-type size. What you have in front of you is an answer of all together three hundred and sixty four page, but I’ll try my best to abbreviate just a bit.

Aha, call me Sherlock, perhaps the answer is hidden in the question? Elementary—nope. No deduction, hawkeyes or good will help here. First, dance and visual art have been neighbors and engaged for a long time. Pronto, it’s rather a curse running through the last 100 years. It’s more like dance and visual art were in family therapy for a while and now are back in business, rejuvenated by some NY shrink that can hardly spell “psychoanalysis”. You know, the RLGB method. These sessions have been very good for all involved, but the question is: how healthy, sustainable and demanding is it? After all, the shrinks of art in general are frighteningly normative. And, is risk not a term completely erased from the vocabulary of the artist? But, then again, if it is healthy etc. that’s not really a smashing opportunity, since we know where it’s about to end—yep, in more of the same. However, in the arts in general, and in this mess in particular, there are serious issues to mind in regards to power, maneuverability, accountability, business opportunities and grand application, which somehow always ends up with everybody blaming each other—including me—when in fact what we need is neither backstabbing nor politeness, but more and worse badass. We need a therapist [curators etc.] that answers to nothing else than remorselessness and knows how to light up the BBQ. We need dancers, choreographers and artists who any shrink et al. since Papa Freud would lock up and throw away the key. No, no, we don’t need dancers and whatever that are complacent, nor simply against—way too easy. What we need are folks that don’t shy away from complexity and problems. The new hot cool choreography and dance in the museum is a fabulous opportunity, but only if it is taken seriously enough, only if we dare go dirty, you know what I’m sayin’?

And, on that bombshell [don’t flatter yourself, dude] an important question to ask is: what’s different this time, especially considering larger perspectives both in respect of art history, but more importantly in relation to our politico-economical reality? Only if we—whoever we might be—articulate a proposal to that question can this new affair grow into a love story. Cuz like, it’s not cuz some or a few visual art curators suddenly developed some dance mania, were so overwhelmed by an amazing dance piece, or even melted in front of an oh-so-fascinating choreographer that moved into a loft in SoHo like right after the war—and I mean the Civil War. Choreography and dance’s response to being invited to the museum is similar to having a skeptical, or shall we say, passive-aggressive relation to theatre, which obviously is a good thing. Luckily, Wim Vandekeybus will never enter the museum. Nor will Sasha Waltz or Alain Platel, but I’m probably wrong cuz there are certainly enough lost curators out there. Good luck. The choreography and dance that correlates to the museum is emphasizing abstraction and form, the rest is there because it’s good for political reasons exterior to the work itself.

In any case the reason for this sudden passion can easily be correlated to our present predicament: our society and its modes of governance, economic exchange and production of subjectivity, knowledge and power. Yet, this doesn’t mean that it’s all about the money, at least not first level. Already, here we bump into a problem… exactly, because this question—what’s the circumstances—is not desired (especially not by dance) based on the same equation that you don’t want to understand that your wife loves you because of your money, your pedigree or your awesome pecs. What’s necessary here is to reverse the fear and argue that if we don’t understand the circumstances for the emergence of passions, fascination, and interest, the affair will always be an affair and not an engagement, and this is of course particularly important when considering the asymmetry and hierarchical relation between the parties. Feel me?

The initial question uses the formulation “coming together”. Once and for all, I think we should wake up from the illusion that there is anything together in this set up and remember it is not visual art that is involved; it is certain institutions predominantly identified with visual art. Visual art as such is so not in it together with dance, forget about it. Dance is competitor of market shares. Pardon, but this is business and every dime that’s spent on dance is not spent on visual art or another painting exhibition. Btw, however important and significant certain artists of the past have been and might be, it’s not an excuse for always putting them in the show. How much Ana Mendiata can the world take? For godssake, Lygia Clark must be more important than Breaking Bad—how many episodes? seven hundred? She isn’t. Perhaps she could be if her stuff was digital and downloadable from piratebay, but it isn’t. It occupies space and every time there’s a Clark piece up and running, something else is not at all. We love Lygia but Jezuz, why such monogamy?

Okay, visual art hates dance and choreography and will maintain its condescending tone of voice as long as dance and choreography doesn’t speak up and go medieval on the ass of visual art or whatever. You know what I mean—tough shit. Again, it’s institutions in visual art that have a crush on dance and those that have it—they might just not know about it or are playing stupid—they have it not because of sex, but because they know that expansion and change is the name of the game and the key to a prosperous future. These institutions use dance because dance is something that can be co-opted, and damn this is not a problem, it’s even great because with this in mind negotiation can start. Check it out, we can turn it around so many times, but ultimately it’s visual art that came to dance, so who needs who? Exactly.

There is so no together here. It’s institutions in visual art that have approached dance. And, there is no mutuality, but total asymmetry: institutions against individual artists, factories against individual workers without a union. The situation most of all reminds us of a gang bang. Nice, and shit balls it doesn’t happen at the pool but in a grey meeting room on the third floor. But (and there is of course always another but, this is after all neoliberalism) but perhaps this is not about force or intensity, but about who’s on top. At the end of the day, whatever happens I’m cool with anything as long as I know dance has not turned into some sloppy bottom afraid of saying what it wants. Demands baby, demands. Who do you want to be, Miley Cyrus or, what’s her name, Sinead O’Connor?

Now back to the question: it goes without saying that potent questions should be avoided in the first place and in this case potency is different for dance and visual art, including its institutions. From the perspective of dance however… and here we need to make a disclaimer—it is not dance in general that is demanded by visual art, but only some sorts of dance (i.e. certain downtown NY dance with an affinity to pedestrian movement, French dance with a conceptual flare, certain kinds of assimilated yet ethnically challenging dance, strong formalism and Bill Forsythe (there are exceptions, but only so few, like somebody from Spain, Sweden or so).

Still from the POV of dance, the situation museum is perhaps first of all a matter of responsibility and value. Something in this direction, dance can choose several ways of responding to an invitation from a museum (and we are now thinking about exhibition spaces, not a theatre in a museum) and we are obviously not talking style, but:  Do we engage the museum with a piece or proposal that before or after can be adapted to the stage? Do we bring a piece for the stage into the museum and adapt it for a walk around audience? Do we make a site specific (Help Help Help) something rethinking the form, but not the tools or modes of production? Or, do we insist on the challenge, asserting that the context forces us to rethink our practices, methods and modes of production all together (i.e. to become beginners, to not know and, as a result, ditch or give up on notions of quality, give up values)? Do we allow the museum to change what choreography can be and do, what dance can be and do (which is not what it looks like)?

If one chooses for any other approach than to challenge dance, it is my belief that we should stay home and do another one for the theatre, and give somebody else the opportunity to make a show over at MoMA. But if we do, the museum becomes a potential capacity to make it happen, but of course it’s gonna be way harder and meet way more resistance in the dance community.

What appears to happen in front of our noses is that dance as we know it is occupying the museum, without a program, without a politics, except the maintenance of dance as we know it; of dance as an established identity, something to which one can belong. Authorities and institutions of dance cannot work for something else, for the already established, and in a sector that lives from support and subsidy, deterritorialization mustn’t cost, mustn’t transform anything fundamental, the circumstances for production material and intellectual. Dance mustn’t want something from the museum, it must instead allow the museum to undo dance as we know it. Let’s give the museum permission to develop all together new forms of choreography, producing all together different expressions.

Remember, to do something specific in the museum has nothing to do with becoming a visual artist. No no, as much as it is important to emigrate, we travel with one way ticket. It is important to remain a choreographer or dancer. It is in this space of tension that something potentially can happen, the moment you are identified as a visual artist, oh my, your life is so over, then you are just one of them. And, there are thousands of them out there and as a visual artist, you not very good. Remember, in the museum you are special, you are foreign – use that, use your asymmetries against the dominant regime, now that’s winning instinct.

But, but, but—just because you call yourself a choreographer, especially in the museum, doesn’t mean that you make dances (make some people move around in more or less defined ways). Not at all and this is precisely the challenge. When choreography and/or dance moves into the museum, the game is all new and it is up to you and me to either choose : do we play with old rules, or do we refuse to fall into patterns and do what we are already so good at? Fuck no, let the museum, as so many other places, open for the wkd.

Parenthesis, in order to move on we need a distinction: Choreography and dance are not inter-dependent, they don’t need each other, they’re instead all together different and even, when at best, incompatible. Choreography is not necessarily the making of dance, nor is all dance made through choreography. Choreography is not causal to dance and visa versa. Choreography is a matter or organization, of ordering and making stable, although stability is many things. Choreography’s first enterprise is to domesticate movement. Choreography is concerned with structures and structuring, and obviously every structure needs expression. One of these expressions is dance but it is not the only expression that choreography can take on. Dance on the other hand is strategic, it is not about ordering but instead of maneuvering, of navigating through structures, through order. Dance is an expression into the world, dance is certainly organized but the organization is not the dance, it is the organization and the principles need not be choreography although they can be read through choreography. To choreograph needs have nothing to do with dance, and it goes without saying that one need not have any dance skills to choreograph [those who say so are just dance teachers afraid of losing their jobs]. Similarly, dancing is always organized but one need have no idea about choreography to make them. Recently the term choreography as expanded practice has been used emphasize how organization is non-linear to expression, choreography to dance and that choreography needs to be considered a cluster of tools that can be used both to produce and analyze autonomous to expression, i.e. choreography has become a generic set of tools, a technology or a field of knowledge. It is as expanded practice that choreography can or must approach the invitation from visual art, an approach that can give choreography any kind of from also painting, video, sound, a book, a social differentiation or something entirely else. Add to that, that only if we choreography takes on new expressions, only if dance loses itself in other organizational capacities can this meeting become sustainable and fruitful for all parties, and if not dance and choreography will continue to be mixed up and pushed around like a bastard cousin from the countryside, tip top for Saturday entertainment but never invited to the green room, never to the real deal.

Several institutions have initiated conversations around the collection of dance and choreography. Museums desire to acquire dances and put them in the collection, a good or even excellent idea. What’s not in the collection doesn’t exist but again… when understood as collectible the address is only dances in the classical sense of the word and the general idea, since a dance in itself can not be stored away [hello, remember Peggy Phelan?], is to collect documents and put them all in the archive section. Fuck that, if dance and choreography are to be put, so to say, in the basement it’s not in some archive section but the museum and choreographers must develop a method to store work that is it’s own. A starting point is to consider that choreography and dance is not causal and, second, to understand choreography as expanded practice.

Further, as much as a conventional collection is in need of house holding or strategy and definition, so does a collection of dances and choreographies. And a collection is not good or better if its starting point is the 60’s and New York. These oldies just want to secure their retirement money and their legacy. To collect is not only about fastening the past, it is also about producing futures.


Mårten Spångberg is a choreographer living and working in Stockholm. His interests concern choreography in an expanded field, something that he has approached through experimental practices and creative process in multiplicity of formats and expressions. He has been active on stage as performer and creator since ’94, and has since ’99 created his own choreographies, from solos to larger scale works, which has toured internationally. Under the label International Festival he collaborated with the architect Tor Lindstrand he engaged in social and expanded choreography. From 1996 – 2005 Spångberg organized and curated festivals in Sweden and internationally. He initiated the network organization INPEX in 2006, has thorough experience in teaching both theory and practice and was director for the MA program in choreography at the Univ. of Dance in Stockholm 2008 – 2012. In 2011 his first book Spangbergianism was published. 

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