Institutions Need to be Constructed

Prof. Goran Sergej Pristaš, the co-founder of the Zagreb artistic collective BADco., gives an artist talk discussing the valorization of cultural institutions.

Published: May 1, 2018Words: Goran Sergej Pristaš & J.Scott StrattonArtist Link: badco.hrEvent Details: Dansehallerne

I have always found a fascinating dichotomy between philosophy and application – between theory and practice.

As I’ve become more knowledgeable in the fields of performance and performing arts, I’ve come to understand that there is often a strong relationship between the academic and the physical. Deep research into an idea or philosophy is an integral part of the process – because in performing arts, there is no end commodity. The culmination of an artists’ work – the final piece, per se – is a sort of documentation of that artists’ exploration of said research.

This presents a fundamental problem in an age where everything is being driven towards the glorification of an end product, rather than paying respect to a process. Everything needs to be commodified, even when there is no commodity. Unfortunately, for politicians, who wield the power to fund cultural institutions, this understanding between research and practice might not be as clear.

Political climates are forcing cultural institutions to become valorized in new ways – and thus valorizing art in new ways. Ways which might prioritize productivity or financial efficiency over the general benefit the artistic community.

As part of the recurring series of guest lectures facilitated by Copenhagen’s Dansehallerne entitled International Encounters, the University of Zagreb’s Professor of Dramaturgy, and co-founder of the artist collective Badco., Goran Sergej Pristaš, speaks about his work Institutions Need to be Constructed.

This particular work examines these tensions between labor and art and will be facilitated by an open discussion on the valorization of artistic work and cultural institutions.

In order to get a deep dive into his thoughts on this particular piece, the subject of cultural institutions, what Pristas plans on speaking about during his artist lecture, I reach out to him to get his thoughts.

Your illustrious career is one that has led you to an existence as both practicing artist and academic. In your opinion, how do you feel the disciplines of “the theoretical”(academic) and “the practicing”(performer) coincide with the field of performing arts?

The artistic practice of BADco. was always inclining towards elaborating images of thought instead of images of the world. I consider my writing deeply rooted in the history of poetics, therefore always related to production.

In these terms, I am actually more interested in classical understanding of theatre apparatus as an environment for experimentation with terraforming and world building. I am less interested in aesthetics and practices of performance. From that point of view, many encounters become necessary even between theatre and academy. Theory is just another practice to understand what holds on after theater, a kind of cruel afterthought.

Aside from being the Associate Professor of Dramaturgy at the University of Zagreb, you are also the co-founder of the performing arts collective BADco. You’re also a mentor and teacher in numerous prestigious institutions around Europe. Can you tell me how you have learned to balance the role of “mentor” with your career as a practicing artist, and how they intertwine?

Our processes are very long and stretched in time. We try to avoid regular rhythms of production as much as possible. That way of working leaves a time to shift positions and observe or intervene between the fields and functions. That destabilization is quite challenging, but shouldn’t the mentoring also be a practice of constant re-functionalization?

I would say that mentoring should tend towards the opening of possibilities and cognitive estrangement rather than disciplining of knowledge. I know it can sometimes be hard to a student or even confusing, but isn’t a problem what should bring us together?

Frame from Goran Sergej Pristas and Badco. work entitled

The piece that you are going to be basing your lecture and workshop on, for the forthcoming International Encounters, is a work called Institutions Need to be Constructed. Can you tell me a little bit about this piece?

It was a series of 24-hours gatherings, occupations of abandoned sites with a promise to become future cultural institutions. Through that series, we tried to recapitulate our long-term interest in relations between labor and artistic practices, between cinematic and social mode of production, and between self-organization and instituting practices. It resulted in a series of installations and a film essay “Time Bombs” in the end.

In researching the piece, I found a statement that the performance included, “discussions on the social and economic aspects of artistic labor and the valorization of artistic work through non-aesthetic spheres of social production.” Could elaborate on how these audience discussions connected with the performance?

We can say that there are two dominant models of valorization of cultural institutions. One is based on the logic of productivity, management and audience features which produces a scarcity of production conditions and flattens the functions of a cultural institution to a level of pure presentability of artists work (instead of artworks).

On the other side, there is an urge for wider social impact and re-invention of institutions that mostly results in an attempt to delegate the functions of other dismantled social institutions to the arts. The art institutions replacing them gain visibility for critical social topics, but end up mostly being smothered in social and political issues.

Frame from Goran Sergej Pristas and Badco. work entitled

So, our question is, avoiding claims of autonomy of art, how to find new modes of valorization? How can we put different institutional practices of arts, culture, and social movements in proximity to each other – not through merging their functions, but working on translations between them? We invited a number of cultural workers, social activists, and audience members to discuss the problem at the site of the future institutions. This is an ongoing discussion, not just a part of an artwork.

Can the audiences of your forthcoming lecture and workshop for International Encounters expect similar topics of discussion?

Yes, but it will define itself through the discussion. It is good that these topics are brought today in the Scandinavian and Nordic context because there the institutions are still mostly unharmed and there is still plenty of money for arts which also affords a time to think about processes outside of that frame.

Are there any ideas or concepts that you would like the participants of this workshop to walk away contemplating?

The fact that I’m invited here with these topics we just discussed tells that the interested ones are already contemplating them. My task will be to share experiences we have here in the South. And as you know, our experiences in post-Yugoslav countries are pretty terrible but can be very significant if we observe them from the point of political dynamics in European Union.

You can find out more about the specific event here: