In 2012, Marc Streit founded the zürich moves! festival for contemporary arts practice in performing arts. zürich moves! is a yearly, international festival that breaks boundaries between different interpretations of contemporary performing arts practices. The festival presents contemporary performance works in a theater context as well as dance in the white cube and alternative spaces. Every year the festival is constructed around a different topic and builds a different curatorial context. The multifaceted platform creates time-based experiences and engages and challenges the embodied presence and abstraction of the body. The very core idea of the festival is to bring contemporary performance to more hybrid spaces, disrupting the distance between performer and audience, creating an artistic flow and breaking the traditional and classical ideas of normative thinking. Over the past nine editions, Streit has forged the festival into a happening of artists and spectators, an intersection between art and life. When Marc mentions “that by contextualizing and queering bodies and spaces, I am looking for experiences that push boundaries and investigate our contemporary society beyond physical performance,” one has to add that the festival is an important opportunity for the Zurich LGBTIQ+ community to claim and perform visibility.
Abongile Gwele: Where does the uniqueness of curating something as ephemeral as performance lie? What are your key considerations in this practice?
Marc Streit: What fascinates me most in the field of contemporary performance is the fact that we are dealing with real bodies in real time which have to be taken into account not only in the artistic creation of pieces but also in the mediation and presentation of these artistic works. Therefore, we must have a great sense for people, the architecture, the space, and its surroundings. I consider the spectator a co-inhabitant of the respective space and want to free them from being a passive observer. The sensibility and ability in order to accommodate and facilitate a respective work is closely connected to the vulnerability and precariousness due to liveness and ephemerality. I always remind myself that the audience is as individual as its diversity.
AG: How would you explain the notion of “Dark Matter” as proposed by Gregory Sholette, who laments that a vast majority of artists are ignored by critics and that this broader creative culture feeds the mainstream with new forms and styles that can be commodified and used to sustain the few artists admitted into the elite, in relation to your practice and the Zurich context?
MS: I am interested in collective experiences. I intend to make things visible, freeing them from invisibility and giving them dignity and credit. My practice has a very personal approach and is mainly driven by the encounters with people. Dark Matter is very much driven by the capitalistic contemporary art market. Live performance rooted in dance and theater has always been my main interest, and therefore other modes of production are applied.
Patrycja Wojciechowska: Your practice and its criteria have a very international take. In my understanding, they move freely between expressions of various identities and cultural backgrounds. I was wondering, how do you find Zurich’s cultural scene in this context, especially as your base and location of the festival?
MS: Context and geography are very important factors and have to be taken into account when contextualizing a platform like zürich moves!. The Zurich contemporary performance and dance scene has grown exponentially over the past decade. Considering the size of the city and its cultural landscape, I find the scene here a pretty vibrant one.
AG: How do you feel the festival has had an impact on the Swiss arts scene as a Swiss political and economic reality?
MS: I find it interesting to observe how zürich moves! has formed a network amongst Swiss and Zurich-based artists and even beyond. Because of the thematic frame which I create for each edition, I always bring new artists on board while also bringing people back who have been contributing to zürich moves! in a substantial way over the course of the past nine years.
PW: I’m based in London. So, for me, that saturated but still very rich, multicultural, endlessly fast pace of events is quite normal. So, when I come to Zurich, I notice immediately different pace and dynamics. One cannot help the comparison.
MS: I like to refer to a quote by George Orwell: “It is only when you meet someone of a different culture from yourself that you begin to realize what your own beliefs really are.” I think that sums it up nicely. It is of great value to step outside your comfort zone and encounter the other. I am not necessarily interested in comparison but rather juxtaposing and discovering similarities within the various discourses.
I hope I will never stop encountering and learning from others, as it nourishes my interest and critical approach to the various realities we are living in.
I am interested in hybrid forms of contemporary performance. By contextualizing and queering bodies and spaces, I am looking for experiences that push boundaries and investigate our contemporary society beyond physical performance.
PW: During a Flash Art interview conducted by Pat- rick Steffen, you listed failure and slippage, vulnerability and precociousness as integral parts of the media, and accepted them as part of the festival and of your curatorial practice. It felt like a description of methodology, which accepts mistakes and most importantly, it moves the emphasis from the event as the final result, to the creative process as the principal part. How important for you is the process itself, not only in the arts, but also in your own practice, in a situation when it is relieved from the burden of necessary success?
MS: I like that you bring this up. I am very much interested in process. It has been an integral part in my practice in terms of curation and production and hosting in the field of contemporary performance. I enjoy accompanying an artistic process as it reveals other layers of a work and grants access to the complexity of the respective piece and the various artistic practices. I get very excited about that. Things tend to shift or move away from their initial proposals and grow. It is very much about imagining the unimaginable and also very much related to life in general. I just love seeing how things transform and find new ways and new meaning, especially working in collaborative ways. We should all be constantly negotiating and renegotiating who we are and how we coexist in this world. Failure and slippage are integral parts in performance practice.
PW: I think performance art is not as clearly opposed or divided from the performative arts. The zones are becoming blurred. The boundaries are being removed. I personally really like this direction.
MS: Not only do I want the performers or the performance makers to get lost in their process, but also that this is actually translated onto the audience. A good work for me is something which displaces me and brings me to another universe. In a way, I want to lose consciousness. I am looking for those moments when I am being taken out of my own bubble, my reality.
PW: We are used to this very simple division: public on this side in the seats, while the performer is on stage, where that relationship is always pretty much the same. It works for the individual experience, but the place is prescribed, so to speak. In my impression, what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to get away from that script that is so rigid in a sense.
MS: Absolutely. I like using my intuition. The sensation of being carried away and being pulled outside of the very moment. It is about creating images and experiences.
PW: Another quality which strikes me is the idea of the festival rooted with the body in focus. Understood as a form of experiencing culture, identity, and the political, on a bodily level. As an experience based in the bodily and experienced through the body, both for performers and for the audience. So, the body is the subject, the tool, and the medium. It always comes back into focus.
Would you agree that by putting it at the center, you obviously refer to performative arts, but also look at the body and the bodily experience in general. Of the performer, of the pleasure of watching the performance, the abundant experience of culture itself, of identity and of the political. To me, that action starts from almost visceral, intuitive knowledge deep inside and then is formulated in a theoretical or visual way.
MS: I agree. I usually start from a very personal interest or concern. Very often, it is a point of not knowing. The urgency to explore something I would like to experience. By creating a certain curatorial frame, I learn and educate myself through people and culture, and face the complexities of a certain (theoretical) discourse.
My research and the process of constructing a certain context is always inextricably tied to an overall discourse and the content of the respective artistic works that are being presented alongside each other. This process is gradual assembly and building blocks, step by step, that in discourse, would form a whole. It is a balancing act to frame the respective work and yet give the piece itself enough room to let it speak for itself.
PW: All the topics and key notions of each of the festival’s editions are very political. I do see your practice as political, or at least politically conscious. Do you agree with this statement? Further, do you think is it important to be political as a curator in contemporary dance and performance arts? Do you think that the festival as a form, as a formula, may be a political investigation, political statement, or action?
MS: Yes, definitely. I consider art as a metaphorical exile, a place of resistance and action, that can and should create new perspectives and new meaning. Bodies are political no matter what, and therefore it will be and is always political.
AG: Over the years, how have you negotiated funding for the festival? Have there been significant structural changes in application strategies and where has the greatest assistance come from for zürich moves! with regard to funding?
MS: The initiative doesn’t receive structural funding, and therefore the funding starts from scratch every year. One of the complexities for funders has been my profile as a freelance founder and curator in the performing arts scene. I am very much drawn to my multifaceted profile and enjoy acting in many different roles. A lot of explanation and justification was needed in order to get credibility. Once people understand that you are committed, and you’ve established a legitimate platform, things obviously get a little easier and more accessible.
PW: Do you feel you need to negotiate more for your artistic and curatorial independence when working with public funds and public, famous, and established venues? For example, you’ve worked with Cabaret Voltaire. I am asking because it’s a great space, and the heritage itself is very rich and interesting. But it is also may be a tricky little thing to insert projects in spaces which are so rooted within the specific heritage and their own established program.
MS: I ended up partnering up with Adrian Notz from Cabaret Voltaire, because he approached me and asked me if Cabaret Voltaire could collaborate with zürich moves! and then gave me complete carte blanche, which I really appreciated. Cabaret Voltaire is an amazing space which allows a proximity to the spectator. It creates a very different intimacy within the space than larger venues.
PW: I was wondering if you could describe the main differences within the challenges in your practice as deputy artistic director at Tanzhaus Zürich and the founder of the festival? They’re completely different spaces, so to speak, with different structures and initiatives. How does it work for you?
MS: They have very different profiles. Tanzhaus Zürich is a production house, offering time, space, and support to local artists and providing residences for international artists and is not a performance venue in the first place. Tanzhaus Zürich acts as a co-producer for Zurich-based artists and has been the main co-producer of zürich moves! since the beginning in 2012 when Andrea Boll directed the house, and was taken over by Catja Loepfe who is currently the artistic director at Tanzhaus Zürich. The institution receives structural funding and operates on a very different scale than zürich moves! does. zürich moves! is my personal initiative.
I did actually leave my position as deputy artistic director at the Tanzhaus Zürich at the end of September 2019. I still hold a mandate as a dramaturgical advisor for very specific projects within the institution.
PW: You are trying to establish a different take on the practice of curator within a very specific environment. Could talk a little bit about this?
MS: I understand myself as a connecter, networker, organizer, contextualizer, producer, and host in the field of contemporary performance and dance. It is of great importance to be able to accommodate and be interested in encountering people and respond to people’s needs. Even more so than in the contemporary art context, because art objects don’t respond to you in the same way. I think there’s a lot more human aspects which you have to take into account while dealing with contemporary performance and dance.
PW: I see it a similar structure to that of museums. It has the baggage of tradition, of hierarchy, of how it was done before. I have a feeling that it may be very similar within the performance arts. That it just is a very long tradition of how things used to be.
MS: Hierarchical structures within the performing arts have been breaking open over the past few years, which I think was/is needed. Even though I am initiating an idea or format, I don’t place myself in a higher rank in terms of my role. The artists and activists who are willing to come on board for these adventures are the ones to expose themselves and make their voices heard. I am dependent on the people who realize and manifest their thoughts and actions. The way I tend to interact with artists and the community creates a different dynamic and enables an artistic flow and truly breaks the traditional and classical ideas of normative thinking.
PW: How do you see your role as a curator and artistic director in lending visibility to art and art practitioners?
MS: I forged the festival into a happening of artists and spectators, an intersection between art and life. As I mentioned at the beginning of this interview, I consider the spectator a co-inhabitant of the respective space and want to free them from being a passive observer. In this regard I am not talking about participatory pieces but rather the way in which an audience is addressed and taken into consideration, and therefore engages on a very personal level with the respective work. I am facilitating and trying to create the most ideal contexts for these experiences.
AG: Do you foresee future editions of the festival potentially being head curated by someone else?
MS: I could totally see somebody else taking over. I like the idea of a collective programming for the festival, a board of directors, for example. I think that this will show within the next couple of years. It is also related to the whole funding system in Zurich. In dance and theater where zürich moves! has been getting funding from, there will be a big change most likely in 2022. There are still a lot of questions around it and a little bit out of my hands.
PW: I am interested in the notion of hybridity, which you mentioned before, and things that operate as non-defined, liminal, at crossroads. This, it seems to me, is an important value within the festival. What is your understanding of these qualities in the context of zürich moves!, and also in the light of politically driven topics of each edition, and the festival considered as an investigation of contemporary society beyond the physical act of the performance?
MS: The multifaceted platform creates time-based experiences, engages and challenges the embodied presence and abstraction of the body. The core idea of the festival is to bring contemporary performance to hybrid spaces or rather construct them. I am not really interested in labeling things, but rather getting lost and finding new ways of being together and communicating through other means.
I am trying to challenge my own norms or rather escape them.
Simone Aughterlony, Laboratory. Photo: Renzo Pusterla
Jaamil Olawale Kosoko. Photo: Leni Olafson
PRICE. Photo: Leni Olafson
Marc Streit was born and raised in Bern, Switzer- land and completed his studies in management before he earned his MAS in Curating at the University of the Arts in Zurich. Streit has been working as cultural entrepreneur, facilitator, artistic advisor and organizer for several institutions and organizations in research and realization of artistic projects. Streit was the deputy artistic director at Tanzhaus Zürich until September 2019. He is a guest lecturer at the theater department at the University of the Arts in Zurich (ZHdK) and at DOCH - Stockholm University of the Arts – School of Dance and Circus. Streit is currently a member of the jury for the Alumni Award at ZHdK. He is an advisor in dramaturgy and production for the realization of contemporary performance work. Start- ing in summer 2020, he will be a guest curator at Gessnerallee Zürich for the upcoming four years. Artists, activists, and academics with whom Marc Streit has been working include: Simone Aughterl- ony, AA Bronson, Tamara Cubas, Miguel Gutierrez, Jack Halberstam, Keith Hennessy, Marie-Caroline Hominal, Valerie Reding, Alice Ripoll, Xavier Le Roy, Isabel Lewis, Dana Michel, Jaamil Olawale Kosoko, Carlos Maria Romero, Tino Sehgal, Mårten Spångberg, Teresa Vittucci, Arkadi Zaides, and many more. Streit is an alumnus of the MAS in Curating, ZHdK.
Abongile Gwele is a South African artist and curator currently living in St. Gallen, Switzerland. She received her Bachelor of Technology in Fine Arts at the Tshwane University of Technology in 2013. In 2010, Gwele volunteered at the Pretoria Art Museum as an educational assistant. Working under Mmutle Arthur Kgokong as a junior curator, she co-curated a number of exhibitions in an extensive curating program with the museum. She was selected as one of 40 Emerging Creatives in 2016 by the Design Indaba for her Apples and Oranges jewellery designs. In the past few years, she has exhibited her work in her home country as well as in France, England, and the USA. Gwele is currently completing her MAS in Curating at the Zurich University of the Arts.
Patrycja Wojciechowska is a curator based in London. She is graduate of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, CAS in University of Art, Zurich, Switzerland. She co-curated the exhibition games.fights.encounter at the OnCurating Project Space, Zurich. Her research focuses on identity, postcolonial studies, non-human intelligence and forms of communication, and position of the body in art experience. She currently works on an interdisciplinary online platform.