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ZENSOR Working Outside the Comfort Zone

by Vanini Belarmino


ZENSORS Team at Kuchi in March 2008. Photo: Walkscreen

Glimpse into the Producer/Curator’s Work: Getting Connected It was in July 2007 that I chanced upon the call for proposals from the Japan Foundation’s Performing Arts Japan-Europe . I have been playing with the thought of pursuing a collaborative and process-based exchange that will put together a mix of different artists such as classical musicians, DJs, choreographers/performers, photographers, filmmakers and new media artists in one project.

Since moving to Berlin from Singapore, as an independent producer and curator, I have been inspired by a number of art initiatives that take place outside the so called “convential” artistic spaces i.e. galleries or performing art centres. This gave me the impetus to think outside the comfort zone and dream of developing ideas that could involve bars, clubs, restaurants, cafes that are imbedded in the Berlin cultural scene. My goal was to create a platform that will allow artists to brave the unknown and engage the audience into a creative experience. Develop an artistic process that is able to speak from within to the outside, cross different artistic practices and at the same time involve spectators who would not normally have interest in this type of works.

I want to bring what is strong in Asia to Europe; and find an opportunity for artists to meet and work together, which would open doors, enable people to see beyond the so called “exotic.” After all, it is 2008 and Asian art/performing arts, although much of it remains to be based/drawn from cultural traditions, is not just about colourful costumes and folkoric traditions. Asia and Europe may sound too broad but one has to start somewhere and I found a way to make it happen through an exchange between Japanese and Berlin-based artists.

I initially discussed it with Maximilian Wirtz, Artistic Director of 103 Studio , who at that time just started a monthly project involving dance and new media artists at a lounge bar. It was also at one of his spaces, Club 103, that I first saw the performance of Yellow Lounge, where classical music meets the club scene. Since he was an art enthusiast and possesed the experience of running various events in Berlin, I thought he could be one of my partners.

By stroke of luck, Naoto Iina, founding director of Dance and Media Japan , whom I have partnered with on implementing a big international dance and new media project inTokyo, Japan in 2005, came to town to give a talk. We discussed the concept and he instantly gave me recommendations of artists whom he think would fit into the creative platform. We visited 103 Studio and we sketched the possibilities that can be created with the other artists in such a space. He came back to Japan and I continued developing the idea and recruiting artists and partners to come up with a concrete proposal.

As the project did not happen in a flash, there were number of names, meetings (some planned, others accidental) worth mentioning that played significant account before, during and after the project realisation. Filmmaker and founding director of Brunnenstrasse Productions , Truong Ngu, one of my closest advisors, got me connected to Cookies.

Cookies, according to a number of the ‘old Berliners’ remains as one of the pillars of party/club scene since its establishment 13 years ago. The club, which took its name after its owner Cookie, hosted one of the performances and artists dinner for ZENSORS. The day I met Cookie, I expressed my intention of working with him without having to see the space/club. He responded quite positive to the idea, considering that he also didn’t know me. The discussion was to the point and very brief. During our second meeting, he told me what he can contribute as well as his expectations. He also provided the link to David Canisius, musician and artistic director of Yellow Lounge ; DMY 2008’s curator, Juerg Suermann and DMY Klublabor’s Heike Suermann who all agreed to be collaborators for ZENSORS.

In the process of recruiting artists willing to take the risk of committing to an outcome that is only to be known on the day of the meeting with the rest of the team, I met with Matanicola , creative-duo founded by Matan Zamir and Nicola Mascia. I was drawn to both choreographers and performers after seeing their performance called “Ladies First” at RADIALSYSTEM V. I was very happy to convince them to take part in the programme considering that the only offer was an opportunity for collaborative exchange, without any professional fees involved. Eventually, through Matanicola, I met Jochen Sandig, Director of RADIALSYSTEM V. Together, they presented the idea to RADIALSYSTEM V, which opened the possibility for ZENSORS to get into a partnership with such recognised art space/institution.

To weave everything together, the partners, collaborators and artists, I approached Susa Pop, Artistic Director of Public Art Lab (PAL) , who supported a great deal of the project by welcoming ZENSORS through PAL’s platform and offering sound advise on the partnerships and other special arrangements for the project management in Germany.

The story went on and the dream is still going on in trying the get the connections. ZENSORS likewise collaborated with Kuchi to feed the artists and staff who were all working on close to voluntary basis; Rozalb de Mura for some stage clothes and casual apparel for Matanicola and myself; CinePlus to complete the art installation on Berlin-Tokyo featuring artists: Masayo Kajimura and Walkscreen at the foyer of RADIALSYSTEM V; 5th berlin biennial for contemporary art so the Japanese artists could be welcomed by Berlin-based artists at a picnic hosted at the Skulpturen Park; and to make the project known to the general public, ZENSORS partnered with EXBERLINER and ZITTY.

This may sound like a running credit but it is essential to be reminded that even if an artistic collaboration is directly attributed to creativity of artists involved on a specific project, masterminding and creating such links and mobilising support from institutions/companies remain valid and integral part of the overall collaboration.

At the end of the day, we are all collaborators. Exchange is only possible with a full understanding of what each one is willing to give and expects to receive.

ZENSORS – Experiencing the Idea

Dance and Media Japan

Nicola Mascia rehearsing for ZENSORS. Photo: Dance and Media Japan

From my experience, gut feel plays a crucial element when developing creative collaborations. When I formulate an imagery in my mind how it would be if I put one artist next to the other, it is like playing cupid or a matchmaker. In some cases where I’m lucky enough to have worked with certain artists on some projects, the picture is much clearer whether or not the combination would work. At times, I only need to meet them once or even have some email exchanges. It can be tricky but so far, it has worked for me.

When an artist says yes to the idea of collaboration and exchange, I take this as a green light that the individual concerned is open to give and receive new impulses from inside to the outside. The willingness of one to collaborate over something that is undefined gives a indication that there is great potential to move things together.

If I manage to make the ‘right’ selection or mix of people for a specific project, given time, space, environment and all other external factors that may affect the mood or creativity of those involve, usually, half of the work, at least on the creative side, can be considered done. ZENSORS was a very special experience since it was a mix of artists that I have worked with in the past and those that I wished to work with.

The quest for achieving a sense of balance was one of the main challenges for the project ZENSORS. Balance emanating from multiple sources, different inviduals, holding varied expectations, perspectives and approaches geared towards a parallel direction.

Dance and Media Japan

David Canisius performing in ZENSORS at RADIALSYSTEM V on 24 May 2008. Photo: Dance and Media Japan

ZENSORS represents a play of words, which was based on the artistic practice of the Japanese artists who used ‘sensors’ in their works. The word ZEN was to signify search for balance between media technology and performance and more subtle and/or underlaying message finding a balance in exchanges amongst artists. Often in international tours, there is a tendency to just “come and go.” The idea of “show and tell” was an approach that ZENSORS did not wish subscribe to. Instead, ZENSORS aimed at pooling artists in an environment where it is possible to generate and be inspired by creative instincts and intitution as the starting point for action, and be present and get connected to the place and people where the project is happening.

ZENSORS was curated with a conscious idea putting together professional and established Japanese and Berlin-based artists engaged in varied artistic practices who possess an open mind for process-oriented approach; brave enough to engage into a performative experimental platform, which meant committing to an outcome that is unknown. The goal was to bring what is strong in Japan, in this case, recognised new media performance artists and match them with artists from Berlin who hold equally strong creative/artistic background.

At the same time, I looked into gathering strong alliances local and international platforms coming from different fields that of a performing arts space, artists network, designer’s clubs, bars and even restaurants.

ZENSORS looked into setting a common ground, a meeting point for artists and/or diverse individuals as well as institutions and culltural spaces, who normally work independently from one another. ZENSORS encouraged its collaborators to work outside their comfort zone, seek and respond to the impetus offered by the situation, environment and the people around them. Thereby confronting and embracing the realities offered when embarking on such exchanges

On 21-30 May, ZENSORS took over various cultural spaces in Berlin, Germany as an experiential performance party, installation and concert. It provided a glimpse to the marriage of creative energies, fragments of ideas and improvisations of artists Naoto Iina, Daito Manabe, Motoi Ishibashi, Kanta Horio, Fuyuki Yamakawa, Takayuki Fujimoto, David Canisius, Matanicola, and Walkscreen after their three-day artistic rendezvous. Its ambition of bringing media technology and performance side by side and the so called mix of cultures and artistic disciplines over a short-period of time was witnessed by the audiences at RADIALSYSTEM V and Cookies.

A series of two-day open workshops led by the Japanese artists hosted at the premises of RADIALSYSTEM V welcomed a mix of creative practitioners such as DJs, VJs, choreographers, dancers, classical musicians, singers, poets, photographers, visual artists, filmmakers and all other enthusiast interested not only in the exploration on media performance technology but of interdisciplinary art practice. As a part of the process, the workshop was followed by a presentation and was concluded with a party at 103 Studio.

Fuyuki Yamakawa and Nicola Mascia performing in ZENSORS at Cookies on 27 May 2008

Fuyuki Yamakawa and Nicola Mascia performing in ZENSORS at Cookies on 27 May 2008. Photo: Dance and Media Japan

The experience that I gathered from ZENSORS was one of the best gifts that I have ever had as a curator and it is with stronger energy that I will pursue its development in the coming days. Through the realisation of ZENSORS, I can really say that working with good artists means looking beyond each one’s artistic merits but instead finding a way towards genuinely open, constructive and forward looking individuals.

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