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Performensk – a festival of performing arts that was held in Minsk for a long time, but in 2022 the project was forced to move abroad. This year Performensk will be held in Stuttgart from 7 to 10 December. “Not Today, Not Yesterday, Not Tomorrow” talked to the festival organiser Maria Komarova about the main tasks of the event and what to expect from this season.

– How did the idea of creating Performensk come about?

– The first Performensk took place in Minsk in 2018 at the cultural centre “Corpus” and the hub OK 16. At that time, I was studying at the theatre academy in Prague, and with my acquaintances, students, studentess, and graduates of various artistic universities in Prague, we decided to organise an event in Belarus. One of the main motivations was to bring interesting projects to Belarus and engage in a dialogue with the local audience and cultural sector.

– What do you think Belarus lacked then in terms of creativity?

– I wouldn’t say that something was lacking in Belarus at that time, it’s very subjective. We were and still are interested in the sphere in which we were and still performed. The sphere I am talking about is the sphere of live art. Live art means what happens here and now in front of the public. This includes performance art, experimental theatre, sound art, and various interdisciplinary projects. We decided to focus on projects that are realised in simple technical conditions, using a minimum amount of means. By means, I mean technical means, human means, financial means. That is, projects that can be brought and realised on site, projects that respond to the place and the situation, as is often the case in the context of performance art.

Looking back on the first season of the festival, I realise that it was very chaotic, and from the perspective of this chaos, it was interesting. Many different interesting people came. We then conducted an open call and received about 100 applications from different parts of the world. It was Europe, Canada, the USA, and, strangely, there were few applications from Belarus – less than 10, as far as I remember. Many people with different work experience, different ages, and from different spheres came. At that time, in the first year, I think it was not so much about the high quality of work, but about the diversity of approaches of different artists. It was also about the adjacent points of contact and differences from the approaches typical of performance art in Belarus.

Tyler Kaan, photo from the personal archive of Performenska

– What kind of Performensk will it be?

– The fifth. Performensk has been taking place since 2018, we organised the festival every year, except during the period of the COVID-19 outbreak.

– What were the main goals and objectives at the origins of the festival?

– The main goals of Performensk were to organise a meeting place for artists/artistess working in the field of contemporary performance art and to create a space for dialogue and exchange of knowledge and information with the local audience. At that time, we differentiated it as a meeting place for artists from Western countries and countries of Eastern Europe. And Belarus was a place for such meetings.

– What are the main goals and objectives of the festival this year?

– In 2023, the second season of the festival in exile will take place. In 2022, the festival was held in Brussels. And that year showed that due to the relocation of the project, the goals and tasks that were set for us in Minsk were no longer relevant. We decided that we do not want to build the dramaturgy of the festival solely around geography and the concept of the nation, but rather want to focus on the concepts of transition, liminality, uncertainty. Many people are in such a state, regardless of where they are physically or where they come from. In a sense, Performensk becomes a place for such people and such art that cannot belong to any specific genre.

– Where will the festival be held this year, and why was that country specifically chosen?

– Performensk this year will take place in Germany, in Stuttgart, in the space of Musik der Jahrhunderte, in collaboration with platform B. Platform B is a production organisation that promotes and provides conditions for the creativity of artists from Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia living in exile, as well as organising a discursive field around such works. The organisation operates based on Musik der Jahrhunderte, focusing on new music and interdisciplinary projects working with sound.

– Why was the art of performance taken as the basis of the festival?

– Because it was the sphere of activity of those people who were at the origins of the festival, including myself, and we were interested in developing it. In addition, performative art is a very broad field in which many branches can be found. And you can work with each of them in different ways.

Quanta-Qualia, photo from the personal archive of Performenska

– What can we expect from this Performensk? Which artists were selected, and by what reason were they chosen to participate?

– This year’s season is called Liminarium. As in previous years, we have developed a program for three festival days. This program includes live shows, performances, concerts, performance concerts, as well as one workshop and one discussion block. Unlike the first and second seasons of the festival, whose programs were based on the selection of participants through an open call, for the last three years, we have been working with personal invitations to the festival.

Among the participants this year are sound artist 3_a; journalist and curator Olga Bubich, artist Marie David, musician Tyler Kaan, researcher Branislava Kuburović, percussion Elia Moretti, Jakub Švejnar, and Matej Sikora, director Marika Smreková, musician Sergei Tsviki, as well as interdisciplinary collectives Mount Vegan Rawchestra, MSHR, mʊdʌki, Neue Vocalsolisten, PYL collective, Quanta Qualia.

Throughout the festival there will be an exhibition of selected works produced by platform B, featuring Lesia Pcholka, Olga Bubich, Nadya Sayapina, and Eugene Buldyk/Muffer. The exhibition works with themes of memory, trauma and forced migration. Such themes are highlighted in the Sunday discussion block, in which Olga Bubich and Branislava Kuburović will discuss issues related to fragility, affect, care, (re)consolidation of memories, and archival work. This discussion will be publicly available on the platform B website after the festival.

– Does Performensk collaborate with Belarusian artists? How many Belarusian artists have registered for the festival?

– Every year, the festival includes artists from Belarus, and we are interested in integrating their work into the global context of the contemporary art scene in Europe. Although it is not the primary goal of the festival, nationality or social status is not a criterion in the selection process. This year, the situation is a bit different because we are collaborating with platform B, whose goal is to directly promote the art of Belarusian artists.

In this year’s season, four people from Belarus are participating in the exhibition, and about six people are participating in the live performance programme.

MSHR, photo from the personal archive of Performenska

– Why was the festival forced to move to other countries from Belarus?

– The previous season took place in Brussels. There was no relocation as such, there was decentralisation, that is, we lost a permanent place for our activities. In 2022, we decided to cease activities in Belarus for geopolitical reasons, and that year Performensk became a nomadic festival, taking place in different locations since then.

At the moment, Performensk has no specific stable location where it can happen on a regular basis. We are in a state where we don’t know where or if the festival will take place next time.

The reason for the termination of activities in Minsk was the beginning of a full-scale war in Ukraine, as well as the tightening of the internal and external political situation in Belarus. Many cultural spaces and organisations ceased to exist at that time, many cultural figures continued to migrate, making it increasingly difficult to obtain permission to hold events. Organising the festival under these conditions was not possible.

– The festival programme illustrates the real issues of Belarus?

– Performensk carries the memory of two places in Minsk – as the birthplace and Měnsk as a place that no longer exists. Perhaps it embodies some utopian meeting place, a utopian temporary space, a utopian autonomous zone, within which things are possible that are impossible in another place and time.

– What challenges do you face in organising this year’s festival? And how are you dealing with them?

– The challenge is always the same: the uncertainty of the future, not knowing if the event will take place. Usually, this is resolved by the results of funding, which one has to find out quite late. Despite formulating the project at the beginning of each year, it takes some time to prepare the application and await the results.

Of course, the uncertainty that repeats itself every year is very tedious. It can be demotivating. It is important to note that many people involved in organising the festival initially had to leave the project because for a long time the festival lacked funding and was organised on a volunteer basis.

– Any final words to the readers?

–  Who can and wants to – come to Stuttgart from 7 to 10 December, and maybe next year we will meet in your city.

The article was created within the framework of the Free Belarus Centre programme.