NOW CURATING: YOMI
s t r e e t a r t i s t
Manfred Fischbeck is a fierce champion for dance and embodied practice as a revolutionary force. He’s played a huge role in shaping Philadelphia’s experimental dance culture since his arrival on the scene in 1968, when he came from Berlin with co-directors Brigitta Herrmann and Hellmut Gottschild, and their young modern dance company Group Motion. Manfred has been the company’s sole director since 1989.
When I came to Philadelphia I joined the company right out of college, where I had studied dance in a conservatory program. Manfred’s mentorship helped me unlearn the conservative strictures that had bound my body during four years of classical training, while still encouraging physical virtuosity. His mentorship helps young dancers embrace a deeply investigative, often improvisational approach that results in making powerful artists, not just powerful dancers. Philadelphia’s dance climate would absolutely not be the same without his profound influence. I asked Manfred to choose which of the Curate This prompts to respond to. Because of his deeply philosophical engagement with dance as an art form, and his commitment to advocating for dance as a force for community empowerment, I had a hunch that he’d follow a prompt that led him into social commentary, and it turned out that my instinct was right.
– Curator Megan Bridge
When the Group Motion Company performed a site specific dance in public art sites along the Parkway in Philadelphia in 2009, the dancers wore the music of Phil Kline on their bodies, in the form of belts with iPods and speakers attached. The final piece, a structured improvisation, was performed in front of the LOVE sculpture on JFK Plaza. I carried a boombox playing the same music to boost the low tech iPod speakers. Next to me stood an about 14-year-old African American boy. He seemed excited. When the dance was over, he ran to the dancers, hugged them and told them “you changed my life.” This was one of the most meaningful outcomes of our project, which had attracted both intentional and incidental (passers by, “happening to run into it”) audiences. Incidentally, we did not make money with this performance because it happened in public space, which was a problem for one of our funders.
The social issue that this event illuminates for me and brings into my consciousness is the cultural segregation, exclusivity, and alienation which I find in most of the cultural and artistic happenings in this city (or this country) that I know of. It comes in the form of $75 ticket prices for shows on the so called “high art” level, but also in the form of the insider art “crowd” (if you can call it that) on the “experimental” level, or in the form of no art in public schools, or in the form of segregation of genres and neighborhoods.
From another perspective cultural segregation is about the capitalism of art, with making money as the primary intention; it is about the privilege of “winning” art competitions of all kinds, where the right access, connections, or popular and trendy ideas often move an artist to the top, while thousands if not millions of “talents” never even get a chance. This capitalism also comes in the form of having to be concerned with competing for “Artistic Excellence” (defined by whoever sits on the granting or funding panels); or the “My Work, My Voice” and “Becoming Rich and Famous” syndromes as primary concerns, when we put the criteria of finding our artistic niche or doing something “new” before the question of what we really want to say, or what is needed to be said for the good of all.
J.S. Bach, one of history’s great musical geniuses, wrote under each of his compositions “soli deo gloria” (only for the glory of God), while he was working hard as a cantor and school teacher, producing a cantata for every Sunday service at his church, as well as composing numerous masterworks in all musical genres. In doing so he revolutionized the field of music—and was practically unknown until he was discovered 100 years later. Remarkably, his music is still making full impact on cultures across the planet today.
Hopi legend has it that at the beginning of their history the tribe was living in a lush country environment with rich harvests. The elders, when noticing that some people wanted to have more than they needed, decided to move the tribe into the most desolate place in the desert of Arizona, where they still are today. Over time the Hopi developed one of the most artistic and peace loving cultures in Native America, where art and ritual became part of daily life.
The American (or Western) culture has put the real “dreaming” (as in daily art making, ritual and play, not competing or product selling) on the bottom of the priority list and out of schools, even though science and history have shown that when you take that kind of dreaming away from people (or cultures), they die.
So, crossing the lines of segregation, of the rich and the poor, the haves and the have nots; moving art practice out into the open and away from of exclusivity, back into the streets, schools, and homes; making art motivated by compassion and empathy and not by the drive for success or money-making; creating space for daily dreaming-for-dreaming’s-sake on any level of social existence; these are my “dreams” for dealing with the social issue of cultural segregation (exclusivity and art capitalism). And I am calling on artists in all fields (and especially in dance, as it is humanity’s first and oldest art form and the art form available for Every Body at any time, in which the person IS the art) to wake up and take this matter into their own hands. It is the responsibility of art and artists to keep the dreaming alive for all people and to find ways to manifest it even if it goes against the grain of the market or industry. Ezra Pound defined the role of the artist as being the antenna of the culture into the future. I want to add that as the future “receivers” of the message sent by that antenna I see art-exposed, art-activated, art-engaged people in all sectors and all ages of society.
I went to my bank the other day to see if I could get a line of credit, sorely needed to deal with my debts and their high interests. I also wanted to wire some money to my daughter and her son, who is a dancer at age seven, performing with a contemporary dance company in France. While the banker was working on these projects she asked me about my daughter and her son and shared with me that she had wanted to be an artist all her life, but was talked out of the pursuit of that dream. While she appreciated having her job, she was not very happy doing it, and had recently taken up painting on her own account and had begun sharing her work on Instagram. This was what made her happy, and I could feel that happiness emanating from her, it was contagious and inspiring.
Riding the trolley to West Philadelphia, two young African American boys were practicing the art of rapping on their way home from school, and having a lot of fun. I felt lucky to have the gift of this experience of daily dreaming/art practice. I would not have had it driving my own car.