As the second in a series of articles on the future of the museum, an interview with the French dancer and choreographer Boris Charmatz on his museum of dance. Whether or not it will ever come about doesn’t matter so much. What’s more important is that the questions it raises sharpen our thinking on the museum.
‘“Museum” is indeed a loaded word, but it seems I like this kind of word. When I did the Bocal project [a nomadic school in the period 2002-2004 – ed.] all my friends suggested I could better call it a “laboratory”, “experimental research group”, or even a “one year workshop”. But what I really wanted was to explore the institution of the school itself, not a by-product. Of course, it was a school that was on fire, the walls were all movable. But it was a school, and naming it a school made it a real one. Don’t you think that we, as artists and curators with wild wings, should not let these loaded terms that describe our institutions simply function by themselves, while we criticize them? If you don’t care about politics, politics takes care of you, right? It’s the same with museums, schools, cultural policies: If we don’t put our hands on them, they will simply go on, without real artistic daring.
And another thing about the word “museum”: one might first think about art’s use of the term, but there are also museums for natural history, for wooden clogs or, even if rarely, museums about decolonization. In art, the term is indeed deeply loaded, but I am a dancer, educated as such, oriented since I was very young in this way of perceiving and thinking. Therefore a museum, in the strange word combination of the “Musée de la Danse”, is not so loaded at all for me. Isn’t it rather an absent ghost that almost never has shown up in the history of dance? Of course, there are some museums in the world called “danse museet” or “museo de la danza”, but none of them are busy with the kind of identification and validation of practices that is being done in the field of the visual arts.
With the Musée de la Danse, we do not directly address the issue of the museum of modern art per se (though I am also intrigued by the moment in history when the possibility of a museum for contemporary art was invented), because we want to embrace the Greek definition of the term (“a space to welcome the muses”) as well as the exotic possibility of realizing an explorative, mental building site of what a Musée de la Danse could be and could provoke.
I am a dancer, (or I pretend to be, and that’s enough). This is why, while trying to define a new type of public space for dance in the wider sense, I was impressed by the limitations of institutionalized spaces for dance, which are mainly theatres and schools. Pushing another door open was an opportunity to explore a black hole in the history of dance, not an attempt to place dance within a rich and powerful museum tradition.
Some people will laugh at the idea of a museum of dance, since it seems somewhere between a joke and a desire for recognition, for joining the establishment, or even for money (in France, art centres are poor in comparison with museums). The truth is that a museum would be the most interesting place to experiment, observe, reflect on dance, even to practice dance. A place that offered space, but more than anything offered the availability of time to viewers, researchers and artists – to have time to experiment with an enlarged vision of what dance could be, to escape the time of theatres and schools. We still need to invent this time-space. It is a kind of luxury to have a museum-in-progress! A fragile one, to be sure. We feel a direct kinship to museums such as that in the Lebanese city of Khiam, a former detention camp that was turned into a museum of the occupation and torture, and was later destroyed by the Israeli army during the last war. Most museums grow bigger and bigger, stronger and stronger, but a museum of dance has fragility in its genes.Finally, we are also inspired by the various museums founded by artists: Marcel Broodthaers’s Museum of Modern Art, Department of Eagles, Kurt Schwitters’ museum in his apartment, the Merzbau, or Thomas Hirschhorn’s Musée Précaire Albinet, or the one you mentioned to me last time, Mathías Goeritz's Museo Experimental El Eco, in Mexico. There are many more of these interesting gestures by artists who do not stay mute in front of the big walls of the institutions. Such great projects are making our first mental step possible.’
Cosmin Costinas is curator at BAK, Utrecht
On the website www.muséedeladanse.org, excerpts from the eponymous manifesto can be found.
Boris Charmatz’s newest choreography, Levée des Conflits, is premiering on 8 October during Manifesta 8 in Murcia. The performance will subsequently be presented on 4, 5 and 6 November in Rennes, during the Festival Mettre en Scène in the Théâtre National de Bretagne.