Dance, choreography, visual art, curating, set design – Julian Weber’s work is situated at the intersection of different formats, approaches and techniques, that inform and influence each other. In conversation with Jette Büchsenschütz, he talked about his current gallery project and about the formalistic aspect of his artistic work.
In August 2020 you founded New Fears – a gallery for dance and performance. What were your reasons for founding a gallery space for dance in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic?
I started to work on the gallery in spring 2020. A bit later, in the middle of the second lockdown in December 2020, I finally also found the space here in Berlin Wedding. Ever since I had moved to Berlin and joined the dance program at HZT, I have organized little events in many different off-spaces. I always enjoyed creating different frames and invite various people to see what they do in and out of it. So this interest in curating, hosting and bringing people together was always there. Over time I would more and more consider this expanded idea of curating as a part of my artistic practice.
First studying sculpture and installation in Braunschweig and Vienna and then moving into dance and choreography I find myself moving between the different contexts of a gallery, museum space and theater. Over the years this interest manifested in the idea of creating a platform, where those different approaches and techniques can meet – also because I realized that an exhibition space focusing on dance, performance and movement is missing. I like the idea of playing with all this different institutional codes, market conditions and mechanisms of fine arts on the one hand and dance and performance on the other. A gallery in the context of visual arts usually accompanies an artist for a longer period of time, where in the independent dance scene the support comes usually only for a shorter period of time, as it is related to project-based public founding.
How do you choose the artists you represent?
My idea was to create a platform for younger, emerging artists who I felt deserved more visibility and support for their work, that I in my limited means could maybe provide. There are currently eight artists represented by the gallery. I always invite two artists, one based in Berlin and one from somewhere else, for a micro residence of two weeks. They are not obliged to work together. My intention was rather to create a space where they could co-exist, with the possibility that some sort of organic relation and infection can develop. In addition to the two dancers, there is always a third person that responses to the choreographic work with a written text. The text is supposed to be a work by itself, published in a little print form, as something that lasts and to pass on despite the ephemeral and fleeting character of dance and performing art.
Under the title »No Hard Feelings« and for the »opening« of the gallery space you invited 18 dancers to perform alone for five hours in the gallery’s window over a period of three weeks. The audience could hang out and watch from the sidewalk – a freedom you hardly have in a theatrical space.
When we enter institutions our bodies are usually trained to behave in certain rules – how to talk, how to move, how to look. Here on the sidewalk an interesting collision happened between the informed audience that visited us intentionally and people from the neighborhood that passed by accidentally – people with very different perspectives and backgrounds met. Through this clash of course, friction, misunderstanding, confusions and maybe even aggressions can arise. But that is something you have to deal with when exposing yourself in this sort of semi-public space. It is a situation that is not possible to fully regulate and control. Luckily very few problematic or negative moments happened. Even though we couldn’t be in a protected space, there was a strong feeling of community and the socializing and observing in the cold outside became quite performative itself
This store front situation that puts dancing bodies on display is not a format I would have worked with if there would not have been this pandemic situation. The concept itself is very charged and questionable. Of course we could not ignore all the attachment that comes with it but it was neutralized by the fact that this was the only possible format right now.
Could your curatorial practice be understood as part of your artistic practice?
This intertwinement of choreographic and curatorial practice is something I started to address and define more in the last years. And it came very naturally because I always enjoyed inviting people with different artistic backgrounds or different approaches and generations to join my projects. Over the time, it naturally became a part of my artistic work. Instead of curating I usually prefer to just call it inviting or organizing. Sometimes it can be this simply inviting and coexisting, but usually it goes along with hosting, integrating the physicality and context of the location. Then it is more than simply placing things next to each other, but rather about establishing a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Starting points for many of your performances – including your most recent work Allongé – are sculptures or objects. What is it that interests you about this interrelation between bodies and objects?
The collision happens on several levels. One can be the space and the context the work is presented in. I very much enjoy creating situations where we can play with the various rules, patterns and habits that come with a theater, gallery or museum space. Thats why I’m not necessarily against these agreements, I rather find their history and what kind of perspectives they create fascinating and enjoy challenging them. I further like to use those different contexts, logistics and practicalities as actual material – to address or even to expose them, to drag out what usually happens behind the curtain and make it visible. So usually all the people I’m working with are on stage: light designer, musicians, technicians also participate and perform in certain ways.
The second level concerns the relationships and hierarchies between objects and subjects. I deal with philosophical approaches like Object-Oriented Ontology and New Materialism, which rejects the privileging of human existence over the existence of nonhuman objects. Who or what has agency? I consider the materials and objects on stage as a driving force of movement. At the same time, I love to create a dialogue between objects and human bodies that allows both to mutually inform each other in a non-hierarchical way.
While watching »Allongé« I was constantly wondering: are the objects shaping and changing the bodies or, vice versa, the body the objects?
In this particular work, I was relating to the sculptural oeuvre of Constantin Brâncuşi. He could be considered as rather traditional in his way of working with and choosing materials. I was very interested in looking at his sculptural approach from a performative point of view. How could it be made useful for dance and choreography? How can different bodies – and I would consider both humans and objects as bodies – and their textures inform and influence each other? And on the more conceptual level: How are ideas that are manifested in an object able to transcend and go beyond their originally intention? What happens in processes of translation on a bodily and on a material level? Translation always means mutation.
That is a very recurring strategy that I have been using for long with something I would call »declination«. How many different possibilities do we have to approach a body or an object? How to unfold all these different meanings and possibles that one single object includes? I like to apply this strategy of declination also on myself, considering myself to be different things simultaneously: a sculptor, a dancer, an organizer, a set designer, a host, and so on.
Dance as a form of sculpting? Would you say you have a very formalistic approach to bodies and to choreography?
I very much enjoy bringing formalistic approaches into collision with organic, fluent and also vulnerable bodies. My way of attending questions of volume, composition and color definitely comes from the sculptor point of view. But I’m more interested in how a very formalistic approach can still come along and even merge with dramatic, expressive, brutal and maniac physicality. I think a formalistic perspective can even be enhanced by bodies going through intense psychical and emotional states and vice versa.