Peers: Responsibility, Jealousy, Difference

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Photo courtesy of Chisenhale Dance Space

“Can we just stop dancing around? Can we just put it on the table?”

On Thursday 21st June, I hosted a ‘Coffee Morning’ at Chisenhale Dance Space called ‘Peers: Responsibility, Jealousy & Difference’.

Run by Hamish MacPherson, these coffee mornings are a space for artists to discuss the politics and pragmatics of working in this industry. It was attended Angela Andrews, Simon Bowes, Maddy Costa, Sebastian Hau-Walker, Hamish Macpherson, David West and myself. Below are some notes from our discussion, that can hopefully reflect even a small part of its richness. Thanks to all who could stopped by.

Peers: Responsibility, Jealousy & Difference
The distinction between envy and jealousy: envy is when they have something you want, and jealousy is when you feel like them getting something might mean you’ll lose it. Who are we envious of? Can we see understand ourselves as the possible object of others’ envy? And what are we afraid of losing?Our envy might only apply to those to whom we can compare ourselves: it requires a certain amount of similarity for me to imagine that I might deserve the same. Who can’t we be envious of?

In/visibility
Our envy seems to be deeply tied into what we can see of those around us, and what remains hidden.
We work in an economy where it’s not often transparent as to why some people getting work, resources and opportunities; and others aren’t.
It’s not just the invisible privileges and resources people have; there’s also all the invisible labour, the invisible work. The work that doesn’t register as work – the care work, the domestic work. Time unable to work: grief, illness
Someone’s visible success might have been the product of long years of very quiet work and relationship building.

Non-envy
Do we want to be in it, or to change it? Experiencing envy of others is easier to feel than to imagine how we could change the system.
The lure of non-competitiveness, of peer-support, of giving back: but there are ways to subtly use gestures of selflessness for one’s own gain.
There are many withdrawals, refusals and disengagements across the arts. But are these private and public disavowals? Perhaps we need more public ones.
But whose refusal is registered? Whose silence is heard?
Who is allowed to be ambitious? Whose success is more likely to be seen as undeserved?

Living in the wrong
It seems like all these words: ‘responsibility’, ‘jealousy’, ‘difference’ are questions of ethics.
All the contradictions of looking for justice in an unjust world.
Nicholas Ridout, Passionate Amateurs – on understanding our labour within the contradictions of the contexts we’re working.
Maybe we’re need to broaden our envy to those working outside of the arts.
Maybe we just need to learning to live with it: the flash of envy on hearing another success, the seductive gratification of facebook likes.
Learn how to stop feeling envy of others and recognise that often these are ambitions that I don’t even have!

Success and failure
As people writing about art – do we fuel envy and jealousy?
It’s good that some work fails. It has a right to fail. We shouldn’t only program good work.
Are you able to get away with making bad work when you’re young?
Is there a certain age where you’re not allowed to make bad work anymore?
Who’s allowed to get away with it? Who’s allowed to be mediocre? Who must excel?
Privilege. Race gender class. Affirmative action policies.
Not being jealous of the straight white man; black woman are on top of the pile in terms of emotional intelligence.

Responsibility to turn up
What are our responsibilities to our peers – to see each others work?
Is this utopian, is this even possible? If I see your thing do you have to see mine?
Are we are obliged to engage with things we don’t like?
To see things with soft eyes: art needs us to be soft with it, to be willing to go along with it.
A responsibility perhaps to be looking at the arc of their practice, and not just this one show.

Responsibility to speak up
But also: to see with sharp eyes. To see when there’s a problem. And to speak up? #MeToo, and learning what it might mean to speak up about your friends.
Do we have a responsibility to say something, to speak openly about one another’s work? Sometimes we should just give support.
An obligation to respond is what leads to banal compliments in the bar. Am I always in the right position to be speaking about the work? Sometimes I’ve just got a shitty attitude.
Is it an obligation to speak, or an obligation to say what you think, or an obligation to critique?
Are these frank conversations, difficult conversations already happening – just in a quiet way, where we take one another to the side?
Speaking up to a friend’s about their racist performance. It requires us having a pre-existing relationship.
Maybe too easy to dump a friend if there’s a problem. More generous to speak up. A sense of long-term friendship, of supporting them to change.
And who has the luxury of dumping? The privilege of not having to deal with racist bullshit?
What are the repercussions of speaking up, what might be lost?
To speak up; but we’re all learning how to speak up.
Not all this work can be done all the time.

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