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A tribute to Odak and Saskia

By Dorinthe de Man & Christos Alexiou

Editing by Calina van der Velden & Esther Beunis

In his well-known sociological study The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, Marcel Mauss analyzed the social mechanics of the gift-giving process. In short, he concluded that gift-giving is a self-repeating system, based on mutual exchanges. It is constituted by three obligations; The obligations “to give”, “to receive” and “to repay.” A gift enforces a relationship based on mutual interests. Taking this into account we started contemplating what gift we could return to Odak and Saskia after they have been so gracious to us from the day we met.

What comes to mind when thinking of Odak and Saskia is their close engagement with a variety of people in different disciplines and a unique balance between careful planning and spontaneity. They welcomed us with open arms and not only invited but insisted us to join them every step of the way in order to create a balanced collaboration. This open invitation is key to the way LINK works. They exclude no one and we experienced first hand how even with the youngest children they aim for dialogue and input from everyone. Knowing all this, how do we pay tribute to Odak and Saskia for the opportunity they have given us to become part of their life work?

In the process of thinking of an appropriate gift, we realized that first of all our blog is a gift, fulfilling one of the first questions Odak and Saskia asked namely to reflect on their work by holding up a mirror to their actions. By engaging in multiple projects we tried to provide a birds-eye view to their work. However, this blog was a given from the get go. Therefore, we went on thinking about what else could serve as our symbolic gift.

Many of the activities and projects LINK takes part in take place outdoors. Eventually we believed that planting a tree in the playground (one of the projects we collected the quadruple bike for!) would be the perfect symbolic gift. Even the biggest tree started from a tiny seed. When circumstances are right, roots and branches will spread, making new organic connections every day. Network and connection are two core principles LINK thrives on. Throughout our blog we have tried analyzing these connections as intrinsic to the organization. We met the Vuyani Dance Company, Swedish students, people from the Noordse Park Playground and of course everyone who attended our final event, the Dance Encounter. We wouldn’t have met any of these inspiring people if it wasn’t for LINK.

We became aware that that newly forged relationships require investment in order to maintain them. This investment is similar to the care you have to take for a tree. It requires love and attention to be able to grow. Odak and Saskia taught us that it is important to create sustainable relationships with the people you work with. Their enormous network has grown to its current proportion because of their enthusiasm and the work invested in it. If you don’t keep in touch with the others in your network the branch will die off and might even impact the rest of the tree.

However, it is important to prune a tree every now and then. Odak and Saskia have shown us that there are moments when a project can stand on its own. The project is left, to prevent it, so to speak, from becoming a too heavy branch. The tree needs to be in balance in order for it to grow. We have likewise let go of our close cooperation with LINK as well, with new projects and internships coming up. However good bye doesn’t mean farewell.

Bibliography

Mauss, M. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies. London, New York: Routledge (2002): 105-106.

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Social Vectors: Amateurs and Professionals

By Esther Beunis & Dorinthe de Man

A few weeks ago we started to explore the term artefact in relation to LINK itself and its activities. We found that the term can be applied in different ways related to a variety of perspectives. This week we will discuss the social vectors that influence LINK as an organisation and its initiators Odak and Saskia, being the motor and beating heart behind it. We will examine the role of any meaningful social construct related to this project with particular emphasis on the five senses.

The last project we participated in was the Dance Encounter. Here we were confronted with the social difference between amateurs and professionals. When Saskia wanted to upload the invitation to this encounter on a dance website in Utrecht, her request was denied because the page was supposed to be ‘for professionals only’. However, amateurs approached us on Facebook thinking they were not eligible to participate because of a lack of skills. Apparently our invitation had failed in making the event seem inclusive to both professionals and amateurs. This is a shame because it was our specific aim to organise the event in this inclusive manner in order to connect strangers through dance, regardless of experience and create an open space for communication through movement.

What could have caused distorted understanding of what dance is and whom it is for in the first place; miscommunication. However, we go even further by stating that today we see such a clear gap between daily life and art that some people might feel very distant from artistic practices. Today in the Netherlands art is something that for many people is not part of their daily life and can even feel alien or out of reach. This is one the one hand caused by the institutionalization of art, for example museums, which are not accessible for everyone because they are costly to visit. On the other hand there is a discourse surrounding the art world that makes it often seen as something ‘elitist’. This is exactly what community art projects and/or the participatory arts try to dismiss by actively engaging people in the arts regardless of experience or background. An activity like the Dance Encounter was supposed to be an example of a community art project that would cross this abyssal line between the people and the arts. Unfortunately we found it is not as simple as that.

Some research led us to ethnographer Andriy Nahachewsky who makes a distinction between participatory and presentational dance. He makes a difference between “those who participate spontaneously in dancing … without pre-planning or rehearsing- and those who present their dance in a planned effort”. He then states that in participatory dance the main focus is on how it feels to dance, whereas presentational dance focuses on how it looks. Presentational dance would be more focused on the eyes, in contrast to participatory dance, that is more related to emotions than to the senses.

The difficulty that thus arose in our situation was that most people associate dance with presentational dance that makes it distant, out of reach. Presentational dance requires expertise that many of those whom we addressed do not have. Therefore we need to advocate for a revision of how society sees art and thus also dancing. Of course there will always be a distinction between professionals and amateurs but that does not mean that it does not allow one to move spontaneously together in order to create a feeling of community and shared emotion.

In our Dance Encounter we focused on the social aspect of how dance can connect people who live closely together but do not regularly meet or talk. We wanted to stimulate connection through movement. What we have learned from this event is that on the one hand people who participated appreciated it beyond our expectation. The evening was filled with laughter and we shared stories that normally we would not have known. And we are all a bit wiser about Greek folk dancing thanks to Christos! Another epiphany was that no matter how much you believe in your own project, it does not mean that it is always as clear to others what you want. It takes time, requires effort and often needs a change of mind of the people in the neighbourhood. We don’t feel as if we have failed but rather we have planted a seed that has a lot of potential to grow!

Bibliography

Nahachewsky, A. ‘Participatory and Presentational Dance as Ethnochoreological Categories’. Dance Research Journal 27, no.1: 1-15.

 

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Text by Christos Alexiou
Editing and media by Dorinthe de Man

Yesterday, we completed the last part of our engagement with Link. The final “product” was a Dance Encounter we collaboratively created with Saskia and the stakeholders of Het Wilde Westen, the theatre that hosted the event. Our main quote was “lead and follow” an idea which had numerous connotations to the nature and context of the previous encounter (instructed by the Vuyani dance theater). Connections which we wanted to establish, so they could be used as a fundamental cornerstone for any future encounters/workshops.

First we had to define our position towards the different target groups (age, people from the community or other neighborhoods, professionals or amateurs) which we wanted to openly invite. We concluded that the context of our dance encounter should had something new and relatively attractive. The idea about me instructing Greek traditional dances as an introduction in the form of a workshop emerged instantly, despite my (internal) hesitations. The goal for us was to use the traditional dances as an impulse for the participants to create their own patterns of movement and express themselves according to the music.

My main concern about the dance encounter was my feeling of incompetence to teach. Despite the fact that I had past experience with dance instructing, I did not know how to “culturally” translate portions of the folklore Greek culture and instruct it to people that were not familiar with the music, the dances and the lyrics. How could someone transcend culturally specific practices to people outside their own cultural context? How could I transform my embodied knowledge of the culture and share it with people to the extent that they could comprehend it and  “make it their own experience”?

It was later clear to me that the most suitable way to present the Greek traditional dances was by  trying to represent the idea and the feelings that I have about the culture. Therefore I  decided before to not only explain the historical and sociological context of the specific(from which the dance was originated) region but also to present the correlation between the movement of the dances and the environment(landscape preferably) to which they still occur. I realized that by presenting both the impressions about the landscapes and the sociological/historical context, the participants would gain the necessary information  to create their own interpretations about the “entity” of the culture.

Another element I tried to inculcate to the participants, was the diversity of the culture. I believed that, in order, to understand the mosaic of the Greek folklore culture, he or she had to experience as many examples as possible. Thence I instructed 4 different dances from different regions with different backgrounds -throughout the vague lineages of time- and  influences in their music and  movement.

Generally, I believe that the dance encounter had an important impact to the perspectives of my “co-dancers”. Even if some of them never had past experience with dance before, all of them enjoyed the activity and the ambience it was generated. Based on my perspective about  the traditional  dances it is not important if one is a good dancer of not. All that matters in the orbital dances is the feeling of dancing together no matter our dance competences, because within a cycle everyone is equal and part of the group. As Margaret Lock and Nancy Scheper-Hughes stated “we may reasonably assume, that all people share at least some intuitive sense of the embodied self as existing apart from other individual bodies” (1996 [1990]: 45). I suggest that the example of cyclical dances because of their “nature” can help an individual understand –if not completely interpret- this statement and position him/herself as social entity among others.

For a clip of the dance encounter click here or here.

 

Dance Encounter in Process

Text by Calina van der Velden
Editing by Dorinthe de Man

The last period we have been living through the process of  making the Dance Encounter happen. Through meetings in which we tried to pick each others brains and get a clear vision of what we wanted and needed, more and more clarity arose. It was decided that Christos’s background in Greek folkdance would be our inspiration. He has developed himself into quite a charismatic teacher at that!

Moreover we realized that our intention to get professional as well as non-experienced dancers together would be a greater challenge than expected. From the side of the amateur dancers, we had the threat of coming across as too experienced. Which would give them the impression of a too high threshold to partake. On the other hand for professional dancers, the way we profiled ourselves proved to be not professional enough. It seems that symbolic capital is very important to this group. By making a name for the Dance Encounters this group will be more accessible in the future.

Part of thinking about the encounter was presenting for our peers. In this presentation we could explain our impressions of Link and reflect. Moreover we saw that the Dance Encounter functioned like some sort of climax to which our collaboration was working toward all along without us realizing. Getting to know, understand and trust each other was perquisite to being able to organize such an event. It was like the Dance Encounter was the final test to very what we had felt all along. That the way Link works is by making connections without clear expectations, but with the knowledge that each person you touch can touch you too. This reciprocal trust makes it possible to work ad-hoc and in the moment. This is something that is so foreign and so valuable to the way many institutions work. Not every moment can be planned, for it to be just right it needs to happen here and now.

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Artefact volume 4: LINK as a melting pot

Text and editing by Dorinthe de Man

LINK is based in the Nutrecht building. A space that wants to combine living, learning and working. The building provides a space for young people who have a passion they want to follow and a space for existing entrepreneurs who look for new inspiration. The inhabitants of the NUtrecht building are very diverse, such as brewers, shoemakers, dancers and theatremakers. LINK being part of that creative melting pot is not really surprising based on the information we have gathered about them so far. LINK wants to be a melting pot full of creative people that they can link together to stimulate even more creativity. However LINK wants to keep the melting pot as open as possible, they do not want to have strict rules about the links they make or the events they organize or participate in.

One of the spaces within the NUtrecht building illustrates this openness as well. Since the NUtrecht building used to be a garage for busses and trains there are some giant halls within the building. One of these halls is used as a creative hub that all the NUtrecht inhabitants can use in any way they want. The walls of the hall are covered in graffiti that is changing all the time. Furthermore the hall is mainly empty to give as much space to the inhabitants as possible. When you stand in this hall you can almost feel the possibilities swirl around you. It seems to smell like creativity. This same sensory feeling is what LINK stands for. A hurricane of unlimited possibilities sparkling with creativity with LINK as the centre or eye of the storm.

The NUtrecht building can be seen as both a tangible and an intangible artefact. The building itself with the big halls is a tangible artefact. An object made or modified by human workmanship, as opposed to one formed by natural processes. However the creative buzz that is whirling through the building is intangible, a non-material human construct.

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Artefact volume 3: The Big Yellow Quadruple Bike

Text and image by Calina van der Velden

Editing by Dorinthe de Man

To me the bike we collected would be a suitable artefact, understood as an object made by human workmanship, to learn more about Link. Let’s start from the beginning, the bike itself came into being through bricolage. Its parts have had a purpose before becoming part of the big yellow quadruple bike. This is similar to Saskia and Odak who have different backgrounds that shape Link. The bike had functioned in parades and made connections and a name. Now, having lost its purpose for studio Boctor, the yellow bike is adopted by the playground.

The act of taking the bike to the playground already constituted new relations. From the people in the streets to curious kids in the playground. The surrounding network continues to grow and plans are made to put it on the road. When standing still on the playground the big yellow bike is also in function. By having kids (big and small) interact with it, new connections are found. Like Link the bike is a connecting factor, representing freedom and feeling the wind in your hair, experiencing no boundaries.

The features of the big yellow bike can further be extended as a metaphor for Link. Since it is a double tandem bike, this points toward collaboration and working together in sync. The fact that the bike is pulling a cart stands for investing energy into someone/thing else and having a common cause. Moreover the bike represents freedom and movement, expanding your boundaries and connections. The bike lastly is a means for play. Play is crucial for Link, it is a connecting factor throughout their work, whether it is related to dance, theater or music. These characteristics are represented in the image below.

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Artefact volume 2: LINK as Artefact

Text by Esther Beunis

Editing by Dorinthe de Man

As critical ethnographers our aim is to produce meaning from our investigation of LINK’s work. This way, we inscribe their work with a reflection of the meaning we have created ourselves. Therefore it is important to be very clear how we go about this. For one, we have and still are trying to immerse ourselves directly within their situation, forging our relationship and engage through participation. To make meaning out of this, one way is to find artefacts that can help us illustrate our insights.

From the different definitions that exist explaining what an artefact is or can be, I have chosen to work with the idea of it being a non-material human construct, not directly visible to the eye but influential nonetheless. I will be referring to LINK as artefact in the sense that Odak and Saskia operate in projects that came into existence for the most part because of their network. How that network functions is not easy to pin down as it is not a tangible and/or visible object, but it is nevertheless crucial to understand and acknowledge it as a powerful tool that influences the physical outcome of LINK’s day to day work. Without the investigation of LINK as artefact, it would be impossible to get an overall sense of its functioning within their sociocultural context.

To understand how LINK operates it is crucial to analyze their network in order to make meaning of their eventual activities. Sometimes an activity is organized solely on the basis of bringing people together who otherwise might never have met each other. What is important to state is that so far what we have learned from our hosts is that they prefer to not strictly organize these events. This way they avoid creating boundaries that would direct the event in a preconceived manner. An important feature of the work is essentially ‘place making’. To become part of the network and to co-create meaning within the field where LINK operates we have decided to co-organize and host an event. This event will serve as a platform where people can meet and communicate in new ways. By doing this we will become more immersed and extra confident to speak about the eventual effect of these practices. The idea is to organize a Dance Encouter on January the 23rd in the Cereol Factory in Utrecht. Through this event this space can eventually become a place, inscribed with meaning by the people who have and will attend in the future. This is a tangible effect created by the artefact that LINK in and of itself is.

So far, the idea of LINK as artefact can thus be translated into the invisible web they spin by meeting people, and making place for people to meet each other. This invisible human construct is what underlies the eventual outcomes of the events as such and simultaneously opens up space for new events to occur.

Artefact volume 1: Artefact (ˈɑːtɪˌfækt) or Artifact

Text by Christos Alexiou

Editing by Dorinthe de Man

This week’s blog entry is going to be revolved around an easy question with a complicated answer. An answer which  transformed through the ages and still has room for further development and questioning. If we could write it simply. What is an artifact? What do we mean by the term artifact? Is something tangible or not? Does an object has to have a specific “age” ,so it could be classified as artifact? Who is the most suitable to characterize and define something as an artifact?

For the term artifact the Oxford English Dictionary provides 3 definitions a) An object made or modified by human workmanship, as opposed to one formed by natural processes, b) An excavated object that shows characteristic signs of human workmanship or use and c) A non-material human construct. But which term is the most suitable for the case of Link? As we suggested before Link is an organization that operates through and in different networks. A process which does not stop enriching preexisted networks (or a network) with new “nodes” and relationships, as creating new ones when the chance occurs. I suggest that the notion of artifact could be implemented to different outcomes of our collaboration with Link.

Firstly, the network of Link can be characterized as an artifact, although it is an intangible artifact. In fact it could not even have been an artifact for us, if we had not used different ideas of network theory to create the conceptual context of Links network. Furthermore, as artifact one could characterize  our blog, in which one can observe our cooperation with Link, and our reflections on that collaborative process. The blog constitutes a Lineage, from our first days with the organization and our attempts to define its role to the present days where we are still deciphering (with deeper knowledge and more information) its contribution to the socio-cultural domain.

In conclusion, I suggest that an artifact is not a notion predetermined, it is mainly a conceptual construct. An idea, which reinforces the meaning with which we enrich specific intangible or tangible “products”. More specifically, just because many theories exist about the definition of an artifact we have the “power” to characterize something as an artifact or not. Then automatically we define this “product” and empower its meaning.

 

Started from the bottom now we’re here

Written by: Esther Beunis

Time for teambuilding!
To improve our personal connection with Odak and Saskia and to force ourselves in a different situation outside of LINK we decided to go climb the Dom tower!

Symbolically this climb was supposed to reflect our journey and in a sense it became the perfect metaphor. The trip started with an element of surprise; what are we going to do? Followed by excitement and nervousness (especially since one of us is afraid of heights!) This is similar to how our first meeting last block went with LINK.

The climbing was physically tough and simultaneously informative because at different points we were taught the history of the tower by our guide. Likewise our journey with LINK consists of several steps and stops where we learn and analyze.

Once we arrived at the top, we realized that even though we had reached the goal of climbing to the top, the view was nothing like we expected. It was amazing, yet still foggy. Saskia noted how some streets she thought were straight, were actually curved! This is a nice metaphor for how at one point we might feel we have the complete overview of what LINK is but that does not mean that this will be a reflection of our initial expectations. Therefore, once we have established the full picture, we should not be expecting far reaching views, it might still be foggy.

The climb down I see as the unravelling of the bowl of yarn (like Donna Haraway depicted the untangling of society). It is possible to take the yarn apart, however resistance will be created and some nodes might be more intertwined than others.

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Giraffes lighting fireworks

Written by Christos Alexiou
Media and Editing by Esther Beunis

 “No one is afraid of the heights,they are afraid of falling down

                                                                                  -Kurt Cobain-

Last week was really beneficial for our connection with Link and their work as an organization. We managed to enrich our knowledge of their network and collected more insights to their work as we did not only participate in their activities but “created” one together ourselves.

On a foggy Wednesday afternoon we took the bus and traveled tos an elementary school in one of Utrecht’s suburbs. I must admit that I felt nervous, because I was not feeling comfortable of being in a class with kids without even being able to communicate with them. How could I break the language barriers? How could I change the characterization of my presence as an “outsider” for them and lastly how could I justify my role –in the classroom-to the parents? These questions were constantly bugging me until the time we entered the room and took off our shoes. Then Odak and Saskia invited us to play games with the kids -all together a group- something that certainly changed the kids curiosity towards “the strangers” and made them –in my opinion- more familiar with the idea of accepting us in their space. As our participation continued, another element was added to the total idea which will unveil the mystery concerning the role of Link. Another node to the complex network was being revealed to me. How can two people -who constitute this organization- be so creative? How can they adapt their knowledge of theater and dance and use it so they can teach kids so easily? What is their perspective? Why did they choose this path? That moment I realized that if we wanted even more insights on Links role, work and identity we would have to reinforce our connection within Links network and the best chance for us was a field trip.

The next day I woke up with an electric wave of excitement rushing through my body, not only because we were going to meet Odak and Saskia in a different context than usual, but also because we were going to climb the Dom tower with them:

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Written by Esther Beunis

There are a few words I would like to add to the experience just shared by Christos. What I believe is important is that we found a piece of purpose in the (net)work of LINK. To me what stood out from this specific event is the direct attempt of Odak and Saskia to be involved in the neighborhood. Their effort being a catalyst for social change and intensified cohesion.

We were invited to come to OBS Jules Verne where they set up a project to gather with children after school for one hour each week during a period of six weeks. The need for such a program was born after finding that many parents do not have the time to undertake after-school activities. This program costs only €3,- per child for six lessons. Many children wished to attend so that several groups had to be formed. We participated in a class for children between the ages of 7-10.

The gathering was held in the gym of OBS Jules Verne, a space for exercise, learning through movement but above all fun! The chaos of a group of around fifteen young children running around overly excited is indescribable. With deep admiration I saw how Odak and Saskia gradually got the attention of the children in a playful matter. What stood out for me is how they attempted to devote equal attention to each one of them. Whenever one tried to speak out about something they gave him or her the chance to do so and made all the others listen. The class was very interactive and active participation was stimulated. The idea of the class was essentially that, I believe. To give attention and acknowledge the children for who they are. Simultaneously they are taught to listen to others and creatively think about how they want to spend the time they have together. I do not often spend time around children this age and got inspired by their endless imagination and fearlessness to speak out. Once again I noticed how kindhearted, open and endlessly enthusiastic our hosts are. Every day they are spending their energy and time trying to improve their neighborhood and the lives of others. Little by little the network of LINK’s activities reveals itself to us. Now let the unraveling begin!

p.s. the title of this blogpost was the answer of one of the children to the question what he or she wanted to perform next week. This is a good example of the unlimited imagination we experienced.

The week after we were present, the children performed a final show where the neighborhood, their parents and loved ones could see what they have been up to. Together with the kids the theme ‘party in an aquarium’ was chosen.

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