A Habitat is a joint, a common working space, which we create by working and observing others at work. It lasts from five to seven days. Insofar (by July 2021), six Habitats have taken place.
Habitat is about giving a home, even a transitory one, to personal artistic practices in performing arts. To keep Habitat free it exists with the support of institutions that offer a space, accommodation, food if possible. The extended vision of Habitat is, that one could apply to join a Habitat happening somewhere in Europe on any week of the year. To work on following one’s interest, amongst like-minded others, in mutual respect and awareness.
The basic ideas of Habitat are:
– co-creating such a working space as we need in that moment, with dedicated work and with consideration for ourselves and others. This working space will then be our natural Habitat.
– watching others at working a constructive, benevolent way, while creating our own opinion about what they are doing, in this way enriching our own work - learning to guide our own working process in a concentrated and genuine way, while accepting being watched by others.
– The emphasis of Habitat is on a practical / experiential part of the working process.
Habitat is free – it’s not to be paid for, and you are not paid for doing it. No one guides it, no one “teaches” it. You simply come to the space and begin working, each on one’s own. Next to others, doing the same as you. You can stay for as long as you like, you can come and go several times a day, you can come only every 2nd day. No one, except your own sensitivity, will tell you what you can do, or what you mustn’t do. Habitat is an offering of time, space and the support of a focused environment for your work on what interests you. What that is will become clear as you look back on the week, after the Habitat is over.
Habitat comes out of years of living and working on the road, self-learning, the daily work of a dancer, often without regular working conditions. From not wanting to network systematically for the sake of it, but being very much interested in what others do, who think/live along similar lines.
It also comes out of meeting (and sometimes failing to meet) those challenges that come with continuously working on the road. Working alone. The realities of a self-employed artist’s life. Out of noticing structures and situations that support one’s working process and can perhaps also serve to support mine. There’s also that instructive and repeatedly interesting question: “What now, where do I continue, how to keep this going?”
Habitat is a suggestion of a minimal structure for a group of individuals to create a shared working environment, one moment at a time, by working. It’s a way for them to tune to a shared frequency, by being sensitive to their own needs and the needs of others they cohabitate with. At the end of the working period, what was created through this sensitivity is therefore the working conditions then required for that group of people.
A home to practices
Habitat is also about giving a home, even a transitory one, to personal artistic practices in performing arts. These practices can very generally also be called improvisational, or process oriented work – where the focus of the work is the process itself. A performance or a public presentation of this work is to expose the process; as oppose to presenting the results, separated from the process itself.
Practices have been “happening” for a while and process oriented performance work has been taking off again lately. But they don’t yet have their own home, nor their own public within the institution of performing art.
It can be said, that the practice of improvisation is about seeing what already is, and how to make the most of it in order to survive the situation. Which is also the spirit of this time –isn’t that what the refugees are doing? And isn’t that also what (on a different scale) many artists, that don’t work in the subsidized machinery of art production, are forced into?
The idea of Habitat is, that the existing structures, organizations, educational institutions with their own spaces and infrastructure, would for a period of 5-7 days a year offer their space for a Habitat to take place. This way anybody, who keeps their own practice going and whose work is focused on the process itself, could through the internet check for any particular week of the year, where in Europe there is a space where they can do their work undisturbed. They’d sign up for it and on arrival meet others there, who work in a similar way. A working space would always be available somewhere. In theory, one could continuously work all year round, by following the temporary homes of Habitat, from one community to another.
In Habitat, each participant follows their own interest while observing others do the same. For to keep going in the long run, it’s essential to stay interested in what one is doing. Following one’s interest as it changes can be challenging. It requires courage, motivation, the ability to reinvent. What interests us does change, or else it’s us that change through learning and unlearning, or both. At some point we get to the end of what we know, walking into the unknown, passing through boredom, lostness, repetition, to a renewed interest. In a shared working process, individual concentrations add up. As do the disturbances – the different phases of individual development cycles are sure to overlap.
It’s as important to clearly state what is NOT possible in the scheme of Habitat.
It’s not possible for someone to begin organizing additional group structures within Habitat, propose workshops, or propose to guide a Habitat from any one artistic or aesthetic viewpoint. It’s not possible to fill-in that space, which is available for anyone to work on their interest and their practice. Habitat is not a place to develop stage-work, or do joint work with a focus that will exclude you from the environment. If the nature of a personal practice asks for a duet, trio or a group within Habitat, I (we) practice with a sensibility to the space and the others in it. It’s not a shared studio, where several “projects” happen side by side. It’s not even a place to learn from others by being led/taught, by following labs.
Habitat is not necessarily a group thing, though it can be that, too. It can even be some of the above, as long as what is done is done with continuous responsiveness and sensitivity to the environment.
Habitat is a place where communication and negotiation happens first and foremost without words; and our actions should be such that we can “hear” that. Meeting others socially is of course possible, but is not necessary and mite not happen at all, as some people might prefer it that way, for them.
Habitat proposes, that through listening and working, structures happen and also dissolve spontaneously, continuously. This valuable emptiness is there for a reason, nothing else should aim to take its place. In the same way, no one should determine the way the space should be organized, since it is essentially self-organized, through the listening of myself and others.
Not-knowing and being-attentive-to-what-is-there are two essential parts of learning through experience. Without them, Habitat might become just one of the already existing artistic or pedagogic structures. If due to circumstances it happens to change its basic identity, it should also be given another name.
As written above, a Habitat is always free – it’s not to be paid for, and you are not paid for doing it. Ideally, what should be sponsored by the host are the actual needs: food (but not per-diems) could be offered, the travel could be refunded, technical support could be given, accommodation could be offered (hopefully at the working space or else with the local community).
learning by observing others; supporting the work of others by watching them, giving them an opportunity to practice attention while they are being observed; recognizing/generating ideas about what we see
The idea of Habitat also supposes, that it’s interesting to observe somebody following their interest while they are conscious of being looked at. At that particular moment the observed simultaneously see themselves from the outside (with the eyes of the observer), and feel themselves from the inside. This skill is very useful for on-stage performance (whatever the “stage” happens to be). Habitat offers a situation for practicing performing.
An observer creates credibility for the doer, which in turn gives importance to the observer. An observer needs to make up their own mind about what it is they are observing. In this way, a space and an importance is given to what isn’t known to the observer. In a sensitive space, all influences all. Those present keep shifting through the roles of doer and observer. As a Habitat participant, I shouldn’t aspire to “give something to the space”, to “do something for others”, in order for us to “become a group”. We are a group already, supporting each other by working together, side by side, in an attentive way. The above also goes for sound/voice/music, if created as an attempt for a common denominator, as an accompaniment, or as a tool for “adding energy” to the space. The music, as any outside instruction or noise, covers so much of what already is, in/around us.
offering an audience a chance to learn to watch this kind of work
On one of the working days (in Ljubljana Habitat it’ll be on a Friday) the doors are announced as “open”and the “outside” visitors are invited to come watch us work. (note: the doors are actually open to observers at any time during Habitat; but only for a few hours during the event is this publicly announced.) To a newcomer (self-perceived either as an observeror as an auditor), Habitat offers the possibility of learning about watching. During the week, a viewer can make the passage: from the possibility and an educated wish of observing what has been “made”, or what they should be seeing; towards observing the process of becoming in its multi-layered-ness, the process of searching, the practice of continuous attention while being observed. It’s the opposite of voyeurism, since the object of observation agrees to being watched, because being watched a part of their score. If this relation of the two already is a performance, it’s one where the doer works to stay true to their momentary processand does not give in to (works with) the tendency for its representation. The wider reaching utopian vision of Habitat is to seduce and bring the wider public to a place, where they would seek to watch process-focused artistic work. Where they would know how to recognize the finesse in it and would generate the patience needed to witness something in-becoming.
***Written and posted in May 2018, this text is based on the open call to apply for the June 2018 Ljubljana Habitat.