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PARA - a Model for Para Institutional Practices

PARA is a model to re-think and practice ideas of a contemporary institution in the context of a northern field. The notion of a northern region in this context does not refer to cultural or ethnic categories, but addresses a field defined by geographical acreage and socio-political conditions.
The structure currently consists of app. 40 partners based in Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, active in the fields of performing arts, architecture, theory and visual arts.

PARA understands itself as an archive where artistic work is accumulated, negotiated and mediated. The aim of the archive is to implement the work of its partners in a public sphere. A parallel objective is to conduce to the production of a field of performing arts connecting the home bases of the partners.
The archive will be activated in two annual arrangements: 1) A public conference consisting of both artistic and discursive work. 2) One internal meeting, where the activities and objectives are evaluated and updated. Both the events will ambulate between the home bases of the partners. PARA will also produce a yearly publication, reflecting the artistic and discursive trajectories of its activities.

Conference (Denmark 14-16 November 2019)
During 2018 PARA has arranged a number of preparatory gatherings to discuss and define objectives and organisational models. In 2019 the organisation will open in its public form

The first arrangement is a conference 14-16 November. The three-day program will be a mix of conversations and workshops in the daytime, reflected through a program of performances and installations in the evenings. The program departs from the artistic work of our partners, meeting the work of a group of invited local artists. We are currently discussing alternatives for the location, balancing the pro's and con's of capital cities and rural regions.

For the discursive program each conference will invite 3-4 international theoreticians and artists. This group will not be asked to give individual keynotes, but invited to constitute the core of a continuous conversation functioning as the backbone of the arrangement. Rather than looking for concluding and/or explanatory thematic notions of the conference, we aim to define a system of references as an interface connecting and positing the various works with each other. The discursive trajectory will address the concept of art production as a relation between Art-as-Practice and Art-as-Object. More specific notions, as well as what guests to invite in this context, will be defined in communication between the working groups over the next couple of months.

The artistic program will not be a curated selection, but rather a collection from the partners existing production where each of us decides autonomously how to engage with the context of the structure. In advance of the conference we will communicate with institutions, venues as well as educations, from the Nordic field of performing arts with the aim to include peers, researchers, students and teachers as participants in the conference.

A central idea is to defy the idea of artistic practice and theory as two separate categories. The aim of the conference is to initiate reflections, conversations and negotiations of what we have in common, and approach the artistic interventions and the referential system in which they operate as interdependently related. The discourse is not there to support the art, nor is the art an illustration of the discourse. The references mediating the art will rather be approached as a common set of references through which artists and visitors can gather in a conversation.

Symposium (Finland March 2020)
In the spring 2020 we will keep an internal symposium in Finland. Depending on the location of conference, the symposium will be held either in Helsinki or in the countryside. The aim of this meeting will be to discuss, evaluate and update objectives and modes of operation, and outline the plans for the coming year. For the symposium we will invite a number of guests, both local and international, for conversations around the work. We will also arrange a public evening where the notions of the symposium are shared with local peers.

Publication (June, 2020)
At the end of this period we will produce a publication reflecting the activities and discursive notions of the past year. The publication will contain contributions of invited guests as well as our partners.

Sustainability: Context and Implementation
PARA replaces the outdated notion of national identity with sustainability as grand narrative for an institution. It places sustainability at the center of its content and aims to find sustainability in two aspects: a) Territory operational by train, bus or boat, and b) The gravity field made possible in the post-production of artist work. In relation to the latter it aims to be set of instituting strategies for the implementation and contextualisation of project based production in a continuity.

A Nomadic Perspective on Narrative
The gatherings will ambulate between the contexts of its members. PARA will keep a zero tolerance to flight tickets, and consequently organise all transportation by trains, bus and ferries. In doing so, we aim to explore an idea of regionality, affiliation and commonality, departing from concrete relations and work, rather than from the map. By accepting the effort traveling with the institution in the concrete landscape, not abstracting it by flights, we gradually will develop a narrative of territory and context based on sustainable handling, as opposed to colonising ownership, of land.

PARA will operate simultaneously as a concept and a material structure - an architectural object that we’ll bring to each gathering. This collapsible architecture is a biomorphic, transparent fabric construction that houses and holds. It provides a mobile, continuous aesthetic frame that also serves as its own archive as the activities is imprinted into its context. By installing a membrane, its autonomy is based on the logic of interface and negotiation of space and context, rather than exclusion and conflict. This architecture is an object that is an archive that is an institution. The program of the annual conferences are the activations of the archive, as well as its continuous accumulation of new material.

More than merely a support structure, we think of PARA as a transformative art object. It is not a platform facilitating the needs of its members, rather it is an organic, morphing context, activated and facilitated by the ones engaging with it. PARA does not represent or account for any specific artistic or political preference or subjectivity. Its partners are free to use it to develop and express whatever stance that is prepared to offer the same right to others. We respect the fact that the organisation does not have the structural conditions or resources to make any representational claim, neither take the responsibilities that this would imply.

The aim of the organisation is not to finance the production of artistic work. Mainly because it will never have the capacity to take on that task on a realistic level, but also because the act of allocating privilege would bring on matters of representation that would exceed the horizon of the project. The task instead is to produce a continuous context and discourse where the already existing work of its partners is sedimented and positively contaminated.

The project strives to use the hive mind and collectively formed methods as bricks to define and build the institution. It does not seek consensus across the artistic works of its partners. Rather it is an interface where differences meet, a feedback loop between institution and individual, as well as

the long lasting connective tissue between artists and their bodies of work. Instead of departing from a curated program, the context mediating the artistic work will be provided by a continuous production of a discursive system of references. Opposing the curatorial turn in arts and institutions (where art is validated by means of pre-figured interpretations explaining its meaning and essence), we think of context and references as emancipatory tools for us and the audience to engage with the art as autonomous objects. Art, in this context, is not the speaker of this or that subject, but really an object; a “thing” that gathers the attention of the individuals engaging with them.

PARA, by performing the paragraphs above, aims for the instituting of a performing arts field containing and connecting the production bases of its partners. If the transportation policy of PARA addresses sustainability from the perspective of handling and governing of territory, the ambition of an active and defined regional field of performing arts addresses implementation and and anchoring of artistic work as key aspects of long term durability.

Instituting of Art Practices and the Public Sphere
We often claim artistic work to be the corner stone of a functional democracy. But what do we actually mean when we say that? To give this promise without intention of keeping it puts both artists and art itself in debt and undermines the potential of both art and politics. The modes of production and organisation enabled by a contemporary global economy of attention highlights and validates creativity and new forms and expressions. The focus on networks and platforms provides a multitude of strategies for circulation of new knowledge. But where is all this abundance of creativity implemented in a public sphere? Where is the new knowledge of today negotiated with the notions of yesterday? The innovations and knowledge production made possible by globalisation, without being anchored in the specificity of defined socio-politic contexts, risk to be gendered generic.

Scandinavian art and design today has a strong international reputation, but more in the logic of brand than as a functional field. Although a lot of collaboration is happening on an individual level, there still is a lot to be done to strengthen the region as one coherent context. The currently strong position of Scandinavian performing arts to a large extent is a result of the fact that there still has access to comparably resourceful funding structures. This financial privilege is the legacy of a political project built on a vision of a strong public sphere. Today, as public space increasingly is privatised and mercantilized, we are for our own survival obliged to respond to the remains of this funding structures with a certain responsibility.

To develop a model for a structure with the capacity to sediment, implement, and negotiate already existing artistic work, with the long term aim to establish a regional context and gravity field strong enough to take part of the production and maintenance of a public sphere, therefore is a central objective of this initiative.

Partners and Organisation
The organisational structure of PARA is divided between a project leader, an advisory board and three working groups: architecture, program and archive. Project leader is theatre director/dramaturg Anders Paulin, and the positions in the working groups will be divided between partners according to their competences, desire and accessible time. For the tasks relating to the specific arrangements, a producer, communicator, graphic designer and technician will be contracted externally.
The organisation at the moment consists of around 40 partners based in Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway, active in various disciplines of performing arts, architecture, visual arts and theory. We don’t think of the organisation as a final structure, nor do we intend to establish a formal protocol for how to include new partners. Instead we wish to grow organically as the organisations connects with people engaging with the work.

The partners currently are: Insister Space (Stockholm), Skogen (Gothenburg), Danseatellier (Copenhagen), Museum of Impossible Forms (Helsinki), RISK (Copenhagen), Ställbergs Gruva (Ställberg), studio näv (Stockholm), Runa B Skolseg (Oslo), Ellen Söderhult (Stockholm), Goro Tronsmo (Oslo), Annika Lundgren (Gothenburg), Sara Gebran (Copenhagen) and Anders Paulin (Stockholm).
PARA has an collaboration agreement with the following venues: Black Box (Oslo), Weld (Stockholm), Skogen (Gothenburg). We are currently investigating possible collaborations in Finland and Denmark. In the process, an important aim also is to gradually expand our urban perspective to include more rural partners and platforms.

Activities 2018
During 2018 PARA has arranged a number of preparatory meetings to define the organisation, as well as its objectives and modes of operation. The gatherings have been arranged as internal working meetings, but we have also used the opportunity to invite artists and researchers to share and exchange thoughts actualised by the work.

The first, constituting meeting was held in March at Skogen, Gothenburg. Here we gathered a core group of app. 30 participants from Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland. We also invited Bojana Cvejić for a public conversation on poetics and collective imaginaries. In August a condensed group of 15 representatives from the partners met at Weld in Stockholm for a working session focusing on defining core objectives and organisation. 11-12 December working groups met in Oslo for two days at Black Box, where we also arranged a gathering with 25 Oslo based artists to present and discuss the project and its central topics.

In the spring/summer of 2019 we will produce a first publication with material elaborating on the key thoughts and topics actualised in the definition of the project. The publication will be released at the first conference in Copenhagen in November 2019.