As a student of the Performing Arts, I always found myself working on my own. I think I did so because that’s what most of my peers did. As a student, I, however, quickly discovered that it was not very interested what I had to say as a solo artist. At least not at that moment in time.

My first profound experience of participating in something deeply artistic came when after graduating from The School of Visual Theatre in Jerusalem in 2018, I moved back to Copenhagen and started partaking in organizing summer gatherings for activists and artists from around Northern Europe. At these week-long gatherings, we would each year have an evening of Morale – a silly and festive evening, where according to Kurdish tradition we would spend time lifting each other’s spirit (otherwise occupied with complex questions and discussions on politics and social justice). It was during these evenings I found the type of art I love; self-organized, in service of others, collaborative between people with performing backgrounds and those with non, at times completely ridiculous and at the same time heartfelt or heartbreaking in its effort. One time we all took on plastic animal masks (that we found tossed away in the house where we were gathering) and danced together to upbeat music until we were out of our breath. To see highly intellectual activists go bananas on the dance floor masking behind “The Wolf” or “The Horse” was one of the most beautiful sights I had seen at that time. To me, art in performance occurs when the doer steps into a being that is unknown to them and embraces it. Those intellectuals embraced the unknown and it was purely magical to watch. I myself managed to come up with some solo-performances (despite my contempt for working solo). Under the conditions of the gathering, somehow it suddenly worked for me, as it did not feel like it was about me, but that I was there to uplift the others with my performative skills. The performance I made in the glass door of the porch would be referred to for years to come and returning participants of the gatherings would randomly start emulating the bouncy movement I had done then, laughing and asking me to please do it one more time. Kind of truly heaven to see otherwise stern activists yield into the silly.

The experiences I had at these gatherings made me think: What if I would try to recreate what I saw happening at the Morale evenings but in a format that would produce actual material for the stage?

This became the catalyst for The Artist and her Weird Friends project. In this essay, I will tell you about the concept of the project (maybe you could try it out where you live and/or work), as well as give some insights into the first try-out rehearsal I held recently with four local performing artists at the HaZira performing arts venue in Jerusalem (where I now live and work again).

At the core of The Artist and her Weird Friends concept lays the principles of self-organization. If self-organization is understood as the modality which creates open structures (not in the sense of open empty, but in the sense of open flexible, the doer decides what works best) of organization that can be inhabited by interchangeable agents of organization, the same thinking applies to The Artist and her Weird Friends. Everyone can in principle perform in the project.

The project is a group project, but no fixed group is ever meant to be formed, more so a network of performers is to get to know the practices that are the foundation of the project. Any performer interested in these practices can inhabit the role of performer in rehearsal and/or on stage. In this way at every rehearsal and every performance, the performers will change. This produces a condition for a more flexible sense of the “we”. The “we” does not become situated in the configuration of the participants, so much as in the upholding of the practices. “We” are the ones choosing in every rehearsal and/or performance to engage with this mode of production.

The mode of production privileges the common good instead of being preoccupied with individual uniqueness. Each participant has to be willing to bring their own expression not for the sake of taking the stage themselves, but in order to create meetings with others and their expressions. The material is not a result of anyone’s vision, but arises from touching upon that thing in the in-between, in the encounter, in the effort to tap into our transindividuality. Subsequently poetry beyond the disciplinary is created. The project creates a laboratory and not an ensemble, where artists from various performing arts disciplines can return according to their abilities and interests.

As someone having been engaged in organizing gatherings, collective studio spaces and residencies around Northern Europe, I know that artists increasingly have become critical of the autopoietic mode of performing arts production and as a consequence organized various collective spaces for more inclusivity and accessibility. But what about the performances themselves? Have they become more collective or are artists simply producing individualistic work under more communal roofs? Is it really enough to change the spaces in which we produce without changing how we produce?

The individual artist genius – this figure I have encountered in all the performing arts school I have attended, I myself have been placed in the category from time to time. But for me, as a young performing arts student, that position always seemed so fake, so lonely and disconnected from reality. I truly believe we as (especially) performing artists are a product of our environment. With my own eyes, I have seen my best friend here in Jerusalem (a multidisciplinary virtuoso) fall out with everyone in the local scene (because of ego and identity politics) and become a sad shell of his initial potential. No one is genius enough to make it on their own in my experience. The performing arts are auto-ethnographic – we feed from our experiences within a social and cultural context. Are we deprived from our environments, we will eventually fade. Even the brightest stars.

I like to think more of the group as the genius. Or how an environment can create genius. I believe that this best happens in an environment that is not fully controlled by one person, but instead is a communized environment where every performer/artist is inseparable from the environment itself. The environment I imagine is not a “consensus” environment which easily is the connotation we make when we think of anything group related. First of all, I think the understandings of consensus and unity that usually think that we should all think and agree upon the same (or look for those points “where we say the same just in different ways”) are limiting and obviously one of the contributors to making collective spaces so frustrating. The communized environment I am talking about is a space where consensus and unity is measured not according to the degree of agreement between the performers, but on the degree of tolerance and curiosity towards difference. The performers are confronted with a level of continuous foreignness, a sense of Other or unknown that requires them to think slightly anew in every situation, but also start to see the patterns of what works for creating from the in between us. In that holding there is a consensus, to agree to be with what is, a unity that arises from making peace with plurality.

When we had our try-out rehearsal recently at the HaZira performing arts venue in Jerusalem, I started the rehearsal by saying that we do not need to be friends and know each other well in order to trust that we can listen to each other’s needs and wishes during the rehearsal. That I do not want a hesitant space, but rather a space where people take a leap of faith.

I had asked the performers to bring with them to rehearsal an object that allowed them to do what they love artistically or practically in their day-to-day lives. When Dori presented herself and what she had brought, she said that nothing seemed suitable to bring as every practice she currently begins seems to fall apart quickly. “Like sand seeping through the palm of my hands”, as she said. I asked her why she did not bring a bag of sand (we have plenty in Jerusalem), she smiled and immediately became less hesitant. Later Itamar, found a little pile of of sawdust in the corner of the rehearsal room, it looked like sand, so he brought it to Dori as compensation. She laughed. To me this is an example of how it is a myth that we have to know each other and be friends in order to make collective rehearsal work.

The try-out rehearsal was a three-hour-long rehearsal in a small black studio space. We began the rehearsal with a time of silence where everyone could lay out their objects and just walk around, arrive and contemplate on what others had brought, relax and meditate. Erez and Dan missed most of this session because of the traffic jams in Jerusalem. They came late and sweaty, Erez carrying a heavy contrabass. Everyone was given the task of presenting themselves and what they “come with” to the rehearsal in any poetic way of their choosing (this is when Dori spoke about the sand).

Later we continued everyone together a 30-minute session of continuous performative movement/action to a dj-set Shifa Doğuştan had created for the occasion. In this session so many significant and insignificant moments occurred. To give one example, I had fx. brought a pile of heavy books to the session (as I like to read and carry heavy stuff around). The books had been used and not used in all kinds of ways. Suddenly I saw Dori laying on her back with her feet in the air, I compiled a few books and placed them on the sole of her feet. At that moment it occurred to me that I could pause for a second and start reading from the book at the top of the pile. I started doing so, challenging Dori to stay in the moment and keep the books balanced. I would never had come up with this image on my own, it happened as a result of relating to Dori’s actions.

After the session ended we sat down and shared moments that had worked for us in the two warm-up sessions and took a small break (smoking cigarettes, drinking water, visiting the toilet).

When we came back, I had prepared a couple of exercises for us to do (I have an archive of these type of group exercises). First we each chose a random word to “throw” at each other in a returning order, while walking around in the space (having to remember the order while people change places in the space). This we did first in direct order, then standing in a circle doing it, then reversing the order and walking again, then adding eye contact and different tempi. It was fun to see how the repetition of the random slowly created meaning and social interaction. Dan was not so good at remembering the simple instructions, which made us all laugh.

Afterwards we did a less successful exercise of running to the edges of the studio space simultaneously. My idea was that it would create all kinds of meetings in movement, but the space was probably a bit too small too facilitate that for the whole group. Instead we watched Erez and Itamar run together just the two of them for a while and afterwards Dan running alone in the space, his back to the audience at all time (his beautiful choice). Dori and I joined at the end of Dan’s running, when he had ended up in a forward bended position doing slow-mo movements with his hands in the air. Itamar later made a comment about how the combination of Dan’s static position and the running of Dori and I, made him think of religion. How in monotheist religions the subject relies on one deity to answer all one’s questions (even in moments of hardship), whereas in pagan religions, the subject changes position, not staying in one place/with one deity in order to find answers. I loved this comment of his, as Itamar in his own (mostly solo) work contemplates on religion and mystic beliefs.

We finally ended up doing an exercise where each one of us created a loop of action a and b. With this we would try to find each other. Dori and Erez were most successful in finding each other as Erez stroked between two long notes on his bass and Dori opened and closed an umbrella in different positions. They were speaking to each other and could continue without end. After having established their image, the rest of us went to the side, observing them for a while. I then asked Itamar to join them, adding one of his monologues (Itamar is known for monologue based performances) on top of their loop. With that, a beautiful moment was created, where Itamar talked about the impressive appearance of Erez’ contrabass compared to the pen he had brought to rehearsal, how the long notes reminded him of the ocean, of running water (he would continue, while he took cover under the umbrella together with Dori). The monologue was random, the whole situation was random and underneath it all three performing artists were coming into existence.

I have written this article because I truly believe we need to expand the modalities under which we produce performing arts. If I have learned one lesson from my years of organizing collective spaces, it is that we become highly resilient when we find each other. If The Artist and her Weird Friends becomes a successful stage project it is great, but even better would be the contribution it could have to the performing arts scene in Jerusalem and beyond – facilitating the meeting between artists, inspiring new collaborations, new artistic thinking and breaking our isolations. I have many concerns for the society I live in, its values and/or lack of them. Through this laboratory I hope to practice other possible ways of going forward together – less disorganized, determined to create a shared future.

Illustration: Keith Tilford for Chronosis by Reza Negerestani