Past countries themed in CULTURESCAPES
2004 the Ukraine
2013 the Balkans
*Referendum Project is a project that attempts to create theatrical experiences by traveling around the country with a caravan vehicle where people can watch a video recording the comments of middle school students from Tokyo and Fukushima (the prefecture afflicted by the tsunami and nuclear power plant accident and its radioactive contamination of a large area) and then take part in forums or questionnaire surveys.
|In 2014, a variety of events are planned in Japan and Switzerland to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of political relations between the two countries. One of these is an event named CULTURESCAPES Tokyo 2014 to be held in Switzerland (Sept. 27 – Nov. 22). The words culture and [land]scape were combined to create the new concept of CULTURESCAPES as the name for an event that focuses on the culture and arts of a particular country, city or region. From the first CULTURESCAPES festival was held in 2003 that focused on the country of Georgia and the second focused on the Ukraine, to last year’s festival focused on the Balkan region, the festival has consistently taken as its theme countries and regions marked by controversy and strife. In 2014, the year that Japan and Switzerland celebrate the 150th anniversary of the establishment of political relations between the two countries, CULTURESCAPES will focus on Tokyo, a city that mixes the traditional and the contemporary. Plans call for a program of events to be held in about 40 venues. In this interview, the founder and continuing director of CULTURESCAPES, Jurriaan Cooiman, speaks about the festival’s aims and significance.
Interviewer: Takao Norikoshi [dance critic]
Depicting cultural topographies of countries, cities and regions
May we begin by asking you about the meaning and concept of CULTURESCAPES?
Launched in 2003, this will be the festival’s 12th year. CULTURESCAPES is different from usual festivals in that it focuses on broad cross-sections of culture and has a relatively long schedule (eight weeks). The program is made up of not only dance and music but also literature, film and exhibitions and includes relates artists-in residence programs, lectures and academic projects conducted in cooperation with universities, etc., thus dealing a broad range contents. By dealing with cultural background from a number of perspectives, CULTURESCAPES attempts to depict a cultural “topography” of a variety of countries and cities.
The main venues of the festival are in Basel, Switzerland’s third largest city behind Zurich and Geneva.
Basel is a city situated on the “knee” of a big bend in the Rhine River and it is an international city known as the northern entrance to Switzerland where it borders with Germany and France. During the Middle Ages it was the site of the only bridge crossing the Rhine and the city prospered partly on the tax charged for traffic crossing the bridge. It is also a city with a vibrant arts culture and CULTURESCAPES events are held in venues primarily in Basel and other cities in the German-speaking areas of Switzerland. But, we also have tie-ups with cities like Lausanne and Geneva in the French-speaking areas of the country.
What was the original idea of holding a festival that dealt with a broad cross-section of the culture of a country or city from a variety of perspectives come from?
From 1995, I was organizing a small festival for contemporary music. In that festival we provided a creative environment where contemporary musicians could share their creativity and inspiration with people from many fields. That led me to start thinking with a broader perspective about questions like, “What does a person’s place mean?” and “What does it mean to coexist with other peoples?” As I was thinking about these subjects, a new term suddenly entered my mind: “culture-scapes.” As I continued to pursue the implications this new idea could lead to, I decided that I should try to make a festival that could provide a broader overview of culture as a whole.
The background behind the CULTURESCAPES concept consists of three elements. One is language. In addition to the language of conversation, it also includes aesthetic language and language as information. The second element is history. This could perhaps be stated more definitively as “the interpretation of history that the people of a country want,” which is something that probably has a lot of political meaning. And, the third element is “fate.” For a large number of the people living in a country today, the fact that they live there is a matter of the “fate” of having been born there.
The entities that people are affiliated with or belong to exist on numerous levels, beginning with the family and extending to one’s company, and the society, city and country one lives in. And, through the workings of language, history and fate, people acquire common values and a feeling on belonging. People who share common problems and issues speak in a common language and share a common view of history expounded in the same textbooks they have studied from. However, it is still important today to be aware of the fact that the roots that define you or your parents or the society are in fact separate and different. I thought that I wanted to create a festival to give people an opportunity to cultivate that awareness.
The deliberate choice of countries, cities and regions of controversy
What were the contents of the festival at first?
At first it had the three main categories of music, literature and film and consisted of a diverse program of about 25 events including lectures, film showings, concerts and exhibitions. Basel had concentrated more on music and the visual arts than the performing arts, so it was easier to get the cooperation of venues in those areas. It was from our fourth festival that focused on Estonia (2006) that we included performing arts for the first time.
But Switzerland has famous dance companies like Béjart Ballet Lausanne, and in Geneva there are Gilles Jobin and Arias.
Yes. In Basel, however, it was difficult to find theaters that would cooperate with us on performing arts events, but I was finally able to convince a theater when I asked for their assistance because we were going to invite Estonia’s famous Peeter Jalakas and his Von Krahl Theatre. Then in our “Romania” festival in 2007, we collaborated with Green Hours Theatre and in 2008 with our Turkey festival we had outstanding dance events working with the Taldans Company and Aydin Teker. I felt that the Turkish artists had a very clear idea about dance and the body. When we focused on Azerbaijan in 2009, it was a country that had almost no contemporary dance movement, but we were able to present a theater work from there that had a very complex composition.
The countries and cities you have chosen until now have not been peaceful ones with stable social/political conditions but, rather, ones where controversy is prominent. Is this a deliberate choice?
Of course it is deliberate. With the first festival on Georgia, it was a weekend during our CULTURESCAPES festival that the “Rose Revolution” occurred (when demonstrators protesting disputed elections stormed the parliament and president Shevardnaze was forced to resign). On the same day that the president fled the country we were having a seminar on the subject of “Where is Georgia Headed”!
Then the next year, during our Ukraine themed CULTURESCAPES, the “Orange Revolution” occurred (involving widespread political protest following a presidential election marred by corruption). After having historical events like this occur during our first two festivals, made us certain that there was significant relevance in what we were doing.
That was surely an amazing experience for you, wasn’t it? But isn’t it many times more difficult to organize a festival with the cooperation of a country that is involved in unrest and controversy?
That’s right, it is. Several times the relationships have begun amidst strong resistance. Today there are many countries that are in the midst of drastic change in their political and economic systems, and there are more than a few countries that are now critical of Europe. But, I don’t intend to approach them from a critical stance. The important thing is to find out where are these countries headed, what is happening in them, why it is happening and what their artists are thinking. I am not interested in countries that have stable international relationships and countries that are not in the midst of change.
As for Japan, which is the focus of this year’s festival, I believe that it is now a country where a lot of doubts are emerging in the society since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and the nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima. Doubts like whether or not Japan’s social system is functioning or not. And whether the citizens want to change the country or not.
Cities as more interesting than countries
Your festival’s theme this time is not “Japan” but “Tokyo.” Looking back over the themes of your past festivals, the first nine were focused on countries, but beginning with 2012 festival focused on Moscow, the 2013 focus on the Balkan region and now Tokyo, it appears to have shifted to cites and regions rather than countries. Why is this?
It is true that at first we focused on countries. However, when you focus on a country you run into problems related to that country’s cultural exchange agenda (action guidelines). And, if our agenda regarding the focus the festival doesn’t agree with that country’s, there will naturally be pressure from that country to align with their agenda. One of the reasons for our change in focus is that we got tired of having to deal with that friction.
Considering the contents you are dealing with in CULTURESCAPES, it would certainly seem that there is constantly the risk of being used as a cultural publicity event by the foreign ministries of the countries you focus on. And, in order to prevent that from happening, you must have to set clear and firm policies.
That’s correct. In our 2008 festival focused on Turkey we had a bit of a problem. That year we planned to publish a festival newspaper for the first time, but it ended up causing an objection from the Turkish government. We planned to publish three articles about Turkish society on the first few pages of the newspaper and commissioned the article from Istanbul-based journalists originally from the German-speaking region of Switzerland. Overall they were a good articles with a positive tone, although parts of it did contain some criticism of certain aspects of the society. Nonetheless, on the day before it was intended to go to print, we got a phone call from a person connected to the Turkish government demanding that we not publish a newspaper containing that article.
That was certainly a serious issue involving the very independence of the festival.
I had a difficult time deciding what to do. Of course the journalists would not accept a compromised article. On the other hand, if publishing it as it was caused the Turkish side to withdraw their support of the festival, there was a danger that the festival itself couldn’t go on. After getting the Turkish side to promise that I could publish the newspaper as long as it didn’t include the article in question, at the same time, I warned them that the action they had taken in blocking the article could have repercussions that would come back and hit them later like a boomerang.
Then, do you know what I did? I published the newspaper but left the first pages where that article would have been blank. And since it didn’t contain the article we were able to go ahead with the festival, having the Turkish support as planned. However, the articles that had been kept out of our festival newspaper were picked up and published in some Switzerland’s major newspapers. What’s more, it included a critical note asking why the Turkish government had prohibited its publication. This incident was then picked up by the TV networks and other media, so sure enough, the Turkish government’s action did come back like a boomerang to hurt them.
Did that kind of experience encourage your gradual shift from nation focuses to city focuses?
Yes. But, it is also because cities are more active and have more diverse interest than countries. And, as with the case of the Balkans, there are also regions that historically have tensions that extend beyond national borders to create explosive situations. I believe that focusing on the cultural topography of cities and regions instead of countries also offers new challenges.
For example, switching the focus from countries to cities is not an attempt to discard political issues. To begin with, the art works themselves are inherently political in content. For example, inviting Akira Takayama’s Referendum Project
(*) to our festival can be seen as a political act, I feel. Also, Toshiki Okada’s Super Premium Soft W Vanilla Rich
is a work about the laboring class and the unemployed in Japanese society. The arts always have a political aspect, and we don’t intend to separate that aspect out of it.
Have problems ever occurred because of [political] works like these? For example, in Japan there has been a case of criticism of a performance by an Israeli dance company as being Israeli government propaganda. There is also political friction between Japan and China and Korea that affects cultural and arts programs. I believe that artists should not be deprived of opportunities to present their works because of political reasons. How do feel about this?
I feel the same way. When we chose Israel as the focus for our 2011 festival, I am told that even the swiss president received phone calls and letters of objection. We also had anti-Israel demonstrations in front of the theater. However, I believe that culture and arts exchange is a very important means to transcend politics and give people an understanding of the actual situations. Also, artists are usually people with a very critical mentality. Silence them becomes an act of silencing people who take a critical viewpoint. And in fact, Israeli artists are even more critical of their government than we are. They have no qualms about saying even things that we wouldn’t dare to say.
So, rather than being propaganda, it actually became a platform for criticizing the Israeli government, didn’t it?
Exactly. Through CULTURESCAPES we had a wonderful experience of being able to hear the thoughts of Israeli artists directly from the artists. As I said earlier, since there are always things happening in the world, in presenting our festival we encounter difficult political issues each year. But, that is what makes CULTURESCAPES meaningful.
The Bonds with Partners that Supports CULTURESCAPES
About how large is your total festival audience each year?
It is 25,000 to 30,000, and many of them are young. Considering that Switzerland is a small country that has a population of just 8 million (25% foreigners), these are large [audience] numbers I think.
For gathering audience, we have the cooperation of our partner theaters and museums that publish pamphlets for their performances as communication tools. Through these tools, our contemporary music audience learns about CULTURESCAPES Tokyo, for example, and they see that dance and film showings and lectures will be held. Our motto of “Connecting cultures” doesn’t simply mean connecting Switzerland and Japan, or connecting dance and music; it also means fostering connections between the members of the audience as well.
Would you tell us about the size of your budget and where does it come from?
It is about 1.5 million Euros, and we get our funding primarily from three sources. The first is our partner network. For example, we don’t pay a fee for the venues we use in the festival; instead, our partner theaters and other facilities lend the spaces to us for free. With arrangements like this, we have a network of partners that support us in a variety of ways. The events on our festival program in the genre of literature, film and theater are not works that compete with the regular fare of these partners, so we can feel assured about receiving this kind of support. Basel happens to have the third oldest university in Europe, and the proportionate area of the city occupied by museums is the largest in the world. These museums are also among out partners, and we are able to use spaces in the architecture museum for lectures and symposiums or exhibitions, and we also do collaborations sometimes with the Caricature and Cartoon Museum. Or this year’s CULTURESCAPES 2014 Tokyo, we plan to use about 40 venues, and at the facility of one of our new partners involved with electronic art, we will have Ryoji Ikeda’s solo exhibition.
How did you acquire such a network?
I went to them myself and developed the network partner by partner. CULTURESCAPES only has a staff of six, including myself, so there is no one else to do it for me (laughs). With our partners in Zurich and Bern, if I just tell them that the artist will be going to visit them, the staff at the partner venue where the performance will be handless the rest. With these partners, we are not only able to get support in the form of the physical facility, but also their staff cooperate to help us make things happen. That is how strong our ties with our partners are. We have been doing this for 11 years now and in Switzerland alone we now have 150 partners, and some of them have been working with us on collaborations as many as ten times.
What is your second source of funding?
We get funding from the Cantons (states) of Switzerland, the national government and foundations. The biggest sponsors in the arts in Switzerland are the cities and Cantons, and more than the national government, they are the ones that take the major portion of responsibility in supporting regional arts and culture. And then, our third source of funding is the countries that become the focus of a CULTURESCAPES festival. We on the Switzerland side pay the costs of the organizing, the publicity and research, while we ask the focus country to provide support in the form of the costs for the artists and transporting the productions here to Switzerland.
This three-part funding structure constitutes a very smart method I feel. Rather than depending on a single large source of funding, we function like a platform that is supported by numerous structures.
Formerly a dancer
Would you tell us about your career background before you became director of CULTURESCAPES?
My first occupation was as a dancer; I did eurythmy dance. It is dance based on a form of exercise that emerged from anthroposophy and is based on a theory proposed by the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner early in the 20th century.
When I reached the age of about 30, however, I became more interested in literature and the arts, so I went to the University of Basel to study arts management and then began doing festival and concert management. I did a large number of projects, large and small. I worked as the arts manager for London’s Circle X Arts performing arts company and as a producer for theater companies in Basel.
Then I founded my own company in 1995 and began organizing the contemporary music festival I mentioned earlier. While I was presenting leading artists like Sofia Gubaidulina, Hungary’s Kurtág György and Japan’s Toshio Hosokawa in that festival, I conceived the term CULTURESCAPES and that led me to the idea that I should be trying to present a broader cross-section of culture. Today, CULTURESCAPES is an [incorporated] foundation.
Although you were a dancer, what made you decide to do a contemporary music festival when you first established your company?
I also play the piano and from early on I had a very strong interest in classical and contemporary music. Also, eurythmy is a form of movement that gives visual expression to music; you use your body like an instrument in it and attempt to create musical expression solely through the movement of the body without using music. Even though the eurythmy name may be famous, it is was actually a very small scene that exists separately from contemporary dance, and you may not be familiar with the contents but, for example, as a eurythmist you may do things like give visual expression to the music of Bach or Schubert. So, there was always a strong musical bond in me between the piano and eurythmy.
CULTURESCAPES 2014 Tokyo and the future
Please tell us about the plans for CULTURESCAPES 2014 Tokyo. What is the cultural background of Tokyo that you hope to depict?
This time we have chosen the great metropolis of Tokyo as our focus. I came to Japan several times in 2013 and 2014 and did research. We are still working on finalizing the program but the approach I plan is to consider three important historical events. The first is the opening of Japan forced by the arrival of Admiral Perry’s armada. The rapid Westernization of the country that occurred after that also gave birth to a nationalist movement aiming to preserve the countries traditions. There were two conflicting desires, one to open the country to the world and the other to protect traditional Japanese culture. Representative of this culture are the traditional Japanese art forms virtually without parallel in other parts of the world, such as Kabuki and Noh theater and Bunraku puppet theater. From these, we decided to focus on Bunraku, a beautiful art form that has been handed down for 400 years.
The second is a much darker historical event, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After that a variety of new performing art forms like Butoh were developed. We plan to invite Sankai Juku to perform with their highly aesthetic Butoh method that we feel is strongly rooted in this period.
In the West, we see interpretations that make reference to a connection between the grotesque aspect of Butoh and the effects of [the radiation of] the atomic bombings, but we almost never find such a connection being made between the two in Japan. Although there are many works in the performing arts of Japan that do deal with the subject of the atomic bombings.
I see. Is that so? I would like to take that into consideration as we introduce [Butoh] in our festival. The highlight of our Tokyo program with time is related to the third historical period we focus on, the period from the slump in the Japanese economy that began in the 1990s (following the burst of the bubble economy) to the 3.11 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami disaster. To explore this period, we will be inviting works by artists like Noriyuki Kiguchi, Akira Takayama and Toshiki Okada, who look at contemporary society and chose interesting subjects for their works, such as society’s winners and losers, the social systems and the economy, etc.
About how many companies do you plan to invite in all?
We are still at the stage where we are waiting to finalize the agreements for funding, but we plan to have five co-productions and invite about 20 individual artists and companies. Basel is the main venue, but cities including Zurich, Bern, Chur, Bellinzona, Leysin, Geneva, Lucerne and St. Gallen and Winterthur are also participating, so we will probably be using about 40 theaters.
By the way, what will your next focus be after Tokyo?
We have several choices, but it will probably be the island cultures of Northwestern Europe in Iceland, Greenland and the Faroe Islands. If Japan is followed by other island nations like this we may be able to see some interesting comparisons. After that, I believe we will be choosing from among Mexico, Brazil and Colombia. The Middle East is also a candidate, but with the current tensions we don’t know what will happen. The Scandinavian Peninsula is another region we are interested in, and Poland would also be interesting.
What directions do you see CULTURESCAPES moving toward in the future?
I would like to see CULTURESCAPES become an international cultural organization like Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. I would like to be able to present a year-round program of events dealing with the culture of a variety of countries and the varied genres of the arts, and I am now looking for ways to get funding equivalent to about 3 or 4 years worth of budget at once. We are constantly uploading information onto our website, so I hope everyone will be watching. Meanwhile, we will definitely make a success of our CULTURESCAPES Tokyo 2014 and the 150-anniversary celebration of political relations between Japan and Switzerland.