Arts in the One World, 2006

ARTS IN THE ONE WORLD: A CONSIDERATION OF GENOCIDE

A Conference at CalArts and Downtown Los Angeles, Jan 26-29, 2006

 Co-Sponsored by Theater with out Borders, and Coexistence International (Brandeis)

Read the AOW 2006 notes here

Overview

Lectures, demonstrations, panels and roundtables centering on the Rwandan Genocide and the potentials of art for witness, representation, reconciliation and peace building. Discussion expands outward to examine genocide’s working definition, to investigate the extent and variety of contemporary genocidal practices, and to share methods of artistic response.

This gathering grows from a commitment on the part of CalArts’ School of Theater to develop an ongoing exchange program with Rwanda (for notes on last summer’s trip to Rwanda, see the Theatre Without Borders website).

Premise: that a way forward through violent times requires the persistent practice of hospitality and conversation across borders. The art of the near future is the art of hospitality: the elemental political act of performance arts is to insist on the cultural and spiritual import of being with.

Our goal: to share histories and hopes regarding art in the international arena, particularly in the fields of conflict resolution, recovery of historical memory, and work towards peaceful coexistence. Our touchstone is the Rwandan Genocide, and art’s role in cause and recovery.

Practicum

Art making workshops, in connection with AOW. Three groups, under the direction of teams of visiting artists, collaborated to devise multi-media artistic expressions on the conference’s themes. Pieces were presented at the conference.

Welcome and a definition of terms:

Arts = Activism. Art is built of actions and causes action. The essential action of the artist, the audience, is to see, to experience, to witness (and deriving from witness – to give testimony), to trust.

Seeing can be a moral act: we consent to take in, we draw our attention to focus, we turn our heads and open our eyes – we change our own place to put ourselves squarely in the presence of a unique event. We invest will.

In seeing in this way, by deliberately committing to a new perspective, we allow ourselves to be shaped by the event – to be created by it.

One World: Art is a worldwide action. Materially, politically, culturally we are forming a single-system ecology. Art and artists are traveling widely, rapidly. Success and failure of the civil in any one society is laced into the consequences and responsibilities of an extensive web of societies. We are responsible to more and responsive to more. We remain different from one another, in ways that can be co-celebrated. (The loss of diversity is an acknowledged ecological disaster.) But diversity is creative when cooperative. (In one panel it was proposed think in terms of ensemble – as in an outfit one wears... The colors and patters are distinct, but they work together to create an overall effect.)

Why Genocide? To know a living thing, attend to how it suffers. Genocide – so difficult to take in or represent – forces us to expand our capacities for observation, description... and compassion. To know the extent of a life know how it moves beyond itself – how it breaks into joy or hope. In spite of suffering, we race to catch up to hope, to the persistence of life and the re-knitting of strength. We study genocide to understand survival better. Performance events end; we leave them with the minimal lesson that there is something to do after the end of things... 

Why Rwanda? It is proximate: America is complicit. Prominently in the world community – we had resources to intervene (for years), and rather than seeing and doing, we were immoral artists – we saw and turned away; we let the end come and operate definitively. Events in Rwanda ’94 are extreme, and cautionary. The will to reinvent and renew is extraordinary. Rwanda is not a case study; it is itself. We do not compare genocides. Rwanda is at this event as our teacher, our guide. READ ON