What characterizes the performing art that is currently being created and performed for children and youth? That was to be the subject of this text. But in order to approach this question, other questions must be asked first. The artistic program of this year’s SAND festival provides a starting point to do just that. Productions by artists who have dedicated themselves to making performances for young audiences stand side-by-side with productions that were not intended for specific age groups, other than «adults», when they were created. How can we then identify performing art for young people?
One possible answer to the last question is that performing art for young audiences is whatever we adults decide to make available to them. Whether this takes place in arenas frequented by children and youth, or by inviting them to visit specialized spaces for art. It could be art produced especially for them, or it could be art created with them. It could even be art that, regardless of the intended audience and degree of involvement, we adults find relevant and interesting for young people to experience.
The festival is an example of the latter. The program contains artistic practices and expressions we adults think are relevant and interesting to present to young audiences. Productions with a playful or experimental approach to form and the performer have been priorities. These are contemporary works of performance that are based on clear artistic ideas. They exemplify how the composition of artistic elements shapes the way a performance unfolds in time and space. Some of the productions stimulate the senses, others the intellect. Some will challenge audience members’ ability to identify with the performers or be drawn into the action, and some will demand a great deal of imaginative engagement, but rising to these challenges may bring surprising and personal rewards. These are performances that allow the audience to experience different ways of being spectator and participant.
If performing art for children and youth is a matter of what adults create for them, create with them, or what adults choose to show them, then the possibilities of what this art can be are seemingly open-ended. Can we identify specific aesthetic, dramaturgical or thematic characteristics that are particular to performing art for young audiences, but not other performing art? Do the productions offered to young people open an aesthetic experience and an experience of art that is, at a fundamental level, radically different from what takes place in the encounter between other people and performing art?
Perhaps the most prominent trend when it comes to performing art for young audiences is neither of aesthetic, dramaturgical or thematic character. Perhaps it is rather that we adults who are in some way involved with performing art and young people tend to discuss more frequently what this relationship can or should be. Articles, essays and reviews at Periskop.no, research into the Cultural Rucksack and specific artistic practices, the publication of the anthology Scenekunst og de unge (Performing Art and the Young [my translation], Graffer and Sekkelsten 2014) by the Norwegian Touring Network for Performing Arts, research and evaluation reports published by Arts Council Norway – these are all examples of the growing conversation in professional circles. In many cases, these analyses and reflections involve negotiating what the researchers behind the evaluation report Resultater fra NM i kunstløft call a «dilemma of what should come first: the art or the target group» (my translation, Haugsevje, Heian and Hylland 2015:78).
Some of the most interesting responses to this dilemma can be found in contemporary artistic practices and projects, both in productions that were intended for young audiences when they were created, and those that were not. Research, analysis and knowledge production depend on the development of artistic practices and productions for their vitality. Art projects and initiatives that have been created during the course of the last 16 years form a rich source material for further conversation. Just think of the span in artistic reflection and approach between initiatives such as MOToffentlighet (2016) and Klangfugl (2000-2002).(1) Using an activist approach, MOToffentlighet aimed to establish direct communication between art and audience – the public – with a clearly articulated interest in transformative experience (Mørland 2015). The performances, installations, concerts, works of literature and workshops included in the project were curated as an investigation into how art works in contemporary society (ibid.). Klangfugl could also be characterized as an investigation into how art works, but in the context of the relationship between artistic expressions and a defined target group; young children under the age of three. MOToffentlighet and Klangfugl are two distinctive initiatives, developed at two different points in time, during a significant period in the recent history of the relationship between art and young people. They are two projects that seem radically different, yet both are fundamentally concerned with art in context.
The context of an artistic expression is a meaningful part of many time-based, performance practices, in which the situation of the performance is an important factor. Although art is not subject to the target group, neither is the presence of the audience insignificant. What is at stake is a form for considered attentiveness that is based on what art can do and how it can be experienced. Such approaches can be found in many contemporary performing art practices, regardless of the age of the audience.
By Melanie Fieldseth
Graffer, S. and Å. Sekkelsten. ed. 2014. Scenekunst og de unge. Oslo: Norsk scenekunstbruk/Vidarforlaget AS.
Haugsevje, Å.D., M.T. Heian and O.M. Hylland. 2015. Resultater fra NM i kunstløft. Evaluering av Kunstløftets andre periode 2012-2015. Oslo: Norsk kulturråd.
Mørland, G.E. 2015, 9 April. Barneaktivist-skaperen. Periskop.no.
(1) MOToffentlighet was a curated arts event that marked the conclusion of Kunstløftet, an initiative taken by Arts Council Norway to boost the production and mediation of art for young people. From 2008 until 2015, Kunstløftet was both a project within Arts Council Norway and a funding scheme within the Norwegian Cultural Fund. The aim was to strengthen the artistic quality of the production and mediation of art for children and youth, and the production of knowledge in this area. MOToffentlighet generated a lot of discussion during its run in 2016: see http://periskop.no.
Klangfugl was a project initiated by Arts Council Norway. The aim was to stimulate the production of art for young children under the age of three: see http://kulturradet.no/jubileum-2015/vis-artikkel/-/klangfugl-kunst-for-de-aller-minste.