Egyptian and European artists representing a variety of fields — choreography, architecture, theatre and dramaturgy — are currently participating in the Vienna International Dance Festival Impulstanz with a project dubbed "A Future Archaeology."
In a large construction site in Vienna, a group of artists will create impromptu buildings, houses, and structures, while inviting festival participants and visitors to participate.
Vienna is the second stop in A Future Archaeology's journey, consisting of three elements presented in three locations. Last spring it started in Berlin. After Vienna it will end in Cairo this fall.
This multicultural project is inspired by the state of political turmoil in Egypt and Europe. The multi-part character of A Future Archaeology is a brainchild of Egyptian choreographer Adham Hafez, dramaturges Ismail Fayed from Egypt and Silke Bake from Germany, and becomes an exploratory endeavour into the notions of change, transition of power, and cultural difference — factors that shape the art world's context today.
A Future Archaeology is a series of dance and architecture “experiments” that allow the unearthing of the politics of art production and contemporary cultural policies in light of political change.
As such, the artists and architects involved in A Future Archaeology are tackling questions about new realities in the shadows of political change in three cities: Berlin, Vienna and Cairo. By playing out across these cities, A Future Archaeology highlights that geographical and cultural context is an integral element of any artwork or art project.
“This is the largest production between Germany and Egypt in the field of independent contemporary dance,” the project’s co-author, choreographer Hafez, told Ahram Online in Cairo, two-days before flying to Vienna to join his team.
In the project, Egyptian and European artists experiment with choreography and architecture, and so with movement and structure. The project experiments with sound art, texts, and performance, as well as building.
Hafez explains that the Egyptian revolution's kick-off in 2011 triggered multiple conversations in the field of art, about relationships and encounters between art, politics, freedom and difference, among many others.
The idea for A Future Archaeology was sparked amid the post-revolution confusion in 2011 at a conference. Playing out against the context of Egypt's revolution, A Future Archaeology became an investigation into how historical events influence artistic scope, not in terms of the content of the art, but rather in terms of the dynamics and context under which such artwork is produced.
The artists were therefore able to learn “how a historical event could facilitate the birth of an artistic project.”
Hafez says that the revolution was a "green card," facilitating support and funding from partners. He was pleasantly surprised, albeit taken aback, with this sudden support. "In the past, I used to think of the project, then look for funding. This time, it was the other way around."
In this project, "anything and everything becomes an artistic practice," he explains. Every decision and thought that went into the planning and production of A Future Archaeology, from the core idea to logistics, became "a decisive, factor in its choreography.”
The project therefore unfolds as a dynamic performance, mediated by historical realities, contemporary economic models for art, and institutional factors.
The project evolved as a "laboratory" of sorts, where artists tested the effect of mixing and matching multicultural ingredients while moving from Berlin, to Vienna and to Cairo.
In the first phase, which took place Berlin, hosted by TanzFabrik and Uferstudios, the idea was to engage the audience, to invite them to go and build a structure without a blueprint or architectural plan.
The element of public engagement is key in A Future Archeology. The team decided that they would expose their laboratory to the people, inviting them to toy around with their thinking process.
In Berlin, in a massive dance studio, the group built different structures that would host different artistic events, such as dance performances, art installations, film screenings, among others.
In Vienna, there will be a large construction site with a range of recyclable materials available for artists and the audience to again build something new, virtually impromtu.
Then the project's final stop will be in Egypt. Starting September, the multicultural group of artists will move their lab to Cairo.
Hafez believes Egypt will be the most challenging city to host A Future Archaeology, “not only because of practicality, but also because of the foreignness.”
In Egypt, Adham Hafez is worried about the nature of the audience, which might be more reluctant to interact with the artwork than that in either of the two European cities involved, But he is adamant on engaging them, in studios, galleries, and gardens across the city.
In Cairo, the team will be inviting artists from Egypt and the Arab world, particularly Tunisia, Syria and Lebanon, as a final test of the notion of intercultural, international collaboration.
"This project represents the current moment of rupture," says Hafez. "With it, we are looking into the future and exploring how we can dig into it, extract information and then build a narrative for it."
With the future in mind, Hafez wants to work on knowledge, and those "moments of historical rupture," as he puts it.
In parallel to the artistic project, the team decided that they would produce a thinking process sustained over two years, which would ultimately result in three residencies in three cities, one book, and a documentary film produced by a number of filmmakers and video artists. The book and the film will be the tangible element to the project, to disseminate to the public.
Hafez remembers filmmaker Deborah Stokes pointing out that archaeological discoveries are made after acts of rupture — such as earthquakes.
She said: “Let’s consider what is happening in Egypt now as a rupture, and let’s consider this rupture as our most important artistic tool.”