TENT: A School of Performative Practices

Created by

Pankaj Tiwari

Supported by

Santarcangelo Festival Italy, Montage Modus Berlin, Gessnerallee Zurich, DAS Theatre, Amsterdam, Institute of Advanced Studies, University of Minnesota

One day, I was sleeping in a house, around Dam Square in Amsterdam. I was fully asleep and then I saw a few important people come into my dream. They told me that, from the next day, all the institutions in Europe will change. I trust important people. So, When I woke up, I started saying to others, that from today the institutions have changed. People started laughing at me, questioning me, how will they be changed and why should they change? 

Listen, I have been told about this from important people, I believe in them fully. So if you say it has not changed, I will start building one which can change it or which is different. Because I trust them and their thoughts, as they are important people.

How to change these institutions? Within the structure and institution, Can we really support these ways of thinking and thoughts? Can we create an institution, which is non-white? What will it look like? What will be its practices? All these questions started coming to me, from others as well as from myself.

I like action, so the very next day, I started building it without thinking much. And while doing it I realise I do not have the best tools and resources to do it alone. For example, I do not have land here, if I invite artists/collaborators to build it, I do not have a house for them. I mean they can share a place with me, but then they also need the registration, health insurance, and other check and boxes. Which I can not arrange at this moment. I also need to arrange their food. If I can not provide them food, then they need to work to earn, food. When they will be busy earning food, how will they build a non-white institution? They also might need a workspace, to think and try out prototypes and meetings, which I can not provide them, I mean they can use parks and public places, but how public are public places in Europe? For everything, we need permission, so I can not take that risk as well. Ohh I forgot the main thing, as an individual artist, I can not invite them to build it, because they need visas, and I am not capable enough to provide them with the necessary papers to give them visas. And also, if I invite them on my own in difficult conditions, first I will feel sad and bad about it, and my peers and culture workers will question my intention and integrity. So the moral is that I can not invite non-white people to built a non-white institution. This is reality. But I want to build it, so I thought to start with my white and non-white peers, who are already here, in Europe. Create a condition with them, and then maybe invite others with better conditions.

That is why, until now, even with all the great intentions, I can not run the institution. So I decided to start it with a performative gesture, and I will try to find the collaborators here, with whom together we will find resources and answer the How question. I will not run this school/institution until it has enough resources to invite others and make it with them.

Everyone knows that there is a problem, but no one wants to address it. And the maximum we do it, address it theoretically. People of colour did not get the space or power to build an institution on their own, till the time they themselves became white. So every time, even when a non-white claims to build an institution with a different, it is basically a white person. I want to build a non-white institution now before whiteness takes me in it. I want to create a non-white diverse institution, an institution that can facilitate diversity. I do not have all the answers to the questions of how? At this moment, having all the answers to those questions is not that important for me neither it’s my sole responsibility, my responsibility is to sincerely search for the answers, through practice. This is where I am.

I don't know what has been done in 400 years, but I know that I want to build this institution with you all through negotiations. And it is not just negotiation in terms of resources but also in terms of finding questions and answers. I value your perspective and that is why I want to build it together. This is negotiation, negotiation with cultural biases and histories. That is why I want to work with you. How can we create methodologies where transmission is happening on both sides? Not one-sided. I am angry, but not to you but to the historical oppression and the structural violence, it still produces. That is another thing, but I want to build it with you now.

Hello everyone, my name is Pankaj, and I am a curator from India. Just to clarify, that I choose a name for that dreamy school/instituion, TENT: a school of performative practices. This is a school which imagines, reimagines and creates real structures and prototype new institutions, new ways of working and create possible practical frameworks to see art and institutions differently. The core of TENT is the cross-connection between diversity and institution. If we build an institution, having diversity at the centre, then the institution will be different. This year, it is in its research phase, where it goes with certain practices, and exists within an institution or a festival, make its base there and leave its traces. TENT wants to work on developing practices, which can reshape the current white schools and institutions. How can current institutions learn, how can it change, what practices might be helpful, how does it work on accessibility, for whom they are accessible, how can architecture(real and metaphorical) of the institution change, are a few questions which TENT deals with.

Concretely the TENT questions the current discourses of the white institutions and the ticks and boxes it creates for non-European artists. The gaze white institutions and people associated with it have towards others. TENT wants to somehow blur this gaze, where white curators and institutions feel that they are not helping but both can have a conversation from equal levels and the same table. The frame should not be decided but can be negotiated between both realities and contexts through conversation. TENT thinks there is so much to learn from each other, and we as learning subject wants to practice those possibilities.

In these times, the white institutions know well, that everything is not right. That is why the neoliberal structures give extra resources to work on it, within the structure. There is so much conversation going on in almost every institution, about decolonizing, making it accessible, issues of racism, reaching new audiences, doing fair practices, decentralizing power, but all of them seem to be in only conversations or on the papers. One reason for this is, because the conversation is happening for the institutional needs, so it is done for the institution and structure which is running it. You can not fight the masters from their tools. TENT feels these are important debates, and we want to take a few of these questions and work on them through different/new practices. We want to introduce non-institutional practices within our institution, we want to put living practices as artistic mediums in our school and institutions, we do not want any doors at our school, no more conference room meetings for diversity and inclusion, we want these conversations happening on the dinner tables while eating together with others. We want the dinner table to be the centre of the school/institution. This is how we imagine, we can not be sure whether this is best or this is worst, the only thing we claim, that we want to try this and create this as a practice-based research space and a space of learning. TENT itself wants to be a learning space.

We are going to build an institution having diversity at the centre of it. An institution that does not exploit people’s identity to capitalise on it. Rather, it would like to create a structure where diverse identities can feel a sense of belonging, a space of mutual learning, a sense of ownership, a sense of home, a better support structure, space where the stakeholders have more unproductive time and less bureaucracy.

I remember building my house with my parents, back in 2004. The ratio of cement and sand needs to be 1:3. That is the number (4) of participants, we would like to work in one cycle. I was also told that if the base of the house is strong, it will last long. So till the time, I can not run the institution, I want to spend time on building its base. I want to start from the base of our school/institution. That is why, whatever place I get an invitation, I start making a base for the school/institution. This is both real and metaphorical. In this term during the Santarcangelo Festival, I will be digging the land and having conversations and practices around thinking and doing new schools and institutions, to build the base. I invite you all to join me, building this base through ideas of schooling, reshaping institutions, thoughts, and physical labour to dig the land and make the base. I also want to invite you to find some answers to the question of HOW together. This is what I want to find, what is your commitment towards it?

Short Reel on TENT