WHY DO I DANCE?
with Bogomir Doringer.
Sometimes blurring of categories isn't just done out of idle interest — sometimes it's an absolute necessity. We live, it hardly needs saying, in a time of continual crisis: 20th century certainties long dead, global information flows becoming as unpredictable as weather systems, the very mechanisms of our work, money, communication, identity, nation states all constantly threatening to malfunction. In his recent film-based project I Dance Alone, the Serbian Dutch artist Bogomir Doringer, looks at the dynamic of club dance floors, while in the exhibition and book Faceless – no discipline is allowed to dominate, but by constant examination from multiple directions, the subject matter is allowed to lead.
TIB: CAN YOU NAME THE POINT YOU FELT YOU MIGHT BECOME AN ARTIST? WAS THAT YOUR INCLINATION AS A KID?
Bogomir Doringer: Haha no. As a kid my interests were writing, acting and maybe directing. But then during school that switched to nature science. I was into biology and chemistry. I really didn't trust subjects like history or geography — that all seemed somehow to involve fabrication, and was too much like, “Blah blah, once upon a time it was like this...” Then a few years later we'd learn the same thing but be told it very differently. But then all this mix of different disciplines came together when I started going out. When I found out how fashion was being used to change the image of a post-war society, how old money was washed through fashion, how people who wore one thing in the war, now wore a different kind of suit to say they were a different person. This is where I became interested in these constructions, as something that I can employ in my own work: mimicry or masquerade.
AND HOW MUCH WAS CLUB LIFE OR MUSIC CULTURE A PART OF WHAT YOU DID EARLY ON?
I was always into dancing. At weddings I'd be that kid you wanted to give a slap, like, “Sit down!” — like climbing on tables, making this huge performance... very queer actually. But I just enjoyed dance. In high school, I was in totally the wrong school — pretty much a sports school, and I was totally not into sport. Instead, I went on my own to a techno club called Industria, down the stairs there, pretending like I'd been a million times before, and of course I immediately skipped two stairs and fell down. But I stood up, and I danced, and very quickly it was like, “Ok, this is the space for me. This music, this fogginess, this trippiness, this continuity, this long duration, this not knowing what musical direction comes next... this is what I want.” So that's where I fell in love with electronic sound, but also that moment. You know in the film of Trainspotting, where Ewan MacGregor is by a dance floor saying, “The clubs change, the drugs change, but THIS stays the same”? That's what I can relate to, I always imagine a club just like that, just boom, boom, boom, and the bass, and hands in the air, with this kind of ‘whoosh’ and organic atmosphere.
YOU SAY IT WAS BRAVE FOR SOMEONE TO LOOK ALTERNATIVE — WAS LIFE DANGEROUS IN BELGRADE FOR SOMEONE WHO DIDN'T FIT IN?
Yes, as subcultures started to pull themselves away, the values change. You know gabber music in Netherlands? They had something similar there, but not with hardcore techno but terrible turbo-folk music. Anything that was too Western, or too artistic, was not really appreciated. We ran away to clubs, because the street didn't belong to us. It belonged to these new values that got very mainstream, these values that the war brought. So you run away and you hide in a hole, and there you create new personalities that have extra meaning and are a way for you to survive this situation. This is also where I learn that by dancing you can maintain certain power of body and mind and ideas. A lot of people got lost in it, but for me it was a mode of survival, maybe also because I was younger, too. A lot of ideas were born in this druggy, foggy space, things like the student movement.
SO WE'RE TALKING ABOUT WHEN THE WAR HAD REACHED BELGRADE... 1999, THEN?
Well, I started going earlier. My mum was working nightshifts and my father wasn't often at home, so I started going out at 14 — so 1996-97. By 1999 I felt already at home in the club, it was like my own living room. But what also happened round then was these massive student protests that had art performance concepts — making noise together, walking in silence, they always had these different tasks. I feel like the only artistic form that really existed in Serbia in the 90s, besides photography, was these mass performances. People involved were coming from art and theatre, and it was really special and important to experience 10,000 people walking through the city every day, constantly, sleeping in the rain, all of it was about long duration performance in a way. Sometimes it would involve burning, or throwing eggs, but always it was about noise, together making this noise — the idea was that this noise should be heard by the others outside this country, it was about trying to communicate with the outside world, because there was no internet, so somehow people were hoping this noise would be recorded, could be shared.
1. DGTL, AMSTERDAM 2018 FROM THE PROJECT - I DANCE ALONE
"Ok, this is the space for me. This music, this fogginess, this drippiness, this continuity, this long duration, this not knowing what musical direction comes next... This is what I want."
OBVIOUSLY THIS IS A LONG TIME BEFORE THE OCCUPY MOVEMENT; IT'S INTERESTING THAT IT WAS DONE WITH SO MUCH IMAGINATION…
Yes, this idea of togetherness was very important. But I think perhaps this togetherness only works in times of crisis? Full-on individualism comes when there's a certain comfort. But then, also, what we were doing could also be the leftover of some sort of social Communism in Yugoslavia, where people unite more easily — at that time, not now! You think of post-Second World War; my mum was happy to work for free to renovate boulevards and streets and build highways. There was never any question about “Who's going to cover my hours?” There was this agreement to collectively renovate the country. This was fine, nobody questioned this.
SO... WE'RE STILL, GRADUALLY, ANSWERING THE FIRST QUESTION REALLY — AT WHAT POINT IN ALL THIS DID YOU THINK “I WILL CREATE SOMETHING THAT REFLECTS THIS”?
I always had the sense that I would do all my interests together, as I said. Originally I thought that film would be the thing I actually made — but I never dared to grab that because film was very much privileged, a group of students that only came from certain families. In Belgrade there'd be five students accepted and they all had the same last names as famous film directors! It was not accessible. All art studies, in fact, post-90s, you needed some connection, because everywhere there was corruption. So I kept away from all this, and just thought that by mixing different things — I called it ‘new medium’ or ‘new media’ — something would come out. Same with school subjects. It was fragmented, but I kept it all around me. I did fashion, sociology, photography, then I finally did do art studies and film — and it started to come together. When I did my project with NATO soldiers, I went back to the body. What moves the body? What transforms the body? Where did the cancer that affected these soldiers come from? So from looking at the outside, I came back into the body, back to my interest in biology and nature science, which I think I'd forgotten for a time.
AND THAT FOCUS ON THE BODY BROUGHT THE FOCUS TO YOUR WORK, WHICH CARRIES RIGHT THROUGH TO TODAY?
Yes. And crowds. But I only now realise that it was always about crowds. Bodies and crowds. When I had to write about my work, suddenly I saw it: this is repeating, this part is about crowds, and this part is about crowds. With this project about clubbing it's so obvious, of course, but this is the first project where all my interests come in. It's totally concentrated and compact; it embraces it all. Previous projects were fragmented, this one is everything — it's politics, it's body, it's image, it's identity, it's cultural difference, it's topology, it's technology... so I'm very happy about it! Somehow it feels like I'm getting mature in some way.
CAN YOU SAY IN RETROSPECT WHAT BROUGHT YOU TO THIS POINT WHERE EVERYTHING COALESCED?
Constant working. And I often choose things that I don't know: I feel them as interesting, but I don't understand them. It's important to me to challenge myself. You could say this slowed down my career path, but it was a conscious decision. I need to learn through the process of researching and working on each thing. With the clubbing project, definitely going to Berghain in Berlin, and having this long-duration clubbing accommodated by the club itself, allowed me to really get into my thoughts, to get into the core of what interests me there. And also wondering why we still need to dance. Why do I dance? Is this my addiction like a drug, is this some psychological problem, is it fear, what is this dance about? These questions really helped. Also seeing differences between how wrongly it can be done and how great it can be, both by remembering it and by experiencing it again.
We ran away to clubs, because the street didn't belong to us. It belonged to these new values that got very mainstream, these values that the war brought.
SO YOUR PERCEPTION OF WHAT YOU'RE WATCHING CHANGES AS THE PROJECT GOES ON?
Young crowds have this flexibility and openness — of course that means they can be manipulated, it's not always positive, but it's interesting to see how this spark goes. What's really interesting is that they're dancing to music that has an 80s influence, a lot of new wave and gothic influence, and they've often never heard the original music, certainly never seen people dance to it — but their bodies react instinctively to the sounds and the moves are there! It’s almost like they're part of the bodies, like the bodies carry the archive of moves. They engage with the music on a microscopic level, they listen closely to every sound, they're not shy even to react to nothingness in the music.
CAN YOU BE MORE SPECIFIC ABOUT THIS SOUND?
It's really nice techno, but it contains this homage to things like Bauhaus, Joy Division and maybe electro pop too. I saw a really interesting thing in Georgia of dissipation of ego on the dance floor. I spoke about this to people from Bassiani, and also a guy called Paata from the White Noise Movement (an anti-drug prohibition campaign group) in Tbilisi, and they all said, “Yeah but this is only since Bassiani opened! If you came five years ago, it was full of people fighting, totally rude on the dance floor, a completely different dynamic.” So basically it was this one club, by opening and circulating, what, 2,000 people every weekend through the place, educated and changed the crowd in a period of three years.
WHAT IS THE NEXT DEVELOPMENT FOR YOU?
I'm finishing this book, FACELESS: Re-inventing Privacy Through Subversive Media Strategies, an edition with the Social Design department of University of Applied Arts Vienna, with Brigite Felderer. The clubbing project I'm still enjoying in Amsterdam. I'm developing it into a script for a film, which I want to make sure is solid. Faceless is connected to the clubbing thing: its theme is crowds with no faces in post-9/11 society, how 9/11 events brought topics like surveillance, balaclavas, faces on social networks, how since 2001 we often try to hide the face, we reinvent masks, we create digital masks as solutions to software face detection and so on. It's a primitive form of expression.
You put on a mask to become someone else, or to be a collective, or to hide. But, suddenly, the beginning of the 21st century is full of images with no face. Images of David Bowie, or Daft Punk, or Pussy Riot, or Anonymous, or Fever Ray, the mix of pop culture, fashion, art, high-end art — there are no faces, they're sort of gone. That was an exhibition, and now a publication of essays and interventions, involving experts from digital art, new media, journalism, terrorism, fashion — all of which has run in parallel with the club project, for which I've been working with experts in anthropology, biology, neuroscience, choreography, all these things. I think it's interesting where a topic unites different disciplines. This is really how I choose subjects: if you have a bunch of different people sitting at the table and they can discuss it, then this means this topic is important. It is urgent.
Interview: Joe Muggs
Portrait: Nikola Lamburov