Risk Management: Choose Art!

A sort of funny thing about trying to lead a festival at the moment is the huge amount of risk-management scenarios it throws up.

Risk management is a metaphor for describing human experience that is delivered to us from the business world. It describes the human as a decision-making entity programmed to follow the path that is most profitable to itself. The best path is not necessarily – so the logic goes – the least risky. Sometimes, a certain amount of risk is good. This logic of defining everything by its risk level touches every area of human life – it’s even used to rank play equipment in childhood development.

Risk management is one of several problematic areas that has hugely accelerated over the pandemic. Governance is now done mostly with algorithms, to avoid human intervention as much as possible and perform constant (live) risk assessments, which are then sold as decisions to populations by politicians who anyway no longer have the power to intervene meaningfully. With COVID-19, it seems like threats are everywhere, making the logic of risk management seemingly never more relevant.

When considering the biggest challenge about in building Faki 24 for SeeCULT, the thing that jumped out at me was “avoiding risk management”. The reason for this is in some way simple – risk management is just fundamentally not artistic. It creates banality, and removes the joy and spontaneity from being human. This is true even if risk management is used to actually take risks. Is it really a “risk” if you’ve calculated it all out beforehand?

The Stage is a place for risks, but more importantly, it’s a place where ‘risk’ itself is diminished in usefulness. Artists have various motivations for doing their work, but most have a workaround for avoiding reducing the whole thing to a risk management exercise: sometimes that’s called following an intuition, a hunch, sometimes an impulse. Something where the end is not clear, and everything cannot be calculated out before the beginning. When it is only about maximising profit, then art is not at work anymore. Unfortunately, this is the logic that is rewarded under a global culture obsessed with risk management. But it is not where the art is: not in soaking up more and more resources, but instead choosing paths that, at least in the dominant sense, do not compute.

It reminds me of John Hodge’s still immortal countercultural screenwriting at the beginning of Trainspotting (1996): “Choose Life”. This mantra has meant many things over the years before and after Trainspotting, but I can think of no better counter-argument to the current obsession with risk management. Choosing life means an embrace of something beyond risk, and more intertwined with the elevated difficulties possibilities, and emancipation of living itself.

Isn’t ‘escape’, in the end, about choosing life, rather than continuing with this half-existence under the trap of risk-management thinking?


Gatekeepers: On the Politics of Selection

Culture is built from the ground up. But that’s not always how the decisions are made.

If you work in the arts for any period of time, after a while you sort of ‘sense’ that culture is filled with ‘gatekeepers’ – decision-makers who control the tiny resources allocated to arts and culture. These gatekeepers, often heavily influenced politically, define and control what gets made. In a situation where many activities are is monetised, like in Australia, there is just too much poverty outside of that all-pervasive logic. Increasingly, the gatekeepers are intertwined with Big Tech. Things that should probably exist outside the sphere of money, things that are pre-requisites to art – like ‘time’, ‘empathy’, or ‘attention’– are translated into categories of numerical value, with Big Tech at the sharp end of this weaponisation.

There is a lot of focus on the politics of gatekeepers – particularly their perceived biases – as identity groups reach for more visibility and representation. There is less focus on the problem of their existence itself. The concept of ‘gatekeeper’ is a particular manifestation of cultural power. It puts the artist in position of ‘someone to be decided upon’, using a set of subjective (arbitrary) criteria.

Artists have different approaches to this powerless position. Some of this negotiation is a healthy process of reviewing the aesthetic criteria for art, which should always be under review. Some of it heads in a strange direction, one very emotional, and something like a desperate reaction to this powerlessness.

Here the artist finds a match in contemporary labour trends, where the objective is, as much as possible, to avoid doing labour at all, while climbing the hierarchy of decision-making. The perfect position for today’s neoliberal individual is as a type of managerial ‘overlord’. The objective is to keep a clean image, to be attractive to funders, institutions (and, increasingly, to algorithms). It is to become this ‘gatekeeper’, and to avoid at all costs the position of asking (or demanding) for the gate to be opened – very much like Oliver Twist in the beginning of the movie OLIVER!, we are holding out our hands, pleading for more. As an artist, you don’t wanna be Oliver Twist – you wanna be Mr. Bumble.

We received a lot of applications for Faki Festival, and a lot of them were very valid projects. Those artists that were deeply engaged in ‘the shit’ of culture were the ones the selection committee gravitated towards, because that is, in some way, what the festival is about. Faki is an intervention on the ground level – it is not, and does not aspire to be, a purification of the artistic process into something beautiful, and sellable for an audience. Likewise, selectors are not somehow ‘right’ in their selections. Rather, we shape the situation in a particular way – we offer a direction.


I have seen other organisations such as Onassis adopt a ‘no rejections’ policy as a radical approach to circumventing entirely the politics of selections – opting instead for a radically inclusive curation that emphasises community-building and solidarity, which includes even those not selected. In a situation where the foundations of performance arts – togetherness, assembly, human contact – are in the process of disappearing, this seems like a valid option. Participating in this cut-throat race to the bottom seems absurd in a destroyed situation – where 90% of income for performing arts has been destroyed, and with it traditions, practices, movements.

This is the perfect time to offer a Faki Festival that promises to provoke as much as is promises to salvage what is left of performing arts institutions, which have soaked up a lot of the rescue funding.

Stay tuned for the release of the Faki 24 schedule, complete with nightly online performances from 20.30 (CEST)!



DIRECTOR’S LOG #1 – 11.02.2021

GET ME THE F@!#K OUT OF HERE! – Our 2021 Faki Festival Theme

With Star Wars famous “I got a bad feeling about this”, one of the most cliché lines in Hollywood is a character, normally just as they are about to die some horrible death via an attack from a high-level monster, saying:

“Watch out! It’s a trap!”.

This demands a question: Why so many traps in Hollywood? Why this obsession with inescapable situations – our inherent fear of them, our entering into them, even voluntarily, and our need to have them pointed out to us?

Star Wars Fan dressed as character Admiral Ackbar – (User Bonnie Burton, Wikimedia Commons).

The year 2020 contained many traps. Most significant was the pandemic itself – a dangerous sharpening of global attention to a specific, fine point, at the expense of almost all else. Choices of life or death were brought into immediate view, demanding constant engagement – and at the same time, shattering concentration. This distraction became so persistent that the only way to focus was to disconnect from the situation. To reach Taylor-Swift level productivity required a state of oblivion – a dead feeling, popularised through the escapist cultural product that spread throughout the pandemic.

Which led me to ask, when sitting down to think about what should be the theme for FAKI 24:

Was there ever a better time for escapism in contemporary culture?

Graph accurately demonstrating the development of culture through the COVID-19 Pandemic.

FAKI 24’s theme ESCAPE! draws from this situation the resurrection of a big, dumb, zombified theme, one that has new resonances in today’s context. Media and government obsessions with pandemic data, and building a narrative of survivalist drama in a war-like situation, mask the death of something much bigger – a vast cultural collapse. Over the course of the pandemic, 90% of income for performance artists in Europe has disappeared 90%! The only comparable industry is aviation. The only difference is, that theatre does not have the bottomless backing of a global network of corporate conglomerates and governments. 

The situation for the theatre artist is an impossible one – so escape is all the more important. As the few available resources became concentrated around institutions, so traditions have died, work practices have disappeared, threads have been lost, collaborations have been broken up. Loss of culture is a very different tragedy to the loss of human life, and a much less tangible one. To feel this particular pain, you have to be connected to the stream of consciousness that is performance art. We have to turn our heads from Netflix to the stage – from the performance of the stock market or the favourite football player, to the performance of an artist with something urgent to say.

Andrea Lagos-Neumann in La(s) Caída(s) (The Falls), Faki Festival 2018 – Photo: Ivan Marenic 

From these pressures, the theatre is under attack. Will it strike back? The best answer is a contradictory one: “of course not – but in what way?” Culture is nothing if not resilient – in a way, its defeat is impossible, because culture is inexorably linked to being human. And yet, the basic platforms of theatre have been thoroughly tested by the pandemic. Many ideas of the stage have been forced to transform, and some have been left behind. Is togetherness possible in a digital space? Can one enact ‘presence’ online, while hiding from the formalities and protocols of public space? Can I really ‘touch’ the audience, in an emotional way, through the screen? Is the creation of a ‘free’ online platform still possible, in the age of corporate enclosing of online space?

Can theatre exist outside of the digital categories of “engagement”, “users”, “content”, and “telling a story”, so common to web and app developers today?

C:\Users\MARGARET\Desktop\FAKI 2021\vlcsnap-2020-11-26-01h43m39s552.jpgFaki 2020’s online Zone of Control. Pictured: artists Carlota Berzal (ES) and Pablo Cernadas (ARG), and critics Jana Perković, and Richard -1. Photo: Vedran Gligo

Following the presenting of the remarkable success of Faki’s 100% online festival of 2020, there is a lot to look forward to in 2021, as we attempt to re-introduce the face-to-face components of the live theatre event. Together with Culture Centre Attack!, Faki will create a home for artists that offers them some protection from the pragmatic horrors of the pandemic, to revive or continue their work, while allowing the works to shine out optimistically into a cultural dark void. Online and face-to-face works will sit alongside each other in Faki’s ‘Zone of Control’ – where audiences can log in from anywhere in the world to connect with the crazy energy of Faki’s festival, without compromising the festival’s focus on the proximity of the theatre event. 

Of course, we are planning to do as much as possible with little resources, and whilst supporting the public health efforts and vulnerable communities, by maintaining social distancing measures. Not only sport and military activities should continue, but culture as well! So Faki 24 will be a marker of our persistence and risk-taking: to demonstrate that, against the social ills and pressures of capitalist competition, solidarity and togetherness is the best form of immunisation. 

Faki 24 welcomes your proposals, your love, and your energy – hoping to offer you a larger return on investment than the latest cryptocurrency hype. Because if we can get the F@!#k out of here, anything is possible!!


Richard -1 (a.k.a Richard Pettifer)

Artistic Director

Faki Festival 24