02. august 2023


by Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt

Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt (Denmark) is employed as assistant professor and deputy director at the New Carlsberg Foundation research centre Art as Forum at the University of Copenhagen. She has studied comparative literature, applied theatre studies and modern cultural studies in Denmark and Germany, and has worked as performance artist and curator. She currently researches on the structural precarity, artists’ collectives, separatist organization, and diversity work in cultural policy. She is the author of a.o. the book “Produktionsæstetik. En feministisk arbejdskritik mellem kunst og liv” (2022), published by Laboratory for Aesthetics and Ecology.


"Production aesthetics is the collective shaping of the frames for life in art".

“For a long time, feminists, activists and artists have talked about, called for, highlighted, and made visible the work that counts but is not valued in the logic of capitalism: the care work, the coordinating work, the maintaining and supporting work, the work of the frames, the work of invisible borders, the work of feelings, the work of relationships, the delegated work, the work of parents, of grandparents, of foremothers, the work of the planet. This work, which makes all other kinds of work possible, has been articulated from the 1970s onwards by feminist theorists. The articulation of these supporting co-producers in the production of art has not, however, changed the solid aesthetic theoretical frame by which we understand, credit, and pay for art. Therefore, I propose to spend time developing the unifying and assembling concept of production aesthetics. Production aesthetics is the collective shaping of the frames for life in art. An analysis of production aesthetics shifts the gaze from the artwork's articulation (how it is composed, painted, written, choreographed) and away from the relationship between the artwork and the receiver (what it does to and with the viewer, reader, listener, audience) to the relationship between the artwork and its background: the supporting relationships, economies, rationales, ways of life, emotions, materials, and temporalities that co-produce art. A production aesthetic reading is a feminist tribute to the bearing and the bearers, and a kind of conspiracy for the often invisible”. - Cecilie Ullerup Schmidt

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Q #1

SOLVEIG GADE Gade (Associate Professor, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Copenhagen)

In recent years, we have seen a surge in artists who respond to the often quite unbearable working conditions they face by forming various sorts of collective formations. They respond to precarious working conditions, lack of time, project temporality, and incessant competition with solidarity and the sharing of means of productions, spanning from workspaces to technical gear, as well as the nurturing of relations over time. How can institutional theatres try to learn from the independent groups and their way of working?


I think about the Danish performance collective FAMILIEN that works with interesting ideas such as a four-day working week. When thinking about the distribution of performances nationally and internationally, I think generosity is decisive: sharing work between theatres when a theatre travels to the region, co-producing, and passing on work to other ensembles instead of claiming ownership and authenticity. It is about thinking and producing with longevity.

Q #2


In your book Production Aesthetics, you identify what it would entail ‘to shift the focus from the artist genius and the formal articulation of the work to the production conditions of the work’ (supporting relations, looking at the distribution principles and logics etc.). Can you say something more about what this shift of focus entails for our understanding of the work of art. Indeed, what is the work of art if we are to consider supporting relations?


What is the work of art? Big question. I think it is about de-centring the artwork as we know it, and about changing the conditions of production so they are not built on the model of artist genius.

Q #3


In the wake of the #metoo movement, the theatre industry and performing arts community has faced an unprecedented uproar against abuse of power and privilege and in a wider sense the license for the artist genius or theatre director to do whatever they please. Notions of care and psychological safety are very much on everyone’s lips right now. At the same time, in a time marked by crisis and scarcity of resources, theatres are certainly expected to perform according to the capitalist production logic: max up their output, reach out to existing and new audience groups, go on tour, at best also internationally etc. Is it at all possible to create the infrastructures of care you refer to in the institutional system if we continue to adhere to the logic of the capitalist production paradigm?


What is possible is to use whatever powers you have, to articulate things differently, invite more voices in when promoting a work in the press, online, in your catalogue. Tell the funding bodies what matters beyond tickets sold. And to try to slow down, produce less.

Q #4


Considering the climate changes, there is a growing call for green solutions and on a national scale a growing range of theatres try to accommodate these calls. Yet, the fundamental capitalist production mode is not as such questioned. If we were to dream together, what could an institutional model and infrastructure that performs care both in relation to social and to environmental relations look like?


Let us dream, yes, but let us also remember to recall what is already good. New collectives are sharing infrastructures of production, and more than just ‘the selling’ infrastructure: they share rehearsal spaces, bank accounts, accountants and, not least, worries and knowledge about how to produce differently. We should remember the ideas and practices of the past and gather the good experiences of the ones who came before us in the field, also to reduce the pressure of ‘being original’ and producing ‘the new’ in the present. And then generosity, and knowledge and resource sharing are the best means to counteract competitive, capitalist habits of claiming immaterial property, copyright, and originality.