I began 2004 in Wellington, NZ, where on 9 January we launched UpStage, new software that provides a web-based venue for cyberformance. No sooner was this done than I said goodbye to my cat and my friends and boarded a plane for Denmark and the Odin Teatret, where I was attending the fourth Transit Festival. This festival of women's performance is organised by Julia Varley roughly every three years, in association with the Magdalena Project. I attended a workshop taught by Julia and Sandra Pasini (Teatret Om) and gave a presentation about my work.
Magdalena festivals are intense experiences, with little time for sleeping in between workshops, performances, discussions, meetings, reuinions, housework and feasts. As well as being responsible for co-ordinating participant access to email, I became a gatherer of digital photos and spent many hours at the end of the festival burning cds. After 10 days of early starts and late nights, and with a brain swollen with inspiration, I headed to London where I was to apartment-sit in Paddington for a month. For the first week, I didn't go outside other than for essential supplies. The white bed in a small, white room was the perfect haven in which to rest and digest.
But this time of peace was not to last. I had barely caught up on sleep and emails when I was plunged back into the hectic pace of life. Avatar Body Collision was devising a new show as well as beginning to work with UpStage, I had several friends to catch up with and I also needed to earn some money. In between rehearsals, I gave lectures at Goldsmiths University (London) and Aberystwyth University (Wales) and taught a one-day workshop with Karla at Manchester Metropolitan University. Just to complicate things, a key fell off my keyboard and I had to go through a convoluted process to get a new one under warranty. A free replacement keyboard was provided, but unless I wanted to spend hours travelling across London, its installation was my job. The phone technician assured me it was straightforward, and the instructions looked simple enough - until I realised that they were not for a laptop that had had a wireless card installed, with miniature screws, over the place where the keyboard cable plugs in. This held me up for as long as it took to borrow a miniscule screwdriver from a passing fairy and get the itsy-bitsy screws out. I felt quite proud of myself when I finally put my laptop back together and IT WORKED!
There were many pleasures during this time in London, not least of all spending time with my wonderful friends. There was a talk by Erik Davies, author Techgnosis; a free seat in the director's box at the National Theatre for "His Dark Materials", the epic stage adaptation of the Philip Pullman trilogy; visits to the Tate and the ICA and dinner with the Furtherfield family; and I was a volunteer programme-seller at the International Women's Day performance of the Vagina Monoglues. I also made excursions to Exeter and Wales. When Avatar Body Collision premiered our new show, "Lagging with the Lololols", at the Virtual Minds Congress (Bremen, Germany, 12 March), I was performing at Karla's desk in Deptford, Vicki was performing from New Zealand and for the first time we had two performers on stage - both Karla and Leena were physically present on stage in Bremen. Another first - there were NO technical problems during the show. The down-side of this was that the audience had trouble believing that Vicki and I were performing in real-time, and not pre-recorded; technical hitches and glitches make the liveness riskiness of our shows more apparent.
After the show, I headed for Belgrade, to Antonella's studio where we planned to develop our Inanna project with video artist Vesna Tokin. This was my fourth visit to Belgrade and it felt like coming home. I was happily reunited with my friends at Dah Teatar, Zene na delu and Rex Cultural Centre. My arrival in Serbia coincided with a fresh burst of violence in Kosovo, which saw the few remaining Serbian families forced out of that area. I had the opportunity to see how this was portrayed in both Western and Serbian media - the one focussing on the burning of a single mosque in Belgrade, and the other focussing on the UN's inability to prevent the burning of Serbian churches and homes in Kosovo.
During April I lead a double life, working in Belgrade on funding proposals for Inanna and assisting Antonella with her studio renovations, while online I was busy working with the Colliders on our first show using UpStage - DTN2. This was a development of themes from an earlier anti-war show, Dress The Nation, which had been staged in The Palace. Despite starting out with the intention of reworking an existing show, we ended up creating a new show, as we were working with new software and that required a rethinking of many things - not just technical elements but also how to incorporate the online audience in the new role that UpStage gave them.
DTN2 was presented on May 9th at Machinista Festival, Glasgow. I was performing from Rex - where the broadband internet is usually more reliable than the studio dial-up; Antonella and Zoe were nearby watching the performance on another computer. Their frequent bursts of laughter assured me that the show was going well, although technical problems at the festival meant that we couldn't give the live performance that was meant to accompany the show. Karla, on site in Glasgow, had to go to a friend's house to perform online.
I then headed to Zagreb, and the FAKI Festival, where I gave an UpStage workshop and assisted Zoe and Lori with their crazy comedy show "Transkuhinski Raj". Zagreb is the capital of Croatia, wedged between Germanic Europe and the wild Balkans; the young anarchists there were going through a Balkan phase - enamoured of everything Serbian, even turbo-folk music. Outside the festival, I had a bit of a nosey round the city and caught up with net.artist Maya Kalogera, who gave me a personal guided tour of some of her work.
My next foray out of Belgrade was to Novi Sad for the Transeuropean Picnic. This was held to mark the accession of ten new countries to the European Union - of which Serbia was NOT one, but neighbouring Hungary and former Yugoslavian Slovenia were. The event was a gathering of artists and thinkers, one of these great Serbian events where everything is free, programmes are guidelines only, and you can never be quite sure what's going to happen next. During the opening, I was listening to speaker after speaker from Eastern European countries talk about Europe and the European Union, and contemplating the fact that I was one of the few non-Europeans here, and most definitely the only New Zealander - when a woman approached me with a quizzical look on her face and asked, "Helen?"
I knew that I knew her but at first I couldn't think who it was, as that this was not someone I expected to see in Serbia. It was Caroline McCaw, who had been editor of Critic the year after I was President of the Otago University Students' Association, and who is now lecturing at the School of Design. This happy and unexpected reunion meant that neither of us mixed as much as we would have with the other participants, but spent a lot of time together going "do you remember ... ?" and I had the opportunity to catch up on local New Zealand news such as the intricacies of the seabed and foreshore controversy. We didn't completely ignore the others at the picnic, and met interesting artists from Georgia, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey and Holland.
Back in Belgrade, my New Zealand flatmate Jessica arrived to study with Dah Teater at their annual summer school. I enjoyed playing the local and showing her around, but only for a few days as I was off again - this time to the Porsgrunn International Theatre Festival in Norway for the launch of Magdalena Norway. The festival was also an opportunity to progress the work on the new Magdalena Project web site with Jill, and an added bonus was a visit from my old friend Zab who lives in southern Sweden. The PIT Festival, in its tenth year, began with a parade of hundreds of dressed-up local school children and featured a lot of circus, clown and street theatre. Circus Ronaldo was one of the highlights of the festival for me, along with a couple of street performers in nice white undies - no idea who they were or where they were from but they were completely hilarious.
After Porsgrunn, and a couple of days in Oslo with Miff, Terije & Georgi, I returned to Belgrade via Amsterdam and Brussels. This wasn't the most direct route, but it meant I got to hang out with friends in those cities, who treated me to a Pixies concert and gave me my first experience of Brussels. Knowing nothing about this city other than it's where all the European Union bureaucracy happens, I was pleasantly surprised by Brussel's art nuveau architecture and hospitable inhabitants. I checked out the Belgian Center for Comic Strip Art, a fantastic flea market and the cafe on the roof of the Museum of Musical Instruments.
I returned to Belgrade for a hot, wet summer and the Eclectic Tech Carnival, a hands-on computer festival for women organised by Gender Changers. As well as teaching an UpStage workshop and performing "swim", I attended as many of the other workshops that I could and trained my web cam on the action for some of the group who weren't in Belgrade but joined us online. It was an intense and empowering week, with activities from taking the guts out of computers and putting them back in again to occupying a central city park for several hours for a girls' night out of beer, paddling and talking. I got to play the local again as I helped to shepherd guests from Greece, Holland, Germany and Spain around the kafanas and tourist attractions. Away from the computers, we saw Stella Chiweshe perform outdoors in Kalemagden (part of the BELEF Summer Festival) and went night-swimming on Ada.
The end of the /etc coincided with the beginning of the PGA (People's Global Action) conference, which some of the /etc women were staying on for. I was too festivalled-out to attend, but I got to hear about it and reconnected with one of the organisers, who I knew from years ago in Dunedin. The final night of the PGA was an on-again-off-again screening of an illegal pre-release copy of "Fahrenheit 9/11", which never eventuated - but instead a happy mob spilled out from the Studenski Kultural Centar (SKC) and onto the main street, stopping traffic with drumming, fire-juggling and a celebratory atmosphere. An elderly woman passer-by who asked me what was happening was delighted by the mood of the crowd and the idea that this was a party, not a demonstration.
All this time I had been continuing to work with Antonella and Vesna on our Inanna project: we had spent hours planning, researching, gathering material, writing funding proposals and trying to make our computers talk to each other; we had had meetings with important people, made models and mock-ups, and explored caves on field-trips. But despite having a date and venue to present the work in August, we hadn't succeeded in getting any funding for the project and it was impossible to realise it with absolutely no budget. We had to accept that we would not be able to do it this year. For me, this meant that my main reason for being in Belgrade was, temporarily, over.
I was a bit exhausted from travel, festivals, rejection letters and hip pain, and facing yet another birthday. A rare rain-free day was arranged and I was joined by friends for a picnic in the park (Belgrade is blessed with some excellent parks). Then I said a reluctant ka kite, videmo se, see you again, and with some difficulty forced everything into my suitcases. Milica helped me onto a train bound for Ljulbljana, where I spent a relaxing few days with friends before heading for Munich. More relaxing was in store for me here, including an alpine excursion and great quantities of good food, good beer, great company and at last seeing "Fahrenheit 9/11". My train journey onwards to Amsterdam was uneventful, despite a person under a train at Munich Hauptbanhoff just before I left and a late-running train nearly making me miss my connection in Coln. Like every traveller's nightmare, I heard the guard blow his whistle and saw the train doors close just as I reached them. To my relief, the guard saw me and made the train wait a few seconds longer.
While staying with Brenda, Jane and Jesse in Amsterdam, I did some web site testing work and a performance slot for the Dissension Convention, organised by Furtherfield. This involved a steep learning curve in using the FurtherStudio software and preparing for a 3 hour live gig with Colliders Karla and Vicki, and net.artist Bea Gibson. The gig, part of a series of protest events around the USA Republican Party Convention at the end of August, went reasonably well, although I didn't feel like I had enough material to keep it interesting for the live audience for 3 hours. Some of that audience were right in front of me, as Brenda's flash new modem meant several laptops could be online at once (although it possibly slowed things down for us).
From Amsterdam, I returned to London, to Karla's warm family home in Deptford. This was to be my base from which I bounced off to Dublin (Kushla's 30th and the Dublin Fringe), York (social), Manchester (meeting with CAN to set up an online UpStage workshop), Wales (completing the Magdalena Project web site), and finally Trondheim. Karla and I had hoped to find some time to devote to Avatar Body Collision work, but the reality was that with my travels and her work and family commitments, there was only time for a few long evenings talking over bottles of wine.
Trondheim Matchmaking "is a meeting point to present innovative ideas and artistic projects, a place to ensure and develop competence and resources within new technology and electronic arts", organised by TEKS (Trondheim Electronic Arts Centre). It was great event, and I've written more about it for in an article for Furtherfield (online soon). As well as the festival itself, I was able to continue my Magdalena networking, staying with Eva who I'd met in Porsgrunn, and having dinner with Coby and Jaap from Teatret Fusentast. I also made a connection with Letizia Jaccheri, who teaches an interdisciplinary course at Trondheim University and will propose UpStage to her students as a group project.
Back in London I managed to see a couple more friends and attend the opening of Furtherfield's gallery HTTP, where I finally had the pleasure of meeting Neil Jenkins, who had been the technician for the first Colliders' show back in 2002. Then I had to focus on packing and working out the best way to get from Deptford to Heathrow. I opted for the bus as it was a minumum of changes and stairs, and as I hadn't travelled this way before I got to see some new sights through the drizzly twilight as I took my leave.
And now? I'm sitting in the drizzly New Zealand summer, with my cat on my lap and some old vinyl on the turntable, contemplating what lies ahead for 2005 and enjoying simple pleasures such as waking up in the same bed, same city, same country each morning.
It's good to stop sometimes.
© Helen Varley Jamieson 1999-2011