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Friday, January 19. 2018
in just two weeks, the Magdalena München Saison 2018 will open with a special evening of performances at HochX. i've been working on this project for almost a year, with the help of a small organisation team. we're a lean operation - no office, and a relatively small amount of project funding, but with a lot of wonderful Magdalena energy!
during the last week we have been finalising all of the print material, with raquel ro working late nights and another designer, carina müller, jumping in with some wonderful ideas to really lift our marketing materials to a new level. one rather special detail is the font that is used for the word "Magdalena" - this is a brand new font, it's not even finished or publicly available yet, but its creator inge Plönnings happens to be a friend of carina's, & happened to have already completed the letters required for "Magdalena", & has allowed us to use them. the lovely coincidence is that as well as being a stunning font, the name inge has given to this font is "Magnet". those of us who work on the Magdalena Project website refer to ourselves as "the Magnetics", and we're all part of the MAGdalena NETwork, so to have a font called Magnet is very appropriate!
The programme and flyers are at the printers, email versions are about to fly into our inboxes, we have a press conference next week and the first international artists start arriving a few days later for their residencies at the Villa Waldberta. right now it's that luscious and slightly stressful anticipatory time - i'm surrounded by lists, notes, emails, messages, a team of people, but still the fear of forgetting something lurks in my head. have we done everything? what have i forgotten???
Wednesday, December 20. 2017
last week i finished read "Die Enthüllung" by the peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa. it was selected for our Literaturkreis (book club), and i discovered that the english translation is not available until some time next year. mostly we try to choose books that are available in german and english, and in the past when there hasn't been an english translation, i've simply not read the book. this time, i decided it was time to tackle a german novel.
actually i have tackled german novels before. a couple of years ago, our Literaturkreis book was "Das Wochenende" by Bernhard Schlink, which deals with germany's left wing terrorism of the 1970s. it's available in english, so i read it first in english, and because it wasn't so long i decided to then read the german original. having already read it in english, and keeping the english translation beside me, i was able to get through it pretty easily. this year, i started reading "Aus Tausend Grünen Spiegeln" by Christa Moog, which is the story of an East German woman who is a fan of the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield, and makes a journey to visit all the places where KM lived. i'm still half-way through this one, & have taken a pause from it. it's quite poetically written, and jumps about in time, so it's difficult to follow when i'm only understanding parts of it. but as i'm familiar with KM's story and writings, there are large chunks of it that are more accessible to me.
so, "Die Enthüllung" is the first novel that i've started and finished reading in german, without an english translation, and without knowing the story. i'm sure i missed a lot of nuances and i can't comment on its literary merits. i was able to follow the plot, and get a good sense of the characters. in general, it was too much of a male sex fantasy to be a book i really like, but the main thing for me is that i've reached another milestone in my slow mastering of the deutsche sprache. Ein kleiner Triumph!!
Thursday, December 7. 2017
or, the curious tale of how i came to lose my swiss army knife.
just before 3am one night a couple of months ago, i heard the sound of breaking glass outside. it had been very quiet, with no passing vehicles, so i looked out the window to see what had caused the sound. from one window, i could see two people standing on the opposite corner. from the kitchen window, i saw the shop down below, but didn't notice anything amiss. the noise had also disturbed andy, who came to the kitchen window as i went away. a moment later i heard her urgently whispering that someone had gone into the shop. when i returned to the kitchen window with the camera, she was already on the phone to the police giving a detailed live commentary. it appeared that the two people i'd seen on the opposite corner had smashed the lower glass of the shop's door, waited on the other side of the street to see if the noise attracted any attention, then come back to rob the shop. one was inside, the other outside keeping watch. several times he looked directly up at our window, where i was attempting to take photos and andy was describing him to the police. thanks to our spectacularly lush and abundant basil plants on the window sill - which i'd been meaning to harvest for some time but hadn't got around to - the look-out ("Schmierer" auf Bayerisch) did not notice us.
after only a few minutes, the Einbrecher ducked nimbly out from the broken window, a bulging bag in each hand. the two men walked briskly away from the scene at the same moment as an unmarked police car came around the corner. andy was still commentating to the operating, telling that the theives had just walked past the police car. within minutes reinforcements arrive - i was quite amazed at the speed and resources of the response - and a short time later they had apprehended the two men and recovered the stolen goods (cigarettes, to the value of about €1500). we gave our statements to the police and i provided my photos - too dark and blurry to be of use in identifying the men, but helpful in confirming that we had a close and clear view of the event (through the basil leaves!). it had been a dramatic and surreal experience to witness the burglary, and the shop owner was very grateful for our actions.
the story doesn't end there, however. some six weeks later, andy received a summons to attend the court case, and i decided to go along to support her and to experience the german justice system in action. i had had a busy morning, with a meeting running later than i expected, and as i hurriedly cycled to the court i realised that i'd forgotten to take my swiss army knife out of my handbag. this pocketknife was given to me by friends as a farewell gift when i set off on one of my european adventures in the late 1990s, and it had travelled everywhere with me for nearly 20 years. twice i had nearly lost it at airport security (actually i think three times, but i can't remember where the third was): at sydney airport i was able to check in my hand luggage backpack at the boarding gate, with almost nothing but the knife in it, and carried my hand luggage on in a plastic bag (not the first time i'd done this - i went to india in 1987 with a plastic supermarket shopping bag as my handluggage ... ); and in trondheim, where security didn't even pick it up - but i was flying via oslo to london and was sure it would get confiscated in oslo. trondheim being a small airport, i was taken backstage to the baggage handling area, found my suitcase waiting to be loaded, and slipped in the knife. it's been an invaluable tool on many occasions - most often for opening bottles of wine, but it's also come in handy in many other social and technical situations.
i knew there would be stringent security at the court (the beate jeppe case is currently going on in the same building) but i expected there would be a system for holding onto such items, and there was. i handed over my swiss army knife and in return was given a laminated red cardboard square, printed with the number 9. the court proceedings were straightforward as both men had pleaded guilty, both were sentenced to prison, and in the end andy was not even required to testify. leaving the building, i stopped at security to retrieve my swiss army knife. after some confusion, it became clear that my knife was no longer there. was it a small silver pocket knife, they asked? no, i answered, it's a medium-sized red swiss army knife. eventually, a very apologetic woman security officer concluded that someone must have mixed up the 6 and the 9, and handed my swiss army knife to the owner of the small silver pocket knife - who must have seen it as an upgrade, as they had not objected to being given the wrong knife.
it felt like we spent almost as long at security as we had in the court itself. they didn't have a procedure for such an eventuality, as it had never happened before. details were exchanged and i headed home, knifeless. a week later they called to arrange payment for a replacement, and i was amazed to learn that i can buy a similar knife for not much more than €20! As someone who nostalgically values such gifts and very rarely loses anything special, it was a bit of a wrench to let go emotionally; however, i've lost contact with the friends who gave me the knife, the blades were getting blunt and the scissors were a bit wonky. sometimes it's the right time to let go.
the burglars are in jail and the knife will be replaced; all's well that ends well!
Friday, October 20. 2017
In October i went to Graz, Austria, to participate in the 20th anniversary of the faces network.
The exhibition poster listing participating artists.
Faces is an international network of women in new media / digital art that began in 1997 when women meeting at European media art events began to connect, and to question the lack of women at these events. The network functions both as an email list with over 400 members, and as a catalyst for face-to-face meetings - from informal dinners to panels and events within established media arts events, conferences, exhibitions and festivals. I forget exactly when I found and joined Faces - some time around 1999 or 2000; since then it has become an important part of my distributed online networked community/family.
Annie Abrahams & i were invited to perform Unaussprechbarlich; as there wasn't enough funding to pay Annie's airfare from France, we developed a version of the performance with Annie appearing online via Zoom. Given that my work is often purely online, collaborating with artists around the world, it's kind of fun to do things the other way around - adapt a performance that was created with both of us in the same space, to cyberformance. In fact we didn't have to change much at all for Annie to be online, and we were able to add some interesting extra visual elements via Annie's webcam. Overall it worked very well and we received lots of positive feedback from the audience.
"Unaussprechbarlich", photo by Myriam Thyes.
There were about 35 women from the Faces network participating in the weekend, as well as members of the public and artists from Schaumbad Freies Atelier Haus where everything was held. And a lot more Faces were represented in the exhibition, which i didn't manage to see all of; there just wasn't enough time! Anja Westerfrölke gave me a speed-tour of her language game artwork, in which migrants to austria spoke about their experiences of learning German, which was very interesting in relation to Unaussprechbarlich and exploring the necessity of reinventing oneself in a new language. Myriam Thyes' beautiful vulva banners graced the entry way and gallery, there were video artworks from many women including Nancy Buchanan and Hito Steyerl, and Reni Hoffmüller exhibited and performed a radio antenna designed from the lines of the palm of her hand. And there was so much more!
During Saturday there were presentations from artists present and online, followed by time for everyone in Graz to present themselves. This meant that we all had a chance to learn at least a little bit about each others' work - although by the time we got to the end of the day it was definitely a struggle to remember everything. Fortunately we could then relax, experience some performances, enjoy a delicious birthday dinner, then get down on the dance floor with DJ Charlotte.
Writing the manifesto.
On Sunday time was set aside for discussing the future of Faces, and the idea of writing a manifesto or statement emerged. Large paper was found and Elaine volunteered to be scribe. Contributions were made from young and old - voices of experience blending with fresh visions and new perspectives. The intergenerationality of the whole weekend was something I particularly appreciated. Several young women had travelled from France, Germany and I don't know where else to meet the network, present their work, and engage with the politics and organisation of Faces. They were welcomed by the older Faces and fitted easily into the group.
A special moment for me was coming back to Schaumbad after our visit to the wonderful Kunstgarten and finding Nina Sobell at her computer, surrounded by the younger Faces who were helping her to finish editing a video that needed to be submitted that evening. There was work to be done and a deadline to be met, but they were all smiling, talking and laughing together as they got it done. A couple of hours later I was sitting in the Irish Pub (very little else is open in Graz on a Sunday evening!) with some of the others, when Nina and her gang burst in, jubilant at having completed their mission. Nina boldly attempted to order a bottle of champagne to celebrate, but sadly Irish bars don't run to such extravagances and they had to make do with wine and beer (or perhaps guiness).
Nina Sobell with Chloé Devanne Langlais, Lena Chen, Charlotte Eifler and Elaine Ho.
How did we manage to pack so much into one weekend? I haven't even mentioned the Sunday afternoon screening of Lynn Hershman Leeson's film Women Art Revolution, which documents the history of recent and contemporary feminist art in the USA. It was great to watch this in the same room as some of the women who made appearances in the film.
Big thanks to Eva Ursprung, Kathy Rae Huffman, Vali Djordjevic, Diana McCarty and Ushi Reiter for organising an inspiring and enjoyable event; Alexandra Gschiel did a wonderful job with the exhibition, as did those providing delicious food and efficient technical support. It was very clear - from the energy of everyone present, the interest of new members, and the impressive body of work presented - that 20 years on from the founding of the network it is still very much valued and has a lot to offer. There are plenty of ongoing problems for women in the arts - currently highlighted in the media by the "#metoo" campaign and open letter against harrassment - but networks such as Faces provide solidarity, herstory, visibility and much more that we can celebrate. I'm looking forward to the development of the manifesto and the next 20 years of Faces!
Read Marina Gržinić's post about the weekend here.
Graz is a magical place, and it turned on perfect autumn weather for us - almost a heatwave. The sky was stubbornly blue and cloudless, the trees in dazzling colours. My accommodation was in the Künstler_innen Zimmer at mur.at - a characterful Altbau with the toilet on the landing, shower in the bedroom, and an hypnotic dreaming creature mural on the walls and ceiling above my bed. It was a short tram-ride away from Schaumbad, and on Sunday morning my room-mate Lena Chen and I decided to walk along the river Mur and find our way through a promised "hole in the fence". We found our way, with a slight detour through the recycling depot next to the building that Schaumbad is in. The stacked towers of compressed plastics were simultaneously beautiful and horrifying. I've addressed recycling and plastic rubbish in several projects (such as We Have a Situation! and make-shift) and will no doubt come back to it again, as it's a problem that isn't going away in a hurry. We can transform pollution into art - but wouldn't it be better not to have the pollution in the first place?
Tuesday, August 29. 2017
i like autumn, especially in places where the seasonal changes are more visible. in new zealand, most of the trees are not deciduous and remain green all year, so there are less of the dramatic displays of colourful leaves giving way to skeletal branches. here in munich, we have leafy green privacy in spring and summer, then in winter everything is exposed. autumn ("herbst" auf deutsch) is a time of change and colour, the days are still warm and the weather is usually more settled. people return from holidays, school starts again, and there is a busy atmosphere of preparation for the coming winter months.
but there's one thing that i don't like: leaf blowers. this year it seems that our building maintenance has drastically increased it - the guy was here yesterday, only six days after he was here last week. the noise is the worst part of it, it's like a small noisy motorbike revving for half an hour outside my window. it's noise pollution as well as fossil fuel consumption and pollution. but what really makes me crazy is that it's a completely pointless exercise: the day after the paths have been blown, they look exactly the same as they did the day before. leaf blowing doesn't remove leaves, it just moves them around, and with the slightest puff of wind they simply blow back onto the path.
if it was a leaf vacuum cleaner, that would be different. if the leaves were quietly raked into a pile then bagged and removed, that would be fine - and wouldn't take any longer than the leaf blower, who wanders around waving his machine almost randomly, talking on his phone or smoking a cigarette. if the leaves (which are small) were simply left to lie on the path (which is dry) that would be fine with me. but the leaf blower is definitely not fine!
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