The exhibition poster listing participating artists.
In October i went to Graz, Austria, to participate in the 20th anniversary of the faces network.
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.
"Unaussprechbarlich", photo by Myriam Thyes.
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.
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!
Writing the manifesto.
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.
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.
Nina Sobell with Chloé Devanne Langlais, Lena Chen, Charlotte Eifler and Elaine Ho.
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).
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!
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?