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Wednesday, December 9. 2015
during november & december i've been working with annie abrahams on our collaboration "unaussprechbarlich"; we started a few months ago with the research (building on annie's "estranger" project from the last year or more), around the topic of learning language(s) as an adult to live in a foreign country. the project comprises research, the website, and performances - of which we have now given two work-in-progress presentations. tonight we give the third, and last for this phase of the work.
it's been a much more difficult process than we had expected, for a number of reasons. annie and i have worked together since 2008 on various projects: annie invited me to participate in her projects "breaking solitude", "huis clos/no exit", "angry women" and the Reading Club; we were both part of the CyPosium organising team in 2012; and during 2013-14 we co-edited CyPosium - the book. annie presented a work at the 121212 UpStage Festival and participated in the UpStage 10th Birthday Celebrations in 2014. that's quite a lot of online communication and collaboration over almost eight years, so it came as a surprise for both of us that collaboration in physical space is very different. i've worked both online and offline with people from all kinds of different creative backgrounds for over 15 years and never had this experience. so we are asking ourselves, what is it that has made it difficult?
there have been a couple of significant practical and environmental challenges, at least for me. first of all, we agreed that we would work as much as possible auf deutsch. we decided that our primary audience, at least for this first phase of the project, is german-speaking - either german people, or people who have moved to germany and learnt or are learning german; so it made sense to speak and write in german, on the website and in the performance. furthermore, i am in the middle of this language-learning process, and that is integral to the project, so by doing everything in german i am living the actual experience and improving my german along the way. which is all very true and good, but i discovered that not only is it very hard and tiring to be immersed in german (to be honest, i was never really completely immersed as i still had english conversations, emails, etc), it is also very limiting creatively. i frequently found myself tongue-tied, unable to express ideas, struggling so much to find words that i could not find anything and my brain ground to a halt. i could not be creative - yet - in german. the more i tried, the harder it felt and the more blocked, stupid and uncreative i became.
a second challenge was that, early on, annie proposed that we perform without computers. i don't remember now what her reasons were, and i accepted it without much discussion. i had ideas for text projections, webcams and other performative elements involving the computer which i was disappointed not to do, but i also didn't argue very hard for it. i was taking on the challenge of language immersion so why not also take on the challenge of going without my performance instrument as well? i was open to all proposals, willing to come out from behind the keyboard and explore outside my comfort zone. thus doppel-behindert, without language or instrument, i produced something immature, cliche, false and awkward. in hindsight i could say that it was a mistake, that i should have stuck to what i do best, but perhaps it was a necessary if unpleasant part of the process. finally i admitted defeat, retreated behind the keyboard and reverted to speaking english. yes, i felt like a failure (weichei, warmduscher, schattenparker ... ) but it was such a relief! struggling sometimes produces great results, but to struggle unproductively is very depressing and exhausting.
after our initial presentation at the villa waldberta, we had four days in the proberaum at schwere reiter theater to prepare for our next presentation. i experimented with text projections, my flexible mirror, live webcam images, online translation and pronunciation tools and text editors; all at the computer. i understood that annie's initial proposal not to use computers was the right thing for her, but not for me. we rearranged our material, developed different ways to present elements and found creative solutions to most of the problems. there were still difficulties, however the pressure of the next performance only a few days away meant that we didn't waste time analysing and in general it felt that we were working better. we were satisfied with our next performance and had a good response from the audience, although the structure of the evening meant that we lost the opportunity to have a discussion afterwards on the themes of the work.
now, as we prepare for the last presentation in this phase of the project, we're starting to be able to reflect on the overall process and what has made it so difficult. annie has written this post, including some response from me, i'm writing this post that you're reading now, and we're discussing together and via email. what we understand is that we have fundamentally different working processes: annie likes to think things through and not try out or rehearse, so as to be new every time and not completely controlled. i'm pretty much the opposite: i need to try things out in order to see if they work or not, and to discover new possibilities; then i rehearse and repeat in order to be able to do things smoothly without thinking. (which is interesting for another reason, as during the course of this project i identified that one of the things i don't like about learning languages is the repetition - having to repeat things over and over again to learn by heart. rote learning is boring - but rehearsing for a performance is not.) i might have recognised our differences earlier in the process, if i hadn't been so stuck and behindered by language. now, i'm curious about whether our processes are the same online or not, and what difference that makes to how we work together.
Friday, December 4. 2015
Dezember 4 20h Schwere Reiter Proberaum, Dachauer Straße 114, München.
Tram 12, 20, 21, Bus 53, Leonrodplatz. Eintrit 12 / 8 euros.
Unausprechbarlich untersucht die schmerzvolle, lustige und lebensverändernde Erfahrung in einer anderen Sprache als die eigene Muttersprache zu kommunizieren. Die Künstlerinnen sind beide Migrantinnen – Annie reiste vor dreißig Jahren von Holland nach Frankreich und Helen kam im 2010 von Neuseeland nach Deutschland.
Annie und Helen laden das Publikum ein, mit ihnen in ein Sprachgewirr jenseits eindeutiger Bedeutungen einzutauchen, das eine Welt erscheinen läßt, die unser aller Nomadenhaftigkeit sinnfällig macht.
Danach gibt es jeweils zusätzlich eine musikalisches Angebot eines aktuellen Villa-Waldberta-Stipendiaten aus Polen in der interaktiven Veranstaltungsreihe Matchpoint mit Franciszek Araskiewicz.
Wir sind Dankbar für die Unterstützung von: Landeshauptstadt München Kulturreferat; Künstlerhaus Villa Waldberta; Doku e.V; Schwere Reiter Theater; Lothringer13 Halle; Reading Club.
Die performance ist ein Unterteil von unaussprechbarlich; ein Forschungsprojekt, eine Website und eine Performanceserie.
Externer Berater : Horst Konietzny
Thursday, October 29. 2015
Who would have thought i'd find my way onto page 2 of Brasil's largest newspaper, O Globo? But there I am, staring mysteriously out of a computer screen beside an edited version of my life story. The full article is online here - in Português, naturally.
I was interviewed for O Globo in my capacity as a visiting artist at the Multicidade International Festival of Women's Performance in Rio de Janeiro, 31 October - 7 November, a Magdalena festival where I created and presented a new "We have a situation!" event. This involved a week-long workshop with local participants, as well as work over the previous months with a team of 5 online cyberformers. Our topic was water pollution, in the particular context of the approaching 2016 summer Olympics to be held in Rio. It is a pretty dire situation, with high percentages of the city's sewage going directly into the bay, industrial pollution and general rubbish; despite making promises to clean it up in order to win the Olympic bid, the authorities have made little effort. Of course, the problem is much deeper and more difficult than can be solved in the next six months. There is information and documentation of the project here, and documentation from the festival here.
Knowing that this would be a busy time for me, I arrived a week early to prepare my work and do a bit of sight-seeing. I'd never been to Rio before so I wanted to get a feel for the place, and I started by reading Juliana Barbassa's recently published book "Dancing with the Devil in the City of God" on the plane over. I recommend it for anyone interested in the history and contemporary social, political, economical and environmental situation of Rio de Janeiro. it's an excellent first-hand account from a writer who is both an insider and yet also an outsider, so able to present a very clear perspective across a variety of issues.
On my first day in Rio, I met Regina Célia Pinto and we visited Rio's historic Jardim Botânico (Botanical Garden), which was literally across the street from where I was staying the first week. Established in 1808 and covering 137 hectares, the garden is full of amazing plants and wildlife. I became fascinated by the variety of roots to be found - smooth roots that emerge a long way up the trunk to descend like gracefully folded curtains or thick long ropes, knobbly roots that erupt from the ground around the trunk, fat crocodile-shaped roots that lie lazily half-submerged in the grass, and roots that look like works of modern art. Then there's the fruit - such as the lumpy bags of jackfruit dangling like fleshy apendages, or the decorative balls and flowers of the monkey apricot tree. And of course all manner of birds, scampering little monkeys, grand collondades of palms, antique fountains. We wandered for nearly four hours in the gardens. The festival venue, Espaço Tom Jobim (named after the composer of "The Girl from Ipanema") is also located at the Jardim Botânico, so this was the area I would spend the most time in Rio.
Coincidentally, an exhibition of Maori art, Tuku Iho, was at the same venue as the festival, finishing on my first day in Rio so I was luckily able to see it. It was great to see all the taonga in the same space that, two weeks later, I would perform in.
Before coming to Rio, I had made contact with Haveté Sustentabilidade ("haveté" is a local indigenous word for being grateful), a group of four young women promoting sustainability at a grassroots level. They work with local communities on various issues, including recently on water sustainability, and had been very helpful with research and information on the topic of water pollution prior to my arrival. They offered to organise a boat trip with a local fisherman and water activist, who could take me around Guanabara Bay to show me sights of pollution and explain the problems from his perspective. We spent a lot of time of the next days planning and then postponing this trip - first on account of the weather, and then when there was finally a perfect day Rafaella, who would translate for us, was sick. It was a shame not to be able to make this trip, but the workshop participants were so enthusiastic and brought so much information and ideas that we had no shortage of material for creating the performance.
The first week passed quickly. I was interviewed for the O Globo article and met with kiwi journalist Laura McQuillan; I went up to the giant statue of Christ and, pressed between the other tourists, gazed out at the panoramic views; Regina and I walked on Ipanema Beach and drank coconuts; and with the help of Fernandez, one of the festival's drivers, I managed to get to the beautiful Largo do Boticário, where the Rio Carioca can be glimpsed in its culvert. This river, once the main source of pure drinking water for the city and revered by local Indians for giving men strength and women beauty, is today largely buried in culverts and pipes beneath the city and is so polluted that a sewage treatment plant has been built where its waters run into Guanabara Bay. This river also gives its name to Rio's citizens, who are known as Cariocas. Largo do Boticário is a quiet and peaceful place, just off a busy road and dominated by a beautifully dilapidated once-grand mansion; it was a good place to contemplate the city's history and current context.
Just before the intensity of the festival descended, I managed to have another wander around Santa Teresa, seeing the Parque des Ruinas and neighbouring museum; and with some of the other Magdalenas bravely rode the cable car up to the top of the Sugarloaf, for more stunning views. We were lucky to have a sunny day - once the festival began it rained nearly every day, torrential downpours that quickly created puddles around the theatre and rivers in the streets. Water problems in Rio are not confined to pollution! As well as the spectacular rain, the humidity is such that there is a always a faint whiff of mouldiness and even clothes that I hadn't worn felt slightly damp to the touch.
There is a lot more to say about my time in Rio - it was a fantastic festival and great to discover the city a little bit - but I will never finish this post if I don't stop soon. Maybe I'll write more later - but already I'm refocussing to work on the next project (Unaussprechbarlich, with Annie Abrahams) and I know I'll have little time before the end of the year. If you want to know more about it all, please look at these sites:
Tuesday, October 20. 2015
During the last week of September, I was once again invited to be an artist-in-residence in the department of Media & Communications at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham. This year I focused on some of my most recent work, The Salmagundi and Tales from the Towpath, and gave workshops on creating Zappar codes. The course coordinator Yuwei Lin asked me to address topics the students were currently studying, including representation of the body, feminism, and issues of surveillance and data privacy, and I found myself concentrating on the latter. Although my work relates to all three areas, surveillance and data privacy fit well with the works I was discussing and with the emphasis on mobile technologies.
We also collaborated again with Rebekah Taylor from UCA's Animation Archive, using examples from the archive that related to the three areas and offering the students this material as possible starting points for their Zappar animations. The archive is a very rich resource, which surprisingly many of the students didn't know existed. Given more time, it would be great to do a larger project with something like Zappar codes to bring the archive to life and make it more visible on campus.
But we only had a week, on three days of which there was a different group of students from post-graduate to first years, with a three-hour lecture and three-hour workshop. In the lectures, at which Yuwei and Rebekah also spoke, I showed examples of work by artists who are critiquing surveillance and data gathering, from "I know where your cat lives" and Surveillant Camera Man to Andy Campbell and Mez Breeze's PRISOM game. It was interesting to see the reactions of the students, particularly the younger ones. I was a bit surprised when one expressed the opinion that if the government was undertaking surveillance and data gathering, it must be with good intentions, to help the people. Most of them were not quite as trusting as this, but still had not thought deeply about it, and nearly all of them acknowledged that they had little idea about the terms and conditions of the apps they routinely installed on their mobiles. I hope I achieved at least a little bit of awareness raising, if not increased critical thinking!
The workshops were hands-on and focused on how to create a Zappar code. I started by showing them some examples - first of all some professionally-made ones that the company sent me, to get them excited about what's possible, and then the Zaps we made last year for Tales from the Towpath, to show what's realistic with limited time and resources (still quite a lot!). I got the students work in pairs or small groups, to help them to quickly come up with and develop story ideas and generate the content together. We discussed why they might want to use a Zappar code to communicate an idea or story, and where and how their audience might be able to interact with it. Working directly in the Zappar creator interface, we looked at how to structure an animation using consecutive scenes, and the interaction options such as buttons to trigger things or go to URLs. All of the students managed to finish a Zap code, or at least have it in a working if not exactly how they wanted it; some of them were great, both in ideas and execution. Each student created their own personal account which gives them one free Zap, which they can continue to modify, update and improve on after it's been published. The students will be able to keep on playing around with their Zap if they are interested - and I think some will, as they really enjoyed the workshop.
One of the students has blogged about their experience here, and Yuwei has blogged about it here and here.
I didn't have much spare time to wander around Farnham, which is a very picturesque old market town, or have a go at finding the difficult geocaches that Yuwei and I gave up on last year. However, the weather was beautiful - cloudless skies, mild temperatures and colourful autumnal trees - and I could walk across a field from my B&B to the campus, pretending I was in the middle of the countryside and feeling like a local. It was a great week - lots of work, lots of learning, and lots of sunshine. Let's see what we can do next year ...
Thursday, September 17. 2015
i am a migrant. a very privileged migrant. i chose to live in germany, and i can choose to return home to new zealand whenever i want, or go to live in a number of other countries. i have these rights purely through the accident of my birth. i have never experienced living in a war zone. i have never had to flee for my life, to make decisions about what precious possessions to take on a perilous journey and what to leave behind. i've never watched as my home was destroyed. i've never arrived a border i could not cross.
i live in munich, the dreamed-of destination for most of today's refugees fleeing syria, iraq and other troubled countries. as i observe the current flüchtlinge (refugee) crisis, i try to imagine what it would be like: first to live in a war zone and to lose any kind of normal life; then to lose my home, friends and family; then to flee to a squalid, overcrowded refugee camp, my life on hold and no sign of an end. i would probably try to get to europe too. i wouldn't want to sit around helplessly, rotting while my life passed by. i don't know how far i'd risk my life on the journey, but i would at least attempt to reach a better place. i'd probably also hope to be able to return to my homeland at some point in the not to distant future, to try and rebuild something better.
i'm not a refugee, and i hope that i won't ever be in that position, but we live in an uncertain world; who knows what might happen in the next 5, 10, 20 years. i only hope that if i ever become a refugee that someone will show me kindness - as we should now show to the refugees who need our help today.
how different my life is to the refugees arriving at hauptbahnhof. last week we went to allgäu for a short but very restful holiday, staying with a friend and her parents who live there. we walked in the mountains and around the villages, and on friday experienced "viehscheid". this is the annual festival of bringing the cows down from their summer pastures in the mountains, to the villages where they will be in warm and comfortable stables over the cold winter. unlike new zealand dairy farms which can run huge herds of thousands of cows across high pastures all year round, bavarian dairy farmers have small herds because they need to be kept inside during winter. in the summer, groups of herds go together into the mountains, bells around their necks, to enjoy the freedom and sweet grass and herbs of the mountains (much more sustainable farming than new zealand's ranches which are destroying water and soil quality and are not even economic).
during viehscheid, which lasts over about 10 days, herders in traditional lederhosen and dirndl lead the cows, who are also dressed up with large decorative bells and ornamental collars; the lead cows wear wreaths and girdles of flowers and greenery. the noise of the bells is quite deafening as they approach and then pass (there are animal rights campaigns against the large bells - i can imagine it must be pretty irritating for the cows, although they looked placid enough). once in the village, they are separated out and taken to their farms. and then, of course, everyone drinks beer together.
viehscheid could not be further away from the flüchtlinge experience: an old tradition in a peaceful and sleepy corner of the world where everything functions as expected. yet even allgäu is not untouched by the current crisis; our friend's father returned one evening from a community meeting where they had discussed, among other things, preparations for the 21 refugees who are to be housed in the village. all towns and villages are being asked to take the equivalent of 2% of their population, which for this village is 21. i hope that these 21 flüchtlinge will find some peace and rest in allgäu after their long flight.