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Friday, July 1. 2016
The Transit Festival has come and gone once again. This was the 8th Transit festival, organised roughly every three years since 1992 by Julia Varley at Odin Teatret. It's one of the high-points of the Magdalena Project festival circuit, as it is the most regular ongoing event as well as the biggest - this year encompassing 12 days. As usual the programme was packed, with early morning training and three performances most evenings, as well as workshops, work demonstrations, presentations and discussions during the day. My contribution included a presentation about "We have a situation!", speaking on a panel about the festival theme "beauty as a weapon", and creating the installation "her light stretches".
Also participating in the festival were two from the Magdalena München group, Henrietta Beyer and Cecilia Bolaños; as we are organising our second weekend meeting this October, with a view to hosting a festival in 2018/19, it's important that others from Munich experience a Magdalena festival, to network and learn what it is that makes a "magdalena". They met Violeta Luna, who will perform at our weekend in October, and Gilla Cremer from Hamburg, as well as many others in the network. We managed to have dinner together one evening along with Violeta, Gilla, Jana Korb (who will also come in October) and Barbara Luci Carvalho who is based in Frankfurt with Theatre Antagon. It was good to make connections and continue to build the network within Germany.
The installation occupied most of my time - more than I'd anticipated (as often happens with such projects!). I had hoped to participate in Deborah Hunt and Madeline McNamara's workshop "Droll Skirmish", but after the first morning I had to drop out as I needed all available time to create the installation. "her light stretches" is inspired by Helen Chadwick's performance and album "Fragments of Love" - songs that Helen composed from fragments of Sappho's poetry. I created text animations for each of the seven songs, and projected these into a space created from large, angled mirror panels. The idea was a development from an installation I made in 2010, with the Austrian artist Eva Ursprung, and I was able to realise it at Transit thanks to Odin Teatret allowing me to use mirror panels from the performance "Andersen's Dream" and financial support from Munich City Department of Art and Culture.
As there was not enough space at the theatre for my installation, the festival found a space nearby - in a former slaughterhouse. The Slagteriet, as it's called in Danish, had been decommissioned a year or two before and is now used for performances and other arts events. In some areas there are established projects, but most of the space remains almost as it formerly was, even with some of the machinery still in place; some rooms are still cold, damp and stinky. As a vegetarian, I was apprehensive about working in such a place, and needed to do some sort of cleansing ritual before I began. Many at the festival helped me with this: Suzon Fuks volunteered a Reiki cleansing, Ana Wolf gave a stick of sandalwood to burn, Maria Porter went to find sage, and Amaranta Osario bought salt. After some walking, visualising, sprinkling and burning the space began to feel better; and once we started setting up the mirrors and playing Helen's beautiful songs, there was a definite shift in the energy.
With the help of two enthusiastic technicians (Tomas Lindström and Gutto Basso) and my glamorous assistant Maria Porter, we managed to get the mirrors set up and the space blacked out over a couple of days. Then we had fun finding the best position for the projector. During this process, I realised that if there were more than about 5 people in the space, the effect of the reflections would be greatly reduced. The installation had been given a 40 minute slot in the festival programme, during which some 80+ people would come. The video loop was 11 minutes, and even if people didn't stay for the whole loop, they still needed several minutes in order to adjust to the darkness and take some time in the space (and many people wanted to see it more than once!). It was clearly impossible to even attempt to get everyone through in 40 minutes. So I did some quick organising, roped in more helpers, and managed to get more than half of the festival participants and artists through during two of our lunch-breaks. In the end we managed to get everyone through, even if occasionally there were 6 or 7 in at once and many people only had about 5 minutes in the space which wasn't really quite enough. I did not enjoy having to break the spell with a whispered request for someone to leave! However, everyone really liked it, many commenting that it was beautiful, and peaceful, and quite a few wanting to spend more time in it. It was great to be able to make this first step in the project, which I hope to continue by working with Helen to add a live performance element.
My presentation about "We have a situation" and the political aims of this project was well received, and in the panel on "beauty as a weapon" I talked about how beauty is a social construct and asked what "beauty" means for different people, for example what is "beauty" to a terrorist. There were several sessions on this theme, but unfortunately I missed all except the one I was speaking on, due to being preoccupied with my installation.
Performances that stood out for me included: Ledwina Constanti's visceral and surprising "Carnage", which combined physical and visual techniques in a powerful performance; the beautiful and inventive use of light and projection in Teresa Ruggeri's "Rovine del Tempo"; Jana Korb's delightful new aerial work "Frau Vladusch"; Madeline McNamara's hilarious and provocative work-in-progress about colonisation and racism; and the fantastic festival finale - "Babayaga" in masks, puppets, costume and the wonderful "crankies", by Deborah Hunt and Sugeily Rodriguez. The lunchtime "Poetry Menu" performances by Camilla Sandri and Roberta Lanave - where we could select a poem from a menu and have it deliciously recited at our table - was also a delight. And there were "old favourites", new works from Magdalena regulars, others presenting work at a Magdalena festival for the first time, works-in-progress and more.
There were two other personal highlights for me in this festival. One was early morning trapeze training on Jana's trapeze, which was set up outside at the edge of the theatre's lawn. This took me to the limits of my physical ability; how is it that as a child I could effortlessly swing myself up onto the playground bars and spin around without any problem, but now I can't even get my legs up without help? Admittedly the bar is higher up, and I'm a lot heavier than when I was 10 years old. With a bit of help from Jana I got there, and once up it was a great sense of accomplishment to sit, stand and do some very modest moves. To be continued, I hope!
The other highlight was the spontaneous opportunity to drive the forklift. The day after the festival ended, the Odin techs were busy moving things around - loading up a truck with the set of "The Chronic Life" to head off the next day to Romania, and putting things back in the storage area that had been our festival dining room. At one point I came out of the theatre and there was the little forklift, standing in the courtyard. I'd seen Fausto driving it at the end of the previous Transit and had expressed my desire to have a go one day - and this day my wish came true! Did you know that forklifts don't have a break pedal? Just one pedal to go forward and one to reverse. The lever for raising and lowering the fork at the front was a bit more complicated, so I just concentrated on driving. It was a great way to end my fifth Transit experience!
Thank you Julia, Nathalie, and everyone who makes Transit happen!
Monday, April 18. 2016
my work is live performance, which means i'm not usually "exhibiting" work; however from time to time i end up in an exhibition for one reason or another. unusually at the moment, i've got work in two different exhibitions, one in munich and one in london.
in munich, i'm at the GEDOK gallery as part of the exhibition "LET GO_D THINGS HAPPEN", curated by cornelia oßwald-hoffman. subtitled "conceptual art in progress", this is a continuation of "the repository of art and knowledge", which conny invited me to participate in back in 2012. this repository is a collection of unfinished or unrealised works, with each artist or project represented by a file containing material relating to an unfinished work. in my case, i've contributed a skype performance that i prepared for "open borders", a day of networked performance curated by adriene jenik and charley ten for the 2008 conference Actions of Transfer: Women's Performance in the Americas. at the moment that adriene cued me to start my performance, skype failed and i had to restart; by the time i was back, she'd had to cue the next performer, and in the end there was no gap to put me back in. the "repository of art and knowledge" was first at das Klohäuschen and then at Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Potsdam in 2012. in this latest exhibition, conny has broadened the concept to include presentations by artists around the question, "What happens when you stop the conceptual artist in the middle of the work process?" - not only looking at work that was never completed but also at work that will be completed, but frozen in a moment in the process.
you can use the QR code at the right to access a rehearsal recording of the never-performed performance.
the other exhibition is "Culture and Practice", part of the 2016 Libre Graphics Meeting which takes place this year at the University of Westminster in london. It is a group exhibition of work produced with open source software, around the theme "Other Dimensions". UpStage is a featured project, with a video of selected showreels and recordings, and explanatory panels telling the story of the project. i'll have the chance to see this exhibition when i pass through london on my way home from a meeting in cardiff about the future complete rebuild of UpStage/new cyberformance platform ...
Wednesday, March 30. 2016
Every Magdalena festival has its own unique character, determined by the people organising it and its location. The Tantidhatri festival, held first in 2012 in Pondicherry and Auroville, and this year in Bengaluru, is no exception; it floats in a magical bubble of scents, colours and joy that is gently cradled by each of the many smiling volunteers. From 17 to 21 Frebruary, we were hosted at the beautiful Ranga Shankara Theatre, founded and run by Arundhati Nag who made it clear from the beginning that it was a privilege for her to be able to give the festival a home; she and her team at the theatre made us feel immediately welcome and at home there. Workshops and presentations were held at the nearby Shoonya Centre and Kappanna Angala. All the spaces were gracefully decorated with flowers and leaves, and every day before we began an oil lamp was lit in the space and kept burning until we were finished - one of many quiet rituals that infused the festival with a special light and focus.
The 5-day programme was packed, as one expects at a Magdalena festival, and offered a combination of tradtional and contemporary performances. The tone was set from the start with the opening night demonstrating the breadth of contemporary Indian performance practice: Dimple B. Shah's performance installation invited the audience to collaborate in creating a mandala which she then transformed (reminiscent but completely different to the performance that had opened the first Tantidhatri festival); this was followed by Rudrayogini - combining the traditions of Baul, Rudraveena (instrument) and Charyageethi (Buddhist poetry); and finally a ritual Theyyam performance - performed by men but celebrating female heroes (pictured at left). During the following days, we experienced a variety of other Indian artists such as Dhrupad singer Pelva Naik, and the actress Revathy addressing the taboo topic of homosexuality, alongside international performances. With Geddy Aniksdal we travelled to ancient China; Sandra Pasini performed orignal and traditional Italian songs; Gilla Cremer took us on a harrowing trip to the seaside; Tina Milo explored the emotions of modern women; Julia Varley performed "Ave Maria"; and Korean performance artist Sin Cha Hong posed, through movement, the question "who am I?". The festival culminated in "Kaal", a performance that brought together international and Indian artists, and combined three different traditions to create a unique contemporary performance. Through Parvathy Baul's music, Anandavalli's dance (Bharathanatyam) and Narelle Benjamin's dance (based on yoga) the performance explored concepts of time and change.
A highpoint of the festival for me was a day of presentations entitled "Interactions with Social Change", with four feminist activists. Kamla Bhasin is currently the South Asia coordinator of One Billion Rising, and showed footage from the campaign's global dance action on Valentine's Day. Nobel Peace Prize nominee Khushi Kabir is involved in projects that empower rural working-class communities in Bangladesh. Vandana Shiva is an environmental and anti-globalisation activist and author who advocates for the integration of traditional wisdom in contemporary practices. Transgender activist A. Revathi works on and writes about sexual minorities' human rights issues. They all spoke candidly about their lives, both personal and political, giving us insight into their work over many decades and numerous issues. Kamla and Revathi both spoke about using performance and the arts in their work - theatre, songs, dance and street theatre (and Kamla reminded me very much of my grandmother, with her slogans and her strong, positive approach). Vandana talked about the terrible impact of Monsanto's genetically modified seeds on Indian farming communities (some statistics I noted down: the price of cotton seed jumped by %80,000 when Monsanto entered the market, Monsanto has collected $90 million in royalties from Indian peasant farmers, and 300,000 farmers have committed suicide as a result of being in impossible debt to Monsanto). She also mentioned New Zealander Marilyn Waring's book "If Women Counted" as an influential text for her.
My own presentation was in the "Experiencing the process" part of the programme, along with work demonstrations by Julia Varley and Carolina Pizarro, and folk singer Shabnam Virmani. I spoke about the process of We have a situation!, specifically about the "situation" at the Multicidade Festival last year in Rio de Janeiro on the topic of water pollution. I was the last speaker on the last afternoon of the festival, in a hot room, so I was impressed that people stayed to listen and remained engaged despite the heat. I had been very inspired by the "Interactions with Social Change" presentations the day before, as much (all?) of it resonated with my ideas underpinning We have a situation! I was also making connections with the reading I'd been doing in the previous few months around ideas of post-democracy and proto-political engagement as I was writing a chapter about We have a sitiuation! for a forthcoming book on the arts and global civic engagement. I had based my presentation on this chapter, then wove in themes from the talks the day before as I was delivering it. Gabriella, Elaine and Mem were able to join the presentation online and provided some humorous antics and work demonstration elements in UpStage.
Left: with performance artist Dimple B. Shah, who was also at our Magdalena weekend in Munich last year. We are standing next to a poster featuring all of the festival artists.
Late on the final evening as we made our traditional closing round, we interrupted ourselves several times to farewell departing artists. My own flight was not until 7am the following morning, however allowing for the drive to the airport which could take up to two hours, and time for check-in and security, my taxi was booked for 3.15am ... and as we didn't get back to the hotel until around 1am that left just enough time for me to pack and farewell my sleepy room-mate Carolina. As I waited for the taxi, I heard footsteps hurrying down the stairs and Tomomi, one of the dedicated volunteers, appeared to speak to the taxi driver and give me a last farewell. I set off into the night, feeling once more inspired and enriched by another encounter with the world of Magdalena, tired but eagerly anticipating three weeks of more inspiring adventures in northern India.
Friday, February 5. 2016
late last night - or rather, early this morning, i watched a live stream from auckland of protests against the TPPA signing (the TPPA is the pacific equivalent of the european TTIP). the recorded footage is here.
the nz government was hosting a behind-closed-doors ceremonial signing of the TPPA in auckland with the 12 other pacific nations involved. there were protests all over the country, including about 15,000 people in auckland where the march was led by maori performing the haka. these were local iwi (tribes) who had been asked by the government to perform a powhiri (maori welcome) for the signing of the TPPA (a powhiri is standard protocol for significant events in nz) - but the iwi refused and chose instead to lead the march. there was a big maori presence & a forest of tino rangitiratanga flags (red & black flag of maori sovereignty - & much nicer than the logo-like option the government is currently trying to force through as our new flag) & an overwhelming atmosphere of strong, unified opposition to the TPPA and the way the government has handled it.
february 6th is waitangi day in aotearoa/new zealand - the anniversary of the signing of the treaty of waitingi in 1840 between maori tribes (not all of them) and representatives of the british crown. it's a public holiday in nz, some see it as a celebration & others as a day of mourning / contemplation about colonisation. there is always a major ceremony at te tii marae in waitangi, which the prime minister traditionally attends. there is often some element of protest or controversy around it & this year it has been pretty much about the TPPA. as a result, our dickhead prime minister john key, who is busy signing away aoteaora/new zealand to coroporate colonisation, has decided not to go. maori objection to the TPPA is mainly over the lack of consultation, but also concerns that the TPPA will breach the treaty of waitangi (which it absolutely will).
i felt proud to see the huge public opposition to the TPPA, with people from all walks of life & everyone that reporter john campbell spoke to was very well-informed. the signing of the TPPA is purely ceremonial, it still has to go through the legal processes in each of the 12 nations, so there is still hope that the whole thing will collapse.
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.