Original content in this work is licensed under a Creative Commons License
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!
Wednesday, April 12. 2017
recently i participated in a wikipedia edit-a-thon. this was part of the Art+Feminism project, which aims to improve the representation of women artists on wikipedia. it was the first time such an event had been organised in munich, and there was a very good turn-out, with about 20 participants and 4-5 people from Wikipedia Mŭnchen.
i have been a small-time wikipedia editor since 2008, when i discovered that someone unknown to me had created an article for cyberformance, which had then been flagged for deletion due to not being important or verified enough. this was quite a bruising introduction to the world of wikipedia editing. it's one thing to make text edits on an article, and quite another to navigate the circular paths of guidelines and pedantic admin users. it seemed that the fundamental strategy of wikipedia admins is to drive new editors to frustration, breakdown even, so that we eventually simply give up on trying to correct whatever article has been slated for deletion. i am pretty persistent, but i was nearly at my wit's end trying to meet the complex requirements. it took hours of my time and left me feeling exhausted, disrespected and as if i was trying to perpetrate a crime against knowledge.
i had a similar experience a few years later, when someone, again unknown to me, created an article about me as a student project; apparently their class was given an assignment to create a wikipedia article about an artist they admired, and this student chose me. naturally, the student subsequently forgot about this assignment and never maintained the article once it was created (i wonder if the teacher proposing this assignment included the need to remain responsible for their articles FOREVER ...); probably they forgot how to access their wikipedia account, and no longer have the university email address that they used for it. so the admired artists' articles languished, incomplete and out of date. when, purely wishing to set the record straight, i edited it, the problems began. like sharks attracted by the blood of a wounded fish, wikipedia editors with nothing better to do delight in slapping notifications on such pages; not enough verifiable sources! someone close to the subject is a major contributor! or, most demeaning, this person is NOT NOTABLE ENOUGH!
who decides when someone is "notable enough" or not? and notable to whom? wikipedia prides itself on being "neutral", on sticking to facts and written in a neutral tone; the project "strive[s] for articles that document and explain major points of view, giving due weight with respect to their prominence in an impartial tone." but - "major points of view" from whose perspective??? when you click on the "major points of view" link, it brings you to an article about "neutral point of view", which is something entirely different. a "neutral" point of view is one that sticks to simple verifiable facts, without expressing an opinion, whereas a "major" point of view is presumably one that is shared by a majority. that doesn't mean it's neutral - in fact more often than not it is anything but neutral.
since wikipedia was initiated by well-resourced white men living in the developed world, it is inherently biased to the point of view of privileged white men. it's no wonder that women are underrepresented, since we have long been underrepresented in patriarchal history and are still so in the contemporary patriarchial world. the "major points of view" that are documented and explained on wikipedia are predominantly the points of view of privileged white men. Their "neutral" is not the same as mine, which is not the same as billions of people in different parts of the world. the munich edit-a-thon had begun with a lengthy panel discussion featuring a selection of interesting women invited to give their opinions about why women are underrepresented on wikipedia - which struck me as being rather a waste of time. we were there because we already knew this to be a fact, and wanted to change it, not talk about it; the "why" is obvious - we live in a patriarchy and wikipedia is a part of that too. no need to discuss it anymore, let's get on with changing it!
most of the other participants at the edit-a-thon had never edited a wikipedia article before and didn't have log-ins. while they were logging in and learning the basics, i and a few others got stuck in to editing. i created a page for the digital artist and researcher Gretta Louw, and after a couple of hours work i published it - only to be immediately slapped with a copyright violation. it hadn't occurred to me that using slightly altered text from Louw's own artistic statement would constitute a violation of copyright; however as the text was on the web (on her own website), the copyright-checking bot found it immediately, and deemed my slight editing of it insufficient. never mind that the artist had herself given me permission to use it! so, i deleted the offending text and followed the necessary protocol and the copyright violation was removed - to be replaced almost immediately with demands for more citations.
how many citations do you need? wikipedia has "no rules", just guidelines. so, if you are a living woman artist, it would appear that 15 citations (of which six are the artist's own website or publications, and nine are from third party sources) is not enough. if you're a living male artist, on the other hand, a single reference will suffice (here's one example - at the time of writing with just one reference - no reflection or judgement on the artist himself).
another participant at the edit-a-thon offered to help bring the article about me up to standard, and she made quite a bit of progress, but the tags haven't yet been removed. meanwhile others were also discovering that their work was attracting criticisms. it's somewhat ironic that wikipedia has a page in its guidelines titled "Please do not bite the newcomers", encouraging experienced wikipedians to be gentle with newcomers and assume that they are in good faith. the article warns that nothing scares newcomers away faster than hostility. yet several of us left the wikipedia edit-a-thon feeling deeply frustrated, having voluntarily contributed hours of our time and energy only to have it thrown back at us, be told it's not good enough, and expected to devote even more time to improving it.
attempting to get involved with wikipedia feels like putting yourself through some kind of bootcamp initiation where you don't know the rules because there are none, and the guidelines are designed to confuse and exclude. i can't help but wonder how differently a women's wikipedia might operate ...
and yet: wikipedia exists, our information is there, and if we don't participate we can't complain about underrepresentation or incorrect/poor information. the edit-a-thons are raising awareness, bringing more women into the project, and providing opportunities for upskilling and collaboration.
Saturday, April 8. 2017
having not posted since october last year, and being an irregular blogger at the best of times, i do have to ask myself what is the point of this blog? i am sure that nobody reads it, except myself when i need to remember when i did something or a link that i know i posted here. so if the only real function of this blog is a personal memory aid, then i have no responsibility to anyone but myself for the regularity or not of my posts. or even the accuracy.
so, for my own personal record, since i last posted, "Magdalena München - In Between" has been and gone, and overall was pretty successful. the performances were great, everyone who participated was for the most part happy and inspired, and the group is continuing with further plans (more on that in another post). there were a few points where the organisation could have been better, and our publicity and audience numbers could have been better - but there is always room for improvement.
i had a couple of weeks to tie up the loose ends and finances from the magdalena event and then i was off to coventry for "We have a situation, Coventry!" which you can read about by following that link. this was the first time i'd lead a "situation" in a university context, which had its advantages and challenges. after the cyberformance and networked discussion event on 24th november, i went with three Coventry staff members to the "In Dialogue" conference in mottingham, where we gave a presentation about the project. In Dialogue is a biennial conference around arts and research projects that are based on dialogic practice, and it brings together some really interesting artists, researchers and projects. i'm now writing a book chapter with katherine wimpenny from the Disruptive Media Learning Lab which was the part of the university responsible for "We have a situation, Coventry!", using it as an example of disruptive pedagogies and learning possibilities in online environments.
so with these two projects, october and november were pretty intense. but i didn't have much time to catch up after them because in mid-december i flew to new zealand. yes, this was a holiday, and at least the first couple of weeks - spending christmas and new year with family, in the cool quiet of the deep south, was relaxing. but my trip was a fairly hectic schedule of visiting friends and family all over new zealand and australia, with very little down time and the added work of selling my beloved car. when i moved to munich in 2010 i didn't want to sell lucy the valiant, and didn't have to as i managed to find a little car museum who was willing to take care of her for me. every couple of years i went home, took her out of the museum, and had a wonderful road trip around new zealand. however, as the years stretched on, it became hard to justify the cost of keeping a classic car on one side of the world when i lived on the other, and only used her every couple of years. i was aware that things like rust needed regular attention, and while the museum people were great and did get some things done, obviously my car wasn't their top priority and they had a lot of other vehicles to maintain and work to do. i had to accept that lucy needed to be with someone who would drive her regularly and be able to keep on top of the maintenance that she needs. so during 2016 i began to prepare myself for the emotional wrench of selling her.
i know that one of my faults is that i let myself get emotionally attached to things like cars (i cried when i learned that the young guys who bought rosie, a 1964 morris 1100, from me had smashed her up); but lucy the valiant wasn't an ordinary car. i bought her in 1993, moved from dunedin to wellington in her a month or so later, and travelled around much of the country in her during various trips over the years, accompanied by different friends and family. she very rarely had any mechanical problems, and she was really a pleasure to drive (as long as it wasn't raining - i never managed to discover the source of a leak on the front passenger side). it was with mixed emotions that i listed her on trademe. almost immediately i began to get enquiries about her, and the number of views went up and up and up. in the end, two possible buyers came to look at her, and one of them offered me the price i was asking without any haggling. and so she was sold. the new owner kindly agreed to me holding onto her for a further two weeks in order to do a planned trip to visit my brother in gisborne, and on 26 january after a perfect road trip from welllington - via otaki, levin, gisborne and ohope - i delivered lucy to her new home. on the flight from taupo to auckland i felt a bit teary and expected that i'd feel sad and regretful the next day - but i didn't; i woke up feeling fine, sure that i'd done the right thing. letting go is hard, but it's amazingly liberating. i really must do it more often!
my antipodean journey lasted nearly three months and took me around new zealand then to australia, where i visited friends and family in brisbane then met up with andy in sydney. we stayed with my aunt, and went to the blue mountains for two days with my cousin gina and her daughter ashley; andy and i hadn't seen them since they'd been in munich two years earlier for borelliosis treatment, and it was amazing to see how much better ashley is. gina has been busy writing a submission to an australian senate inquiry into borelliosis, which will hopefully accept that the disease exists in australia and make it possible for other sufferers to get the diagnosis and treatment that ashley should have had years ago. in the blue mountains we stayed at rostherne, the wonderful old holiday house belonging to family friends. the house has been in that family for over 100 years, and our families have been friends for most of that time, so it's a place rich in memory and history. we did touristy things like going on the scenic railway and bush walks. andy and i also went to coffs harbour for a few days to visit family there, and had a weekend in melbourne with friends before heading back to new zealand for the last two weeks of our holiday.
i had little time for work while travelling, but i did do the final bits of reporting for the magdalena münchen weekend, taught an UpStage workshop at the university of south wales, and kept on top of emails as best i could. now back in munich, i've punged into organising things for the next magdalena münchen event, looking for opportunities for "Unaussprechbarlich", researching and buying a new Linux computer (finally! i was given money towards this at my birthday in july last year, but hadn't managed to make a decision about it), quite a lot of work on the magdalena project site, and quite a lot of wikipedia editing - more about that in a separate post. and many other things, social and networking and work and home stuff, like getting the balcony garden going again.
i feel about ready for a holiday already ...