Friday, December 23, 2016

The new wall is up: retirement, and thank-you

There was an attack on the marketplace in Charlottenburg, Berlin - I was not there, I extend my sympathy to the victims.

My primary critical guide, Australian critic Alison Croggon, used to periodically give kind of 'critical updates' where she would review her own critical position. To be honest, I always found reading these cringe-worthy as they seemed to be self-indulgent, somehow hopelessly ceding impartiality for the sake of communicating something that looked a lot like navel-gazing. Closer consideration revealed its true function: such updates make clear the criteria a critic is basing their responses upon, involves readers in a discussion of the principles of criticism - and their role in shaping that position. This promotes critical thought as an activity, and acknowledges and its key role in culture, and life. So I will attempt to follow suit here.

There are distinct differences between Croggon's project and my own - she has/had a fixed location, for example, writing for an audience that is relatively stable, and has comparatively fixed cultural assumptions from, I argue, a defined readership. In this project I frequently write from different locations and across audiences, locations, and artists with wildly diverse cultural histories and political contexts. This makes building any kind of stable readership almost impossible, and offers me a naturally different set of objectives. Further to this is the multidisciplinary nature of the writing - following a family tragedy which saw me spend the first half of the year in Australia, most of my 2016 seems to be occupied with presenting papers at conferences, or running workshops. I have barely had a chance to see any theatre in Berlin, nominally the home of the platform, and itself brazenly multi-everything. This is not a new development - since the beginning, this platform has taken me to Ukraine, Kosovo, Azerbaijan, Serbia, Croatia, the UK, Italy, and only sometimes Germany. Therefore, my critical position is formed out of a strange kind of 'floating' position - heavily involved in cross-cultural exchange, radically multi-disciplinary, somewhat representative of New World Anglosphere, and trying to shape some meaning from the global world order from a European perspective, albeit as an outsider to any one locality. On one hand, this makes it some kind of bellwether to pan-European discourse. On the other, it makes me prone to wild, often seemingly unjustifiable positions, evident only to myself, and shared by no-one.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Checkpoint 16

Navid Kermani’s Ausnahmezustände: Reisen in eine beunruhigte Welt (2013, in English approximately: State of Exception: Traveling in a Concerned World) is a travel narrative after the end of travel narratives. The core of the genre – the subjectivity of a writer traveling distant lands and mythologizing them for a culturally similar readership – is upended by, in Kermani’s terms, the condition of the world as it is today. Any feeling of novelty delivered from new global frontiers disappears in the wake of extreme universal precarity, and the promise of “look at this wonderful new world through my eyes” common to travel narratives, together with the relationship between the human being and the environment that this denotes, is replaced with something like “look what we’ve done”.

This reversal by Kermani is not only because of the un-shareability of his cultural subjectivity – being an Iranian/German this would be a somewhat specific audience – but because the object of his gaze equally occupies a shifting point of view. The definition of ‘state of exclusion’ as outlined by Agamben denotes precisely this: a temporary subversion of order, nominally justified by its maintenance. Like Australia’s torturous offshore detention centres, such measures were only ever meant to be temporary. Within cultural studies, there is increasing consensus that the ‘exception’ has become the rule – that displacement, authoritarianism and terrorism is evolving into the key defining point of the human condition, that rights are only ever temporary, and that governance is becoming less about servitude to the populace and increasingly a kind of enslavement via the creation of perpetual instability. For the travel writer, this fixed point of view– the writer as subject and exotic local as object - is subverted, replacing a fixed, stable subjectivity for both writer and object with a negation of both.


Checkpoint 16 not the first time actors Anders Carlsson and Judith van der Werff, and Vierte Welt’s Artistic Director Dirk Cieslak have worked with the text from Kermani, following 2013’s production of the same title, and in some ways this is a continuation of that work. Carlsson initially voices a monologue over some images about his initial meeting with a 13-year old Fadi, who lives in the Gaza Strip. He tells of his shadowing of Fadi, who’s routine was to sell olive plants at a market 6kms away to support his family, crossing a military checkpoint to do so. Fadi, we are told, had become the provider for his family at an early age, and had become as resourceful as he was cheeky – talking his way past the border guards, and learning English to attract foreigners like Carlsson. “I wanna be happy but it’s not so easy”, says Fadi, referring to life under the constant threat of military. The undeniable spectatorship undertaken by Carlsson leads him to certain questions, which he shares with us, such as “Die Frage ist nicht ‘Warum ein Israelischer Land?’, die Frage ist: “Warum so brutal ein Israelischer Land?” (The question is not ‘’why an Israeli state?”, the question is: “why an Israeli state so brutal?”). His own Europeanness becomes an indivisible wall between himself and Fadi, and as Fadi puts it somewhat bluntly: “how can it be that you and I are friends, and you can leave, and I am stuck here?”

Tuesday, September 27, 2016


‘The Collective’ are four actors well known to Melbourne’s theatre scene. Eloise Mignon is part of a lineage of experimental theatre, Gareth Davies and Thomas Henning are of anti-theatre Black Lung fame, whilst Eryn Jean Norvill has featured as, in her words “the tragic heroine” in various productions across Australia. I think there is also TV and film involved, but it’s in the former capacity that your correspondent recognizes them, today writing from a hiding place within a Hegel and Lacan performance conference Repetitions in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

To my knowledge, as suggested by the rather banal label for the group (evoking the worst of Soviet-era bureaucracy), they’ve never been on stage before together as a group. So I was looking forward to seeing what happened during Remake, the result of a few weeks development in Budapest.

The terrorizing elements of Henning and Davies’ Black Lung days are present from the beginning, with a hoax about a technical failure and sideswipes at the previous group's poorly executed bump-out, skillfully played to the back row of roaring Aussies by Davies. The actor claims that although he is sensitive to the fact that we are, no doubt, exhausted from sitting through 3 days of lectures about Hegel and Lacan - nevertheless he’s ‘proud to be the final lecture of the conference’ and appreciates our attention for ‘the next two or three hours’. Thankfully, Mignon pokes her head out the back and calls him like a dog - “here boy” - which he eventually responds to, ending the scene.

Academia in the End Times: Repetition/s Conference, Ljubljana

My time at the Repetition/s conference in Ljubljana was defined by frustration. I strive to be the first to admit I am an idiot - not only unqualified for academia, but barely qualified for contemporary life. Not only do I know that I know the Socretian nothing, but I also understand, with a growing sense of desperation, the consequences of that lack. I am occupied in a practice of attempting to concretely formulate our contemporary situation - but the building of this position is in many ways without firm ontological foundation, rendered flimsy by the sheer speed and elusiveness of life today - theory included. Metaphysical objects shift from feverish clarity to total uncertainty before I can grasp them - concrete will set, only to turn to straw, preceding the collapse of the entire house: the ignorance of the event just past colliding spectacularly with the impending disaster of the future.

So attending a conference on Performance Philosophy is in many ways my natural state of confusion. The combination of lecture, performance, and lecture-performance across the various locations of Ljubljana, the City Museum, the Filozofska Fakulteta and the Dance Theatre, provides a more than adequate complex layering of realities to complicate my subjective experience to the point of posthumanist nausea. There is something nicely comforting, in a violent way, about the over-saturation of information present at such an event, as well as the total ontological despair - as one academic expressed to me, 20 minutes is simply not enough time to formulate any concrete position in presenting a paper, a crisis which repeats itself through various arguments - each of them experiencing a kind of Freudian castration just at the crucial moment where they might actually say something.

Photo: Aufhebung/Repetition/s

But there are some points which, despite the slipperiness of my positions, acknowledged doubts and even self-branded idiocy, I will nevertheless claim. The whiteness and euro-centrism of the Repetition/s conference are two symptoms of, and causes of, the ongoing crisis of academia and public accountability. This should be protested against, I claim, as a means of taking responsibility through its concrete formulation and being rendered visible. The ripples heading through academia are particularly disturbing in our current context. Mingling among the safe, white intellectual community of Ljubljana, supported theoretically by its euro-centric psychoanalytic foundation, you would hardly think there was a mobility crisis occurring in Europe. You could forget, in the fantasy of specific details of Lacan and Hegel, that proto-fascist, and openly fascist groups are on the rise in Europe, the United States, the UK and Australia - that Austria may yet elect a president whose party was founded by the former Nazi Agriculture Minister. In the midst of just one paper engaging in post-colonial discourse, an absence of black perspectives, and an unwillingness to expose one's own positions to any counter-discourse, it is easy to see the failure of academia today, and its problems in public communication. The absence of encounter between ideas and people within the community bodes poorly for its ability to relate outside its sphere.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Repetitions Performance Conference in Slovenia

Your correspondent has another sizable bus ride ahead of him - this time to Ljubljana for a conference about performance philosophy.

See the link below for the full program.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Occupy London: Energy Tour

In 2011, the Occupy movement sought to call global attention to the worsening distribution of income and wealth stemming from the centres of global capitalism. As a rare manifestation of anger around a constantly simmering (and tragically escalating) situation, Occupy stands out as a major contemporary attempt to collectively change the global narrative around fast-disappearing human rights, connected with economics and space. Extending from this, Occupy London Tours is an  attempt to keep this conversation alive in the heart of the world's banking sector (they want to "throw open the secretive world of finance and politics for all to see"), through participatory, volunteer-run community and educational events.

To this end, Occupy London Tours has been running several city tours since 2012, spanning Mayfair, the City, the recent high-rise development at Canary Wharf, and the newly-minted Energy Tour. A walking tour is a nice format for education and community-building, and there was a social feel common to the best of community projects as we strolled around London's Southbank precinct, chatting to each other in between sites. Your correspondent picked up the tour halfway - drained from the previous fortnight's residency here, I was late and had to intercept the tour through some sleuthing - and so for me the tour began at the surprisingly-located Shell Building,  just behind the London Eye. Out hosts (Alice Rose Bell and Chaitanya Kumar), wearing top-hats, explain to us that this nondescript brutalist building is the home of the Shell Foundation, Shell's philanthropic arm, which may or may not be well-intentioned, and proceeds to go through some of the history of Shell, including its founding (by an English trader interested in, surprisingly enough, shells), merger with Royal Dutch Petroleum, expansion into Nigeria, interference in local conflict there, and other global operations, to its present-day strategic maneuvering against activists, environmentalists, and communities.

Photo: Occupy Tours London (pictured: Alice Rose Bell and Max Wakefield)

It's not news to anyone remotely involved in environmental activism, and Royal Dutch Shell features at the top of most lists of history's worst contributors to climate change. All the same, it doesn't hurt to hear it again, and there's something symbolic in the innocent-sounding, small-town British backstory of Shell, and its gradual embedding of itself as inseparable from government - a kind of extreme early business prototype for how to become too-big-to-fail - serves as another reminder of the near-impossibility of change in a world of oil economics (not to mention the location and size of the building itself). The story of Ken Saro-Wiwa, the activist executed by the Nigerian government for non-violent resistance against the environmental destruction of his homeland Niger Delta in the 90s, is a particularly acute reminder. Such events continue today, with oil companies, as shell did in the case of Saro-Wiwa, doing their best to wash their hands of direct involvement in conflict whilst simultaneously doing whatever it takes to maximise profit. Though there are few cases where this was as direct as Saro-Wiwa - which resulted in Nigeria being somewhat hypocritically suspended from the Commonwealth for what, let's face is, was probably in the end the actions of a British company - it is commonly acknowledged that such instances are now part of the day-to-day running of a global resources corporation (Brazil's Vale, or Australia's BHP and Rio Tinto, for example). That activists continue to risk their lives fighting against such global machinery is necessary, but their personal sacrifice cannot be anything but acutely felt.

Not co-incidentally, the next location of the tour is the Nigerian High Commission, where out top-hatted chaperones explain a little more about Saro-Winka's story and the ensuing international furore, before finishing the tour with a visit to the building which, until recently, was the headquarters of the UK's Department of Energy and Climate Change. It was big news when one of Teresa May's first actions on 'winning' the UK Prime Ministership was to absorb the 8-year-old department into the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to form the ominously-named Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, following the lead of countries like Australia in erasing the implicit acknowledgement that climate change exists, and therefore also erasing any potential liability. Not only did it seem to represent a denial of the prominence of Climate Change in government policy, it also took away the potential for the department to extend its operations, apparently mainly limited to decommissioning nuclear sites.

The tour can only touch the surface of some of these issues, but nevertheless, as I broke off at the completion of the tour to do some fairly cynical sightseeing in London's centre, I was aware of my newly-informed gaze. As someone who has always looked at the buildings of London (and not only London) with a degree of suspicion about what they actually are - what their history actually is, what people are actually doing in there - the choice of Occupy Tours to equip us with the history and significance of some of these buildings can only be a good thing. At best, it's a reminder that the strength of human beings working together to overcome the embedded violence of the global system, here represented by the monument of architecture.

At worst, it makes you feel a little less alone in the overwhelming worldscape we are now in.

Other locations include the Tate Modern, the Coin Street Co-Op and the Thames.
Occupy London: Energy Tour guides include Chaitanya Kumar, Alice Rose Bell, Max Wakefield and Sophie Neuburg.

Occupy Tours runs monthly throughout the year.


Some of my writing on London theatre over at AYT:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Over the Ruins of Amazonia: At the Frontiers of Climate Change

The indigenous population of the Amazon are key chess pieces in the current 'game' of climate change. Located mostly in Brazil but shared with neighbouring countries, and representing over half of the world's remaining rain forest (!!!), what happens in the contest between protectors of the Amazon rainforest - including activists, some scientists, some NGOs, and indigenous populations - and those neoliberal multinationals and government forces which would want to exploit it in the context of Brazil's emerging economy, will play a large role in determining to what extent irreversible damage is done to this particular pivotal area, and have a reverberating effect on similar conflicts. As with many contested sites: the battle-lines are increasingly clear, the stakes are global, and those defending the Amazon are in a position of increasing weakness against well-resourced, in a way unbeatable, global machine of capitalism. As hopeless as it is to struggle against this overwhelming force, it won't stop soon.

Brazil's 'coup' (parentheses only for technical definition reasons, I am happy to call it a coup) last month has not exactly helped the situation, although as architect Paolo Tavares points out in his comprehensive lecture, part of HAU's curated Brazil-focused program called The Sky is Already Falling, it's just another complicated political event in a long tradition of Brazilian political history. The leftist governments of the 1980s, he points out, actually accelerated the forced relocation of indigenous populations in the Amazon, in the name of forest clearing and cultivation. The impeachment will have an effect, and yes that would appear to be largely negative in terms of the aforementioned conflict, but it's not necessarily a large change from what was already occurring anyway. This is a bipartisan project of colonial violence propelled by capitalist interest.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Faki Epilogue: Ghosts in the Medika

Well, it's over. Over the 6 days of the festival, I saw all 26 shows except my compatriots When We First Met by Anything is Valid Dance Theatre (AU), a victim of an unexpected public holiday, and managed to review 20 of them at a rate of about 3-4 per day. If that doesn't seem like a lot, you have never written a review. Engaging with 3-4 shows a day, 3-4 entirely different realities in one gruelling evening, only to wipe the slate clean and begin again with the previous night's shows still ringing in your ears, is difficult. Not to mention talking with artists about their work and what you've written about it, getting to know them, and then not having the time to talk with them because you have to write about the new shows. Human interference is complex but, as I was reminded at Faki, it's part of living in a community. Along with sweeping, cooking, and mopping, making society is part of the work which must be done.

I became a kind of machine at Faki. Like a critical thought computer. If my writing seemed to take on the same rhythm each day that's why.

The art at Faki was revealing of some growing and continuing trends among artists in Europe. The tendency for 'emotional mining of the self' - exploiting and manipulating your own ontology for performance, was pushed to the extreme in some cases. Metaphors, once kind of important in art, were now uncool - much better to simply manipulate and intervene in reality. Collaborations seemed also to lose their power in comparison with the authentic power of first-person story.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Faki Day 6: Artifice, everyday violence and non-justice

There’s something about the pharmaceutical factory Medika that has a weird effect on memory. Of course the friendships made through collaboration and conversation will last and even strengthen - but the stronger memories from Faki will seem to never be the ‘known’ but the ‘un-known’, or the partly known. It’s the passing glimpses of a perverse moment, the random acts of generosity and humanity, or the hidden menace that stick to the brain. I don’t know if that’s just the sheer labyrinth-like nature of the place: creating surprises around every corner, small shocks to attune the senses and unsettling reality. These are the unforgettable content filling the frame of the factory. The normality disappears.

The final day of the festival began with a Zagrebian circus performance about torture, followed (after a quick scamper through the rain) by a polished surrealist performance from Patricia Hastewell and group All These Places Had Their Moments which blended various styles of movement. The site-specific choreography collaboration from Clipa Theatre, Collective B and Liv Fauver was the only show to fully utilise the courtyard of Medika – and a unified collective of punks, artists and revellers, and a dog, watched on in silent reverence.  Daniela Marcozzi closed out the festival with a widely referential work Right On! addressing today’s troubled perspective on justice.

The only apology is the circus performance from Cirkorama.

All These Places Had Their Moments

Writing, or attempting to write, or failing to write, so much on dance these last few days has taught me a few things. One is that dancers will inevitably tell you that you don’t need to know much about dance to write on it - that a naïve perspective is ok. I think this is partly true. A traditional aim of the artist is to communicate on a universal, symbolic level, so why shouldn’t I then be able to write about what I understand of it? On the other hand, working with a technical language is naturally inclusive of finer points, which a critic must be able to cover. When a piece of theatre fails, for example, I know enough to guess why it might have failed – I can see the intention, or see the bigger picture. With dance, that’s more difficult. There are some works that are trying to do something quite specific, and this point itself doesn’t render the whole initiative invalid. Achieving something specific within a limited frame can have a flow-on effect, even if more than half the audience doesn’t get it. This s true not only of specific work, but is inherent in the concept of avant-garde, where the audience will be alienated because the piece is trying to discuss something which does not yet exist. Again – that it was comprehended does not mean necessarily that the objectives were valid.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Faki Day 5: Spider-man in Zagreb, Greek suffering, and state volence

It's morning on Day 6 of Faki, and everyone at the former Pharmaceutical factory Medika is running on empty. People meet you with exhausted smiles as they head lazily for the kitchen, their exhaustion removing the normal social barriers, creating either what is either love or a kind of co-dependency. Most artists have, in different ways, been working for a solid week now - it mightn't seem like 'work' to host a party with refugees, for example, but creating love and human connection at a time like this is so important, it becomes a type of labour. This is why we're here.

An easier day for your correspondent today after yesterday's writing got big on me. I can see the finish line now, but there's still some work to do. Yesterday's shows sat nicely against each other: Dror Lieberman's site-specific action-adventure The Lowest Spot in Zagreb was a crazy way to encounter locals, Elli Papakonstantinou and Odc Ensemble's Re-volt Athens is the first work of this kind of festival to go nuts and destroy everything, and Alexander Manuiloff's The State was a political experiment that provided a very hilarious - and I'm sure very Croatian - outcome.

Apologies today to Fika Danza, whose work Calamaleonte Primo (Chameleon First) again shows my shortcomings in dance criticism. Gotta go and get that dance criticism training.

The Lowest Spot in Zagreb

I am terrible at working in public space. I don't know why - I think it's the built-up fear that I have of police, poverty, maybe even social interaction. These fears build up over time - through not exercising your rights, you forget about them - through not taking risk , you never know the limitations imposed on yourself or others. And these limitations are undoubtedly important: our freedoms in public space are a symbolic representation of our freedoms more generally, often expressed in the right to freely protest (an interesting question now), the right to occupy (hmmm....), the right to human mobility (er....) and the right to employ space for something other than commercial use (...forget about it).

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Faki Day 4: Blackness and Queerness, Self-Punishment, and... Yoga

It's morning on day 5, and it turns out the noise I heard at 3am was someone smashing up a kitchen sink in the courtyard. There's nothing like sweeping in the pharmaceutical factory Medika - it's a task dutifully undertaken every day but it's an impossible task nevertheless, the layers of dirt seem so caked on as to form their own surface. There's pieces of glass actually embedded into the concrete - they weren't planted there when it was setting, they've just been there so long they've kind of melted into the ground. I just sweep it in a big pile so that no one steps on the ceramic shards - and later it's gone, as if by magic. Medika taketh away and Medika giveth.

Day 4 was another assortment of powerful voices asserting wildly different realities. Things began as they do for many in the morning - with Yoga, courtesy of Jindřiška Křivánková and Markéta Magidová's blissfully parodic Migra Yoga. A sweat later, we were made to feel inferior by the extremely physical Neither Soft Nor Light, a punishing performance of masculinity, forming an interesting double with Malik Nashad Sharpe 's challenging performance artwork Assimilation. The night ended (for some) with Stephanie Felber's Medomai, a curious transfer of a street performance to a hyper-slow motion version of Strauss' Blue Danube.

Medomai is also the casualty for today - again for technical dance reasons I suppose, although it's categorised as a street performance. I will not give full breadth to Roxana Küwen's Shift, instead focusing on a specific claim made by the circus artist. See the end of the post for that.

Migra Yoga

I have friends who will be angry at me for admitting this, but I am a yoga cynic. Cultural appropriation aside - it feels, in a first world sense, like a solution created to avoid a problem: the void of the self created by capitalist societies is neatly solved by the commanding, believable spiritual leadership of the yoga teacher, with their promises of connection, wholeness, and openness contradicting those negative feeling you get from advertising or the more damaging elements of social relations under capitalism - all for 12€ an hour. There's something about the form of it that goes directly against my critical instincts - the way the student-teacher relationship is so one-way, the positivity of it, the economy around it. It seems to me a perfect example of instead of addressing the cause, we create a social counter-balance: in this sense it fits perfectly into other contradictory phenomena that characterise western society.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Faki Day 3: Nazism and the Circus, Clinginess, Death in Bengal

It's early afternoon on Day 4, and there's a peaceful air over the factory Medika, as though we have been here forever. People mill about cleaning, cooking, talking, and rehearsing with a distinct sense of eternity.

Medika used to have a wifi password "OVO NI JECUCANJ" which I'm told in Croatian means This is not a squat. The reality is that it kind of is... a squat, but without much of the angst which can happen from communal living (at least during festival time). Staying here for Faki, I keep thinking about how the festival provides all the things which arts festivals (even quite prestigious or well-funded ones) promise but don't deliver: food, a roof over your head, people who care about you. Some kind of sense that something might happen other than networking and CV-building. In short: it's provision of the bare necessities allows actual risk - by which I mean, it opens a space for possibilities, and not just execution of a pre-organised marketing strategy.

Day 3's performances were a distinct change of pace - with just 4 new works on the program. Lab on Stage's Klette or the Desire for Surrealistic Clinging kicks things off, followed by Roxana Küwen's beautifully-realised performance lecture about fascism and circus in Nazi Germany, and ending with Kolkata-based Syed Taufik Riaz's work From Dust We Come and to Dust We Go. Punctuating the performances was Sura Hertzberg's Straight Jacket, the only casualty for today, as I was but a brief voyeur on her experiment, which was essentially a recreation of an asylum in the halls of Medika's fluorescent graffiti-stained walls,and barred windows. (Yes, it was spooky).

Klette or the Desire for Surrealistic Clinging

I'm not afraid to say that I was eluded by the work done in this dance, performed by Austria-based Lab on Stage. Ostensibly about the flux between subject and object, and their level of 'stickiness', the dance revolves around two performers with Velcro on their bodies, with which they stick or un-stick each other in a manner reminiscent of the titular klette (German: a type of nettle). A nominated 'third actor'  - a humanoid cardboard 'L'-shaped object, stands in for an array of diverse furniture. The two performers move through various states of negotiation, stuck together for the beginning and subsequently removing themselves, achieving a possible freedom, before rebuilding a different relationship again.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Faki Day 2: Human Trafficking, Creative Class, and 'Civilisation by Proxy'

It's morning at Faki on Day 3, and the festival settles into a familiar rhythm: healthy vegetarian lunches, random happenings and events, somehow a lot of pressure, and at the same time, none. Violence hangs in the air as a kind of general idea along with the sounds of punk metal until 5am, ever-present, acknowledged, discussed - and importantly, never, ever acted upon.

Day 2’s performances were characterised by a more direct contact with contemporary politics and propaganda, as opposed to the shock of yesterday. The neo-Marxist Sketches of Freedom kicked things off, complete with unscheduled stage intruder, followed by Dutch/Malaysian collaboration Can’t See Through Your Eyes and the intriguing The More You Dance the More You Get, a metaphor for people trafficking. Norwegian Terrorist/Capitalist/Christian cult music theatre project U-DUB was the entry for oddest but potentially most avant-garde work of the festival, whilst Japanese dancer Kazuyo Shionoiri’s meditation on death was an intensely personal communion. 

Today’s casualties in terms of criticism are both performers of Emptiness/Fullness and Can’t See Through Your Eyes - being dance performances which I read as not engage a discourse outside of their own logic - not the fault of the works by any stretch, but I am just lacking the tools to dissect such work in a useful way.

I am holding up ok, by the way. I think we all are.

Sketches of Freedom

The term ‘Creative Class’ is used to describe the demographic of young people who are characterised by a particular type of exploitation. Working mostly in culture and tech (or combinations thereof), they spend their time floating from unpaid internship to short-term freelance gig, never enjoying fundamental rights or government support, appropriating/hijacking infrastructure where they can, and scavenging from the edges of societies. A particular type of oppressed, they will never enjoy wealth, and conversely, are powerful influences in symbolically shaping cultures and politics (referred to as ‘change makers’). 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Faki Day 1: Porn, Drugs, Risk...

Well, if the expectation was for risk-taking and things which can't really be done in performance, Day 1 delivered.

Occupying Day 1 and leading the program was the residents of Faki, who presented the culmination of the previous month’s work. Knowing the way the audience works in the festival, it doesn’t take long for a bomb to drop – and  perhaps the first was dropped for the evening by Sura Hertzberg with her autobiographical ritual about heroin addiction, an energy quickly followed up on by the fantastically trivial Nordified and the theatre experiment Talk to Me and I’ll Slap You.

First a disclaimer: it’s hard to adequately view five shows in one evening, let alone write on them. Today’s casualty was Collective B’s (AT) Spectaculat’or – a quirky physicality of togetherness and separation, which fulfilled the ‘someone has to break a window’ requirement of Faki. Adding further difficulty: the harsh halls of Medika seem to bring out a kind of violent strength in the ontology of the works, making the jump from one to the other even more difficult, as though moving between totally different worlds. As in the following days, almost everything is prefaced by an apology: I did my best.

Soft Associations

Soft Associations declares itself as an exploration into the ‘softness’ of the body, and it’s pretty much as it says on the label. The audience enters into a space of soft, warm, light and gentle smoke, the dulcet, albeit masculine tones of Sinatra belting out I’ve Got You Under my Skin, the two performers (Liv Fauver and Kata Cots) gently splayed naked on the floor. What follows is a meditation on ‘softness’ and the (particularly female) body, Nina Simone cutting against the opening Sinatra as a musical presence, sometimes ironically silenced, herself reduced to a projected image. The performers adopt an awkward, anguished movement that is almost struggling against its own display, achieving a kind of liberty against Simone’s Chauffeur, only for it to be suddenly ripped away by repetitive and reluctant exposure and concealment, reminiscent of conventions of (male) erotic pleasure.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

FAKI Festival 2016 – Emaciated Art for the Age of Austerity

"You like it here, don't you?"

This was said to me at last year's Faki Festival. I think at the time I was sitting in some dark corner of the large yard of Medika, a former pharmaceuticals factory in Zagreb, on some rubble no doubt, and yet I couldn't disagree. Straddling the lines between anarchy and gentrification, structure and chaos, art and life, Faki might be the perfect festival for these times. A nearly 20-year old institution, but one which still feels young, with works catching fire and seeming to burn out as soon as they are performed, making way for the evening revellers to do the same. As I wrote last year, this is not a place where you come to network or improve your CV - it's a place for art, and art only. (And mad techno parties).

Faki has always had a cross-cultural communication bent, expressing itself in plenty of interesting collaborations, especially over the former (?) east-west divide, but a glance at this year's program shows a particular interest in one-on-one collaborations across divides. Gabi Serano and Chan Sze-Wei’s Talk to me and I slap you is a collaboration between a UK and Chilean artist, Liv Fauver and Kata Cots Soft Associations work across the contentious North American divide between the USA and Mexico, a mish-mash of north and south informs Austrian/Italian collaboration Nordified while Beh Chin Lau and Katja Grässli’s work not only crosses a vast expanse of water (or land if you go the long way) but incorporates the work of a philosopher in the area of cross-cultural collaboration, Marc Colpaert. Even those works which don't have an outwardly cross-cultural component seem to be concerned with the world outside - Daniela Marcozzi's Right On! tells the story of her friends accused of terrorism and detained without charge for one year, Assimilation (Malik Sashad Sharpe) looks at ideas from Queer and black discourse which have made it mainstream US culture, whilst dance-specific works such as Emptiness/Fullness (Calamaleonte Primo Attaco, Italy) and  the significantly-named Klette or the Phenomenon of Surrealistic Clinging (Lab on Stage, Austria)  concern themselves with the internals and externals of the body - an age-old metaphor for the thin layer of separation between ourselves and the world.

If cross-cultural communication seems boring to you, or too corporate to be meaningful, you must have little concept of the troubles we face today (a day in which just 51% of Austrians voted NOT to have an openly fascist government). In a world where division and nationalism are everywhere, communication across divides is critical to subvert political agendas which seek to dehumanise – communication, precisely where it should not occur according to such agendas, can be a pivotal form of activism and resistance. Perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than today's Israel, where life-threatening barriers of all kinds - religious, economic, social and military - pervade, and a significant contingent from Israel will represent themselves at the festival. Two works from solo performer Dror Liebermann appear aimed at expressing an extreme frustration with communication, whilst Clipa Theatre’s Forever/Never looks at violence as a concept integrated into Israel’s way of life.

So we await for the night to begin: a festival filled with the potential - in addition to bringing people together as festivals do - for some kind of small but meaningful contribution to a world outside of Medika. Stay tuned for daily reports from your full-time correspondent, as I am reporting on the festival daily until Sunday, as well as running group critical sessions.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Reporting to the Fairytale Academy

"Is this real?"

When I asked that question to a friend, as we strode through the neat Peter Rabbit-esque meadows of Canterbury and turned down Crab-and-Winkle Way, I didn't fully understand what I meant. I think it’s because of the imagery appering in various stories from my childhood filled with British propaganda – the picket fences, the empty meadows, the friendly good mornings - and the split with the reality outside my window which was full of squawking cockatoos and agressive spiders, creating a kind of cognitive dissonance. Or maybe it is the existence of global poverty, imminently connected with such a display, sitting underneath it like a colonial scar. It’s not so much that I don’t think it’s real, I just don’t believe in its reality. It is, in a very specific way, a fairytale.

Thankfully I managed to overcome this mendacity - over the course of my visit to the University of Kent to deliver two conference papers - through some very authentic suffering and labour, as well as managing to avoid most of the known sights in Canterbury, which apparently include various references to Marlowe and Chaucer, and some kind of cathedral. Do such things even exist now? Did they ever exist? One might ask the same of academia, I thought as I trudged up the hill each morning to the picturesque institution, slightly blotted these days by its various banners replete with neo-buddhist slogans screaming at the international students whose fees the university survives on that 'with belief they can reach their potential' and so on. (Reaching the top of the hill was the absolute summit of my potential).

The general standard of academia was high but thankfully not completely inaccessible to me. In some cases the two conferences Comedy and Critical Thought: Laughter as Resistence and Beckett and World Literature were complete opposites, one speaking about the contradictions between two general, almost universally-understood ideas of humour, the other from what is in perhaps always a closed perspective – that of a single writer.

I presented two papers, the first on a clown anti-performance for Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2012 which never occurred entitiled The Tragedy of 'Dave will make you laugh', the second on Beckett, Orwell, and arts activism. 

Listen to the Beckett paper, titled Anti-Human and Reactionary: Reading Beckett with Orwell, co-authored with Melbourne Researcher Andrew Fuhrmann, below.


Some key questions to emerge from the conferences:
  • Can critical thought be compatible with comedy?
  • What are the links between economic conditions and 'the comic'?
  • Is a purely aesthetic approach to Beckett valid?
  • Why are some contemporary clowns entering politics? And what about the politician who becomes clown through circumstance (Varoufakis?)
  • Beckett might be read as a history of technology and the human being
  • To what extent is Beckett's writing Universal? To what extent is it not universal?
  • How has oration changed with the coming of new satirical videos, in which the political and entertainment collide? And how might this be a legitimate tool for communication to those outside the addressed public - to whom the speech is critical?
  • How has humour changed in the absence of authority which defines the 'no-worries capitalism'  of start-ups and hipster culture?
I acknowledge the conference organisers for their hard work in organising the conference, and those who could not attend the conference because of their financial circumstances or because of political restrictions. Hopefully your voice was present, somehow.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Back to life with Beckett and Critical Comedy

Back again.

After much resistance and some significant personal journeys - which at times propelled myself far away from the original context of this project (even further than usual) -I am once again sitting at my desk and typing, occasionally staring out the window at the spring of the Berlin street.

Some difficult reflections on what Australia is becoming are on the way. More immediate matters: next week I am presenting at two conferences at the University of Canterbury, Kent, the first about Comedy and Critical Thought and the second about Samuel Beckett and globality. These conferences are similarly structured and offer some specific opportunities to talk about two pet topics, collectivity against authority and the collapse of critical discourse under neo-liberal economic agendas. I will report back, hopefully with some video or a text or two. At the moment I am madly (but not unhappily) scrambling to finish the work I have to deliver before the long bus ride to Kent. When I return I will be part of an art installation project 'Public Speaking' in Berlin, before I leave to once again report from Faki Festival in Zagreb at the end of May.

So, I'm guessing much more to come shortly. Hopefully I will one day also get to write about some theatre in Berlin, (which is actually what this project is supposed to be about, by the way).