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).