Saturday, April 21, 2018

Notes: Taking back the net - PEN 2018

The most shocking item about this panel? Yassmin Abdel-Magied was denied entry in the USA, the custom officials arguing that her visa was inadequate, a visa she had used in the past for similar purposes. She participated in the panel via Skype.

Yassmin is an activist and a writer, she defends islam, and women, and muslim women. She has met with a lot of hostility in Australia, where she grew up, and has had to leave for her own safety and sanity. She spoke about how to survive harassement.

Toll on mental state:
Harassment takes a toll on mental state. Victims need to choose their strategy (ignore, react, respond, etc). They need to self care. Get support from communities around, from other victims of harassment. They can protect themselves with barriers such as

+ staff that takes over social media
+ friends that offer support
+ spend more time in "real life", interacting with real people

Harassment also takes time and energy away from activists, writers, artists, undermining their activities and production.

Anita Sarkeesian was the target of a sexist hate campaign of unbelievable proportions, when she tackled the sexism in gaming.

"The gaming world still hasn't done much to improve their misogynistic representations of women in particular."

Typical hate posts: "she's a liar!", "she makes pots of money", death and rape threats.

Porochista Khakpour is a writer, journalist, editor of Iranian descent. She has been harassed both as a woman and a Muslim.

"Some writers have in their contract the number of people that have linked with their social media platforms, and they can't quit them if they fall victime to harassment."

She lives in Harlem within a community of Muslims. Some of them have become less vocal on social media because of the psychological toll that takes, including suicidal frames of mind.

Media and harassment:
The media covering the harassment is often inadequately prepared. They want to sell a good story at whatever cost. They want to represent both sides of the stories. But when a crime is involved, there are no two sides of the story, just one. PEN is issuing guidelines for the media to help them cover the issue.

It's very difficult to get the law to intervene effectively, to sue successfully.

Harassment has increased under the current government. Revolution Books in Harlem have suffered a huge increase of attacks.

Companies' attitude to harassment:
Facebook, twitter and instagram and other social media platforms were created by white American guys. They had little awareness about harassment, racism, sexism, and didn't think through the potential for harassment. Initially the companies did very little in terms of controlling hate. They're now doing a bit better. Twitter used to have a staff of 4 concerned with safety issues. Now they have a whole department, safety counsel, etc.

They do not have to give their users freedom of speech, as they're private companies. They can, and do now, set rules: such word can't be used, such behavior is inacceptable.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter von Arx

Anita Sarkeesian

Friday, April 20, 2018

Artists take the street - at PEN 2018 - my notes

Interpretation of the notes above from the PEN panel Artists Take The Street:

Tania Brugera ran for president in CUBA! With, obviously, not a chance to win, but getting serious negative attention from government. She's a performance/installation artist. In one of her famous performances, she ate soil mixed with water and salt as a political act. 

She made some compelling contributions to the panel. My favorite:


Amy Khoshbin discussed how she reflected on talking to people who believe in the right to carry firearms, while she was in residence in a state where that was prevalent. The complexity statement was contributed to that discussion, as both sides of the American political divide hold on to simple slogans and beliefs. Only by adding complexity to the discussion, to artistic expression, can we hope to bridge that divide, so detrimental to our society.

Amy also discussed how she defines the "street" as a space for artists: public spaces, social media. Tania added that in Cuba, inside the house is a "street" space that escapes police attention. It is also a space of expression in the USA that is less monitored, less monetized.

Anne Carson did not say much. So here's an extract from a New Yorker text that is still very poetical while fiction:

"Her visit ends. Back at home, the newspapers, front-page photos of a train car in Europe jammed floor to door with escaped victims of a war zone farther south, people denied transit. Filthy families and souls in despair pressed flat against one another in the grip to survive, uncountable arms and legs, torn-open eyes, locked in the train all night waiting for dawn, a scene so much the antithesis of her own morning she cannot enter it. What sense it makes for these two mornings to exist side by side in the world where we live, should this be framed as a question, would not be answerable by philosophy or poetry or finance or by the shallows or the deeps of her own mind, she fears."

Get Organized Brooklyn and Refuse Fascism are two organizations that were referred to during the meeting. That was the best take away from the panel for me, because I had hoped for more blueprints, more handbook tips, more practical examples.  Word on The Street was one of the few projects described, it involves big names, and big money: not very relevant to the common guerillera artist sitting at the panel. I guess we will need to come up with our own invented processes.

Remark on the notes above: the woman gardening in the upper right corner is just going about her business. She pays no attention to the demonstrators around her. And why not? 

On the panel: Anne Carson, Tania Bruguera, Amy Khoshbin and very cool, very smart Carmen Hermo, who is a curator at the Brooklyn Museum

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Avignon Festival 2017: La Fiesta by Israel Galvan

When is it too much chaos to make for a show?

Hard to tell. I can't guarantee I did justice to the show. I was sitting too high up, why sell seats that will not let you enjoy fully the show? They were the only ones available. Plus, after a month of traveling through Europe, Paris, Venice, Lutry, Avignon, I went to see the Fiesta of Israel Galvan the night before my return to the United States. I was in between continents.

I liked the Fiesta concept, the end of a party when you're tired but you do not know if you want to leave, you're tired but you don't know if you want to sleep, when you've drunk all night, but you do not know if you're inebriate. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no organizing principle to the show, I only perceived noise. Noise when it came to sound, and to the staging. Discordant sounds. Small pieces of snippets of things, which seemed to happen by chance. Yes, in life, it's like that, but life happens to me, while there, I came to experience what the creator had to say, sitting on an uncomfortable seat that had cost me a round sum.

I had not come to see a classical flamenco show, the Avignon Festival is not the place. A few years ago, I attended a flamenco contest in Madrid, in a restaurant, an authentic experience of its own, even if not all dancers were gipsy.

The noise was so tiring, I lost patience and thought of something else. A little sketch to distract me, the courtyard of the Palace of the Popes is a marvel. The whole town is a marvel.

If there was some kind of plot, I did not pay enough attention to grasp it.

A woman sang a baroque tune admirably, while a man shouted druing the whole song in a strident voice. Throughout the show, every time he intervened, his grating voice ground my bones. At one point, he lay on his back, I hoped he was dead. But he got up. The last ten minutes of the show, Israel Galvan scraped his heels on a microphoned platform. I wanted to cry out, pity on us, pity on our ears! I would have left, as a number of spectators did throughout the show, but I was too curious to witness the reaction of the audience. The show seemed endless. Less than 2 hours in reality.

I wondered at one moment if it would continue until all the spectators had gone away, by snatches. A cool concept, a real end of the party where we are not sure why we decide to leave: fatigue, the prospect of rising the next day, the fray of pleasure, realization that probably nothing more exciting will happen.

Verdict from the public: I would say that about 2/3 was enthusiastic, ¼ booed, and the last portion (I will not calculate, this is a blog) either applauded weakly, or not at all. I belong to the last group. I did not boo, because I did not see in this creation dishonesty, a vice that I can not bear, nor pretentiousness. For me, it was a messy show, which had the potential to be successful if it had been more organized, more sequenced.

I loved :
The gigantic shadows of the dancers projected by lamps on the floor on the gigantic walls of the Palace of the Popes.

The woman in standard flamenco dress who not only does not dance, but ends up being tortured. We can see classic flamenco crucified, but I also thought about the condition of women in flamenco culture. Some gypsies allow their women to go to the saddle in the toilet only when they are not present at home, by repulsion.

The new forms of theater, whether dash circus, dash dance, dash cabaret, have brought vigor and freshness to the stage stage, as in the show The Great Tamer. During the Fiesta, I began to long for a story, any story, with a beginning, plot reversals, and an end, characters, suspense: what will happen next? Having limited patience and resilience, I was waiting for only one thing: the end.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter von Arx

Avignon 2017: La Fiesta de Israel Galvan

Quand le chaos est-il tout intense pour constituter un spectacle?

Je ne peux me targuer de connaître la réponse à cette question. Comme toujours, la subjectivité de chaque spectateur entre en jeu, je ne me sens pas l'autorité, mais j'ai des impressions, des réflexions.
Je ne sais pas si j’ai pu faire justice au spectacle, je l'admets. J'étais trop loin, il serait dans l'intérêt du spectacle autant que du spectateur de ne pas vendre des sièges qui empêchent d'apprécier ce quise passe sur scène. De plus, après un mois de voyage en Europe, Paris, Venise, Lutry, Avignon, je suis allée voir la Fiesta d’Israel Galvan le soir avant mon retour aux Etats-Unis. Je suis entre deux eaux.
Le concept de la Fiesta me plaisait, une fin de fête quand on est fatigué mais qu’on ne sait plus si on veut dormir, quand on a bu toute la nuit, mais on ne sait plus si on est soûl. Malheureusement, je n'ai pas perçu de principe organisant, seulement du bruit. Au niveau du son, au niveau de la mise en scène. Des sons discordants. Des petits bouts de bribes de choses, qui semblaient arriver au hasard. Oui, dans la vie, c’est comme ça, mais la vie m’arrive à moi, tandis que là, j’avais fait l’effort de me déplacer, de m’assoir sur un siège peu confortable qui m’avait coûté une somme rondelette.

Je n’étais pas venue pour voir un spectacle de flamenco classique, le Festival d’Avignon n’est pas le lieu. Il y a quelques années, j’ai assisté à un concours de flamenco à Madrid, dans un restaurant, une expérience authentique dans son genre, même si toutes les danseuses n’étaient pas gitanes. 

Le bruit était si fatigant, que j’ai perdu patience et pensé à autre chose. Un petit croquis pour me distraire, la cour du Palais des Papes est une merveille. Toute la ville est une merveille. 

S’il y avait une trame narrative au spectacle, je n’ai plus prêté assez attention pour la saisir.

Une femme chantait à merveille un air baroque, alors qu’un homme criait tout du long d’une voix stridente. Pendant tout le spectacle, chaque fois qu’il est intervenu, sa voix grinçante m’irritait les os. A un moment, il s’est couché sur le dos, j’espérais qu’il soit mort. Mais il s’est relevé. Les dix dernières minutes du spectacle, Israel a raclé de ses talons une plateforme sonorisée. Je voulais crier, pitié ! 

Je serais partie, comme un certain nombre de spectateurs tout au long du spectacle, mais j’étais trop curieuse d’assister à la réaction du public. Le spectacle n’en finissait pas. Je me suis demandé à un moment s’il continuerait jusqu’à ce que tous les spectateurs s’en aillent, bribes par bribes. Un concept assez cool, une vraie fin de fête où on ne sait pas trop bien ce qui nous décide à partir, la fatigue, la perspective du lever le lendemain, l’effilochement du plaisir, la réalisation que probablement rien d’excitant n’arrivera plus.

Verdict du public : je dirais qu’à peu près 2/3 était enthousiasmé, ¼ ont hué, et le petit reste (je ne calculerai pas, ceci est un blog) a soit applaudi mollement , soit pas du tout. Je fais partie du dernier groupe. Je n’ai pas hué, parce que je n’ai pas vu dans cette création de malhonnêteté, un vice que je ne supporte pas, ni de prétention. Pour moi, c’était un spectacle foiré, qui avait la potentialité d’être réussi s’il avait été plus organisé, plus séquencé.

J’ai aimé :
Les ombres gigantesques des danseurs projetés par des lampes au sol sur les gigantesques parois du Palais des Papes.
La femme en robe standard flamenco qui non seulement ne danse pas, mais finit par être suppliciée. On peut y voir le flamenco classique crucifié, mais j’ai aussi pensé à la condition des femmes dans la culture flamenco. Certains gitans n’autorisent leurs femmes à aller à selle dans les toilettes que lorsqu’ils ne sont présents à la maison, par répulsion.

Les nouvelles formes de théâtre que ce soit tiret -cirque, tiret -danse, tiret -cabaret, sont venues apporter de la vigueur et de la fraîcheur à la scène, comme dans le spectacle The Great Tamer. Pendant la Fiesta, je me suis prise à désirer une histoire, avec un début, des  revirements, et une fin, des personnages, du suspens : que va-t-il se passer maintenant ? Ayant une patience et une résistance limitée, je n’attendais qu’une chose : la fin.

Contribué par  - -  Arabella Hutter von Arx

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Festival d'Avignon - The Great Tamer at the Fabrica

When I write an article for a publication, I start by jotting my ideas down on paper. Then I read them, I think, I try to organize them. I structure, I restructure, I cut, I develop. Finally, I polish the style. For my blog, I stop at the first stage of notes organized more or less randomly, because this is not a review. As usual.

Thrilling moment: the show begins. Will it please me? Will the creators meet the spectators expectations? A man is lying on the stage as the spectators walk in. I thought it was a great, disarticulated puppet. But when he gets up, we see that he is a real man, just a bit gray in his face. He stares at the spectators as they take their place. He removes his standard gray suit, then his underwear. A naked man, what a beautiful object. How fragile. He turns over one of the rubber plates that cover the gray scene: it is white on the other side. He lays down on it. A naked man is even more fragile. A bearded man arrives, also dressed in a standard grey suit. He lays a cloth on the naked man. Until then, I have been seduced, but I do not like much the fabric nor the way that the man drapes it over the naked man, it’s too self conscious. The bearded man leaves the stage, another arrives also dressed in a standard suit. He lifts a rubber plate and drops it. The draft lifts the tissue and moves it off the body. The man is naked again. This action recurs at least a dozen times, the men’s actions closer and closer together until they are on stage simultaneously.

I do not understand the meaning of this scene. At least not immediately. If I reflect, I put together that the man is submitted without recourse to the other two men’s actions. Either he's cold when the sheet is off, or he’s hot when he's covered, but the two men do not seem to care about his welfare.

Soon there are six men on stage, two women. Yes, I take a count. For many male creators, a human is a man. Women work as an accessory that define man as clothing or decor. But when a woman emerges from a astronaut costume, against all odds, I review my hasty judgment. He now has six men and three women. It's better, but we could have six women and four men, for example, though they would not wear the standard suit in the same way. They are either in long black dresses, or in alluring lingerie

Music: the famous waltz, slowed down at least 10 fold, by Johannes Strauss. An astronaut appears on the scene. Hello, 2001 A Space Odyssey, by Kubrick!

The show explores humans as individuals, their consciousness. A theme that I like very much. In fact Numen and I were discussing it just recently, blog entry to come soon.

I argued that humans have a consciousness of themselves, and offered as a metaphor a novel. While it is made of words on paper, the novel still exists if one burns the paper. He argued back, what about a severed hand still alive and kicking, something science might achieve soon? Is it human? Dimitris Papaioannou seems to want to answer these questions. A woman appears advancing on legs that too big, like a spider’a. The illusion is created by two men bent over who walk backwards while she rests on their bodies. One leg is naked, the other is black and disappears against the black background. During the show, members appear thus, detached and then regrouping to form a human being. Witchcraft. The magic of the theater, Deus ex machina, Robert Lepage would approve.

Papaioannou began his career by making comic books, and he certainly has an exceptional control of gestural language. The staging of the bodies and their movements across the stage shows great skill, great talent. A man puts on shoes that seem to lie on the stage. When he picks them up, they turn out to have roots. He walks on his hands, his feet waving their roots in the air. A memorable image. Pina Bausch. Is it in the tradition of gestural theater? Dance-theater? It's more delicious without putting a label on it.

The same position of an actor / dancer / acrobat evokes something else depending on the sequence in which it appears in the room. For example, an actor in a swimmer position between the legs of another actor reminds me of a boat prow. Later, this same position evokes a man floating in a state of weightlessness. Similarly, arrows  are thrown on the naked man who is protected by some rubber plates, these same arrows become ears of corn that the actors glean tenderly in a beautiful scene.

Visuals reference Botticelli’s Venus, Michelangelo’s David, the Lesson of Dissection by Rembrandt. I sometimes have the painful impression that as European creators, we have so little to say in comparison with Africans, Asians, South Americans, that we are left with digging up references in our cultural past.

The actors undress and get dressed a lot. A LOT. Fortunately their jackets are not double breasted, nor their trousers with buttonholes.

At points, it felt like the creator wondered, what else could we do now? Some of the tricks he came up with, ingenious, should have been gotten rid of, because they did not contribute to the integrity of the show. As Steven King advised, the creator must be able to kill his little darlings. Sometimes, if I do not understand an action or an effect, I give them the benefit of the doubt. At other times, no, it does not convince me at all.

Even during performances I relish, I look forward to the end, from being a prisoner of the spectator-creator relationship: what if I do not like the show? Help! What if an actor forgets his role and begins to cry on stage? What if I love it, and all the other spectators boo and whistle and all the actors begin to cry? The end comes as a relief. I do better during very long shows which I have a preference for. Either very long or very short. That longing embarrasses me, as if I forced myself to go to the theater, as if I preferred to drink a glass of wine while varnishing my toenails.

Written and contributed by   - -  Arabella Hutter von Arx