S.J wrote and talked with us about aftercare for Rest Area. Kali Rose said the snake I ran over on my e-bike was a good omen, and she’s never going to let that go. I arrive in Vienna, cafés I’d aimed for are closed for lunch so I find myself in Café Jelinek, a bit off Mariahilfestr. neighbourhoods I’ve biked through before. A second breakfast, after our all-’80s singing one in Landgasthaus Rodlhof on 3 hours sleep, raked from the work and hungover, is a big mug of coffee, croissant and honey, bowl of fruit and yoghourt, 4 slices bread with cream cheese, chives, tomatoes, all for 9,50 €. On the plane, easyJet to Schönefeld, they offer me two seats, ’cos I’m mad tall. I fall over myself into it. 4 hours later, a half before midnight and the Danube churning in my lungs, I arrive home. Katrin has left dinner on the table for me. Aftercare all the way.
About 18 months ago, I got an email from Georg Hobmeier. We’d met late the previous year and realised we know all the same people, courtesy Freiburg and other Germano-Austrian places filled with dancers. Georg wrote:
I’m sitting in a room making games. I might require your particular skillset. It’s the story of a woman who’s supposed to activate an unruly missile defence station on an orbital station. There’s drones involved, vending machines and a lot of death in space.
I replied, “… death in space? I say yes!”
And so, in May 2015 I became something of a copy editor, proofreader, translator, fact checker / researcher (just how big would a standard-ish Oort cloud object of slushy comet nucleus type, or d-type asteroid need to be to flatten a city?), co-writer of Georg’s text for Causa Creations’s and Gold Extra’s interactive sci-fi novella The Station. Which was released on Tuesday.
Which makes me a published sci-fi writer / game writer. I think. Woo!
What started out as a quick-ish proofread turned into a few weeks of ever more involved discussion on identity, feminism, colonialism, 500 years in the future. You know, my usual gear, the parts of my particular skill set you get when you require my particular skill set. Some people think they can get me without the politics, like it’s optional. Not Georg! He knows what I’m about.
Which led to me thinking about the main character — already a woman — thinking about utopian-ish futures, and deciding she was bisexual and brown. Georg replied, “So, did I get this right, our hero is an umber-skinned bisexual? Somehow I picture her now as Deborah Dyer aka Skin!” Or Hannah John-Kamen, or Korra, both of whom were in my sci-fi imagination around then. So when you play The Station you have three handy references for who you are.
You’re in space! But why? And how did you get there?
“The Station” is an interactive sci-fi novella set in turbulent times, which the protagonist has a hard time remembering. It’s an orbital rabbit hole tale developed by gold extra with Causa Creations’ support. Text by Georg Hobmeier and Frances d’Ath, Code by Patrick Borgeat, Sound by Juan A. Romero.
- brain damage
- lots of accidents
- vending machines
- zero gravity horror
- one rather short labyrinth
- visually compelling feature list
- linux puzzles, but not too hard ones
- a full menagerie of quirky & annoying maintenance machinery
Please also enjoy a full hour of magical space drone music with deep space bass. Available soon.
Another of the quartet I acquired/purloined late last month. Aloïs Riegl’s Historical Grammar of the Visual Arts was recommended to me by a friend who knows about medieval stuff. I asked for a book that would decipher medieval art, contextualise its development, go into the various movements, regions, workshops—as an introduction of sorts, to balance my tendency to go direct into extremely specific and narrow academic writing (I’m looking at Bynum here).
I had the idea—because I’m often very lazy at doing preparatory research—that this was written by a woman, quite recently. Well, yes, literally the case, it was translated by Jacqueline E. Jung in 2004, but Riegl himself was Viennese and died in 1905; Historische Grammatik der bildenden Künste was posthumously published in 1966. So Frances, can we presume it’s going to have some questionable Teutonic themes? Hell, yes! The forward, by Benjamin Binstock is bombastic old white man stuff. Binstock isn’t even that old, but has spent considerable effort sounding like he mummified in the late-1800s, it’s bizarrely anachronistic, but I can usually forgive a work its forward having experienced Satre’s for Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, so on to Riegl.
He writes German in a similarly joyous explosion to Adorno: endless sentences of myriad clauses across chapter-length paragraphs. It’s glorious and horrific, particularly being German—albeit translated into English—of the Gründerzeit kind. Look, I haven’t read much yet, Jung’s translation feels convincing, given that even in German it is appallingly difficult to make sense of at times; and there’s stuff Riegl says that’s just fucking hideous, racist, misogynist, colonialist, arrogant, and completely unsurprising for someone of the establishment at that time and place. There’s also things he says that are disconcertingly radical even for now, which makes me keep going. Yes, I’m going to read this, even while my instinct is to nod and smile at the attitude of, “You must read this if you are at all serious about art,” and sod off to better things. It’s like the dogmatic Marxists who won’t consider any social or political (or any) theory unless it’s been run through Marx’s bowels first.
The book itself is a delight, fat margins and delectable paper, beautifully laid out, a cover a love just looking at, you know, care and attention to the tactile and sensory experience of reading, the kind of hedonistic thing I live for. I wish all books were this seductively made—or maybe not, my book spending has been eye-watering this year.
OooyesssStockhom! Rather excited. Never been so far north. Only two weeks to wait. In the meantime:
1. Yoga & Shibari monthly workshop with Dasniya Sommer
When: Tuesday, April 21st
Time: 7-11 pm
Cost: 20€ for the evening
At: Teatris/Alte Kantine Wedding in
Uferhallen Kulturwerkstatt in Wedding, Uferstraße 8-11, 13357 Berlin
U8 Pankstr/U9 Osloerstr
In case you don’t find it, or the door is locked, please call when you are in the courtyard:
+ 49 174 393 70 49
2. Intermediate Ballet class at Motions* Berlin
Dasniya will be teaching Jo Siska’s ballet class:
When: 12 – 12:30h
Saturday, April 18th + 25th
Location: Motion*s, directly at Moritzplatz (U8 und M29),
Access via Oranienhof coming from Oranienstraße, staircase B1
Costs: 6 €
3. Performance & workshops in Stockholm
From April 28th – May 3rd Dasniya and Frances will be teaching three workshops in Stockholm at NYXXX:
- 3 days workshop Tuesday-Thursday April 28-30
- One evening Yoga + Shibari, Saturday May 2nd, 14:00–17:00
- Workshop on Self-suspension in ropes Sunday May 3rd, 14:00–17:00
- Performance at 18.00 on Sunday May 3rd
More information at NYXXX
What we did in ImPulsTanz this year.
This is a very tardy review of the one show I did see in Vienna at ImPulsTanz. I’d planned to see two others, but the first coincided with getting from airport to apartment, and the second, following a bike-sprint from Arsenal to Schauspielhaus, suffered the fate of late arrival. That latter was Jérôme Bel’s Jérôme Bel, a performance I’ve only seen parts of on video, which nonetheless had a significant influence on my work.
Lucky third then. Hans, of course I could not miss seeing a Hans show, and double lucky only a roll down the hill from Arsenal to Kasino. Outside I find Ivo, who was looking very healthy and relaxed, having moved to the hills outside Sophia; inside, behind the desk were Hans and Giacomo, and on stage Anuschka and Jake. Present only aurally: James Brown (no, not that one/yes, that one). Inside was late, as Dasniya and Florian shuttled themselves post-workshop (I was the early ticket collector), so my seat was exactly in the middle of the back row, where I got to stretch out above all the others squashed in.
The Lee Ellroy Show, then. Hans had been in Los Angeles with Anuschka and discovered that terrifying writer: James Ellroy. My discovery of Ellroy was as a student in Melbourne. A flatmate had a thing for crime fiction and introduced Ellroy to me, starting with the L.A. Quartet, moving chronologically backwards to L.A. Noir, and proceeding forwards again via American Tabloid. On a plane from China to somewhere (or the other way, not that it’s important), I picked up The Cold Six Thousand. I never read his autobiographical My Dark Places then or subsequently; his fiction was disturbing enough without venturing into that. In Melbourne also, I had a chance to meet him when he was doing a reading around the time of the L.A. Confidential film. My flatmate came back with autographed books; I was far too intimidated of him, or his persona as objectified in the inside-cover portraits, him leaning on a wooden chair with seated Pit Bull.
I haven’t read him for years now, but I do have a distinct memory of the emotional and psychological trajectory that occurs like a leitmotif, one where the pressure and stress on the protagonist (usually in first-person) rearranges itself, as if looking into a scene reflected in mirrors which suddenly shift and displace the viewer’s sense of self and certainty, It’s like vertigo, or waking from a nightmare, where it’s only after, once one has surfaced that the inchoate horror of the preceding pages reveals itself. These waves and drownings would repeat through each novel until the protagonist would put enough of the pieces together to drag himself clear, though not without damage.
I mention all of this because Ellroy seems largely unknown, at least amongst the audience of The Lee Ellroy Show; I mention it also to describe the feeling of watching the performance, and how it illustrated that very particular horror which is an Ellroy novel.
So, first: lights! There are few lighting designers as talented as Giacomo Gorini. I can think of only a couple—Henk Danner for Emio Greco, and some of Frankfurt Ballett—that are comparable, and I would watch a show for his lighting alone. He not only designs, but gets up the ladder, hangs the lamps, operates the show (with beer and cigarettes), which says plenty about his personal artistry and just how uncommon a designer he is. Second: sound, the very-much alive James Brown’s fitted like a film-score with the lights and Dirk De Hooghe’s plastic-walled box set. Third: Anuschka and Jake. Anuschka wearing a dress! I’ve never seen her wearing a dress in six years!
It starts as a long, uncomfortable anti-climax: Jake as Ellroy at a book-reading, or perhaps Jake as a Ellroy’s character in 1950s’ Las Vegas; Anuschka either way as the compère. Canned laughter repeats and cuts abruptly. Ellroy as a boy, or again a character—who is always a stand-in for Ellroy—rides in circles around the transparent walls on an old bike. The walls hang and shine like curtains in an abattoir. Each moment of Jake as Ellroy as the protagonist as authorial stand-in is in tension with Anuschka as Ellroy’s mother, murder victim herself, murder victim in the book—either already or imminently—lover or potential lover, not quite betrayer, always there as a mute signifier and witness to herself, never entirely trusted or forgiven.
This is Belgian dance, so they do in fact dance. I’ve seen many brilliant dancers in Han’s works: Ivan Fatjo in We Was Them, Lars August Jørgensen in Messiah Run, and of course Anuschka in everything. Jake and Anuschka together is dance that makes me smile and say, “fuck, yes!” There is dance where the movement, its quality, the bodies doing it are not so far from mundane, most of the audience themselves could, with some preparation, perform no better nor worse. This is not that. This is transcendence of corporeality that comes from dance having so thoroughly infiltrated the person that they are irrevocably changed. It is virtuosity. They collide, fling together, apart, flailing, wrapping themselves around each other, falling and collapsing, now delicate, now explosive, terrifying, there is an inevitability here, as if we can almost see into the future, and when we arrive and look back it seems there was no other possibility. This is choreography.
Hans’ works are cinematographic and have become more so since working with James and Giacomo, who have strong filmic influences in structuring light and sound across scenes and the entire work. I saw the Staatsballett Berlin performing Onegin recently: both works have progression and development over time of a narrative drawn from a novel, and both use choreography and dance to do this. This may seem a superficial comparison, but it does represent the history of dance and its continual involvement in narrative storytelling (as different from “a bunch of things happen on stage and we the audience get to create our own story”, or straightforward conceptual dance). Hans is one of the very few choreographers I’ve seen who manages convincing narrative performance, in no small part by the highly talented people he works with.
On that, a couple of criticisms: I was speaking with someone after—a well-known Berlin performer whose work I also like—who hated it, who thought it was old and tired and unoriginal ’90s Belgian dance of which the world has seen enough. It made me question my own perception, not the least if somehow in the last few years I’ve become old, my critical faculty is only good for ballet, and this new generation understands the world in a way I can never. By comparison, I see the current autobiographical trend in dance as a very late arrival at the Tracey Emin party, absent critical self-reflection. I did agree with him in part on the process towards nakedness, which is a habit of european dance generally. Even flipping this, so the ending was the clothed resolution of a prior nakedness would lend a different reading.
Writing this, I was thinking of British playwright Howard Barker’s Death, the One and the Art of Theatre:
A theatre which honours its audience will demand of its writers that they write in hazard of their consciences, for writers are paid to think dangerously, they are explorers of the imagination, the audience expects it of them. If they think safely, what is the virtue of them? Do you want to pay £10 to be told what you knew already? That is theft. Do you want to agree all the time? That is flattery, and the audience is always flattered, which is why it has become so sleek.
An honoured audience will quarrel with what it has seen, it will go home in a state of anger, not because it disapproves, but because it has been taken where it is reluctant to go. Thus morality is created in art, by exposure to pain and illegitimate thought.
It’s not simple as that, particularly with the last 15-ish years where racism, misogyny, homo- and transphobia are given free rein under the aegis of ‘freedom of speech’, ‘post-blah’, ‘irony’ and with simultaneous resistance of groups targeted by bigotry to (the idea of) “exposure to pain and illegitimate thought” being presented a priori as neutral or unproblematic. Much as I no longer read William T. Vollman, Neal Stephenson, the classics from Hemmingway to Miller to the canon of Anglo and American literature, I haven’t read Ellroy for years: I’m looking for some other perspective, perhaps something of a Deleuzian Minority reading (and self-as-audience) project. I do however find in this quote something of what draws me to Hans’ work, as audience, as performer, as friend. I also think Hans is one of the rare people who manages to be choreographer, director, artist simultaneously. It occurs to me now that he is close to Falk Richter in this, though personally I think Hans is a vastly superior, thoughtful, more considered, and interesting artist.
Buried in editing the Jacobsen film for Das Helmi since ImPulsTanz in Wien. Also working for the delightful Isabelle Schad at the moment.
It’s Sunday so that means it’s museum day! I haven’t been to a museum in ages! (No, Vienna’s Gemäldegalerie doesn’t count, trying to charge 5€ for the ‘privilege’ of taking photos.) This week it’s the Deutsches Historisches Museum in the Zeughaus on Unter den Linden, which I’ve been to before, but not for the permanent exhibition.
I’ve started to grow an interest in Mediæval—broadly—north-west Europe, the bits that became Germany and Germanic-ish countries, which comes from things like the Bode Museum, Gemäldegalerie, Bologna’s Museo Civico Medievale and Museo della Storia di Bologna, covering a timespan of something like 7th-15th centuries. The Germanic region in this time grew on me because it seems regarded even by comparison to the British Isles as deepest Dark Ages, yet the art and culture I’ve so far seen is glorious. And of course it all leads to Leibniz, so I need a better understanding of how he got to where he was (and it helps me to go back a thousand years to do that). The Deutsches Historisches Museum seemed then to be able to fill in some gaps. Gaps that turned out to be cavernous. Let’s just say I knew nothing and I discovered I know even less.
As to what I’d look at, or how to approach a museum, I decided to try an experiment. Since reading Nicole Griffith’s Hild, and reading about how she proposed to herself to discover who Hild might have been by researching 7th century Britain, and since reading the brilliant Medieval People of Colour blog, I thought about what might interest me in a museum, or rather, to consciously describe what I look for and to make that the subject of being a museum visitor.
For me then, it’s long been about finding women in history, teasing out the significance of their occasional appearances in museums; trying to understand life outside the roster of heroic males doing heroic things (usually killing large numbers of other males and everyone else too poor to get out of the way) who required heroic portraits or themselves—the Deutsches Historisches Museum is full of them. It’s also about people like Leibniz and those around him at that time; China and Central Asia; and since reading the Medieval People of Colour blog, looking for representations of people who do not look “typically European”.
On that last, a digression: I’m trying to find another term besides People of Colour to describe what I see. My understanding is that it’s primarily used in the United States to describe anyone not white, and I have some resistance to uncritically using a term that comes linked to a significant, specific history and country. Additionally, it seems to me to often denote visible difference, that is to say, a person of African descent in European art is often (but not always) visibly different from the usual pale skinned figures. There were a lot of Turkish and Arabic figures in this museum, whose difference was substantially down to clothing or facial features, and whose skin colour in no way denoted them as different. Contra all that, to say ‘non-European’ is to conflate skin colour, dress, ancestry and so on with being European, which patently is not the case. So I’m in a bind as to how to describe ethnic and cultural diversity in Europe. As Griffith and Medieval POC repeatedly say, there have always been people of colour in Europe.
A second digression: I do a minimum of editing the images: first dealing with any lens distortion and cropping, then some colour balancing. I’ve noticed when I do the balancing on paintings with people who have dark skin, the automatic Photoshop settings make them vanish into blackness. It seems there’s a heavy bias towards achieving colour balance for pale skin in the automatic settings at the distinct detriment to everyone else. Additionally, it’s really difficult in general to represent here what I saw in the museum, to compensate for the artificial light without generating a false image; to compensate for the RAW camera settings and image without adding in masses of additional colour and contrast. In short, what’s here is only very approximate.
We start with a map then, of Europe in the time of Charlemagne, around 100 years after the events of Hild, but the map holds true: there’s Whitby. There’s no Berlin though, in fact east of the Elbe there’s not much at all. Then there are two curved axe heads, my namesakes: Franziska. These were next to a couple of Seax, again the kind Hild would have used. Some armour, chain mail, shields, all the more real from having read that book of her. Then a tapestry, the Annunciation of Christ, and on the far right is definitely a person of colour, and of high rank, bearing a sword and crown. Some books and a clock, then another tapestry for which I don’t have the full name, but there are Indians on the backs of Giraffes, and two African musicians playing drums, about which the audio guide said, it was common for them to be employed or enslaved to work in the houses of royalty.
Iranian chain mail armour! I liked this just because armour, knights, and all that tends to be entirely associated with Europe and European history, yet here’s some very Persian-looking armour from the 15th century that looks well hard, especially that nasty scimitar.
A quartet: The Augsburger Monatsbilder. Four huge paintings each covering on season of the year, and it seemed also one direction of the compass. I just liked this, the life of the town in the late-1400s.
Then a painting for which I forgot to photograph the title, but intrigued me for the setting of knights jousting in front of a palatial residence, and the possibly Persian knights (just behind the giant fish, centre-left) and the African or Arabian possibly slaves (there’s an ankle chain visible on one) tending the horses along the bottom.
The wooden Crucifixion is a side-interest at the moment. I’ve just started reading about religious blood cults in mediæval Germany and the depiction of blood as in this crucifix, hanging like cords, reminded me of that. The paper theatres I just thought were beautiful works of art, and the lithograph of fireworks done in 1667 looks so uncannily like Art Nouveau, they make me smile every time I look at them.
Several more works with Turkish, Arabic, and African people in them. The hunting bags were particularly strange, being used to herd the hunted animal while waiting for the riders to arrive for the kill. There was a whole section covering the Turkish invasion of Europe and the siege of Vienna, as well as—at least until the siege—regular occurrences of Turkish, Arabic, Muslim, North African people. Not a huge amount, but enough amidst the wall-to-wall heroic white men that I was surprised by how frequently they appeared.
And then, Leibniz. I smiled a lot. A copy of his Oeuvres philosophques, printed in 1765, some 50 years after his death. Followed closely by Leonard Euler’s Theorie motuum Planetarium et cometarum, and a work I thought was Robert Hooke’s but turned out to be De Europische Insecten by Maria Sibylla Merian: sublime and colourful illustrations of plants and insects.
I skipped all the Kaiserreich and World War 1 period. There was a separate exhibition for the latter, but it didn’t and doesn’t hold much interest for me. There was one painting of a prisoner of war, Hamed Ben Nadi Abo El Kader by Hans Looschen which somehow connected for me—as a reappearance perhaps—with the medieval paintings. It seems necessary to remark on, that the diminishment and then absence of diversity in art, a narrowing down until it’s only portraits of white men, and until the culture from which this art comes itself is an embodiment of this parallels an emerging nationalism, xenophobia, and misogyny. The latter I think is pertinent because the diminishment and then absence of women corresponded pretty closely to the absence of people of colour.
What else? The audio guide isn’t free, but it’s pretty good. The permanent historical exhibition is the usual Berlin leviathan which left me ravaged after three hours. I didn’t see more than half of it with the care and attention it deserves; there’s enough to go on to cause a reading frenzy lasting years. The early period from around 800AD is the smallest and isn’t as thorough as I’d like (even though I was trapped in it for at least an hour). Which means I’m on a search for a museum for that period next.
A week in Vienna and no photos until today. Two years ago, Dasniya and I stayed in Mayerhofgasse; this time, we could see our old apartment from the rooftop garden of our new one. Yesterday seeing Ivo in the morning, then Hans at Café Prückel, and Guido for dinner. Today, after returning my bike to Arsenal, lunch with Hans, Giacomo, Dasniya, and Florian, at the café around the corner with the vomiting man fountain. Yesterday also was expressions ’14, where we made some strange shibari performance thing for 6 1/2 minutes. After lunch, finishing packing and off to the airport with Jared and Angela. In Berlin, unpacking, and dinner with Emile who is making AMG sounds while blasting through town: the shortest measurable duration in the universe is the time between us seeing each other and laughing. We also agreed next year shall be us at Nürburgring 24h in Mayhem t-shirts.
And so, one photo from Vienna: the view from the rooftop garden, all 360º (plus a bit of overlap) from the chimney cleaning platform above the terrace. North is slightly to the right of the circular blue table. I spent less time here than I wished.