Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Festival of Uncertainty

The Festival of Uncertainty (FOU) ran for four days from 20th - 24th March 2014, held at the Old Folks Ass, (yes, Association) which is a building, a hall, constructed around 1945 in Gundry Street. A lovely relic from the days when those streets around there had houses in them. Now the various hodge podge avenues hold a collection of older and newer buildings, which we could call somewhat industrial, with occasional retail spaces. Gundry Street runs off the beginning of K Rd, Karangahape Road, where it starts from great North Road. It feels rather bleak there in the daytime albeit relaxed with it, but at night settles into a somewhat raggedy glamour, with again a sense of laissez faire somehow.

When the call for FOU submissions arrived in my inbox, it was possibly one of the most exciting proposals I'd seen for years, as far as collective artistic projects go. It certainly stood out beautifully from the ten or so other newsletters and so on that I receive every week or two. The last time I got so excited was when I was invited to the Overload Poetry Festival in Melbourne. I attended that glorious event twice, and was invited three times. 

But, yes, I much prefer things which do not require my flying anywhere. The appalling damage that jet planes do to the environment made me feel physically ill every time I thought about it. That's why I plant trees for travel, and why I grow trees and give them away. If you want a kowhai tree or totara let me know. I have other cuttings too I can grow for you, rosemary for instance, daisy bushes, a lovely shrub with purple flowers..... I've just paid 200 $ NZ for more trees in Australia, (they really need them), and to cover the carbon cost of my travelling to the States again this year. That's why I'm a vegetarian, as well, (less carbon emissions involved). 

But anyway so, the Festival of Uncertainty. What a fantastic name.

I made a note the other day saying, “This is the Stone Age of another age.” The future is so uncertain now, we only know that we need to be creative to survive, (that's the latest theory I've heard). But it strikes me that nowadays appear to be somewhat like what we imagine the Stone Age was like, too. 

People then had to work extremely hard just to survive, stone age folk. Tools were made of stone, which required an extraordinary amount of labour to produce. Then there was the gathering of fruit, roots, nuts, leaves and bark to eat which we imagine could've taken most of the day, many days, and was done mainly by women. This provided 70% of early people's diet. The men meanwhile made hunting tools, devised strategies for hunting, played games to improve their competitiveness, intellect and so on, found ways to use the skins, hooves, paws, bones and other parts of the animal, or did the physical hunting. This must've been quite an expedition at times. The men provided essential protein, meat, and were feted and admired for their bravery in catching it, butchering the beasts and so on. A few men would've also gathered, and some women would've hunted, okay, let's be realistic, but that's a snapshot of the Stone Age. 

I'm not going into depth about ancient people. If you want to know more then do read up, and find visual images, movies and so on which can help you discover more about that time. 

We are in the Stone Age of a new age however, because technology has appeared lately that is taking up a ridiculous amount of time and affecting us in ways we cant yet see. I think the actual Stone Age was also like that. We're somehow with our heads down and trying to make new tools work for us, a lot of the time, while also changing rapidly due to this new technology. We therefore have little time to look ahead properly. It's too hard to do. Some of the predictions are also too difficult to think about. Stone Age people lived in dangerous times like we do, I suppose, as well, even if our dangers are different.

Pre-stone age we imagine people used found sticks or other found objects for hunting, gathering and so on. The use of newly developed stone tools then changed them enormously, changed their prospects, behaviour, their ability to manage their world. But those tools also kept them extraordinarily busy. 

Pre-this-whatever-age-we-are-in we used other communication technology to get messages across, other means of retailing, other ways to send documents, images, movies, and objects (and now we have 3-D printing, across the globe). We also socialised in quite a different way to anything online, a mere 20 years ago. Even though we also have kept some of those old ways of doing things in practise, still, more and more we are engaged with each other using computer and other new technology. We have only vague ideas about them insofar as how they affect us mentally, emotionally, physically and also, economically, etc, long-term and short-term.

Also, however the future appears to us, (what we imagine), that is what we usually prepare for; but when the future is uncertain how do we prepare for that? Perhaps the best way is to accept that uncertainty is inevitable, and learn to live with this uneasiness? Each day we could stay as much as we can in the moment, and also acknowledge our need to stick together, help each other, remain ethical, and provide for each other and ourselves in ways which somehow benefit the many.


Our arts assist many to do more than merely survive at the base level. Make no mistake about it. Without arts we're sunk. This kind of festival helps practitioners and audience alike. Arts festivals are entertaining and fun, a great stress release, they help us explore difficult, challenging or mysterious ideas. Arts give us permission to act out and discover by doing what works and what does not, plus many other things. They also assist and entertain the audience.

This miraculous Festival of Uncertainty, directed by Stephen Bain who did sterling work, had a theatrical emphasis, with many performances. Also some art events appeared which were at times more static than a performance usually appears. Boundaries were blurred. The audience and participants often interacted with each other in many ways, usually surprising or sometimes disturbing, in any case rewarding then and/or later, as far as I could see. 

Due to the Old Folks Hall being barely changed since 1945, the atmosphere was also one of an "innocent more gentle age", you could say. The rather run-down air of the place beautifully set off by the care someone has taken to look after it, too. This gave proceedings a playful, relaxed and almost timeless quality about them. The contrast of contemporary technology and people's 2014 clothing in that 1945 space added to the tension and excitement, too. But some people could've been from the early 20th century, going on appearances, so occasionally this was also brought to surprised or delighted notice.

Some performances and events were also held outside in the car park over the road, (Don't Even Think! - says a sign on the wall - about parking there, so someone had a Think Tank in the car park). At one point people were selling clouds and also, kumaras in jars of water over on the gravel. Some events took place on the road and footpath itself. The side street that runs along the side of the hall ends in a relaxed dead end. 

A woman surrounded by supporters scraped herself along the footpath, this was I gather to make the audience feel empathy. No one could leave the circle around her unless they asked for permission to leave. The woman performing wore only her underwear, and lay face down on the asphalt. Was this an antidote for the numbing of ourselves, our apparent increasing isolation?

There were also a number of events held in other places, artists' Studios, and so on. 

Well organised, fairly enhanced, humanly enacted, this FOU ran with aplomb and all mistakes were apparently a part of it, of course. 

I was so grateful for my minder Josh, for instance, who kept an eye on me and popped over to make sure I was okay when interacting with various members of the public. I had asked for a minder, and I got one. Brilliant. He had a good sixth sense too. Maybe dancers are gifted that way?

Someone took people on a tour of the hall, between performances on Saturday. 

This is only my recalling what I saw and heard, this is not a thorough review. If anyone wants to add any details in comments here please go ahead.  This blog is read by thousands of people, globally.

I stayed in the hall making my large book, relentlessly, also offering people the baking I'd brought along and tea too occasionally, free. Now and then I explained what I was doing. There were two tables side by side, so sometimes others sat behind the other one and bystanders thought they could be me. Strangers stood there waiting to see if any of those people screamed or cried or hid, as my written statement said I could do those things. 

My work table - Sunday, the second day

Yum baking - gluten-free chocolate cake with figs and feijoas, and wheat flour and oat apricot cakes

Such a relief to know I could react however I wanted to, I didn't really go OTT except for one deliberate scream late in the day when an extrovert child was racing round. She also screamed. I guess we were co-collaborators in mayhem. But I also did a fine version of sobbing my heart out straight away afterward, (my improvisation training did me proud there), and that silenced the room for a few seconds. Then the mood returned to mellow excitement.

On Sunday morning from 7am, a long-running film image played and screened on one wall - Forced Entertainment Live from Lisbon, which ran for hours. Nisha served people coffee, as they drifted in. Stephen variously busied himself setting up things for later, after a while. Early on around 8am I brought my teapot to steaming brew again, (they get you into so many fascinating places, teapots), and continued making my True Love is Boats and Trains, book from Yoo Ess Aye ephemera and memories. I may call the book I made What it's All About - after The Marching Girls' song, True Love what it's all about..., not sure yet.

Hmmm, so, yes Forced Entertainment. A series of story beginnings, told by English performers wearing brown paper crowns, and wearing red robes, seated in a row on chairs with footlights in front of them. They're on a stage in front of an audience who we do not see, but hear chuckle, laugh, applaud and groan, and so on.

Everyone started their story with, "Once upon a time," then continued the story as long as they could before someone else shouted, “Stop” and then they started their own story, also starting with, "Once upon a time…." The stories ranged from amusing, nonsensical, horrific, strange, supernatural, and so on, there was no limit on the genre they could cover. 

What was important was that the story the geniuses at Forced Entertainment improvised aloud remained engaging, or so it seemed to me. As soon as someone else on stage thought the story was not engaging enough, and thought of something else to say, a new story sprang to their mind. They would yell, “Stop” and started another story in turn. And so on, and on, and on. 

It reminded me a little of our Writing Duels, on farceberk, we battle it out with writing. This group sprang from writethis, (a fabulous but also at times delightfully scungy writing group of miscreants, keeners, and dabblers in msn group days), which is now an online zine.

But hey, in a city where at our largest Pacific Island Festival recently, Pasifika down the road from our place, a private prison company was offering people third-rate plastic drink bottles with the name of their prison company on it, (the plastic smelling like some toxic chemical, and making me wonder if it would give people brain damage), a few funny stories were indeed welcome.

In a world where vast countries of ice are melting so fast we can see it happening, while politicians fly backwards and forwards endlessly belching out more and more carbon into the air, while attending conferences to find out how to stop global warming, where they'd rather tax us than just plant more trees, a Festival of Uncertainty seemed delightful, apt, diversionary and positive.

In my private life, where many places around me people are struggling, worried, doing their best to stay hopeful and finding it difficult, sharing an environment which only a decade ago appeared far more viable, where society appeared somewhat decent, and fairer, the idea of working on a box of ephemera which I brought back from America and could not face opening because I feared I'd have a nervous breakdown, doing this in public gave me a small glimmer of hope, then a feeling of such freedom and gladness. 

We may unpack our most emotional baggage and sort it out, we may change and lighten ourselves. Good company assists us to grow and learn. Work and love offer ways to freedom.

Taking my studio into a public space, and showing the effort and hours which go into making a book - large enough to easily put a laptop inside of - it was a strange act, but vital. I was so lucky to be involved. Still cannot quite believe it happened, except for how I feel. Great. Blessed. Changed forever.

I read the few pages carefully, then stabbed one collection of notes with scissors, and tied them onto the page with gold wire. These are now layered under many other pages.  Here is that page I made in progress, on the link below.

The messiness certainly did disturb some people, and how long the procedure was in existence with me there relentlessly making on and on. How much more messy it got before order appeared, o yes, this was scary or annoying or curious to some. 

A few behaved as if I wasn't really there in the hall, not making anything much at all. I suppose it was their way of giving me some privacy in a public arena, or a way of showing they thought what I was doing made no sense. It was subtly suggested too that I need not come in the second day, because few people would see me. I nevertheless continued. I rarely seek a huge audience, (even if at times I have one, and thank you), but that's not the point. The performance and action were necessary so I could live with more heart, (perhaps most essentially performed in a zero finance model festival like FOU was, too). The audience may or may not appear, or even be interested. We create for reasons that are not necessarily to to with anyone watching, or even caring, surely? What matters is that we the artists care, we're engaged, and that we learn, that we perhaps make mistakes, or discoveries or have success - whatever those may mean - that we then move on from that experience quite altered.

One young man stood back in alarm with his arms extended while regarding what I was doing, and my printed explanation. He seemed genuinely distressed and left the area quickly. My piled table of paper, fabric, pins, scissors, a box of washed plastic found on a beach, candles burning in dishes, teapot, baking under lacy covers, paper and pens for people to use.... gave him particular concern. 

A few looked amused and even hopeful that I would scream or cry, as I mentioned on my bits of paper explaining what I was doing. 

Some were friendly and sat with me, talked, made boats too from the boat-making kit I had there. If you rubbed the paper with the wax stick, the boats would be waterproof too. One man made a small two-sided sculpture with some of the plastic I had in a box, (collected from Mission Bay beach and washed, then dried). I have kept that. It's with some other work people have given me, people I've worked with. It's going to be difficult to figure out how to make a three-dimensional rather awkward object fit in a book, but I hope to do that. One side has what looks like a propeller made of a plastic ice-cream spoon, (it's kind of flat), the other side has two spoons tied like Pisces, one swimming one way, the other the other way, tied together with a child's bracelet. A friend today suggested I photograph it to put it in a book, (good idea). Someone also wrote me a poem on blue paper about liquid in watches amongst other things, which was barely legible, which I have kept. Someone else did a doodle of a person with their eyes like black whirlpools. I think the latter was lost when I left a pad on the table, and packed up the car, so I could eat dinner in something resembling peace.

I'd bought the boat-making kit on board the cruise ship for this project. Initially I wanted to make a boat for everyone who bought a book, like maybe for the first ten of them. I was going to make the things I collected into a printed book, you see, but then I was so upset about not still being over there in the Yooo Ess Aye I could not open the box, let alone make anything with the items in it. Not alone. I needed people around me, needed this festival. It was vital.

Perhaps some at FOU were worried I really would scream, cry, wreck or throw things, because I did say, (wrote it down in large letters on A4 paper) that it was possible I'd be emotional. Maybe those who behaved like I wasn't really there, not really doing anything, or as if what I was doing did not interest them were being 'safe'. There was something about the whole atmosphere of the entire event which made me feel extremely positive, in any case.

I wasn't sure what I would do. But I was determined to open that box and see what I could manage, put together, and to realise what I'd feel like.

As it happened, opening the box did make me feel ill and somewhat sad, for a few moments. I felt glad to be in public. If I had been at home, it's possible I would've closed it again and refused to do anything with it, or maybe I would've flown into some kind of rage or sadness for hours, or a sorry mixture of those feelings. But at FOU I was able to work through all the bits of paper and other flotsam and jetsam from my trip, reading each piece, sorting it. I made the collection of material make some kind of sense to me, at last. 

Sorting papers and notebooks in the box, which is beside various bits and bobs from New Zealand.

The start of the cover of this book, using cruise ship and amrkn ephemera, (including jam jar lid) along with nz paper, ribbon and so on. The base is a collage I made in San Francisco after seeing Mark Bradford's enormous collages at the SF MOMA

After two days and nights solid work I felt freer and happier than I have for a year and a half. A cathartic experience I suppose you could say.

Inside front cover and inside back cover in progress.
Pages in progress

Back cover (all of these pages and covers are unfinished in these images. This is the work in progress).

I also loved receiving my Fruit Salad Republic Passport, from a woman dressed as a watermelon. I made up a species for myself, and it was fun to see all the stamps: my passport for all the things I attended, a strawberry and a pear stamp, (red and green respectively), proved I'd attended. Many people received these passports.

Genevieve McClean's extraordinary voice piece where she acted getting up, being on the phone, dressing and readying herself for work, leaving with an electric blue fly swat, hopefully made for an excellent video. I believe the whole festival was recorded.

Good to see Gus Siminovich there from Printable Reality and our page2stage programme

Jo Randerson's promo for White Elephant, how thought-provoking. I wish I lived in Wellington so I could see it.

Ben Holmes played an array of musical whatnots while lit with blue and working under sheet. It was one of the best musical performances I have ever experienced, but he is a genius.

Also pleasing to see and hear Simon Field with his spoken word and movement driven musical pieces. The sound was however rather murky, but nevertheless his talent did shine through.

In the kitchen there was a rock climbing experience. You could get put into a harness and taken on a journey - beware of falling rocks. I couldn't take part, wary of anyone tying me into anything without me knowing a lot about it first. (Plus I had to keep on making my book in the adjacent hall). But it looked like fun for those who did take part. Then outside at the completion of this experience, on an Astroturf area in the outdoor, side courtyard, was a large inflatable turquoise swimming pool in a huge wooden crate. Perhaps that stood in for an underground cavern pool? Maybe someone will tell me.

 This young man performed live calligraphic drawing to a glorious Dr. John recording, while Lydia Zanetti and Jess Bates were performing too. Others were involved but I've given my programme to a friend to read, so sorry I do not have all the names up yet.

Couldn't see everything, I was invisibly tethered to my table. But what I did see enlivened, informed, delighted and astounded me. When I did feel bemused or perplexed I usually felt like this would also eventually reward me. And someone I'd never seen before who was horribly rude to me at the final meeting got a tongue lashing too - kind of rewarding in an electrifying manner. I think they were ignorant and drunk, never a good combination. *smiles*

But usually, overwhelmingly, everything went so well in ramshackle, in funky, in sweet and quirky ways.

There was more, so much more. Peter Jennings took some excellent shots -

O and our wonderful dinner afterwards on the footpath, with tables and chairs outside. Some candles set up too and protected by silver foil tulips, they illuminated delicious food borne along by various people in potluck style, plus some cooked by the wonderful Nisha. 


I could see that pool through an open side-door. Someone went for a swim in it. Bloople splish, swishie....

Tired but happy I went home and had a bath with iodised salt, baking soda, geranium oil, eco-kelp soap, and a candle burning. I stayed in the warm silky water and slipped away for some of that time, until dawn. A warm or hot bath is my favourite place, next to hot pools. Being a mermaid can be difficult without frequent watery immersions. 
Every day now the future becomes more and more difficult to see. This is weird but we decide what really matters, as usual. 

This is it. Choose. What do you want to do for the best?

I feel I should say this, so please forgive the lecturing tone - know who your friends are, make more if possible, test one another now and then for truth to be evident. Understand that we may all make mistakes, hope that we'll learn from them. Do your best to maintain and build communities in some alive and decent fashion. Be cruel to be kind if you have to, but also, this may turn against you, of course. Freely accept consequences. 

Believe we may be better to and for each other, and care for this lovely place we live. Take small decent actions as treasures. Change gradually into gentleness, kindness, fairness, love one another and treat the world and yourselves with care wherever possible.


- - -

Thanks Josh Rutter for being the best minder ever and thank you to everyone concerned with this fine effort, in these bewildering times. What a wonderful experience. What are we doing next?

Genevieve McClean

Quite a meeting between first course and desert - or was it a subtle performance about how money may change things?

In any case long may Feasting House create such excellent events, and may The Old Folks Hall stand beautifully, welcoming such activities as they may occur. 

O my yes, and let's sing something now, what shall it be? This is quite good, we sing "I ride tidal waves, I ride tidal waves...." It's Wilberforces -


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