Sunday, 27 December 2015

SEN @ Edfringe 2015

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?

I began with an idea and the characters. Alongside playwriting, I also work in education and wanted to write something about the challenges that many staff and pupils are facing in classrooms today.

Where does your piece at the fringe fit with your usual work?

I tend to start with the characters, which is what I did for S.E.N. But my other work has not been so closely influenced by things I have witnessed or encountered in my own life which I think has made it slightly easier to write and given the whole thing more of a sense of immediacy. I have used comedy in the same way I usually do, spiking the dialogue and shifting the tone of the piece constantly. I always try to depict a sense of real-life on stage and I firmly believe that comedy often comes from and offers relief from the darkest moments in life. Hopefully that is reflected in my work and felt by audiences when watching S.E.N.

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?

The play’s tone is constantly shifting throughout the hour. One minute it is very pointed, the next it is funny, the next it is touching. I would hope that the audience would be left with differing opinions of the characters and for the play to have provoked some thought about life in a modern classroom. (And hopefully they’d have really bloomin’ enjoyed it too… )

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Anita versus Shouty Guys Part One

This is Anita Sarkeesian. Over the past year or so, her YouTube channel, Feminist Frequency has presented a series of short programmes called Tropes Versus Women. Although it revisits an already recognised set of tropes - Women in Refrigerators, for example, has been explored in detail - the specific emphasis on gaming and Sarkeesian's consistent format offers a useful cataloging of both historical and contemporary examples. It increasingly examines the use of anti-feminist tropes within gaming.

Tropes versus Women is not an academic analysis of trope usage. It is clearly, if gently, polemical. While Sarkeesian does not dwell on her overall vision - she'll occasionally mention her resistance to companies that are only about the selling, or slap down neo-liberalism - she removes various examples from their immediate context and places them in a wider, social situation. Her condemnation of the sexualisation of otherwise dynamic female characters draws a sharp contrast with the representation of male characters, and suggests that they reflect a, perhaps unconscious, patriarchal bias. 

Tropes versus Women, however, has become a controversial series. While some of the critiques aimed at the programme are justified (for example, her crowd-funding success has not produced a body of work that reflects her income (yet)), there is a more worrying trend towards personal abuse directed at her. Many commentators (Thunderf00t, Sargon of Akkad) claim that their responses are  reasonable, but the subsequent comments on their videos are frequently violent and aggressive.

Perhaps Sarkeesian's notoriety and popularity are the result of gaming's insecurity about its social and aesthetic status. Her examples of sexualised characters are difficult to ignore, and follow from the critique of comic books and films. Her idea that gaming - with most other artistic forms - is dominated by unquestioned patriarchal norms is not too outrageous. Even the defence of these characters is often that 'they appeal to the demographic'. 

Sarkeesian is interesting because she has attracted so much attention. There are plenty of feminist commentators - Laci Green for example - who attract equal hatred, but other feminist YouTubers who cover similar aesthetic areas, like The Nostalgia Chick, get less grief. Her recent political appeals to the UN, to challenge anti-social on-line behaviour, place her in a category of influence beyond most vloggers. 

Robbie Thompson, Jack Wrigley and Sarah Milne

This May, at Cryptic Nights in the CCA, Robbie Thompson, Jack Wrigley and Sarah Milne will be showing their new work Inducer. Mixing their individual practices together, they aim to “create immersive experiences that engage the audience on a number of levels” to create a multi-sensory event. Artist Robbie Thompson spoke to me about the development of Inducer:

How does Inducer develop from your previous work and in what ways does it depart from it?

Inducer follows on from the work Jack, Sarah and I made for the ICA. We’re expanding our kinetic orchestra to include a range of new instrumentation – cello, violins, tape loops, pin barrel organ, etc. and reworking older ideas such as Jack’s ‘Glass Armonium’. Sarah is using her textile and costume work in a more sculptural way to create figurative elements within the piece.

Inducer is inspired by the psychological phenomenon of folie a deux, or shared delusion, how does Inducer convey this eerie partnership?

We’re interested in the way that altered states can be induced by sound and visual stimulus and the way that this has been explored and exploited throughout history. From cave paintings, mantras and shadow play that are believed to be used by early human cultures to create mythologies to pseudo-scientific machines designed to invoke hallucinogenic states there is a rich tradition of people experimenting with ways to delude and heighten the senses. The ‘Glass Armonica’ – glass playing instrument – that Jack has built is closely related to this tradition. 

In its Victorian heyday the high frequencies and harmonics created by the Armonium had a mesmeric effect that would captivate the audience and was considered dangerous, due to reports of famous players going mad. Though this was later attributed to lead poisoning from the glasses used, the sonic qualities of the Armonium created an enduring perception of its maddening effect! Folie a deux is a psychological phenomenon that provides a fitting metaphor for conveying hypnotic and surrealistic imagery and describing the relationship between the audience and the artwork.

And, finally, what are your plans for the future, and will we be seeing you again at Cryptic Nights?

We’ll be busy this summer with 85A finishing off our self-produced film Chernozem (written by Judd Brucke) - it’s an industrial horror-fantasy that follows the story of a chain-gang escapee with a factory for a head! It will premiere at a specially constructed cinema at the Glue Factory in autumn.

Thu 5 – Sat 7 May, 8pm
CCA, 350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow

Oh Dear, who cares?

1. I don't hate nations. I dislike governments, and disdain policies by certain specific countries. I do make an exception, however, for ISIL. Since they do not represent a country in the same way as, say, the government of the United Kingdom, and every single activity in which they engage seems to be driven by hatred, I'm comfortable stating that ISIL represent the worst extremes of political identity. 

It's a bit like if Combat 18 were running whatever bits of the UK they could hold through continued violence.

2. For better or worse, social media has become the primary way that I experience the news. On my Facebook feed, I have friends who share socialist bile, links to foreign news and loads of click bait articles. Despite my own political position being on the left (for the most part), I find the postings of my fellow leftists to be increasingly frustrating.

Perhaps my eclectic mixture of Christianity, Japanese Buddhism, Marxist dialectics, Platonism, anarchism and queer positive influences has encouraged an attitude of love, not hate. I'm not keen on the Conservative Party in the UK, but even Boris deserves to be heard, and freedom of speech is only freedom if extended to those with whom I disagree.

3. Social media allows every individual to curate their own experience of the world, and the news agencies. The idea that 'we are all the media' now is misleading - we have the capacity to both express our opinions and disseminate information, but this may simply be an enlargement of our ability to hold conversations rather than a paradigm shift in the way we communicate.

Nevertheless, social media has changed the way that I experience media. For example, I did not read a single racist post on my feed after the Paris Attacks. Yet I did read that racism was on the increase. 

4. Social media acts as a form of confirmation bias. 

5. Social media encourages short form responses.

6. To counter both problems, I advocate the teaching of the mechanism of confirmation bias, and how to counter it, to all young people.

7. I also like to watch long films about sociology.

Diderot and the Lapdancer: Chapter One.

In good weather, it was his habit to arrive at the club around five o'clock in the evening. I’d see him there, sitting with his back facing the bar, always alone, wrapt in thought. He was discussing with himself – and anyone who caught his attention – politics, love, art, philosophy.

I’m indulging my mind, he says, in whatever it fancies, letting it follow the first thought, daft or wise that it comes across...

Like the regulars, who follow the dancer with a carefree look, a welcoming face and a lively eye, then leaving her for another? His thoughts are his whores, obviously. Although the term preferred now is sex workers (a reminder that his revolutionary mind did not quite extend to the liberation of women...)

And do those  thought ever follow to actually having a dance while you are here? 

I was accosted by one of the most extraordinary characters that this country possesses – and God knows we are not short of them! She’s a mixture of the noble and the base, intelligence and madness. 

It’s very charming of you to describe me so, Mr...?

Diderot. I am the irresistible Diderot.

I’ve seen you here often, Diderot. But don’t you ever have a dance?

I don’t care for oddities like you. Once a year is enough for me. 

Ah, Mister Philosopher! What are you doing among this group of scoundrels, then? Are you wasting time pushing the wood around?

I enjoy watching the dancers work the room, when I have nothing better to do.

An observational philosopher, are we? Not a bold anthropologist who mixes with the culture he would understand? 

As long as things are in our understanding only, they are just opinions: it’s only by observing external objects, and linking them to our understanding, that we can know whether they be true or false.

You say that, yet you know that there is a multitude of phenomena that happen beyond the limitations of your understanding... for example, what happens behind the black curtain, Mr Diderot?

It is easier and quicker to consult my own mind than investigate it in the world. 

I think perhaps you’ll be astonished if you had a dance?

Then my work as a philosopher would be to dissipate that astonishment.

Then let me remind you that you are in the club, and here a certain set of rules abide. ‘Take the dress of the country you are going to...’ 

And in reply, let me remind you that your dance is merely the end of a process whereby the most solemn desires, a noble and innocent pleasure, has been converted into a source of depravity and evil. To be clear, in a better society, where no laws bound the natural passions, where women are not trapped in matrimony, where social status can be no barrier to shared delights, this corrupted merchantile exchange, this commodification of the very body itself, would be an unnecessary transaction.

The philosopher speaks again of ideals, some utopia of authentic experience. I can see the conflict in your eyes, the gestures, the way you writhe upon the seat: the natural man, with natural curiosity and honest passions, longs to know what is behind the curtain. Yet the other man, the artificial moral man, strives to chain this natural inquisitiveness with rules and codes. You want...

We both want... you want my money... you are made ill by the  tyranny of man, who has made you into property.

In want, a man has no remorse. In sickness, a woman has no shame... now, do you want to discover how shameless I can be?

And so he agrees, knowing that pleasure and pain are the only foundations for action, and that those educated men who lock themselves away from life for the benefit of study are not driven by their desire for women but thinking, only thinking (and that was never his desire).

Le Neveu de Rameau (3, 4) pg 190 (ID)

De L’Interpretation de la Nature (VII, VI, X) pg 62-3 (ID)

Supplement au Voyage de Bougainville pg 317, 315 (ID)

Refutation D’Helvetius pg 295 (ID)