All posts by Alessandra Cianetti

About Alessandra Cianetti

Arts manager and contributor with a passion for hidden people, places and projects.

Time to speak of I.M.E.L.D.A. An interview on live art, feminism and activism

Artists, pro-choice activists, London-based but with Irish women’s rights in their hearts. Let’s discover what Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A is and why it is important to sustain its work.

Alessandra Cianetti: As a feminist performance activist group you chose Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. as a name. What is I.M.E.L.D.A? Why do you want to speak about it?

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.: We use I.M.E.L.D.A. as an acronym to mean – Ireland Making England the Legal Destination for Abortion.  I.M.E.L.D.A. was originally used as a code-name by the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group, a group of activists based in London who provided support to women travelling from Ireland to England for abortions between 1980 and 2000. The code-name was especially necessary between 1986 and 1995 when the Information Cases in the Republic of Ireland made it a criminal offence to travel abroad for an abortion and to provide information and referrals for abortion services. During these 9 years, approximately 6,000 women from Ireland, North and South, still travelled to England for an abortion. The I.M.E.L.D.A. code name enabled these women to keep their plans secret to avoid legal action being taken against them.

In 1995, giving information about abortion abroad and travelling for an abortion again became legal activities. However, since then an average of 12 women a day have continued to travel from Ireland, North and South, to England for abortions. Apart from the considerable expense and stress of having to travel abroad for a medical procedure, these women are often denied follow-up after-care. In addition, in 2013, the Republic of Ireland implemented a 14-year prison sentence for women who have abortions in Ireland illegally. This has dire consequences for women who take pro-abortive medication because they cannot afford to travel or are not permitted to leave the country.

In speaking the name I.M.E.L.D.A. we wish to act in solidarity with those who seek to counteract the inhumanity of state legislation, which denies women the right to choose what happens to their own bodies and in their own lives. In addition, the ‘Speaking of’ in our title highlights our intent to develop discourses around the plight faced by women in Ireland, issuing a call to speak up and speak out against the draconian patriarchal ideologies that continue to impact negatively on women’s lives and reproductive rights.

AC: I have been attending some of your meetings and I was amazed by the degree of integration and collaboration between contemporary live artists and the older generation of women involved in the LIFN (London Irish Feminist Network) and have been active since the Seventies. How does this relationship influence your interventions as live artists and activists?

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.: It is fantastic that I.M.E.L.D.A. is an intergenerational collective. Women who are active in London Irish Women’s Feminist Network and previously the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group are part of the group and it is absolutely wonderful to learn from their experiences and knowledge of activism throughout the years. At the same time, the older women are thrilled that there is a younger generation of women interested in continuing the struggle.  The young women attract the attention of the new migrant Irish and of the second generation Irish who grew up in Britain.  The wide age spectrum emphasises that the issue of 12 women a day is neither a new problem nor one that only affects young women.  The presence of the older women changes the aesthetics and acts against any tendency to see the protests as being those of the young. It also stops older Irish people from dismissing the audaciousness of the challenges we make as just youthful brashness.

However, it is simultaneously disheartening and encouraging that our collective is intergenerational. Disheartening because it means that Ireland’s anti-choice laws have spanned several decades, but also massively encouraging because of the intergenerational solidarity we feel regarding the need to speak of I.M.E.L.D.A. Because we can support and encourage each other across the generations, it enables our collective to stand stronger in the face of any backlash from the anti-choice lobby and this solidarity spurs us to even work harder to increase awareness of the hypocrisy of Ireland’s anti-choice laws. Within the group we all pull together to input into the direction of the group and work on the development of performance actions, press releases, filming our actions, alongside maintaining our presence on social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

AC: Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. supports international pro-choice groups such as the Spanish movement My Belly is Mine. How has this network been formed? What kind of support do you provide to other groups?

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.: The link with My Belly Is Mine was developed when some of us, by chance, met My Belly Is Mine members in various London-based feminist groups. There was an instant and mutual realization of how closely related our causes were and how beneficial it would be to support each other in achieving our respective aims. It’s interesting that this Irish-Spanish pro-choice link is also an inter-generational phenomenon, since in 1980’s London, the Irish Women’s Abortion Support Group also worked closely with the Spanish Women’s Abortion Support Group in supporting women coming from their respective countries to access an abortion in the UK.

Both Irish and Spanish pro-choice activists are very much aware of the current anti-choice tendencies that appear to be spreading across Europe (with Cameron’s appointment of an anti-choice Minister for Women being one possible indication of this). So, there is strong feeling that we’re all in this together, and members from Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. and My Belly Is Mine regularly confer to advise and support each other. To date, we’ve attended some of each other’s pro-choice actions and we also support each other on social media and in publicizing our respective actions.

AC: March 2014 has seen the first interventions of your group in two Irish gatherings. One in a meeting addressing catholic issues and one at the St Patrick’s Day parade. Photos and videos of these actions are great and your interventions are at the same time political, rapid, deep and fun. Please, tell us more about these first two actions and what you did.

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.: Our first action was on International Women’s day on 8 April  2014 – a fitting day for Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.‘s debut.  We intervened in a conference at the Camden Irish Centre. This conference was titled “Dissonant Voices: Faith and the Irish Diaspora”. It was led by a group of Catholic clerics who describe themselves as ‘radical,’ as well as ‘politically and socially engaged.’ Dressed in red and pulling suitcases, we interrupted the conference to demand that this ‘radical and socially engaged Irish church’ listen to the actual needs of Irish women and cease lobbying politicians to restrict women’s reproductive rights.

This intervention felt important for us to undertake, because the attendees described themselves as ‘radical’ and so we thought they might be more open to engaging with the need for full reproductive health rights for women in Ireland. And indeed, the varying reactions of attendees (as shown in the video of the intervention) showed us that we did succeed in provoking others to engage with the reality of I.M.E.L.D.A. and different possible attitudes towards women’s reproductive health rights.

Our next action took place on March 16th when we intervened during the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in London. Using performance and dialogue, we aimed to raise awareness among parade spectators regarding the ongoing problem of I.M.E.L.D.A. Dressed in red and pulling suitcases, we succeeded in (unofficially) opening the parade itself by speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. to the thousands of spectators who were waiting for the parade to begin.

Another action we did took place on 8th April at the beginning of the President of the Irish Republic’s state visit celebrating improved relations between Ireland and Britain, we performed outside the Irish embassy in London. Dressed in red, singing a version of Irish singer Enya’s  ‘Sail Away’ and waving a shimmering red cloth representing the Irish Sea, we aimed to highlight a much less-publicised facet of Irish-British relations: the 12 women a day who are forced to travel to England for an abortion because this choice is denied to them in Ireland. During the performance, some women were banished under the ‘sea’, symbolizing the powerful hypocrisy of Ireland’s anti-choice laws and their cruel disregard for, and neglect of, the reproductive health of women in Ireland. We were heartened that President Higgans acknowledged our presence by waving when departing the Irish Embassy.

This was quite a challenging action for us to take, since there was high security for the President’s State Visit and we received some backlash from those who thought that it wasn’t the appropriate time to speak of I.M.E.L.D.A. However, we will continue to speak of I.M.E.L.D.A. until the denial of reproductive health rights to women in Ireland is no longer ignored or dismissed as ‘not important right now’.

Subsequently, during the state visit we made an intervention outside the Royal Albert Hall when members of the Irish community in Britain were congregating to attend a concert “Ceiliúradh” (Celebration).

AC: On 25th April the Live Art Development Agency hosted a free Wikipedia edit-a-thon as part of its Restock Rethink  Reflect Three. Attendants were asked to fill Wikipedia will all the entries it lacks in terms of feminism and live art. What entries would you suggest?

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.: Actually one of our members attended this fantastic event and found it to be a hugely informative and enjoyable experience. It was also very empowering to be part of a collective environment focussed on developing feminist histories and making space for feminist artists.  She suggested a number of live art practitioners related to or resident within the Irish region including: Kira O’ Reilly, Anne Seagrave, Sinéad O’Donnell, Amanda Coogan, Áine Phillips, Pauline Cummins, Aideen Barry, Frances Mezzetti, Ann Maria Healy, Chrissie Cadman, Áine O’Dwyer, Michelle Browne, Elvira Santa Maria Torres and Anne Quail – a list that is by no means exhaustive. Other attendees at the event also suggested some of these artists and it was great to have discussions about their work and indeed, the broad range of artists that were highlighted throughout the day.

It was also wonderful, Alessandra, that you suggested Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. as an entry and that the actions undertaken by the group were also discussed at the Long Table on Live Art and Feminism that followed the edit-a-thon.

AC: Most of you are performers with their own body of work. How does the relationship between artistic practice and activism work within your group? How much does your involvement in Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. impact your individual practices?

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.: There are many creative practitioners involved in I.M.E.L.D.A, including from the fields of live art, music, film and theatre. The creative energies within I.M.E.L.D.A., of course, feed and influence our development of public performance actions and the aesthetics we deploy. Equally, the creative strategies used by members of I.M.E.L.D.A. who were actively involved with campaigning around this issue throughout the 1980s are also hugely relevant and informative to what we do. In this sense there is a huge crossover between artistic practice and activism within the group.

Importantly, the feminist politics that inform our individual practices and broader political activism crucially influences what we hope to achieve with I.M.E.L.D.A. We see ourselves as operating in solidarity with movements centred on achieving equality, for example, the Occupy movement and campaigns for LGBTQ rights. Indeed, in terms of activist practice, the working together across different sexual orientations on this issue is an important form of solidarity that recognises a woman’s right to a self-defined sexuality. In the Irish feminist activism in London in the 1980s, that alliance across sexuality was always strong. In fact, British women who identified as lesbians were routinely involved in campaigns on issues such as the conditions in which women republican prisoners were held.

AC: Speaking of…the future: is there any coming event/meeting you can share with us? 

Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.: Among other things, we really want to do a direct-action performance that highlights the issues I.M.E.L.D.A. holds for the North, as well as the South of Ireland. There also are some early-stage planning afoot for us to partake in a direct-action performance with pro-choice activists who are currently based in Ireland. Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A. has plenty more to say!!!

photos by Speaking of I.M.E.L.D.A.

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‘It doesn’t matter if it’s actually raining or not’. An interview with Yoko Ishiguro

Finally Yoko Ishiguro is back to London! I couldn’t resist asking her a few questions.

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Alessandra Cianetti: You are a live artist and actress with a composite education that started in Japan, were you studied psycholinguistics at the University of Tsukuba, and went on in London, where you completed a MA in contemporary performance making at the Brunel University. How does your work reflect these different backgrounds?

Yoko Ishiguro: First of all, I need to mention when I studied those different subjects. I did them in quite different periods in my life.

I studied psycholinguistics between 1997 and 2001 in the department of Japanese Language and Culture in the University of Tsukuba. It was when I was about 18 years old, just started to act on stage in a student theatre club and had no idea that I was going to be involved in the world of performance so deeply. In fact, I chose that department to become a Japanese language teacher. However, my interest shifted to psycholinguistics, which deals with how we acquire language, how we process language and recognise the world and ourselves, how language disorders occur and how to remedy them. This explanation might be wrong. Sorry, it was more than ten years ago I studied this subject. Anyway, I have been interested in the second topic very much –how we recognise the world and ourselves by means of language. The shift actually happened when I started acting and I had to deal with various kinds of languages (verbal/nonverbal, written, spoken, foreign, gestural, etc.).

I studied in the MA course of Contemporary Performance Making at Brunel University in 2011-2012, after I experienced a number of international performance events in various countries and established my identity as a performer, working across Japan and the UK.

I have to admit that Psycholinguistics still fascinates me so that a big part of my performance pieces are devoted to the experiments of the physical/mental distances between audience and performers, and the verbal/nonverbal communications in different social situations. So, in a way, I am still haunted by the ghost of psycholinguistics.

AC: Last year I experienced your solo performances at GATE F at the Stoke Newington International Airport in London. Two pieces in which you engaged only one member of the public at a time. A powerful experience in its building of an intimate, temporary and deep relation with a stranger. How do you relate to the audience in these pieces and what is the role of the public in your work?

YI: Thank you for coming to experience my performances! As you know, in GATE F, I performed two one-on-one pieces, ‘Flashes’ – the photo session in a dark room where you can see me dancing only when you take photos with the flash light on the digital camera– and ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s actually raining or not…’ – the rendezvous under an umbrella with the rain-dropping-on-the-umbrella sound from a portable audio player.

That style – one audience member and one performer at once – is called ‘one-on-one’, ‘one-to-one’ or ‘micro’ performance and is especially popular in the live art field in London. I have been very interested in this style since I started to question the scales of performance: does the size of the audience necessarily measure/correspond to/indicate the quality of a performance? I remember that I had approx. 30 audience members in my first performance in Yokohama in 2007 and to be honest, I thought it was a big enough number of people for me to feel and to be fully responsible of. Soon after, I was invited to some performance art events outside Japan where performance artists were showing their works not to entertain the audience at all but purely to practice their political activities. I could not help but ask myself what the ‘right’ attitude towards the audience is and what such a thing as ‘performance’ is, which only exists in the complex demands, supplies, expectations and misunderstandings between audience and performers. I do not have any answers yet. However, I found that the one-on-one performance style is very helpful for my research on the people called ‘audience’ because I can get close to them and observe them – while I am also being observed by them very closely.

As for the closeness and distance itself, I have been interested in the distances between persons in general. The distances can be physical, mental, emotional, social, mediated, or a combination of these. One-on-one performance is such a simple style of communication, that is associated with many different social occasions such as relationships between mother and the baby, lovers, a doctor and a patient, facebook friends who have never met each other, a victim and an attacker, etc., and this gives me the space to make playful experiments.

The role of the audience of my one-on-one performances is to get involved in a kind of a laboratory to create a language that is only possible between each of them and me in a particular situation with an unusual physical/mental distance between us. They need to follow the structures, which gives them little freedom, but they can play, contemplate, make the invisibles visible by using every single sense they have. I try to read what they are thinking and they try to read what I am thinking. There, a subtle movement of eyes, for example, has a big meaning. So far, it is much more interesting, thrilling and horrific to deal with one audience member close to me than the one thousand audience members sitting back far away from me.

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AC: Body, relations, intimacy, personal stories, death are issues you address within your practice. What is your inspiration? What is that you want to communicate with your works?

YI: Body, relations, intimacy, personal stories, death are all highly personal, they all relate to my life and have inspired me a lot. What inspires me is that they are common and necessary for all humans but you cannot access them as the first person or the second person unless they are yours. They are always experienced in the third person style by the others. Especially death is a very interesting phenomenon that we definitely cannot experience as the first person or the second person but always as the third person. It happens to everyone eventually without any doubt but no one knows what it is and people pay a lot of money when it happens. I may want to research this more.

In my performance making, I would like to build a fantasy world with absolute realities. I would like to challenge the dichotomy of facts and fictions, which I believe to be relative and totally depending on how they are documented, presented and seen by whom. Thus, my performance will be realised at the meeting point of fiction –some impossible theories created by me as the third person– and non-fiction –my actual personal life experiences. Therefore, my real life events are important resources for my performance making.

AC: Technology is often part of your performances, let’s think about the steaming channel in ‘R.I.P’. or the sound system for ‘It doesn’t really matter if it’s actually raining or not…’. What role does ready-made technology have in your work?

YI: Technologies occupy a great part of my life; enough that I cannot ignore them in my performance making anymore. Here, my aim is to question how they affect our sense of distance and proximity.

In ‘R.I.P.’, I attempted to make live performance for the sake of the Internet live streams and its documentation. This may be a good example of my challenge of physical distance and proximity, and time gaps. As for the audio I employ in ‘It doesn’t really matter if it’s actually raining or not…’, it is simply a mixture of natural rain sounds I have recorded in different places around the world. In one-on-one performances, I often use earphones and portable audio players since I often borrow the audience ears as my performance space. Ears are tremendously sensitive and intimate parts of our bodies and earphones function to occupy our recognition of the world and create some instant virtual realities. I am interested in their minimal but powerful and even brutal effect.

AC: Talking about technology, at the moment you are performing in Dissolved, a Station Opera House’s production that from 6th to 22nd March is presented at the same time both in London and Berlin and that allows actors and public to be in ‘two places at once’. How would you describe your experience as a performer in this groundbreaking piece where people and objects are ‘both tangible and unreal’?

YI: I appreciate that Julian Maynard Smith, the artistic director of Station House Opera invited me to this exciting project. I call this performance a 3×3 dimensional sculpture since it happens in two different parts of the world at once, in which three dimensional figures are virtually merged into one. As a performer, I have been enjoying myself in the confusion of the sense of where I am. As long as I remember, I had been in Akita, the snowiest part of the world in north Japan surrounded by two meters of snow, shoveling hard every morning. After I came to London, there was no need for snow shoveling anymore but a two-and-a-half-hour train journey to get to the rehearsal space every morning. On the way home, I slept on the train and dreamed that I was on the Yamanote-line in Tokyo, going back to my previous home in the east side of Tokyo. I heard the train staff calling ‘Ueno’ and I woke up at Ealing Broadway. My friends in Berlin will come to the show in Berlin to see me in London. I have never seen the Berlin actors in person at all but I feel them very close to me, even closer than the actor who is kissing me on my forehead gently.

This is quite an experience.

AC: You have been presenting works between Japan and the UK for the last few years. What are your coming projects for 2014?

YI: In April, I will perform in a performance event, FLOW –the annual performance event in Seoul. It will be a performance/picnic event by Han River.

Yoko Ishiguro website

Photos by Yoko Ishiguro, Jan Ahlstedt, GATE F

photo by Yuri Pirondi

Mnemonic City: Moving Streets

photo by Yuri Pirondi
photo by Yuri Pirondi

Part of the series Mnemonic City, Moving Streets is the latest exhibition of Magma Collective. Ridley Road Market has been the starting point for a three-month derive that ended up in a two-day exhibition and live performances at Doomed Gallery.

The market has been the magnifier to explore relationships, trade, city spaces and the point of departure for the collective’s flaneries: a way to investigate the urban and human topography of Dalston.

Through their walks, Magma Collective experienced the city as a device able to trigger memories, build and witness history. Three months of exchanges, investigations, constant contact with the area, made the artists aware of the possibilities of the market and the surrounding areas.

Where are the borders of relations and spaces? What is the limit an artist encounters in exploring a complex organism such as Ridley Road Market?

Pascal Ancel Bartholdi, Mikail Baur, Anna Burel, Rodrigo César, Yasmine Dainelli, Ken Flaherty, Rupert Jaeger, Max, Michael Picknett, Yuri Pirondi, Julien Thomasset, Lucia Tong, Jaime Valtierra, Ines Von Bonhorst. These are the artists that worked at the project for three months of intense collaboration and sharing, with the aim to build new connections with a public space where the network is based on the coexistence of cultural differences.

The nocturnal video of Ines Von Bonhorst, the map collage of Anna Burel, the paintings of Jaime Valtierra, the video performance of Yuri Pirondi are only few examples of the artists’ responses to the explored environment. Although the individual works are dissimilar in techniques and practices, the exhibition as a whole recreates the feeling of a market, where the space is filled with conversations and exchanges. These dialogues among art works convey the sense of what coexistence in an urban space means, and of how difficult and enriching it can be. The artists of Magma Collective developed their practices while building relationships with the local community and engaging with its meanings, producing a collaborative portrait of Ridley Road Market that is complex, challenging and inspiring.

For more information about Magma Collective visit: http://magmacollective.wordpress.com/

Freshly Packed: call for artists

Something Human
Something Human

 

Is your performative practice exploring notions of the biological, corporeal, food, flesh, sustenance and mortality? If that is the case, you are ready to submit your work to Something Human!

The international curator-collective, in collaboration with Brockspace, is seeking artists for the live performance FRESHLY PACKED / ALWAYS CHECK THE LABEL that will take place across  this Summer in Brockley (South East London).

For more information on how to apply: http://something-human.org/freshly-packed/