Snow White and Machine Divas

a review of the 090909 UpStage Festival by Fiona Sara Schmidt, translated from German; the original article is here.

UpStage is a platform for online theatere, where a performance festival took place on 09/09/2009. Fiona Sara Schmidt was a participant at a worksop in preparation for “090909“.

“What the hell is going on here?“ is the common reaction to so-called cyberformances that happen live in the World Wide Web. One place for cyberformance is a web page that looks like a strange mixture between Windows Paint, a chat-programme and a picture viewer. It comes with all kinds of sounds and music. The self-made avatars sometimes look like human figures on Second Life but can change into all kinds of shapes and figures. Through speech bubbles, they make witty statements with distorted voices. Via an open textfield, interaction is easily possible – even for newbies.

Four artists from London, Helsinki and Aotearoa/New Zealand met online in 2001 and founded the online performance group Avatar Body Collision. They turned away from commercial software and used the internet as a common platform for plays and rehearsals. That’s how the web-based venue for online performance was created. UpStage came online two years later and has been continuously developed since then – for example by students at the Auckland University of Technology. Since 2003, the platform for online performance represents all “cool“ aspects of the internet: open source, participation, a new form of artistic expression, intermediality. And in September the third festival took place on UpStage.

Cyberformances also work in relation to real spaces. In July there was a workshop in Vienna where the basic functions of UpStage were taught and the term “Machine diva“ was explored. Helen Varley Jamieson was invited by Andrea Sodomka and Eva Ursprung from the Institute for Media Archeology. Jamieson is UpStage’s project manager and a “Machine diva“: a woman who has an affinity with technology, who embraces the new possibilities of software and the internet and gives them a creative form. The presentation in Kunstraum Niederösterreich was performed classically in front of guests and with the presence of a virtual audience who could follow and comment on the happening via webcams and chat.

The performance developed at the “Machine divas” workshop was re-worked and presented again at “090909“. Over 24 hours, there were also twelve other shows to see. In “User Profile“ Meliors Simms challenged the idea of identity on the internet. As another highlight was Kristin Carlson’s und Sheila Paige’s (USA) “Snow White and the seven Chihuahuas“ – they told Snow White’s destiny backwards with the help of the audience.

“Real Life Acess Nodes“ and also the Festival’s online lounge were places for common viewing, and traditional come-together. Another utopistic place for cyborgs was shown by Katarina Djordjevic Urosevic and Jelena Lalic from Belgrad in “The Dish“: the subject became the same utopia as history, said the makers – the metaphor comes to metamorphosis in virtual space. “Durito’s Dancing Box Manifesto: the @heoretical Cyberformance for/of Zapatismo” was also theoretical-mediative, as five women called for decentralised “Meshworks“ – supported by happy mexican sounds. More dark were the visions in Karen Karnak’s cyberformance, with interference and “I plasticise myself“ exclaiming puppet-heads. The disappearance of the gap between actor and audience was the topic of “4th Wall” by Tara Rebele (USA) , Miljana Peric (Serbia) and Suzon Fuks (Belgium/Australia) – a poetic, autoreferencial expedition about the possibilities on the virtual stage.

UpStage is not designed in the soft contemporary design that dominates current conventional web 2.0 platforms, but is quite unique: the platform develops together with the users. The performances are often theoretical, feminist, but not women-only. It’s about not leaving the internet to the geeks, but rather approaching technology artistically.

Fiona Sara Schmidt