Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Did i ever mention how much i hate traveling?


Map of my heart by ~Astazja on deviantART



Did i ever mention how much i hate traveling? im sure i must have, it's the sort of thing i would go on about. Ironic perhaps for some one who tends to get around the place a fair bit. They say travel broadens the mind.... or something, personally i think a nice handwritten letter and a cup of tea would do more for my nerves.

Perhaps if i had the money and leisure to travel by train things would be different, i often dream of how luxurious it might be to sit on the train and write for hours as we pass through scenic places. then again i also still clearly remember the 35 hour train journey to Belarus, the night train from Romania to Poland where they woke us every hour to check we still had the right documents, and many other exciting border crossings where even the privilege of waving my red brit passport didn't make it that much funnier.

Still i like the fantasy of how train travel might be and i really HATE airports. im a failed brit in my inability to enjoy queing, the novelty of the pat down search wore off a while ago and airport 'lounges', why in the hell do they call them that?? Queing for the second time this week at the airport, making another attempt at getting to beograd. I engaged in something of a reunion with other travelers who had been on the same canceled flight as me a few days earlier... and i remembered one of the things travel DOES often do for me, it gives me a different perspective.

with a familiar camaraderie they asked me 'so what is your connection to beograd?' (having told me earlier it is their home town.) i gave my standard 'filtered to avoid homophobia' response: 'oh im part of a cultural collective' and when they asked me 'which collective is that?' i paused for a moment, took in their youth, urbanity, good humor...and said 'Queer Beograd'. i like to think about coming out sometimes. there was a visible physical recoil in response, not towards me... but the concept. their reply came, 'wow, you've been busy lately' - I smile that they have heard of us - and then they ask 'and how do you deal with that level of fear? what's it like, the feeling of having pretty much the whole country against you?'

the conversation was longer than that, they were nice people, curious and also in some sense congratulatory. surprised to hear that amongst the hatred and death threats some of my friends experience there are also those who say thank you and tell how much their actions have meant to them.
but what i took note of for myself was the pause i made before choosing to come out, and of being asked how i deal with the fear. it made me think what a difference support, and i mean not only at the personal level, but legalised mainstream support, of sexuality and gender expression makes to me and how i can be in the world.

i suppose another part of my limited enthusiasm for traveling is that i am a little agoraphobic, its a funny one, im never sure how much is a deeply instilled social conditioning of 'girls stick close to the house' or some other form of fucked up social maladjustment - i have many, im thinking of having badges made to represent each one so i can hand sew them as decorative decals onto my luggage.
but yeah i have 'issues' with navigating the outside world at times, stuff that is a little more complicated than my inability to read maps. sometimes it's nothing, then other times going out to by a loaf of bread becomes a challenge. so being in another country, especially one where i don't speak the language and do have some past experiences of violence does absolutely ZERO for my level of street confidence.

today in beograd the fagdaddy and i went to the gym together, strange cos i don't remember even making a new years resolution about this and yet suddenly there i am working out! at the same time im making a zoological observation of the guys at the gym, how much space they take up and how much noise they make! the fagdaddy laughs: 'i don't even think they are aware they are doing it'. and for me, understanding nothing of what they are saying it's like watching a pantomime of social status and machismo. as usual i find myself wondering what it is like to have so much physical strength and confidence at ones disposal, what is it like to assume a natural right to take up space? these questions fascinate me.

speaking of cultural surrounds beograd is one of those places where i often feel least in touch with my own gender and sexuality, it's like some sort of limbo, there's no context for me. in the gym while lifting weights, im whinging about my bruised elbow from a wrestling match on a concrete floor in a queer sex club a few weeks earlier. the fagdaddy laughs at me (as usual) and says 'imagine, imagine that there would ever be such a thing as a queer sex club in serbia'

and here sometimes i even have difficulty imagining not just those london 'normalities' of the queer scene but MYSELF...who i am drifts, i am out of my depth, out of touch with myself because i don't recognise my surrounds.

this interplay of outside and inside conditions, of social and cultural norms with our own internal abilities and views of ourselves does make me think. of course its not the first time i have tried to fathom the connections between how we can form and shape our own hopes and desires, and how the society around us can support or limit those capacities. the miracle being that people do insist on being who they are.

im going to the gym again tomorrow and i also know that in this current process of traveling i will at some point remember a little bit more of who i am.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

sorry i yelled



it's funny the things people bitch about. currently my serbian queer collective (including me) are yelling at each other a bit and bitching over the blasted (stage two) funding application. this is a cunt of a thing where it took me six months of emailing to get a phone interview with the people who might want to give us money. we won the privilege of filling out some excruciating forms and then after a lot more emailing and phone calling on my part we get to fill out some more bastard forms.

thing is that all of us in the collective are kind of tired, we talk a lot about sustainability these days. that's the quandry in activism - well in a lot of things - but if you push against the system and you are not willing or able to be comfortably absorbed by that system exactly how do you survive? for sure some of the independent queer fundraisers have been key in keeping us going - Behind Bars in London and Buttraker collective in amsterdam have been fucking life support for us!

so yeah today i keep staring at the question that reads 'Ideally, as a result of your work, what will the situation as described above look like five years from now? Please be concrete.'
(the situation above being the challenges - particularly homophobia- we face in beograd) and i just don't know. my energy levels are low, there's a lot to do but yeah getting up out of bed lately has been a bit much of a challenge, i have had a very bad year in terms of my health. and that might not sound too tough, but on the other side my close friend in beograd had some one threaten to kill her in the street a couple of days ago - because she is known/visible - because these fucking fascists are so pissed off about pride having gone ahead. and the irony of it is that we get mad with each other - because we can't find the time and strength and energy to be able to coordinate ourselves to meet the beuracratic deadlines.

the funder who we fight to be able to apply to, when asked about a deadline says airily 'oh just at your earliest convenience.... next week would be fine' and mentions some shit about how budgets are shifting around a lot at this time of year..so there's no guarantee of money. i try to think how best to apply what energy we have. this question of the next five years, mostly im thinking of how to get through the next week. but i do wonder, because with serbia its not so easy to write about this. what do i hope for? really? what i hope for is some real fucking resistance, some ground of coherent thought and action that can resist not only the stupidity of nationalism, homophobia, all the entrenched problems that already exist.... but something that can carry the place further than a new and shiny pride banner, and EU flag and the glossy shopping malls of capitalism.

because much as i know that i have greater freedom walking in London as a queer than i do walking in Beograd, i look around myself and the conditions of this existence and i know that this is not freedom and homophobia is not my only enemy. a vision of five years time? if some one asked me what would my vision be for the next five years in england, to be honest? im afraid... because much as i am the eternal optomist, things are not looking good.

im so proud of the people around me, happy to know the people i do who are fighting, organising, meeting, supporting, doing so much... but i don't feel good today and i do think personal safety, the nitty gritty of survival are political... and as always i have the nagging feeling of how slow, how incremental my capacities are and i wish so much i was capable of more. and not for the first time i ask myself 'what do i have time for?'.... do i have time to write the funding application so our collective can research and publish some more books? here in London what should i be doing? mostly i want to throw bricks through windows... but WHAT is going to work.

it seems ironic to be debating the rocking point between comfortability and revolution, and the internal conflicts about what level of sacrifice can be managed and what is the measure of comfort needed to live? for me currently part of that measure is looking with horror at the UN repeal of protection from execution on the grounds of sexuality, seeing the very basics of human rights brushed aside. and here in the west i feel like a little child being told i must be good and grateful because elsewhere others are starving. there is always some comparison to be made, the kind of comparison that most usually seems to go along the lines of 'be quiet, you never had it so good' ..... but we must refuse the separation, because all of this is only another means to slow and defeat our own urge towards action. to let guilt drown any creative fire. instead it is a matter of finding the strength to continue doing what we can and to try not to punish ourselves or each other for that inevitable feeling of powerlessness in never being able to do enough.

so yes dear crew - im sorry i yelled.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

My romantic relationship with money

My romantic relationship with money.

I don’t know if it’s still a popular fantasy or who it was ever popular with… but there’s certainly the idea put about of the ‘romantic starving artist’. Back in my 20’s it wasn’t so much the done thing, in the crowd I hung out with it was more the fantasy of taking a lot of drugs and ‘live fast, die young’…many of us did. the reality of that wasn’t so romantic either.

But money, yep it is something I have dirty fantasies about. Standing about in a quite nice theatre the other day ( I had a free ticket) in the midst of someone else’s ‘consciousness raising’ performance, well more of a harangue to the middle classes about their own selfishness. I watched the audience laugh uproariously at being so insulted. I found myself bitterly wondering how much these people earned (I don’t know maybe they are all in hock up to their eyeballs) I also spent a bit of time thinking about how I had missed paying the rent….again. shit.

Of course luckily I know that being poor is so much more morally sound than having cash, so at least I had the high ground of sneering. Because money is dirty, you don’t know where its been, all those different hands touching it…..NEVER EVER put money in your mouth, unless you are being well paid to do so.

So my fantasies, lately I have been getting all hot and bothered dreaming about money raining down on me from the heavens, not the heavy stuff….pennies would hurt. I want the light folding stuff to drift down gently, caressing me as it falls, stroking me softly with the promise of bills paid, worries secured away, free time and free meals.

A friend suggested I take up forgery…. I pointed out I can’t draw (what kind of an artist am i) and then she suggested instead I might just photocopy a £50 note.
I pointed out I don’t have one of those either – that I would have to cadge one in the street ‘excuse me sir would you have a £50 pound note? I just want to borrow it… I will bring it right back I promise! Oh…and would you have the price of a double sided photocopy??’

if you are really poor no one thinks its romantic at all, they just want you to go away. Because its no ones fault but your own, I don’t know why it’s called ‘the American dream’ as that ‘bootstraps’ mentality which promotes the belief that if people would just bloody try harder they wouldn’t be in any sort of mess seems to be applied in many cultures. Isn’t that the moral excuse of capitalism?

Its also the kind of thinking where any sort of drib or drab of charity should be received with drooling gratitude. ‘thank you so much for gracing me with your righteous coinage, I will be forever in your debt….and I do mean forever’ Ah the saintly benefactor!

ive been practicing a highly refined form of begging for a few years now, as one of the groups I am part of sometimes receive funding grants.... it's one of the ways that richer EU countries feel better and push a bit of influence into the world 'elsewhere'. but jesus the time and mental health points attached to writing these funding applications is something else. Sadly the flow of money is never particularly secure… too bad if the death threats and burn out are getting you down sometimes ‘we are very sorry but we do not currently have further capacity to support your organisation at present’ (no notice given). Its a tricky process and we don’t take just any bastards money, we like to vet our donors thoroughly…. sometimes I wish the process could be more physically intimate.

The funny thing is the kind of rights these people expect in return for dishing out a bit of money are incredible, its bloody amazing what you can buy with €5,000 these days. No seriously it’s enough to have 4 or 5 people completely at your beck and call. You can request all sorts of private information and expect literally months of report writing, justifications for how this money has been spent and of course sound assurances that none of this has been spent on living costs – meals/rent/bills – any of those day to day fripperies - as you have to make sure these sodding human rights activists and artists don’t rip you off!

I got a debt collectors notice the other day, this one scared me because I opened it ..usually I just throw them onto the large pile by the door. Honestly it’s not worth anything to read the nasty things these people say, the threats they make. But I did open it and in this case staring at the allotted sum I began to tot up exactly how that money was squandered. What kind of greedy riotous behaviour I had been indulging in to rack up such a mountain of debt. I thought about submitting a ‘funding report’ to my bank manager as for that particular amount they got a LOT.

First off there was the 6 weeks spent in Serbia helping to organise a grass roots activist conference, I managed to fit in a short nervous breakdown and survive some bursts of indirect violence from fascists (I didn’t go in to the office that day). Then I went on a tour of the new east/west European border with a group of activists doing a bit of an independent investigation of how many new prisons (politely know as refugee reception centres) are being built, and the interesting patterns of influence exerted by funders on NGO projects in those areas. Plus taking another little jaunt to see what is happening to people being deported into and held in the so called ‘buffer states’.

I then spent a bit of time mucking around doing support work with women in detention prisons in the UK and setting up the Queer Beograd collective with my friends in Serbia. Yet another few thousand quid pissed up the wall. I’m sure I could provide some nice pictures of the events, maybe a time line, difficult to exactly quantify the results…. At times my ability to stop deportations has been I admit CRAP. But hell I tried.

I have to apologise for the tone of self righteousness privilege that is creeping in here as clearly I have been swanning about with a RED passport indulging in the sort of trouble making we could well do without. Talking to a ‘funding advisor’ recently (and what sort of a fucking job is that?) I was advised to ‘keep making your work whether you get funding or not’ I almost fell on the floor laughing as I wonder what the fuck these people think I have been doing? Are there people who make those sorts of choices? i admit im guilty of the kind of arrogance where I think I will carry on with making that frivolous shit we call ‘art’ whether I have money or not. I don’t know what kind of value im assigning to the production of culture, and political activism or why I just can’t admit it’s a luxury I can’t afford.

Back to cash…I know it’s a sore point but I am short of a few quid and when it comes down to it im hawking the only thing I have - ME – so yes, offers and ideas jotted down on a £50 quid note please, use more if you need extra space to fill out your ideas and im sure that together we can come up with some sort of a creative solution.

Monday, 8 November 2010

skirmish




Seems like a million years ago, I think it was the beginning of 2004 when I made this video. I had been recording with ben at the mechanarchy studios for a while and combined some of the results with snippets of video from actions and performances over the previous 4 years. Much of it shot at various ‘Reclaim the Streets’ events I was part of, that and anti-capitalist and ‘No Borders’ demos, including the 2003 convergence outside the Baxter detention centre.

I wanted to post the video because it is so easy for our histories and activities to slip away out of memory. I watch this and it seems like another lifetime. I move around, mine is a fairly transient, precarious life, I’ve been part of many activities, places, groups.

So it helps me personally as well as politically to see my activities as a continuum of events, collaborations, subcultural engagements and activism that form a story, a some what messy chaotic story, but a story nonetheless and one that spans at least 20 years of activity.

Prior to moving to Sydney I had been mostly working with multi-media artists collectives, often our work was political, (I had spent ten years as a photographer producing mostly feminist works) but the realm that our activities took place in was mostly the ‘art world’ or interventions based around ‘cultural production’ in it’s narrower senses.

In Sydney I decided to let that connection to ‘art’ fall away and became more involved in direct action politics and the ‘RTS’ crews. Their focus on Situationist ideas was something I already had experience of, but taking this into the streets and into a direct confrontation with the law and day to day social structures…. truly a ‘revolution of the everyday’ was something else.

this is also a story about collaborations, GROUPS, the action of people on each other, how much the flow and change of our connections influences shifts and moves us, transporting the individual in ways otherwise unimaginable.

when I watch this piece it is the people that I remember, high times…. The wonderful moments when I have been lucky enough to work with people who are so damn smart and onto it that collaborating is like a beautiful game of ‘catch’ (and don’t get caught) where you can FEEL the dynamic moving, power being shared and shifting amongst the group, power freely shared and balanced.

And those times of tight connection, where damnit you bet we are scared, pretty sure that we are going to get the shit kicked out of us, but still we choose to stand together and to support each other in NOT caving in to injustice.

Not much more to say…. Because another big thing in the video is the words, seems I read a whole lot more theory in those days, certainly seemed to use a few long words, but the gist of it is much the same and I still stand by those beliefs.

'Skirmish' is a salute to all the dazzling stars who have shown me what it is to run fast, find courage and laugh.... finding a way to paint a banner, stencil graffiti, make some noise, tear down a fence and tell a story while we are doing it.

love and rage to all the crews xxxxxxxxxxx

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Yesterday i awoke to the sound of anarchists outside my door

Yesterday i awoke to the sound of anarchists outside my door, whisperings, perhaps imagined of 'Margaret Thatcher is dead'. well in these times people are entitled to a little hope and i can see why after Wednesdays cuts, that people look for somewhere to place their anger. Tho im not convinced how effective dancing on Thatchers grave might prove to be as an act of rebellion. We're not in Kanzas, but were not in fucking Oz or wonderland either, so no amount of singing 'ding dong the witch is dead' is really going to fix things. *there is also the small matter that she is NOT dead yet*

I set off to the Anarchist bookfair armed with a few books - our latest from Queer beograd collective - well its a bookfair so i may as well do a little bit of distro. i want to try and target some of the antfia groups in particular with our publication on direct action and queer resistance to fascism.
Being the antisocial, slightly agoraphobic, rather critical person that i am, i am also armed with a great deal of cynicism.

reading the advertising leading up to the fair and the workshop schedules it seems that many people are raising the age old questions of HOW to organise, how to deal with deal with fragmentation, lifestylism and the gulf between activist groups and everyone else.  Beats me, but the two workshops i want to try and make are the Croatian anarchists talking about a history of anarchism in the region, and the IWW talking about self organisation vs vanguardism and if there is any combination of those two that might work well. (total paraphrasing there).

at the fair i spend a bit of time wandering about staring at books i can't afford, being extremely envious and lustfull towards small publishing houses and catching up with people who i havent seen in ages.
there's a tiny bit of lusting going on there too, but its more my general attraction towards the 'punk/anarcho/straight edge' asthetic, rebellion makes me horny.

its a very long time since i have been active within this scene, some one asked me a while back what it was like 'not to be an activist any more' (i should have just punched them out) but i suppose what can easily happen is that a lack of visibilty within anarchist/activist circles can lead other people, and i think, to some extent ourselves, to believing we are not really doing activism any more. that's a problem with the notion of activism but a lot has been written on that and i cant be arsed to rake it over right now. but yeah very unfunny and dodgy how dealing with the immediate and pressing problems of our own lives (earning a living, trying to pay the rent, running away from fascists, forming strategies against homophobia, building networks and communities) can be dismissed so easily and act as a disincentive towards naming these actions as political.

the croation workshop: a long intro (as in packed with interesting information and political analysis) to the history of anarchist activity in croatia and the ex-yu region. these guys are ACTIVE, running a yearly three day bookfair, a couple of publishing houses, networking in the region and taking part in other direct action.

once again im amazed at how people in the west respond to news of things in the south east as if this is something they have never heard of, also there is so often a tangible exoticising. im not saying i am up to date on what is happening in every part of the world, but i don't quite get how often people IN europe seem to have very little grasp of what might be happening in their region politically - or even of that as a geopolitical area.

when the people from Zagreb talk about the economic situation there, the effects of economic transition and post war situation what i do not understand is how other people in the workshop do not make connections between this and a global or at least EU picture. there are several expressions of amazement when it is put forward that many people live on a black or grey economy, that this is how people survive - outside of the legal taxed system. FFS people we live in London - a city with a huge population of so called 'illegal' people. capitalism RUNS on these non regular workers. i wonder how people can be so out of touch not to apply any of this to their own situations, what are these people living on? i looked around and realised mostly, sadly i am surrounded by people who are at university - we are sitting IN a university - i may as well be in a fucking petting zoo.

anyhow in that weirdness that is the ability to travel, have visas and get around the place i make connections with the zagreb people, turns out we have met at an anarcho-feminst festival in macedonia some years back. we exchange books/newspapers and talk about problems with the queer scene in zagreb being less politicised and more elitist than in beograd and on the other side of this how addressing issues of sexism and homophobia can be seen as 'lifestylism'.
hopefully we will catch up at the next bookfair they hold in zagreb, for sure its another part of a network. http://www.ask-zagreb.org/engleski.htm

i miss the IWW meeting - i have this knack with maps. *sigh*

mr rockabilly gayboy suggests we might go to the workshop on 'love, sex and anarchism' i inform him that i would rather kill myself, but then at a loose end i do find myself in there. grave mistake.
it turns out to be a workshop on anarchy and polyamoury. oh dear oh dear, last time i went to a workshop on polyamory i swore i would never go to one again, sitting in this very crowded room i begin to remember why.

the workshop begins with a very well spoken young man standing up and mentioning that it has been such a full and stressful day that he would like to begin the workshop with a few moments for everyone just to be quiet, to relax and breath and to get in touch with how they are feeling. i begin to get in touch with the feeling that i wish i wasn't trapped in this room and that im not going to be able to escape what im sure is going to be an excruciating experience.

the people running the workshop come across as social workers, not quite out of uni, highly scrubbed, and glowing with the joy of discovery. its clear that people mean well, but in that sort of shiny sort of way that makes me think that i may have to kill them. the other cynical bastards i am with cheer me up by making violent hand gestures and almost wee themselves laughing.

sadly the workshop was based in the kind of 'woooo, oh look at that im free' idea of anarchy, a magical and mysterious form in which everything works out without any structure at all! (a fantasy) >insert more swearing from the cynical back row< ...and alongside that was placed the kind of poly where there seems also to be no structure/rules/interpersonal negotiation... just an odd sort of free-for-all.
 

not sure how that works socially or relationship wise, i always thought freedom = responsibility. 
 i just found it so ODD to once again hear the parroting of what i think is a very damaging style ..which appears to be pure selfishness with no regard for relationships as something that involves a constellation of people hopefully trying to work together.

one of the people giving the workshop repeatedly used the phrase 'anarchist utopia'....as in 'when we get there' aaaaaarrrrrrgggggghhhh!!!! 

i can see why people complain about lifestylism. the connection between anarchism and how people do their relationships (in whatever form) - is not necessarily a hard one to make.  the connection between personal responsibilty, appreciation of difference, the necessity to form effective and active communication and methods of action with others and to see all our relationships as important and interconnected is not rocket science and yet in that room the moment slipped by, so much easier to focus on the romance of it. oh i don't know, in all my pissyness about approaches, ways of action and living, im sure one of the most romantic things anyone has ever said to me is 'let's form a collective' :P