Thursday, 24 May 2012


Now *that* was, indeed, some serious fun. CHI2012 in Austin, Texas, that is. Swimming pools. Movie stars.

No, no, erase that ancient quasi-Texas, quasi-California TV show reference. The Super 8 in Austin did, indeed, have a perfectly lovely swimming pool that Connie and I made use of exactly once, within five minutes of arrival. Strangely, the long pants, compression socks, wool oversocks and wool sweater that were so very comfy on the plane were a bit oppressive in the 90-something degree heat. Aaaah. We would have taken more advantage of the pool later in the week, but it was sometimes rainy, and always packed full of other things to be doing.

The workshop on 'Liveness' intimidated me a bit at the outset, because we were set the task of documenting the liveness of a performance event on video and then, in small groups, editing the footage into a statement on liveness. Now, having come off of a year of reading Peggy Phelan and then seeing her - live - giving a lecture at Queen Mary just a few weeks ago, I wasn't sure how comfortable I was accepting the premise of taping liveness to begin with. For all intents and purposes, I'm more of an Auslander girl myself, but you can't get away from the idea that there is *something* going on in a live, co-present encounter - something that Fischer-Lichte gets up and runs with, much to my glee - that can't be captured in a video. But what was I going to do? Tell them their task was ontologically impossible and stomp off in a huff?

Thankfully, the two people in my small group seemed to share my reservations to at least some extent, and neither of them had a particular axe to grind, so we muddled through a variety of ideas to come up with our statement. It was essentially a collage of missed connections, failed jokes, and the other contenders for a spectator's attention in a venue full of competition, both human and mediated. (And beer.) It seems a bit weak, maybe, to argue that liveness is all about the spectator's option to spectate something else - the bartender or the hot guy across the room instead of the performer who's paid to entertain you - but it holds onto a sense of agency, and of potential.

It also allowed us to focus on the energy created among audience members and performer that utterly dominated the performance encounter. In this case, the energy was overwhelmingly negative. It came from the poor comedian, who came on after a smokin' band had trained the audience to drink and shout loudly to the friends they hadn't seen since the last CHI. Poorly introduced and poorly prepared to catch the attention of a couple hundred people who decidedly did not want their attention caught, he ended up ranting to those of us listening to him about the rudeness of the many who were not. A movie wouldn't have cared. An entertainer with a more professional manner might have turned the energy around. But this guy? I felt like I'd ruined his life - and I was one of the ones listening politely!

Let's see - this takes us up to Saturday night before the official Monday start of the full conference. A complete report would clearly take all night to write and still leave out the best bits.

The best bits were the people, for sure. The Mobile Life crew, the Culture Lab freaks, my thesis-doppelganger at Queen Mary, the Digital Arts folks, the Liveness workshop peeps, the Portuguese game guy, the student volunteer who seemed to be in eight places at once, the Swedish guy who was actually Romanian (and I still swear he must have been having a laugh), David and his rental car, and of course my best puppy Connie... it was seriously one of those weeks when all you can do is be happy you're alive.

Not to skip over the fact that there was some wicked cool stuff on display, and some fantastic ideas, of course! But even the talks and papers took shape in my mind through the conversations I had about them. It was an amazing shift from solitary reading and worrying, which is my default mode for 51 weeks of the year.

Next stop Paris!!!

Thursday, 3 May 2012