TBI Q&A: Helen Varley Jamieson
Cyberformance artist Helen Varley Jamieson is one of four members of globally dispersed cyberformance troupe Avatar Body Collision. Despite never having shared a physical space at one time, the four have collaborated on various projects largely based around UpStage - software that creates an accessible web-based venue for cyberformance and digital story-telling. Lured to the internet for its limitless potential, Helen nevertheless lists "I can turn it off" as one of its many attractions.Cyberformance artist Helen Varley Jamieson is one of four members of globally dispersed cyberformance troupe Avatar Body Collision. Despite never having shared a physical space at one time, the four have collaborated on various projects largely based around UpStage - software that creates an accessible web-based venue for cyberformance and digital story-telling. Lured to the internet for its limitless potential, Helen nevertheless lists "I can turn it off" as one of its many attractions.What aspect of your creative practice gives you the biggest thrill?
Being part of a live collaborative event.
How do you think your environment affects your work?
I'm used to moving around quite a bit and find new environments inspiring. Often I need to go somewhere else in order to focus on a project, because I'm easily distracted and usually have multiple projects on the go at any time. But I really value the groundedness of home, and I'm fortunate to have a home that I love returning to.
'Cyberformance' is a word that many people might not be familiar with. Can you explain what it is?
Cyberformance is live performance that is situated in cyberspace, using the internet to bring remote performers together in real time for an audience that could be either online or in a physical site (or both!).
It's a form of networked performance, which includes live events happening over other networks such as mobile phones, LANs etc.
What are the advantages of online performance?
It enables me to collaborate with people who are geographically distant, and it's exciting to experiment with a new art form. But I also work in offline theatre/performance and I would never say that one was better than any other - cyberformance is one among many possibilities.
Do you like to look at the big picture or focus on the details?
Describe the ways in which your childhood play has influenced how you work as an adult.
I grew up in a house without a television and at the time I felt terribly deprived, but in hindsight I'm glad.
We read a lot, played games together as a family, and had the best Lego collection in the neighbourhood. We were always dressing up, writing stories and putting on plays for anyone who would watch. So I've always been actively imagining and creating and making things happen.
With online communities and your computer-related work are you sometimes working with people you've never physically met?
Always. Avatar Body Collision is the globally dispersed cyberformance troupe that I've done most of my work with over the last six years or so, and the four of us have never been in the same room together.
I've never met Leena Saarinen, who lives in Helsinki; and Vicki Smith, who lives in Hari Hari on the West Coast of the South Island, has never met Leena or Karla Ptacek, who lives in London. I only met Karla after we'd all been working together for a couple of years.
Karla and Leena finally met a couple of years ago, so we do know that Leena is a real person. I've done other work with people I've never met, or met people after we've done something together, which I always enjoy.
What is the attraction of the online world?
It's still relatively new territory for the performing arts.
It enables me to collaborate with like-minded people no matter where they are.
It means I can work internationally yet still be based in New Zealand.
I can turn it off.
Which of your projects to date has given you the most satisfaction?
Everything has been satisfying in at least some aspects, but I'm a pretty hard self-critic so nothing is ever perfect or finished.
The Avatar Body Collision show swim - an exercise in remote intimacy has been significant because it's the one we've done the most, which means we've had the opportunity to develop it over several years, try new things and improve things we weren't satisfied with.
It was also the first time in 11 years for me to be back on stage as a performer - which is still terrifying, as I'm not really a performer and stopped doing it when I realised I was much better at doing other things. So it's a personally challenging work and it always gives me a sense of relief and satisfaction afterwards.
Demeter's Dark Ride - An Attraction was also a very satisfying project (2005 STAB season at BATS - I was the producer). It was a very ambitious promenade theatre work - much more than the sum of its parts - and it moved people in ways they didn't expect. It was very rewarding to hear the feedback from the audience afterwards.
If you could go back and choose a completely different career path to the one you've chosen, what would it be?
What's the best way to listen to music, and why?
I like to listen to music in my car; I have a cassette player and a box of tapes mostly from the '80s. Not only is the music still great, the tapes have stood the test of time too (although Magazine/New Order is about to crap out, which is distressing).
You are given a piece of string, a stick and some fabric. What do you make?
Probably a mistake.
What's the best stress relief advice you've ever been given?
What's great about today?
Yesterday we launched UpStage version 2, which has been my major project for the last year. The launch went off really well and today was the first day of our exhibition at the NZ Film Archive.
Vicki and I were there to show people how to make their own UpStage performances - and we'll be doing this for the next two weeks.
It's been pretty busy in the build-up but now it's all up and running and looking good. Next Saturday (7 July) we have 070707, a one-day festival of live performances, so I can't relax yet, but I've been checking out the rehearsals of the shows in the festival and they're all looking really good. So tonight I'm sitting quietly at home with no urgent things to do and the anticipation of a good sleep-in in the morning.
070707 UpStage Festival
The 070707 UpStage Festival is in conjunction with From Puppets to Pixels - an interactive exhibition for children of all ages (28 June - 14 July 2007) at the Film Archive mediagallery, cnr Ghuznee and Taranaki Sts, Wellington.