“We all have one subject, in fact. Mine is communication and the difficulty to communicate at all. Everything I do is around that.” – Annie Abrahams
Annie Abrahams has embraced the Internet as a medium for live performance for two reasons. The first, as she describes, is to “study human behaviour without interfering in it.” Annie is interested in looking at how people engage over networks, how they negotiate online social interactions, and how they might enter into creative play at a distance. The second reason seems to stem from her scientific background, stating matter of factly that “it is there and we have to understand what it is.” Annie Abrahams is one of the featured artists on the upcoming Art of the Networked Practice Online Symposium (March 29-31), where she will unveil a new performance work, “Online En-semble – Entanglement Training,” currently in preparation with her collaborators Antye Greie, Helen Varley Jamieson, Soyung Lee, Hương Ngô, Daniel Pinheiro, and Igor Stromajer.
In a recent trip to Montpellier, France, where she lives and works in her basement studio, I had the opportunity to interview Annie in a far-ranging conversation about network culture, social media, online performance, collaboration, and the unique way in which she constructs her Internet performances, which have gained considerable international attention. It is important to understand that Annie has no illusions about the network as a medium for live performance. She clearly understands the inherent issues of bandwidth, distance, separation, and even alienation that occurs online. In fact, in many ways she embraces these issues and incorporates them into the vocabulary of her work.
The title of her new Symposium performance, “Online En-semble – Entanglement Training,” speaks directly to her approach in creating a space where her collaborating performers can “negotiate ideas together in order to achieve a result that’s not just one person’s problem, one person’s effort, but it’s the effort of a group of people solving a problem collectively.” Rather than fighting the glitches, errors and disruptions that are inherent in our everyday online interactions, particularly via live Internet communications, she discovers the work through these networked “entanglements,” observing the resulting interactions, and finding creative solutions to building compelling visual and sonic moments in distributed time and space.
Most recently I was fortunate to observe one of her online sessions, noting the raw energy and artistic solutions she infuses into the collaborative process to overcome limitations and constraints. For example, when the performers’ Webcams were succumbing to technical issues, she transformed this problem by directing the group to intentionally turn their cameras on and off, creating a shifting, evolving, changing collage of images in direct play with altered configurations of the online interface. I could see how she reacts to constraints, how she finds solutions, and together with her collaborators discovers the means to “creatively work around it or with it or against it.”
So instead of dwelling on the frustrations of the network connection, she finds inspiration, and perhaps more importantly, she sets up compelling situations that allow her and others to make critical observations about connection and disconnection. Despite all of the hyperbole about how we’re all so interconnected in the McLuhanesque notion of the global village, and with all the corporate-driven utopianism that runs rampant around the Internet and social media, how it brings us all together: we have artists such as Annie Abrahams intent on disentangling the entanglements in order to better understand the nature and quality of the third space environment we increasingly find ourselves in.