Serbia: International Multi Media Art Festival 2020
In March 2020 I was in Japan for my annual trip, but this time I joined NIPAF (Nippon International Performance Art Festival) Run by the founder Seiji Shimada. I joined five other international artists from all over the world, we were also at the beginning of the pandemic, so it was an intense two weeks of travelling and performing, lack of sleep, lack of rest, exhaustion kicked in, which added a bit of an edge. In all the experience was extraordinary and many positive things came from those two weeks that I am still filtering. This is where I met Nenad Bogdanovic the founder of IMAF.
In the summer of 2020 I received an invitation to attend the 22ND IMAF20 annual festival September 4th-26th in Odzaci -Novi Sad in Serbia. We were in the middle of a Lockdown in the UK, an opportunity opened in-between one lockdown and the possibility of another lockdown in London. Initially I was under the impression that there will be other artists as there are normally fifteen international artists that attend the festival performing alongside many local Serbian artists.
I was met at the airport in Belgrade by Nenad and a local taxi man from Odzaci then it was a two hour drive to the village. I felt a sense of relief as it was such a great feeling to be in the countryside, being able to breathe, to get out and do things. The airports were practically empty, the plane was half filled, and each of us had three seats each. I was taken to my hotel and settled in, then had a wander around the village. I was immediately drawn to the graffiti art around on the surrounding buildings, this attracted my attention as I had just been in a debate about graffiti art in Barnes and how it spoils the place, though some people would welcome proper art? whatever that meant.
I thought the Serbian graffiti certainly was a bit more imaginative than our local taggers, also some graffiti was in memory of local people that lost their lives, though you still had your taggers. Later I discovered most of the young kids head off to an old motel to do a bit of spray painting which was the venue I would be performing in. (Photo bellow is graffiti from Odzaci)
Nenad was very worried how Covid had affected the performance art festivals across the world, he wasn't sure if his festival can happen, along with his trusty right hand man Andrijia who works quietly behind the scenes on technical and other issues regarding the festival. Nenad had decided to put most of it online, so opened it up, this had a fantastic response from over forty artist all over the world. So having at least one artist present and forty artists online, helped the festival to go ahead. You can check out the video performances online on you tube, or check out IMAFs website: ( https://imaf-festival.weebly.com/ )
IMAF 2020 festival participants live, online and live stream performances:
Alexandra Holownia (Poland-Germany) Amy Guilfoyle (Ireland) Anita Cheng (Hong Kong-China) Artur Tajber (Poland) Calum Eccleston (UK) Craphone Liu (Taiwan) Dagmar I. Glausnitzer-Smith (Germany) & Vincenzo Fiore Marrese (Italy) Dimple B, Shah (India) Edwin Jimeno (Colombia) Eva Dabara (Israel) Fausto Grossi (Italy-Spain) Heather Warren-Crow (USA) Hortense Gauthier (France) Ileana Gherghina (Romania) Irena Paskali (Macedonia-Germany) Izabela Brudkiewicz (UK) Janusz Plota (Poland) Lavoslava Benčić (Slovenia) & Marcello Lussana (Italy) Lorenzo Papanti (Italy) Makoto Maruyama (Japan) Maura Prosperi (Italy) Nenad Bogdanovic (Serbia) Nitesh Kushwaha (India) OPEN ACTION - John G. Boehme, Madeleine Elia, Brenda Petays, Judith Price, Grace Salez, Jayne Storey (Canada) Paloma Orts (Spain) Ras Sankara (Togo) Ruth Vigueras Bravo (Mexico) Sanskar Verma (India) Sarah H. Paulson (USA) Sasa Denic-Spena (Serbia) Satadru Sovan (India) Seiko Kitayama (Japan) Sofia Vera (Mexico) & Makame Orozco (Mexico) Spike Mclarrity (UK) Stephanie Hanna (Germany) Syporca Whandal (Hungary) Vaishak Raj (India) Valeria Barbas (Moldova-Romania) WWW Johannes Deimling (Germany)
I was aware how this year will be different even though I haven't ever performed at IMAF, I have seen the archives of past years performances. Nenad and Andrijia had to re-invent the format as each day passed.
Having at least one artist present I think helped, also we were the only festival that was having a live performance in Serbia as all other festivals had gone fully on line. In some strange way this worked well for us as we had a news crew that followed us for two days.
There were three of us going to perform live over two days. Nenad Bogdanovic and another local Odzaci artist called Sasa Denic-Spena who I met briefly on my first day in Odzaci. We were also going to to perform at a gallery in Novi Sad. We were aware that we could not invite audience but were going to attempt to live stream the live actions of the performances. I think just having the news crew around became our audience.
I am generally self sufficient and was aware of the pressures the organisers had to face, so I just got on and explored the town, a shop that hired out and fixed equipment lent me a bike so I could explore the country side, it turns out the owner went to school with Nenads son, so this made it easy and he never charged me to rent it. So off I went to explore Odzaci and its surrounding fields.
I met up with Nenad and Andrijia on a regular bases mainly in the evening to eat, but also we spent time preparing the old deserted motel Sumice outside the town near the swimming pool. There is a long history of the motel being used for money laundering and corruption, which sadly fell victim to greed and so was left to decay.
It turned out the head of the news crew use to play in the motel in a band when it was in its hay day. Now its vandalised, no windows, doors, everything of value stripped bare, the local kids spend time practicing their graffiti skills, the police are present, but they seem happy that they are there than spraying the walls in the village.
I hadn't really thought about what the venue would be like, I never expected what I arrived at, no electricity, nothing jut a raw space which really appealed to me, I had planned to do a piece called the Deep Cleaner, the last time I performed it was in 2009 at Bone Festival in Berne Switzerland. It seemed like the right piece to perform with in light of the COVID and the new found obsession with cleaning.
I loved having so much time to explore, to be, to create, to just soak up a the vibes of the local community, there was no pressure, I think if there was fifteen of us it would be a different experience, even Nenad and Andrijia were relaxed, as they are use to having to get artists from the airport and to their accommodation and then to the venue. Somehow through one of my wanderings I managed to find a cafe called Galleririja where it became the place that I felt relaxed in, though I did try some of the smaller local cafes, but no one really understood me, and I had no idea what to do, at least in Galerijia the waiters who were very welcoming to me also spoke English, it also helped that they had a menu written in English. This is also the place I met one of the waiters called Marko Manic, who turned out to be an artist, and knew Nenad.
Meeting Marko Manic: Steam punk magician!
While Marko was working at cafe Galerija we talked about art and performance, through this discussion he invited me and Nenad to his home and studio, I said that I would speak with Nenad, which I did and managed to organise a day for us to go and visit. Its funny really as if anyone in Britain invites a stranger to come to their house, this would generally not happen. Over the many years of travelling I have been privileged to receive invites in many countries, where I have been invited to peoples homes and even been given accommodation by complete strangers on my travels especially in Japan.
I suppose Brits are a bit suspicious of strangers, its not a bad thing its part of my culture, though as a kid I was use to many people coming to our house, it was an open door, it is something I still practice, though not during lockdown, thankfully its an inherent part of my culture I still hold as important. Generally in Britain you need to make an appointment to visit people, its frowned upon if you just show up.
Marko met us from the taxi as he lives in a village just outside Odzaci, the structures in the village were built by the Germans, so it makes it a unique village in Serbia. Marko was such a gent, he had prepared food in his studio, his young son was being looked after by his grandmother, though a very active little guy, and loved his sugar! We looked at Markos artwork, but what caught my attention and I have to say I got quite excited was his steam punk inspired objects, radio's and lights. Marko is a trained engineer so can apply many skills to many things, he is also currently rebuilding his grandfathers house that he lives with his wife and son, so the the place was a bit of a construction site, but his studio was one of the tidy studios I have seen. This is one extraordinary guy, though he paints as an artist, he is also a commercial painter and creates large murals for local business and bikers clubs. I had seen a lot of his work around Odzaci before I ever met him.
His home use to be a pig farm, it is where his grandfather use to slaughter the pigs and cut up the meat, its amazing the work Marko has done on the house, still a lot of work to do but the garage has potential to be a gallery? Nenad perked up when he saw Markos fishing rods neatly hung on the wall, it reminded me of my dad as he was into fishing, its not something I did, but appreciate what other people get out from the activity, so the discussion went from art to fishing.
I came away feeling inspired, I felt I wanted to create something, I was motivated, as I had just done my performances at this point, I decided to make a Spike ball with the old costumes, (will speak about that a bit later). I have always said to people it is important that artists mix with each other, talk about their work, as we can inspire each other, it awakens up the the porthole of the imagination. (photos below of our visit to Marko's studio also one of Marko's murals on a local farm shop)
The performances happened at the Motel, a cloud of dust, broken glass, buckets of water filled the place. We took the building over. I performed on the first evening of the festival then we all performed in the same space the next day. It was a brilliant space to perform in, there was no restrictions to what we could do, we had the freedom to be true to ourselves and use the space as we see fit, in fact because of my performance the deep cleaner the space was ready for all of our performances the next day.
The second day of performing at the motel, the camera crew returned, they were quite shocked at the transformation, as they had filmed me in a cloud of dirt and dust before they left, so never got to see the outcome. Nenad and Sasa Denic-Spena and myself were performing live to the film crew, though we had difficulty with the live stream Andrijia was in the background trying to make everything work.
The day of the rabbit: Back in the UK I do a performance called first of the month where I dress up as a large white rabbit and sit on a wall in South West London near Barnes Bridge waving at traffic in the early hours. It was also first of the month when I arrived in Odzaci so I got up as normal and stood near my hotel waving at people going to work, it certainly turned heads, as seeing a white rabbit in the morning is something the residents of Odzaci don't see every day. I also organized to do a rabbit walk around the town, which was well received. I am hoping in the future in collaboration with IMAF we can create the day of the rabbit in Odzaci on a yearly basis?
The experience being in Serbia was nothing like I had been told it would be. My Government at the time tried to install fear and discourage people from travelling to Serbia even though it was on the safe list. Everything I read at the time was alarming, but this did not put me off. I have currently checked recent information on Serbia and it seems to have a lighter tone. The word essential travel is actually very difficult to define, but this is my life and I considered it to be essential. What it actually comes down to is insurance, who is going to pay for my medical bills if I became ill?
I made the decision to travel, the airport was empty, the plane was half empty, there was a fantastic safe structure in place, in fact it was safer to travel to Serbia than it was to travel through London on the underground where people were still at the time packing into the trains, without face covering. We all respected the guidelines, but here I was in a small town two hours from Belgrade still being as safe as I could be, taking all the necessary precautions, covering my face, washing my hands and limiting any physical contact with others.
The next performance was at Suluv Gallery in Novi Sad, again myself, Nenad and Sasa were performing. This time attended by a local art critic. The performance we did at the Motel was shown live on main stream Serbian news.
The making of the Spike ball:
the morning I left Marko Manics house as I said I was really inspired and motivated as I didn't want to throw away the clothing I wore for the deep cleaner performances, so went through various thoughts in my head what I could do, in the end I made a Spike ball, it was only once I had made it and photographed it at the motel and also around the village I gave it to Nenad for the up and coming exhibition at the Suluv gallery, the moment he saw it, Nenad just said "Its Corona Virus".
To be honest I hadn't actually seen it, I was so lost with the intention to do something with the objects and the contaminated clothing. All the photographs I had taken suddenly had a new meaning, it did actually look like the virus lurking around the village, as is the Covid virus, we cant see it but we know its present.
For the short time I was in Odzaci and Novi Sad because of attending IMAF20 festival, it was an incredibly productive time, creativity just flowed from me, a porthole had opened. I know from experience when it does you just have to seize it. I loved my time in Odzaci and also meeting many different artists through Nenad and Andrijia. Its amazing really to think a few months before we were destined to meet, I had never heard of IMAF or had ever come across Nenad.
I suppose if you are open to opportunities they are there if we have courage to seize them. I never questioned anything, in my heart all I knew I wanted to go, I was so unaware that the other artists had decided to have pulled out from attending due to the pandemic. As Nenad said that I came with nothing being offered and in doing so I had everything in abundance.
Now I am in London in the third lockdown, so have been trying to go through those jobs of putting work online and writing these blogs. Serbia was a delicious rich experience that fed my soul as an artist, one that I will treasure. I know it will never be like that again, but in my gutsy determination to attend I was rewarded with many new experiences, new performances and new art objects. The image of the Covid virus was used for IMAF catalogue and poster for exhibition at Suluv gallery.
During my performance at both venues I used some scrubbing brushes that I bought locally, again inspired by Marko Manic and his object making, I was able to see what to do with the brushes, so made them into super scrubbing skates, which were also shown in the IMAF20 exhibition and the Suluv Gallery in Novi Sad. I really enjoyed making in the hotel room as I turned it into a temporary studio.
THANK YOU Nenad, Andrijia, Nikola and Vesna and their team, Sasa and to you Marko (the steam punk magician!)
Thank you Serbia for embracing me with kindness and openness and the greatest gift to perform, make work and be present as an artist.
PLEASE NOTE: Most of the information I have written about the artist Nikola Dzafo has been copied from Nikola Dzafo's web site/s, which I have put information where you can get direct access to the sites mentioned.
In September 2020 in-between the ending of one lockdown and the beginning of another a porthole opened for me to attend the IMAF20 in Odzaci in Serbia (International Multi Media Art Festival), which I will write up a separate blog about my experience of being the only international artist that attended that years festival, due to world wide restrictions. The festival has been going for over twenty years, the founder is Nenad Bogdanovic, who runs it with a dedicated team.
2020 proved to be a challenging one for Nenad and his team, but somehow they managed to adapt, having forty artists from all over the world participating through online performance. www.imaf-festival.weebly.com
It was through Nenad I was introduced to the artist Nikola Dzafo who I had not heard off before, and this was my first trip to Serbia. Nenad kept telling me about an artist who paints rabbits and I must meet him. One night I got on the computer at the hotel and found Nikola's email and sent him a message with some photographs of my white rabbit performance and garden, which Nenad described as Man rabbit. The next day when I met up with Nenad he told me he had a call from Nikola and he would like to meet me, so we arranged to visit him and his wife and a group of artists/film makers at his home Petrovaradin in Novi Sad.
Photo above: White Rabbit with Nikola and his wife Vesna Dzafo and Filip Markovinović (film maker) and his son Vid,(assistant) Ivana Purtic, (Translator) Nenad Bogdanovic (IMAF founder/performance artist) Zeljko Grulovic (camera man) and Slobodon Stosic (camera man) Photograph bellow: Vesna, Filip, Ivana, Nikola, Vid. Nenad and myself were met at Novi Sad train station by the film maker Filip Markovinović where we were taking in a taxi to Petrovaradin to meet Nikola and Vesna. Filip has been making a documentary on Nikola and his artwork, and the arrival of man rabbit added something new to weave into the documentary. Above photograph with Vesna, Nikola, Vid, Filip, Nikola and Ivana
As the taxi drew up we were met by Vesna who gave us a warm greeting and beckoned us through the large steel gates, and then ushered is to the the garden at the back of the house. There was a gathering of artists, film makers and writers sitting at the outdoor table.
It was one of those moment it felt like a wonderful dream, we sat down to introductions and tea. I explained I had brought the rabbit costume and once it is on I am unable to speak so I will be under their control, just put me where you want me, and this they did. But before any filming began Vesna took me around her garden, it is autumn so we had missed everything in full bloom, but there was still enough vibrancy and colour to get a sense of the garden.
I was given a personal tour of the garden, Vesna knew every plant (In Latin!) I just smiled and nodded as I hadn't a clue what was what, but was in awe of her knowledge of plants. This to me was her pallet, Vesna's art. (Bellow is a photograph of white rabbit in Vesna's garden with Vid holding a rifle, don't worry it was part of the filming! Vid is Filip's son and assistant)
After coffee and tea (Coffee is Nikola's speciality, the alchemist at work in his kitchen!) Nikola gave me/man rabbit a tour of his museum, which is based in their kitchen, though not everything is out, only on open days. (please see slide show of part of the museums collection) Many objects have been collected over many years
You can find more details of the museum and its work on: http://zeckojijepojeomuzej.com/html/09-kontakt-e.html ( or type on internet The rabbit who ate a museum )
Nikola put up a rabbit to be president of Novi Sad: here is text from Dzafo's site: Action by Art Klinika and Radio 021 August/September 2004.
Dissatisfied with the city’s political culture and the artists’ status, Nikola Džafo, Art Klinika’s team-in-charge and Jovanka Zlatković with the Radio 021 team used the electoral campaign of candidates running for mayor of Novi Sad, and came up with the action “White Rabbit for Mayor of Novi Sad.” With mottos “I am a rabbit, not a dope” and “Fck infrastructure when you don’t have culture,” White Rabbit joined the electoral campaign. Because of the advantage in his biography over other candidates – quickness, good sight, sharp hearing, clean paws, life in harmony with nature and other positive characteristics – White Rabbit presented himself as champion of the city artists, and the campaign turned people’s attention to the unsolved problem of social security and health insurance for independent artists as well as the absence of a city gallery.
From August 2 to the end of September, Radio 021 broadcast jingles and reports that followed the campaign of White Rabbit: news, radio-stories, support of public persons, people surveys.
The site was also activated, and it followed the events surrounding the electoral campaign of its candidate. Daily newspapers were regularly informed about everything.
Biography from Nikola Dzafo web site: http://www.dzafo.com/biography/biografija.html Rođen 1950. u Novom Sadu. Diplomirao slikarstvo na Fakultetu likovnih umetnosti u Beogradu 1978, magistrirao na istom fakultetu 1981. Član Udruženja likovnih umetnika Srbije i Vojvodine. Od 1990. pasivizira bavljenje slikarstvom i maksimalno je aktivan u borbi za društvene vrednosti i umetnički dignitet. Idejni tvorac i pokretač grupe LED ART (1993), s kojom kreira i realizuje više od trideset projekata. Suosnivač Centra za kulturnu dekontaminaciju u Beogradu (1995) i Multimedijalnog centra "Led art" u Novom Sadu (2000). Iste godine, u podrumu u ulici Grčkoškolska 5, pokreće Art kliniku, s utopijskom idejom da umetnost može da menja i leči svet. Živi i radi u Petrovaradinu.
Born in 1950 in Novi Sad. He graduated in painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 1978, and received his master's degree from the same faculty in 1981. He is a member of the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia and Vojvodina. Since 1990, he has been passive in painting and has been maximally active in the fight for social values and artistic dignity. Conceptual creator and initiator of the LED ART group (1993), with which he creates and realizes more than thirty projects. Co-founder of the Center for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade (1995) and the Multimedia Center "Led Art" in Novi Sad (2000). In the same year, in the basement at 5 Grčkoškolska Street, he started the Art Clinic, with the utopian idea that art can change and heal the world. He lives and works in Petrovaradin.
Below photographs of man rabbit with Nikola Dzafo in the garden at his home. Thank your to the various people who photographed with my camera much appreciated
I was so fortunate to get to meet Nikola and Vesna, most of the conversation was done through translation. Because I was visiting in the capacity of the rabbit, it was difficult to relax, as most people do not realize that my mask is latex underneath, so it gets very hot, in fact the the whole costume gets hot wearing it, so I have to have a shower afterwards and it takes time for me to wind down.
Vesna and Nikola and their friends were incredibly supportive and took care of me, we ended the filming with man rabbit running up the street chasing people who did not want to take a carrot from the rabbit as they cycled off. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZLO5IWU7yg ( Run Rabbit Run Novi Sad Serbia )
Credit to Ivana Purtic for taking these photographs with my camera, much appreciated. These are all the people who appear in the above slide show. White Rabbit. Nikola Dzafo and his wife Vesna Dzafo. Filip Markovinović (film maker) and his son Vid, (assistant) Ivana Purtic, (Translator, who has also assisted in taken the photographs above) Nenad Bogdanovic (IMAF founder/performance artist) Zeljko Grulovic (camera man) and Slobodon Stosic (camera man) I will do more blog on Serbia: Next White Rabbit in Novi Sad.
PLEASE NOTE ALL ARTWORKS SHOWN IN THESE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE THE COPYRIGHT OF THE ARTIST NIKOLA DZAFO.
As 2020 drew to an end, I was left reflecting on how to create work within the restrictions of the UK Government, saying what we can and cannot do. It is difficulty to absorb the constant negative voices in the media, having to hear the word (Don't-Not allowed-be safe-do not mix with family or friends in other house holds. This has a great mental affect on all of us, though we are told that the arts have really suffered, and it isn't easy, for me being in the arts has always had it lack of funding and support especially in conceptual performance art. Music venues and Theatres are suffering, but in reality we are all suffering.
I wake up and ask myself what can I do as an artist, so came up with the idea of making my garden into an everchanging gallery and making installations. The recent one that I invited the community to make a face for 2021 to come together through art, using art as a way forward, to make our mark, being somewhere physical. My house is on a public pathway so it gets a fair share attention, its a small space but I managed to use it well.
I recently watched a film made behind the scenes, which was filmed around the area I grew up, its strange seeing the family house on film, and the streets I aimlessly wondered about as a youth. Check it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTrVLIVynyA
My aim was to try to keep myself motivated throughout the first lock down in the March in the UK, but after months being confined to the home, it does affect ones own morale and way of seeing things, the reality hits when we realise that all the freedom we once had, is for an unknown specific time is restricted. The internet has become the place to lose hours of time, regardless where it leads to or even if nothing happens.
In the media we constantly hear how difficult it is for the arts, but in reality, the arts have always struggled, this has only highlighted the issue and how it has really affected those who were in main stream arts such as theatre and music venues, but the other area of arts, such as artists and performance artists continue to struggle through the maze of applications if they are lucky to get one, or the maze of possible events to perform at, that are now cancelled, grants have been drying up for some time. Personally I do not rely on grants, but work, save and use my own funds to travel, but sadly like everyone else I have lost half my income, so this will restrict me even further.
I am filled with appreciation of what I do have, and can happily survive, but not being a one to sit about, I have been looking at to apply for a ph.D to research Embodying the myth and the folklore of the rabbit. But since Universities are also affected, my application seems to have got lost some where, and with lack of communication, this leaves me in silence, so I have no idea what to focus on now.
However I still manage to perform the rabbit every month and turn up at events for free, and till keep up this website and facebook etc. I walk around my home feeling lost, but I keep asking myself "What can I do as an artists?" One thing I have been doing is creating installations in my front garden, as its right on a busy path, so I get lots of people passing, and can hear their comments through the window, this makes me smile.
We have had a second lock down, but now just before Christmas there are rumours of London going into a third Lock down! However there is a vacine that has been rolled out, but we will not know how effective this is until the New Year. Who knows what the future holds for me and my practice, and maybe its time to give it up and get an office job or packing shelves, who know, but since work has dried up and performances opportunities are scarce, then I feel flat at the prospects that lay ahead.
I have heard for many years, how one must dedicate themselves to writing a blog, I thought I had, but during the months many other distractions have tempted me away from writing, so the blog slipped through my fingers.
During the lock down I managed to do lots of different on line performances, collaborated with people I would have never had the opportunity to. I am currently preparing to taking a performance called the Deep Cleaner to Serbia, which will be my first visit, armed with COVID19 advice and along with the organizers we are working with the restriction that the local government has requested that we follow.
My most exciting project is a book, From the Burrow to Barnes, ten years of white rabbit, which will be text and images, and will mark ten years of performing as Barnes White Rabbit. I am currently working with a local Barnes designer and look forward to get the book into print before the year is over.
A month later! That was a long two days break from writing.
I forgot that first of the month was approaching so got distracted by the performance and all the things I have to do that surrounds it behind the scenes kind of stuff, including writing White rabbits wisdom, uploading photographs and editing films, then what do I go and do!!! Fall of a f**ing ladder almost killing myself, so I have been in recovery since then, all because I was trying to save a Squirrel, that had been stuck in my chimney for two days, sending masses of rubble and soot down my chimney and into the bedroom, which means the whole room has to have an intense cleans, I had started, then more crap came down. In my wisdom I got a ladder went on to my flat roof to climb on to the main roof (six foot up) but using inadequate tools, is a sure call for a disaster waiting to happen.
I get up, realized it was slightly too small so decided to hold on to a hundred year old cast iron pipe that came away from the wall, then snapped and I went crashing on to the flat roof, hitting the skylight and the heavy cast iron pipe landed in my groin causing a lot of bruising and damage, I was unable to walk unaided, but have pushed through it, the strangest of experiences, was not being able to call an ambulance, as it is unclear during COVID19 what consists as an emergency, there was no broken bones, or internal damage as far as I know, but I did go into severe shock.
All I can say is I am very thankful to be alive. xxx
And now back to the blog!!
I got in my car and headed up the A1 playing my A1 song to Barnsley where I was going to stay with a friend who lives in Barnsley. Having arrived very early in the town before people were up and about. I walked through a very quiet town without costume and explored the local area. The market stalls slowly setting up.
I came across the Barnsley Chronicle and met a journalist there Oliver Dyson, We arranged that I will meet him after I had breakfast and will return as the rabbit, which I did in the meantime he did a bit of online research. It was an unusual story, but I was pleased to get someone to write something at the beginning of the A1 tour, it was a bonkers thing to do, but my main drive was also to check out how the social media works, which was eating away at my credit, but still I kept an online live update on the travels.
There were some wonderful and funny encounters as the rabbit, I was enjoying being in a different town, also seeing the reactions of people have never encountered white rabbit, of course lots of selfies and lots of laughing and "OMG did you see a fully sized rabbit?" I love the chance encounters, the unexpected meetings, in a lift, in car park, in a shop, in a church, in a cafe, in a market, anywhere that I just so happened to wander in. In general it was a lovely welcome to the tour.
Being inside the costume is a different experience to seeing someone else wear the costume, because it is a commercial product anyone can go and buy one and wear it.
I did a little campaign for a while where I was trying to get people to dress up as white rabbit with the slogan. "Anyone can be white rabbit" even using the tag "I am white rabbit".
There was one local acquaintance who took up the challenge, but he was actually six foot and looked very different to me, but interestingly, regardless of his own individuality, people still thought it was me, of course not everyone did, but it certainly swung some heads, especially when we both sat upon the famous wall by Barnes bridge waving at traffic.
It was quite nice having another person around, as it can be quite lonely and isolating, just me in a costume doing my own thing. The other rabbit was called David who was also quite an eccentric local, which worked really well, so for a while he joined in with some of the antics, dressing as a bull on a couple of occasions, also supporting me in documenting the performance. Anyway the partnership fell apart, as it does, and I carried on as the lone white rabbit, as the David rabbit disappeared back into his burrow.
It was fun just wandering around the streets, appearing randomly, doing random things as the rabbit, it certainly had something. Though I have tried to give it up, but was encouraged by many locals not to.
Of course as the artist, I often ask myself how can I capitalise on the performance of white rabbit? Actually its quite difficult to capitalise on the character, I have tried various things, but it doesn't work, I soon realized what works, is the randomness of it, don't try to control the performance, everything that has happened, publicity etc has all happened randomly, if I try to seek publicity, doors are closed, if I tried to sell out financially, it also doesn't work.
I cannot control the bugger, hes is an entity within itself, the rabbit is not for putting in a box, it flows with existentialism a nomadic trait, he's not an entertainer, he's just a bloke in a costume wandering around the streets of London. Paris, Philippines,Japan,Islamabad,Malta and various other places.
What does seem to work is letting people have a selfie, its a must have.
There is something about a selfie, its a moment, its an encounter. Wherever I have travelled, whatever country I am in, people love a good selfie. I have many but here is just a chosen few. A film maker, an artist, BCA team and bar man.
I often find wandering back home after a morning on the wall, someone comes running up to me desperate for a selfie as they have often told their friends that they had seen me, but no one believes them, so happy to comply.
On next blog I will talk about White Rabbits A1 tour! Yes you heard that right, I actually took the rabbit on tour of the A1 from London to Scotland driving on the A1 and stopping off at various towns, villages and iconic spots along the way, there is even a T-Shirt! Will do this over the next couple of days as have to hunt down all the images as there's quite a few, and it was fun, even taking part of mobile rave on Dunbar high street in Scotland.
I kept thinking in the back of my mind how do I gain more publicity for the rabbit performance?
I went through many ideas, but felt in the end what seems to work, is the randomness of the rabbit, he pops up and then disappears. I came up with the concept of getting people to gather or join white rabbit on first of April, what would it look like to have a group of people dressed up as their own animal and just wander through Barnes High street. I took those who did turn up for tea at the Olympic Cinema, it was nuts, here we were all dressed as animals sitting having tea and scones! It would certainly change the day, and if was successful I would do it the next year. I got in touch with the local Shelter charity so they gave me a T-shirt.
Marina White Raven a friend and collaborator brought female white rabbit and a wonderful woman who I recently met called Rebecca West who turned up as the fox.
Rebecca initially got in touch with me via the Barnes White Rabbit facebook page, saying she likes to dress up and would love to join me one day, as she had read about me in the local papers. I took her up on the offer to her surprise and like a trooper she joined in the antic of the rabbit, not only on the first but also during the local community Christmas street party. It was quite a site to witness, also I did it the next year joined by other friends and other people from the community. The rabbit has become a feature in the community, turning up at Easter cycling around the village and giving out Easter Eggs, supporting with the local BCA Easter Duck race, Christmas events, fair events, he certainly become a busy bunny with lots of people wanting selfies. Of course this was an opportunity for a local press story, which the Richmond and Twickenham Times took up. "Masked white rabbit has April Fools Tea Party with Fox and Gorilla" Fantastic headlines, it made me smile, and yes a fox also turned up, though the fox changed people as a friends son called Dom took over from Rebecca, it was such a funny site walking through the village on a Saturday morning in all our best animal outfits! Here is a link to RTT article. https://www.richmondandtwickenhamtimes.co.uk/news/15199660.pictures-masked-rabbit-of-barnes-has-april-fools-tea-party-with-fox-and-a-gorilla/
L.R.J The Gorilla with her handbag still puts me in states of laughter, as this is what it was all about having fun, having a laugh, making people laugh, its quite a site seeing a Gorilla, a fox, a female bunny and the rabbit all sitting waiting for a bus!
Its also nice to support local charities, the new Shelter Boutique had literally just opened, so we manged to get into to become for a brief moment a window display! Its got to bring a smile!!!
We went from one shop to the other bringing laughter and joy.
. Here is a link to a video of white rabbit and the snow woman dancing on Barnes High Street, this was Rebecca West first collaboration with the rabbit. Bless her cotton socks, she's a mover! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVkvcsGoBFU
Continuing the reflection of having the attention of the media at its affects. So who benefits from this? I felt initially grateful and humbled to have the experience of having my work publicised, but after two intensive days it all shuts down, I found all the doors closed after that, no one was interested, that was the story of the moment and it went as quickly as it arrived. I kept a keen eye on the development of the story and kept a sense of focus, but also asking myself did I managed to utilise the opportunity? I felt I did, I felt I was on top of it, since I am my own agent, publicist and have no one that does the publicity I did the best I could to make sure I seized the opportunity that came to me with all my heart.
For the press they got the story and the initial people re Evening standard being one of them put it on their website then the sun, the mail, the Guardian, the Times and many more papers I never knew existed put it up on their on-line paper. I hadn't actually really seen anything in physical print until friends kept telling me that they had seen it in the Metro or so and so paper. So the story went from print to on-line in a matter of days, and from there other organisations from across the world also put the story on their website.
For me I didn't really have a clue what to do next or where to go with it. as I had no-one to give me advice, I was fumbling my way through the media fog. The local radio station Radio Jackie took interest so I called them, but found the conversation rather strange as the interviewer was asking me "How do I know that you are who you say you are?" I said I would come to the station and meet in person, anyway the interviewer carried on interviewing and I praised radio Jackie as I had listened to it a lot heading over to Kingston when I was doing my BA at Kingston University. Here is a link to the a snip of the interview, they didn't include all of it. ( http://news.radiojackie.com/2016/11/it-seems-secret-identity-of-mysterious.html )
The overall headline was that the secret identity of the Barnes White Rabbit had been revealed, the strangest thing, it was never a secret in the first place and initially all I was really doing was trying to get a years worth of photographs to make a calendar. The press did pick up the story that I had been photographed with Zac Goldsmith Brithish MP and Boris Johnson who is now our prime minister, though he was Mayor at the time. The image of Boris and myself popped up in lots of different papers and stories, some political and some using it to demean Boris. Recently it did appear on have I got news for you on British Television.
What was interesting for me is that as the artist behind the costume I was never credited, it was always just the rabbit image. I think this is why the image is used often as it could be anyone under the costume, so they have free range with the image. The image here is me with my local MP Zac Goldsmith who was also photographed along with me and Boris Johnson. It was all because of Gyles Brandreth who was hosting a demonstration in South West London in protest against Heathrow having a new runway built. My partner suggested I should pop up, I wasn't really interested but decided that I should go and check it out. I turned up put the costume on and noticed a crowd standing in a semi-cirlce with a race track visible, so I ran up and down the race track then Gyles invites me on to the stage, so I sat with a woman on a bench, then minutes later Zack arrived and after that so did Boris Johnson, and everyone headed away from the stage. I recall climbing down and made my way through the press and walked straight into the middle of Zac and Boris and the rest is history, that is how that particular image happened, of course the press loved it, this was well before the unmasking of white rabbit.
White rabbit had existed long before the famous unmasking, but like most things when it hits the main stream media, its becomes a fresh story. I know from others who have been in the media, how do you sustain that kind of attention, if that's what you seek? This is what it does, it is like having a carrot dangling in front of you and you begin to chase it.
When the photograph of me Zac and Boris started appear in papers I found many local people loved it, as they knew who it was, since the rabbit began part of a local overseas friendship, which I have mentioned previously somewhere. I was the worst kept secret. (Will stop for now and continue on Monday, so will have a break and enjoy the weekend whatever the limitations of lockdown.)
To pick up from yesterday blog making headlines. Artists like myself crave for public attention, it is part of the performance cultures otherwise I do not think we would ever want to perform or seek out public ways to express the presence of the self. I am not alone as there are thousands upon thousands of people trying to make their mark on the world stage, to become a house hold name, become a known artist, to feel that what you do is appreciated other than yourself and the bathroom mirror. Take the UK entertainment program X Factor and Britain's got talent is a controlled platform where if you are successful you will have your fifteen minutes in front of the camera.
I have seen a couple of performers who describe themselves as performance artists on Britain's got talent but then they return back to the world they came from, as what they are presenting the main public is too strange for them, but there again not strange enough as it is tame enough to at least show their performance on BGT. I have friends who have one way or another cracked it and managed to get the publicity that they need to continue in promoting the work they have created. My friend Delilah Jay caught the attention of the world media when she entered the Trevi fountain in Italy and was the first person to be fined for entering the fountain, it was sensational and she sparked in the attention. Delilah Jay is an extraordinary woman dealing with some personal issues with having her son taken from her and being thrown out of her house by her son's father, her work for me is amazing and there is a lot of it so here is a link to here site so you can look up for yourself the many adventures though some painful that Delilah Jay encounters. http://delilah-jay.com/ Some of the headlines from the media was spectacular, they found a thread and picked up on: "19/07/2016 · Identified as Delilah Jay, the woman is the author of a book entitled "Mistress - The Italian Way", and a former model who posed topless for the German tabloid Bild at the age of 52."
I know Delilah was delighted with the world wide attention as I was when the press wrote about the white rabbit performance. Its an interesting experience, suddenly there is the moment of feeling a sense of being acknowledged and recognized for the work you do. For those few moments of people reading about your work, checking your social media sites, talking about it, if I am honest is a great feeling, I have been validated! There was something nice going off to meet a journalist to talk about your work, then the anxious wait to see what they have written, can be a bit addictive, with the need of wanting more. I was contacted by a student studying journalism at Kingston University and wanted to interview me, so we met up in Kingston and talked about the experience of becoming known as white rabbit.
Meka Beresford wrote a much more detailed interview that was more original content than the mass media as most borrowed from each other, apart from Richmond and Twickenham Times and The Evening Standard who broke the original story. Here is a link to Meka's original interview. https://riveronline.co.uk/?p=15134 Today this remains my favorite article as it talks more about my wider work other than just white rabbit and also my background at Kingston University. Also here is Meka's recent links as I think she is now a practicing journalist. https://muckrack.com/meka-beresford
At the time a dear friend of mine was dying with cancer, so while all the media attention was going on, I spent every day with him and also in his last moments by his bedside. It was a real anchor, it kept my feet firmly on the ground as its so easy to get swallowed up by the ego and distracted by something that is just a blip rather a long after life. To be honest the whole attention thing lasted for two days, but pretty intense two days, once the world had swallowed up the story, its was gone, and I was left spinning, thinking, what was all that about. Over time I have learnt the impact it had, I wasn't really aware of it, because it was more about the rabbit than it was about me.
It does leave you with a sense of wanting more, its addictive, the need to read about yourself, the need to say to people, "see I am an artist". I decided not to hang up the mask but carried on with first of the month and other larking about with the rabbit, attending rallies, demonstrations, fairs, or just cycling around on my green Japanese bike around the local area, which is quite a site. (I will come to a stop here but will talk more about making headlines tomorrow)