Crossing Voices - a Venice diary

Crossing Voices is the kind of project I will always want to be a part of. A project that was so resonant to experience, it’s ruined others by comparison and informed me massively on how I want to develop my own stuff. I got to spend nearly a week in Venice, learning from and sharing with 5 brilliant poets, a remarkable curator, working toward genuinely innovative work, in the shadow of a Venetian venice, well away from the Disneyland city I had experienced before. Just a privilege from the first moment to the last.

Crossing Voices is the child of Alessandro Mistrorigo, who is part of the faculty at the University in Venice, and who had connected with James Wilkes in the UK, and being part of the collective Mopha with Jamie, and Emma Bennett, who also attended, I found myself invited to be part of the program. The format had six of us, three Brits and three Italians, spending three days together in the Cultural Flow Zone (!) workplace connected to the library of the University, which was pretty much on the water in Venice, developing six brand new pieces of collaborative work, each led by one of us, and involving the other five of us. These six pieces would be performed back to back at a night in the University.

To make this work was an extraordinary achievement on Alessandro’s part, to choose the right people, to make sure the context of their experience together was conducive to the work, to emphasise the process and shape the direction. It was an amazingly energising experience to be part of, the works were so exploratory and there really was the space to workshop things, take things into new directions, and all of us were together in risking that. Such a rare thing, to have the time and space to really collaborate. The Italian poets were all young, humble, eccentric and authentic – Alessandro Burbank, a gentle bear like presence who would descend on the group as quickly as he would disappear, a true Venetian, who mediated the city for us. Andrea Leonessa, immensely open, intense, technologically considered and genuinely innovative. Ariadne Radi Cor – a poet, but also a live writer, a penwoman, a gentle, visual presence.

We arrived straight into a reading in a gallery on Guidecca, or Judgment Island, getting a full whack of the really interesting local poets, who read with video or music accompaniment, and seemed really open to the more conceptual, avant garde work we were presenting. Emma did a beautiful birdsong performance, and Jamie, his wonderful delayed feedback strokeout work. I did some new performative stuff from Fights, I thought it was a bit naff in the end, punching the air, stuttering, but I wanted to try it. We were introduced to each other through this reading, the group was exposed to each other before we would spend three days in close quarters, in a room, having to trust each other, push each other, before a looming performative deadline.

The first day we shared the concepts we had prepared before the meeting, ideas that were reasoned but not fully formed, and the complimentary nature of the directions we wanted to go in was immediately apparent. I wanted to use the project to try something to do with song, with choral multivocal techniques that use multiplicity to mediate atonality, something Im interested in because I cant sing. I used a lot of musical references to introduce, sacred harp singing, Calabrian fishing work songs, Swans. Emma developed a piece based on repetition, and unfamiliar languages, that evolved live into a brilliant Chinese whispers circle, where we would race around our hexagon, mauling words and phrases as they passed from mouth to mouth. James had brought some amazing visual materials, acetate and inks, and gave us the chance to create collaboration asemic and calligraphic works. These were developed and then read as scores by us in pairs, Cobbing esque, reading abstraction as noise. Andrea designed a program that read his voice, awkwardly, and read into his computer while playing a flight simulator, leaving James, Emma and I to live interpret the bastardised text that would scroll out after he spoke. Ariadne used his full range of skills to actually shoot and edit a beautiful short film over the 3 days, and Alessandro created a really complex psychogeographical live skype performance with Greek chorus accompaniment, half translations, security camera streaming and live google searches. Hard to explain.

The works developed over hours and hours, but over our breakfasts and our evening meals as much as in the workshop. We were treated to local treatment, masses of seafood, black spaghetti, long walks through the city, live translations, Venetian wit and hospitality. The entirety of the experience was genuinely absorbing, and for me, a week back from an equally overwhelming experience in Iraq, in which time I contracted norovirus and was in fever blindness, I felt like everything was somehow more immediate for feeling so ethereal. Venice has that about it, when you can get it without feeling utterly outside. The company of the people made it, channelled so carefully by the gentility and intelligence of James and Alessandro.

I loved the experience of the performance itself, really rare to feel collaboration as truly collective. The audience seemed to feel that, that they were invited to become a further extension of what had become a miniature, fleeting community of artists. The war of it brought us into friendships too, having to balance so many elements creatively and performatively, and to step outside of our normal zones. The final night, like the others, was spent around a food filled table, talking, until late, until we got the boat home. Sad to leave it behind, but I am sure it won’t be the last note of a remarkable thing. I’m very lucky I was a small part of it.