Since she’s one of the driving forces behind the Vagina Monologues at Acud on Friday the 13th, I remembered how much appreciation I have for Lady Gaby. It’s not just the mysterious and tantalizing evidence of her resolutely cutting-edge performances here, there and everywhere. She invited me along to do my first ever public reading of my book. I didn’t know then that Lady Gaby’s spoken word night is a magnet for experimentally minded artists, a laboratory where obscure gems are turned into crazy diamonds. The performances push boundaries, the performers’ and the audience’s, unafraid to fall. This is why I liked it so much. I started wondering, how did she get into that? So I asked…
indieberlin: You live in Berlin. Where did you come from and why, and are you here to stay?
Gaby Bila: I first came to Berlin in 1989 at the time of the fall of the wall. In the late 90s I returned to Melbourne to finish my studies and have a break from the typical Berlin lifestyle: excess parties, small flats with no bathrooms, phones and jobs that didn’t fit my experience or intellect. I wanted to study writing and editing in Melbourne. My first thing was to live in a warehouse that was 460 m2 since in Berlin my flats were always very small, dark and in courtyards. I took my spoken word performances to another level, bringing the confidence and style from Berlin but having an English speaking audience. In 2002 hungry to tour and have a larger audience, I came back to Berlin and have stayed since. I love Berlin and I am here to stay. Australia is a great country, however too far away to get constant influx of ideas and inspirations for my performances.
At the moment, Word Bank is a travelling show where I present it under the umbrella of other events, festivals or venues
indieberlin: You and I met through your WORD BANK open mic poetry night. How long have you been doing these?
Gaby Bila:Word Bank spoken word show is the monthly show that I have been organising since one or so years. However I did host and organise Fuel music and performance poetry show for five years, and Moving on with Verses spoken word show, as well as hosting various evenings at my private studio, Wonderbar in xberg. My aim was always to bring music and poets together on the same stage. At Wonderbar I hosted many international artists as well as launched books, cds, ran creative writing workshops for many years. I had to move on and reinvent the shows at new venues. At the moment, Word Bank is a travelling show where I present it under the umbrella of other events, festivals or venues. At all those shows, I have had the most amazing moments and met the most surreal performers too.
indieberlin: A little story from one of your nights?
Gaby Bila:One night at the MOVING ON WITH VERSES, one of the performers was completely naked and read her poetry with a video camera inside her pussy, projected large on the video screen behind the stage. That was something to watch and attracted so much attention from the outside that we had to close the curtains to keep the curious eyes away. Another night was during the Word Bank, where I performed inside a lamp. I always allow the performers to feel free to express themselves and nothing is taboo. The other week, we hosted the show outdoors at villa Kuriousium, in winter with a fire inside a hole in the ground, the audience watched us from above. One of the performers at the end got completely naked while still reading his novel.
indieberlin: Why Spoken Word?
Gaby Bila:I love spoken word, it’s honest, raw and in your face. I don’t hide behind my words and I don’t tease. I am for real. Lately I have been pushing my spoken word into the realm of performance art, and I use props, costumes and beats in order to embellish the words.
Since our senses have been so overloaded by technology, media and mixed visual art, the word is making a comeback
indieberlin: Spoken word is hard to define. For me. Can you throw some light on that?
Gaby Bila:I have been trying to let people know that spoken word show isn’t the same as a slam, but it’s a form and genre of its own. Spoken word can be part of the slams, but so can poetry or readings. Since our senses have been so overloaded by technology, media and mixed visual art, the word is making a comeback as audiences just want to hear what performance poets have to say.
indieberlin: What about your creative work in other areas…
Gaby Bila:I also do art collages, make installations and visual art as well as jewellery out of trash and found objects, plastic waste, feminine and kitchen objects. I run creative workshops in schools and art ones in kindergarten. I have acted in films and in theater as well. I love theater. I feel very comfortable on stage. I dabble in DJing too.
A great deal of comedy that is aimed at tourists is also very dominant
indieberlin: The Anglo-creative community in Berlin — How do you remember it, how do you see it now?
Gaby Bila:It has been growing rapidly over the last few years. Many creative individuals pass through or decide to settle here short and long term. However, in the last few years I have noticed that expats who come on grants, money from parents or other sources had an easier time than the rest of us and they don’t necessarily produce work that is cutting edge or typically experimental of this city. They transplant often a great deal of their own culture and promote it here and only use Berlin as their background, so it’s convenient.
It feels that Berlin is being swept from under our feet to belong to the masses
A great deal of comedy that is aimed at tourists is also very dominant and most venues that only want to make money are more than happy to support them. In the old days, it was the other way around. The weirder the show, the more audience and interest it got. I would hate to see that the English community are only here to entertain and be entertained rather than to explore and experiment their artistic endeavour. I see that the spoken word scene as well as the experimental one stay underground mainly..which is great to an extent but disappointing on another level. It feels that Berlin is being swept from under our feet to belong to the masses who only want to be entertained and not to get to know this city’s amazing creative scene. However having said that, I am still amazed how many interesting projects start here on a weekly basis and spaces that still exist in obscure parts of this city. I love a lot of the music made in this city as long as it’s not mainstream and straightforward or pop. Keep it weird I say, cos in Berlin everything goes.
indieberlin: Who or what inspires you?
Berlin. This city, its street art, its architecture, its vastness, its DDR buildings, its abandoned sites and its contradictions. The freedom we encounter in this city is unique and the cultural events each day are a head spin. The history of Berlin is unique, and we’re in such a special creative community because of the historical background of this evolving city. Berlin is still a village but with so much energy and happenings that it puts many large cities to shame. The fact that consumerism isn’t the main pulse that drives and shapes Berlin is a reason for me to live and evolve creatively here.
The international literature and poetry festivals ignore the local talents and often don’t reach out enough
indieberlin: A few words about literature, books, and culture…
Gaby Bila:In Berlin the literary scene is rich, diverse, multicultural. I loved some events that the South American poets and zine makers put on in various languages. The Russian community has its own venue theater where they organise readings, plays and slams in their own language. Many bilingual slams promote and discover new talent. English book stores have multiplied and now host readings and other events. Writers here can be exposed and find an audience. However, the international literature and poetry festivals ignore the local talents and often don’t reach out enough. Our shows don’t get asked to be included in their agendas or their happenings. The publishing companies don’t make an effort to visit and look for new talents. We self-publish, on low budgets, all the time. It would be nice for poets to be discovered and promoted. Also, I want to see more writers finish their novels and not just talk about writing.
Polly Trope, author of Cured Meat, talked to Gaby Bila, who is performing in The Vagina Monologues at Acud on Friday 13th. Lucky for some…
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.