MisplacedWomen?

Archive for February, 2017|Monthly archive page

Bojana Videkanić holding the “Misplaced Women?” sign on the Toronto Airport and diving into her profoundly touching memories about her initiation into the life of a refugee escaping Sarajevo siege in 1992

In Airports, Borders, Signs, Stories, Toronto on February 16, 2017 at 6:20 pm

On October 12 2016. Bojana Videkanić was holding the “Misplaced Women?” sign on the Pearson International Airport in Toronto and was diving into her profoundly touching memories about her initiation into the life of a refugee escaping Sarajevo siege in 1992 and her and her family life as refuges in the UK, Croatia and Canada. She wrote about it:

Missing Women: Some Thoughts As to Why I Became Missing While Waiting for Tanja Ostojić

By Bojana Videkanić October 2016-February 2017.

Last year I invited Tanja Ostojić to present her work at the 7a*11d International Performance Art Festival in Toronto. As one of the members of the Toronto Performance Art Collective, I have been wanting to invite Tanja to come to our festival for some time. She generously accepted and came in October 2016. In our conversations and planning prior to her arrival, Tanja asked me to help her by doing a specific action when she landed in Toronto. She asked me to create a sign and hold it while waiting for her at the Pearson International Airport. She told me that the sign should read: “Misplaced Women” which is also the title of Tanja’s piece that she was going to perform on October 16 at a tram stop downtown Toronto at the corner of McCaul and Dundas streets. Tanja gave me a choice to, if I wanted to, put a question mark at the end of the statement. I was happy to do the action and I made the sign, deciding to put a question mark at the end. My choice to do so was guided by the fact that Pearson is a large and busy place and I suspected that the sign will be noticed if I keep it ambiguous. I, however, was not considering the impact Tanja’s work would have on me.

The day came and I arrived 30 or so minutes earlier in order to keep the action a bit longer, to give it some time to play out. While standing there at the international arrivals gate, I had some time to think about the action I was performing (standing in the middle of the great airport hall with an ambiguous sign in my hands) and what its ramifications might be. There were a couple of important thoughts I had that came about as a result. First, throughout my action I realized that I was initiating Tanja’s performance, as it became obvious that my interactions with the accidental audiences were a catalyst for a discussion around borders, policing of bodies, and (in)visible violence of that. In short, I realized that Tanja’s performance has begun as people gawked at me. Secondly, I realized the echoes of Tanja’s work in our ‘local’ Canadian context with the missing and murdered indigenous women, and the impact it had in the light of Syrian crisis and the inability of the world actors to see the refugees as human beings. What I did not expect was my own physical reaction to the sign and the moment as I became missing in it.

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On October 12 2016, Bojana Videkanić holding the “Misplaced Women?” sign on the Pearson International Airport in Toronto and diving into her profoundly touching memories about her initiation into the life of a refugee escaping Sarajevo siege in 1992 and her and her family life as refuges in the UK, Croatia and Canada. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

It became obvious at that moment that the sign “Missing Women” was not about some other missing women (although of course it is about many thousands if not millions of them) but that it was also about my own experiences of borders and violence. It brought me back some 20+ years back to 1992, and my 15-year-old self, a confused, frightened child who, in a matter of few weeks between April 6 and April 20 1992, became a refugee. At the time I did not know what that meant, but I learned quickly. When my hometown of Sarajevo came under siege and the first grenades fell, my desperate, naïve parents wanted to save me, to protect me, so they found a way to put me on one of the last planes leaving the city to go to Belgrade and then on to London, England. I will never forget the scene of desperation at the Sarajevo Airport as hundreds and hundreds of people gathered to try to get their small children, parents and other family onto Kikash military plains. Pleading with important-looking military officers, with their long lists of people’s names, to let them through––crying, begging, consoling, desperate. Through some miracle my parents managed to get me on one of those lists and on one of the planes. They gave me a few of our family photos (so that I wound not forget them and where I come from), my mom lovingly packed my sinus medication and some clothes, and told me that I will be back at the end of the summer when the war will be over, and with my English much improved. And so I went, with my grey, Yugoslav child passport (which in fact was no longer valid as we were living through the breakup of the country), 500 deutsche marks, my photos, and a book. As Kikash plane lifted off (in fact this was my very first time being on the plane) I sat on the floor of its enormous belly with a couple of hundred other people not really knowing where I was going and what will happen to me when I get there. I was all alone, a child who never travelled without her parents, going to some unknown future.

Three days later I was on a plane ride to London, England with another boy, a son of my parents’ friends. The two of us were going to his aunt who accepted to take me in for the short period until I was to return home to Sarajevo. As the airplane approached Heathrow airport I became very anxious and scared. We landed and I was immediately detained by the UK customs and immigration. I was held in an interrogation room for six hours. I had to take all my clothes out of my bag, they took my family photos and asked me about each person in the photo and where they were, they asked me about my sinus medication, about how much clothes I had, and why I was travelling, do I know what is happening to my country? They even asked me about Ernest Hemingway’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the one book that I managed to take out of my parents’ library as I was leaving (the book I cannot bring myself to read again). It is hard to describe that feeling of being helpless, of being at the mercy of people in uniform, and especially being that way as a child. Like a caged animal my heart pounded, I was shaking, and I cried. I cried as all those things that the immigration officers looked through were really the last things that I could say were mine, these were the last remnants of my childhood, of my family life, and of my country, even those darn sinus pills… My entire life on display, my entire life in one suitcase, now an object of conversation for immigration officers, and evidence of my status.

Finally, I was let through, they decided that my friend’s aunt who waited for us was credible. This was my initiation into the life of a refugee. From that moment on, I moved with my suitcase from family to family, twice in London (during the 2 month stay there), and some ten times later on when I lived as a refugee in Croatia. At one point while still in London, I was supposed to be moved for the third time with an unknown woman, but when that did not work out the people with whom I was staying decided that I should be given over to the Child Services (as having a 15-year old in the house was too much for them). I couch-surfed most of the time, slept in peoples’ baby rooms next to their kids’ cribs, in their master bedrooms on the floor, in spare rooms, living rooms, all kinds of rooms. I learned to hold my pee in so that I would not have to be in the bathroom when owners of the house were in the house. I learned to take fast showers, I learned to eat when no one was looking (usually late at night). I learned how to walk without making a sound, how to use a hand towel, soap, shampoo, or kitchen utensils so that they would look like no one has used them. I learned to be sparing with creams, food, cookies so that it would not look like someone has eaten them. I learned to be invisible, how not to be noticed by police, by men, by security. I learned how to pack my bag quickly so that I can move out fast. I learned that refugees are not welcomed, that we are perceived as a burden, not just to the state and all its mechanisms, but often to extended families, friends, and even do-gooders who think that they can take in refugees into their home but cannot deal with someone actually living with them, taking their space.

I, however, also met some amazing people on the way, selfless, caring people like my mom’s friend who took me and my family in with her son for four months. Or like a doctor from the Doctors Without Borders who I met on the street and in our conversation I told him that my parents are doctors in Sarajevo and that I was not sure if they are dead or alive as all the phone lines were down and I did not speak to them in two months. He told me that he will find my parents as he was going back to Sarajevo and deliver my letter. And he did! (that was how my parents found out I was ok and alive).

Finally, I also learned that my parents were broken by the war, the strong, independent people I knew before April 1992 were now broken physically, mentally, and professionally. When both my parents came out of the besieged Sarajevo (my mom at the end of 1992, and my dad at the end of 1994) and when we lived as refugees in Croatia awaiting papers to immigrate to Canada or Australia, I saw my parents waiting in line for food donations, for refugee status, clothes, aid, they were lost and defeated, depressed. My dad has severe PTSD which was never dealt with. The defeat only continued when we came to Canada, when my parents had difficulty learning English, not being able to find a job, being too old to go to school (early-to mid 50s) but too young to retire, struggling; my father going to a local Food Bank getting food, working on construction site as a construction worker, my mom working with developmentally disabled adults and being attacked and bitten. Yes, standing there at the arrivals gate at Pearson Airport became an embodied performance of myself missing and my parents missing. I was that 15-year old kid again, trying to find myself.

Finally, another important thought I had at that moment of waiting for Tanja, as I had some confused looks from passersby, was that people could recognize the signs, they could recognize the ambiguity of what Tanja was stating. Several people stopped and asked what the sign was about. One man came around as asked where are these misplaced women? He was confused… I replied that it was a part of Tanja Ostojić’s art work relating it to refugees and migrant women, but also used the opportunity to address a more pressing Canadian context of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women and the current inquiry into this tragedy (https://www.nwac.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/

Fact_Sheet_Missing_and_Murdered_Aboriginal_Women_and_Girls.pdf). A female security guard came to me asking about the sign, she approached and said, ”You know you will get a lot of people asking about the sign,” “they will think you might have some answers for them…” Then she said, “you know, I am misplaced too…” These interactions with the security, passersby, people who wait for family and friends, and being at the airport, opened up a whole other conversation about invisibility of violence, of invisibility and visibility of women who are marginalized, who are placed at the mercy of governmental mechanisms, police, immigration, child welfare, welfare and unemployment services, ministry of Indigenous affairs, lawyers, immigration courts. It became clear then that this performance was placing an ethical and moral obligation on the passersby as it directly asked them to confront the question/statement on the sign I made for Tanja.

I write this as the Syrian refugees are fleeing their country just like I did 20+ years ago. I write this as Trump has barred people from entering US, I write this as frozen refugee claimants are crossing the US/Canada border at -40˚C, I write this as an official Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women is just taking place 40+ years in, I write this as hundreds of unaccompanied minor children are prevented from entering UK (as the government stopped its program to help them,) I write this as women and children are still going missing––no questions asked… Tanja Ostojic’s performance which asks that question is therefore more important then ever. Standing in the crowd with a sign “Missing Women?” at this moment becomes an ethical and moral confrontation, one that troubles the age of invisibility. And at a time of alternative truths, the truth of those who are marginalized truth is the one that matters, and only one that cannot be erased in the swamp we call the Internet.

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Bojana Videkanić is an artist, art historian and curator. Originally from Bosnia and Herzegovina, who came to Canada as a refugee. Videkanić now lives in Canada where she teaches at the University of Waterloo and is a member of the curatorial board of the 7a*11d International Performance Art Festival.  7a*11d festival, now in its 20th year, is one of the oldest and largest performance art festivals in Canada. The 7a*11d collective gathers over 20 international and national artists for each of its biannual festivals that takes place in the fall in Toronto: http://7a-11d.ca/  #7a11d2016

Please see as well:

https://misplacedwomen.wordpress.com/2016/12/15/misplaced-women-performed-by-tanja-ostojic-dedicated-to-the-missing-and-murdered-indigenous-women-in-canada-sunday-october-16-in-front-of-the-art-gallery-of-ontario-7a11d-2016-toronto-can/

https://misplacedwomen.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/misplaced-women-sign-on-pearson-international-airport-in-toronto/

Shannon Mulvey unpacked her bag on December 14 2016 by the oak tree on the River Lee at the border of Hackney Wick and Stratford London..

In London, Stories, Workshops on February 13, 2017 at 10:06 pm

Shannon Mulvey unpacked her bag on December 14, 2016 by the oak tree on the River Lee at the border of Hackney Wick and Stratford London, in the frame of “Misplaced Women?” performance workshop in the public space lead by Tanja Ostojić, hosted by LADA.

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Shannon Mulvey unpacked her bag on December 14, 2016 by the oak tree on the River Lee at the border of Hackney Wick and Stratford London, in the frame of “Misplaced Women?” performance workshop in the public space lead by Tanja Ostojic

While discussing the experiences and issues of displacement of our workshop collective, I began to remember a story that my mother had told me of my grandparents’ assimilation into British culture and their experience of xenophobia. My grandparents on both sides immigrated from Ireland at the age of 16. Reflecting upon my 16 year old self, I could not have even conceived leaving home never mind immigrating. Yet all of my grandparents left their small villages in rural south west Ireland to seek a better life across the water in the UK. Shortly after arriving in the UK they were welcomed by signage clearly stating “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” on nearly every tenement building and work place. With opportunities lacking, it was desperate times but my grandmother managed to find a small room in which she and her husband could stay. The only rule was no children. Hiding her pregnant stomach, Eileen accepted the room and continued to keep her now heavily pregnant stomach under wraps. A few months later, my uncle Michael was born. However, Michael was fully deaf and suffered from colic which caused him to scream loudly with the pain of the infection.

Trying desperately to protect her livelihood and save her family from being thrown out onto the streets of London mid-winter, Eileen tried desperately to calm her distressed child.

It was no time before the land lady; who was also Irish but had immigrated years before, found out about the child and threw the family out onto the streets.

Although Eileen and Paddy felt abandoned and alone in a new country, they knew they could always rely on the help of one thing- the generosity of the Irish community who had immigrated alongside them and become kind hearted friends throughout the process. A friend they had met on the boat over offered them a place to stay and soon they began to settle back into London life.

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Shannon Mulvey unpacked her bag on December 14, 2016 by the oak tree on the River Lee at the border of Hackney Wick and Stratford London, in the frame of “Misplaced Women?” performance workshop in the public space lead by Tanja Ostojic

It saddens me that this story was reminded to me by the shared stories of xenophobia and mistreatment of immigrants discussed within our “Misplaced Women?” workshop. It is documented that the recent rise of racist attacks occurring within the UK took place immediately following the UK’s Brexit vote determining the country’s’ decision to leave the EU. I think it is a vital point in history in which to take action and challenge this racist rhetoric that is being promoted and to take pride in our mission as artists to make work that recognises and resists racist prejudice.

As a theatre maker, it was a truly enriching experience to be able to work collaboratively with such talented artists and to be inspired and informed by their vast and varied processes and modes of thinking and creating; which is a pedagogy I have not encountered thus far in my training as a performer. It was absolutely wonderful working with Tanja Ostojić.

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Shannon Mulvey has been trained on the American Theatre Arts course at Rose Bruford drama school. Whilst studying she spent an exchange semester in Chicago where she worked professionally with the avant-garde, experimental theatre company Trapdoor Theatre. After graduating in June 2016 and receiving a first class degree, she founded the theatre company Sisters of Eden, a feminist performance collective that makes work that challenges patriarchal, hetero-normative ideologies and celebrates the female form.

Check them out on:

Twitter &Instagram: @Sistersof3den

Facebook: Sisters of Eden

Misplaced Women?/ Misplaced Nature? by Camilla Canocchi in the Westfield Shopping Mall Stratford London, December 14 2016.

In London, Performances, Shopping Center, Workshops on February 12, 2017 at 5:12 pm

In the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s “Misplaced Women?” workshop hosted by Live Arts Development Agency London, Camilla Canocchi realised on December 14 2016, a very charming 10 minutes long performance on displacement of nature in the context of gentrification, in the Westfield Shopping Mall, Stratford London. She wrote about it the following:

Misplaced Women?… Misplaced Nature?

I unpacked my backpack at the base of a tree, planted in a flowerbed with fake plants on the top floor of the Westfield shopping mall in Stratford. Among my belongings were five bird whistles I have been working with recently and decided to play them, one by one, while looking at the tree, allowing pauses to hear a reply, which, as I expected, never came.

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Camilla Canocchi performing “Misplaced Women?… Misplaced Nature?” with bird whistles in the Westfield Shopping Mall, Stratford London, December 14 2016. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

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Camilla Canocchi performing “Misplaced Women?… Misplaced Nature?” with bird whistles in the Westfield Shopping Mall, Stratford London, December 14 2016. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

 

Call and response: it’s a game we play everyday, trying to communicate with each other, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. Being in a foreign country, speaking a different language, trying to connect with people around us – this is something we have all experienced at some point in our lives. When communication fails, it’s easy to feel misplaced, isolated, lonely. Some, like migrants and homeless people, experience this much more often than others.

And then there’s nature. The area of Stratford and its surroundings – where we have toured with Tanja Ostojić and the workshop participants – that has undergone a process of complete gentrification in recent years, mostly as a result of the Olympic Games held there in 2012. The enormous shopping centre, next to the Olympic Stadium with its artificial environment, was built there for this reason. Where is the nature that once belonged there? Where are its inhabitants? Gentrification misplaces people, and nature too.

 

Camilla Canocchi is a writer and performance artist based in London

Photos: Tanja Ostojić

Teresa Albor´s performances, The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick and Westfield Shopping Mall, Stratford London, December 13 and 14, 2016. in the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s “Misplaced Women?” in LADA

In Borders, London, Performances, Shopping Center, Stories, Workshops on February 12, 2017 at 3:31 pm

In the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s “Misplaced Women?” workshop hosted by Live Arts Development Agency London and Elena Marchevska, Teresa Albor realised a series of two very strong performances on displacement:

December 13, 2016, The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick, 2-4pm

December 14, 2016, Westfield Shopping Mall, near Olympic Park, Stratford, 1:45-2pm

On December 16, 2016 she wrote the following related statement:

Packing up the large objects this morning, the bright orange life jacket (child size), the beaded scarf, the soft black little girl’s jacket.  The smell— part smoke, part sweat, musty, human.  Then the small objects—into the orange envelopes and then the zip lock bag, the bits and pieces of jewelry, including the fragile, fragile necklace, all tangled up, hopelessly tangled up.

I imagine,the women who are preparing to be evacuated from Aleppo this morning.  They are packing up what little they can bring.  Little girls (perhaps oblivious), teenage girls (dreaming of a future?), mothers (thinking of their children’s needs).

Clio looks good in red so I have bought her a red dress.  Libby wants a particular book for her medical studies.  I put the red dress in a black box and tie a red ribbon around it.  I wrap the book in silver paper.

Someone else, once carefully packed the things I brought to Hackney Wick. All these objects once belonged to others, who took risks, who are hopefully somewhere where they feel safe, where they can dream, love, argue, fall out of love, make plans for the holidays.

The mall is busy.  People are trying to find things to give to others.  To make them smile, to show somehow—as impossible as it might be—how much they love them.

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Please see Teresa Albor´s video of her performance in front of The Yard Theatre, Hackney Wick, London

The necklace is hopelessly tangled.  I spend a good hour trying to ease the knots out.  First I try to soften the snarl, gently easing the tiny chain into a loose little heap.  Then I try to find the ends and see how long a length of chain is possible.  But this makes the knot in the middle grow tighter and tighter.  My fingers are numb from the cold, with little dents where I have been holding the chain.  It seems maddeningly simple.  I picture the untangled chain.  I picture it hanging around the neck of a woman.  She is smiling.

Tosha needs someone to babysit.  It’s not easy being a single mother.  She says it’s hard for her, now that she has a son, to watch the news, to see woman and children, the bombardment, their desperate flight.

I feel vulnerable sitting on the cement paving stone outside the Omega watch store.  Someone else has the power.  A man with a vest that says “security”.  Calling out names: Amena, Yana, Ola, Liliane, Nour, Kamar, Lamma Dayoub, Qamar, Haya, Zeinah, Aya, Nooda, Ranim, Reem, Asil. Please be safe.  What is the worst that can happen to me?  What is the best thing that can happen to you?

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Teresa Albor performing in Westfield Shopping Mall, London, (December 14, 2016. 1:45-2pm) Photo: Tanja Ostojić

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Teresa Albor performing in Westfield Shopping Mall, London, (December 14, 2016. 1:45-2pm) Photo: Tanja Ostojić

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Footnote: Clio, Libby and Tosha are Teresa´s daughters.

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Things I learned in the workshop:

The advantages of being our own audience: Working together, watching each other, making work for each other to see, acting as a magnet in public spaces to draw others in, acting as a protective shield when there’s some question about our “right” to make work in public.  Being open to each other.  Allowing everyone to be at a different point in his or her process. Observing each other and learning from each other.

Explaining to security: The art of just describing what is actually happening. “I am looking for something.”  “She is wrapping a present.”  The power (see above) of being able to focus on an action whilst someone else does the explaining.

Gut feeling + props:  The need to allow your gut feeling to direct you, to give you ideas.  To have the props but then let the action evolve.  But to still be able to edit one’s self, and question one’s ideas, and not to incorporate every single idea.  I have so many ideas.

Also, I wanted to say how much this workshop meant to me. This was a new way for me to work with these objects– the second piece, a way to put myself into the work, to make myself a bit vulnerable. It has given me plenty to think about. Once again, thanks to Tanja Ostojic for her warmth, patience, openness– for making us all feel so safe, and so encouraged as artists.

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Teresa Albor is London based performance and visual artist interested in how different groups of people negotiate the world. Her work is research-based and often involves broad collaboration. It can involve video/moving image, performance, installation, publication, community-based workshops, and forms of artist-led curation.

www.TeresaAlbor.com

www.TheThingsWeLeaveBehind.co.uk

www.Paradox-of-Order.com

www.Rufus-Stone.org

Photos: Tanja Ostojic

Video: Teresa Albor

Cherry Truluck, Misplaced Women workshop LADA London, December 13/14 2016.

In London, Performances, Workshops on February 12, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Misplaced Women? Workshop by Tanja Ostojić, 13th—14th December 2016 at LADA London

I have moved house all my life – I’ve lost track of how many homes I’ve lived in but it’s more than 30 – mostly in the UK, but also Germany and Belgium – so I was really drawn to the idea of returning to London (which I left 2 years ago) to be part of the ‘Misplaced Women?’ workshop. And then, in a lovely moment of coincidence that felt like more than that, Tanja decided to open the workshop with a performance in front of the warehouse that used to home ]performance s p a c e[ who – like me, have also escaped London for Folkestone in Kent.

I took in the other performances with interest – the vulnerability that emptying your bag in public created for some was in stark contrast to the way others used the opportunity as a platform to tell a particular story or explore an idea.  I was extremely conscious of our collective role as a mobile audience throughout and began to consider how our behaviour as  audience members focused our attention away from our surroundings – even in a busy shopping mall or the rather eerie Olympic park.  As we assembled and reassembled for each performance, I kept thinking about the ‘everyday’ nature of the root performance – the simple act of emptying and re-packing your bag.  It is the kind of thing that could almost go unnoticed in a crowd…. So I began, slowly, hesitantly (because to be honest I am terrified of the idea of performing) and completely unannounced, to remove each unremarkable object from my bag and arrange them carefully on the bench beside me.  Occasionally I looked around at the other participants, but no-one registered what I was doing as a performance, which suited me just fine.  I repeated the performance four times in total that day – each iteration slightly more exaggerated than the last and capturing the final one on camera whilst everyone ate lunch around me.  I catalogued the items in my bag – nothing had been placed there specially for the workshop but I instinctively wove together a story from the random selection of objects which suddenly seemed to have real personal resonance – as if they had been on a journey with me (further than Folkestone Central to Stratford…).

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Please see  Cherry Truluck´video-performance

Cherry Truluck is one half of live art and performance design collaboration, Lucky Bert.

Photo & video: Cherry Truluck

Buffalo Border/Aubergine Kartoffeln´s Story

In Borders, Stories on February 11, 2017 at 7:58 pm

By Aubergine Kartoffeln

Monty and I were denied entry to the U.S. at the Buffalo border (beginning of December 2016), but I can’t tell you why. Not because I want to keep it a secret, but because the reason was kept secret from us too.

The first thing the border protection officer found in Monty’s shoulder bag were a few loose pages of notes, including four sheets with nothing written on them. Apparently, this was immediate cause for suspicion, as the officer said, “These four pieces of paper don’t have writing on them. Why are you carrying four blank pieces of paper?”

All of a sudden, everything we carried was suspect and seemed to pose some threat to the U.S.: “Why is this soap this colour?” “You only need this tiny container for hair gel?” “You’re telling me you wear these pants for fashion? I don’t believe you.”

Maybe we got turned away at the border because the officer looked in Monty’s exercise log book and smirked: “You do a hundred push-ups a day? Well, this guy [indicating to another officer] does a thousand.”

Or maybe we were detained at the border because the border protection officer couldn’t fathom why we would be making music and art on vacation. He demanded to know: “Why would you be making music on vacation?” When I asked what he meant, he explained: “When I go on vacation, I go shopping; I go to shows; I don’t make music.”

We sat in a waiting room for a long time through the night. We were each brought alone into a small room to have our mugshots and fingerprints taken, surrounded by four or five officers. We were interrogated separately about each other’s affairs, and questioned about our involvement with countries in the Middle East. Waiting is especially stressful when you don’t know what you are waiting for — maybe what happens next will be worse than the suspense of waiting. We already knew we couldn’t enter the U.S., but imagination gives way to all sorts of nauseating outcomes that make the wait even more excruciating.

An officer stood watch over us in the waiting room, his eyes fixated on old reruns of American Dad playing on the TV. I got the sense that these border protection officers really enjoy their jobs, especially the power they get from intimidating others, making people feel flustered and vulnerable.

Then suddenly, with no explanation, we were told to go. How did they come to that decision? What did they find out from their computers? What had they decided about us? What sort of threat did they think we posed? What will happen the next time we try to cross the border?

It bothers me that we were not given any explanation. It bothers me that we can not refute anything because we were not given anything to refute. It bothers me that the border protection officers obviously made the decision to deny us entry before they even finished their investigation, so that it’s very likely that there was no reason of why we were denied entry other than the officer’s distaste for the art objects in Monty’s suitcase.

Not that reason seems to matter anymore. I’m just glad we could go free, and that our lives didn’t depend on this crossing. I can only imagine how horrific it is to leave your fate in the hands of border protection.

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Monty Cantsin’s suitcase full of agitprop materials caught the eye of USA Customs agents.

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Aubergine Kartoffeln is Toronto based social worker and artist

Istvan Kantor alias Monty Cantsin is Toronto based artist of Hungarian origin

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Please reed as well the related article by Sarah Ferguson who interviewed Istvan Kantor related to the denial of the freedom of movement on the U.S. Buffalo Border:

http://thevillager.com/2016/12/23/rivington-school-propagandist-monty-cantsin-held-at-u-s-border/

She wrote that according to Istvan Kantor, the agents in Buffalo, NYC, became alarmed when they found sealed packages of hypodermic needles in his luggage. Kantor is renowned for his “blood art” — using his own blood to splatter walls in museums like the MoMA to protest the “commodification” of art — and has been arrested numerous times both here and abroad.

He says the customs agents were also irked by the megaphone bearing Kantor’s trademark “Neoism” slogan, along with his Nazi-like cap, Chinese security armbands and red flag — all props for the satirical performances he planned to stage.

Although Kantor has been detained at the border before, he says he’s had no trouble coming into the U.S. in the last three years. But this was different.

“They took me and my girlfriend to a special room for fingerprints and mugshots,” he said, “and that’s where the more serious questioning began — especially about my travels in China,” where Kantor has been teaching multimedia art. “They wanted to know if I had visited Pakistan, Libya, Palestine and other Middle Eastern countries.”

After three hours of grilling, Kantor and his girlfriend were put in a car and taken across the border, where they were forced to take a $220 cab ride back to Toronto because it was 4 a.m.

“We never got a concrete explanation or piece of paper or anything to explain why we were turned away,” Kantor said.

Elena Marchevska holding the “Misplaced Women?” Sign at Heathrow Airport London, December 12, 2016.

In Airports, London, Signs, Stories on February 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm

Hospitality in times of displacement

It is a cold, grey December morning and I am on my way to pick up Tanja Ostojić from Heathrow airport. I am traveling on the Piccadilly line, half empty carriage, thinking about London and me. It wasn’t love at first sight, that is for sure. The first time I visited London was in 2005, just one week before 7/7, to do a performance as part of the exhibition Insomnia, an exhibition about experience of refugees and displaced individuals. It was a hot July week, the streets were filthy. Everywhere was incredibly busy and I felt that the city was a bit too much for me… I left relieved to be off to tour a show in rural France for three months and didn’t really think about coming back.

However, here I am, 12 years later, in London, again looking at displacement, at stories of migration and misplacement. This is a very critical and important moment for the UK, Europe and the world. Six months have passed since the Brexit vote, Trump has been elected as president of the USA and the world is a very hostile, inhospitable place for people on the move. Heathrow is flashy, clean, perfect, a haven for shoppers and travellers. I feel profoundly misplaced, leaning on the metal rail between taxi drivers and company chauffeurs, holding a handmade sign saying ‘Misplaced Women?’. Not a personal name on my sign, not a company logo, just a question. Do I wait for someone to come, or do I wait for my situation to be resolved?

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Elena Marchevska holding the “Misplaced Women?” sign at Heathrow Airport London, December 12, 2016. Photo: Tanja Ostojc

When I was developing the concept for my residency with Live Art Development Agency, my thoughts were constantly with the people in flux, those who were crossing or waiting at borders for days, sometimes months. Vivid memories of my childhood in war-torn Yugoslavia emerged. I remembered my school friends who were refugees from Sarajevo; my work in refugee camps during the Kosovo crisis; the lines for bread and milk; cars left without petrol in the middle of the road. More than 20 years has passed, but my body clearly remembers the fear, and at the same time the braveness, the openness to share, to give, to be there for one another. Many people opened their homes to refugees and family displaced due to war, despite being impoverished and affected by the war themselves.

It is important to discuss displacement along hospitality. Derrida introduces hospitality as a radical concept that offers alternative ways to treat others. His central argument is based on the ‘aporia of hospitality’, which, according to Derrida, has two main elements: one of owning and being empowered by that ownership, and another of giving ownership away and being vulnerable. I thought that it would be an important part of my research and creative journey to host an artist, someone with a similar history to myself, and to open a creative dialogue about hospitality and displacement. Tanja Ostojic’s project ‘Misplaced Women?’ was a natural choice.

The project works with the Derrida’s aporia. Tanja hosts a safe space that allows her workshop participants to open up and share their experiences. It also requires that they present their ideas immediately, by performing them in a public space. This brings us back to Derrida’s discussion of the etymology of the term ‘hospitality’, which is related to hostility, since the root hospes is allied to the root hostis, which interestingly means both ‘stranger’ and ‘enemy’. Thus, hospitality, as in hostilis (stranger/enemy) + potes (having power), originally meant the power that the host has over the stranger/enemy. And indeed we see the hospitality of Western European societies being defined by imposing power over the ‘strangers’, defining them by impossible standards, borders are re-erected, walls are rebuild, communities are ostracised.

According to Irina Arishtarkova, hospitality is a radical relation, especially when compared with tolerance: it provides a framework to account for the treatment of others with limitless attention and expectation, and it entails an active gesture of welcoming, greeting, sheltering, and in many cases, nourishing. Tanja Ostojić operates within this framework, opening a hospitable space during her performance workshops.  Participants are welcomed and guided, acknowledged and their ideas are nourished. Anecdotes are shared, objects are transformed, pictures are circulated. During the two days of the workshop, I felt that we tapped into each other’s experiences of displacement and loss. Hospitality became performative, it was about slow decision making, about the labour of hosting others, and the handling of unexpected outcomes. There was a willingness to contain and to produce space for the Other out of one’s own flesh and blood, we all walked together by the canal, performers and audience at the same time. The days melted into one long discussion about what displacement means today. For me, the small acts of hope and care that each participant made created a ripple strong enough to go beyond the current climate of hostility.

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Bibliography:

ARISTARKHOVA, I. (2012). Hospitality of the matrix: philosophy, biomedicine, and culture. New York, Columbia University Press.

DERRIDA, J., & DUFOURMANTELLE, A. (2000). Of hospitality. Stanford, Calif, Stanford University Press.

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Elana Marchevska is London Based Artist and educator of Macedonian origin.

http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/opportunities/open-call-for-participants-for-misplaced-women-workshop

http://www.thisisliveart.co.uk/whats-on/misplaced-women/

Misplaced Women? Sign at Vilnius International Airport, Lithuania, November 4, 2016.

In Airports, Signs, Vilnius on February 11, 2017 at 4:48 pm

I landed to the International Airport, Lithuania, from Graz, with a connecting flight in Vienna, for the Unthinkable Nomos conference http://unthinkable.site  that took place at the National Gallery of Art in Vilnius from November 5 to 6, 2016. I was welcomed with a beautiful Misplaced Women? banner produced by Monika Janulevičiūtė, young Lithuanian designer herself. For the Misplaced Women? project blog she wrote the following:

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Monika Janulevičiūtė holding the “Misplaced Women?” Sign at Vilnius International Airport, Lithuania, November 4, 2016. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

12:52 Violently digging down into my bag. It has dark lining and no compartments. Rarely ever easy find things there; everything fits, though. Remembering the order or the sides of putting the thing in sometimes help — I finally reach for the zip lock bag with the folded flag. I assume it should be time. A short glimpse at the phone screen. I nod to my friend P. and I jump out of his car, parked in front of the exit of the Arrival Hall.

12:53 The Arrival Hall felt hollow, and November winds got into it quickly making no difference from outside. One couldn’t say if people already left the flight BT5132 or they just waited for baggage. An older man on the left, a younger one nervously rushes through, some calls and the echo of announcements. I spread the piece of fabric of a trench coat before me, rustling, soft to the touch, almost sticky.

A nude flag in the middle of the cube-like hall with its gypsum panelled ceiling separated by wire mesh, trapping pigeons and one helium balloon in mid-air. Unfolding it felt like making a bed or preparing to camp against the grey stone making a solid fundament for the white Corinthian columns and moulded balconies. I think I never stood behind a banner. T-shirts with statements don’t count.

12:55 I’m on time and at the right place but while holding a flag with big Misplaced Women? and become hesitant to state such clear comment on my position. I feel like a translation, or a sign behind one unwillingly shows their skills and habits of holding a life together, covered by rigid canvases, few zippers or belts here and there. The alternative ways of wrapping the unwanted gift of the outrage. Here the temperature drops by one degree Celsius for each memory carried in. The supervision uncloaks her machinery of vigilance. A barren and gated life, flash floods, landslides, fluctuations of the foreign currency exchange values. It hatches whole new sets of catastrophes, not by just a mere proposal of such actualities, but they are cases formulated and born in the accounts with detailed financial expenditures. One can easily measure the ripeness by the amount of industrial rubber or splatter on jet-fuel engines. It will taste like being kicked in the stomach.

Misplaced Women? Sign at Graz Airport, Styria Austria, November 2 2016.

In Airports, Graz, Signs on February 11, 2017 at 2:50 pm
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Edith Risse holding the “Misplaced Women?” Sign at Graz Airport, Styria Austria, November 2, 2016. Photo: Jogi Hofmüller

I landed to Graz around 2.20pm on November 2 2016 with direct Airberlin flight from Berlin Tegel in order to take part in the symposium: MENSCHENRECHTE wörtlich nehmen / HUMAN RIGHTS literally today, that was taking place from November 3 to 4, 2016 at Volksgartenpavillon, Graz: http://mrwn.at

The kind welcoming comity consisted of two of the organisers of the conference including Edith Risse and Jogi Hofmüller. As I kindly asked her, Edith Risse was holding the sign. And so we immediately smiled to each other as the result of recognition.

Jogi Hofmüller noted down for me his observations as well:

As a bystander to the action I can say that to my great surprise the majority of the people passing by seemed not to notice Edith standing there and holding the sign saying “Misplaced Women?”. But then again, Graz airport is not a very crowded place, so over all I guess there were not more than 20 people in the airport while we were standing there. 

Once people arriving with you on the plane started to pass through customs the situation changed slightly. The newly arrived ones of course were looking around, in search of taxis, people that came to pick them up or just to orient themselves. Still, I cannot recall anything special regarding reactions to the sign. I just remember seeing you pass this gate and once you saw the sign your face burst into a big smile 🙂

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Edith Risse holding the Misplaced Women? Sign at Graz Airport, Styria Austria, November 2 2016. Photo: Tanja Ostojic

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Edith Risse is a free lance curator and cultural producer based in Graz. Since 2013 she is a head of the Arts & Culture working group of the parliament of land Styria.

Jogi Hofmüller is media artist based in Graz. He is co-founder of Radio Helsinki and mur.at. Member of 42. Running Plagiat and institut hofos together with Reni Hofmüller.

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Edith Risse and Jogi Hofmüller, Misplaced Women? Sign at Graz Airport. Photo: Tanja Ostojic

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