MisplacedWomen?

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ENTRY CLEARANCE

In Aberdeen, Stories on August 30, 2020 at 1:45 pm

Contribution by Branko Milisković

July 2015

Branko Milisković, Misplaced Man? performance, Aberdeen Airport, UK, October 29, 2015. “Misplaced Man?” sign, and the photo: Amy Bryzgel

Two months ago I received an e-mail from Dr Amy Bryzgel, an US-American art historian and researcher, living and working in Aberdeen, Scotland, UK, whom I met in Belgrade, Serbia in July 2013, and gave an interview about my performance practice for her upcoming book Performing East. Since then, we were in occasional e-mail contacts and I have also included part of her text about my work in a catalogue for my solo exhibition ATTENTION! HERE I AM (Nov/Dec 2014, G12HUB). Amy’s invitation to participate in a conference about performance art at the University of Aberdeen in October 2015 made me surprised and flattered since I’ve never been to UK before. The entire arrangement sounded almost perfect. My travel, lodging and artist wage would be provided, so what more an artist could ask for? 

I knew there would be some obstacles regarding my UK visa, therefor instead of negotiating about the conference and performance, we had to start working through the entry clearance procedure for UK visa straight away. Amy told me that she is going to write a letter of invitation, stating the exact reason for my travel. The very first issue we faced was, what kind of visa I would need to apply for? Since I was invited to give a performance/talk and get payed for that job, I would need to choose between the variety of possible visas, and after a short period of time, we both confirmed it would definitely be so called Permitted Engagement Visa. The entire negotiation with Amy turned into an administration, passing through all possible bureaucratic requirements, constantly doubting and guessing weather some requirement would mean exactly and strictly as stated or would there be any way to avoid it and make the entire process less stressful. The main problem was not the fact that I have to apply strictly online. I am internet maniac and have no issues filling in the forms and answering even the most hideous questions. My biggest concern was how to obtain some of the paper work. I’ve already done various visa procedures and numerous applications in the past and eventually survived all of them. I used to live in the Netherlands for three years and in Germany for four and have been travelling across Europe, to Russia and Israel and have never violated any immigration rules. My passport is full of different visas and border control stamps and I never received any penalty nor restriction. While I was waiting to receive an official letter of invitation from the University of Aberdeen there was one major issue causing my anxiety to grow bigger and bigger. It was the money issue. Now everybody would think, ok what’s the problem if all expenses would be covered by the organiser, in this case, by the University of Aberdeen, right? According to the list of important requirements and documents that should be obtained, there was a requirement that each applicant should provide the bank statements for the period of last six months. My problem was the fact that being a freelance artist, I don’t have regular monthly income that could be proven via bank statements. Therefore I immediately failed to fulfil this main visa requirement, to show that I am professional artist. I also failed to show that I would have enough money on my bank account to support my trip and daily costs in Aberdeen, even though all my expenses would be covered. I would consider myself being professional artist with various engagements, but in other hand, underemployed with no regular income, no valuable possessions, no long term bank credits to insure that I will definitely return to the country of origin, no driver licence nor car, no real estate on my name, no fixed employment. I am not married and have no children. Clearly enough I am so free, like a bloody sparrow, and therefore the most suspicious applicant. Their biggest fear is that I might use this opportunity and immigrate, sucking on UK public money, residing illegally somewhere in the countryside. In order to ask for some support, Amy and I separately contacted Serbian Embassy in London and nobody ever responded to our inquiries. We didn’t ask for any particular help, just a written letter of support from the embassy, which should be supporting and representing its people, culture and politics abroad, right? I have also contacted British Council in Belgrade and asked the same question. Nobody ever responded. 

August 19, 2015

Two days ago I finally received the official letter of invitation from the University of Aberdeen, and as soon as I saw it in my post box, I went immediately to print out my application form and to finish the rest. I thought it would be no big deal just to print it out, pay an application fee by debit card and book an appointment. But it was all very confusing since the beginning. I filed in my application form, and the next step was the payment. On the official webpage of UKVI it was stated that the fee would be €121,00, but once I started my payment procedure it turned out to be €126,00. I was not sure how much money I was holding on my debit card. Once I submitted my application form online I was informed by a server that I have only three hours to complete the payment, otherwise everything will be lost and I would have to start the application procedure all over again. I rushed to the local bank to put some extra cash on my bank account, to make sure there is enough. I was cuing over an hour in the bank and returned to the office to finally complete the payment. It was so frustrating, I just couldn’t believe that UKVI was counting my time. 

On August 19, I had my UKVI appointment at Teleperformance agency at the Airport City in New Belgrade. I arrived well in advance caring with me a bag full of art books, catalogues and press material as well as the entire application documents including my passport. I got inside and there was nobody except me and some employees at the time. Soon, I was invited to come in, expecting that they are going to interview me, asking all possible questions. However, they only collected my documents, checked if everything is in order, and when I asked what am I going to do with all the books and catalogues I was advised to bring for consideration, they just told me that their job is only to collect my paperwork including my passport, take my fingerprints, scan my eyries and send everything to Warsaw where UK visa hub is based. They told me that I will be waiting for 15 working days or 21 days in total, but that period also can’t be guaranteed. It means it can take even longer depending on each case individually. I left the office totally squashed and puzzled. 

September 2, 2015

Today is the 10th business day since my UK visa application has been submitted. I just can’t explain how terrible and frustrating the entire process is. One of the most irritant things is that awful feeling that you are unable to get information regarding your visa status. Nobody knows for sure, or nobody wants to tell you. My passport has been literary confiscated since August 19 and still I don’t have any precise information when the entire process will be done and how long it will take for my passport to be delivered back. In the meantime I was invited to come to Berlin for a festival and I already booked my flight for September 12. 

This is how an automatic answer by UKVI looks like:

Dear Branko Miliskovic,

Thank you for contacting the UK Visas and Immigration International Enquiry Service. With regard to your query, please be advised, we can only provide general information as well as updates on the status of an application. We act in a non advisory capacity. We understand that you would like to know about the status of your application to come to the UK.

I have tracked the status of your application and found that it is waiting to be assessed by an Entry Clearance Officer. We will contact you once a decision has been made or, if necessary, during the consideration of your application.

Each application is subject to an individual assessment and processing times may vary, hence applicants are requested to be patient and wait for the processing to be completed. 

You can check how long you will have to wait for a decision on your visa application in your country (if you applied from outside the UK) by entering your details at the following link: ttps://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-visas-and-immigration/about/about-our-services However, please note that actual processing times may vary depending on a range of factors.

We have service level standards for processing UK visa applications. We will process 90% of non-settlement applications within 3 weeks, 98% within 6 weeks and 100% within 12 weeks of the application (biometric taken) date; and 95% of settlement applications within 12 weeks of the biometric taken date and 100% within 24 weeks of the application (biometric taken) date.

Please note that we define 1 week as 5 working days. For any further details, or should you need to contact us again please refer to our website at https://ukvi-international.faq-help.com/, select appropriate country, click next and then select “E-Mail form” and complete as instructed. We will aim to come back to you within 1 day.

Kind regards,

Scott

UK Visas and Immigration International Enquiry Service

September 5, 2015

There is one thing that makes me very upset. It’s a completely impersonal system, dealing via third part agencies, such as Teleperformance, so if you go to the UK embassy they will tell you that they are not dealing with visas so you have to go through the agency to submit your documents including a passport, pay the fee in advance and hope it will be ready within three weeks time. The problem is that they give you a period of three weeks only as a statistic information but that also DOESN’T mean that your documents and passport will be returned during that period of time. All means of communication are incredibly obscure and automatically generated, even the calls. You are going to talk with an automat for as long as possible and you will be charged a fortune. I mean, to be completely honest, even if you commit a crime, you are allowed to engage a lawyer and have presumably a fair trial, right? Here, you are not allowed to complain, you can’t talk to anybody except the person working at the entrance of Teleperformance agency and that person knows nothing, or is it just a part of the game. So whatever you are going to ask, you are not going to get any precise and concrete informations. If you ask how long it will take for a passport to be delivered, she/he will tell you, it MAY take about three days. But no, that clearly doesn’t mean it will be there even the forth day. They always say, you will be contacted by your local Teleperformance office. 

My passport is out of my hands and I terribly depend on their mercy. It blows my mind! It’s my passport, my only travel document! I might be able to understand that I have to give my passport away if I am already in UK applying to extend my residence permit, but since I am not even there and I am not applying for any settlement or study visa, I DON’T WANT TO BE DETAINED IN MY OWN COUNTRY BY SOME OTHER COUNTRY! 

In the last three months I went through a number of very stressful moments. I became very anxious and now I am even facing the approaching moment which may reveal that I won’t be able to travel to Berlin because they won’t be able to return my passport back in time.

It can’t be sure whether the visa will be granted to me or not.

It can’t be sure how long it will take to process my visa request.

It can’t be sure when my passport will be returned. 

I am afraid it can’t be even sure if the passport will be returned, at all. 

The entire procedure is shameful and humiliating. It’s like a computer game. Several levels and you never know what you may expect when you finish one level. To make the entire situation even more stupid, they have stated that if for any reason one would like to request his/her passport urgently back, it would mean that the entire process will be terminated and application fee will not be refunded. But anyone is encouraged to re-apply at any time. Of course, to pay every time €126,00 or more and to wait endlessly with passport being confiscated. 

I really don’t know what to do if I don’t get my passport before Saturday…

September 8, 2015

Today, surprisingly enough, I received an e-mail stating that my visa request has been accessed giving no information whether I have been rejected or granted. 

Reference: GWFXXXXXXX

Dear MILISKOVIC BRANKO,

UK Visas & Immigration has now assessed your UK visa application and made a decision. Your documents and the decision will be sent back to the either the UK Visa Application Centre where you applied, where we will contact you by e-mail over the next few days to collect them, or if you are using the courier return service, will be sent directly back to the address you provided.

Please note that TLScontact does not know the outcome of the assessment and has played no role in the decision-making process.

Kind regards,

TLScontact

UK Visas & Immigration

September 9, 2015

Today I received another e-mail from UKVI stating:

Dear MILISKOVIC BRANKO,

Your passport and any returned supporting documentation have now arrived back at the TLScontact UK. 

Visa Application Centre.

Collection in Person

I immediately went there to collect my passport as if it was the most important thing in my entire life and it was sealed in a plastic DHL bag. They asked me to sign paper that I have collected my document and they didn’t say anything else. I got out, took my keys, ripped off a plastic bag and opened my passport.

UK visa sticker was finally in my passport !

August 19, 2020

Post Scriptum: Going through this administrative diary, five years later, made me realise how much I was worried about some completely ridiculous details. However, this harsh experience eventually gave me a courage to apply for other visas, such as Canadian and US. 

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Branko Milisković (b.1982, Belgrade, Serbia), Serbian performance artist, studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Belgrade; graduated BFA from Royal Academy of Art, The Hague and MFA from Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Hamburg. His works have been shown at prestigious performance festivals, theatres, galleries, museums and residences in Italy, France, Serbia, Poland, Israel, Croatia, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Russia, Bulgaria, UK, Canada and USA. 

Photo: Blazej Marczak

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ENTRY CLEARANCE by Branko Milisković is a contribution by invitation, to Tanja Ostojić’s Misplaced Women? project.

Edited (2015/2020) and first published by: Tanja Ostojić at the Misplaced Women? Project blog, August 30, 2020.

Photos: Branko Milisković, Blazej Marczak and Amy Bryzgel

Please see directly related — Misplaced Man? Performance in Aberdeen Airport – Contribution by Amy Bryzgel to the Misplaced Women? project, October 29, 2015.

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FNAC, Aix-en-Provence, France, December 16, 2015

In Aix-en-Provence, Performances, Shopping Center, Stories, Workshops on February 23, 2016 at 9:33 pm

“Misplaced Man?” Performed by Anastasio  William at FNAC, in the shopping district of  Aix-en-Provence, France on December 16, 2015, in the frame of “Missplaced Women?” workshop conducted by Tanja Ostojic, on performance art, migration, public space and surveillance, with participation of students and teachers of the École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Aix-en-Provence, France.

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Anastasio  William (student, École Supérieure des Beaux-Arts d´Aix):

“The performance experience I had, in the frame of Tanja Ostojic´s workshop at the art school and in public spaces of Aix-en-Provence, was very exciting and fulfilling. However, it’s more complicated than it seems, to unpack all of your stuff in front of a crowd of unknown people…

It reminded me of the interactions I already had before with airport security agents. Waiting for their judgment…, telling you what’s good or bad…, staring at you with cold serious eyes… Anxious, you don’t know what will happen to you next, until they give you the order to “move along”, “wait on the side”, “come with them”, etc. I have encountered many of those kind of situations in my life due to my dual citizenship, and trust me, I regret I was joking around with border control sometimes.., they are so serious sometimes that one wonders if they are even human…

I decided to perform “Misplaced Man?” at the FNAC in shopping aria in the city center of Aix-en-Provence. It is a private chain shop for culture&technology, and I decided for it because I remember they have security agents, and that was actually good, as I wanted to confront myself to the authority. But it’s also a place, frequented by many people, from different backgrounds, and I thought that my performance in the public space would have no meaning if I wasn’t confronting the criticism of the mass.

I was the first from our workshop group to perform that day. Stress and adrenaline came to me gradually. At some point I just turned off the switch of reason. That same reason, telling one to behave normally, that people will judge YOU, they will think that your are weird..; that you might get in trouble even though you are not hurting anyone, that same reason, that prevents one from doing anything that goes against the norms.

So, after I stopped overthinking, I rushed on instinct and adrenaline alone, to the place I had chosen. In front of the escalators at the entrance of the shop, I dropped my bag down and started to unpack with all my might, as if everything surrounding me stopped to exist. I´ve put all my fury, passion in that act of unpacking, until a security agent came towards me and sort of brought me back to reality.

”What are you doing?!” he asked. Under the adrenaline rush, one thinks quickly, trying to come up with an answer that will satisfy the authority figure in front of you. I had kept my sun glasses on, like a mask separating me from my normal self and responsibility. I looked towards him, and after a bit of hesitation, I replied:

-“Eeeh, I’m looking for my credit card I think I´ve lost it”.

He than seemed relieved, to have a logical explanation to the absurdity happening in front of him.

-“You can’t stay here sir” he says.

-“I’ll be done soon”.- was my answer.

He calls for assistance on his walkie talkie to help him deal with the problem that I incarnated.

The second security guy comes quickly and he pressures me to get on the side or to leave. Feeling the tension growing and having nothing more to unpack or take out of my pockets, I can’t temporaries any longer. So I throw everything in my bag very quickly and exit the scene, thinking it was the right time to end it, before there could be any complications.

After leaving, in company of the group, with my performance workshop crowed that has been taking pictures of me, FNAC security guys probably realised that they were tricked by my lame excuse.

It took me a while before the super high adrenaline dropped down and got balanced again. Only then I got my normal senses back.”

Photos: Tanja Ostojić
Video: Anaïs Clercx

Misplaced Man? performance in Aberdeen Airport – Contribution by Amy Bryzgel

In Aberdeen, Airports, Border, Performances, Signs on December 8, 2015 at 8:33 am

One question I always had in my mind with regard to Misplaced Women? was: what about Misplaced Men? Of course, I am aware that Tanja’s work focuses on women because they are perhaps the most vulnerable in situations related to migrations, most notably with regard to trafficking, humiliation, and separation from families. And those who know Tanja’s work also know that she does not deal exclusively with women. Her film, Sans Papiers (2004, together with David Rych), tells the stories of many men being held in detention centres in Germany. So, when the opportunity arose, I decided to stage a Misplaced Man? performance in Aberdeen.

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Misplaced Man? sign. Aberdeen Airport. Sign and photograph by Amy Bryzgel.

In the summer of 2015 I started organizing a conference that would involve both research talks and performances. I wanted to have a performance that would take place in the context of the presentation of papers, one that would disrupt the rhythm of the lectures. I immediately thought of Branko Milisković’s work, specifically his performance The Speech, which is part one of a two-part performance. Branko’s speech usually lasts around 4 hours, but given the time and space of the conference, and that this would be just one presentation of many, I asked him to do just 45 minutes of it. I wrote to invite him, and he agreed.

I knew, when I invited Branko, that as a Serbian passport holder, he would need a visa to the UK. As a US citizen (who has now naturalized in the UK), I knew all too well the complicated procedures for obtaining visas. And over the summer of 2015, a story broke about a group of performance artists from Georgia who were all denied visas to travel to the UK to participate in a performance art festival. Of course, I didn’t know the reasons behind that decision, but it was enough to give me pause about inviting Branko. But, I decided that I didn’t want to make an artistic decision based on nationality or bureaucratic procedures. That said, in inviting Branko, I was also aware that I was putting him in a situation that would be very trying for him—because although I could provide some help and support for his visa application, the burden was entirely on him to collect and submit the papers, to surrender his passport, and to wait for the decision as to whether his application deemed him worthy to enter and perform in the UK.

From the time that I invited Branko, on June 10, 2015, until the day that he received his visa on September 9, 2015, around one hundred emails were exchanged, regarding Branko’s visa. No art was discussed during this time. There was no discussion about the content of his speech, the logistics of his performance, how it would fit into the programme—nothing. It was not simply that we put off planning the performance until it was confirmed that he could come to the UK, but that there was simply no mental space or energy for either of us to do so. As the process went on, I felt worse and worse about putting Branko in that situation, as it was clearly very stressful for him, but wondered what choice I had: either I didn’t invite an artist that I thought was very talented and would make a valuable contribution to the conference simply based on the passport he held, or, I would undertake this task, knowing that it would put the artist under pressure.

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Branko Milisković, Misplaced Man? performance, Aberdeen Airport, UK, October 29, 2015.

In the end, we were successful, and from my view while I was glad we both took the risk, of course the process could, and should, have been easier and less stressful. But, because we are in the arts, we decided to use our power of expression to bring these issues into the public sphere in a different way. I proposed that Branko do a version of Misplaced Women? as a Misplaced Man? He is pictured here at Aberdeen Airport, just after having been cleared entry into the UK. Interestingly, he is standing in front of a picture of Dunnottar Castle, where I had taken Tanja when she was in Aberdeen in April 2015. Above him, a sign reads “currency exchange.” In fact, it was art that was Branko’s currency—his cultural capital is what enabled him to receive a visa to the UK and do his first performance there. I am glad to report that he is not a Misplaced Man.

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Please see directly related — ENTRY CLEARANCE – contribution by Branko Milisković to the Misplaced Women? project, August 30, 2020.

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