MisplacedWomen?

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Misplaced Women? A Translation of a Travel Diary in British Sign Language

In Berlin, Performances, Railway-stations, Train Station, Train stations on July 15, 2019 at 11:04 am

Contribution by: Susan Merrick 

“Misplaced Women?, A Translation of a Travel Diary in British Sign Language”, 30 minute performance by Susan Merrick

23.05.2019 Berlin-Gesundbrunnen Train Station (Berlin, Germany)

Tanja invited me to consider presenting a performance for the Misplaced Women? project whilst I was working with her for a few days in Berlin. I’d asked Tanja if I could work with her on my own project ‘Practicing to Share’ and it seemed appropriate to actually work within each others projects during this time, to understand one another and to consider each others theme of work.

“Misplaced Women?, A Translation of a Travel Diary in British Sign Language”, a 30 minute performance by Susan Merrick, 2019. 
Video recording: Tanja Ostojić. Video editing: Susan Merrick

I spent some time thinking about what would feel appropriate, and where. How it would fit to my own idea of misplaced, my feeling of ‘place’ while in Berlin, a city I’d only visited once before as a young woman. Also my feelings of my ‘[mis]placement’ within my work as a Sign Language Interpreter, working between two cultures, between two languages, being at times ‘invisible’, yet very visible.

Rather than cultivating a performance in any way Tanja simply gave me the performance score to look over and using the rucksack I already had with me, we chose to explore Berlin train station, Gesundbrunnen that was near to where we were working. 

Susan Merrick: “Misplaced Women?”, Berlin-Gesundbrunnen Train Station, 2019. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

I chose a position at the end of a platform. It felt quiet, intimate, and sat at a junction of two tracks. I have an affinity with train stations and much of my work has taken place in or around them. I have worked within busier positions but for this day I wanted some space and to see the location of Berlin behind me.

I began by removing my shoes and jumper. I wanted to be comfortable and to sit while I disclosed my belongings. I slowly removed each item from my bag, surprising myself by how much was in the bag that I had only emptied earlier that day (or so I thought!). Items of everyday use, but also items of specificity to the trip I was on, a camera, some shaving foam and razor – ready for some other work we were to do later – and a travel journal that I had written 17 years previously whilst on my only other visit to Berlin. 

Susan Merrick: “Misplaced Women?, A Translation of a Travel Diary in British Sign Language”, Berlin-Gesundbrunnen Train Station, 2019. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

Often I allow my surroundings to influence my actions in my work, responding to the stimuli around me. I allowed these items to do the same to me, not planning but following what the items suggested to me. I was really interested in my position between the train tracks so I decided to perform the creation of a track, placing shaving foam on my leg in a line and shaving the hair from my leg in a strip, straight like a track. I wiped it clean with a red head scarf.

I then opened up my travel journal from 2002. I read and translated into British Sign Language (BSL), some of the pages that spoke of my previous visit to Berlin. The journey into the city on the train and a visit to the zoo where we couldn’t afford the photographs that were taken of us. The language miscommunications and the laughter of the train guard who found our worries over a door not closing hilarious. Our lack of money and our exhaustion at travelling around. Our decision to sit and wait 7 hours in a hostel reception waiting for a room and our reliance on the kindness of others.

Susan Merrick: “Misplaced Women?, A Translation of a Travel Diary in British Sign Language”, Berlin-Gesundbrunnen Train Station, 2019. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

Using BSL in this way felt an appropriate challenge to the work, on a quiet platform, in a train station in Berlin, speaking only to the camera and to Tanja behind it, with no-one understanding me, using a language not native to the country, or even to me. A language that has become my profession, and that I have adopted now for over half my life, that works its way into my Art, and that I can never truly feel I belong.

Susan Merrick: “Misplaced Women?, A Translation of a Travel Diary in British Sign Language”, Berlin-Gesundbrunnen Train Station, 2019. Photo: Tanja Ostojić

Finally I took up my polaroid camera, taking a photograph of the semi circle of belongings surrounding my feet. Of Tanja watching me. Of the Train tracks reaching towards and away from me. 

Mis placed. Placed mistakenly. [Mis]placed

Lost. Unfound. In-between. Where am I?

As Artists where are we? Where do we belong? Who decides? Who finds us? Who loses us?

Susan Merrick is an Artist from the UK. She is also a Sign Language Interpreter and this profession greatly influences her performance practice.

Photos from performance on May 23, 2019 at Berlin-Gesundbrunnen Train Station were captured by Tanja Ostojić

Video recording: Tanja Ostojić.

Video editing: Susan Merrick

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Please visit as well other contributions and posts from Berlin, from different workshops and individual or group performances:

Contribution by Nati Canto 

Contribution by Rhea Ramjohn

Contribution by Mad Kate

Mapping around Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz

Contribution by Katja Vaghi

Contribution by LADY GABY

Contribution by Hoang Tran Hieu Hanh

Contribution by Jiachen Xu and Evdoxia Stafylaraki

Contribution by Ola Kozioł

Contribution by Татьяна Bogacheva

Older posts Berlin 2009: 

Contribution by Tanja Ostojić: Berlin, TXL Airport

and Valentina Medda: Misplaced Women?, Performa New York, 2009. Simultanious delegated perfromance with Tanja Ostojic, at Berlin TXL airport.

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Misplaced Women? Contribution by LADY GABY in Berlin-Weißensee

In Berlin, Stories, Workshops on December 27, 2018 at 11:31 pm

In the frame of Tanja Ostojić´s Misplaced Women? workshop, January 22–24, 2018, hosted by Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz and Kunsthochschule Berlin Weißensee, the following performance interventions have been developed and performed for the first time:

On Janaury 23.2018 in and around the neighbourhood of Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz, Berlin-Weißensee:

LADY GABY, Mad Kate and Tatiana Bogacheva

Mapping around Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz

Were feeling placed within misplacement, creating a range of public space performance interventions:

We went around for 2 hours looking for places and things we felt comfortable with and a longing for, marking them with pink wool and intervening as displaced female characters: statue of liberty, maid, queen and the migrant. Site specific sounds and recorded conversations have been added too as well as a whole array of misplaced found objects.

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Misplaced Women?

Written Contribution by Gaby Bila-Günther aka LADY GABY

My whole life I have felt misplaced and displaced, as I migrated from one continent to another to find a new home and a new nationality. As a child, I grew up in Transylvania, in Romania during the communist regime. As my father defected to Australia in 1980, my mother and I followed him two years later. Thats when my history of misplacement began, first with my fathers defection, as I felt I didn’t belong in that society any longer. My mother who was born in Greece due to the civil war there in the 1950’s was forced as a child to live as a refugee in Romania, being a noncitizen, and I felt like one too, after my father defected and we prepared to follow him. I was kicked out of the pioneers organisation and our phones and home were under surveillance.

Marked Bench
“Misplaced Women?” interventions by LADY GABY, Mad Kate and Tatiana Bogacheva, Berlin Weißensee, 23.1.2018.

As a young teenager in Australia, in the 80s, I felt more misplaced than ever, as most of the people there had no idea where or what Romania was. I felt like I didn’t belong there neither as nobody could find my country of origin on the map. I felt insignificant, invisible, most of my time as a teenager; however I wanted to belong and be noticed.

When I came to Berlin, in 1989 at the time of the Wall falling down, my displacement manifested itself in the fact that I was illegal for three years and couldn’t speak the language either, however as an artist I began to find my feet and work with the theme of misplacement and identity. Berlin, the city where I found MY feet, MY words and made up MY mind about the world around ME.

Since 1994, my work has been about misplacement, identity, gender relations, social decline and domestic mapping. I often perform in spaces where as an artist or as a woman I am not supposed to be: men’s toilets, elevators, laundrettes, public spaces, public transport, etc. Through my performances in those spaces, I belong, I show that I exist and I demand attention and recognition.. I HAVE A VOICE!

During the Misplaced Women? interventions in the frame of the Berlin workshop lead by Tanja Ostojić, I chose to walk around the area of Weißenssee, as I felt misplaced inside the village-like atmosphere of that neighbourhood. However the streets, the houses and that environment gave me a familiar sense, as it reminded me of communist Romania where I GREW UP and reminiscent of the old post Wall East Berlin. So I looked for places I felt were displaced and marked them with a strand of pink wool, and did a whole range of public interventions at those places. Old communist statues, old bike wheels, an old fountain in the middle of a busy round-about, gallery and on a boat sculpture outside the Brotfabrik. During our walk some of us from the workshop including Mad Kate, Sajan Mani and Tatiana Bogacheva recorded sounds that we detected as misplaced on the streets of the neighbourhood such as construction sites on a quiet small street. The whole time I carried a suitcase with me containing misplaced objects for no reason inside, which I opened and displayed during the interventions. I transformed into several misplaced FEMAIL and FEMINIST characters besides myself: The ARTIST, The CLEANING MAID and The STATUE OF LIBERTY, all identities I can relate to as a woman, illegal worker, migrant and a refugee.

“Misplaced Women?” interventions by LADY GABY, Berlin Weißensee, 23.1.2018. Photo: Sajan Mani
with sajan, liberty
“Misplaced Women?” interventions by LADY GABY, Berlin Weißensee, 23.1.2018.

Through those actions of marking misplaced objects, recording of the misplaced sounds, and doing public interventions around sculptures and objects that reminded me of home, gave me a sense of belonging, comfort and familiarity, reminiscing the times and moments in my life when I felt secure and grounded. The places reminded me of my family migration that was carried out along side with the lack of identity and legality of living in a strange land, as well as my transformation from a young woman into a confident present artist.

Participation in the Misplaced Women? workshop really helped me strengthened my public intervention performances and try out new ways of domestic mapping. The interactions with the other participating performers and artists helped me indeed to achieve this as well and push new boundaries regarding performing in public. The walks in the neighbourhood of Berlin-Weißenssee, opened my eyes and inspired new ideas and concepts for the projects. New collaborations where born, for instance I performed with mirrors on the Berlin trains together with 5 other women artists from the project. That intervention, holding mirrors, empowered me and my presence. 

Text written by Gaby Bila-Günther

Edited and first published by Tanja Ostojić, 2018 on the Misplaced Women? project blog

Photos of the public interventions and marking of the misplaced objects by Sajan Mani, Mad Kate and Tatiana Bogacheva

This series of interventions by Lady Gaby have been developed and realised in the frame of “Misplaced Women?” workshop by Tanja Ostojić hosted by Kunsthalle Berlin Weißenssee, January 2018.

marked fountain1

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About the author:

Gaby Bila-Günther aka LADY GABY, originally from Romania, arrived to Berlin via Melbourne where she would regularly perform in public. She published her spoken-word, poetry, short stories and nonfiction articles online, on CD compilations, in journals, magazines and literature anthologies internationally.

She has performed, curated and showed text based, collages and video works internationally. In 2000 in Melbourne, Australia, she launched her self-published book Validate & Travel on a ‘moving tram’ and in 2002 her own spoken word filled with ambient techno beats debut CD, Off the Main, with music producer ZOG. In 2003 in Berlin together with fellow writer Jessica Falzoi she formed the Poets’ Party while in Melbourne she was part of Urban ART and Flush artist groups. In Melbourne together with her partner Teo Gunther they ran the performance and live music warehouse space, CBI PRODS, where underground techno parties, CD launches and various performance art events took place from 1995 till 2002.

For more information please visit:

Spoken word and sounds by various musicians

Spoken word and performance show

Word Bank Radioshow

Spoken word and beats with guest musicians

Lady Gaby’s artist run space

with statue1
“Misplaced Women?” interventions by LADY GABY, Berlin Weißensee, 23.1.2018.
marked lady

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Please visit as well other contributions and posts from the same workshops:

Mapping around Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz

Contribution by Rhea Ramjohn

Contribution by Mad Kate

Contribution by Hoang Tran Hieu Hanh

Contribution by Jiachen Xu and Evdoxia Stafylaraki

Contribution by Ola Kozioł

Contribution by Татьяна Bogacheva

Contribution by Katja Vaghi

Contribution by Nati Canto

Public Presentation of the Misplaced Women? Workshop in Berlin, January 24, 2018

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/

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