Europe, Views from the Sidelines
In addition to Aleksandra Vajd’s non-curatorial, artist-initiated selection of images by contemporary young European photographers and the urban comix interventions chosen by strip-expert Igor Prassel, City of Women presents a number of installations and single-channel videos. Directly or indirectly, subtly or overtly, ironically or passionately, these works seek to challenge unifying, all-encompassing notions about the homogeneity of Europe’s collective values and identity.
You Could Speak Swedish… - Esra Ersen
For a commission by Stockholm’s Moderna Museet, the Istanbul-based artist Esra Ersen took her camera to the suburbs of the Swedish capital to talk to foreigners and refugees enrolled in a Swedish language program. She asked them to write down, in their native language, what they would say if they could speak fluent Swedish. The students were free to choose whatever subject they wanted, and their answers – in Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Spanish, and Bengali, as well as other languages –range from personal, emotional comments to political statements. These were then translated into Swedish, and the students, with the help of a teacher, read their statements in Swedish in front of Esra’s camera. Their facial expressions, gestures, and intonation supplement – and modify – the meaning of the words they speak. The ease and fluency with which the students deliver their comments in their native languages contrasts starkly with the difficulty they experience when speaking their ‘new’ language.
Esra Ersen is interested in how identities are formed and re-formed, and much of her work is anchored in her own Turkish background. She does not shrink from social, political or private elements as she investigates how meaning is created and (mis)understood. Often site-specific, her works include photography, video, and installation.
Segadors - Coco Fusco
You may remember performance artist Coco Fusco as an Undiscovered Amerindian in The Couple in the Cage, or as someone in search of The Incredible Disappearing Women. Those who attended last year’s City of Women Festival will not have forgot the particular brand of irony and humour displayed in her ‘deconstructive parodies’, which examine the cross-cultural reshaping of individual and community identities. The hilarious single-channel video-installation Els Segadors, one of her most recent works, displays the same sense of irony, as Fusco tackles the question of Catalan national identity, which today is as controversial an issue as ever.
Els Segadors premiered at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam as part of the Unpacking Europe exhibition (last year’s City of Women Festival visitors had the chance to see preview clips of the work). As Els Segadors relates in many ways to this year’s festival program – and was one of the inspirations behind it – City of Women is delighted to host the full-length version of the video.
When Coco Fusco decided to create a work on the glaring disparity between the official version of national identity and the reality it is meant to reflect, and chose Catalonia’s national anthem ‘Els Segadors’ as her starting point, she hit the mark. One month before she arrived in Barcelona to make the video, the regional Department of Education – in the midst of mounting anxiety over the impact of immigration on Catalan social integrity – adopted a resolution requiring all primary and high school children in Catalonia to learn ‘Els Segadors’. During the same period, the wife of Jordi Pujol, the president of Catalonia’s regional government, made xenophobic public statements claiming that the national culture was being threatened by immigrant children speaking languages other than Catalan.
‘Fusco’s video documentary stresses the absurdity lying behind any attempt at forcibly articulating the identity of a country. … A Catalan girl of Andalusian descent may sing Els Segadors to a Sevillanas rhythm, or an Anglo-Pakistani will declare the music does not appeal to him, and thus proceed to adapt it to his own liking. These “irreverent” responses are, in fact, the only possible way to adapt to an imposed cultural pattern. In the process Els Segadors aptly becomes ‘other’ than it is meant to be by the official guardians of Catalan national identity. (…) Coco Fusco's work … fills one of Europe's most ancient ghosts – the nightmarish dream of a homogeneous, ideally eternal, unaltered cultural essence – with the invigorating “presence of the now”. At a time when Europe must either accept the “other” cultures which live on its soil, or condemn itself to sing old vengeful patriotic anthems.’ (Ana Nuño, Unpacking Europe catalogue)
(For more on Coco Fusco, check out: http://www.thing.net/~cocofusco)
Drama - Angela Melitopoulos
‘The video Passing Drama is based on various recollections of refugees. Drama is the name of a small city in Northern Greece. But as a common noun in the Greek language, it can be translated as “scene”. It can also mean “narration” or “play”. The city of Drama was populated by many refugees (including my grandparents) who survived the deportations from Asia Minor to Greece in 1923. During World War II, their children escaped the Bulgarian occupation only to become worker-slaves in Hitler's Germany (Germany and Bulgaria were allies). Interviews with these refugees, linked with my father’s recitation of his move from Greece to Vienna, follow a diagonal trajectory through Europe, crossing four different national states.
‘The territory of the “refugee” is continuously changing. His or her memories are re-mixed depending on the conditions of integration. The history of refugees is passed orally from one generation to the next. Recorded interviews with refugees within the boundaries of Drama form the voice level in the “woven” editing structure of this video. To tell a story that has been transmitted, retold, and re-memorised from one generation to the next, means to reflect on the subject of narration itself. Storytelling implies the recall of memories. Consequently, we have to pass through different densities of constructive or superfluous “thought-flows”. During this process we connect our own words with the generated word-constructions of others.
‘The voices are like invisible threads in the woven structure of this video. As in a carpet, one can see the knots on the front side, but it is only by looking at the back of the carpet that one can follow the threads connecting the knots.
‘Passing Drama is edited as a hypertextual structure of image and sound, a structure of memory and recollection visualised through non-linear editing. Passing Drama tells its story from the point of view of a minority whose past seems to be devoured by industrial machines favouring the majority.’ –(Angela Melitopoulos)
- Tanya Ury
In 1999, the German government distributed a series of postcards announcing the new German citizenship laws that would come into force in the year 2000. On one of the cards you see a ‘Korean’ women with her ‘German’ boyfriend. Now, with the new legislation – according to the message on the card – she can obtain the same rights he already enjoys. Welcome to the bright new multicultural Germany. Dual(national)ity, a series of visuals and texts by Tanya Ury, tells a different story…
Dual(national)ity is but one example of Tanya Ury’s multiple artistic practice, which is located at the interface of visual art, performance and storytelling. Her works, which include video, photography, narrative performance, and literary reflections, investigate the imprint of history and identity constructions and echo a chaotic and fragmented chorus of divergent artistic, cultural, theoretical, and political voices that influence and deform each other.
Die leere Mitte – Hito Steyerl
Die leere Mitte [The Empty Centre], a documentary film essay by writer and director Hito Steyerl, reveals the layers of history beneath the construction site at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.
Before World War II, Potsdamer Platz was the lively centre of Berlin, and the centre of power. During the Cold War, it became an empty minefield, sandwiched between the East and West parts of the city, demarcated by the Berlin Wall. After 1989, when the Wall fell, the death strip, the empty margins on each side of the former border, once again became accessible. The centre returned.
Using dissolves of archival material and present-day images, the film engages the viewer in an archaeology of the present. On the spot where the philosopher Moses Mendelssohn – the grandfather of composer Felix Mendelssohn – was once prevented by customs officers at the former gate from entering the city because he was Jewish, today a woman from Jamaica, herself a temporary resident in Germany, sells pieces of the Wall and old East German transit visas as souvenirs.
Where in 1884 the colonial powers designed the internal borders of Africa (later known as “the Berlin Borders”) and where the Berlin Conference established the borders of the Balkan states (with the goal of ensuring Western influence), today East European migrant workers construct the headquarters of multinational corporations, such as Mercedes Benz and Sony. But as part of the same process, people are being shoved to the outskirts of the city, marginalised by the re-centring of Germany’s political and economic power.
Through its focus on Potsdamer Platz, the film discovers the residue of global power shifts and the simultaneous dismantling and reconstruction of borders. At the same time, it uncovers a history of the racism and exclusion – especially against immigrants and minorities – that have always served to define the notion of the powerful national centre.
and Trembling Time
- Yael Bartana
Yael Bartana’s work deals with the rituals of social training and the individual’s role of assimilation within geopolitical contexts. Depicting four minutes of a target practice session with young female Israeli soldiers, Profile transcends the mesmerising routine of the loop and skims past such cliché formulations as ‘guns and chicks’ or ‘good and bad’. With headphones on, the viewer watches a young uniformed woman in profile. Standing in an orderly line with her fellow soldiers, she (also wearing headphones) carefully, almost mechanically, handles her weapon: She picks it up, holds it, aims, waits, shoots, and puts it back on the floor, ready to recommence the routine. Resembling a slow-motion playback in a sports event, the action repeats itself mercilessly, mirroring the repetition of reality and the persistence of systems in society. ‘My work’, says Bartana, ‘investigates the dynamics of the relation between the individual and the state. As a soldier, it is difficult to keep your personal sovereignty without actively resisting commands.’ The Israeli-born artist, who now divides her time between Amsterdam and New York, depicts the complexity of recalling a collective moment and the ongoing presence of war.
In Trembling Time (which she presented earlier this year at Manifesta 4), Bartana again confronts us with the tension between the individual and the threatening state-orchestrated collective. She filmed this seven-minute sound/video piece in Tel-Aviv from a highway overpass on Soldiers Memorial Day. It depicts a moment of silence as it is observed in traffic during a countrywide siren. The process of stopping and the moments leading up to it, are suspended and repeated. Traffic slows down, begins to stop, slowly converges, and solidifies. The result is a dreamlike image, both captivating and disturbingly alienating. Trembling Time questions the impact of ceremony on society and the individual.
Sounds of Soup and Ironing – Maria Chuykova
In the installation Ironing, Masha, after having properly vacuumed the whole room, gives her postmodernist books the complete washing, drying, and ironing treatment. (Didn't Godard once say, ‘Paris is dirty’ so ‘people should wash their ideas’?)
In Sounds of Soup she exhibits seven saucepans standing on pedestals made out of contemporary philosophy classics. Coming out of each pot we hear various sounds of the ‘production process’: boiling water, vegetables being chopped, the hissing of frying vegetables, etc.
For the opening of the 8th City of Women Festival, Maria Chuykova – also known as the ‘Widely Read Housewife’ – will treat us to some Slavic food for the soul, as well as food for the body.
Mednarodni grafični likovni center – MGLC, 7.10. – 19.10. 2002
Sre.-ned. / Wed -Sun.: 11.00-18.00
and exceptionally on 8. 10..: 11am - 6pm
Mednarodni grafični likovni center
Mon., 7 Oct., 8:30 p.m.:
Sounds of Soup, Maria Chuykova
Tue., 8 Oct., 4 p.m.-6 p.m.:
Ironing, Maria Chuykova
Thu., 17 Oct., at 7 p.m.:
Passing Drama - Angela Melitopoulos
at 8:30 p.m.:
If You Could Speak Swedish… Esra Ersen
Els Segadors – Coco Fusco
at 10 p.m.:
Die leere Mitte [The Empty Centre] Hito Steyerl
Broadcast on TV Slovenia 1 in the arts programme Terminal:
2. oktobra ob 22:55 :
Passing Drama Angela Melitopoulos
Profile – Yael Bartana
In cooperation with: Mednarodni grafični likovni center
With the support of: Cultural Link Program (OSI-Budapest), SCCA-LJUBLJANA Zavod za sodobne umetnosti / Center for Contemporary Arts