Wednesday 24 September 2014

New GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije catalogue published

New bi-lingual publication GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije (English, German) draws upon Margareta Kerns’ long term project and engagement with the overlooked histories of migration and 
their reverberations in images and stories. 

It includes insightful texts by Natalie Bayer, Nanna Heidenreich, Katja Kobolt and Branislava Kuburović, who probe the issues of feminist (living) archive, spaces of precarious histories, exhibitions and regimes of knowledge on migration (especially in relation to museums), and the space for/and role of fiction in migration stories and its representations on screen and in photographs.

"The publication GUESTures is a documentation, elaboration as well as a discursive and visual continuation of an eponymous art project by Margareta Kern. The project is generating forms of “visibility and intelligibility” (Rancière, 2009) and thus generates agency of a group whose existence the grand histoire has continuously overlayed, erased and rendered unimportant and invisible. GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije is thus an art installation/archive on “Gastarbeiter” or women “guest workers”, who came to West Germany from the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia during the wave of mass migration from the late 1960s, for (temporary) work. This publication documents the genealogy of the project, which the artist started during her residency in Berlin in 2009." Katja Kobolt, curator, editor and producer of GUESTures.

The publication also brings together personal material from the women that Kern interviewed, as well as the material from the collective reading workshops that were staged with different groups and generations of migrant workers and gallery visitors, during GUESTures exhibitions in Munich, Zagreb, Ljubljana, Banja Luka and Berlin (2009 - 2013). 

Published by Balkanet e.V Munich and Margareta Kern, with the kind support of Kulturreferats der Landeshauptstadt München and in collaboration with Red Min(e)d and Galerie Kullukcu & Gregorian, Munich and Myrdle Court Press, London, 2014. 

Please see preview of selected pages below.

ISBN: 978-0-9563539-9-3

82 pages, paperback, full colour, June 2014. 

Price: £8 plus postage and packaging.

GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije (please note: option 2 with DVD no longer available)

Thursday 1 May 2014


April 11, 2014 – September 7, 2014
Opening: April 10, 2014, 7 p.m.
Shedhalle, Zurich

Exhibition participants: Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, caring labor: an archive, Julia Glaus, Keine Hausarbeiterin Ist Illegal, Margareta Kern, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Radical Practices of Collective Care (Julia Wieger & Manuela Zechner)

Curated by Katharina Morawek, co-curated by Manuela Zechner

“They say it is love, we say it is unwaged work.
They call it frigidity. We call it absenteeism.”

Thus begins a text by Silvia Federici (Wages Against Housework, Power of Women Collective and Falling Wall Press, 1975) which was part of a larger campaign demanding “wages for housework.”

The goal of the campaign was to expose the supposed “self-evidence” of work carried out at home or in private (raising children, washing clothes, emotional devotion, cleaning, cooking, and sex) and to first even recognize it as work. The demand for pay did not aim at establishing and institutionalizing the situation of the housewife, but rather, ultimately sought a general refusal of housework, a questioning of the gender-based division of labor, and an overthrowing of society. The realization that gender is something constructed, quasi “acquired,” as well as the expansion of what is understood as housework, from the kitchen to the bedroom, points to queer politics.

How – and with whom – do we want to live? How do we take care of ourselves and others? How do we want to be cared for? Who performs this care work, and who can afford to “outsource” care? The exhibition takes up these questions and refers to what Silvia Federici called the “incomplete feminist revolution” in 2012. The nuclear family remains a preferred model despite the establishment of new concepts for living. At the same time, care services are organized increasingly within the private market and carried out especially by immigrant labor, in most cases by women, often without working papers. The exhibition shows artistic works from 1969 until the present that take up different aspects of care work and offer insight into the crisis of social reproduction. It also opens a space for discussion around collective practices of care, as well as reflection on current (local) strategies of self-organization.

18 & 19 April 2014
We extend an invitation to two days of reflection and discussion of practices and problems of “care.” At the center are a few examples of organizing and disorganizing of care relations as well as strategies of knowledge production and the narrating of histories related to care, work, and immigration.
In the course of the massive dismantling of the social state, which has been taking place in Europe under the motto “crisis” since 2008, questions pertaining to “care” and “social reproduction,” have become increasingly urgent. How do we sustain our society? What happens to those who fall out of the net or have been excluded to begin with? Who carries out care work and who can afford to “outsource” care?
Cut-backs to social states are accompanied by the neo-liberalizing of fundamental areas of human social reproduction (health, care, education). Found in these areas are not only lonely “clients,” but also increasingly, exploited workers - and for that reason, dynamic battles for dignified and just care. The role of care givers - especially of women and immigrant workers - is central in this, as are their forms of resistance. Who looks after whom in globalized everyday life? How can community and society be rethought along the lines of collective care and responsibility?

Further info 

Tuesday 18 March 2014

GUESTures in 'Border Cultures: Part Two (work, labour)' Art Gallery Windsor, Canada

Border Cultures: Part Two (work, labour)
January 25 – April 13, 2014
Art Gallery Windsor, Canada

Participating artists: C.A.M.P. (India), Sam Durant (USA), Philip Hoffman (Canada), Marisa Jahn(USA), Reena Katz (Canada), Margareta Kern (UK), Kero and Annie Hall (Canada), Vince Kogut(Canada), Min Sook Lee and Deborah Brandt (Canada), Ken Lum (Canada), Dylan Miner(Métis), Precarious Workers Brigade (UK), Martha Rosler (USA), Andrea Slavik (Canada), David Taylor (USA)

Margareta Kern, GUESTures 2011 (right), Ken Lum, Melly Shum Hates Her Job, 1989 (back)

Following the launch of the multi-year Border Cultures series with the award-winning Part One (homes, land) in 2013, the AGW continues its research and discussion around the geographic, political and socio-economic context of the Windsor-Detroit region with the second edition of the series. Border Cultures: Part Two (work, labour) examines the changing labour market in our globalized economies and the in-between space of the borderlands where free-flowing capital and the uneasy movements of the stratified work force encounter one another. Capital flows more easily than people to fulfill the demands of our consumer-based societies. Corporations set up factories and sweatshops across the world, employing thousands of people under precarious conditions at low wages. Similarly, while outsourcing North American jobs has adversely impacted its working and middle-classes, there is continued dependence on migrant workers in the agricultural, domestic and service sectors that are invisible in the public realm. 

Part Two draws inspiration from the history of social struggles in the region, such as the Underground Railroad, the anti-segregation protests in the auto factories, and generations of migrant workers who contributed to the regional economy. The artists examine these histories that have crossed boundaries and brought people together, highlighting the strategies used by them to survive and thrive. By expressing solidarity through DIY kits to humorous posters that riff on pop culture and street art, the artists look back through official labour archives and respond with personal histories. For Border Cultures: Part Two (work, labour), the gallery will transform from a performance space to a place for discussion and community gathering to paying homage to the labour of artists, organizers and everyday folk whose work obscure the confines of national boundaries. 

Curated by Srimoyee Mitra

Friday 22 November 2013

GUESTures I GOSTIkulacije exhibition at Kullukcu gallery, Munich 2013

Spaces, Poetics and Politics of Counter-stories: a discussion on representations of migration history, with (right to left) Katja Kobolt / Red Min(e)d, Natalie Bayer / Polycity, Margareta Kern and Nanna Heidenreich

Workshop and collective reading with the migrant women:

Photographs by Brigita Malenica and Margareta Kern

Tuesday 22 October 2013

GUESTures at Kullukcu gallery, Münich 9-14 November 2013

Willy Brandt on an official visit to Yugoslavia, planting a cedar tree in the Friendship Park Belgrade, 24.4.1973.          

GUESTures |  GOSTIkulacije 
an exhibition by Margareta Kern 
9 - 14.11. 2013 
Galerie Kullukcu, Schillerstr. 23/ 3., Munich

Saturday, 9. November 
7 pm: exhibition opening
8 pm: Spaces, Poetics and Politics of Counter-stories: a discussion on representations of migration history, with Margareta Kern, Nanna Heidenreich, Natalie Bayer / Polycity and Katja Kobolt / Red Min(e)d (in English)
10 pm:  DJ Mistakeman

Sunday, 10. November 
4 pm - 6.30pm: workshop/collective reading with migrant women (initiatives). Apply to
7 pm: public collective reading from the archive  

Tuesday, 12. November 
8 pm: a walk-through the exhibition with the curators Katja Kobolt and Natalie Bayer 

Thursday,  14. November 
8 pm: an artist talk by Margareta Kern

Margareta Kern's solo exhibition GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije is a series of carefully staged performative archival interventions, a kind of 'travelling archive' which develops in constant and complex dialogue with the gallery visitors and with the 'subjects' of artist's parallel research into the mass labour migration of the women workers from the socialist Yugoslavia to West Germany in the late 1960s. Questions around the visibility of archives, of those in the shadows of official histories, are closely entwined with Kern's questioning of the relationship of image, narrative and performance, and the position of an artist as ethnographer and historiographer.

The central work in the exhibition, is a double-screen video installation GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije, a re-enactment based on interviews between the artist and migrant worker women in Berlin. Working with an actress Adna Sablych, Kern re-creates the spaces of three women’s homes in her studio in London, through a minimalist semi-fictional set. Using the archival footage from the German factories, juxtaposed with performances, the film creates an implicated space where relationships of voice, testimony, documentary and historical imaginary are continuously re-configured. 

In Munich, the exhibition will be accompanied by a discussion with the artist Margareta Kern, theoretician Nanna Heidenreich and curators and theoreticians Natalie Bayer and Katja Kobolt. In addition, through the Munich exhibition and the workshop with migrant women (initiatives) the archive in question will be for the first time extended, the testimonies of the Munich based migrant women will become a part of the archive. The results of the workshops will be presented in a public 'collective reading', which  is an opportunity to activate the 'archive' through a collaborative act of reading. This is an invitation to perform an 'archive' in an intimate and informal atmosphere, and through this process to open up the questions of voice and embodiment (of memories), and the role such a mobile 'archive' could play in production and/or subversion of historical authority. 

Produced by: Balkanet e.V.
Co-Produced by: Galerie Kullukcu; Red Min(e)d; Polycity

With the kind support by: Landeshauptstadt München Kulturreferat 

The exhibition is part of the 54th October Salon, Belgrade, curated by Red Min(e)d

.......... DEUTCHE .................................................

GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije
Margareta Kern (London)
9.-14. November 2013

Galerie Kullukcu, Schillerstraße 23, 3. Stock, 80336 München (U-/S-Bahn Hauptbahnhof)
Öffnungszeiten: 16h-21h (Montag geschlossen)
Eintritt frei

Die Installation GUESTures der in London lebenden Künstlerin Margareta Kern ist ein „reisendes Archiv“ zur Geschichte der Arbeitsmigration aus weiblicher Perspektive; sie besteht aus verschiedenen Ausstellungselementen wie einer Zwei-Kanal-Videoinstallation, einer Foto-Projektionen, einem Schwarz/Weiß-Video, Archivmappen mit Overheadprojektoren und Farbdias mit Diabetrachtern. An unterschiedlichen Ausstellungsorten entwickelt sich das Kunstprojekt durch dialogische Methoden ständig weiter und wird somit prozessual aktualisiert.

GUESTures basiert auf einer mehrjährigen Recherche der Künstlerin und Interviews mit sog. „Gastarbeiterinnen“ der ersten Generation, die Ende der 1960er und Anfang der 1970er Jahre nach Deutschland kamen. Dabei setzt sich die Arbeit insbesondere mit dem Zusammenhang zwischen der Sichtbarkeit in Archiven und den Schatten der offiziellen Geschichtsschreibung auseinander. Kern befragt mit ihrer Arbeit das Verhältnis zwischen Bild, Erzählung und Performanz und begreift sich dabei als eine ethnografisch und historisch arbeitende Künstlerin.

In Zentrum der Ausstellung steht eine synchronisierte 2-Kanal-Videoinstallation (HD), die aus Abschriften der Gespräche mit den Migrantinnen basiert; nach dem Prinzip des Verbatim-Theaters und seines politischen Potentials gibt der Film eine gendered oral history durch das Prisma der Fiktion wieder. Mit dem Einsatz von einer Schauspielerin, Adna Sabiych, an einem spezifischen Ort, dem Studio der Künstlerin, erzeugt Kern Räume von drei Frauen mithilfe eines minimalistischen semi-fiktionalen Sets.

Des Weiteren ermöglicht die Ausstellung einen Einblick in das Forschungsmaterial wie Fotografien, Interview-Exzerpte und Briefe. Zusätzliche ist die Installation an unterschiedlichen Stellen mit archivalischem Material u.a. aus deutschen Fabriken, in denen die Frauen großteils gearbeitet haben, ergänzt; indem diese archivbezogenen Materialen mit den Performanzen der Videoinstallation gegenüber gestellt werden, entsteht ein Raum, in dem die Beziehung zwischen Stimme, Zeugenschaft und dokumentarisch historischem Bildmaterial ständig rekonfiguriert wird.

In Verflechtung mit der Münchner Diskussionsformat Polycity von Natalie Bayer werden die Ausstellungsinhalte re-aktiviert sowie re-kontextualisiert. Migrantische Fraueninitiativen aus München und Migrationswissenschaftlerinnen werden zu einem öffentlichen kollektiven Lesen und Befragen des ausgestellten Archivs eingeladen. Die kollektive Lesung, die Podiumsdiskussion und die Ausstellung sind somit nicht nur als gendered oral history zu verstehen, sondern sie haben zusätzlich das Ziel, eine zwar zeitlich begrenzte jedoch intensive Plattform für historische sowie heute noch aktive migrantische Fraueninitiativen zu schaffen und somit die Geschichte und Gegenwart der Migration durch Diskursivierung zu re-aktualisieren.


Samstag, 9. November
19h Eröffnung
20h Podiumsdiskussion “Poetics, Spaces and Politics of Counter-Stories: A Discussion on Representations of Migration History”, Margareta Kern, Nanna Heidenreich, Natalie Bayer / Polycity und Katja Kobolt / Red Min(e)d
in Englischer Sprache mit ggf. Übersetzung
22h DJ Mistakeman

Sonntag, 10. November
16h-18.30 Workshop “Archive in Process”
Wir laden zum Workshop Frauen unterschiedlicher Herkunftsbezügen bzw. "Migrationshintergründen", -geschichten, -wegen und verschiedener Generationen ein. Gemeinsam sichten, lesen und ergänzen wir das Archiv mit den jeweilig eigenen Erfahrungen und Perspektiven. Die im Rahmen des Workshops generierten Geschichten fließen anonymisiert in das Archiv von “GUESTures” ein und werden Teil zukünftiger Ausstellungspräsentationen. Anmeldung erforderlich bis Samstag, 9. November 2013 unter:
19h öffentliche kollektive Lesung aus dem Archiv

Dienstag, 12. November
20h geführter Rundgang mit der Kuratorin Katja Kobolt

Donnerstag, 14. November
20h Künstlergespräch mit der Künstlerin Margareta Kern


Produktion: Balkanet e.V.
Koproduktion: Kullukcu Galerie und Polycity, München; Red Min(e)d Ljubljana/Sarajevo/Belgrad/München  und 54. Oktober Salon, Belgrad
Dieses Projekt wird gefördert von der Landeshauptstadt München Kulturreferat

Kuratierung und Realisierung: Katja Kobolt / Red Min(e)d  und Natalie Bayer / Polycity
Technische Realisierung: Margareta Kern, Katja Kobolt, Bülent Kullukcu, Asmir Šabić
Gestaltung: Iris Springer
Kommunikation und Web: Vesna Radosaljević
Finanzen: Sladjana Tomić
Editing: Katja Kobolt , Natalie Bayer, Margareta Kern, Karen Klauke
Videodokumentation: Naomi Steuer - v. Westphalen
Photodokumentation: Brigita Malenica

Sunday 20 October 2013

Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, publishes Branislava Kuburović text on GUESTures

Pleased to say that Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, has published a new text by Branislava Kuburović on Margareta Kern's project GUESTures.

The first 50 downloads of the article are free, please click here to access.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

GUESTures: Awakening the Space of Precarious Knowledge by Branislava Kuburovic

Margareta Kern's solo exhibition GUESTures is a series of carefully staged performative archival interventions, installed in its fullest and latest incarnation at the Gallery of the Student Centre in Zagreb in October 2011. The exhibition is part of the artist's long-term project GUESTs, envisioned as a 'travelling archive' which develops in a constant and complex dialogue with its audiences and with the 'subjects' of the artist's parallel historical and ethnographic research into the mass labour migration of the workers from the socialist Yugoslavia to West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Within this broader context of Kern’s research, GUESTs has always been a project dedicated above all to the marginalised histories of women migrants, whose presence in the mass waves of labour migration from the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia for temporary work abroad remains extremely poorly documented, although women formed large sections of the Yugoslav ‘gastarbeiters’, ‘gastarbajteri’ in a local spelling accompanied by a measure of condescension, or simply guest-workers, as the original German term translates. What remains the most significant underlying theme of the GUESTs project is this hidden history that shows how the untranslatable notion (in the masculine form) of ‘gastarbaiter’ in fact related also to a large number of young women who, most often entirely alone, barely more than eighteen or nineteen years old, and after undergoing extensive health-checks organised by German medical teams with an aim of recruiting only entirely healthy workers, left the socialist Yugoslavia for temporary work in the most developed countries of the Western Europe. Kern, whose grandparents were part of this wave of migration, follows this complex personal and social history through thorough archival research, and through a series of interviews, conducted initially with her grandmother, who today lives in Slavonski Brod in Croatia, and later with some fifteen women with whom the artist has been meeting over the last several years in Berlin, the city that has always been one of the centres of immigration in Germany and where the majority of these former ‘temporary’ emigrants still live.

As with the artist’s earlier projects, the link between the anthropological and the personal is key in the work. Kern creates an alternative archive of intimate life narratives, of the histories of women whose stories and whose visibility, as she would soon find out, ‘in the existing archives (both in Germany and the former Yugoslavia) were minimal or did not exist at all’. By documenting these invisible histories through the recollections of the women, recorded after almost forty years of them living in Germany, the artist has at the same time followed the history of her own family, as well as her personal story, the story of a new generation that left the by then already former Yugoslavia in the course of the wars of the 1990s:
Recognising my state of ‘temporariness’ and continuous planning (even if only subconsciously) of departure, I also recognised a similar state in which my grandparents spent twenty-two years of living and working in the West Germany. They left Yugoslavia in the late sixties as temporary ‘guest workers’ for “two years until we’d build a house, and then until we’d help your mother with the wedding, and then constantly there was a need for something else, a new car, carrying things to-and-fro, and so two years turned into twenty-two.”

The way in which these various thematic layers are linked in the project is far from obvious. The artist’s process of ‘awakening the archival material’ does not seem to hold any pretentions of becoming yet another, however alternative archive of (post)Yugoslav migration, evening-out what are after all some highly disparate experiences, as well as entirely personal life stories of the migrant women. Instead, in this encounter, the visitors are given an opportunity to themselves become guests on some imaginary migrant ground, perhaps made up most of all from a certain entirely novel sense of time, from an ongoing series of departures, a permanent slippage of time that nonetheless brings with it a certain sense of freedom and a possibility to live and create one’s life story outside of the dictates of prescribed identities and notions of belonging.

The central work in the exhibition in the Gallery SC is the video-installation titled GUESTures, created on the basis of the transcripts of the interviews. The work is an artistic intervention inspired by the principles of the verbatim plays and the political potential of this particular form of theatre. Recorded in the artist’s studio in London, GUESTures transposes the ‘authentic’ interviews into the frame of fiction, albeit through a highly faithful interpretation of the original texts in the work of the actress Adna Sablyich. The resulting work is both visually subtle and understated in terms of the acting. It both follows and subverts the impulse of the verbatim style to achieve a certain ‘ideal’ authenticity of expression through the use of documentary material. Kern does not hide the artificiality of the context she creates for these women’s stories and instead includes the process of creating the ‘fictional’ framework into her video installation, which consists of two equally sized rectangular screens on which we can simultaneously follow two complexly linked contents. One of the screens shows publicly very rarely seen and thus highly valuable archival material from German telecommunications factories in which these women most commonly worked, introducing the historical background of the interviews but also – through being edited together with the material shot in the artist’s studio as the documentation of her creating the frame of the other parallel screen – reminding us that there exists no such thing as an ‘objective view’ in the process of filming and editing, that we are always observing an image created from a highly particular angle and with a highly particular purpose. In the case of these documents, and from this temporal distance, the promotional and political purpose of this archival material is all too obvious. The parallel screen consists of a series of film portraits, entirely focused on the stories of the interviewed women; visually, the frame rests fully on the actress, who is seated on a simple, geometrically shaped white sofa, framed by a minimal ‘backdrop’ of a white wall and a black board on which each of the women is always represented by her name and a simple chalk drawing of an object which is both a simple marker and a subjective symbol of her specific character, recognised in the course of the time in which these interview slowly took shape.

Still from GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije, HD video, 33 minutes, 2011

The pared down nature of the expression of GUESTures is particularly effective in the work of the actress Adna Sablyich. Limited both by the concept of the verbatim theatre and by the bareness of the video frame, Sablych has developed the variety of her ‘roles’ by the most minimal acting means. Apart from the changing colours and forms of her work uniform/costume, the different women’s characters are revealed in the most discreet shifts in the actress’s body language, nuanced differences of her hand gestures, the manner in which she sits, small changes of her facial expressions, and the accents which are as faithful as possible to the manner of speech of the women who have been interviewed. The desired effect of the Brechtian ‘distancing’ of the narrative is additionally achieved through occasional subtle interventions by the artist herself, from significant pauses in the interpretation of the text, to the sudden inclusion of the artist’s voice replicating parts of the interview, now repeated in the context of a fictional redoing of the conversations but also in the very real space of the artist’s working space, of her art studio.

Still from GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije, HD video, 33 minutes, 2011

This constant switching between different spaces and temporalities in GUESTures is not accidental. It reflects the artist’s questioning of the notions of the document and of memory, and of the nature of art and politics the work is able to activate. Kern does not look for answers to what is above all a temporal and experiential paradox of the act of recollection by somehow striving to resolve the sheer variety of content in her work, which is a mixture of public and private documents, and of documentary and staged material. Neither does she make any attempt to give this variety of material in her exhibition any easily recognisable common denominator in its final form. GUESTures are by their very structure an open space of investigation that materialises what are often irresolvable versions of reality without necessarily attempting to offer a solution. The effect of the thus conceived ‘distancing’ of the very format of the exhibition emphasises the fragility of knowledge in which the relationship between document, memory and testimony is never a given. The political potential of the work is thus always a matter of the present moment in time in which we are all active participants in a dialogue with the material and thus at least partially responsible for possible interpretations of history.

Still from GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije, HD video, 33 minutes, 2011

GUESTures materialise this concept above in their interaction with us, their visitors and temporary archivists, and only to the degree to which each one of us is ready to engage with the material they consist of, that is often activated through a physical gesture, however small, we have to make in order to access the material. This brings the project closer to the performativity of the notion of the archive itself, which, as Jacques Derrida reminds us in his book Archive Fever, is ‘at once the commencement and the commandment’,[i] both a beginning and an order, both a place in which memory begins, and a patriarchal institution of memory in which some memories will be weaved into the fabric of the historical narrative, and others not. By activating the performative aspect of the archive, the artist also reminds us that the historical selectiveness is not simply the doing of some invisible authority outside our reach, but begins and ends with each one of us, with our individual gestures of acceptance and activating, or of refusal and forgetting, of some very simple human experiences that often change official histories and that are thus so often conveniently forgotten.

This questioning of the notions of memory and forgetting in the project is significant also in the context of the perhaps most painful problem people face in emigration, a feeling of being under a permanent threat of loss, from the simplest but often dramatic existential losses to the loss of their mother tongue, their country of origin, or simply their sense of identity in the new society in which they live and work. Hamid Naficy, US-based exiled Iranian film and media theorist, warns against two equally common and dangerous strategies among the exiles themselves resulting from a hastened desire to circumvent these threats.[ii] Under the pressure of the dominant population, and in an effort to avoid loss at all cost, immigrants reach for either a fetishisation of their past which – while as complex as their present – is from the temporal and spatial distance of exile experienced as a space of protected and simple belonging and identity; or for an ideal mimesis, for ‘fitting’ perfectly into their new environment. Naficy questions both of these mimetic gestures, both the holding on to a fixed notion of identity through the framework of a frozen image of the past, through a certain imitation of one’s ‘original’ self, and the apparent letting go of that past through an insistence on blending with the new environment, on shaping oneself in the image of the ‘host’. GUESTures help us recognise the extent to which both these strategies are based on the premise of identity understood as an act of adequation, as an ‘I’ which is always identical to itself, as a being without a ‘reminder’. By structuring its interpretation of memory and identity in the form of a visual and textual dialogue, by mixing historical documents with very personal recollections and stories, and by playfully experimenting with the different possibilities of the archival recording of the past, and its aesthetic and political activating in the present moment, the project opens the space of identity as simultaneous and multilayered, as a space in which the difference of the immigrants may be seen not as a problem to be resolved but as an occasion for developing a complex awareness about difference. It is only by accepting that there can be no identity without difference, and abandoning the idea of society and culture defined through the exclusion of the other as a precondition for a comfortable life inside the borders of a protected identity, that these invisible experiences can become part of our shared history.

Together with the invisible migration of women, which is the most significant forgotten experience the GUESTures project brings back into the public space of memory, there will also remain in the project the notion of the guest, with its double meaning of someone to whom utmost trust and respect is granted through the act of inviting them into one’s home, but also someone who is always already about to leave, who does not belong, or expects to ever become part of that most intimate space we consider inalienably our own. The twofold nature of the notion of a guest is reflected in the stories of these women, with all of the contradictions and double standards entailed in any attempt to curtail an economic programme of mass migration,[iii] through limitations of the rights and length of residence permits of those whose work is indispensible but whose presence in one’s culture and society is avoided at all costs, or at least limited to its very minimum. The temporal distance of this particular history should not deceive us, for what is at stake here is not an already somewhat anachronistic principle of national technocrats from the era of the so-called high modernism, but a very current political strategy. Just several months ago, British Immigration Minister Damian Green has stated that: ‘[w]e want the brightest and best workers to come to the UK, make a strong contribution to our economy while they are here, and then return home’.[iv]
What this political statement leaves out entirely deliberately is exactly the human and political context of migration which Kern’s artistic intervention brings back into public discourse. What is omitted in that seemingly straightforward statement is the political arrogance of an elite convinced that their only apparently clear economic calculation can justify gross disregard of the complexities of relations between work and migration, and of the inevitability of not just sharing the space of work, but sharing the entire complexity of the social and the political space with the migrants. GUESTures are, as the artists says, both ‘a portrait and an encouragement to experiment with the questions of voice and representation, of veracity, of authenticity, of document and of fiction’ in which these nameless and faceless ‘brightest and best workers’ become some entirely specific people whose life stories can easily becomes stories of each and every one of us. The aesthetic space also allows the artist to open up the question of class stereotyping of the ‘gastarbeiter’, pointing to the political background of the decisions through which a growing percentage of the global population is being kept in a long-term, and increasingly a permanent state of non-belonging, of an existence between two sovereign countries which both profit from keeping such large numbers of their ‘brightest and best workers’ constrained in the space of border identities, in the border spaces where the obligations of the state have always been minimal and the potential profits enormous.

The ethics of wit(h)nessing, through which theorist Bracha Ettinger emphasises the multilayered and intertwined nature of the notions of experience, community, witnessing and memory, is one possible reading of the specificity of the aesthetic and ethical space opened up by GUESTures as an active political space. Wit(h)nessing is a po/etic boundary concept through which Ettinger strengthens the political potential of such border identities, where community is an affective notion which does not belong to the past only but is always created anew in the present moment, in which memory becomes possible only inasmuch as it is open to being affected by others, so that each, however incompatible experience can become part of a shared space of memory. This is the radical potential of art as an archive and a reminder of all that is unsaid and unheard in the discourse of history. By opening the potential for wit(h)nessing, the aesthetic space enables us to always question the dominant historiography and history anew, shifting it from the space of conflict into an affected space of compassion and of precarious knowledge.

[i] Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1996, p. 1.
[ii] Hamid Naficy, The Making of Exile Cultures: Iranian Television in Los Angeles, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993.
[iii] Kaja Shonick speaks of a bilateral agreement between socialist Yugoslavia and Western Germany about organised temporary migration of over 500 000 Yugoslav workers between 1968 and 1973. See: Kaja Shonick, ‘Politics, Culture, and Economics: Reassessing the West German Guest Worker Agreement with Yugoslavia’, Journal of Contemporary History, 2009, 44(4): 719–736 (719).
[iv] See: Tamson Pietsch, ‘Don’t let immigration caps leave academics out in the cold’, sreda 22.06.2011, Guardian Professional:

Branislava Kuburović, born in Prijepolje, Serbia, lives and works between Prague and London. She holds a PhD from the Department of Theatre and Performance at the University of Roehampton in London with the thesis ‘Performance of Wit(h)nessing: Trauma and Affect in Contemporary Live Art’. Her research has been presented at a number of international conferences, it has been published in the journals parallax and Performance Research, and will be part of two forthcoming edited books: Intimacy: Across Digital and Visceral Performance, published by Palgrave Macmillan, and Theater und Subjektkonstitution/Theatre and the Making of Subjects, published by Transcript, Bielefeld (2012).

Installation Photographs: Marcus Kern, 2011