Tuesday, 22 February 2011

'Guests' installation and collective reading at the group exhibition Exposures/Where Everything is Yet to Happen, Banja Luka, Nov 2010

Installation 'Guests/Gosti' together with a collective reading/performance titled 'Guesture/Gostikulacija', took place as part of a group exhibition Exposures, the second chapter of the long-term, collaborative project Where Everything Is Yet to Happen. The entire project was curated by Antonia Majaca and Ivana Bago, curators of Miroslav Kraljevic gallery in Zagreb, and took place in Banja Luka, Mostar and Sarajevo in the form of an exhibition, a set of seminars, workshops, and new productions. For further information about the project Where Everything is Yet to Happen (WEIYTH) and SpaPort Biennial 2009/10, please click here.

The exhibition in Banja Luka, was installed within ex-offices of a telecommunications factory 'Cajavec', which was unfortunately facing an end to its nearly 40 years of production. My late uncle Jovo worked for Cajavec as an engineer his whole working life, so it was particularly sad seeing this company, which was a major employer during socialist Yugoslavia, crumble. At the same time, (and there is always something uncomfortable in admitting the beauty of such places) dusty corridors and musty offices with the 70's furniture certainly provided a poignant setting for the work.

During the exhibition I staged a collective reading of the material from the installation/archive, within the installation space, and being with a small group of people, created a sense of intimacy in which personal stories could be re-performed. Each person from the audience took turn in reading sections of a text - excerpts from interviews with 'guestworkers' - adding their own voice to it.
One of the women I met at the women's club in the Serbian centre, in Berlin, Zora, was on holiday in Banja Luka at the time, came for the talk, and spoke about her own experience of moving to Germany as a Gastarbeiter, and living and working there now for forty years. It was quite amazing to have her there, and a bit of a surprise - even though I told Zora about the exhibition when I was in Berlin, I didn't know that she will come to the talk. Having her there as part of the event, enabled a spontaneous dialogue and cross-generational exchange that in my experience, very rarely happens. It has left me wondering if such an event could be more directed, and even staged, and if so, how to create such atmosphere in which an exchange of experience and dialogue could take place... ?


While going through the folders that were left in the cupboards (in the space where I was setting up my work), I discovered small photographs that showed chemical reactions in the machines that were used in the Cajevac factory. The catalogue was in German, probably the machines used for producing televisions sets in Cajevac factory were the same as those that 'guestworker' women used in factories in Berlin. I was struck by how beautiful these images are, very abstract in shapes, and colour, almost like Malevich paintings and yet they were purely chemical tests - they revive and redraw links between photography, chemistry, machinery and the human, affective, and transcendent space, something I always thought was intruiging in photography...


While the exhibition was on, Angela Merkel gave her troubling speech about the failure of multiculturalism, specifically refering to this generation of guest workers saying: "At the start of the 60s we invited the guest-workers to Germany. We kidded ourselves for a while that they wouldn't stay, that one day they'd go home. That isn't what happened. And of course the tendency was to say: let's be 'multikulti' and live next to each other and enjoy being together, [but] this concept has failed, failed utterly."

Hearing her speech, and wondering if she suffered from a stroke of amnesia, highlighted to me even more how important it is that the personal stories of this generation of migrants do enter the public domain, to undermine this xenophobic and ultimately reductive reading of history that is taking hold not only in Germany, but in the UK, and across Europe. Though of course questions of critical context to the images and texts do remain...

And...was pleased to see this insightful article by Gary Younge on German's struggles with race: Germans still struggling to resolve issues of race


THE CATALOGUE of the show will be published shortly, please email me if you would like a copy info[at]margaretakern[dot]com

- BUCHAREST (coming soon! including a dialogue with photographer and writer Anthony Luvera...)

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