Alessandra Cianetti: Dana and Bojana you have founded There There – a 50% Romanian 50% Serbian performance company – in 2010 and I have been lucky enough to attend both Eastern Europeans for Dummies at the RichMix in 2016 and Trigger Warning this summer at the National Maritime Museum. Both fun and disturbing experiences that playfully delve into a culture of fear and distrust of immigrants especially invisible and demonised communities from Eastern Europe. Why as a duo, you felt the urge to follow this research and how these works fit with the history of your shared practice? Also, how did you transitioned from the stage-based Eastern Europeans for Dummies to the more installative and participatory Trigger Warning?
Alessandra Cianetti: From October 2018 you have been developing and touring Trigger Warning in Denmark and Romania as well as the UK. How those experiences have shaped the piece and its future iterations? What public engagement and responses you received in the different contexts? Finally, a personal curiosity, has the work’s reception changed before and after the Brexit referendum in the UK?
Alessandra Cianetti: In our conversation this Summer, you talked about social change and advocacy for the Easter European diasporic identities as the very aim of your work that you seek through interdisciplinary projects that involve live and visual art, design, sociology, politics, and more. How do you see your collaborative practice go? What are the projects you are working on for the future?
There There is a 50% Romanian, 50% Serbian performance company, founded in London by Dana Olărescu and Bojana Janković.
Our work explores immigrant and national identities, exclusion and heritage, and uses participation to encourage inclusive, alternative debates on migration. The questions of authorship and ethics shape the way we approach the process of making performances and installations. We strive to gather audiences whose diversity reflects the world outside the venue; audience development, focused on immigrant communities, is an essential part of our creative practice.
Over the last nine years, we have received regular support from Arts Council England, forged relationships with migration-focused organisations (Counterpoints Arts) and universities (University of Warwick, Open University), and presented our work in theatre, performance, Live Art, and visual arts settings across the UK and internationally, including at the Tate Modern, National Maritime Museum, Center for Art on Migration Politics (DK) and ODD (RO).
Featured image credits: There There, image by Sofia Villanueva
There There interview with Hamide Design Studio:
As part of our project at CAMP we reached out to other artists engaging with issues of migration, including Şeyda and Seda Özçetin, co-founders of Hamide Design Studio (https://www.hamide.dk/studio/). We are including our conversation with them below.
16/10/2018 / Ankara
Dear performance company THERE THERE,
Thank you so much for your request to meet and interview! Unfortunately we are absent because we were unlawfully deported from Denmark on the 26th of May 2018! However, we are also present through our work and physical space. So, we are absent and present at the same time. Interesting, isn’t it? We decided to give the interview at our window display to protest and perform, to take attention to the injustice of Danish Immigration Office and to take attention to our absence and presence.
THERE THERE: Was there a particular migrant experience that inspired the idea for the project?
HAMIDE DESIGN STUDIO (represented by our co-founder and lead designer/artist Seda Özçetin): I usually tell this story that I got so tired of being asked the same questions that feels like an interrogation intended to prove that I as well match the Turkish stereotype checklist and hence came up with this I Feel From movement. You can only answer “are you Muslim, where is your headscarf, do you drink wine, do you eat pork, what do you think of Erdogan?” many times but not for a lifetime! This is in fact a very simplified version.
The truth is that it was long coming! In Turkey, we never felt 100 % home, safe, valued and accepted. When we say this, people usually assume it is related to the ethnicity problems in Turkey but it is not. Unfortunately, it is not a welcoming place to be a girl, a woman, someone with progressive ideas, with both basic and big dreams, with professions in design and art, with uncorrupted ideals and so on. So, we actually never really felt home in Turkey but more like a visitor. We had fundamental differences with the dominant patriarchal culture there and we understood that we won’t really be able to make a significant change. It is really bigger than us and I think we need centuries of work. So, we worked hard to be able to “legally” afford to find our home within our lifetime. We always placed Europe high, we believed in its humanitarian values like equality, freedom of speech, and so on.
However, once you start your application for a new residence permit in another country, you immediately understand that you are the “other”. Even an application for a student residency or a tourist visa, tells you that you are not an equal to the nationals, you are second or third class citizen, it is highly possible that you are a criminal and so on. In your daily personal and professional experiences, you are always reminded of your position. The news never stops talking about the bad immigrants thanks to the political agenda, you are always a representative of your whole nation, your color scheme and accent always give you away and usually used against you, you are discriminated on daily basis in job applications, on the bicycle lanes, when you hunt for an apartment, at the hospitals and so on. So, there comes a point I think some of us say “enough!” and do something about it. Since we work in design, we reflected on this experience in a creative and artistic way. We tried to reframe the problem and approach it with a more contemporary mindset. Origin of a person tells only something about a person and doesn’t tell their whole story. When we repeatedly ask a person where they are from and then go on with our checklist of the stereotypes associated with that country, we never give ourselves the chance to get to know that person. We should give a chance to people to tell who they really are without us pushing them in pre-defined super judgemental boxes.
THERE THERE: What prompted you to choose participation?
HAMIDE DESIGN STUDIO: If you want to change something you need to take action and you need to make people follow you. As designers, we observe people. We knew it wasn’t only our problem or it wasn’t only a problem in Denmark. It comes down to racism and power, which exists everywhere.
THERE THERE: Were you able to see changes in those taking part? Were there any obstacles in them opening up?
HAMIDE DESIGN STUDIO: I think we could easily observe that people were having enlightenment moments. They were discovering things, starting to think about things they have never thought about before and they were getting closer by hearing the struggles and thoughts of each others and empathizing. We think among all activities within this movement, especially the I Feel From Passport Workshops were the most powerful, liberating, and empowering. After all the discussions during the workshops, when participants actually sat down and design their own passports, they actually felt like they walked the talk, they took an action, they protested, they did something crazy, activist, and artistic!
Many people had a lot of experiences they have been keeping in. The workshops, talks, exhibitions we did and products we designed within this movement have helped them start talking about these experiences. They were happy to have a platform and also realized that they weren’t alone. So, from this perspective, the most significant change is to have the courage to talk about it.
This also means that it as well served as a platform to listen to others’ experiences because it is also possible that we are all very self assured that we don’t have prejudice against other cultures, we don’t judge people, we don’t do jokes on stereotypes and so on but we actually do all these things. So, especially the workshops have been very effective in looking into the mirror.
I think there were some challenges in opening up. One has been to make people feel that it is a safe space for talking and sharing, that participants won’t really insult each other, get angry and defensive and such. The other challenge has been when people are in their “honeymoon” stage in a foreign country they usually don’t want to see the reality of their experiences. There is also a pattern where some immigrants see themselves as “higher” immigrants and hence believe that they are different and they are perceived differently and they do not fit into these stereotypes and prejudices. So, they like to take a stand against immigrants by excluding themselves.
THERE THERE: How was this project different from your other design work, in terms of finding local partners?
HAMIDE DESIGN STUDIO: In general, we have always had challenges of being immigrants ourselves in terms of finding local partners. When we first started our design studio, we were shown the door explicitly with the statement that they only worked with Danish designers, while at the point of making this explanation, the person in charge only knew that I looked brown and prefered to speak English, without having any idea of my design skills or the products I came to present. Yet, we managed to break this prejudice with persistency, we worked hard and showed the quality of our work. Yet, still, when a project is about immigration, nationality, sense of belonging etc, people tend to see it “political” rather than something social, hence as a topic to avoid, as something uncool and not popular. Thus, the partners we can work on I Feel From has its limitations.
THERE THERE: Our participatory projects grow with every audience encounter. Has I FEEL FROM inspired other similar initiatives, or changed the direction of your general work in any way?
HAMIDE DESIGN STUDIO: To begin with, I Feel From inspires itself constantly. It evolves through every interaction. It was first an idea, then a facebook page, a product line, exhibitions, workshops, different contexts and environments for the workshops, talks, and now we are working on a publication even though the process was damaged by our immigration problems and deportation (so we paused it for a while). We change how we tell the movement, how we do the workshops, what questions we ask, which examples we give, how we exhibit, who we collaborate with based on our experiences up to that time. Now, for example, we are back in Turkey and it is a tabu almost to say “I feel from Copenhagen” as a Turk because then it is perceived as we are betraying our own country. So, we can’t really speak our minds in Ankara about this issue. So, it becomes really crucial that we reflect on this experience and transform the movement as well because the issue has many layers to it. Due to the staticness of the nationality concept and the hostility it brings along, your fellow citizens do not allow you to feel from somewhere else and the citizens of the other country does not even believe that such a thing is possible and do not welcome you. From both sides you are marginalized.
Moreover, I Feel From has also inspired our other work. We got clear messages such as how much we needed a different storytelling on immigrants. This encouraged us to focus on our project “Pomegranate”, where we explore the creative immigrant identity among others. We have done three events within Pomegranate where we put focus on immigrant entrepreneurs within creative industries.
Besides this, I think I Feel From, being a social movement, is quite different by its nature compared to other work lines we have. Everything we do in I Feel From is more intense both due to the participation and co-creation aspect but also because it deals with issues that we personally experience on daily basis and have suffered significantly. So, even though it is really rewarding to see the small changes we initiate through I Feel From, it also makes me question sometimes if it is a good idea to work on something you are too close.
On the other hand, we also think that I Feel From inspires others both at personal and professional levels. We had many people come and say to us it helped them embrace their immigrant identity and how it is normal to find multiple homes around the globe. Some of them are also from creative fields and they combined this experience with their own work.
Thank you & all the best Hamide Design Studio