Sandra Johnston (Belfast), Susanne Bosch (Belfast-Berlin), Alma Suljevic (Sarajevo) and Marylin Arsem (Boston) invited to a seminar event about their individual practices and the processes of making work. 25.03.-09.04.2007 Wednesday 28th March 1-5 pm BelfastSandra Johnston (Belfast), Susanne Bosch (Belfast-Berlin), Alma Suljevic (Sarajevo) and Marylin Arsem (Boston) invited to a participatory event where the artists talked about their processes of making work, and the initiation of this collaboration.
, opening a week of artistic interventions, based on exploring Belfast through the sharing of ideas/ experiences/ processes which each artist has previously developed in response to their city of residence. With funding from the ‘Visiting Arts’ and ‘Interface’, the four artists worked together in Belfast for a week developing and reflecting on issues of public space, and the potential for creative intervention within negotiations of social, spatial and economical sub-structures.This exploration of Belfast took on an improvisational shape. Everyday, one of the artists invited the other three to explore the city via her specific artistic approach. The four female artists from Northern Ireland, Germany, Bosnia Herzegovina and the USA habitually create work in a site- and context specific timebased manner, often in and inclusive of public intervention.How to act “appropriate”? What is an “appropriate” way to approach a creative “problem”, an unknown place, another person? In their work and practice, they all question the physical, mental, cultural and social consequences of a site to an individual.
The week long experiment was based on a deep interest in each other’s practice and ways of approaching a situation artistically. The four artists have never worked together before. They decided to work in an open and collective manner. This meeting intended to be the beginning of a co-working relationship with outcomes in various locations worldwide.
My expectations for the week were:
“We both share an interest in side- and content specific work. She is by experience, I am via interest connected to the specific notions of contested spaces and sites with a history of violence. These kind of histories shape a location and its citizens living with and in it. Artistic interventions, artistic approaches to locations like this foster a dialogue, between artists, between artists and audiences and eventually start bridging identities of diverse communities.
To have a working period with Alma will significantly influence my practice by spending a week together exploring the movement of people, our own movements and understanding the structure of the site (e.g. with all its Interfaces and dead ends). It will also mean to start a dialogue between artists and people with local experience and her with a specific experience in an occupied city. It will reflect upon my role as the “impartial” third party.
I will also be challenged about the question of non-local artists and their impact in living in a city like Belfast.
It will be Almas first time in Northern Ireland. This week will serve to introduce her
significant work to the local art and research scene through lectures and informal
dinners. It will give us the unique chance to have a dialogue about our site
specific awareness in Belfast and a bridging of experience from Sarajevo to
Belfast and return. We are hoping to share this intense week together with
Belfast based artist Sandra Johnston and her guest, US performance artist
Marilyn Arsem.” (From the application)
The current working title is “Appropriate”. We will explore the meaning of these words in the context of Belfast. Sandra Johnston, a Belfast based artist and Marilyn Arsem, a Boston based artist, will spend the week with us (due to a funding by the Research Institute of UU/ Interface).
Our basic structure is:
Phase 1: Getting to know each other
Phase 2: Presentations in London and Belfast, getting to know people
Phase 3: Exploring intensively the site
Phase 4: Reflection and thinking about a future collaboration
Alma Suljevic decided to spend 10 more days in Belfast which will allow us to explore Northern Ireland during this Easter break and to deepen the dialogue.
(From the planned progamme for the week)
Phase 1: Getting to know each other
Alma and I met on the airport in London Gatwick. Her flight arrived on Sunday early afternoon, my flight arrived two hours later. We met directly in London due to the good flight connections between Sarajevo-London. We stayed around two hours in the lobby, talking. I have not seen Alma in three years, we started our conversation right away.
She had been released from a four weeks stay in a hospital in Sarajevo, so I was also aware of her physical wellbeing.
We took the train to the city centre of London. During our trip a fast rain passed by. That created a specific sound. Alma bend down right away and explained afterwards, slightly embarrassed, that this is exactly the sound nearby pasing grenade. It reminded me of my visit in Sarajevo in 2004 where people explained to me in detail the sound of certain weapons and the instinctive physical reactions to the sound.
On Monday, after an evening of conversation and a homemade ‘welcome booze’ from Sarajevo, after looking a little at our neighbourhood near Hyde Park, after speaking with the Eyptian porter of our hotel about his life in England, we went for lunch and the presentation to the Royal College of Art.
I was very impressed by the location of the event and its wonderful atmosphere. I felt very honoured to be part of the programme. Time was by far too short to meet everyone and exchange thoughts. I was very delighted to discover a second artist from Belfast, Rita Duffy, to be on the programme. Several presented works and topics related to political and social conditions of the artists and felt very relevant to our presented work. Due to our flight connection, we had to leave the event immediately afterwards. I felt very sorry because we had to run off our conversations. It felt very interrupted and on top we nearly missed our flight.
Almas first impression of Belfast was a night impression. After that exiting day in London and a stressful check-in in Gatwick, we arrived around 11pm in Belfast and I took her to the B & B.
Meanwhile the two other artists with us for the week, Sandra Johnston and Marilyn Arsem, had also arrived in Belfast. Marilyn stayed in the same B & B as Alma and Sandra stayed at my house for the week.
All day Tuesday was dedicated to get to know each other and to prepare our event within our APPROPRIATE project the next day.
Due to the public event the next day, we had to engage seriously from the very beginning.
Sandra and I had announced the event publicly, but we had left the frame and content open enough to develop it together.
We discussed the possibilities and came up with final ideas.
In the afternoon we went shopping for the event, we went to the University and set up the tent. Alma got to know some of the artists and researchers of the University.
In the evening, we had finished most of the organisatorial tasks and we had a very intensive content debate until the middle of the night:
We tried to describe each other what were important moments of aspiration in our lifes in order to understand each others artistic process. We listened to parts of each others biographies. It was very touching.
Phase 2: Presentation in Belfast, getting to know people, people get to know us
On Tuesday morning, be discussed how to transform so personal experiences into a format that will suit a public event in the afternoon. We also decided about roles, running orders and tasks. From 1 to 5 pm we offered a seminar event in a temporary marquee structure installed in the central foyer area. Each artist spoke in turns about individual past art projects, in addition to describing pivotal personal moments or decisive cultural experiences which have subsequently shaped concept and process of making art.
The discussions were staged between interactive elements:
Marilyn Arsem invited the participants prior the verbal part to take a potatoe, to peal it and think about a personal story connected to the potatoe.
The audience pealed around 8 kilos of potatoes. While the potatoes were boiled, the audience was invited to share their stories and we heard around 15 stories about potatoes. In our first break, we ate together these baked potatoes.
In our second break, Alma served her sweet potatoe dumplings. She had prepared the dough in the morning and we ate the sweet Balkan desert together.
In the final action of the event, we asked our audience to use the back of the postcards to give ideas, stories and drawings which later helped us as a group to consider how to use our time together.
We finished the event with a very engaged final discussion. The participants gave a strong reaction towards all our raised questions of political participation, responsibility, what is an successful public art piece in a conflict area, what could be the role of an artist, how do you recharge your ‘batteries’, what gives you the strength to do such kind of work, what is an ethical approach, what might be appropriate to do as an artist which wants to deal with issues of political or social relevance.
The day finished in a traditional Irish pub with participants and colleagues and
was followed by a dinner with local and international artists.
The day after was needed to recover, we felt all relieved after this intensive way of introducing what we do to each other and to the audience.
We spend the day with reflection and discussion, had a tour to the city centre with coffee and decided how to spend our next couple of days together.
Phase 3: Exploring intensively the site
Throughout the next three days, we invited each other to several artistic approaches trying to share experiences.
Sandra Johnston suggested as a response to our student-audience on Tuesday to clean up a site where some of the participating students tend to have meetings. We felt very thankful for their response to our input and we were happy to clean up their site early Friday morning before their arrived.
After that I took the group to North Belfast. Io had mad an appointment for 2 classical house viewings with property agents. We went to look at houses, the area around, the park. We sat down in a local café, had lunch and we engaged in a discussion about how that place felt in regards to home, security, space, hospitality. The event is connected to having to settle down in a location, trying to find out what the neighbourhood feels like, especially in a city like Belfast where the conflict is less obvious and more hidden nowadays. I am also interested in the ‘staged home’ for the potential buyers versus a real private home. Finally, the notion of public versus private is in a transition in Belfast which is of interest to me.
In the evening we had Dr. Cherie Driver for dinner. She will write about the event. We had an engaged debate about feminism, being a victim, being traumatized, … Questions came up such as What right do artists have to intervene in situations or feel able to make change happen in society? TRAUMA- what art comes out of war? What is forgetting? Will the Art world ever stop looking for sensationalism and the exotic, how do artist challenge these external perceptions, buying into the cultural capital moment. How do artists move on, what are the markers in cultural life in a city which indicate incremental change?
On Saturday we went to Carrickfergus outside of Belfast to visit a 60 min performance by the BBeyond performance group. Especially Alma was very exited about seeing several performers perform in public space, as a public exercise together.
After that Marilyn Arsem took us to an old cemetery:
We all got a pen and a notebook from her and she gave us 30 min in silence to write down whatever came up. Afterwards we talked about the cemetery, the division of the dead and the troubles in Northern Ireland.
On Sunday Alma made us write short-stories about animals. The stories were supposed to potentially be told to children. We sat down and started writing for more than 1 hour. We read the stories to each other.
Alma also interviewed all three of us about topics like space, empathy, trauma, art, body, guilt during the morning.
Sandra Johnston took us in the afternoon to the Giant Ring, an ancient site close in South Belfast, she gave us a potatoe and a spoon, made us explore the site and do something with the earth. After 45 min, we met, sat down and exchanged ideas about the site and the experiences during the week. We reflected the week, the idea to work with the potatoe, a vegetable so connected to Irish history, we talked about the stories of our participants.
We invited performance artist Alastair MacLennan for a final dinner.
Phase 4: Reflection and thinking about a future collaboration
Marilyn left on Monday morning to go back to Boston. During the following week, Alma moved to my house, Sandra moved back to her house in Comber near Belfast. We spend the week with visiting each other, Alma had several meetings with artists and students asked for tutorials.
Some of the students decided to visit Sarajevo in the summer to do artistic interventions in public space. Alma left deep impressions as a person and with her artistic approach. Colleagues and external artists gave us a feedback about the event in the tent. Cherie Driver suggested to think about a publication since many of our conversations were very heated and full of essential questions. We audio recorded most of it.
Besides a publication, we would like to continue working together.
We discovered during the week some essential qualities and differences in each others work and approach. It was a real challenge and completely different than expected. We had a huge need for verbal exchange. We had moments of deep grief and moment of joy and a lot of silliness.
I had to understand one more time that Alma lives in a very delicate situation in a city of post war depression with a lot of poverty, unemployment, frustration and few perspective for a sudden change. Her health is seriously affected. It was obvious to see her recover despite the very exhausting programme we designed.
Her intense presence had a huge impact on people. During her second week here she basically was asked to meet someone else every day.
She went to visit the MAZE prison and came back very exhausted and impressed. I think these site visits helped her understand the dimension of Northern Irish history into the presence.
I also had a deeper understanding of Almas approach as a trained sculptor. She very much works as an individual involving others. Our collaborative way of working was certainly new for her.
My role here is very much the role of a bridge builder and during the time I realized again the potential of working here as a non-local artist. I have an insider- and outsider perspective, I can create situations due to that circumstance. I want to mention here that we had a hugh support during the two weeks from my husband who is a Macedonian conflict consultant, an excellent cook and a person with a lot of humor. Since all the meals took part in our house, he facilitated the situations very much and he also assisted Alma if needed because they speak almost the same language. I believe it was crucial to make our guest Alma feel ‘at home’ apart from the professional level of this artist exchange and acknowledge the difficult reality that she lives in.
I very much hope to meet her again.
All our conversations were recorded (mp3), we have a DVD from the event on the 28th, we wrote down stories and we have several hundred images. Dr. Cherrie Driver is currently writing an essay about the event, she decided to do that in collaboration with a student who was very much involved in our event. Several new collaborations and ideas came out of the week, not only for us, and we are looking forward to see what will develop out of this.
I want to express my deepest gratefulness to the donors and organizers to be able to spend this time together.
Susanne Bosch, 27th April 2007
APPROPRIATE- the week
Sandra Johnston (Belfast), Susanne Bosch (Belfast-Berlin), Alma Suljevic (Sarajevo) and Marylin Arsem (Boston)
24.03. - 01.04.2007
Meeting Alma on Sunday afternoon at the Gatwick Airport in London, Hotel, Dinner
Alma and Susanne: London, Presentation, Evening: Flight to Belfast
Preparation day for events on Tuesday, First meeting with Sandra Johnston and Marilyn Arsem, Evening: dinner and content discussion of the week
13-17 h, event at foyer in UU within a tent: Seminar event in university of Ulster created in a temporary marquee structure installed in the central foyer area. Each artist spoke in turn about individual past art projects, in addition to describing pivotal personal moments or decisive cultural experiences which have subsequently shaped concept and process of making art. The
Evening Event at Black Box (Alma, Marilyn, Sandra, Susanne, details follow soon)
Event:We cook together with the audience a soup and a desert and while we cook, we introduce each what cultural/ political/social event in our life formed our thinking/working/ discussions were staged between interactive elements of cooking and action where the audience were invited to become directly involved with raising ideas, stories and mapping drawings which later helped us as a group to consider how to use our time together.
Presentation of all four approaches by the 4 artists. Starting with POTATOE performance, cooking and eating inbetween.
Evening: dinner with local and international artists: Alastair MacLennan, Sybille Hofter, and others
Morning: reflection of event
Afternoon: Tour through Belfast with coffee and discussion
Approach 1 to Belfast: Sandra Johnston suggested as a response to our audience on Tuesday to clean up a site where students tent to have meetings. We clean up from 9-9.30
Coffee with Doris Rohr and Cherie Driver
Susanne Bosch took all to house viewings in Belfast to discuss notions of home, feelings of safetiness and the idea of public/private, of a staged home (for viewings of potential buyers) versus a ‘messy’ real home. Topics such a space, storage, books, definition of home came up.
Dinner with Dr. Cherie Driver, researcher and artist, Belfast
Approach 2 to Belfast: Marilyn Arsem took us to Carrickfergus, we visit a 60 min performance by the BBeyond performance group,
Lunch, then visit of a site (old cemetery): We all got a pen and a notebook from her and she gave us 30 min in silence to write down whatever comes up. Afterwards we talked about the cemetery, the division of the dead and the troubles in Northern Ireland. Invitation to dinner with Rita Duffy and Daniel Garcia (we missed to find the house, returned home)