1. Zine: Journey to Lesvos

image taken in Mytilini, 28.08.2022

A short introduction to: 
Journey to Lesbos

To me, Paul B. Preciado’s book An Apartment on Uranus is a queer manifest about transition, fiction and political activism. It includes 67 articles written and published in a magazine called Libération. With texts ranging from essay, poem and political statements, the book takes the readers through necro-politics, post-colonial history, politics of the body and a visit to Uranus. Each article is signed with date and location and so recapitulates events that are one way or another connected to queer theory. 

The tradition of reading out loud is a wonderful way of gathering in a nice place outside, in the shade of a tree, with cold drinks and something to sit on. Perceiving and discussing a text simultaneously is comparable to singing in a choir. We all sync to the same source, share knowledge on unknown terms, make recaps of what was just said and share enthusiasm and critique. A reading session can also be like a meditation, no need to actively listen, we can dwell in the sound of the words mixed with the chirping of the crickets and let our minds wander. 

I decided to read “Journey to Lesbos” in this tradition for the first time instead of reading it separately. After lunch, we gathered next to the small chapel at Metochi in the shadows. Preciado’s texts turned out to be the perfect material for a collective reading, some of them almost functioning as political speeches travelling through time and space. 

“Journey to Lesvos” is a short, poetic and political reflection on two different eras and temperaments in the history of the island.

Janosch Bela Kratz

Losing my Luggage – Eva Lín

1.

The uncomfortable thing about losing something, an object, is that one realises to what extent physical objects are extensions of oneself. Everyday things such as raincoats, sandals, swimming goggles, and sunscreen are physical tools that make our bodies capable of activities we wouldn’t be able to do without them. Other extensions, such as a cute little crop top and my vintage ysl shirt, are extensions of my identity, a way to communicate it visually. 

My luggage evaporated somewhere on the way to Lesvos. While nearly all the things are replaceable, the most arbitrary items are the ones I miss the most. I’m mourning my irreplaceable Love Island bikini, my Birkenstocks (an old present from a relationship that sunk years ago), and my silver pants that were given to me by a dear friend. In these instances, the objects serve as extensions of memories or headspaces that I don’t inhabit anymore. Nevertheless, it’s just stuff; cry me a river, build a bridge and get over it.

Even so, physically, it feels as if a heat runs through my body, starting from somewhere deep between my heart and stomach—in the intestines? 

The heat travels to my limbs and face; I feel a slight tingling in my fingers whilst tears start forming behind my eyes. I’m ready to cry, and I could cry, it’s there, but I won’t because I don’t want to. I’m not going to cry on my trip to Greece, I can cry when I get back home, and I have time, space and privacy. I’m going to take a picture of it, though. 

 2. 

Replacing every single item in that bag inevitably includes change. I have to replace each extension that I had packed for this trip. There is a feeling of flow, change, and new identities since I’ve never given too much weight to these identity-carrying items. Should I create a brand-new summer identity? Play with it a bit? Become a Crocs person rather than a Birkenstock one? Truly revel in self-affirming ideologies of identity through material objects? Now I have an opportunity to recreate myself. Construct a new narrative—in other words, change. 

Strangely, it hit me that the half-fictitious quote from Heraclitus, “the only constant is change”, had been haunting me or stalking me. The paradox had presented itself from multiple angles. 

In The Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler, the main character forms a religion called Earthseed. The first tenet of this religion is that “God is change”. So, if one were to believe in something, according to this religion, it would be in the force of change. Believing in change can also give rise to activity in the world since one can believe in the power of one’s agency. However, for me, this type of agency is at its most precarious, and plans are only approximations of hopes. But I guess that’s not too far from how life works, and it has become clear to me that expecting anything to be the same is usually fruitless. Why, then, did I feel a physical rush of emotions and tension when the change was forced upon me?

The second came from an installation I recently saw from Ingunn Fjóla, an Icelandic visual artist, titled: The Only Constant is Change. The installation was a visual representation of how we build systems to fulfil our need for consistency. If the systems are too narrow and rigid, we become annoyed, and if they are too loose, we are lost. However, these systems are eternally precarious, and, in the end, the only constant is change—or that’s how I read it anyway. 

That consistency and stability can be found only within change is a mantra, or can be one, for those who crave certainty in their lives. In change, one can discover reliability; it is dependable—a solid bedrock upon which to rest one’s expectations. Expectations can be tampered with by the certainty that change is the only constant—the knowledge that one can never step into the same river twice. Come to expect change, and one will always have certainty. 

To me, there seems to be something off about this sentiment. I wonder whether it might be a form of repression. A way to make uncertainty more bearable is by connecting it with its opposite. Then when change happens that is out of one’s control, one stands ready, expecting it, welcoming it with open arms, being open-minded towards it, and embracing it. No matter the situation. When we think of change as the only constant, we can become impervious to the precariousness of contemporary life and uncertain futures. As if it is an inherent good to be flowy, floaty; water. 

Maybe it is sometimes good to think: 

next year life will be ________

I cannot expect anything from _______

My lover will ______

And just never finish the sentence in your mind.

But then again, is it good not to be sad, angry or let down? I’m not so sure. 

3.

Reading up on Heraclitus, I read that maybe there was another way of looking at what he was saying that I found profound. Some interpreters say that it was a misrepresentation by Plato to describe his philosophy as never stepping into the same river twice. Instead, what Heraclitus might have meant was that for a river to be a river, it has to flow. Yes, one can never step into the same water twice, but the river is the same. Constant change is an attribute of the river. And Heraclitus can also apply this analogy to our bodies, any living organism, and our life situations. For me to continue to be me, I will inevitably change. But as with dams, where outside activity changes the river into a lake, not all change constitutes constancy. Some changes can be disruptive, altering the fabric of the object and changing its mode of being. 

However, since losing my luggage and having to replace my extensions was not one of those altering disruptive instances, I found a strange solace in this interpretation. Change might be an attribute of life, sure. Still, I can be bothered by it, raise my eyebrows, or ponder it thoroughly when change transforms an object into something new. In those instances, the word change might not even capture the essence of the event; could I call them transformations instead? So in the case of losing my material extensions, I’m changing, not transforming. The disruption does not shake my mode of being. I’ll get over it.

Vowels from a Translated Sentence

by Tze Yeung Ho

Is the contraction of a thought as
valuable as its expansion?

This image documents a foggy thought. The thought was a springboard for an article on residence participation and contributing thoughts cultivated through shared space and time. The full text never materialised. Instead, the same sentence was rewritten several times, in two languages, from the lack of motivation to expand the text. Though, the heat has inspired me to think about contracting ideas by dropping consonants and, eventually, meanings.

Bumpy Ride

Eva and I were sitting on a bus climbing over the scorching hot mountains. We wanted to experiment with some graphic notation and so we took a notebook and began doodling lines which could be musical ideas. Visual representation of sounds is something we are both fascinated by, and to an extent, one of our common languages we discovered early on in our sharing and meeting. This piece is a first draft of something that may be expanded upon when we meet again later on this year. When we connected the dots, we thought the shape looked like the island of Lesvos. Maybe next time, it will look like Iceland.

A conversation with
water and movement

Water
Thank you, Emmi, for this workshop.

Movement
Yes, I really enjoyed it!

Janosch
Let’s recapitulate!

Movement
I can start. First, you made me a memory. An old one that I had forgotten but that came back to me. A memory of Water.

Water
Yes, I remember. Movement, Janosch and I were there together.

Janosch
… in the garden of my grandmother, I was a child, dancing with the water of the sprinkler. 

Water
Do you remember my touch?

Janosch
How could I forget your cool touch on my skin on these hot summer days? 

Movement
… and my joyful impulse, enthusiastic and powerful. A game… This time you made me gentle and small.

Janosch
…because you are just a memory.

Water
Then Emmi made you think about how I am a part of you.

Janosch
… how you flow in me, as blood, create rhythm and push me around. But also how you are in all of my cells.

Movement
You made me slow and delayed. I felt like a heavy ship on sea seeking to turn.

Janosch 
I felt like a bottle of water.

Water
I felt hugged and appreciated.

Movement
So surprisingly, so new, so fresh.

Janosch
I have never thought of you before in this way, Water. And now I don’t get you out of my head anymore.

Water
I have always been with you; you know that. And don’t worry, we will have many more memories together.

Janosch
And then, Emmi, you made me realise that Water is not only mine.

Water
Because I am not only belonging to you.

Janosch
You made me think of others that you inhabit. My thoughts travelled the room, and then I found you again, Water, in the leave of the tree in front of the window. And first, I felt strange.

Water
But that’s what I am. I am with many, and many are within me.

Movement
And so am I. But for you, I am only yours. 

Janosch
I could feel you. How the tree rhythmically pumps you up the trunk, like my blood, and into all the leaves you keep alive.

Movement
You had made me impulsive and rhythmic. But still gentle enough.

Janosch
And then I returned to the memory you asked me of, Emmi. 

Movement
…and did the last jump 

Water
…through the sprinkler.

Janosch
…very gentle.

All together
Thank you!

commissioned contribution by Jóna Hlíf Halldórsdóttir

Becoming the archive –
or at least trying to

by Nina Skogli

Memory is a space for documentation and fiction, for revisiting experiences and expanding them. It is both work and something that happens without effort – like ghosts returning to us in unexpected moments. 

This Saturday, I was reminded of a memory practice I haven’t really done since I was at school. I learned a poem by heart, as part of the performance En lys sommers usigelige smerte by Mette Edvardsen. The piece consisted of two performers who had learned several poems by Ruth Maier – an Austrian writer who came to Norway as a Jewish refugee, and was later killed in Auschwitz. They recited them for us, and in turn, chose one for us – the participants – to memorize. 

We were instructed to apply images, rhythms and gestures to the different words and sentences, to help us in the process. It was also a tedious process, making several repetitions – but this was central to the work. It made me aware of the subtle nuances in the language. The differences between ‘en mulighet’, ‘muligheten’, and ‘muligheter’ for instance. 

The act of remembering a piece of writing as precisely as possible, reflecting on different phrasings, and trying to store it somehow, gave me a different connection to the text than I have experienced before. And perhaps also to the person behind the text, because I imagined some of the linguistic considerations that might have been made. The weight, the sound, the feel of a string of words.

A common metaphor for processes connected to memory is ‘to store something in the archive’ – which sounds almost computational. Wagoner, Brescó and Awad write that we are accustomed to thinking of memory as a container for storing information or experiences – adding drawers and vaults to the list of metaphors indicating remembering as something static (2019, p. 2). As if we are always able to dip into the preserved and carefully stored scene from your friend’s ouzo-birthday party (hah!). 

Speaking of metaphors – the English expression of ‘learning something by heart’ is interesting in this context. Why is it by heart, and not some other part of the body? Given that we often tend to focus on mind and thoughts (in meaning-making contexts and practices connected to memory – and perhaps just in general because of the old, but persisting cartesian mind-body split) it could just as easily be ‘learning something by forehead, thoughts, or the big brain sitting in slush behind the skull bone’. 

To me, the phrase ‘learning something by heart’ indicates the emotional, bodily and affectual connection with memory, remembering and also – as the phrase goes – learning. The three researchers mentioned above also suggest compost bin as an alternative metaphor to memory: 

“it implies transformation and mixing together of literally organic material, rather than taking a discrete thing out of the container in roughly the same form as it was put in” (Wagoner, Brescó & Awad, 2019, p. 2) 

While in Metochi, Lesvos, I recited the poem for our group for the first time outside of the performance. I experienced the pleasure of it sitting in me somehow. It was not effortless, but the words and images were there to recall. From where, I really don’t know. I felt quite confident that I had been able to remember it correctly. The others commented that they were able to see that it took some dipping down into the memory.

Earlier, when trying to unlearn how to approach memory as a static size, I have been occupied with the transformative qualities of memories. Like Erll says:

“Versions of the past change with every recall, in accordance with the changed present situation. Individual and collective memories are never a mirror image of the past, but rather an expressive indication of the needs and interests of the person or group doing the remembering in the present.” (Erll, 2011, p. 8) 

This makes it a creative process as well.

Now, with this specific poem, I find myself wanting to store it in its entirety – not misremembering a single word. I want to be the archive – almost in the old fashioned sense. Brushing off the archival dust when I pick up the poem, finding it unaltered from when I first learned it. I want it to be a part of me – embedded in me.

Where does this need come from? Is it a feeling of responsibility that comes with the gift of learning this specific poem by heart? Or is it about some sort of pride and accomplishment of being able to preserve it (without fault)? Perhaps both, but I haven’t been able to unpack this yet. 

If I wanted to, I could look at the collection of poems by Ruth Maier, bearing the same title as the performance, and see the words printed. But somehow, this feels like cheating, and I am scared it will remove the experience of preciousness connected to being an archive of flesh, feeling and faults.

So here we arrive at the paradox, I guess. 

Accepting that the memory of a transitory performance may have been altered by time and the fact that I myself have altered since I saw it, I don’t find hard. But the process of repeating and learning indicates a different task for the personal memory practice. And, of course, it is hard to avoid the historical aspects that come with learning this poem. It is a poem that tells of longing and fears that I want to pass on.

Reading about a similar project on Mette Edvardsens website called Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, where performers memorize books for the audience members to listen to one on one, I am confronted with the strict demands I am putting on myself. Edvardsen writes:

“However much or well you learn something by heart you have to keep practicing it otherwise you will forget it again. Perhaps by the time you reach the end you will have forgotten the beginning. Learning a book by heart is an ongoing activity and doing. There is nothing final or material to achieve, the practice of learning a book by heart is a continuous process of remembering and forgetting.”

My resistance towards revisiting the poem in a textual form is slowly melting away, as I reread this quote. Learning something by heart is a continuous process, an ongoing practice of figuring out how to be the archive. 

References
1. Erll, A. (2011). Memory in culture. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
2. Wagoner, B., Brescó, I. & Awad, S. H. (2019). Remembering as a cultural process. Springer. 
3. http://www.metteedvardsen.be/projects/thfaitas.html

A brochure from a gallery visit to Kgold temporary gallery

How a performance had direct impact
on the way we work

by Emmi Pennanen

We started our one week working residency in Lesvos by extensively discussing and formulating our angles of approach towards the assignment of researching the Nordic Dimension of Art. During our intensive conversations, we started using hand signals, through which turns for speaking are determined, and short direct comments can be indicated nonverbally. Hand signals have been used for nonverbal communication in various professional and social contexts, ranging from surgery to the factory floor to school classrooms and social justice movements. However, the idea of using hand signals during meetings as a part of our collective practice came from an activist performance that I saw at the Helsinki Student Theatre this July.

The performance Kokous – koska puheet on nyt puhuttu [1] is directed by Iiris Laisi, an activist, writer, performer, and performance maker, who is engaged in the Extinction Rebellion movement in Finland (Elokapina). As indicated by the name, the performance is framed as a meeting and is divided into two parts. The first half is a scripted meeting in which three performers present and discuss one climate activism project each, whereas the second comprises an open meeting in which the relationship between the audience and performers is altered and everybody in the room is invited to participate in the discussion. At the beginning of each part, safer space guidelines are read aloud and hand signals that promote better meeting culture get explained.

In the book Vallankumouksen asennot, [2] social scientist Eetu Viren examines the work of Bertold Brecht and Walter Benjamin. He analyses what their writings can teach performance makers about the potential of experimental performance art in bringing about concrete changes in the everyday actions of the audience. The book is situated in the Finnish political context and its current social condition that, like most of the human world, is marked by neo-liberal structures and an exhaustive overflow of information, entertainment and things. Viren advocates for performances that could empower and motivate individuals to take collective action against a socially as well as environmentally extractive way of life. Brecht found it important to expose both the structure of the play, and the theatrical means of creating affective responses in the audience. The aim was not to swap the audience away into other worlds but to give each viewer the possibility of remaining an autonomous critical thinker. Brecht saw this as a way of providing and creating agency. The name of Viren’s book comes from Brecht’s belief that to become revolutionary, one needed to first be able to sit comfortably.

In Kokous – koska puheet on nyt puhuttu Brecht’s postulates are taken to the next level. The public has been given the choice of a variety of ways of sitting, thus encouraging everybody to find the position that is most suitable for them. The performers introduce their private selves to the audience, and only at the very end of the first, more scripted part, do they take on theatrical characters and recite text under a stage light that allows the audience a moment of anonymity in the darkness. And even then, this change in atmosphere comes after a clear announcement and description. 

Out of the three climate activism projects presented, one was initiated during and in tandem with the creation process of the performance. It is the forming of a Finnish fraction for the international DEPT FOR CLIMATE! -campaign which is “a grassroots Global South-driven initiative”. [3] This fraction organised a demonstration in front of the Bank of Finland on the 27th of June and is now working towards formulating a strategy for action in Finland. At the end of the open discussion of the second half of the performance, audience members are offered the possibility to sign up for an email list with invitations to meetings of this campaign. The vast majority sign up.

The topics discussed are overwhelming in their complexity and pressing in urgency. The performers, all of whom participate in various forms of activism themselves, clearly have a personal emotional connection to the content of their performance. Their way of relating to each other; admitting when being short for words, and caring for the audience, as we are drawn into the discussion; brings another, more subtle message to the performance. The possibility of making mistakes and choosing one’s own level of participation in the conversations are made explicitly clear. Through the repeated reading of safer space guidelines, the diversity of lived realities is recognized and the habit of assuming the experience of others is called into question. The true endeavour of the performance is to draw more people into working together on the common goal of acknowledging the responsibility to change our habits of mass extraction and consumption. This is done through the sharing of information, but most of all through a kind invitation into gentler co-living with each other, an invitation into a community.

During the open discussion in the second part of the performance, the working group also shares that a core question in the creation stage had been how to get more people to join climate activism. Although the methods of the performance are clearly different, I also have to think of Augusto Boal’s theatre practice Theatre of the oppressed, which is based on the argument that through experiencing agency during a play, an audience member might also be more courageous to practice agency in their own life. In a Theater of the oppressed -play the audience can change the course of the events, while in Kokous the audience participates in an activist meeting. 

Feminist theory has given new vocabulary and conceptual frameworks for non-violently opposing oppressive structures and extractive globally systemic dynamics. Through concepts such as everyday utopia [4] and pleasure activism, [5] many activist circles are becoming more and more aware of the empowering and regenerative potential of manifesting a wished-for future, in the present. While fighting against dominant systems that are built on extractive and anthropocentric practices, the fostering of collective resilience through finding ways to celebrate, give care and service to one’s human and more-than-human community become a vital source for sustaining the motivation to keep going.

  The act of extending care towards groups or individuals not yet belonging to one’s own community defies neo-liberal individualist logics and can therefore in itself be seen as an act of resistance. It is explicitly said that by advocating for softer encounters and more sustainable meeting culture over all, the group wants to let working methods of activists seep into other areas of social life. By this the working group aims to share the experience of manifesting social transformation through small gestures. 

As a newly formed curatorial collective working in and with the context of the Northern region of the global-north, we will be researching diverse artistic voices, strategies, and modes of production. For now however, we have been focusing on building up our own collective practice and on creating a shared and responsive space for difficult questions and possible momentary friction. In doing so, using hand signals in meetings, as suggested by the performance Kokous – koska puheet on nyt puhuttu, has been a precious gift. We determined signals that fit our needs and temperaments. They have helped us to build fruitful discussions in which there is space for both listening and being heard. In the words of Nina Skogli, they are a concrete way of facilitating collective care.

[1] freely translated by me: Meeting – because all speeches have been held
[2]Viren, Eetu, Vallankumouksen asennot (2021), Tutkijaliitto my free translation of the title: the position for becoming revolutionary
[3]Quote from the website https://debtforclimate.org/ (3.9.2022) This campaign aims at cancelling extractive structures that continue to uphold colonial hierarchies through the presence of global-north governed multinational corporations. In addition, they demand reparatory payments for the global climate crimes of the global north.
[4] In the book Everyday Utopias (2013), Davina Cooper a collective practice in which the conditions for the wished-for activity or lifestyle are being created regardless of the possible mainstream structures that might counter them.
[5] Adrienne Maree Brown positions pleasure at the centre of social justice activism in the book Pleasure activism (2019)