By Monika Dorniak, MA Art and Science, CSM
Refugee Week Berlin, between 18 – 24 June 2018, ran in parallel with Refugee Week UK , which has been organised by Counterpoints Arts since 1998. The Berlin project shared the aims of RW UK, to make connections that help refugees share their experiences with a wider audience, and use the arts to raise awareness about subjects ignored by the media.
German-Polish artist, and Central Saint Martins postgraduate, Monika Dorniak co-organised the nonprofit Berlin project with Christoph Braun, who works at Refugio Lab where refugees live with artists and share experiences in community meetings and workshops. The project was created with the support of, among others, Counterpoints Arts UK, project room ROSALUX, Greek design studio Konsept 83, journalist Veronica Horwell and volunteers.
The first Refugee Week Berlin included an exhibition and accompanying programme with performances, lectures and workshops held in private and public sites throughout the city; this was important, as I wanted to invite visitors outside an art context. The project addressed our transitional society, challenged by technological, cultural and ecological shifts; for me, the refugee crisis is a sign that ours is an era of political, social and ecological imbalance, when homes are destroyed, civilians killed, and the world watches without taking action. Industrialisation is responsible for climate changes which will create even more refugees.
During my studies in the MA Art and Science programme, I continued to work on social projects, an important aspect of my art. Before I moved from Moabit, my neighbourhood in Berlin, to London in 2015, I saw hundreds of refugees queuing daily to register at the central admission office. The bureaucracy couldn’t deal with the situation, so newcomers had to stand for hours in rain or hot sunshine with little food or water. In reaction, several groups in Berlin organised independently to volunteer or collect donations. I helped in one, and saw the crisis up close. When I arrived in London, it was clear that the UK had isolated itself from the refugee crisis and that most people, even at university, were unaware of its seriousness.
During research I came across the Counterpoints Arts team, which has organised projects such as Refugee Week UK since 1998. I met Tom Green at its office, and we have stayed in contact to exchange information about our projects. Returning to Berlin last year, I tried to find ways to connect the cities to overcome political obstacles such as Brexit. And I chose to work on a project related to the refugee crisis, since it triggers emotions I associate with my own, inherited, trauma. My Polish grandfather and father both had to flee their countries for political reasons — my father because he fought for Solidarity. He left me with a feeling that I didn’t belong, and the motivation to fight for freedom for myself and others.
For Refugee Week Berlin I curated the group exhibition The Vivid Unknown in project room ROSALUX and other locations in Berlin, with artists Elisa Dierson, Monika Dorniak, Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries, Lingji Hon, Katja Marie Voigt, Valentyn Odnoviun, Felix Stumpf, Çağlar Tahiroğlu, Matteo Valerio, Raul Walch. (Matteo is a postgraduate at MA Fine Art (CSM), 2017, and Çağlar Tahiroğlu a postgraduate at MA Art and Science (CSM), 2018.) The title comes from Philip Glass’s music for the film Naqoyqatsi, Hopi for ‘life as war’ i. The exhibition reflected the world in our Anthropocene era, now that the global market is the major economic and cultural force, as control of artificial systems clashes with the organic world, itself undergoing extreme transformations leading to social disharmony. Our interactions are now hyper-mobile, and they interweave in digital space; the physical settlements of marginalised groups are constantly disturbed. Past, present and prospective natural disasters caused by climate change and war force people to leave home, escaping precariously into the unknown.
The works on show used our artistic potential, and established togetherness in times of dispersion through interaction, creation, involvement and research. The main exhibition was both inside and outside project room Rosalux. In the front of the art space, there were works by Domenique Himmelsbach de Vries, who challenges any idea of an exhibition by distributing his art in public spaces in the city, helped by fellow activists. Social artists Elisa Dierson, Katja Marie Voigt and Felix Stumpf developed an installation with refugee children in the project room Tiny Penthaus, in an old hotel now housing refugees, and some of that work was on show in the Rosalux room. Çağlar Tahiroğlu held an art-therapy workshop for refugees and migrants, and showed their work; her own exhibited installation, Journeys, was made in collaboration with refugee initiatives.
Raul Walch is known for his examination of public space and activities with local communities; he showed a sculpture inspired by islamic architecture, made with Syrian architecture collective Xero. Ukrainian photographer Valentyn Odnoviun re-accesses historical or socially engaged events and captures them forensically during on-site visits; his Traces of Memory looks into a former Gestapo prison in Berlin. Matteo Valerio’s textile wall installation was the result of working with me on a production interpreted by performer Lingji Hon. My own sculpture refers to my ongoing process with dancers, researches in philosophy and science, and my German-Polish-Lithuanian background; the work body axe (as per x, y, z) engages with inherited trauma.
For the accompanying programme, I invited Alaa Nasser, Adi Erikat, Bnaya Halperin-Kaddari and Olivia Rosenberger to talk about their research. At the panel discussion Expanding Space by Re-Sensing Borders, held at Refugio, we ate Somalian and Syrian food and talked about the limitations of space and our psychological response to borders. Each of us defines space using complex rules; it shelters us and protects us from the ‘outside’; it allows us to develop our self ‘inside’. In a hierarchical society, it is also a means for one person or group to control another. Space also contains time, which has an important role in the politics of space; a nation owns land one day, but by the next, its former nationals can be killed for stepping on what used to be their home ground.
During the week many new people met and formed friendships, or started thinking about new projects. The transnational platform Art Matters spontaneously held its community meeting in our exhibition, and we may do another project in collaboration with it. Art Matters came together in Berlin last December as a basis for critical exchange about contemporary arts practices in postmigrant societies. For those who live in Berlin and would be interested to join forces, contact me
For more in formation on the MA Art and Science alumni involved in this project , see:
Monika Dorniak https://monikadorniak.com/
Çağlar Tahiroğlu http://cargocollective.com/caglartahiroglu
Matteo Valerio https://www.matteovalerio.com