It's Been a Long Way, Baby...

Migrants not always successful
An interviews with Marta Lisok and Ewa Łączyńska-Widz
in occasion of the exhibition It's Been a Long Way, Baby...
Gallery of Contemporary Art Bunkier Sztuki, curated by Anna Smolak and Magdalena Ujma, Kraków, Poland (2006, solo show)

E.Ł.: You come to Kraków because of your exhibition just opened in Bunkier Sztuki, which is also first presentation within “Transculture” - new project of Bunkier Sztuki. Have you ever been Kraków before?

S.E.: This is my second time in Kraków, first time I was few months ago to discuss the exhibition’s details.

M.L.: What is your fist impression after the yesterday vernissage? Do you like the final shape of exhibition? How do you assess work with Polish curators?

S.E.: Basically, Anna and Magda are only Polish curators with whom I’ve worked. They are very professional, very international. I really enjoyed work with them. We met first time in Berlin, I think two years ago, when they mentioned about the project. We’ve been in thought over a year. So, the whole idea of the exhibition in Kraków was in my head for long time, but I gave Anna and Magda a free hand and they prepared everything very well.

E.Ł.: You and Swiss architect Philipp von Matt run atelier which help in arranging architecture’s exhibition. Could you tell us more about your work?

S.E.: We are interested in expose contemporary art, especially new media in connection with architecture. It’s really important to find a right way to present contemporary art, to join space, lighting and works of art, finding a way to provide each work with an individual place. We work as artists as well as architects. We’re involving in a book “Museum of Future” now. We are especially interested in ephemeral architecture, which is built for few days for special art event.

M.L.: Did you find a solution?

S.E.: There is no one universal solution. Every time you have to deal with a specific situation, that’s why it’s very creating issue.

E.Ł.: What’s about the title “It’s Been a Long Way, Baby…”. Was it your or curators’ idea?
S.E.: I heard this phrase from my friend, who listens to punk music and it originally comes from a song. It makes sense with reference to migration, where we are always in a way. Generally, people who develop themselves, in broad meaning, are always in a way. It takes a long way to achieve something.

M.L: Coming back to transculture. Do you perceive it as chance or danger for the world?

S.E.: For me transculture is a kind of central point of evolution, development and every revolution as well. From prehistorically time every development was connected with movement, with migration. When you move, you are never naked, you always carry your own “luggage”. Migration was one of the main reasons of evolution. For me transculture is positive aspect of everyday life. Migration generates new ideas, and new idea can’t be danger for human being. The most danger would be staying in the same point.

E.Ł.: Do you want to make your afraid or show they something?

S.E.: Maybe those figures can afraid someone, but it wasn’t my attention. Those guys look like they are. And I’ve tried to look like them, living like them, growing my hair or beard for few days, few weeks. Trying to be like those guys, fell what they feel. People in the street, for example in Berlin, respect those guys. In the exhibition, for the first time you are allowed to stare at them as long as you can. M.L.: Why did you choose in fact this figures- Latin guerilla, Balkan gangster, Islamic fundamentalist? S.E.: Living for so many years in the West I have a kind of view, which figures seem to look dangerous for Europeans. It’s not what I think about those guys, but I know what average European think about them. Those guys function as clichés. Let’s take Balcan men, nobody treats them like intellectualists (laugh).

E.Ł.: Have you started interested in migration because of your personal experiences as an immigrant or because of observation the surroundings?

S.E.: Of course the observation is one point, but in the beginning was my identity and an question “Who I am?”, no “Where I am?”, but “Who I am?”. The question is where is the center and periphery. Living in Iran the view of where center is are completely different than people in Berlin think about. I’d like to ask the question who I am depending on where I am?

M.L.: You live in Berlin - very cosmopolitan place. Why did you decide to stay there? Does Berlin source of you inspiration?

S.E.: All my films were made in Berlin, expected the last one, which I did in London. Indeed Berlin is very cosmopolitan place but very specific in the same way. There is a big difference between Berlin and London. In Berlin, generally in German, the problem of immigrants is completely different than in Great Britain. Because in German, they’ve never wanted to have immigrants. Immigrants most frequently just arriving, working, earning money, saving money and come back to their countries, they don’t integrate into the German community. But in some cases, they can’t come back and there is creating very bad situation. German is big issue, after my twenty years in German, I could say it. Germans never accept foreigners, especially foreigners which I show in my videos. I wanted to make them more visible than they are in German community although there are many of them. They cleaning, you know, they doing many jobs, but people don’t see them. In London is little bit different situation, there are so many migrants, so many colors, that my little darkness is nothing strange (laugh).

E.Ł.: Why did you choose video as a main medium?

S.E.: Video for me is one of the most interesting new medium. It gives possibility to depict some problem in short form. It’s very informative, gives feeling of being somewhere, feeling of reality. It’s also easy to transport, to show in different places.

M.L.: How long it takes you to prepare one movie? Who helps you?

S.E.: Actually, the short videos took me more time than longer ones, like those ones showing in Bunkier Sztuki. I think about a general idea, then I have to change my physicality, what takes me more or less time, then I have to chose localization and arrange everything.

E.Ł.: Strangers seem like leitmotif in your works. When did you start to exploit this problem?

S.E.: In 2002, actually I started making art in 2002. I’m really not a young artist (laugh).

M.L.: Irony is important part of your artistic language. Do you think is the best way to take serious issues up or it’s just a way you are?

S.E.: Being ironic is kind of enjoying. I don’t want to change the world by making art. My intention is to show how the world is or rather how I think it is. I tried to reduce my observation to short light form. I think it works better than teaching people what they should do or how to deal with a problem. I care about making art relatively easy to understanding. Of course, reading art changed a lot after conceptual art. But it’s still important to make art possibly to understanding. I don’t like art which is too confused, too intellectual. Language is still a big barrier in perception of art. So, I really try to make something like international art, which contains important essence wrapped in available form. On the other hand, there is need to enlarge art education to teach consciousness of art. But art isn’t science and never should be.

E.Ł.: Is your intention to fight against stereotypes or to make Europeans aware of their fears of strangers?

S.E.: Strangers is everywhere, there is no place in the world where there is no stranger. It evokes question who is the other. And people who are asking are always in better position than those others. Nobody has to love the world, nobody has to love everybody. But it’s really important to accept the others. It’s important to believe in idea of freedom, sharing the democracy everywhere and for everybody. Let people be like they want to be.

M.L.: How do you feel when you pretend to be different figures, like Latin guerilla, Balkan gangster, Islamic fundamentalist, etc.?

S.E.: Very well, I always have a lot of fun. In video it lasts few minutes, but in reality it lasts few days before I prepare to a role. So, it’s enough time to happen a lot of funny things. Last time I stood on a London street holding an indicator “Paradise” and one of passer-by asked me where was the paradise and I directed him and he went there without a word (laugh).

E.Ł.: Do you feel that all those roles can hesitate your own identity?

S.E.: Probably, sometimes I feel I have few identities (laugh).

M.L.: Do you feel more Iranian or more German? Is nationality still actual term nowadays?

S.E.: Nationality is really problematic issue. What makes you Iranian or German? The idea of border is especially interesting in related to history, when borders were changed, so nationalities were changed as well. Why 200 kilometers make you Pole or let’s say…German. I think identity is most about education, so cultural identity is more important –what do you think, how do you think and what do you do. Then, next issue is political identity – what do you think about social matters, like laws, etc. The other identity is religious one, how you accept the world and how deep is your belief in something. The other kind of identity is gender. So there is no one inborn identity, you create your own day by day. The interesting matter is something like temporary identity, how I behave in different situation, like I’m hungry or I’m cold. Sometimes I find completely different person in myself.

E.Ł.: Why exactly did you place a big mirror at the enter to your exhibition? Spectators have to look itself and put up the question” Who am I”?

S.E.: In one of my earlier presentation in Berlin I showed some objects of immigrants like suitcases, suits and shoes. I used a mirror with lamps around there to audience could look at themselves and define themselves in the midst of those strangers’ objects. In Bunkier Sztuki I put two mirrors, first one with lamps around is located at the entrance of the exhibition, the second one – common without light – is located at the exit. Looking at first one you look like a movie star, you are who you want to be. After the watching the videos with all those strange figures you look at the common one, when you don’t look so brilliant. Hopefully, at the exit you have a chance to look at the first mirror, so you can confirm your own identity as you had coming to the exhibition. And also at the entrance to the exhibition is a key point of all show - lightbox “Home”, so coming into gallery and after visiting you are at home, safe place.

M.L.: And where is your home?

S.E.; I’m living in rent one (laugh).
E.Ł: You will make a project with students of Fine Arts Academy in Kraków. Could you describe it? Do you like work in group; with students or other artists?

S.E.: Definitely yes, it’s always very inspiring. The whole idea of what we will do tomorrow is dealing with architecture. We will try to build temporary architecture in front of Bunkier Sztuki. I invited other artists from Kraków to join my project and thereby to join my exhibition too. Because the exhibition is inside building so I’d like to do the second part outside. It has to be a kind of performance, music concert at the same time, generally big art party. I had a class with students yesterday, we were walking the city and choosing the people and inviting them for Sunday event. Many of them asking surprisingly “why me?”. We took them pictures and they gave us a permission to come, so we’re interesting how many of them will come on Saturday. All in all, we invited around 100 people. So, it’s going to be pretty crowd in front of Bunkier. In the Middle East people believe that photographer takes their souls by taking picture. So, we had all souls of those people and even if they wouldn’t come, they will be with us somehow (laugh).

M.L.: What are you going to make in the future? Do you want to continue the same topic of migration?

S.E.: When I finish a project of stranger I always feel it’s incomplete. I always missed some type of immigrant which should be showed. In fact, the project is still enlarging.

E.Ł.: Do you thing that transculture is also so important problem nowadays?

S.E.: Migration is really big issue with entails a lot of other aspects. Especially migration connected with II World War resulted in current political situation. Migration entails also a big question of identity, what we’re talking about.

M.L.: Do you thing that we live in world which is full of terrorism?

S.E.: Most of terrorism is media terrorism, showed and partly created by TV, like CNN. In my mind, terrorism is mostly construct of media. Personally, I haven’t seen terrorism in whole my life. I don’t feel afraid.

M.L. and E.Ł.: Thank you for the conversation.
Kraków, 17th November 2006

Dr Marta Lisok, art critic and curator. Teacher at the Department of Theory and History of Art of the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice. She graduated in philosophy from the Silesian University and in art history from the Jagiellonian University.

Ewa Łączyńska-Widz – (b. 1983) art historian, curator, writes about arts, director of BWA Contemporary Art Galleries in Tarnów.

شهرام  انتخابی    尚莱姆_恩特卡比
Shahram Entekhabi is an German-Iranian- artist, curator & architect, currently living & working across Tehran, Iran - Berlin, Germany and Europe.