Behind decoration - an alternative project report

By Burcu Sahin, poet


I am looking at Reza Hazare

he places a banana


the orange

between two planks

tightens the screws

until the fruits burst open

under the pressure

I am looking at Vanja Sandell Billström

she is standing in a doorway

building a wall

of cuddly toys

the wall falls

and she rebuilds it

until she disappears

behind it

Winzip senses

I don’t take the ferry to Latvia

and walk to the Riga Bourse

I am looking at a photograph

I am looking at Alexey Murashko

I am looking at Ieva Balode

They are standing next to a display case

filled with porcelain figures

One of the figures is extending its hand

She is leaning forward

looking at her reflection

I am not looking at Claire Holt

or Ana Mendes

or Andrejs Strokins

or Minna Henriksson

or Yan Xing

or Tanel Rander

or Ho Tzu Nyen

or Ēriks Apaļais

or Asnate Bockis

or how the hands move over the site

calling it to account

ready or adapted work

a new research-based work

archival display

a critical dictionary

works on the general display



I am not looking at Hala Alnaji

I am not looking at Valeria Montte Colque

I enter their forest

stand Under skogens himmel

I’m thinking of the grove behind the high-rise building

the grass without roots

the shadows

I am not looking at Agnieszka Wołodźko

I am waiting for Paolo Dall'Oglio’s


from the monastery in the mountain

I am looking at Ibrahim Mouhanna

behind the camera

white faces

take me to St John’s Centre


Maurice Halbwachs writes about memory
     the reconstruction of the past


Maurice Halbwachs writes about cultural memory as knowledge and distinctions in relation to who belongs
and who does not belong

a collective consciousness and identification

 I move in the darkness

I walk around the lake

there is no direction in the water

there is

rising and sinking

there is

survival and death


Maurice Halbwachs writes about the relationship of cultural memory to the past and how it is connected to a contemporary understanding of history



Maurice Halbwachs writes about the archive

 have you already forgotten

the journey across the Baltic Sea

texts rules images monuments

sea of (dis-)connections


Maurice Halbwachs writes that cultural memory comprises knowledge in relation to a normative self-image in a society in which a transparent system of values is presented        these central and peripheral symbols in the representation and the reproduction of the self-image reflexively act in such a manner that it can be explained criticised reinterpreted

 we are still travelling

cannot point to the place we come from

you ask to which nation I belong

I come from nowhere

the movement is my home

the dissolution of the borders

here and there


Maurice Halbwachs writes that the cultural memory compromises the archive because our view of history cultivates stabilises reflects the self-image

Maurice Halbwachs writes that the people we remember are no longer with us

I try to remember a

common story

where no one had to give up

their own voice


don’t give up your own voice

Maurice Halbwachs writes that we can evoke places and times beyond our own


Maurice Halbwachs writes that we are our names    their past

who will remember us

in which books will our

stories be written


Maurice Halbwachs writes that we transgress the boundary between dream and wakefulness

our failures and



Maurice Halbwachs writes that we remember by the landmarks we carry inside

I carve

our names

rest my head

on the bark


Maurice Halbwachs writes that every word is attached to a memory

we continue to arrive


Maurice Halbwachs writes that when we dream we understand the details of the dream

what happens when the self-image is destroyed


Maurice Halbwachs writes that that which appeared to be a logical truth has become–



Shared History addresses how established and recently arrived artists based in Sweden, Poland and Latvia can explore community, migration and place together and thus create shared stories. However, who is “recently arrived” or “established”? Where and according to whom? Arriving entails a loss of language, tradition and knowledge. That which was valid there is not valid here. The migrant should be integrated and learn the codes of their new environment. At the same time, there is an idea that those who are already here do not have an experience of a there, which is part of the myth that Sweden has not had to endure war, even though there are people in this country who have experienced it. Shared History is described as a reaction towards contemporary nationalistic tendencies and the idea of a homogenous Europe in which the artistic work is informed by creating works and stories in which various experiences of flight and migration renegotiate both one’s own and the national self-image. The artistic works thus seem to respond to the question of what happens when these stories are brought together and on which terms they can become something shared when the conditions for being considered an artist are different.

In parallel with the artistic work, an introspective thought process was carried out, involving experts who were invited to think critically about the project, including, among others, Isabel Mager and Gabriel Maher who deconstructed the linguistic as well as the formal aspects of the application submitted to Creative Europe. Navigating the website I discover a number of questions that led to the project: “Why do we use the language we do?” “How are bureaucracy, cultural policy and the prevailing culture linked?” Cultural projects are often funded by applying to government agencies for grants, which directly relates the artistic work to the kind of language that is possible to use in order to make oneself understood and obtain a grant. The manner of phrasing which problems and aspects of society that are important for culture may entail adapting not only language but also the actual work. When I read that Shared History is financed by the European Union while the project’s main issues deal with migration and collective stories, I imagine that there is a problem in the fact that the agency one is criticising is the very same that enables the critique. Europe’s border policy is violent and very much focused on maintaining economic, cultural and politic power, which is in conflict with the aim of Shared History. What are the effects on art if it speaks the language of power, and what room for manoeuvre is there for not doing so? Is it possible to construct Trojan horses that destroy from the inside? Needless to say, there are limits to what one can say, and thus, for what type of projects one can realise. Artistic projects with the express ambition of addressing political issues thus risk having to subordinate themselves to pre-determined directives and goals. At best, art is still able to criticise the prevailing order and work from a desire to push the boundaries for that which is possible to say and do in a time of fascism. In the worst case, art becomes a decorated screen behind which violence continues.

Burcu Sahin (born 1993) lives Stockholm, works as a poet and teaches writing at the school Biskops Arnö.

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