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GCC "Wish We Were Here" (2015) Postcard; part of "Like the Deserts Miss the Real" – curated by Myriam Ben Salah; Gallery Steinek

The Art of the Contemporary

Marie-France Rafael about the confusion of history or the history of confusion
10.09.15
3 min
Post

Exposition scene

  1. A BAR IN VIENNA – NIGHT

The bar Anzensgruber (known to be a gathering point for artists and art afiliados) is crowded with people staring at a flat screen installed above the entrance. Austria is playing against Sweden, the score is 2:0.

Around a table a group of people gathered together, a gallery assistant, a curator, a few artists. an Austrian guy and a French woman. They aren’t very interested in the game, except the Austrian.

FRENCH WOMAN

So you just arrived today?

(to everyone in the group)

She looks at the group of people, sitting with her back to the flat screen, noticing that some luggage is placed under the table.

CURATOR

Yeah, we arrived this morning from the Triennial in Vilnius

and started straight away to install the show.

He looks at the two artists sitting across him. His gaze keeps moving from the two to the flat screen and back again.

The gallery assistant sitting besides him giggles. She nods to some people she knows entering the bar.

GALLERY ASSISTANT

Yeah, we started installing the artworks today, but we gonna make it on time.

I mean, we have two full days left, where is the problem, right?

Suddenly the crowd in the bar exclaims a unified happy scream turning almost immediately into a scream of disappointment. Everyone at the table turn their heads to the flat screen.

AUSTRIAN

This wasn’t a real offside! It was a passive offside!

FRENCH WOMAN

Oh, so there is a difference between a passive and an active offside?

AUSTRIAN

Of course!

FRENCH WOMAN

(to the curator)

Are you into soccer?

CURATOR

No, actually not, but since I moved to Europe I kind of get the enthusiasm for the game.

FRENCH WOMAN

(to one of the artist)

And you also arrived today from Vilnius?

ARTIST

No, I arrived from Warsaw.

I had an opening there last night and now I’m in Vienna.

FRENCH WOMAN

Well that seems to be a tight schedule.

Again the crowd explodes in cheering screams. Everyone looks to the flat screen. Austria scores a goal and the crowd is ecstatic.

GALLERY ASSISTANT

No one understands what’s going on, usually Austria keeps loosing all the time and now

they win. It’s kind of funny.

FRENCH WOMAN

(to the gallery assistant)

I’m very much looking forward to the show!

GALLERY ASSISTANT

(laughing)

Yeah, me too! Which means that

AUSTRIAN

(to the gallery assistant and the French women)

What?

The game is over. Austria won. The crowd is cheering and clapping. Everyone seems to be very happy.

GALLERY ASSISTANT

Oh nothing, we just talked about the show.

Everyone in the bar is now commentating the game, the TV is still running and one can hear the commentator of the game saying, “We just witness football history”.

FRENCH WOMAN

(to one of the artists)

Wow, did you hear that, we just happened to witness history in it’s making.

ARTIST

What?

AUSTRIAN

Well it’s history because Austria never qualified before.

FRENCH WOMAN

Yeah but what I like is this idea to be a witness of history itself.

ARTIST

And thinking that this morning I was still in Warsaw, then I worked the whole day installing, had a Schnitzel, and now I’m being a witness of history.

AUSTRIAN

People are surely gonna ask you where you have been on that memorable night.

That’s how history works.

In Transit, not in Motion

Brittani Sonnenberg about going from one place to another
09.09.15
4 min
Post

I spent this past weekend in Sky Valley, Georgia, a small retirement community in the Smoky Mountains, where I spent most of my summers as a kid after my family moved to Asia. It’s also where my mother’s family, originally from Mississippi, now mostly in Tennessee, gathers on holidays. We were gathered, this weekend, for Labor Day.
It felt surreal to board a two-hour flight for Atlanta, a flight that has been at least a twelve-hour journey for the past seven years, and for most of my life. Summers in Sky Valley were always distinguished by their ghostly, vanishing quality: something common to summers for every kid, but for us summers were a brief Persephonic spell away from foreignness: back in belonging, or something approximating it (if you can call two months surrounded by geriatrics in golf carts “belonging.”) I didn’t mind not being around kids my age, aside from my sister; the retirees were friendly enough, and waved wildly from their Buicks, you didn’t have to worry about wearing the right outfit for them.
When Dorothy steps into Oz, the landscape bursts into Technicolor. This is often said of travel, or of life abroad: that it’s more thrilling, that you feel, by extension, more alive. I don’t feel that I’ve stepped back into a black-and-white color scheme, by returning to the United States, but I do have the unnerving sensation of stepping into something like 3-D: life feels, in a strange way, more real, more deeply dimensional, and also more bewildering. I’m not sure how certain things are done, after so much time away, while I understand, much more implicitly, what’s going on.
My house is missing most of its furniture, and I find this to be a relief. Moving through Austin, I feel the pressure to approximate familiarity, or at least remember how to exit the highway without having a wreck. In my small house, I am slowly settling in, not yet angekommen, as the living room, which looks like the inside of a mosque, with its single carpet, and no sofa or chairs, confirms.
And what about the millions of refugees streaming through Europe? What metaphors would they choose for their shifts, for their deprivations, for their wavering identities, in the eyes of European authorities? Will they ever be able to repatriate? There are many words for the body’s rejection of moving too quickly through air or water: motion sickness, sea sickness, getting the bends. What is the word for the nausea, the paralysis, of moving too quickly from one home to an imagined new one, that hasn’t been guaranteed yet? Of sitting in a camp waiting on papers? In transit but not in motion?
In his essay “Refugees,” Charles Simic, a poet whose family fled Belgrade in 1945, writes:
Immigration, exile, being uprooted and made a pariah may be the single most effective way yet devised to impress on an individual the arbitrary nature of his or her own experience.  Who needed a shrink or a guru when everyone we met asked us who we were the moment we opened our mouths and they heard the accent?
The truth is, we had no simple answers. Being rattled around in freight trains, open trucks, and ratty ocean-liners, we ended up being a puzzle even to ourselves. At first, that was hard to take, then we got used to the idea. We began to savor it, to enjoy it. Being nobody struck me personally as being far more interesting than being somebody. The streets were full of these “somebodys” putting on confident airs. Half the time I envied them; half the time I looked down on them with pity. I knew something they didn’t, something hard to come by unless history gives you a good kick in the ass: how superfluous and insignificant in any grand scheme mere individuals are. And how pitiless are those who have no understanding that this could be their fate, too.

Marie-France Rafael
People

I must say I have difficulties figuring her out. Let me try with some facts: I first met Marie as a colleague at the Free University Berlin, where she was (and still is) working and teaching as an art historian. Actually her name was (or still is) Marie-France, but she isn’t French, even though she feels more at ease writing in French than in German – maybe this has something to do with the fact that she grew up in Munich – like some 120% of my German friends in Berlin it seems by the way. Actually, she grew up speaking Romanian as I found out later. Although technically speaking she has an American passport, and for good reasons. Anyhow, as you can tell I have difficulties figuring her out or even reporting some relevant facts. Maybe it helps to mention a few things she likes best, or to put it differently, that she only likes the best : she only publishes with the best publishers, likes the best food, and of course the best shoes, actually many of them. Did I mention that she is also a fantastic swimmer. I also lately found out that she used to make really beautiful court-métrages back in her Paris years – and will hopefully do so again soon. Maybe this might explain why I immediately found her fascinating when knowing even less about her than I do today, already when she was Marie-France, my academic colleague from the department of art history.

Freud without Freud

Georg Diez about the secret of Middle Eastern men
07.09.15
2 min
Voyage | Cairo

Probably the most fascinating thing somebody told me in the last two days here in Cairo, the thing with the most far reaching implications, spanning the private and the political, the family and the state, regression and aggression and an overall unease with the way men are, was Nora who said that Egyptian men are so spoiled by their mothers, so doted upon, so smothered with love that they go through life expecting this to never end. They have wives whom they expect to behave like their mothers, they think of themselves as strong men but are still the little sons they were thirty, fourty years ago. I don`t know if this explains everything, I don`t even know if it is true. But it totally makes sense, in the way that Freud without Freud always makes sense. Would the Middle East be a different place without these men? Probably. Is there a chance of that happening? Probably not. Do they care? No. Do they know? I guess not. But I trust Nora somehow on this as she is as smart and sharp as an Amazon Warrior has to be. This is what someone at the workshop called her. At least this is what I thought. It turned out that I did not hear correctly. But there still is some truth to this name, Nora said, and laughed.

Smile, Child: You're in Texas

Brittani Sonnenberg about coming home, sort of
06.09.15
4 min
Post

I have up and repatriated. In other words, shifted from an expatriate to a repatriate. Or, from an ex-patriot to a re-patriot, even if I don’t feel very patriotic. I am in Texas, where the heat coming off the concrete and the smiles at furniture stores are stunning in the white glare of the afternoon, and can give you a headache if you stay in them too long.
I’ve witnessed a wide spectrum of American service sector smiles in the past week. There’s the losing-it smile, a brittle, bright smile that barely conceals a volcano’s worth of resentment. In Germany, where I lived for the past seven years, no waitress or postal worker would find it necessary to mask their anger with a smile. They have no problem regarding you and your order with raw rage. Here, the lady at Pottery Barn is smiling, but there is no question that she wants to throttle you and stuff your corpse under the sofa cushions. It’s a confusing, depressing combination of facial expressions, like a dog wearing a sweater or wintery weather in June.
Then there’s the Southern smile. This is usually paired with heavily teased hair, in the direction of Dolly Parton’s ’dos. I don’t mind this smile. I’ve known it since visits to Mississippi as a child. This smile has an element of “Bless her heart,” in it, a vaguely pitying (read: Besserwisser) tug at the corners of the mouth (as in “Bless her heart, the poor child doesn’t know how to work a tape measure”). There is a nihilistic serenity behind this smile, which is also a little frightening, but not if you don’t think too much about it: just measure your goddamn lamp, smile back, and get in the car as fast as you can.
Thirdly, there’s the “Hey, man!” smile, which I am beginning to think is distinctly Austinian. After ordering coffee and iced tea at a food truck, I received this smile and stream-of-consciousness speech from the kid manning the truck: “Hey, man, our coffee sucks, so I’d go somewhere else, but sure, I’d be glad to get you an iced tea. How’s your day going? Yeah? Nice. Mine is good, last night I hung out with some friends, no big deal, just a few of us, and we all watched the sun go down. It was beautiful. It was just a really chill night. It put me in a good mood and I’m still feeling happy about it. You know what I mean? Here you go. And just take this iced tea, my manager’s not here. Yeah man, it’s on the house. Sure, no problem. See you.”
The fourth smile, which I witnessed at a distance in Starbucks, is an entreating, I’m going-to-call-you-on-your-smile smile. This smile says, Okay, you’re going to smile all friendly? Let’s see if you mean it, bitch. The bearer of this smile was a Starbucks barista who was having a terrible day, as he informed his co-barista: his roommate sucked, she had given him hell for getting a dog without telling her. This story was repeated, with added flourishes and roommate insults, to every customer that approached the counter and asked how he was doing, after he asked how they were doing. And there was nothing for the customer to do but listen for ten minutes to the ins and outs of this man’s domestic drama, because they had smiled and asked, after all, how he was doing.
The Starbucks employee’s strategy breaks an unspoken rule of American friendliness: you’re not supposed to betray how you’re actually doing, at least not for a ten-minute monologue. The only customers with the power to deflect such oversharing, I would guess, are foreigners, who are not held to the same social expectations. I miss that Auslaender-get-out-of-jail- free card, which always came in handy in Berlin with telemarketers and people you didn’t want to talk to at a party.
Did I mention that I live on a property with miniature donkeys? I haven’t figured out what the donkey smile etiquette is yet. So far, we just regard each other warily, until I summon the courage to scratch their ears, and they summon the courage to let their ears be scratched. Which is its own kind of honesty, and its own kind of straight-faced relief.  

The Strange Curve of History

Georg Diez about the second birthday of 60pages in Cairo
05.09.15
3 min
Voyage | Cairo

We were walking along July 26th Street, Murat and me, carefully avoiding the sun, trying to stay in the shade, when it dawned upon me that yes, today was the second birthday of this very site, 60pages. We were on our way to the Townhouse Gallery which Murat had a little trouble finding. We had both arrived in Cairo the evening before, and Murat had been at the Townhouse for a few hours, preparing everything for the workshop, but somehow the impression of this city which so much reminded him of the Istanbul he remembered from the months he spent there as a child confused him a little bit and he was taken back all those years while forgetting on the way the path, the indeed tricky path to Townhouse. You turn right a little past the very good pastry bakery, it is a street full of little stores selling car parts, something, Murat said, the Armenians used to do in his childhood memory of Istanbul. Then you turn left, try not to fall over the plastic chairs that substitute for a cafe, turn left again, and there you are. Sarah was already there, it turns out it was also her birthday, the 25th. Happy birthday, Sarah! And thank you for putting together this fabulous group of people, writers, journalists, activists, all there to discuss the beauty and necessity of longform writing. It was hot, it was long, but what a great conversation we had. Among the many beautiful and memorable things being said was Wael`s statement, the big bearded Wael, the poet who said that journalism should be considered as a form of art and not as the 4th estate of a democracy that is bound to a nationstate that Wael believes is about to fall. Not today, not tomorrow, not in Egypt specifically, but more generally, a brief and bloody episode in human history which is going to end soon. Wael looked not mad as he said this, rather benign. So what could this journalism be that is more than another accessory of the nationstate? Maybe just the same, only better? Lina of Mada Masr made her argument for longer and better writing, something we here want too, and she mentioned Walter Benjamin as a storyteller, going back from the early 21st to the early 20th century while still going forward. A very inspiring exercise in time travel. Alia also of Mada Masr was also for time travel, she proposed to talk about migration at the turn of the 19th to the 20th century, among the migrants Italians coming to Egypt to build the Suez canal. History is strangely curved, it turns out. And that time is not linear is something we had always suspected, no? July 26th, by the way, was the day that Farouq, the son of Kind Fuad, was forced to abdicate in 1952. In 2013, General Sisi called on the population to demonstrate against the Muslim Brotherhood. This is what our new friends at Mada Masr wrote back in 2013. They are lovely people. As are most of the Egyptians we talked to today. What a very nice birthday. Happy 60pages.

The West and the Rest

Georg Diez about the 60pages workshop in Cairo
01.09.15
2 min
Voyage | Cairo

This is an experiment. We are going to Cairo for a workshop on the art of longform writing, with the generous support of MiCT and at a time of new tensions between the government and the press. The workshop will be hosted by Townhouse Gallery, not far from Tahrir Square. Sep 1 till 3, morning, afternoon, dinner, tea and talk in between. We expect 20 to 25 people, writers, activists, journalists. We want to talk about what stories need to be told and commission five to eight of them and publish them here, at 60pages. We also want to expand our network of people trying to figure out the present.

We always believed that part of today’s problems, both politically and journalistically, was a limitation of scope and perspective. What Pankaj Mishra called “the West and the rest” turns into a true liability if it comes to describing this world and how it changes. The West looks at Egypt and sees – what: first an uprising, violence, a revolution; then change, the end of the old, the beginning of something; democracy? The election turns out differently. The Muslim Brotherhood is not what the West bargained for. So when Sisi took over, there was a very loud silence from the part of Western governments.

It has been a rollercoaster ride. We don’t pretend to understand it. This is why we come. To listen and learn. We plan more of these – what should we call them: workshops, pop-up editorial sessions, voyages? Let`s call them voyages, because the goal in a voyage is exactly that, learn, listen, change. This we want to share with you, here and now. So join us.

Fire Walk With Me

10.08.15
3 min
Post

I’ve been having weird experiences with fire lately. Maybe I’ve provoked it, since I had a lovely bonfire gorgeously made by my friends for my 25th birthday. One of my professors was talking about Frankenstein in class and how the fire purifies, so it clicked, I needed a bonfire to start this year. And so I did, with a little help from my friends and sausages and marshmallows and booze. Then, about a month ago, I put some pizza in the oven and went back to my room upstairs. It was a warm day, odd being July so my windows were wide open. The air smelled like summer. Then the air started smelling like gas. I thought it might come from somewhere else but went to the kitchen just in case. The ground floor was full of gas everywhere. I opened the windows and the kitchen door and turned the gas off. I was so hungry or full of gas in my brain that I wasn’t thinking clearly, so first thing I think is how the pizza is still cold and how hungry I am, kinda like Homer Simpson kinda logic, I turned the oven back on. It was like something from a movie… That was what I actually first thought as it was happening… A huge ball of blue fire exploded towards me. All I did was jump back, scream really loudly although neither my dad nor his girlfriend heard me and started hitting myself on my sweater just in case and then touching my face to check it was OK… It’s almost funny now. I then smelled burnt hair and touched my entire head to check it wasn’t on fire. It wasn’t. Just some tips of my hair and nobody could ever notice, I kept touching one of my eyebrows anyway just to see if it was still in perfect shape. I was perplexed before my stupidity, my dad couldn’t believe I’ve done that and his girlfriend kept telling me my hair was fine and that it could have been a lot worse. Last but not least, my third encounter with fire, my second bad one this year, was exactly a week ago. Luckily, my dad was out of town for the weekend, but maybe also why it happened… I decided that since i was all alone it was a good idea to wax my legs. I’ve been waxing myself for a while now and everything had been nice and smooth so far.  So I put the metallic container on the burner and waited as usual for the wax to melt. Apparently, since the last time, there was a bit of wax on the outside of the container, which started catching fire, it happened so fast I turned around and I had a tiny bonfire inside the container. I had no idea how to solve this. I couldn’t let it burn, I couldn’t grab it without a risk of burning everything down…  I saw a bottle of water on the table… I thought this might be the only solution to my problem, so I opened it and off it went, the water straight to the container, turning the little bonfire into a really big one for a few seconds after which it was completely put out, exploding everywhere, not the fire, but the scalding honey wax… Brilliant. From 12 to 2AM on a Friday night cleaning the kitchen because there was fucking wax everyfuckingwhere. Ace. Lovely… Brilliant.

Ancestors' Relic

30.07.15
4 min
Post

The name “Ólafur” is in my mind a lot lately. I looked it up. We’ve got Ólafur Eliasson, and the other day I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the actor who plays the helicopter pilot is called Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and I fucking loved that character. I always love that kind of characters…loving chubby drunks. It’s Iceland’s “Juan”, basically, so my mind is not being original at all. But I love the sounding. Derived from the Old Norse Óláfr, meaning “ancestor’s relic”. Which is a lovely meaning for a name. I’ve been thinking about those people, those who seem to carry sadness in their eyes. I believe I’m one of those, although I hate the idea of that and fight against it. Those who carry all their ancestors’ sadness and regrets from past lives, feeling that sadness not knowing exactly why, being this such a fun and beautiful life, not having real reasons for such a deep, rooted sadness. Astrologically they say Cancer or Cancer ascendants have almond shaped eyes, all of us, easy to recognize and that we have this look like we’ve seen it all. Cancer being a sign so related to family and the past, maybe we are the chosen ones to carry with our ancestors luggage and not really knowing it, maybe that’s where the sadness, the great intuition, that “seen it all” look comes from. Cancer’s second decan, between July 2nd and 12th are said to be natural witches, it kinda makes sense if you are going to carry on your shoulders all your ancestors’ database.

I’ve been playing this sort of masochistic games with myself lately. I get tired by 1AM but force myself to stay awake and read stupid stuff on the internet till 5AM. Sometimes till 3AM if I want to go to bed “early”, sometimes til 6AM if I’m feeling more “hardcore”. When I wake up, I stay in bed for a little while and try to tolerate the hunger, sometimes I’m not really hungry till 2 hours later, but most of the times I’d usually would have jumped out of bed to get breakfast ASAP, because it’s the best meal of the day and because I couldn’t bare the hunger. Now I can. I feel as if it is some sort of idiotic meditation and when I reach the point where I feel nausea, which happens when I’m really hungry (some days I would wake up feeling like this right away, so I run to the kitchen for coffee with milk to calm my raging stomach down, although nowadays I can take it better). Now I have been awake for 2 hours, had a lovely shower, I’m enjoying the sound of the rain, and just decided I should eat something, although I think I could take it for one more hour.

It’s a bit sad when someone you didn’t talk to at all on Facebook suddenly becomes the person who appears at the top of your chat list, even when offline. And you are happy when their chat window pops up with them saying “Hi” and you talk for an unusual amount of hours, and you think it’s weird but you let it happen cause you are enjoying it and then something happens, there’s a click, or many clicks and you talk less. And less. And less. Till someone stops answering at all. And then you slowly but steadily watch them go down on that list till they get lost into the other list, way down where you don’t see their name next to a green dot anymore because you’d have to scroll down every 2 seconds to do so and it’s both annoying and weird as a routine and you’re complete strangers once again.

Año Sabático

30.07.15
3 min
Post

Quiero una vida aburrida por un rato, en uno de esos pueblos costeros, en los que vivir implica ir a la playa y juntar bichos como berberechos por un rato. Nadar horizontal a la costa. No quiero estudiar más por un rato. No se cuanto, un año, un año estaría bien, aunque amo ir a a facutad y amo las materias y mi carrera… Lo hice cuando terminé la secundaria y me dediqué a boludear y salir mucho y me fui un mes a Uruguay a despedirme de mi abuela e ir a la playa todos los días aunque fuese abril, donde me gané el apodo de “La Sirenita”. Ahí la vida era así. Me levantaba, abría la ventana, olía los pinos en el aire, mi abuela no me dejaba bajar a desayunar si no me lavaba la cara y las manos con jabón antes, costumbre que se me pegó desde entonces y me preparaba el café con leche y siempre había algo casero rico para degustar. Siempre que iba a Uruguay me recibía con scons, el resto de la familia se quejaba en broma diciendo que solo los hacía cuando iba yo. Miraba un poco de tele mientras desayunaba. Había un canal que tenía documentales increíbles, me acuerdo de uno sobre Pixar. Después iba a la playa, no había nadie excepto un par de personas y los del parador. Después veía a mis primos y tios y me iba a nadar un rato a la mansa y ver el atardecer porque queda a 3 cuadras de su casa, o venían y andábamos en sus skates o jugábamos al basket, un poco como ahora pero estaba mi abu, que nos hacía pizzas y pan y entrábamos corriendo de jugar en la calle cuando nos anunciaba que estaba listo. Esta vez yo hice las pizzas y pan como me enseñó. Lo único un poco diferente fue la salsa, la masa era igual, según las críticas de mi familia. Mi abuela pensaba que estaba perdiendo el tiempo y yo seguía extendiendo la vuelta de retorno de mi pasaje porque la existencia ahí era perfecta. Una vez también la visité en invierno y fue igual de perfecto, el hogar a leña, el mar, me la pasé escribiendo cada noche. El último día mi tio y ella me acompañaron a la terminal de ómnibus de Maldonado y ella me dijo que nos volveríamos a ver, porque yo no podía dejar de abrazarla porque sabía que lo más probable sería que esa fuese la última vez. En agosto fui a New York porque mi tio dijo que si no estaba haciendo nada acá, me fuera para allá, así que estuve un mes en NY disfrutando de un verano increíble, lleno de museos, helados deliciosos, rusos potros en bici, Ikea, Gossip Girl, yates, Lee chi martinis y hombres caminando por Coney Island con una pitón en brazos estilo Britney Spears.

The Art of the Contemporary

Marie-France Rafael about the confusion of history or the history of confusion
10.09.15
3 min

In Transit, not in Motion

Brittani Sonnenberg about going from one place to another
09.09.15
4 min

Freud without Freud

Georg Diez about the secret of Middle Eastern men
07.09.15
2 min

Smile, Child: You're in Texas

Brittani Sonnenberg about coming home, sort of
06.09.15
4 min

The Strange Curve of History

Georg Diez about the second birthday of 60pages in Cairo
05.09.15
3 min

The West and the Rest

Georg Diez about the 60pages workshop in Cairo
01.09.15
2 min

Fire Walk With Me

10.08.15
3 min

Ancestors' Relic

30.07.15
4 min

Año Sabático

30.07.15
3 min