It is almost November.
Berlin is fascinating.
A city to which everyone is welcome. I have been welcome here for four weeks now. On the streets it is as likely that you will hear a foreign language as it is to hear German. Berlin has the image of being the city of opportunities for contemporary artist in all fields; fine arts, music or dance. Many of us migrate from abroad to find work in this city that unfortunately, I feel, has already been filled/packed with young emerging artists. Berlin is no longer the city of opportunities. Yes, it is cheap, and yes, there is lots to do (maybe to much), but if you want to earn a living from your work, be prepared for a competition that might take a while to win.
Another fascinating thing about Berlin is how the history is still very present. It is possible that my obsession with it is the reason for this statement. But only by biking through the city it is possible to see the difference between former East and West Berlin. The typical Soviet block building, prefabricated or panel apartment houses, however one wants to call them, they are still just around the corner from Alexanderplatz. The Wall appears unexpectedly every once in a while on my rides through the city, with or without monuments. Even the traffic light symbols for pedestrians that are different in East and West are a constant reminder of the 27 year division of the city.
After talking to a few of those who have lived here for 20 years or more it is clear that the division still exists. Not just from a visual, architectural aspect, but it also seems to be a constant curiosity among those who are older than 25-30 years; "which side are you from?".
Unlike Armenia, where I spent the summer doing another project, Germany and Berlin has moved on in a fast tempo. You can still find Russians in Karlshorst and abandoned military bases that haven't been renovated yet. Armenia, on the other hand, is still completely dependent on Russia, mainly import of food and gas but likewise is the Armenian defense.
I question the tempo of the equalization between East and West. Who is in charge? Is it even necessary? How fast is it going here in Berlin and when, if ever, will the two sides be equal in a social sense?
Today we went to Yerevan with our fellow resident, Nevdon. He showed us the city market which is combination flee market and souvenir market for tourists. We weren't too enthusiastic about it but in the end we did find some books with pictures of old Yerevan with Soviet buildings and maps. I got stuck with an old man who used to be an English teacher who wanted to tell me all about the function of churches a long time ago and how Georgians and Turks used Armenians to build their churches and buildings and how the Armenian language was built. He was charming but after 30 minutes I was just trying to figure out a way to make him stop in a polite way. He even gave me a little book about Armenian so I felt bad leaving him wihouth even buying anything. After that we walked up to the Cascade which is aproximately at 1300 meters above sea level. There, you get a clear view of Yerevan and behind the city, the beautiful Mount Ararat, some pictures below but the camera really doesn't do the view justice unfortunately.
Only today when Nevdon asked us how we were energy wise Anna and I understood that our extreme tiredness was because of the hight we are at. Yesterday we had to take a nap during the day and even then we couldn't wait to sleep again. Today was much better so we're getting used to it.
We have arrived in Yerevan.
We are already at the end of our second day of our stay but let me explain a bit more about the beginning.
We have spent the last couple of months writing texts for portfolios and applications, we have written a large amount of emails to Armenian institutions and with our contacts in Yeravan. The preparation has been intense next to other simultanious occupations.
Today the work we have been looking forward to begun.
On the first of July I took the train to Paris. On the second of July Anna and I carried our suitcases through the metro of Paris and got on our flight to Yeravan. We arrived at eight o'clock in the evening, local time, which is UTC+4. Nedav, a half Armenian, American born, currently living in Bangkok painter and writer, who is another resident at the Art and Culture Studies Laboratory, showed us around the neighborhood.
We are staying in a high school for cultural studies in a suburb to Yerevan. It has a long Armenian name but because it's so far away from the city center the locals started calling the suburb Bangladesh.
It is a big maze of the typical apartment buildings built during the Soviet empire; big blocks placed on top of each other.
The director of the residency, Susanna Gyulamiryan, is helping us with everything: how to get around in Yerevan, practical matters, finding a sewing machine for Anna and today she took us to meet a group of dancers that we will work with during the project.
We described our idea and Susanna stayed to translate until Nuni, who studies linguistics came to take over, she will be with us all the way.
We did instant composition and creative exercises where they had to build narratives from pictures and create paths with small rocks that they later embodied.
They were increadibly enthusiastic and motivated. It was great to see and experience. There were eleven women around the age twenty who study choreography but because our time is limited we decided to make a selection and work with maximum five of them. We have a challenging task for the coming couple of days. This is the first time both Anna and I have a selection of this sort and it is not easy.
We will spend the coming week gathering raw material by, for example, interviewing inhabitants. We already have some great candidates: Nuni, the lady who cooks for the children who go to day care in the school, and Annahit, and English teacher who works in the building for handicrafts where the sewing machine is.
The work has begun!
"In Mapping Memories Anna Ádám and Sally O'Neill study the transformations and the movements of the urban environment of post-Soviet capitals (Berlin, Budapest, Prague, Vilnius, Yerevan…) since the independence till 2014. Through subjective histories, personal narratives and anecdotes of the inhabitants they elaborate a series of spatio-temporal maps. In the frame of a collective project, Anna Ádám's embroidered fiber maps are in a second phase "activated" by the choreographer/dancer Sally O'Neill. Anna Ádám's map that is shown at the Montrouge Art Fair represents the 4th district of Budapest with it's major transformations from the past 25 years.
- The use of fiber is recurrent in your work.
- The fiber is a support for "writing", a surface for projecting - mentally and physcially - as well as a flexible, supple material to model, to sculpt forms in-situ, directly on the wall of the exhibition spaces. It also allows me to use thread as ink in a process of "visual writing".
- The question of language is in the heart of the Mapping Memories project.
- Definitely. In each map there are three languages : the oral language, the one of the recorded stories which I translate into the language of forms, and the one which is translated by Sally O'Neill into movements. Instead of "translating" we should rather speak of "translating-interpreting" because each phase corresponds to a new subjectivity.
- Languages in progress, in movement...
- Yes, and the installation as well. The initial form corresponds to the topographical characteristics described by the inhabitants/narrators. But when Sally "activates" the map, she gives it a new form after each intervention. The map changes not only it's status (from art work to prop, from costume to a scenery set or to a dance partner) but also it's form.
- Your work shows the movements, the transformations and the "mutations" of post-Soviet cities in the course of time and stories.
- Yes, each installation/composition can be re-red and re-interpreted as a musical or choregraphical note after each activation."
Source: Anna Ádám about the Mapping Memories project
Mapping Memories © 2014. Collaboration between Anna Ádám and Sally O'Neill