#MICRORESIDENCY_ATHENS#4: Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen

For the forth microresidency in Athens, media scientist and activist, Özge Çelikaslan, and Alper Şen, an artist and activist of Turkish art collective Artikisler came to Greece to work on and present their project The Residual. Local Observer Vassiliki Grammatikogianni wrote about their presentation. Photos by Vangelis Patsialos.

MICRORESIDENCY_ATHENS#4: Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen. Photo: Vangelis Patsialos

During the past two years persecution and poverty have driven over one million people to leave their homes and seek asylum in Europe. Europe, however, was not prepared to receive them. The stream of refugees has shaken Europe’s very foundations. Now people are accusing each other and are placing the blame on the shoulders of the others; they are closing borders and speaking about perpetrators and victims. And yet, at the heart of all these aspects are people. Because it is people who are behind all the statistics. People whose lives have been destroyed by war. Within the framework of the ACTOPOLIS programme a new light has been shed on the subject of refugees.
MICRORESIDENCY_ATHENS#4: Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen. Photo: Vangelis Patsialos

Özge Çelikaslan, media scientist and activist, and Alper Şen, an artist and activist who has specialised in video technology, are both members of the Artikisler artists’ collective. They have recorded the traces of war, misfortune and the refugees’ need in harrowing pictures which also tell of the unsatisfactory conditions at the reception centres, the closed borders and the violence which occurs there. But at the same time they also describe the network of solidarity which is arising in the places where the refugees settle after their arrival. For the first time an artistic programme is showing European citizens that the largest numbers of refugees are not being taken in within Europe, but rather in the countries bordering Europe.

The study by these artist-activists began in Kobani, continued via Suruç and then went on to Ankara and Istanbul, to the Greek islands and to Athens and Thessaloniki, in order finally to reach Germany, the refugees’ ultimate goal, via the Balkan route.

MICRORESIDENCY_ATHENS#4: Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen. Photo: Vangelis Patsialos

The items they left behind them, including their refuse, served as the starting point – and also as the inspiration – for the artists’ team as they tell of the refugees’ arduous journey in their search for a better life. “The aim of the programme ‘Residual’ (‘The Remains’) was to tell the tragic story behind the ‘traces’ which the migrants left behind in the various cities through which they passed, until they finally sat in a boat which was to carry them from the Turkish coast to a Greek island,” said Özge of the project. At the heart of the study lie the human relationships which crystallised in the towns and villages through which the refugees travelled, the acts of solidarity which arose and the contact between the refugees and the local population. “The town of Mardin is a place of transshipment; it is from here that the Turkish government deports the refuges to Syria. It is here, too, that the immigration authority checks the legality of the migrants. This is the town in which we can see how the people are in contact with each other on a daily basis and the social relationships which form as they do so. This is the town in which a vision of our future together is possible”, concluded Özge.

As long as there are wars there will always be refugees, and there will always be migrants as long as there is poverty. This was my first thought when the second artist in the team, Alper Şen, reminded us of the night of terror, 6 September 1955, in which the houses of the Greeks in Istanbul were set on fire, their shops were destroyed and their schools and churches razed to the ground. The rubble and the ruins were the “traces”, the “remains”, which the uprooted Greeks left behind them when they departed. “Refugees are not a new phenomenon; as a topic it is hundreds of years old”, explained Alper and continued: “We often asked ourselves: what are we doing, are we recording the misery? No; we are describing the spirit of capitalism. This is a research programme that gives rise to hope”.

MICRORESIDENCY_ATHENS#4: Özge Çelikaslan and Alper Şen. Photo: Vangelis Patsialos

This is not the first time that the Goethe-Institut has financed a project of this kind. In 2012 the Institut linked together the two shores of the Mediterranean with a different initiative. The DOME project arose in the wake of the Arab Spring and united artists, activists, businessmen and scientists from the Balkan countries and Europe as well as the countries of North Africa and the Middle East, in order to examine the aspects which bring their peoples together and not those that drive them apart. In Greece the DOME programme ran via plays2plays productions and had a whole series of points in common with the Turkish artists’ project. Martha Bouziouri, the artistic director of DOME EXPERIENCE Traces, commented: “The material of Traces is based on the research work which I carried out in the regions around the borders, starting with the border between Syria and Lebanon, continuing via Damascus and from there on to Turkey, then travelling to Lesbos and Idomeni and finally along the route which crosses the western Balkan peninsula. The purpose of the study was to examine the relationships which develop between people in these transit areas in the border regions – not only from the refugees’ point of view, but also from the perspective of the local inhabitants.” Martha is an anthropologist, and the result of her study is an ethnographical and anthropological poem which amongst other things has made visible the many faces of solidarity with all its bright sides as well as its shadows.

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