This week, the OU's Year of Mygration series reflects on the Who Are We? Project, an art exhibition held as part of Tate Exchange. Today's post comes from Evgenia Iliadou, PhD Candidate at The Open University.
On the 22nd of May 2018 I attended the collaborative participatory installation Floor Plans (journeys from there to here) part of the Who Are We? project at the Tate Exchange. This installation, by performance artist Natasha Davies and the poet/academic Siobhan Cambell was focusing on floor plans of homes and on how these floor plans relate to personal histories of migration, displacement, memory and the body as a site of memory.
As I approached the installation I noticed a big wooden stand which reminded me of a drying rack. Clothes hangers were suspended between drawings of homes, floor plans, fabrics, a key, a necklace and other personal belongings. Instead of clothes, I thought, here are traces of someone’s bittersweet memories. An empty big black cage, which was also hanging on the wooden stand, immediately drew my attention. If home is considered to be people’s safe haven what was this small cage representing, I wondered. As I was exploring more of Natasha’s art and by discussing with her, I learned that in the aftermath of the former Yugoslavian civil war, Natasha fled to Greece where she was trapped for five years in limbo as a stateless person. Natasha’s home in Athens, during the period of this protracted “in-betweeness”, was being depicted within the installation. “All of my work”, Natasha told me, “is related to migration. It looks at crossing borders and what impact, what traces it leaves in our lives”.
Suddenly, the existence of the hanging cage between the drawings of homes, floor plans and the personal belongings made sense to me. The cage symbolized to me, that for some, a “home” can be a haven, whilst for some others it can be a trapped ‘in-between place’, and thus a cage, a “prison”. “Crossing borders, living in exile and in-between homes can be a difficult and traumatic experience, but it can also be an incredibly fertile space in which one can reinvent oneself”, Natasha had said in a previous interview.
Siobhan described the installation to me, “I am thinking of all the arts and creative things migrants and refugees produce... The question of where home is, is very interesting. A woman from London I have just spoken with asked me ‘is London my home although I have lived here for a while?’ She was living in Leeds but it felt too far away from home and now she is back in London. That reminded me of the fact that you might be a migrant even if you are near where you consider home is.”
The idea of the Floor plans installation was emotionally very powerful, since it was evoking sentimental memories of home, people and belongings left behind due to migration or displacement. As such, the installation is provoking a sense of loss and trauma associated with these memories. The idea of the installation was very contemporary too. As even more people globally are becoming migrants and forcibly displaced the sense of home – what and where home is- becomes really uncertain. As Siobhan said, “I think we tend to hold the idea of home very dearly even if we do not know where exactly it is.”