Inga Gerner Nielsen at the Tandem Europe Final Meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme Theory meets Practice: Actions of Tribute to Zygmunt Bauman In this essay, Tandem Europe participant Inga Gerner Nielsen brings us a powerful reflection on the Tandem project she has been collaborating on with Ariane Jedlitschka: The Honorary Hotel. With this "Actions of Tribute to Zygmunt Bauman", she explains how to place our trust in the strength of the human encounter, and to nurture critical friends. Mixing theory and practice, Inga invites us all to reflect on the role we can play in making our current societies better, more humane. In the beginning of 2017, a great analyst of the twentieth century passed away. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman never seized to adapt his theoretical apparatus to the ever changing social phenomena up through the twentieth century and over the threshold of the new millennium. His essays are dark yet motivating. They were also key in our Tandem project The Honorary Hotel as well as in the method we developed and called circle of trust. I got to know Bauman’s body of work when studying Sociology and was greatly motivated by his respectful yet consistent opposition to the ideal of being a value-neutral, objective social scientist. This became particularly important for me, as I started to use interventionist performance projects, as a way to act upon the societal developments I was otherwise trained to analyse from a scientific distance. However, maybe due to my academically schooled style of thinking, I can sometimes still find it challenging to make the leap from critical reflection to action. In 2015, when the media announced the “refugee-crisis”, I was torn between feeling I had to do something, and at the same time being engaged in contemporary critical dialogues about the discursive problems in relation to doing cultural or artistic projects involving refugees. In this Tandem story, I start by shortly introducing some key concepts from Bauman’s theory in order to engage in a dialogue about these issues. I wrote it in particular for those who might struggle with similar obstacles of critical doubt when feeling the urge to start a project, such as ours, which tries to find ways to create a welcoming culture for newcomers. Reading through, you will come to know ‘The Critical Friend’, one of the methods from the Tandem book of project methods, and how it helped us develop the activities of The Honorary Hotel as well as the concept of ‘The Circle of Trust’. And finally why the format of the one-to-one performance ended up becoming an important step in starting one. a Honorary Performance, Tandem Europe final meeting, Bageion Hotel, Athens 2017. Photo by Madeleine Kate McGowan Inspiring projects and research During the first Tandem Europe placement on the West Coast of Denmark, we invited my long-term artistic partner Madeleine Kate McGowan and my brother, Niels Gerner Nielsen, to join us for some ‘honorary cooking’. Madeleine Kate initiated the project Other Story in 2015 following a strong intuition to travel to the shores of Greece and go into dialogue with the people coming to Europe as refugees, in order to find the stories which the mainstream media was not telling. This resulted both in a strong series of personal interviews with young refugees, which have been widely spread on social media. Madeleine Kate also started getting deeply involved in voluntary work. Back home in Copenhagen, Madeleine Kate is still engaged with the people she interviewed. She told us about some of the new challenges and possibilities her friends are now presented with. Now that they are getting out of the state of being on the run – and finding ways to become part of their new European local communities. Madeleine Kate McGowan at the Tandem Europe final meeting. Photo by Constanze Flamme. As a natural relation to the work of Madeleine Kate, we asked Niels Gerner Nielsen to talk about ‘OVER-COMING MIXOPHOBIA’, a recent qualitative case study he made about Danish individuals from the civil society movement in Denmark, which first started as the facebook group Venligboerne in 2015 – “Venlig”(friendly) + “boerne”(citizens). This group started to engage with asylum-seekers in the North of Denmark based simply on friendliness, respect and curiosity. The question motivating Niels was: why did these individuals seek to go and meet the newcomers? Why, when this literally meant that they were thereby resisting the strong social tendency, described by Bauman, for a community to reject what ever poses a threat to the binary system by which it identifies itself? The order of meaning, based on a dichotomy of ‘us’ and ‘them’; the outside and the inside; the good and the bad. Because of today’s liquid state of social developments and work conditions, people tend to hold on even harder to what they know, in what Niels conceptualizes as communities of fear. Niels found it important to point to the actions of those who are actively bridging the barrier between ‘us’ and ‘them’. His project concludes that by replacing fear with curiosity the outcome can be realising the Other’s ethical claim to face. The concept of Face in Bauman’s theory is taken from the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, which shortly put is based on the phenomenological analysis of what happens when experiencing the face of the other. An absolute nakedness of a face, the absolute defenceless face, without covering, clothing or masks, opposes the power over it, the violence posed by dehumanising social categories. Niels had found that the people he interviewed all pointed to this moment of encounter as something significantly transformative, yet difficult to describe. A kind of magic almost. And this is exactly what resonated with our experience and sense of how we need to approach this otherwise bleak view we share on what’s happening in Europe. We need to do like Venligboerne and Other Story. To come together and create spaces for activities which give chance for actual encounters to happen. And to keep on using whatever is in our different capacities as artists, researchers, filmmakers, cultural managers etc. to make what we, in developing the idea of The Honorary Hotel, have come to call circles of trust between locals and newcomers. Watch the video introducing ‘the circle of trust’: The introduction in the video above might seem like a very simple approach to a very complex global situation. However, analyses such as Bauman’s provide us with a conceptual framework to speak about – and confirm – our own experience; that the social and mental structures which keep such spaces and encounters from existing are very forceful. Which means we have to insist on doing the effort of opening activities, which bring us to engage with people outside our social networks. Critically aware, of course, of the problem of othering which may happen when involving people in projects as representatives of ‘refugees’, this is not the time to refrain from making the attempt for encounters. In The Honorary Hotel project, we strive to focus on the specific interests of each person in a group constellation. We then develop activities together we would all like to participate in. We chose to place our focus on what cultural communities and cultural institutions may offer to create meeting points, between locals and what we consciously choose to call, newcomers. A term which can also include ourselves, as we are also new-coming residents in the Northern rural region of Denmark. 'The Critical Friend' Being part of the Tandem Europe programme has provided us with different project tools to reflect on what we are doing. To us, the most helpful of them became ‘the critical friend’ – a person who is not part of the project, but feedbacks you on your ideas. Someone who will be allowed to ask you critical questions, both about simple and more complex matters. Madeleine Kate McGowan, put us in contact with Ali H. Jabbour, whom she had met when doing interviews on the shores of Lesbos in 2015. Ali came to Europe as a refugee from Syria and is now living in Norway. From having seen the Other Story film with him, we shared Madeleine Kate’s feeling, that he would be great for us to talk to. Visit Other Story’s website to see more interviews, also of Elias Toumeh who came to Europe as a refugee from Syria, and through his encounter with Other Story, is now a trainer in the Honorary Hotel in Leipzig. Elias joined the Tandem Europe meeting in Athens in January 2017 and wrote this poignant essay: “A Journey Back to Athens”. Focusing on the personal stories and dreams, the Other Story films have the rare quality of giving you the feeling of actually having an encounter with each of the people interviewed. So we felt like we already knew Ali when we met him on Skype to talk about the Honorary Cinema Workshop we were going to make with Venligboerne and people from the local refugee camp as part of the first Tandem placement in Denmark. This was a very nice meeting – and a most significant moment in our Tandem journey. On a practical level, Ali helped us by sharing his experience of what waiting in a camp in Norway for more than six months had done to his feelings about time and initiative. He told us that it becomes impossible to plan anything ahead and that we, therefore, shouldn’t expect from our participants to sign up for the workshop in advance, but make it flexible enough for them to decide on the very day. Furthermore, we shared many of our self-critical concerns regarding the project. Ali encouraged us to go on. This was an immense help not to overlook and yet to overcome the doubt which may lead to the passivity we can’t afford today on a human level. a Honorary Performance, Tandem Europe final meeting, Bageion Hotel, Athens 2017. Photo by Madeleine Kate McGowan One-to-one performance Through our conversations channelled by the Honorary Hotel project, Madeleine Kate and I started to feel the urgency to use the fact that we have many years of facilitating sensuous encounters in immersive performance installations together. We share the conviction in the ethical human impulse which the face of the other evokes – and in interactive performance as a way to jumpstart this. So we made a prototype for a so-called honorary performance. A simple set-up for immersing two people into the imaginary life worlds, through storytelling. To create a setting, which rather quickly transports people into a situation, where that certain kind of magic in an encounter could happen. To enhance the chance for the first spark to a new circle of trust. Meanwhile being aware that it is consistent contact like they have with the people interviewed in Other Story and social structures such as Venligboerne and The Honorary Hotel in Hal Aterlierhaus in Leipzig, which really makes it possible to become a new community. a Honorary Performance w. Madeleine Kate McGowan. Photo by Constanze Flamme The engagement of the facilitator On a personal level, the power of the simple performance we made only really kicked in for me when, at the end, I tried it myself. Wanting to make an audio recording of a session at the end of the day, we asked Katerina, one of the Greek organisers of the Tandem presentations in Athens, to try it with me. We had already had a lot of communication around logistics. Listening to her telling me about how she made short tape recordings as a child, I finally got to actually meet her. That moment, after having shared our remarkably similar childhood stories, seeing her open face and falling into a warm hug was just so wonderful! Wonderful and necessary. As facilitators of events and activities, we have to remind each other to create a way for us to also take part in them. To be open to being vulnerable too. To step out of the functional mode of organising – and let the magic of encounter work on ourselves. a Honorary Performance w. Madeleine Kate McGowan. Photo by Constanze Flamme Circles of Reflection Now, after having processed through the inspiring and sometimes chaotic journey of formulating and testing a Tandem project, it is very thrilling for us to see it all finally communicated (see the above video) as a simple and polished method. The lightness and simplicity of the video makes it possible to dive back into the complexity and weight of theory and experience, by which the emphasis on face-to-face encounters is built on. Contemplating now on the complex issues of the talk we had with Niels, Madeleine Kate and Ali, I come to realise that it is so important, that when engaging in these new circles of trust, that we do not base them on the idea of a good inside – and a bad outside. How do we deviate from adding to the current polarisation in the West? How do we, like Bauman, keep challenging and shaping our theoretical concepts and metaphors in accordance with the new state of social development? How do we stay curious? So on a finishing note, whether you already did or feel the urgency to make a project based on reading the theory of Bauman, feel very welcome to contact us. Maybe we should make an honorary cooking or seminar together.