Window to the World. Photo by
Window to the World. Photo by

Windows to Support a Collective Sense of Belonging

Tandem Europe participant Dylan Quinn (Dylan Quinn Dance Theatre in Enniskillen, UK), has collaborated with Lara Chahal (Thepsis Zentrum in Bautzen, Germany) on The Border Memories Shop, a project that aims to collect individual stories of belonging in regions that have experienced critical border politics. In this story, Dylan tells about the multi-layered journey of this project, with its ups and downs, how it evolved to become "The Tandem Window".

No two Tandem Journeys are ever the same, I think I remember having been told this at the very start of the process by one of the wonderfully enthusiastic facilitators that we would have the pleasure of sharing time with along the away. However, our Tandem journey turned out to be a little more unique than I had expected.

With three highly enjoyable, extremely rewarding and successful visits to Bulgaria, Greece and Portugal and one non-visit to Sicily but more on that later … The Tandem journey for me was stimulating, reflective inducing, rewarding and frustrating all at the same time.

I run a small dance company in Enniskillen in the west of Northern Ireland, we engage in a range of professional and participatory programmes with a social development/exploration focus. I established a Tandem with Lara from Thespis Zentrum in Bautzen in the east of Germany.

Thespis was a fairly new organisation/project inside a much larger organisation and the relationship between them was at times testy. My organisation was small and very independent. The result was a collaboration between two people with a desire to have a similar outcome, working within two very different organisations. I, with the support of my board, was essentially the captain of my own ship and Lara was the co-captain of a small boat tied to a large oil tanker.

Lara and I gravitated towards each other for a number of reasons, we both have dance backgrounds and we were both totally ineffective at the first “dating” workshop to find a Tandem partner. However, one other major area of crossover was the fact that Lara was new to the east of Germany and my longterm collaborator (Jenny) was from that part of Germany. Lara was interested in connecting better with the location and artists from the region and I had for some time been interested in exploring links between Jenny’s home place (though she currently lives in a different part of Germany) and mine, as we had for many years exclusively worked in Ireland.

Once the Tandem was established we explored various creative options and approaches. The slow-moving nature of Lara’s ship in comparison to the nimble ability of mine created a few challenges to overcome. However, these challenges were to be dwarfed by Lara’s exciting news that she was due to have a baby and as a result would have to return to her home city of Berlin and therefore leave her post with Thespis.

So in due course, Lara moved on and Klara moved in. Klara was, like Lara not from Bautzen or indeed the east (a common issue within Thespis) so was also interested in Jenny’s input. In addition and of great interest to Klara and myself. Klara was half Irish and had a great deal of interest in the politics and history of Ireland north and south. So a challenge experienced and a challenge, not only overcome but brimming with opportunity.

With the change over of personnel fast approaching, we arranged for my placement in Bautzen to straddle Lara’s last few days and Klara’s first few days. This obviously created some positives and a range of negatives. Despite the challenges the experience was positive, primarily due to the fact that the people involved, from Tandem, Thespis and indeed from ourselves were all interested in making it work. What that thing exactly was, had yet to be identified, particularly as my Tandem partner was now a different person within an organisation that was itself not really sure about its future.

Klara, Lara, Jenny and I spent some time exploring Bautzen and Gorlitz. Gorlitz, a short train ride from Bautzen sits on the German-Polish border, Klara was living there and it also happened to be a place Jenny had lived and worked in for many years. However Gorlitz was also part of the historical region of Silesia and like my region of Ireland: Ulster, had in the years after the First World War experienced violent conflicts over self-determination.

The idea of borders, identity and belonging ran through all of our discussions no matter the personnel. It reflected the interests, concerns and experiences of all of the people involved not just in a historical context but very much in a contemporary one.

My time in Bautzen was interesting and enlightening. I could see the rise of the “acceptable” face of right-wing racist politics in a way that I wasn’t experiencing in my home place. It exists there, it just hasn’t developed the confidence to be so overt in its seeming “respectability”. From the little caravan of hate in the town centre with people handing out leaflets, to the t-shirts of right wind bands and the experience of people we talked to. My time in Bautzen made it clear that issues of “othering” that we continue to see grow in the UK and Ireland were the same in Germany just dressed in different clothes.

This was all happening against the backdrop of Trump inciting hate across America and indeed internationally. It was hard, maybe impossible and pointless to ignore the border context that this Tandem experience was taking place within.

During our Tandem full group meetings, I had referred to the community of people that I had met on this journey as part of my Tribe. Having a sense of belonging is important and I felt I belonged in some way to this Tribe of people. This sense of belonging or not weaved through the heart of my interest in the Tandem project. How do we help people feel they belong and how do we challenge those who try and define who does not belong. What are the reasons some will restrict who should or should not belong?

Klara and I talked a lot about this on her visit to Enniskillen, my home town. We spent many many hours walking, driving, sitting and talking about these issues. We visited various parts of the North of Ireland in and out of Northern Ireland Ireland crossing borders. Despite having visited Ireland a lot in her youth Klara had never been to the north and was very keen to learn and understand more about the people of the border. This time was stimulating, fruitful and productive and indeed we developed a new plan for our Tandem project.

However, when Klara returned to Bautzen the future of Thespis seemed even more precarious and within a few weeks inevitably Klara had found a new job and was getting ready to move on. This meant I was now Tandem partnerless. Unfortunately, Thespis was not really in the right situation to replace Klara in the Tandem project and so I forged ahead with our idea alone but not totally on my own. Fortunately, by this stage, we had agreed on a way forward and I had purchased items to make it happen. In addition and as a direct result of our work with Klara, we had developed a relationship with Lisa, one of Klara’s colleagues in Thespis. Whilst Lisa was unable to take on the Tandem project we had by now been invited to present one of our professional dance performances as part of the Theatre Festival Lisa ran in Bautzen in September of 2020. So the challenge again produced an opportunity.

Window to the World
Window to the World

And what of our Tandem project? Well I haven’t offered the project name as yet as it changed about as many times as the personnel changed, however, it came out as something like “The Tandem Window”. It is still a work in progress… We have created two independent “digital windows”. Each “window” will sit in a different location, a different town, a different county, amongst a different community. However, they are connected to each other digitally. As a result, they will allow people standing in front of one window to see through the other window. Connecting people, communities and places. Helping to support a collective sense of belonging, that is not exclusive but rather inclusive.

All was going to plan until the COVID-19 crisis… Our final Tandem meeting was cancelled in Sicily, the plan to complete construction and transportation of the Tandem Windows was stalled and priorities changed. The various members of the Tribe gathered up their belongings and moved on to new pastures. However, the Tandem Window is still waiting to properly open and establish new and creative engagements between people and places and hopefully at some point reunite the Tribe.

Dylan Quinn
June 2020

An update will follow shortly: as the image suggests the “windows” are complete and now we wish to open them to others… stay tuned!