There was a small stone in my mail box. It was sent to me all the way from Serbia. Freya Gabie had passed it while walking into Čačak and picked it up. It was dark grey, although that might not have been the original colour. It could have been brown or more blueish. Four centimeters long, flat at the base and narrowing towards the rounded top. The kind of stone I like to hold in my hand. It was light as a feather.
I googled Čačak. It is located in the western part of central Serbia, within the region of Šumadija. Once densely forested, today the region is characterized by its rolling hills and its fruit trees. It has around 75.000 inhabitants and is near the Ovčar-Kablar Gorge, which houses 12 different monasteries. The original name of the town was Gradac, which means “little town”, used when it developed around the Moravski Gradac monastery but in 1409 it was mentioned in an official document as Čačak. The word has disappeared from the Serbian language today but dictionaries from the 19th and 20th century and works from major linguists mention the word čačak, meaning lumps of frozen or dried mud or lumps of stone protruding from the ground. I don’t know if Freya knew this when she picked up this stone.
The stone was there already, maybe not in the same location but in existence, when the refugee Pavel Kiprianovitch walked from Bulgaria to France, carrying a Nansen passport. They were internationally recognised refugee travel documents, used inbetween 1922 and 1938, first issued by the League of Nations to stateless refugees. They got their name from the polar explorer and statesman Fridtjof Nansen who promoted them. It was the time after the first World War, four world empires had been destroyed: the German, Ottoman, Russian and Austro-Hungarian and many people were displaced. Around 450.000 Nansen passports were distributed, famous holders of Nansen passports include Robert Capa, Marc Chagall, Vladimir Nabokov, Sergei Rachmaninov and Igor Stravinsky but most of them were people like Pavel Kiprianovitch, whose name is only known because his passport is still there. He was 34, of normal constitution, average height, he had brown eyes, blond hair, an oval face, no moustache or beard. Profession says: ouvrier, worker.
Freya Gabie, an artist from the UK, retraced his journey with the help of his passport. His route, from Bulgaria northwest across Europe, is the same that many displaced people today are making from the war-torn countries of the Middle East, a further reason for Freya to explore it. For those current displaced people, sadly, there is no Nansen passport to help them cross borders and make their journeys easier and safer.
It is unknown what Pavel saw when he made his way through Europe. Freya took photos while travelling and I looked at them on her website. A lot of things must have been different when Pavel was on the road but some things haven’t changed. The stones were already there then and have been long before Pavel and other refugees moved around, trying to find a new home. Silent witnesses, drawn with care and attention and sent around by Freya while she was travelling.
I don’t know much more about Freya then I do about Pavel. I know what she looks like in more detail because I saw her photo on Facebook. There is no photo of Pavelon on his passport, just a description. I never met Freya, she reached out to me when she was preparing her journey, one artist keen on building bridges between the past and the present writing another artist who is doing something similar. I thank Pavel Kiprianovitch for that. I am honoured to have received this stone.
More about Freya’s project Hold the Line here: https://www.freyagabie.com/hold-the-line
Posted by monique besten at 13:02
I am a book addict. I taught myself a long time ago that when I fall for a book in a bookshop, I go home without buying it and if it stays on my mind long enough I will go and get it. Or order it online. But it is better to go back to the bookshop and hold it in your hands again. Maybe put it back once more but if you return for it again, it will be yours.
There was a book once in the bookshop next to the CCCB, the Center for Contemporary Culture in Barcelona I broused through every time I came there. It was the title that had attracted my attention. And the small drawing underneath it. Modos de (no) entrar a casa. Ways of (not) entering home. A drawing of a house that was a rain cloud, an umbrella holding the house or catching the rain. I wanted to buy it the first time I saw it but I didn’t. And I didn’t all the other times it winked at me. If it would have been in Engish I probably would have but it was a few years ago and my Spanish was not sufficient and I told myself that was a good reason to buy it because I could use it to learn but I also knew there were still a couple of unread Spanish books on my shelves I had bought with the same excuse.
After a while I forgot about the book.
Today was a hot day. I wanted to leave the house. I didn’t want to leave the house. It is often like that. I wanted to be elsewhere but I didn’t want to go. There was a performance by a writer and visual artist I like. I don’t know her work very well but I read her last novel, Brother in Ice, originally written in Catalan and I liked it a lot. Before the book there was a series of exhibitions in which she explored the explorations of people who were obsessed by the poles. The cold and white far south and north. The book is a mix of stories and facts. Science and fiction. But really the opposite of science-fiction. Heading into the other direction. Not out there but deep down. Inside. Into a similar unknown. Dark as a black hole. Or bright as a white one.
I went. This time it was closer to science-fiction. A performance about the possible relationship between a woman and a non-person. About Artificial Intelligence. A woman in a bed and a drone flying over her head, landing next to her. Her soft back almost touching the cold metal of the machine. In the gallery space there were drawings that looked like scientific drawings. Wormholes. A text as a drawing in a circle.
There are tiny black holes
their whole event horizon fits in your hand
If you enter, they tear you apart
There was the documentation of her communication with the gallery owner.
“Asi que a la gente como yo, que nos dedicamos a la minería de metales precioseos del alma, no nos queda otra que meternos en zonas difíciles, tratar con metales pesados y presenciar o vivir ciertas colisiones. E incluso entrar en ese horizonte de sucesos que parece lanzarnos de una dimensión a otra. Deberían existir esas lineas tan claras de los manuales de ciencia que delimitan donde están las fronteras de las cosas y nos dicen su nombre (por ello me gusta tanto el dibujo cientifico, porque hace el mundo tranquilizador y comprensible, aunque las lineas sean tan humanas y ficticias).”
“So for people like me, who are dedicated to mining the precious metals of the soul, there is no choice but to get into difficult areas, deal with heavy metals and witness or experience certain collisions. And even enter that horizon of events that seem to throw us from one dimension to another. Those clears lines that are in science manuals that define where the boundaries of things are and tell us their name should exist (that's why I like scientific drawings so much, because they make the world soothing and understandable, even if the lines are so human and fictional).” *
After the performance I went to get a beer at the entrance of the gallery. And there was the book. Modos de (no) entrar a casa. By Alicia Kopf. Of course. I asked the woman handing out the beers if I could buy it. She told me they had only this one, it was not for sale and as far as she knew, it wasn’t in the shops anymore.
Next day I went to the place where I had seen it first. Nothing. I checked online. Sold out everywhere. Maybe it will be reprinted one day. Or I will find an old one somewhere. Until that day I’ll enjoy longing for something I could have easily had. Or maybe not. “If I would have known …. “ is useless. Politicians misuse it often: “With the knowledge we have now we wouldn’t have …. “
It is often like that in life, timing has to be right. There is nothing you can do about that. You can look back and regret but it is better to look back and smile.
* my own translation in English
Posted by monique besten at 14:35
I read a beautiful text by a friend on Facebook yesterday. We never met. But five years ago she sent me a big envelope. I never replied to it properly but I take it with me to every new home. I took it out today and broused through it. I put on the ring and maybe I will wear it until she is where she belongs. Soon it seems. In the meantime I will write an answer to her questions as if they are my questions. And in a way they are. Her answers are on the other side of the paper. I didn’t read them yet.
It will be time to build the dragonfly soon. It has been waiting for five years.
Here’s Mimi’s text:
my kind of people dance
read write eat walk talk
but not 50
they know how to tell stories
how to look out of windows
how to spot a poet
they don't do too much for you
& because their occipital bone is soft
they're ok with you not showing up
but keep telling you they want you to
because they want you to
no other motive
my kind of people are different
without needing to be
they do things because they want to
not because they think they have to
they know you are their best audience
they aren't waiting for something
better to come along
they sing & know the words to songs
they know how to whistle but rarely do
they go out walking alone
& when you are out walking alone
you find them again & again
as if you were in orbit
my kind of people
keep inviting you
we'd love to see you
they make old family recipes
they eat with their hands
they always say something before they drink
& they look you in the eye
without it having to be a game
they save things
& can show you them
things you sent them long ago
my kind of people
don't bring their phones to dinner
or out walking or to bed
my kind of people aren't rushed
or bathed or newly shod
they all own folding knives
& crossdress without question
& stand close enough to you
without it being awkward
hugging them is never awkward
my kind of people grab the bottle
& pour yours first
they smile real smiles
they don't bounce when they walk
they aren't mesmerized by you
they are curious & glide
as they ask about your art
because they want to know
but objects never trump the moment
the moment is fit for real exchange
goodbye is a big deal with my kind of people
whole faces light up & go out
- mimi allan
Posted by monique besten at 14:53