As a part of my NoVA studies I spent the spring semester 2017 in exchange at Aalborg University – Copenhagen in Denmark. In a course project we studied CAMP – Center for Art on Migration Politics. I am sharing some insights from my experiences during the exchange.
Walking in Copenhagen & the location of CAMP
De Certau writes about walking in a city in the following way: “In the framework of enunciation, the walker constitutes, in relation to his position, both a near and a far, a here and a there” (de Certeau, 2011, 99). I walked the streets of Amager East, where I lived during my stay in Copenhagen, and mapping the streets in the local neighbourhood made me feel a bit more like home in a town where I was a stranger.
During our project work we walked a lot in the local neighbourhood where CAMP was situated. Through our walks we got an insight of how important the location of CAMP is. Passing over the bridge from Nørrebro towards Nørreport made us realise how the physical location of CAMP matters. This realisation made us see more clearly the multi-facetted aims of CAMP and the Trampoline House. They are both interventions, disrupting the conventional, giving practical examples of what to do for real.
The exhibition visitor have to literally walk through the “symbolical conflict zone” when entering CAMP, an exhibition venue for contemporary art, because first you enter Trampoline House. Trampoline House is the community centre for refugees and asylum seekers in Nørrebro. The place where refugees and asylum seekers, real people in a harsh situation, spend their time in midst of different activities, and who gather every day around a community dinner. Real people with experiences of conflicts, crisis and wars, of forced migration.
In my reading, CAMP can be seen to exist in many places/spaces, both online and in the realm of contemporary art, and beyond, but it also has this physical location. CAMP does not merely speak through the artworks on the walls in the exhibition space, or through giving the artists a voice to talk about their experiences of forced migration in their artworks or at the discussion event. CAMP speaks also through the voice of the exhibition tour guide, who has personal experiences of being an asylum seeker in Denmark. And CAMP speaks through the people spending time at the Trampoline House community center.
For me this setting is thought provoking and emotional. Through (art in) this real-life place, you can be, or rather, will be, encountered eye-to-eye with a real person, who looks back at you – a real person, who has been forced to flee from the home country – maybe to a state of exile without a possibility to return. And the here and there suddenly looses its meaning, as we are both here. The question is, what can I DO-FOR-REAL in my (we in our) everyday life, so we all can live side-by-side, and also, talk with each other, and share a look into each others eyes (as a start).
The exhibition venue, and the artworks, are to my reading, used as platforms, through which people from different backgrounds can meet, through talk and discussion (or just occupying the same space together). For me the physical location, the meetings with people at CAMP and Trampoline House, became extremely important, touching and emotional – life changing. The right to look, the right to be seen equals according to Nicholas Mirzoeff the right to exist. Mirzoeff writes about the transaction of looking, and about the importance of acknowledging the other person you might be looking: “the right to look is not about merely seeing. It begins at a personal level with the look into someone else’s eyes to express friendship, solidarity, or love. That look must be mutual, each inventing the other, or it fails. As such, it is unrepresentable” (Mirzoeff, 2011, 473).
Aftermath: Attending a talk at CAMP and meeting Mirzoeff
Visual culture studies research how seeing and looking are constituted, and these studies make us aware of how the visual culture created all around us in the world, impact us in our everyday lives. According to Nicholas Mirzoeff how we learned to see shape our view of the world (Mirzoeff, 1998).
One Friday evening in June Mr. Mirzoeff came to CAMP to have a talk about “seeing the world and changing the world”. At the talk Mr. Mirzoeff positioned himself as a person with migrant experience, with similar experiences as the people at the community center Trampoline House, where the talk took place.
In my reading the message Mr. Mirzoeff’s talk was, that the future is a collective future, where people gather to counter the oppressing regimes and systems, together. It is collective assemblies gathered by hashtags and virtual calls through social media, as collectives and agendas are animated into action through the mobile phone and the internet, through the visual accounts on Instagram and Twitter.
Mr. Mirzoeff argues in his book “How to See the World” (and which his talk was based on) that: “Visual culture involves the things that we see, the mental model we all have of how to see, and what we can do as a result. That is why we call it visual culture: a culture of the visual. A visual culture is not simply the total amount of what has been made to be seen, such as paintings or films. A visual culture is the relation between what is visible and the names that we give to what is seen. It also involves what is invisible or kept out of sight. In short, we don’t simply see what there is to see and call it a visual culture. Rather, we assemble a world-view that is consistent with what we know and have already experienced” (Mirzoeff, 2015, 11).
We got to hug Mr. Mirzoeff in the end of the event. We also got hugs from the CAMP curators, Tone Olaf Nielsen and Fredrikke Hansen (Kuratorisk Aktion). Mr. Mirzoeff said: “Take care”, and I returned the wish.
In my field notes I had written: “CAMP is also present on my mobile flow on Instagram almost everyday, in a frequent schedule. CAMP is on my mobile phone, I carry CAMP with me”.
de Certeau, Michel. (2011). The Practice of Everyday Life. 3rd Edition. University of California Press.
Mirzoeff, N. (1998). What is visual culture? (ed.) The Visual Culture Reader. 3-13. New York: Routledge.
Mirzoeff, N. (2011). The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality. Critical Inquiry, 37(3), 473-496.
Mirzoeff, N. (2015). How to See the Wold. Penguin Books.
Eija Mäkivuoti is a Helsinki-based photographic artist and work with non-commercial long-term photo documentary projects. She also photographs performing arts such as music and performance art. She is a poet as a documentarian. She holds a BA level degree in Photography from the Lahti Design Institute (Lahti University of Applied Sciences) and was trained as a visual artist before that. She is a member of the Photographic Artists’ Association in Finland and part of the artArctica network. She is the chair of Tjaldur – the friendship association Finland-Faroe Islands. At the moment she is studying in the Master’s degree programme – Nordic Visual Studies and Art Education (NoVA) at Aalto University in Helsinki.
Text by Eija Mäkivuoti
NoVA Master student from Aalto University