On Writing: Out of Season
by Christine Lemke
When I was asked to write this text, I was busy packing my suitcase for a holiday. A holiday is different from a journey. It triggers very specific expectations. Almost seamlessly, everything becomes focused on rest and relaxation from the so-called “everyday,” which settles like sediment during one’s lifetime. What is beyond the everyday happens elsewhere, in another place. This “Other” is coveted and much sought-after, surrounded by uncountable ideals and visuals. It is embraced by holidaymakers as well as by the economic branch that welcomes them: they nourish and cultivate it, praise it as being manageable.
This is very much unlike the current, returning presence of the “Other,” which is said to have been brought by all these “Others,” who particularly during the last couple of years have come to Germany as refugees, and are dealt with in current Leitkultur (German hegemonic culture) debates as a problem, representing an insurmountable cultural difference.
While planning a holiday elsewhere, one can linger in a very familiar economic logic: undertaking extensive trips and excursions through the Internet, studying rankings, prices, availabilities, supply and demand. One weighs effort, promise, cost, pleasure, safety and adventure – a region, a landscape, an entire country (with all of its inhabitants) is evaluated and categorized according to holiday-relevant criteria.
Our decision to go to Greece was certainly influenced by the fact that the country’s continuing economic situation, and the intensifying North-South divide within Europe, suggested that a holiday would be affordable. We booked a cheap flight from Berlin to Athens – from there, we would continue to one of the many islands in the Aegean, from which we would then visit other islands. The professional tourist term for this is “island hopping,” as we learned from our guidebook.
When we arrived in Athens, we were the only guests at a large, inner-city hotel. Although there were people around and traffic on the streets, the district appeared strangely uninhabited. And yet it seemed to be overlaid by diverse movements, separated from one another but at the same time intertwined: tourists, homeless people, migrants, business people and drug users moved through the neighbourhood as if in parallel worlds. Next to our hotel were several vacant buildings: barricaded, dilapidated houses, closed restaurants and shops. We only learned later that this neighbourhood was considered to be unsafe and thus not recommended for tourists.
It was probably due to this other sphere – this self-contained tourist bubble – that I only realized while exploring the area that the Hotel City Plaza was quite nearby. The City Plaza is an abandoned seven-floor hotel that had remained unused for seven years until it was occupied by activists and refugees in April 2016. Now it is a self-organized housing project for homeless refugees in the Victoria/Ag. Panteleimonas district, and accommodates 400 people. The City Plaza Refugee Accommodation Centre1 emerged as a response to migration policies in Greece, the EU-Turkey deal and the closure of borders, which meant that tens of thousands of refugees were essentially trapped and often homeless on the Greek mainland.
The artist duo of Maria Iorio and Raphaël Cuomo had visited the hotel as part of the preliminary programme for documenta 14, and they told me about their encounters there. A photograph taken during their visit – showing a handwritten, multilingual announcement for a self-organized German language course stuck in a window – was later included in the exhibition Man schenkt keinen Hund2, which I staged with Scriptings – a project by Achim Lengerer – at the end of last year.
For the exhibition, Iorio and Cuomo in turn taped a printout of the photograph on the window of the exhibition space, as a picture within a picture. From within, one could see a description of the origin and context of the photograph, written on the back. The piece developed an unexpected life of its own during the course of the exhibition. Residents of the multicultural neighbourhood in Berlin-Wedding were interested and inquired about the German language course, having seen the announcement. We had not anticipated this dimension of the piece when we installed it. The self-referential art-context perspective had produced its very own blind spot. Since then we have been considering how it might be possible to organize a neighbourhood language café, which would not institutionalize yet another school format, but would instead suggest a self-organized form of learning with and from one another.
On our continued trip through the islands, we were often, as we had been in Athens, the first and only guests. The beaches and in particular the groupings of hotels bordering them were deserted and windswept. A vacancy extending beyond the winter – an idling resource of empty living space with functional infrastructure, speculating on the beginning of the new season.