Sejla Kameric and I go East [to Kalba]
March 2012 Sharjah UAE
1395 Days without Red is the Artangel-enabled film which received its regional premier in Sharjah. It comes in two parts; Anri Sala’s was shown indoors one evening, Sejla Kameric’s followed the next evening in an outdoor screening in Bait al Shamsi. Both are based on the experience of the 4-year long siege of Sarajevo [which began April 5 1992] and make different responses to it -while following a woman's attempt to cross her city on foot.
Sala, who grew up in Albania, presented a visually pared film which focused on the tension of never knowing when a shot would kill you. It works well and is an art world production that has resorted to the more linear conventions of cinema by its focus and the ‘shocking’ interruption of a shot or two during it. Afterwards, I couldn't help wondering whether it would or could make a significant difference if it were shorter, whether that arc of tension need be so monumental.
Kameric’s film is more focused on an everyday, actual experience, for which little bits of visual ‘narrative’ detail/opacity were essential. Early in a set of shots that establish both films, she includes sight of tombstones in the park that the woman steps through. Then, in essence, there is a holding with the repetitiveness of this experience of traversing the watched-over city. A 'holding' not with the tension but its repetition, daily, every time you go out of doors. It’s a much more grinding experience as a result and when a short run of identical footage repeats towards the end it carries a similar shock to the gun-shots that Sala included.
I found Kameric’s film had a deeper and more troubling resonance; shared visual ambiguities were more resistant of their context than Sala’s readability. When we reach the end of Sala’s film it feels as though the woman has survived the ordeal one more time, probably or perhaps about to join the orchestra we’ve watched rehearsing. At the end of Kameric’s film this destination contains greater ambiguity. Indeed it doesn't feel so much like a destination; perhaps she won’t actually go there or continue and yet we also know she’ll be doing this all over again...
My conversation with Sejla took place en route to seeing the SAF’s new site at Kalba on the Gulf of Oman/Indian Ocean -a notable destination with the Atlantic powers beating drums of war yet again. Also a location I've long been fascinated by, just north of Oman as it is and across a narrow strip of water from Iran too. SAF are beginning work on a new set of studios intended for visiting artist’s residencies [with more along the Persian Gulf coast intended for Emiratis], just the kind of investment in longer term practices that drilled through the 3-day long March Meeting.
We’d been talking about a set of artist videos that were commissioned and curated by myself from a series of linked and highly condensed texts called 'walking one to ten'. Artists with peculiar relationships with film [Fiona Banner, Cerith Wyn Evans, Jeremy Deller, etc.] had been invited to use my words to make short videos as a response to them. The results were diverse and reflected the pedestrian rhythms of my walking and texts as well as their heady explorations of city and world.
It’s probably worth knowing that Sejla lived in Dubai for a couple of years as a child, that this is her first return to the UAE in 25 years. Also that background noise on the bus made for some slippages of hearing and comprehension!
Also that our conversation begisn with earlier work and context before turning to 1395 Days Without Red itself; titles are now in bold throughout to help guide you.
Guy Mannes-Abbott [gma]
Okay, let's recap a little...
Sejla Kameric [sk]
No but what I was saying you know, it’s just that I’m very much interested in working with text in such a way that it's part of what you do and visualise, not only as a separate statement that you read that, you know; use a critic or describe a project, but it’s more like inspired words. And the short film which I did before 1395 Days Without Red is called Gluck.
sk Yes, which is happiness in German. Happiness and luck, because in German -same as in my language- there is one word for happiness and luck. So much depends on the context, how you use it, what it means. It was inspired by a book I read during the war, so I was like 16, and the book is from Mirko Kovac, a Yugoslavian author, one of my favourites, not so known -but unjustly [laughs]. I love his style because he always plays with true stories and real characters and real quotes and then he adapts them and makes a new narration to it and then you don’t really know what’s fiction and what’s reality...
gma Oh interesting!
sk ... and he’s always doing that with his biography as well. And what inspired me was actually one quote, in the story he kind of hints that it’s a quote but you don’t really know who or why, and it goes like this: “Happiness is when you feel that what once was oppressive is now only meaning of life.”
sk And I was like, I read that when I was 16 in a besieged city and trying to understand how happiness can be something that was, you know, only yesterday oppressive to you. I was repeating that sentence, trying to understand it. Also translating it to everyday life in a besieged city where, living in this horrible circumstances, just the fact that you are alive, one day makes you happy, no matter [what happened] yesterday or this walk that you take instead of driving, it suddenly makes you feel good because it’s like this repetition that you feel that you are still alive and you have a memory.
gma It’s a very stirring line.
sk I remember that quote or rather, I found it by coincidence like years, years after, 14-15 years after -when I was in Berlin. For me, this quote is understanding what happiness in life is. So now I was in Berlin and finding this similarity of the memory in a city which had very difficult pasts, like Sarajevo, and you see all these scars in the street of something traumatic, but at the same time in this melancholy you find some kind of happiness and some kind of greater value because you understand it better. You can appreciate how it is, because you have that experience. I re-read his book and took other quotes from it and they were like a through-line for my film. So, the whole construction was around these five quotes which in the end I didn’t use in the film.
sk Yes, for one moment I was thinking to give Mirko Kovac, the author of the book, to give him my visuals, to give him this huge film which I made and to ask him if he would write the narration or the text and then we could make it such. The film went in another direction because I was already invited to some festivals and people thought it good and I shouldn’t do anything to it. But I am still contemplating this idea, that after a while I will give back to him -and in the end, what I should say, that that quote actually was from Tolstoy?!
sk Yes! [laughs]
gma That he got it from?
sk Yeh! Yeh!
gma That he took it from wholesale? That’s really nice, I like that!
sk Which I was researching and researching to find, is it real or not and then I found it and saw that he took it from Tolstoy.
gma Oh I like that. And so was it silent then, the soundtrack to the film?
sk Yeh, the film is 17 minutes, short, silent... with lots of music.
gma I'm intrigued...
sk It would be lovely that you see it, you know?
gma Well yes, I’d love to.
sk I mean, what you were saying about what your writing inspired or influenced or was base for other works, it’d be interesting to see someone else and try to connect how it relates to any text, because it’s so silent and there is no narration...
gma That’s really interesting. I was going to talk about that, those films and these relationships, in my little talk. But, I decided there’s not much to say because, well, you know there’s a century of mostly French ideas/texts about walking in cities, so throw them away. The texts that I wrote are very pedestrian texts, dust on your feet, but your head is everywhere and anywhere, all the Londons experienced coming at you and so on. The remit for those films was that you can do 5 or 6 minutes [approx. length of one text] and take from my texts just one word -I remember saying this to Jeremy Deller- take word that resonates and film that, so long as it’s not a freeze frame, or use all of the text/s, or film stories you find there in the texts. So the films are apparently unrelated but that actually reflects what the texts are, or were doing -so not very interesting to say. Mark Aerial Waller treated them as if they were like a script and made a kind of narrative film, shot in infrared which he felt was like the film from the text.
sk I really believe that the text is a great structure for making the visuals, and even if, as an artist, you have a strong idea and emotion you want to translate, and you really know how in the end the visuals will come up, it’s good to have a text which doesn’t have to in anyway touch the visuals, you know like describe it, but just leads you as a structure to reaching that and even making you more comfortable in being open and free to do that, keeps you on a right path...
gma Orientates it? That’s really interesting to me, because as I was saying I’m interested in the way that words in art, retain the wordiness of the word, because it’s so easy to turn it into something visual. You can end up with only visual signifiers vs some attempt to work with or hold to some signifieds. I mean words used well are or can be elliptical in themselves but those still contain attempts at things, actual things, places. So I love that you’re saying that because I think it’s a very important and exacting relationship...
sk I have not so huge an experience in film making but as a fiction film making, but erm, but still I think it’s three films which I did that are most my work, so they are like artist’s films but they went into the film festivals and structures so they functioned as films as well. For example, for the first short film which I did, I had written the story and for years it was only a story and I was happy that the idea I had was already a work because I wrote a story. It was based on memories of my family and kind of the house which still exists which is a platform for these love stories, family love stories and memories which I wasn’t witness [to] and nobody who took part in those stories is alive. So it’s a memory of memories, you know? It is about two couples and three other characters, that kind of move towards the house and they are in different spaces and telling their own stories and how their love overlapped and how they influenced one another. So I wrote it as a short story and was really for years happy with that. It’s my family house and nobody lived in it for years and it’s there and...
gma In Sarajevo?
sk Yes, it’s near, it’s part Sarajevo yeh. And I was afraid that this house would disappear -these last remaining things, physical witnesses of the stories- and I realised that I have to make a film about it. So for me from the beginning the story is like divided into chapters; you go from the kitchen, you go to the courtyard, then you go to one room and then you go to the other corridors and then you end up in like this huge hall [in the house there was a restaurant in this one huge space which was used for dining] and how these stories moved through these spaces and in these chapters, I thought the only way to translate these stories was to make not one channel but like four channel film. And I was constructing it in my head, like how you’d be able to see what’s happening in the courtyard while you are also seeing what’s happening in the room and how one character from the room goes down the stairs, walk the courtyard and go back in the house, you could follow it on these four channels, and see these correlations on these four channels, between the characters.
And then what happened actually, because of the different political problems in culture policy in Bosnia, I said yeh sure I will do also this short one channel film, yeh, why not? Without even really understanding how that will be in the end, how I will make it, and I said yes of course and it was like a challenge for me that in the end I would do that. So first of all I didn’t have a script when we were shooting, I just these scenes and of course the set up of a real house. I was more based on this story [I wrote before], or, I would just write a list of the scenes which I think we should film and then atmospheric shots. So I was filming knowing that I will need the whole atmosphere plus what happens in the story...
gma And always intending that it would be shown as four screens?
sk Yeh, I knew I would have these four screens. It was an interesting process because I first added two screens in one part, and for the second part I added the other two and then it was like this four channel video, but what happened is very interesting when I started to make this one channel, how it all crashed in to one and it became a real, I could say, a very successful short film, because it was suddenly invited to the Venice FF for competition and people felt it had a real narration to it. I think it’s very very for me, fantastic still to see, such a difference, how can you kind of like compress it into one and you can have it over four screens. What makes it so interesting, coming back to the text, is that the four screens are much better for the texts because the text has this openness which you can think about what you just read and imagine what you will read and that’s something that these four channels allows you. When you have this one channel narration in a film it just leads you and you don’t really have this time and space to edit images in your head, when you see parallel. I think that, it’s beautiful when you realise how our brain can function on more layers than one channel.
And I think that in a text, you can use that, I mean, although it’s one line in every sentence, can be a different layer. So that’s basically what I wanted to say. It allows you to have these parts...
gma Which do you prefer? If you had to choose one of these versions?
sk I... ooh that’s difficult but erm, I would prefer four channel. I’d prefer because it’s more open, as I said it gives you this ability to see what’s happening while you are somewhere else.
And just you know, then on the second film, Gluck, these five quotes became this baseline, through-line, for the film, but then because of the funding, I was forced to write a script which in the end, I wasn’t following it of course...
For the 1395 Days Without Red, because it was a collaborative project and very much again needed to have a text and needed to have a script and then we were trying in different ways to go from writing just a script to imagine what other tools we can use instead of a script. In one moment that was music, so we used the music as some kind of script for the actors.
gma Really? How did that work?
sk Yeh, because we had the music written before we shot, recorded...
gma And gave people, as it were, instrumental parts?
sk No, instrumental parts we were recording after. But the music that they will play, we already have, so they were playing the music which the actress was already listening to, so she was using that as, yeh, as a script. But the other thing which was equally important was the topography of the space which gave the narration to the film; the conjunctions of the crossing and the size of it gave narration because we stuck to the real space and the order of the crossings.
gma So it genuinely reconstructs the space of the place?
sk Exactly. Yeh, so it’s always different. Now what I am writing is basically the film that will be based on a series of performances. I was thinking about how to write it and what would help me to work on it, would be focused on describing these five performances, how I would shoot, touching a little bit how it would come up in the film. But actually when you talk to the people from the film, they really need different sort of effects, because if they read it like that then they are like; Ahha then it’s a performance. Will it be just documentary? So then you have to rewrite it in the form of a script to be understood -by film professionals.
gma When you say five performances, how do you mean that? Performances of what?
sk One actor will be given tasks to fulfill and in five days he will do five different performances which I would construct for him, in collaboration of course because it’s all about testing the limits and doing more.
gma Actually, with 1395 Days Without Red in mind, what was your background in terms of art education etc.?
sk I finish art high school then I went to the Academy of Fine Art in Sarajevo, but I studied Graphic Design, because the graphic design was a more progressive course and I was very much into the graphic design. I was working, before I went to the academy, I was working with a design group who were like very much known in the region; they made these postcards from Sarajevo. As they grew -I was also very young- they got me working in advertising because they became an advertising agency [Fabrica?]. So I was like 20 when I became an art director in an agency! And during my studies I was fully working in advertising agency, which luckily happened for me when I was very young so I was working there for four years and after that I said no thank you this is not what I imagined myself doing and I’m more interested in art not in the business of advertisements. Yeh, so it happened in parallel for me, because I started to exhibit when I was still working in advertising and then I had really luck that the first International show that I did was successful one. I did this piece for Manifesta Biennial in 2000 in Ljubljana where I made a very simple intervention in the public space of the bridges in Ljubljana. I did this sign saying EU Citizens and Others.
gma Saying what?
sk EU Citizens and Others, like these signs in the airport, at least back then in 2000 before we became politically correct on the borders. At the beginning of the EU you’d didn’t have this Non EU Citizens and EU, you had this sign Others and EU Citizens. So I used that. I copy pasted that from the border gates to the bridges and people were choosing or they were forced to choose; are they EU or Others. Basically when you go through the one gate saying EU Citizens, when you turn back you see that it’s saying Others. So it was before Slovenia became an EU country and it was just when they were approaching EU and it was a very successful piece because it was one of the rare pieces in Manifesta that was in the public and that was so directly targeting or talking about this identity of the new countries in Europe and in general and who are these Others. So...
gma So can I just clarify, does that mean, because I can picture the bridges in Ljubljana being quite short, right?
sk Yeh, yeh.
gma So did you divide each bridge into two channels?
sk Yeh, on each bridge, on one bridge you have it on the beginning, on the entrance and on the other bridge you have it on the other side.
gma Oh I see, oh that’s great. So there’s also that subtext of there being Plecnik’s Napoleon monument, things like that there? Near one of those central bridges there is a statue that Plecnik made, a monument to Napoleon, still there.
sk Hah, I didn’t know that.
gma Isn’t that weird? Jose Plecnik did it, on the other side from the central hill, if you cross the bridge there’s a monument further on from the far side...
sk I didn’t know that! Or maybe I did but I’ve forgotten! [laughs]
Anyway, so the work was quite successful and I got many invitations afterwards to do art and then I was more confident in my decision to quit advertising and that’s when it happened for me, the transition between.
gma That’s a really nice way for it to happen...
sk I think for me I am actually very happy that I did this in my life, because I am using some of the strategies in my works. So for example the Bosnian Girl poster, which is kind of like the most famous work that I did... A poster with the graffiti from a Dutch solider made in Srebinica. It has this joke; No teeth...? A mustache...? Smells like shit...? Bosnian Girl. I don’t know if you...?
gma Oh yeh, that’s familiar, ok, ok....
sk So when I was doing that, I used the strategies, like knowing that I want this work to be really really public work, and to go out as much as it can, to spread, to communicate with a wider public not only art public. So I mean postcards, ads in magazines and posters. So in the end I think it’s one of the successful works because it’s like really communicated in the right way for such a work.
gma Do you know, just to link in to this March Meeting, this issue about the way in which art making right now engages the audience in a very particular way that is part of its completion as a work, that it anticipates its reception so that literally the anonymous audience is almost part of the work? Then, that link in my mind to last year’s dramas here, in which a work was in the public domain and the audience discovered -as it were- a right to make a serious critical judgement about whether it should be. It’s quite interesting isn’t it? How does that work in your mind, in terms of making work which has this kind of elemental public -non art public- role. Okay, what am I trying to say, I was struggling to articulate this as a question. Maybe I can ask simply; how important is the audience in the process of making a work for you?
sk I will tell you one other story. This work which I mentioned from Ljubljana for example. At the same time the work was published in art magazines like FlashArt which was very interesting and of course flattering for me, but I think the true power of this work comes from hearing and knowing that it had the impact that it had -it’s not art public, they didn't even understand that it is an artwork. From a taxi driver asking, not knowing who I was of course, saying have you seen that? Like what kind of trick are they doing to us? And are we really European citizens now? -and he started all these discussions about how he feels more like Other than EU Citizen if that’s now the question blah blah blah. And something else which is extraordinary from last year, I heard from a friend from Slovenia that she was travelling in South America and she was like in Peru in a train and she met someone, start chatting and said she was from Slovenia and that person went quiet and slowly said I was in Slovenia in 2000 and was very very surprised that you have such segregation on the streets [I laugh loudly] and he described my work and she was like, Oh yeh, but no!!!
gma It’s got worse now!
sk But I think the real power of the art lies in that, and unfortunately because of the art system or art market, which is very closed to outside world, artists that are not doing it for critics and for someone who knows the context, historical, blah blah blah. They are making something for long terms and so it’s also like the perception of the public target but also the time frame in which a certain work will function. And of course you don’t know what will happen, you shouldn't think that today is only important.
gma That’s interesting again in the context of these conversations, curatorial conversations, about notional long-term working relationships, which sort of implies work is made and they’re slightly variant -becomes photographic instead of installation or something. But it’s sort of forgetting that all works are made in that way, altered by each decade its seen in...
sk Well I will paraphrase Christian Boltanski, who says something like the work exists in its idea, original and a memory -which is beautiful.
gma Yes it is.
sk And to come back to 1395 Days Without Red, it is very much about the memory of one period. It is based on a memory...
gma Of yours?
sk Of mine, yeh, but also it creates a new memory. I think that’s very important because it remains as a document memory and also helps articulate that memory. For us it was really important that it’s not about, not true, it’s about emotions.
gma Yeh yeh. Can I ask about the genesis of this film? I’m going in the direction of why are there two films, was that intended?
sk No, it was and still is a joint project, collaborative project between me and Anri and we, in the editing process, we decided that actually the only way is to make two films instead of one. That both of us should be happy with the versions that we make, instead of compromise.
gma There’s something very beautiful about that. Was it, I don’t want to pick at it, but was it painful, was it a problem that generated the outcome? Was it the result of insurmountable difficulty or was it inspired/liberatory?!
sk I mean, it was both things, it was very difficult because of expectations that it would be one, but at the same time it was very liberating too, because we were working on it for four years together, developing the thing and filming it, blah blah blah. In the end, I believe he felt the same as I, you know that after we decided to make two films that you can just go ahead and do what you think and just be very curious about what the other will make, because we didn’t communicate what the other was making of course, in these two versions. For me, it was very very interesting because er, I have a third film in my mind, because I was imagining or thinking what I would do if I was Anri!
sk And er, actually that is quite different from what he did! [laughs] So maybe that would be like a next step, to make what you think the other would do!
gma Did you have, because of the differences of the films, the obvious question to me, just to clarify, is did you shoot anything new?
gma That’s really interesting then, given how they’ve ended up. So how would you characterise the differences between the films?
sk Erm, [pause], I, for me, the important thing was to show repetition of this journey and that’s why I have the repetition in the film and I really think it is important for the viewer to understand that this journey was not a single one. So that’s why I was working more on this repetition and understanding this journey that goes through the days and it repeats itself. That’s one thing and the second thing is that the biggest difference in our two versions is that you don’t have the sound of a shot, a gunshot.
gma Is there not? -because I thought when the man stumbles on the track...
sk Yeh but there is no sound [laughs]
gma Gosh, I was saying this to someone last night, that I heard a noise, just once, or thought I heard... !
sk So there are two moments in the film, maybe because of the wind... [it was an unusually windy evening in Bait al Shamsi, with occasional noises-off] In Anri there are two points and for me there are two points without the shots. For me because it’s er, there was no need to put the actual shot in it.
gma No no I agree...
sk Because I was working with different tools to relive what happened.
gma Yeh, yeh.
sk And maybe, I’m just guessing, or also asking the question, but maybe because he didn't have that experience maybe he felt the need to put in the shot, so that again comes back to the fact that for me, I’m very subjective in telling this story.
gma Yes, well exactly because I felt that his film is predicated on the tension, a slightly generic tension which it executes well, so you’re expecting her to get shot or something. Just to be straightforward about it, I much preferred your version of the film...
sk Thank you!
gma ... because it’s more complicated and because of that repetition. I was wondering half way through whether it would, in a sense, always only begin and so it felt much more thoughtful in that way. There was one point, quite close to the end -I’ve only seen it once- there is a little section where it literally just repeats in a short section shot by shot which I was going to ask you about but you’ve answered already. I was hoping you might say that... Somebody else said, maybe she thought we wouldn’t notice...
gma Yes, it was funny... [laughs] So, I also thought that in yours there are narrative elements, or potential narrative elements in your film which are never resolved as narrative as such.
sk I think that for me that was my journey, like from that point to that point, and each crossing or section of the city had one special meaning, so erm, kind of like reaching the end of this underpass was very important for me as such. It’s where for me personally the idea for the film started.
gma Oh really? Okay. That’s very interesting, in some way it hinges on that, ambiguity, repetition and potential...
sk I mean Sarajevo is a very small place, everyone knows each other, many casualties happened ... and that was also the reason why it took so long for this film to be realised because I was too emotional about it and I knew that I wanted to make this story about a woman who makes this journey and the journey repeats. About reliving it constantly and not about the physical circumstances but more about the notional and about human behavior and a struggle and blah blah blah. But I couldn't, I thought I was too emotional and that was where Anri came in and I thought it was a good combination because he had this very formalistic approach towards things and it was kind of like a good balance because through him I could cool down a bit, you know...
gma Yes, yes. You know there’s a central section where there is a very long street going off in the distance and the crossing is going on in this way, side to side across the frame... In the distance is the hanging sheet. Were those a/ real?
sk Those were real things which we recreate and actually at the very beginning they were used just for visual protection from the snipers and of course later on they were replaced by erm these metal containers and old cars as a barricade because we needed something stronger! [laughs] than just fabric to protect you from the bullets. Ten years ago in 2002 I made a work which was a recreation of these wired sheets on the crossings, on two crossings there. So now we used it again in the film as one of the only set design interventions actually because you don’t have any other signs of the war, you don’t have burnt cars, you know...
gma A few bullet holes...
sk Yeh but they are there, they are real! But that’s the only thing that we recreated.
gma Using your actual work?
sk My actual work doesn't exist, but we made it the same, so it was my actual work [laughs].
gma Oh well that’s nice too.
sk I thought so too.
gma And I think, this is an aside, just to help me please! I didn’t realise that in Anri’s film it begins in the graveyard. I didn’t see the tombstones in that?
sk I don’t think he showed it.
gma Ah, I didn’t think so.
sk Because both films begin in this park where there’s the tombstones but I don’t think he, maybe, maybe you could see it, but I think he was more focused on this screen. In the beginning it was more... yeh.
gma This is not a clever way to put it -I’ve only seen the film once and need to really study a work before I have anything very intelligent to say- but I’m trying to think through this idea that they are both very let's say 'poetic' versions of something. Your film has these visual textures which work for me as some kind of potential or signposting of narrative but never resolves itself as narrative and in fact ends up being much more deeply poetic because -actually now I understand better- it becomes a resonantly poetic experience, just as if there were an original poem or equivalent, which is really powerful.
sk Yeh. Well I believe in, at least I’m interested in making films which have a different structure than films, so I am not interested in creating a narrative or tension in a film known language but rather to investigate; is it possible through this er er symptoms, staged scenes which are like a symptom, to tell the story or to communicate emotions. For me, in this short film Gluck or same this 1395 Days Without Red the empty street functions as a symptom not as a sign, so I never wanted to use it as like; you now see the empty street. But as an audience you should start to be aware of it and it should resonate in you -those. Because symptoms are never straightforward things.
gma Yes yes exactly; they are the exact opposite in the Freudian sense. Ok, so when you watch it for the first time you don’t see the emptiness of that street, because you’re watching it anticipating movement, so I was watching it almost frame by frame and wanted to see if I could catch the street empty, it’s like a secret that you don’t really notice, at least in my experience. There’s almost only one moment -you’ll know better than I!- when it is actually there, empty...
What were you doing, during that period in actuality, what were you doing in Sarajevo?
sk I was 16 years old when the war started in Sarajevo. At first I was just hoping that it will end. I was just going through the loss of many people that I knew. I was more or less just, I don’t know, for example for three months I didn't go out of the one room at one point. That’s like; three months. Then after I went out and I started to walk and I finished the high school and started to work with this designer group and became very active during the war. Before the war I was modeling just for like petty cash, I was doing it for fun and in the war I continued just for fun and for some cash and it was funny you know I was doing this one photographer from Italian fashion magazine called Moda and he came with just this bunch of clothes and did this editorial with clothes from Gaultier, Versace blah blah blah, so we were wearing that in this sniper alley...
gma During the war?
sk During the war and we were laughing so much, just us four girls. And we’re like 17 and I was saying if I get shot in Gaultier I’m on CNN definitely [laughs] And I remember that were were not paid in currency but in sugar... [laughs] Paying models in sugar!!
gma Quite a lot of sugar!
sk No actually one kilo was a hundred dollars. I remember I got like three kilos which was like wow!!
gma Should take this modeling thing seriously!
sk And it comes back to what I was telling you about, you know about Gluck. It is so, for me communicating about the war is also understanding that you know, and I think that’s how people can transmit that to themselves, that life kept on going. You know you laugh the same as you cry and you have funny things, modeling and everything. That’s how life is and it’s not, ahha, it’s happening only to those poor suffering ones but not to me, but to happy father and my happy kids can tomorrow end up in a situation, just to understand it’s not something that’s purely for those poor ones who were suffering. Like for us, one day you’re saying it’s impossible to have war -come on! Tomorrow, the first shots and barricades and you’re like, no it will and up in a month. It will end up in a few months it will be over. And it’s four years.
So, I’m like, in Berlin when they were closing Templehof, this old airport from the 2nd World War?
gma ... from the Nazi period, with the big circle?
sk Yeh! So they closed it because it’s in the centre of the city and blah blah blah, and I was like oh why do you want to close the airport in the centre, for logistical reasons you have to have one, imagine something, disaster, you know it’s really good logistically to have an airport that functions in a city and I was getting all enthusiastic about this idea.
I was explaining and using different examples of when you need that airport... And they were like, what disaster? And I’m like it’s happening, always. Maybe not now and I don’t think you should live in fear of a disaster but still you know if you can learn something from our history...
gma How do you think that that experience -I mean it obviously has a series of impacts from which one’s life goes forward- sometimes that kind of direct experience throws off your centre of gravity too so that you see everything subsequently from this other place or something anyway awry. What I’m thinking of is that I spent a lot of time in Gujarat and directly witnessed the State-authorised pogroms there, and because it’s happening to you you don't really know if anyone else in the world watching or listening and you have no idea. I was trying really hard not to read Gujarat or India through that but I’m sure that I have in various ways. I mean in that sense, that there are parts of such experience that are out of your control...
sk [Long thoughtful pause] I believe that the Sarajevo siege is [slow and cautious] a great example and there is a great knowledge coming from that experience which hopefully, er er erm, it will be shared because in different segments of life, the resistance the citizens of Sarajevo showed is just an example of how humans are able to overcome such a horrible happening and I keep on saying that, to everyone, that you would imagine that if it’s shooting outside and there are snipers outside that everyone would say; just hide -and then hiding. But actually what made us survive, for four years, and that’s why they didn’t succeed in taking the Sarajevo and killing us all, is because of this resistance of people going out and doing what they can and that included also creating the music and doing art and because that resistance was crucial because you know it’s not only that you need food and water, you need for you to feel as a human and want to feel good about yourself you want to prove to them that they didn't succeed, because if they put us in a shelter, basement, then we would all be dead in a few years. And we survived and it’s in a way a miracle and a great triumph, not only for Sarajevo citizens, but for humanity because it just shows that you can.
gma Two questions. Where does that leave you when it comes to the relationship with the outside world? Whether or not they should have been more active and committed and so on...
sk Luckily, or fortunately, I learn something very valuable when I was only 16 years old; that there is no justice in the world. There is no right or wrong, or what’s fair or what. It’s just a question of power, and also the power to resist something which you think is not good, fair, not right. So of course, you look to the political context that you would say like it’s unacceptable that the whole of Europe and the world let the four years happen. It happened, you know, of course, but at the same time we know that politics is an ugly thing and they are just doing things based on interest -not one what’s good or wrong. If they’re were doing it based on right and wrong, it would be a totally different world, so I see now news through that prism of course...
sk I mean when I watch the news now I see it through those eyes and know that that’s the world we are living and what we can do has to come from this, er er change in ourselves. Very, er er politically correct speech which I made! [laughs]
gma Well, almost incorrect, in a way, when coming from London there is definitely a presumption or instinct to intervene [albeit with a very local, post-Imperial idea of ‘interests’]. I had a friend who was one of the first people shot as a journo, probably assassinated by Arkan in 1991, very early in the war, he was with another BBC guy who subsequently investigated. So I was really aware of it and incredibly frustrated by how it played out...
sk But you know how awful it is to see how they use the Bosnian example, they misused this example for the invasion of Iraq. That was the saddest thing. Again they did the opposite of what the public was saying. In Bosnian they were saying Please Intervene. And in Iraq the public were saying Please Don’t Intervene and they were just doing the opposite. But still using one example of you know, we can’t allow things to happen in the same way...
gma Yeh, well in Libya, Syria, that’s one of the frustrations of it. I remember making the point at the time, when I spent some time with Slavoj Zizek in Ljubljana. Soon after, when Kosovo was being bombed, he wrote a great text Against the Double-Bind -which he sent me? He was saying yes I agree; Bomb! -which was controversial on the so-called Left.
sk ...what makes me upset, you know politicians they do, they are acting because of their interests but now they are started this first negotiation between Serbia and entering the EU. You know it’s so sad that you know in Serbia which is totally fascist, has a fascist government. I’m not from Serbia, so you would think that I would say that side but normal intellectual, you know, people in Serbia are frustrated by what’s happening there. There are no human rights, minorities are like if you are a gypsy or a gay you can get killed on the street. Their behaviours towards Bosnia and Kosovo was awful and they never recognised what they did, they don’t accept that genocide in Bosnia happened. They still support the idea that there was no war and to that kind of government they say yeh come on. I know that Bosnia is not ready to go in to the EU, but you are just encouraging fascistic government after everything that they did! I mean I don’t know what the interest...
gma It is a continuation of what happened in the 1990s; in the sense that they eventually gave up two people after so long and that’s all it takes to be back in the game. It’s not a lot.
sk Yeh, it’s sad...
gma We were saying yesterday, about the residency conversation -need to have a base. Are you conscious of your need for a base being related to that period or can you imagine living somewhere else...
sk You know, I told you my father used to work here and he was travelling a lot, but at the same time he was travelling and on the other side my mother was a doctor and so in one place. So it’s like two different ways of functioning. For me, for a long period, since 2000 to 2010 I was travelling too much. After I realised it was really too much and for me Sarajevo is of course always a base, because everything of what happened I have a very strong relation with my mum, my sister, my aunt... we have to stick together. You can’t really just say, ok talk to you in a month. We are very very close and so Sarajevo for me is always that place, you know now I have moved to Berlin and travelling back and forth. I realised that having a strong base allows me to be more focused on the production of my work, rather than meeting people, networking, I’m not really, I don’t know if I am good or not, but I’m not really in to that. Many of these travels are only because of that [laughs]. You lose focus. Different artists work different ways and I really need my own time and to get what I want. I started to draw and I haven't drawn for years and years and now for example I need at least one hour of drawing per day. It’s like a meditation for me. I do it as a routine so that whatever I do I don’t feel that I waste all day , emailing or talking, at least I drew for one hour. Drawing like painting requires time.
gma Yes, real time, and real place. I was wondering about different screenings of the film, when you’ve been present, it must be different in terms of a/ the responses it gets, so does that have an impact on you? And b/ does it change in your own mind, if you watched it here, did it alter the film in a sense?
sk Here, I got very emotional because I like outdoors screening and for this film I wanted it to be outdoors. Sarajevo for whatever reason it didn't work out. So we are now planning in two months. It was that, but also being back in the Emirates for 25 years. So I was very emotional for different reasons. I wasn't turning around seeing how the audience was reacting, I was more into my own seeing it after a while. I’m happy because we were developing it for quite some time, and it was shifting between this focus, interpretation and it could have become something different. And I’m very happy that it didn’t. In both our films the focus is on the recreating of life during the siege, running from fear, memories and how the music becomes a metaphor for keep on going creating. I’m glad that the core idea stayed and it’s recognised by everybody. It’s not a film about the different tempos by musicians. No.
gma It’s not?
sk No it’s not.
gma Oh, so can I ask you, because it sounded like when James Lingwood was talking, I got the impression somehow that the instruments are characters in the film?
sk As I said, it’s different ways of how this project was changing. Also it’s one of the interpretations of the thing and I’m glad it’s like that, but we made it and it’s there for everyone to see what they like.
gma Is that thing between the memory and event and musical circularity deliberate?
sk Yeh yeh because it’s the same as the musicians rehearsing and repeating something and wanting to get it right and this becomes a way how you can walk the street and you would go again, and keep on going, creating something in this. Walking is not just because you er, er it becomes active process of life, same as creating a new thing.
gma It’s just occurred to me, sometimes one walks aimlessly, but that would have been impossible at that time?
sk Erm... you would have to be, some people didn't just because they lost hope and they just so, that was their way of saying like fuck to everything and they walk and whatever happened, they tried their luck whether they would get killed or not because it’s a different state of mind.
I remember this woman, this empty street, heavy shelling and this woman who was just walking, very slowly and singing loud. You would imagine she's been through something horrible and she just... ?
gma Can I ask a trivial rather indulgent question, but you know the thing of Susan Sontag taking Godot to Sarajevo. I’ve always not laughed at her about that.
sk No, please don’t please.
gma ... but I don’t know many who don’t sneer...
sk Many intellectuals I know, I say no please not. First of all, my dear friend the writer in Sarajevo said it’s easier to cry in front of someone. All those people who came gave such tremendous support for what we were doing. I know many people say oh they did it just to promote them self, but why don’t you and me go to Syria? Why would I risk my life, leave my kid and go and risk my life for, you know! And why would Bono promote himself, come on! I’m sure he didn't need Bosnia as a promotion.
I’m not saying that some of them were not using that but most of them really did feel passionate and sad about what was happening and wanted to give their support. Christian Boltanski was in Sarajevo nobody knows that. Yeh he was in Sarajevo in the siege. I helped him in setting up his show and now we met in Folkestone Triennial 2009. Of course he didn't remember me, how could he, it was 20 years ago. I said, like, we met actually and then he became more emotional than I was and he was like Oh My God! It meant so much for us and you know I celebrated the New Years with Bono and Susan Sontag -everyone was in Sarajevo and I was working and active so I was there. It was really, really important that they came and I think that thanks to them other people understood what was happening. It was not only that they were there they were also organising Humanitarian help. It meant so much for us...
gma It’s really good to know it actually. I have my doubts about Sontag as a novelist, but I’ve often thought and written about it. Even if she left JFK thinking ‘this is going to put me back on track’, the point is that you still have to actually do it. The doing it involves the risk of losing your own life.
sk Even in the case of this French philosopher Bernand-Henri Levy, I would be like yurgh? Ok, you are here and still risking your life because he’s like the only one who I would say, like... more into this behaviour of...
gma I really can be Jean-Paul Sartre if I try hard enough!
sk Yes exactly [laughs].
Jane Birkin, they were all there, everyone is different but the convoys in Sarajevo; she rode in on the food that we ate actually.
gma I now have forgotten this, how did the convoys get in, was it negotiated by the UN?
sk Yes negotiated, often half of it would stay, but still some of it...
gma That’s why people like that have to go, to help make it possible. Is there a body of work that has come out of that time -other than these films- that exists?
sk There is, there is. I mean, many works kind of, for example this Bosnian Girl poster comes out directly from the Srebrenica genocide, talks about this prejudice, and the positions where you put yourself, like for example a few years ago I did a piece which has erm, four different diaries from the war and erm, painted them on the silk sheeting. So you have this pillow, bedding actually, this pillow; fluffy silky and white and on the white I painted on them these things, four erm totally different ways of capturing what happened. Diary. If you know this notion of Pillow Book, probably you saw the film? But the idea is just so beautiful; you write, draw or collect and you put it in you pillow and sleep on it. It becomes part of your dreams, very Japanese, so beautiful; poetically describing something. What was for me interesting was there is like this notion of time, this, time is same time and same place. What makes it a personal point of view, many different things.
These diaries, one is very simple, it’s just a guy who counted the days. He was a friend of mine and many people just counted the days as well, but he’s a crazy character. He came to us and said today is 858 days of the siege and for the New Year it will be 1000 days of the siege. We were like... because you stopped counting, you know it’s a few months or years. So there was like five days of the siege and then there is a diary by the head of one of the universities in Sarajevo technical universities. He retired after the war, but kept active during the war, so he was walking this same road which is in the film and he was only writing down the names of the people he saw, he knows, that he met. And because he’s like very engineer, it’s like alphabetic, a telephone dictionary. So there’s the names, what that person does, and then there is a sign, different signs, and on the end you will have a map of that road and, how you say, something describing the map. So first of all, none of the names is repeating, so he always just put down the name when he saw it once. So the collection of the people that stayed in Sarajevo, that he knows. Then there is a sign for if that person was killed, wounded, left or come back. And it’s just like names and of course Sarajevo is not a huge city, you know the names and many of the people I know with these signs...
The third one was from the girl who was ten when the war started so its very teenage girlish diary about; today was very dangerous to go out and my mother made the bread and the recipe of the bread and how they made it, what they put in to make the fire, how you make the candles. She always referred to the other side like Other Side, the Bad Guys on the Other Side and Our Good Guys! So it’s always Bad or Good and it has like these drawings and the last one is from the Dutch soldier, again, what he wrote on the wall for the months of his post in Bosnia.
gma A real one?
sk Yeh. They’re all recreated from the handwriting and it becomes a different memory and then there’s still about the same...
gma How much of the diary did you use?
sk The whole diary, so ...
[At this point, power on the blink, we arrived at Kalba...]