Casts of a Wait for Relocation, Disappeared (Prayers Whispered, Lost in the Fog)
(Slide projectors, Sound, Polyester
Text by Knutte Wester from the catalogue Territories
15 years ago, I moved my studio to a then recently opened refugee camp. During the course of a year, I made different art projects together with those who lived there. What remains from that year are some slides, memories and stories. The year at the refugee camp took me also to other places: children's homes, shelters and hide-outs. In March 2017 I temporarily moved my atelier to a refugee camp in Boden. I moved my tools and my sacks of plaster into a windowless room in the basement and on the door I glued a short text:
"Temporary space for sculptures. Over a period of time, the artist KnutteWester will have a temporary atelier here. He will be working with casts in plaster together with whoever that wants to join. He is collecting material for an exhibition."
I did not know what it was I would collect or what I wanted to achieve. But there was something about returning to a refugee camp again, fifteen years later. I explained to the guards what I wanted to do and moved in. On the first day in the canteen, I tapped my plastic glass, stood up on my chair, and tried to explain, with a bit of a trembling voice, that I had opened a kind of atelier next door and that everybody was welcome.
At first there came only a few visitors, somewhat hesitantly, but then later it was filled with people. When the chaos began and work with the casts had started, there was no longer time to think about any purpose; the regular and actual work with the casts themselves became purposeful in itself. Perhaps sometimes the atelier also became something of a sanctuary. On the chair in the canteen, I felt like an alien, just like in the school canteen. But in that windowless space we called the atelier there emerges a separate little world with its own logic, where our work fits in.
I return again and again. People come and go. Now when a new person enters, I no longer need explain anything. The others explain; the guards, the parents, the children. I don't know how they describe our common project, but it works. Everybody can make a cast - that they get to keep - of their hand. All other casts stay in the atelier. Ahmed, Mhedi's younger brother, who always is in the atelier, mixes, saws, pours, drills, knocks and messes up things, turns out in the end to be my best ambassador. He seems to explain our project with a candour that serves. Sometimes in a language that I don't understand, sometimes in a cautious Swedish, which contains more and more clues of coming from Norrbotten.
One day there is a girl named Maryam that wants to make a cast of her face. She asks how long time it will take, as she is going to leave soon, she says. Her mother enters when we are ready. The mother's face is completely cold. Or not cold, but locked, immobilized. I realize they are not going to the store, but that they are leaving forever. Now. The girl says goodbye, she hugs a few of the other children, and leaves. She does it with such ease that the very lack of a response to the departure moves us more than tears would have done. Another mother looks at me and our eyes meet. Then she looks at the back of the girl leaving, and at her son on the floor that unperturbed has begun mixing plaster again.
Days and nights we make casts of faces, hands, shoulders and feet. After a while I begin maintaining a diary, noting anecdotes and dialogues. I begin to make photographs again, transparencies. Sometimes I take one or two casts with me and work on them at my home a couple of weeks, returning then to show those who contributed to those casts.
At the end of May this year, I travelled to New York to return to the shelter where in 2015 I had a temporary atelier. I had brought with me a pair of molded feet for Tostasy, as I had promised. But she was no longer there. None of the families I then had gotten to know were there. They had moved, escaped or been forced to leave, but nobody knows where. Nothing is left.
When I one month later return to Sweden and to my temporary atelier in Boden, also this refugee camp has been suspended and emptied. All the hundreds of persons that lived in that big house have had to move. Mehdi, who was so happy that he could begin in the football team. Suddenly I come to think of the cast we made of Maryam just before she left. It feels now as if all the casts down there in the atelier have that charge; they are what remained after the break up. This is what I think. I suppose. My key still fits in the door, but... the atelier is empty.
Once I broke my arm. But it did not hurt. The doctor explained that the shock turned off the signals of the pain. The room is empty. Hundreds of hours of work is gone. Only much later it starts hurting a little. But somehow I cannot yet feel really upset. My emptied atelier is no more than a frail shadow of the break-up of all the people that once lived at this refugee camp, whose roots now has been pulled up just as they had begun to find some soil here. I pull myself together, begin to edit my notes and develop the transparencies. In my permanent atelier are a few copies and some of the negative forms. Some of the lost casts can be recreated from these. But instead I begin to try to make casts of the empty space that the disappeared casts have left behind.
When writing this, I am visiting a place where I cannot make myself understood. I try to form words in Farsi and edit my notes from the time when the roles were the opposite. Through the smog, through the fog left by the dislocation, a prayer is heard.
Teheran, 10 december 2017