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Athens...conference on "Borderlines"

'Borderlines', Forum European Cultural Exchanges, Athens. Saturday 25 November 2006.

On 25 November, Sophie took part in a panel discussion in Athens about 'Borderlines' organised by the Forum European Cultural Exchanges and the Hellenic American Union. Other speakers included Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss & Katherine Carl, Heath Bunting and Angela Melitopoulos.

Reunion - News from Nowhere

The expansion of the European Union in May 2003 to include 10 former socialist states caused wide spread media attention in the UK. News of the accession of Bulgaria and Romania in January 2007 has been met with the introduction of even more stringent immigration laws. Much of the press coverage in the UK over the widening of the European Union has been xenophobic, based on misunderstandings of other cultures and a fear of invasion of foreign workers. Headlines such as ‘Migrants ruining lives’ and ‘Migrants out of control’ continue to reflect these views, where as now, they are on the same page as travel tips to Dubrovnik and Ljubljana. Such double standards have been normalised and are reflected in Britain’s changing policies on immigration and human rights. The progression of Europe towards economic unification is resulting in incidents of rising nationalism.

The diverse ways in which artists are experiencing and interpreting the issues of a widening Europe was the subject of Trading Places, an exhibition curated by B+B (Sarah Carrington and Sophie Hope) in May 2003 in London (www.welcomebb.org.uk). The work in the exhibition and the integral programme of events presented different approaches artists based in Central and South Eastern Europe are taking towards issues of migration and border-crossing, from representing the experiences of migration as migrants themselves or collaborating with migrants to co-produce narratives, through to direct action by presenting alternatives to overcoming borders. The participants of Trading Places shared the need to raise the debate about migration and create a more complex picture that could challenge the dominant simplistic, imperial notion of nationalism. It became apparent, through working on Trading Places, that the concern that artists and curators have for reflecting and perhaps effecting change in the current social and political climate is inseparable from the power-plays inherent in the artist’s role as story-teller, educator, activator and agitator. The works and discussions in Trading Places raised the question: what is the relationship between the artist and her politics; how is a critique of that context and politics formed, performed, shared and made manifest?

Reunion is a framework through which to continue investigating this question. As a continuation of Trading Places, Reunion, led by Sophie Hope, is an action research, contemporary visual arts project that consists of meetings, experiments, residencies and exhibitions involving artists and curators based in the UK and South East Europe. The aim is to try out ideas and reflect on what it means to be political as a cultural producer in Europe today. The focus on this geographical area stems from a need to challenge perceptions of the ‘new’ Europe and its borders and to bring questions of unification, nationalism and identity to the fore. The Reunion projects have been a process of reviewing differences, commonalities and frictions across Europe.

Each research trip for the participants of Reunion - the meetings over coffee, train journeys and experiments in a strange land - are impossible attempts at trying to understand ones relation to a place. Who gets to report on these research trips? How is the communication across borders reciprocal and not just one way? Through Reunion, artists are moving from ‘east’ to ‘west’ and ‘west’ to ‘east’ to decide for themselves who and what gets interpreted, understood and reported.