For apap IV – place specific, connecting sites and communities, Cabula6 (Jeremy Xido and Claudia Heu) developed a project where in each of the six partner cities, they investigated a criminal case that moved people, interviewed those directly concerned as well as others, and showed the results in a film. In Salzburg, they treated the murdering of a homeless person by four adolescents.
Interview with Jeremy Xido:
“why did you choose the form of documentation to portrait cities through crime cases? your background is performing arts – so this was not your own media?”
Interestingly enough, although we come from performance backgrounds and continue to perform, film wasn’t an entirely new media. In a number of our performance pieces over the past couple of years, we have increasingly begun to utilize film as one of the elements for both narrative and scenic design, but moreover film has become progressively more important as a means for documenting our more elusive place-specific works which play out over large city spaces, such as TRACE and CAFÉ BON BON.
In both of these pieces, one of our interests has been the multiplicity of diverse intimate experiences and perspectives of the individual participants and the re-entry of those experiences into a multifarious collective whole linked on the one hand by their similarities and on the other hand kept in dynamic tension by their variations. That is, each person participating has a very unique experience dependant upon a mixture of the scripted narrative or game that leads them through the city and the ways in which, by chance, the game or script is altered by a confrontation with “real life” situations in public space – which are totally out of the frame of control set up by the piece written.Essentially, in these pieces, no one person can ever hold the entire piece in their mind or experience. It is only by turning to the other people who have walked the tours or played the games that they begin to get a better sense of the intersecting structures that they are part of. Only by engaging in dialogue with the others, can they get a “truer” sense of who they are. At its best, this makes community awareness indispensable to understanding the self.
Trying to explain these pieces to people who hadn’t experienced them, we needed to find a way to give a sense of the complexity of the overall structures and simultaneously give an idea of the depth of the individual experience – the personal and physical way of interfacing with and altering that structure. So we turned in part to film and specifically a “documentary film” aesthetic. All film is concerned with the re-assemblage of fragments into a de-facto whole: the film. Traditional documentary, however, plays with the assemblage of nominally “real” fragments, taken from the real word, the unscripted, improvised world and is fashioned into some other thing – a film – that often attempts to make a collective sense of those fragments, however tenuous and provisional this might be. For this reason, this style of filmmaking was very useful in attempting to document the structures and experiences of TRACE and CAFÉ BON BON.
We could follow several individuals, inter-cut their experiences and give the sense that they are all doing this piece at the same time but are having divergent experiences, which ultimately illuminate or complete one another.In this way, the work on CRIME was very similar. We kept saying to ourselves that we are not so much interested in the “truth” of each case so much as the way in which people attempted to retell the story of what happened as a means of making sense of the worlds they live in, in an effort to re-establish their individual and collective identities. The films are essentially collective portraits of a place. They are bricolages of divergent opinions, positions, fragments and experiences which point to a possible version of a whole to which people, who might think they have little or nothing to do with one another, actually belong as part of an interdependent system of meanings and values.
In this way, CRIME has been an extension of the concerns of our other performance pieces.It is important to emphasize that crucial to the concept of CRIME was the first screening. The people in the film were invited to a place that somehow had a relationship to the subject matter of the films. We searched out places that offered a sort of wasps’ nest, where people’s emotional and intellectual pressure points might be activated. For example, in Kortrijk, a place across the street from where a shooting occurred, or in Ribamar, a restaurant in which one of the people talked about actually had worked, or in Rosignano Solvay, the factory’s social club and cafeteria for employees. The people from the community and those interviewed sat together and watched their “conversations” as we reconstructed them on film. After the screening, we were all in the same room together in a type of performance environment in which people could argue and exchange ideas, contradict one another and agree – or not. Those in the film became the protagonists once again in the flesh.
“so this project allowed you to try out a new form, a new genre for you. will you continue to make documentary films?”
I am interested in making a feature film. As in much of our stage work, I am fascinated by films that challenge the distinctions between what is fiction and non-fiction – perforating the membrane between the real and unreal so that they interpenetrate and illuminate one another.
Of course, if I were offered to do another documentary, I would as well.
“how close did you get into the different communities, and was it helpful to be a total outsider?”
It’s a hard question to answer because the feeling of proximity to a community, or the extent to which I “got into” a community is quite relative. Even the concept of “community” is relative and constantly shifting. What I can say is that from my side, I feel like I had very profound encounters with people as we attempted to talk about very challenging and difficult subject matter – and often subject matter that touched those people’s lives in a very real concrete way. Whatever film I might eventually cajole out of the material I gathered, the material was extracted from these people’s lives and those lives would continue when I walked back out of the room at the end of an interview or after the film eventually showed. And this imbued me with a tremendous sense of responsibility to “do right” by these people.
My primary task was to walk into whatever room it was at the time with my camera and try to establish some sort of common ground that would allow me and the interview partner to simply talk as openly as possible. What I found essential to achieving this was on the one hand, my honest curiosity about them and the subject matter and on the other, the recognition that this person sitting with me was in fact a human being, like me, full of foibles, fears, humor, emotions and intellect and that, like me, had the basic human need to make some sense of their lives. In this way, it was important during the interviews to take them on as people and not as symbols and to do the best I could to not let my prejudices blind me to the human exchange taking place and ultimately their generosity in that moment.
In these exchanges, it’s clear that my being an outsider always played a role. There was always the question of “why?” Why was I there making this film? Why this topic or case? What did I want to do with it? What right did I have to not only think about it, but to make some pronouncement or present some version of “truth” to a wider public? What I noticed, is that in answering these questions, depending on where I was and with whom I was meeting, I continually had to alter and shift how I presented myself in order to find ways to put the interview partner at ease or to find a point in common that would allow us to speak openly. This wasn’t manipulative or misleading on my part, it was more a process of finding ground rules together and a sort of agreement about how the conversation would go.
In some places, being an American opened doors while in other places or with other people, it closed them. Other people were more willing to talk with me when they knew I was a performer or came from a hip-hop and break dance background in Detroit. Others opened if I spoke Spanish with them. Some never opened. But what I think was always an advantage was that it was hard to place me within the symbolic world of the debate that I was entering. I was an outsider, so that once the door to discussion was opened, I couldn’t ever be discarded as being an opponent. The set of codified arguments that had already coalesced around a debate that occurred within the community before I ever showed up and which provided people with markers for how to maneuver in discussions, couldn’t fully apply to me – so there was always the need to find new terminology, to redefine positions in relationship to this new element: me. A very concrete example is the film in Berlin. One of the central questions that emerged was, “what does it mean to be German?” There I am, an American, that speaks German well, who looks, if not Turkish, at least from the south, challenging people with the almost naïve question, “How can it be if someone is born and raised here, that he or she is not considered German?” Or, “If the protagonists of this case were born and raised here in Berlin, doesn’t this make the case a German case? Or at least a Berlin case, and not a Turkish one?” I think given my position as an outsider, coming from my own complex ethnic and political realities in the States, that I could ask these questions in a very open and honest way – or at least in such a way that it challenged the people I was talking with to think about the answers. If I were German or Turkish asking these questions, then I think it would have been easier for people to immediately place me within a predefined debate and I would have had a harder time finding this delicate space where people have to actually search for the answers to the questions being asked, as opposed to giving the answer that is already known.
„do you think that your artistic view on the cases opened new perspectives for the people involved, or have you experienced this?“
Much like TRACE and CAFÉ BON BON, CRIME often functioned as an element in people’s lives that brought focus to themes and situations that stare them in the face everyday – so much so that they begin to not see them. Just addressing themes and situations that have become camouflaged by everyday life by applying the special attention of an artistic endeavor, or by saying that “this thing that you live with and don’t see anymore is also important, of value, existent and affects your life and your concept of your self” is a powerful action in the world. I believe that the core of the artistic endeavor is this shift of focus and insistence on seeing what is there. Everything else is essentially desert: The symbolic and emotional links that we make as proposals to people as possible connections between elements they may not have thought of, or providing people the platform to speak who are normally not heard, or rendering preconceived notions problematic and forcing re-consideration, the links of sounds and images in unexpected ways, the telling of the story in a compelling and illuminating way, the moments that people felt or understood something new. These are all important and wonderful when they actually occur, but I think the primary power of making these films and in terms of opening new perspectives for the people that we interviewed or that belonged to the community is often just the simple act of thinking that this story is worth telling and that these people and how these events have affected them are compelling and important.
I think in all of our work there is a basic concern that those people who see or take part in the pieces become integral to both the process and the expression of the piece. Our pieces, ideally, are not things that we are simply selling and asking others to consume, but rather – when it works – we try to create an endeavor and event in which everyone involved – both ourselves and the audience – feel that we are involved in something together. This requires a kind of re-balancing of the power structure in which people who are watching also have the “feeling” that they are important or essential.In the case of CRIME, I feel we were most successful in the moments in which we were able to offer this perspective to the people who took part in the process of making the film or took part in the moment of the screenings. It meant the most to me when people would come up to us and say how important the film was, how necessary it was to talk about this, or even more, people who would come up and start to tell stories related to the film from their own life or experiences. These were the moments in which I think something special was achieved, because these people had the feeling that what they had to say mattered.
„how did the availability of six cities influence the project? how much more is a serial result a better artistic experience?“
One of the fascinating things for me to see was the progression and alteration of the concept of CRIME and the ways in which the films reflected on one another from city to city.
For example, three of the films focused on murder cases – Kortrijk, Salzburg and Berlin. Watching these films again, I realize how some of the questions raised in one are picked up by the next. There is the question of what constitutes “legal defense” in the Kortrijk film – at what point someone is threatened enough physically or spiritually that murder is justified, if not in the eyes of the law, then at least in the eyes of the community. In Kortrijk, the murder was to a large extent accepted as a necessary – albeit unfortunate – act on the part of the jewelry store owner who killed one of the men robbing his store. Generally speaking, people were sympathetic to what he had done, largely identifying with him, able to imagine themselves in his position.Carried over to Salzburg, the idea of what constitutes a “justifiable threat” became more broadly considered. Whereas many people in Kortrijk claimed that they would probably have done the same as the shopkeeper if they had been in his position, the people of Salzburg found the act of the teenagers who murdered the homeless man on Mönchsberg totally incomprehensible. The shopkeeper’s dilemma was seen as a social dilemma that everyone shared, while whatever led the teenagers to carry out their act was largely seen by many as an absolute social aberration. However, there were others who saw what happened as part of a social dynamic that could possibly be understood. As one of the people interviewed suggested, the teenagers possibly “saw their own impotence in the face of the other and destroyed it.” They themselves on the verge of homelessness, on the margins of society, invisible and cut off from the resplendent wealth around them, damaged. Could this potentially extreme form of being ostracized be perceived as a mortal threat? This line of thinking brought the discussion back into the social fabric as an expression of fears and pains and perceived threats that could possibly shed light on how such an act could occur.
This line of questioning then permeated many of the interviews in Berlin. Why did this brother kill his sister? Was it possible that he felt threatened in some complex way? What did he achieve by doing this act? To what extent did he belong or not belong to the concentric set of societies that passed through Kreuzberg – as a German, as a Turk, as a Kurd, as a son, as a brother, as a child, as a man? How much in danger was he from being cast out from those groups? What was the “perceived danger” for him if he didn’t kill his sister? Or did he, like the kids in Salzburg, kill something in his self that he saw in her by shooting her in the head at the bus stop?
In Berlin the debates revolved in part around, “were these young people from here, from Germany or were they foreigners?” Can what happened be attributable to contemporary German society or was this a Turkish or Kurdish case? In Kortrijk, everyone interviewed was clear that the people who committed the robbery were foreigners, not from here; but not a single one correctly knew where they were from. Instead they assumed that they were from France, or Algeria, Russia or Poland, North Africa or the East – that is, from wherever they generally perceived there to be a threat encroaching on their physical and spiritual well-being. Regardless of the facts of the specific case, these preconceptions were inevitably blended with the shooting of the jewelry store owner, perhaps facilitating identification with him as a person who destroyed their own fears. But this again was challenged by the jewelry store owner’s lawyer who cautioned, “People like to say that it isn’t us doing these crimes, but in a global world this is a false satisfaction … It is us … It is the Old Europe that’s using the New Europe to do its dirty work.”Held up against the Berlin film and case, how does this debate of “who are we?” and “what are we doing?”, “what is really foreign and what is not?” reflect back and forth between the films casting light in hard to see places?
Each one of these sets of definitions that emerge from one of the films can be seen to help frame a debate for the other films. I don’t believe they answered questions for one another, but rather opened up fields of debate that they share and provide tools to dig further into the very specific local issues. In this way, having a series was a tremendous gift.
“is there anything you would like to mention that was influential, unique, socially and artistically special in this project?”
Please watch the films and let us know what you think. This possibility is what I think is socially and artistically unique in the project – the access to the media and the possibility of reflection and dialogue. Look on www.cabula6.com. Look under “c6 projects” and then click on “CRIME”.
in…From Place Specific, theCONNECTING SITES AND COMMUNITIES
Documentation Project –APAP IVAPAP Advancing Performing Arts Project.
Volume Editor, LUÍS FIRMO.
Published 2006 by ArtinSite, an editorial label of Transforma http://www.transforma-ac.com