This last post marks the end of the road for me. I parted ways with Tina and Klaus today in the Timisoara airport. They will carry on itinerating the Galeria Nowhere through Romania, and then back to Austria for a last Village, but this is where I hop off the bus.
It seems fitting that the last post was reserved for the people who have been the source and subject of so many stories over the past month. However, I find it hard to talk about them without talking about the Nomadic Village. More than anything, I find it hard to talk about them without talking about the effect they have had on me. So this is not really their story, but mine; The story of my month with Klaus Mähring and Tina Horvath. Most of what I will write is true, that is, true from my point of view. Feel free to re-tell the story to whomever you want and change it in whatever way you see fit.
I often say that kindness will take you anywhere. A lot of people, particularly my family, are very sceptical about this view of life, and a lot of the time, seem to be waiting on the sidelines for me to give in and ‘grow up’. This is also the story of how they were proven wrong. Forever.
For me, the story of the past month really started last summer. I found a callout for the Nomadic Village. I knew I was going to be lucky enough to be in Europe at the time. The callout stated that there was going to be a village in Sophia in the context of a light-installation art festival, and it all sounded right up my alley. The guy who signed the callout called himself Klaus, The Captain. It took all the seriousness I have in my body not to start my first email to him with “Ahoy Cap!”, but I kept my composure just in case he was some sort of highly talented but egomaniacal nutter. We discussed a specific project and in the end I ended up sending him a proper application. If I am completely honest, I was not very hopeful about it. I’m not really the kind of person who gets the things they apply for, much less something as cool as this. Mostly, I think, it’s because my projects tend to be stupidly ambitious and there are very few people who will trust someone they don’t know to pull them through. I have spent years hoping someone will just give me a chance, and that’s exactly what Klaus and Tina did.
So everything was in motion. Two weeks residency at the Nomadic Village in Sophia, I could hardly wait! And then, on the day of my arrival in Newcastle, I received an email from Klaus. The village in Sophia has been cancelled, mainly due to the lack of arts funding generated by Austria having to plunge their entire arts budget into this year’s Eurovision -thank you Conchita-. However, Klaus did have a plan, he offered for me to join the Village in Cerkno, and then join the Galleria Nowhere for two weeks across the Balkans. I immediately threw my original project out the window, started crafting a new one, and replied to Klaus with a big, fat YES, PLEASE!!! It never really crossed my mind that I was quite literally going to jump in a car with strangers, but when some friends brought it up, I honestly did not make much of it. For some reason I trusted Klaus from the beginning, and I was right.
Ever since he came to get me at the pub in Cerkno –and met Ludwig-, I have felt incredibly comfortable and trusting with Klaus. He has a way of dealing with people which immediately puts you at ease. He just smiles and treats you like part of the family. And that’s it. For better or worse, he is one of the people who will love you and trust you until proven wrong. I used to be the same way, then somewhere along the line I got a little tougher –after being proven wrong several times-. Then I bounced back, thinking I would rather be disappointed a million times than become a sceptic of human kindness. I also have grown very aware of how rare it is to find that same attitude in others, and maybe that’s the reason why I trusted Klaus, even before I met him.
Tina is a whole different cup of tea. I was a little scared of her when we first met. She is very direct. She will tell you what she thinks, and not have a problem if you disagree. The scary bit is that sometimes she sounds too direct. She is simply being honest, but I can see how some people could struggle with that assertiveness. As I said, it took me a couple of days to overcome my fear of Tina, but then I saw some qualities in her that washed any fears away. Tina –and Klaus too, but in a more immediate manner- is one of those people who suffer from infinite kindness syndrome –I also call it infinite heart syndrome, in case you read the Spanish version. If she regards you as someone with your own brain, a decent amount of common sense, and no ill will towards anyone/thing, that’s it, you’re in. She will do anything for you. I began to see it, particularly with Klaus and Anna. It didn’t take long for me to be on the receiving end of that kindness too.
All through the village they were there, ready and able in case anyone needed anything. Half hosting, half making their own work, they were the background puppet masters that make the Nomadic Village a success. Now, this is very important, because no matter what you have read so far, there is one thing that must be clear. Klaus and Tina are by no means a couple of hippies. They are no saints either -it just happens to be that their way of thinking fits mine, and that’s how we ended up getting on so well-. The thing is that not all is love and peace at Nomadic Village. We are there to become a community of artists working within an established community –a village within a village-, but the working part is key (even if there are no visible outcomes), and the village, as a social structure has a hierarchy. Klaus is the Mayor, and Tina the NGO. It is not a democracy, but a dictatorship, because at the end, the Nomadic Village (in Klaus’ own words) is a social sculpture. So, just as the Nomadic Village is a village within a village, the artists are producing artwork whilst being a part of Klaus and Tina’s artwork. As long as you understand that, all is fine. If you don’t understand that (and this is my opinion), you should re-read the brief and get with the program. It’s a pretty good program and not really tough to follow.
Needless to say, managing a group of people takes an emotional toll. Everyone is different, and whether you agree with what they do or not, you still have an emotional attachment, and those relationships and emotions sometimes get to be too much. After Cerkno ended, Klaus and Tina were emotionally exhausted, and the days off were mainly so they could sort themselves out, because they still have a long road ahead.
It was at that time that I got to know them better. I also got to understand my position better. I am the first artist to be invited to travel with them. Normally artists get invited to the villages, not the travelling. Also, because Eurovision sucked the life out of their arts funding, most of this year’s funding for Nomadic Village was put up by them. This means in very simple terms, that I am only here because these two artists believe in their project so much that they put the last of their savings into it. And in this case, the project includes me. They really took a gamble with me, and I sincerely hope it paid off. If they had not kept me and carried me with them this past month, there is no way I could have found the cash to pay for it myself. This project has re-affirmed my thoughts on kindness, but it has also raised new questions, particularly about our society’s glorification of private property. Tina’s perspective that it’s hard to understand how someone can own land has shifted my paradigms. For me the deception of people owning land and restricting passage is simply something that we had to deal with. Now I gladly see that it’s not that simple. I also have seen how it can quickly be subverted. Ironically, hospitality, smiles and yet again, kindness are the best weapons against those nihilist brains that only believe in an arbitrary set of rules without questioning them. And if you don’t believe me, go ahead and ask the Croatian police in Badlejvina. Our last day there, they came to kick us out- private property. After smiling and offering cake to the two uniformed officers, reinforcements came in. Creepy, spooky, dodgy-looking guys in civilian dress and rather large hand-guns. A few un-welcome jokes, a rejected cake, a lot of Croatian growling versus us smiling. Eventually they get in the bus, and its over. As soon as they climb the steps they turn into little kids with a new toy. We won. We always knew we’d win. Klaus and Tina taught me that.
This month has also made me think of my living status. I often saw myself as displaced. The granddaughter of immigrants, you don’t get raised in the local way, but you don’t get raised in the way of the motherland either. Somehow you never fit in, anywhere. I have always thought that maybe because of my displaced and wandering tendencies, I would always be homeless. In some way forced to create a home in whatever place I chose to live in, but without real roots anywhere. Shortly before I started this project, I realised that I do have a home, two of them in fact. Because home is made up by your people, and I have people. Good, kind-hearted, honest people, who I am proud to call friends and family in both sides of the Atlantic. The paradox is that by the time I realised I don’t have just one, but two homes, I also realised I am essentially homeless. This is because my living situation is rather volatile due to my current financial conditions –I simply can’t afford rent- and so I am currently, and for the foreseeable future, sponging off my friends.
This paradoxical situation stems from the difference between an emotional place I can call home, and a physical place I can call my own, private haven. Over the past month, this haven home has been my tent –which ironically is not mine either-, but I have started to think of how little physical space I really need to be comfortable, and that maybe that space does not have to be attached to a surface of land. Maybe a moving space –yes, I am very much thinking of my parent’s camper van if they want to take the hint- is more suitable to the ways in which I understand the notion of home.
I only parted with Tina and Klaus today, and the experience of the residency will probably start to decant as time moves on. But so far I can feel a strong shift on the way I view my own mobility, and the politics within that, and that is 100% thanks to them. As I said a little earlier, I have seen them deal with large amounts of emotional stress. I truly hope my presence managed to help them through. Sometimes you need to give people space, others you just need to lend an ear. I hope I managed somehow to be a source of support. I have also witnessed the infinite kindness of people we have met along the way. This past weekend, Srdjan and Biljana from Subotica –via Sombor- took us into their home. Ironically, the best thing that could happen to us was to not get a parking permit for Novi Sad, and to spend an extra day in their home in Subotica, sitting in their back yard, and petting (constantly) their two dogs and cat. They are friends with Klaus from the time they were working with Art Klinica in Novi Sad about 4 or 5 years ago. Their love of Klaus was immediately shared to Tina and I, no questions asked and again, I am only left with the maths:
Over the past three months I have had a roof thanks to my friends. I got my old job back, so I could support myself for the time in Newcastle, again, no questions asked. Tina and Klaus have allowed me be a part of their project and meanwhile showed me a region of the world I would have otherwise nor seen, but most importantly, they have shared their world and their ways of viewing home with me, and that is priceless. When I return to Chile, I will live with friends whose generosity is, once again, boundless –they also suffer from infinite heart syndrome-. And these are just the biggest, most evident and practical cases. But I always try and treat my friends how they deserve: with love, and time, and respect. And even though I hate to ask for help –and sincerely try not to abuse it-, I hardly have to say anything and they are all ready, willing, and able to help.
Kindness truly does get you anywhere. In Chile they say that friends are worth more than money. I don’t look at it that way, just as I don’t think my own kindness is taking me anywhere. It’s the kindness of others, which I wish to learn from and hopefully pay forward. I don’t see how I will ever get to repay the kindness I have received and am still receiving. One thing I know for sure is that Tina and Klaus possess the scarcest type: kindness towards strangers. Parting with them at the airport was unbelievably sad. I waited for my bus for an hour, and after thinking that the despondency generated by the wait would make the rest of the day easier, the bus drove by the parking where the Town Hall and caravan were parked, as if to give me a chance to say a last goodbye and finally shed a couple of very choked tears. Strangers. The word already felt off when I started writing this post. I can’t see how these two people could ever have been strangers at one point. I would sooner call them friends, if not family. And the truth is that it does not matter if I have a home or not. Whatever part of the world I find myself in, there will always be a home in it for them.