DAS. PROJECT: Wooden cabin near the Baltic Sea as a safe space for artists
As part of i-Portunus Houses, participants were asked to share their stories and experiences. Below is a story from Joel Eger and Camila Telez from Chile who are behind the project DAS.
Joel Eger from Sweden and Camila Telez from Chile have imagined “DAS.”, a project offering a safe shared space for artists in turbulent times. The Chilean performer based in Bilbao and the Swedish interdisciplinary artist found their shelter in a little wooden cabin close to the Baltic sea. Both conceptual and physical refuge to start a discussion about queer issues, climate changes or Europe.
What is the project “DAS.” about?
In 2015, we met in an art study in the Basque country called “Kalostra Eskola”: it was a small cloister with tutors with which we spent long periods together. Both of us were crossing vital moments of our lives and were also in a mobility situation. Moreover, we were the only foreign artists from the group. Since we met in a context other than our own, we knew how important it is to build a network of care not only being an artist but also as a migrant or as a queer person. This is how we started slowly to knead this desire to build a safer place for ourselves that we could eventually share with others.
From this vulnerable position, we decided to build a micro-residency program that takes the form of refuge, a cabin in the forest of Grisslehamn in Sweden, surrounded by nature and located directly to the Baltic sea. This space is also Joel’s house which makes it very personal.
Another of our objectives is to build this platform as a form to have distance, perspective and healing, an intimate space where artists could reset energies taking into account that, in most cases, we are socially and economically unprotected. Moreover, as artists, we mostly work with emotional and psychological aspects of ourselves, which sometimes puts us in a very vulnerable position.
These things and many others fill us with the need to be held, to somehow become a refugee. We recognize a refugee as someone affected by immediate external impacts and internal personal moves that generate the necessity to become a refugee from both yourself and the outside.
Another point was to rethink the capitalist system of art production. This is a big question for the future: we believe we need to start to slow down the rhythms of material production on so many levels, but also, as artists, we need free time to observe, to imagine. The empty time-space is very important and also connected with how we would think about sustainability from precarious perspectives – for example, we strongly think that refugees should also receive a grant that gives them a momentaneous breading from the outside –.
Besides, we would like to invite artists to think with us about these things from a protected space, and we expect to make an audio platform of thoughts from artists because the mind never stops.
What does mobility mean for you?
Mobility means affection, and we think the movement is a natural answer to our emotions. We have so many reasons, personal, political, sanitary, etc., that make us or force us to move or stay in a place. Many of them are emotional because we can react to the atmosphere, whereas sometimes, we need to move for safety reasons. With the recently forced immobility caused by the pandemics, we are starting to realize how much we were missing mobility. Mobility is a vital necessity. It does not only mean a job or sustainability. It also means context, friends and family.
Artists can be very nomadic and have collaborative families in many places. In our opinion, physical presence is something that we can not lose as a form of contact. There are so many things that the body learns, heals and assimilates only through its presence in space. We also need to understand what mobility will mean by climate change and how this will be a matter of privileges.
How did you feel about DAS. before starting it? And how do you feel about it now?
Of course, we were very enthusiastic about the start of the project. The impulse to go for it was because we were isolated in our countries of residency due to the pandemic. Visiting family became difficult for immigrants, but for non-normative families, the difficulty was the same. In 2021, Camilla was visiting her family in Chile with all the difficulties of crossing continents. Before meeting them, she needed to quarantine for five days in a hotel in Santiago. At the same time, Joel was in Sweden, and we were already starting the project. So we decided to make the quarantine an intense cloister of work. This is how we applied to i-Portunus, with a feeling of urgency.
How do we feel about the project now? Between imagining the idea and taking the first steps, pandemics and war were ongoing in Europe, which is pretty disturbing and not the international landscape we were imagining. It was as if things were getting worse and worse. So we did a very intense work – conceptually and emotionally – of listening to the moment, discussing, writing and imagining what the project would need, materially and immaterially, to go on in the future.
It was an enriching experience: whereas some things can be planned in the distance, we can not lose the lived experience that confronts bodies in space. Mobility is a necessity in the artistic experience.
How do you see the future of Europe?
Joel is from Sweden, with all that means, and Camila comes from Chile and lives now in Spain. That makes us see Europe in very different ways. Joel knows how privileged he is to move within borders just because he has the right passport. In contrast, Camila still has to fight to move freely across its territory (she finally received a permanent residency after nine years of administrative hassles.) Our feeling of belonging is connected to people, to relations that support us; some of them are Europeans, some others are not, but we share territories which means something that is not only physical.
It is not easy to be optimistic about Europe and the world. The idea of scarcity terrifies Europe, which is not strange, as it is the centre of power and privilege. But precarity already exists in Europe and is growing: the impossibility to keep the peace; the impossibility to deal with the imperialist responsibility; the impossibility of re-educating itself; the impossibility of redefining the concepts and practices of what the border is or should be. All these things, coupled with climate change, are not easy.
How did the Covid and the war in Ukraine impact the project?
It made us realize the difference between distance and closeness, between us, our friends, our family and others in countries close and far away; the difference between living a conflict and suffering and being safe; the difference between vital necessities fuelled by immediate danger and the impact of uncertainties on personal emotions. We have observed how the movement between different lands and places flows and how the privileges can differ and transform in a second.
Can you recall a striking anecdotes that happened during the whole project?
From the beginning, we choose a colour for the logo and letters of DAS., an intense yellow colour that is the colour of Joel’s cabin in Sweden. After a while, we even called it “DAS yellow” (THE yellow) because we started to see its flashy tone repetitively in so many places, both in virtual and natural places. First, we noticed how after the Russian attack on Ukraine, the yellow on the Ukrainian flag started to have an unexpected meaning on social media, changing even the notion of “refuge” while we were ourselves at the same moment dealing with how communication, visuality and affections work.
Later, we noted a very intense yellow fungus growing in the rocks next to the sea, drawing abstract and beautiful forms, maybe as a sign of climate change. Later, when the spring made itself visible, we saw beautiful yellow flowers from the coast appearing around the cabin. We read all these signs as telepathy with the moment and the project.
What do you feel was your biggest achievment?
Sharing time and space to investigate what we hold very close within ourselves as a never-ending conversation. And moving this into another realm where we, in the extension, also can reach out to others in similar states of need. To share nature, walk, observe, and comment on how the landscape has changed over decades. To realize climate change in trees, animals, the oceans, and other things that never change too. To re-learn from nature again. To learn to listen. To have a bath in the cold sea. To activate the body in a different way than you would do in a city. To learn how to do fire from nothing. To invent a little prototype that would record your voice wherever you need to say it anonymously.
The new EU programme on cultural exchanges Culture Moves Europe which launches on 10 October is based on lessons drawn from our i-Portunus Houses pilot project since 2020. ECF will continue to explore a greener future of cultural mobility in the years to come.