Herengracht 401 (H401) has received funding by the European Commission SUPPORT TO EUROPEAN COOPERATION PROJECTS 2018 to realise a two year project Heritage Contact Zones with 7 partners across Europe:
H401, Amsterdam (NL), Goethe-Institut Lyon (DE), Human Platform: Living Memorial Budapest (HU), Etz Hayyim Synagogue Hania (GR),Timisoara European Capital of Culture (RO), European University Institute Florence (IT), Culture Action Europe Brussels (BE).
Heritage Contact Zone (HCZ) works with contested heritage. The consortium of organizations from Germany, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium and Romania will present a sample of the neglected or contested heritages that the project will focus on.
Point of departure is the notion that European history is as much a history of shared cultural accomplishment as it is a history of violence, – violence of wars, colonisation, totalitarian and imperial regimes, religious violence, economic violence leading to social injustice, racial violence and generally the suppression of ‘others’. Only by recognition of all aspects of history also that of conflict and dissent, and by actively engaging with those citizens that still suffer exclusion because of this history being marginalised in mainstream heritage representation, Europe will be able to transgress its impasse and move forward towards more unity.
Cultural mediators and artists play a key role in this project to open up current heritage structures as ‚contact zones‘ towards more inclusive narratives.
The project runs from September 2018 to August 2020 and realizes 5 local exhibitions showcasing co-curated, creative and experimental heritage representation, testing new approaches and narratives for the organizations involved. The exhibitions are accompanied by workshops in which artists involve citizens in participatory ‘memory-making’. Project partners also collect other examples of innovative and inclusive heritage representation that use heritage as a space for dialogue and artistic creation. Those are published, together with the findings from the exhibitions and workshops in a toolkit.
All heritage has both tangible and intangible aspects. Despite the separation between these two ‘types’ that has helped UNESCO and others to give greater – and much needed – recognition to intangible heritage, much of the conflict around heritage is around material objects or places. This makes tangible heritage sites, places and objects powerful tools for working with communities. Objects and places evoke and make the past real. The late British anthropologist Alfred Gell wrote about the ‘agency’ of artworks, the power that they have to embody not only the ideas of their creators but also the networks of relationships within which they were created and had meaning. This ‘agency’ of material culture is perhaps equally applicable to heritage. Many of the HCZ projects work with objects and places that manifest the ‘agency’ of heritage in very real ways. Here objects, buildings, monuments and places do more than just convey symbolic and cultural values, they can provoke reactions and reconfigure social networks and ideas about the past.
These stirrups are from the 17th century and were used by the main character of the historic story of Jan Struys who travelled from Amsterdam, to Russland and Iran. The question was: how can historic objects and stories be interpreted today by contemporary artists and how do those challenge the viewers cultural perspectives and prejudices?
During seven days of preparation, 50 objects were collected and transformed into fictional Bauhaus artefacts. The transformation process took place visually, aesthetically, but also conceptually.
The little ceramic sculpture of a boy was found by the owner on a flea market. The figure misses its head, one arm and one leg. The owner told that she used to have a special kind of affection towards the esthetics of fragmented and atypical bodies. 100 years ago, when the Bauhaus school was founded, handicaps were perceived very differently in society than today and people with disabilities kept hidden from the public. As today we can celebrate diversity and our differences – symbolized by the monument created underneath and around the boy’s figure, in a similar way new technology, innovation and progress was highlighted through the Bauhaus designs
The Living Memorial discussion group is a member of Human Platform, an association gathering several civil organisations in the field of culture, education, art and social care.
“The Living Memorial” is a protest memorial facing the history-falsifying memorial erected by the Orbán-government on Szabadság tér (Liberty square) in downtown Budapest in 2014. On December 31st, 2013 it was announced in a short newspaper article that the government commissioned a memorial to be built on Liberty Square. It was to commemorate the German occupation of Hungary (19th March 1944), claiming that Hungary and the Hungarians were victims during WWII. There was no tender for artists, no public competition.
Activists of the Living Memorial civil group organized a flash mob next to the future monument, and asked citizens to bring personal objects to the site on 23rd March 2014. A large crowd gathered, and people shared the story of their objects with each other. Two white chairs were put in the middle of the site symbolizing the dialogue between the people.
The Living Memorial was imagined and brought to life by a small group of activists (artists, art historians, sociologists and other intellectuals) mobilizing the public opinion against the false propaganda of the official memorial, which aims to absolve the Hungarian state from its heavy responsibility in the Holocaust. Although, the planned official monument (the Dead memorial, as activists call it), has been built, due to the strong protest movements, it has never been inaugurated, no official ever came to the site. At the end, the government felt obliged to change its name to The Monument to commemorate the victims of the German occupation.
The Living Memorial, the one that keeps the real memory of the suffering is constituted of objects of personal memory placed on the square by inhabitants of Budapest or people coming even from abroad, for reminding the passers-by of the victims of the Holocaust and the role of the state in their fate.
But the Living Memorial, is more than that: The protest movement is symbolized by two white chairs because the Living Memorial also provides the site for public discussions: its activists believe that Hungarian people must engage in a real memory work of their history without keeping certain facts in silence. This aim is realized through open public discussions close to the spot of the Living Memorial organized in the afternoons. The topics of the discussions vary from Holocaust memories, family histories, to various social problems, including the education system, health care, the biased electoral system, the social housing system, social inequalities, the problems of the Roma, the role of cultural institutions, etc. Anybody can join in the discussions, take a seat on the dozens of white chairs set up in a big circle and take the microphone. The discussions are recorded and archived. A special system of moderation has been elaborated and is used for ensuring a peaceful course for the debates. During the years, more and more white chairs have been supplied and until today the activists have organized more than 600 discussions with the public.
Most refugees embark on tiny boats rather than seagoing vessels in their hope to find refuge in continental Europe. “I watch the tourists swimming in the sea and I remember our children drowning in the Aegean.” The colour of the toy boat is reminiscent of the colour of naval life-jackets. At the same time, it actually is a toy; a toy European children play with at the beaches of the Mediterranean during a happy vacation.
The workshop participants chose this particular boat to highlight a clash of experiences which continues to have vastly different impacts on refugees and Europeans respectively. Not only have the refugees lost loved-ones and their homes because of war and conflict; but on the last part of their journey they are forced to take the dangerous sea-route to Europe which has been fortifying itself against all international legal norms of refugee protection.
In the beginning everyone wanted to have it, in the end everybody wanted to get rid of it. The most spectacular way to do it was to set it on fire in public. The communist party members had priority when it came to advance in their work place; a communist party member would get a passport/the right to travel easier; a communist party member.