Designed to run for 18 months, TABUROPA is an international research and theatre project on the topic of taboos that will be conducted in four selected countries: Portugal, Poland, Belgium and Germany. Based on their respective historical and cultural traditions, these four countries each stand for a different set of experiences in dealing with taboos and thus exemplify the diversity of Europe.

Artist Diary: written by Agnieszka Blonska during the Research Phase in Cologne

Read all about Agnieszka Blonska’s thoughts during the “Research Phase” in her director’s diary

Thoughts during Research Phase – by Agnieszka Blonska

Whenever a taboo is broken, something good happens, something vitalizing. Taboos after all are only hangovers, the product of diseased minds, you might say, of fearsome people who hadn’t the courage to live and who under the guise of morality and religion have imposed these things upon us.

Henry Miller

5.10.2013
plane
KLM, LONDON-AMSTERDAM-COLOGNE
On my own.
TABUROPA as my guide.

The journey begins. Not sure what it means yet.

(Keep my eyes open, listen and stay alert.
Keep asking. Think. Trust your instincts.)

Hellish queues at the Amsterdam airport. Hundreds of people waiting to be checked. Passports in our hands. Our nervous eyes looking around, checking watches, trying to talk to guards (officers? police? soldiers? airport security? for sure some officials, whatever it means…). They don’t want to talk. They are here just to control the queues.
Am I going to be on time for my plane to Cologne?
Is it all real?
United Europe…

On the plane to Cologne. Just in time.
Tired. Stressed.
Forgot to buy water. Didn’t have enough time to buy water.
But at least I know I’m safe, I’m not a terrorist – being checked twice I can be sure of that.
United Europe…

6.10.2013
Cologne
First day
Rehearsal space
Sayaka, Marielle, Angel, myself

Talking about individual perspectives and understandings on the subject of “taboo”.
Conversations evolve around our personal experiences and concepts of body, femininity, outcasts, money, age, aggression….
And of course our families.
And history. The historical contexts of the places we are from.

Actually, where are we from? All of us, in this team, are “hybrids”. Re-placed. Having roots in few places, families scattered around. Using at least two languages in everyday life. With the idea of home which means ‘homes’, because there are more than one.
Or maybe there is none? What is home at the end of the day?
All of us with the experience of being a minority. And a majority – depending on the context.

Europe.

7.10.2013
Cologne
Oase
Igor joins the team

From Oase’s website: “ The OASIS supports the homeless or in housing shortage by promoting their abilities going to make life according to their ideas”

Meeting Rudolf Fronczek, one of the main social workers here; Christina Bacher, the main editor of “Draussenseiter” magazine which is created in collaboration with Oasis; and the homeless person. A man who happens to be there, at the café and is ready to talk to us.
But as it happens none of us foreigners can speak German. We all talk in English and he can’t simply join the conversation. The exchange must happen via translators.

(It’s an ongoing, obvious and easily predicted, realisation.
How much do we miss through translation?
How much can we communicate without the language?
How to research/recognize other place/culture (dare I say…) without the knowledge of its language?

Important note to remember: LANGUAGE.)

Home.
Being homeless.
Being homefull.

Rudolf says: “you have no idea how close you are to being homeless. One day something happens, maybe illness, maybe the end of your relationship, maybe death in your family, maybe lost of income or maybe all of it at once, and you end up homeless.”

And: “being homeless is a state which doesn’t necessarily mean living on the street”.

Shame of living on the street.
People avoidance.
One wants to survive.
Where is water?
Where is food?
Where to sleep?
Search for safety.
“Street” is wild.
It’s a jungle and you are a wild animal.
Loneliness is safe.
Communication is vital.

Rudolf says: “You want to relax, but you need to organise your life. This takes lots of time…”

And at night you can’t sleep very deep.
You must stay alert. Like in the jungle.
So there’s no surprise, no danger.

Living without the roof is terribly exhausting. Lonely and exhausting. It’s hard work to survive.

(Important note: do we – warm, full and satisfied – have any idea of “survival”? How can we relate to being basic?)

“We live in ‘a purpose society’”.
Society of purpose.
Society in which, according to the system, we must live in a certain way and keep earning. Earning. And retreat fear.
What’s about those who can’t see any sense in this kind of existence?

Rudolf carries on: “There are lots of television stations in Cologne. One of them rang us. They were interested in creating a reality show about homeless people. So they would come, film, pay a bit and disappear. The homeless would stay exactly in the same place as they were.
This is our understanding of help. Material. Quick. Living us free of guilt.”

And: “nobody wants to buy misery. It all has to be smiley, positive and interesting.” (sic!)

Help. WHAT IS HELP?! What means “to help”?
To make somebody live according to our own rules? Our own standards?
And what’s about their own standards?

The system has no exit.

Rudolf sums up: “Taboo is when one doesn’t want to look and see”.

(What don’t you want to see?
WHAT DON’T WE WANT TO SEE?
We were talking about homeless people in Cologne.
There is no raw poverty in Germany.
Imagine if there would be…)

Europe.

7.10.2013
Afternoon
Restaurant in a centre of Cologne
(Nice restaurant)
We are sitting outside
(Nice food, a glass of white wine)
Next to us a group of young people
(Nice food, a glass of whhite wine)

So here we are.
We’ve began our journey together.
The “Draussenseiter” magazines are lying on the table (performers got them from Rudolf to sell on a street to experience people’s reactions and how it all feels).
Igor takes one of them, attaches his ID card (they all had them made by Rudolf to be able to do the job) and goes towards the table nearby.

The young people become very quiet.
They try to avoid eye contact.
They turn their heads away (discreetly, of course!).

Igor doesn’t sell any of the magazines.

He goes on the street, not too far from our table.
He tries to stop people.

Nobody stops.
Nobody looks.
They look at the pavement. Or other way.
Or check their pockets as there is something there and they need it right now.
A mother keeps speaking to her child.
Too busy to look at Igor.
She didn’t speak to her child before. Now she must talk.

Igor doesn’t stop people anymore.
He stands there.
Tall and beautiful.
With his ID card attached.

How different to when he dances on the stage…
Tall and beautiful.
Everybody watches him.

Igor doesn’t sell any of the magazines.

(Important note: CONTEXT. It all depends on context.)

“How was it?”
“Lonely and invisible”.
He takes a sip of white wine.

7.10.2013
Evening
Andre’s flat

Talking about Cologne and Germany, its history, important places, anecdotes and stories. Anything really.

(Note: How can one understand a foreign place, city, country, culture in few days?)

Andre starts with the idea of HEIMAT and how Nazis destroyed it.
(Nazis…. Here, in Germany, they always come back in conversations…)

I’m floating between dates and events, trying to grasp some kind of essence, meaning.
What is German identity?
What does it all mean?
What is national “identity” in general?

(Past and future.
A long line of people behind and ahead of us.
However we try to cut ourselves off, if we try to cut ourselves off, it comes back, catches us, doesn’t allow us to be suspended on our own.)

Lost generations.
Generations not talking about their past with families.
Generations talking about their past in schools.
A lot.
So much it gets boring.
So much that younger people say: enough…

Generations full of guilt.
Guilt taught at schools.

German identity…
Redefining itself after WWII.
Redefining itself after the union between East and West.
Now also trying to redefine itself admitting (or denying) the impact of immigration; presence of different cultures and religions, in particular Islam.

(What is the identity of Europe?!! Christian? Muslim? Non-religious? Does it matter?)

Have I grasped anything?

8.10.2013
Cologne
Rehearsal space
Workshop “Being Blind” with Siegfried Seaberg

Siegfried says: “taboos are related to the idea of ‘normal’”.
How deeply “normal” person perceives their way of living as right? As the only one?
How much “we know”?

“Normal.”

We all put blindfolds on and go outside. First into a courtyard, where we can get used to the sounds and listening. Siegfried teaches us how to use the stick.
Then we go out on the street. Siegfried is our guide.
Our guide is blind, we are blinded. We have sticks, he doesn’t.

The street is very material. Touchable. Sensual. Full of texture, sound and noises.
We are walking slowly, touching buildings, trees, cars and bicycles. We are knocking on walls trying to recognize what it is – a door? A window? Simply a wall? We are stopping listening to cars and buses. Are we safe? We are clapping our hands listening to echoes. How far are we from the wall? Is there a ceiling above us? Are we in a gateway? We are looking for kerbs to learn where the pavements end. We are placing our feet carefully, but with greater confidence than many would expect. Some of us talk a lot, some of us become very quiet.
We are in the bubble of darkness, recognizing a parallel world.
How come we know so little about it?

(Important note: the idea of NORMAL)

Questioning the ostensibly unquestionable premises of our way of life is arguably the most urgent of services we owe our fellow humans and ourselves.
Zygmunt Bauman
Globalization: The Human Consequences

8.10.2013
Afternoon.
Rehearsal space.
Performers and me.

Discussion about taboo objects.
Conclusion: it all depends on context.

(CONTEXT!)

8.10.2013
Evening.
Freihandelszone.
Film.
DV8 “The Cost of Living”

Dance and meanings.
Significant gestures.
Replacement of contexts.
Challenge of what’s accepted.
Questioning what’s uncomfortable.
Non-linear narrative.
Somehow still linear narrative.
Expressiveness through images.
Repetition.
Speed.
Rhythm.
Keeping a distance.
Sense of humour.

(Important note: SENSE OF HUMOUR)

9.10.2013
Cologne
Morning
Kuckelkorn, funeral house

Christoph Kuckelkorn says: “taboo and death? Death of children.”
In Germany until recently any advanced miscarriage or premature baby under weight of 500 g wasn’t treated as human. Straight after birth the bodies were taken away to science centres or somehow removed.

There is a new law now which orders to look after any body and treat it with respect.
But there is still no real statistics on how many children die per year.

Parents often don’t want to see their dead baby, don’t want to talk about it. It’s too painful, too scary, there is not enough support and information.
Bodies are usually cremated or buried in group graves.

Clients struggle even with seeing coffins for babies or children at Kuckelkorn exposition.

Christoph reckons that in Germany both Wars deeply influenced people’s perception of death, creating lots of taboos around it.
(Here we are again, Wars…)

Christoph compares an organisation of a funeral to a wedding.
They are similar.
Invitations, music, priest or a person who runs it.
They both have scenarios, their own dramaturgy and music.
And at the end of the day they both require something relaxing.

“I have to do my job with emotions” he says.

Kuckelkorn is on the board of Cologne Carnival. He thinks it’s a circle of life, gives him some balance.
Like death, Carnival brakes social hierarchy.
The theme of the 2014 Carnivel is: FUTURE. (sic!)

We looked around Kuckelkorn’s funeral house, visited rooms where he embalms bodies, fixes them after accidents, looks after them and makes them “as before”.

At the end he gave each of us a coffin nail.
I couldn’t keep it.
(Taboo? Superstition?)

9.10.2013
Lunch
Japanese restaurant

CONFLICT

9.10.2013
Evening
PASCHA

Putting the make up on.
Not too much, not too little. Just enough.
Choosing earrings. What earring shall one wear to a sex club?

The club is empty apart from some half naked girls moving unpassionately next to poles.
Women, as clients, are not allowed here. Apparently men don’t spend as much when women are around. We – women – are here only because of the project and connections. And we can only stay for an hour.

Not much happens. The pole dancers keep moving looking unchangeably disengaged. Some men, the few clients who are here now, are not very interested in it all as well. Apart from two guys who get drunk pretty quickly. They shout occasionally waving their money. One of them lays down on the stage holding the money in his mouth. Sandra, the dancer we met, takes it of him with her buttocks. And that’s it. That’s the most exciting bit.

Apart from Sandra’s pole dancing which is pretty incredible.

Few rules:
No women clients.
Men are not allowed to touch a dancer.
A dancer must sit down with a man if he buys a bottle of champagne.
He is still not allowed to touch her.
Dancers are not allowed to drink alcohol.
They don’t talk about their age.

Sandra says: “there is no competition between us”.
I don’t believe that. One can almost smell a competition in this room.

Sandra says: “I’ve always wanted to be a dancer”.

Sandra says: “I really like my job”.

Sandra says: “I want to run my own fitness pole dance classes”.

Sandra says: “I came here from Berlin”.

Most of the girls here are from Eastern Europe.

After an hour we have to leave. Sober and not as excited. Leaving behind a strange parallel world which we realised is not as parallel. Sandra stays.

(Note: The more you touch what’s hidden, the least hidden it becomes.)

Above the sex club there is a brothel. Entrance 5 euros. 11 floors. “Over 150 women (1st floor, quickies; 4th floor, Asians; 7th floor, transsexuals; top floor, an orgiastic sun deck with a BBQ pit and a jacuzzi)”. [http://www.queerty.com]
We are not allowed in.

9-10.10.2013
Cologne
Night
The room I’m staying in
Car noises on the street, some voices

Going into unknown. To discover something. To realise. To question, not to answer. It’s not a point to answer. If one answers, one has nothing else to do. One can enjoy one’s answer, even feel satisfied, but that’s it. There’s nothing else to do.

This project can so easily become self-indulgent, arrogant, wide, vague, too lecturing, too boring…

So then…?
Let’s try to challenge others and myself. Let’s try to go into real unknown.

10.10.2013
Cologne
Evening
Performance
ID Clash by Angie Hiesl and Roland Keiser

Third gender in the context of Bangladesh and Germany.

(What defines our gender?
Where are the limits? Are there any limits?
Can one overcome social norms?
What are the consequences of being different, whatever this difference is?
Are you a clown, a weirdo, or simply an unwanted loner?)

A free performance installation with no audience guidance. For two hours one can follow any of the 5 performers spread around a garden center.
Incredible show with unforgettable moments. Images which question with very few or without words. Personal, intimate and brave in both content and form.

11.10.2013
Cologne
Rautenstrauch-Joest Museum
Guided tour

Ethnographic museum.

What is a reason behind a stereotype?
“10 Little Nigers” in German, cannibalism, black people dancing with bananas, black prostitutes, “black wildness”…
Legitimatisation of colonisation.

Inspirations from the tour:
Taboo of language. Political correctness.
Projections on mannequins.
Projections on bodies.
Femininity and masculinity.
Touch.
Cultural differences. All is relevant.
Historical differences. All is relevant.

(Important note: RELEVANCE. And CONTEXT.)

Representations. Face on a photo, flag, clothes.
Masks.
Colours of death.

11.10.2013
Afternoon
Film
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie by L. Bunuel

“ Father?
Priest: – Yes?
I must tell you something.
What’s that?
I hate Jesus Christ.”

12.10.2013
Cologne
EL DE Haus,
NS Documentation Center
Marielle, Igor and I

Chilling reminder of Gestapo’s brutality.
Small, dark rooms.
Signs on walls scratched with nails.
Lots of them.

“Hold your head up high, even if it’s not easy” Anita Weber from Cologne

“It torments us
And destroys us
Who doesn’t know [it]
Will not understand [it]
And who… gets into,
They will get to know…
All of this we must endure
And it is our… “ Polish, unknown author

“Today
it’s the tenth day
without being
questioned, it’s
driving me insane!” French, unknown author

“Who has not been [here] yet,
Will be sure to come and who
Has been [here] will never forget it” Russian/Ukrainian, unknown author

“If nobody thinks of you, your mother will think of you” Hans Weinsheime[r]

On the higher floors images of Hitler, Hitler visiting Cologne, crowds on streets, children, youth, adults, elderly, more images of Hitler.

On the top floor realisation of the War ending and lost.

To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?
Cicero

13.10.2013
Cologne
Metropolitan Church
12 am

He’s handsome.
And so kind.
Marielle and I like him a lot.
He, Ines Paul, welcomes us. The service will start in a minute.
Church and mass are not our speciality, so we sit down at the back.
Ines Paul runs the service, translating from time to time, remembering about us foreigners.

There are not that many people here. 30? 40? All of them want to belong to a Church, to a community in which they can be accepted. Official Christian Churches refuse to understand them. They are too different.
They are gay, transgender, asexual, mentally challenged, lonely.

From Metropolitan Church Community website:
“Metropolitan Community Churches are on a bold mission to transform hearts, lives, and history… Just as Jesus did, we are called to: Do justice, show kindness, and live humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) (…) MCC recognizes a state of need around the world in the areas of human rights and justice. As people of faith, we have a responsibility to act on behalf of those who cannot effect change on their own. We endeavour to build bridges that liberate and unite voices of sacred defiance. We lead from the margins. We transform. (…)”

The place is in the suburbs of Cologne. Cold and in the process of renovation.
The whole MCC community helps.
After the service, we get a bowl of soup, sit down around the table, talk.

One of the voices: the greatest taboo in our culture is being asexual.

Sayaka asks Paul Ines: “were you a woman?”
“Yes”.
“Are you a man now?”
“I’m both”.

(Important note: RELEVANCE. CONTEXT. NORM.)

(And again: The more you touch what’s hidden, the least hidden it becomes.)

13.10.2013
Evening
7 pm
Dinner at the “blind restaurant”

Darkness.
Darkness everywhere.
You can’t see your hands.
Your glass.
Your plate.
Panic.
First reaction – panic.
Claustrophobia.
“It’s not really for me, I better stop this…”

And then one gets used to it.
Darkness.
You can’t see your hands.
Your glass.
Your plate.
You can only really talk a person next to you.
It’s intimate.
Quickly becomes personal.
Is it that you feel braver to ask questions?
In darkness.
Or is it that it’s easier to answer them?
In darkness.

Everybody talks.
It’s loud.
So many “blinded” seeing people.
Being very loud.

One can’t see a food on the plate.
I know it’s fish, but that’s all.
I start eating.
With fingers.
I eat faster than usual.
Mouth close to the plate.
Faster.
Why?
I don’t know.
Faster.
It’s almost like a hunt.
My fingers chase bits of food on the plate.
My fingers move quickly.
Between the plate and my mouth.
Some of the food drops back on the plate.
I don’t care.
Nobody can see.
My hunt has to end.
Quickly.
Until it’s all gone.
I’m not even hungry…

Now back to intimate conversations.

When it all ends, when the light comes back, it’s strangely uncomfortable.
Strangely familiar.
Strangely boring.
Time to go home.

(To see what you can’t see, wouldn’t you like that?)

14.10.2013
Cologne
Freihandelszone
Our last evening together

Meeting with Markus Reinhardt, a Gypsy musician from Cologne.

Markus says: “We, Gypsies have a strict code of norms and taboos. You should know I’m breaking few right now by coming here and talking to you.”

(Belonging.
Being identified.
Being obliged.
Questioning norms.
Changing some of them.
Others letting be.
Who are we?
United Europe.)

15.10.2013
Cologne
Rehearsal space

Goodbyes.
There’s so much to think about.
And there’s a conflict which we must resolve.

16.10.2013
plane
KLM, COLOGNE-AMSTERDAM-LONDON
On my own.

Tired.
It’s time for a break.

What has been cut apart cannot be glued back together. Abandon all hope of totality, future as well as past, you who enter the world of fluid modernity.

Zygmunt Bauman
Liquid Modernity

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