Imagine the city
One autumn evening in September, we stood ready to perform a dérive starting in Moabit. The dérive was an idea I had planned to get started with my project Imagine the city, in which I intend to explore how we perceive and outline our expectations of the city of Berlin. The group consisted of participants from the ZK/U residence center, from South Korea, Canada and Norway. Young had offered to be blindfolded and lead the way, as the rest of us already knew the area. I tied a white scarf around her eyes, and we started the journey together outside the main door.
According to theorist Guy Debord, the concept of dérive is about withdrawing from all other work, and clear your mind from ordinary routines and motives. This in order to be able to discover people and terrain in a different way, far from the predictable and monotonous perception of everyday life that we experience in an advanced capitalism. I wanted to see if we can really change our personal and preconceived view of the city. Basically, if we as individuals can withstand the external forces conveyed purely social-technically in a society.
We followed Young on a fitful ride through flowerbeds and funny little sideways. Simon protected her from going into house walls or oncoming traffic. Eventually she found her way to the subway on Birkenstrasse. Could it be that she followed familiar sounds, that the rhythm of a city led her steps to a well-known destination?
The dérive got a change of scenery when Olya suggested that we should continue in the subway with her as a guide. She had not yet gone into the subway and felt therefore that there was no need to be blindfolded here. The journey continued and Olya took the first train coming to the station, and chose where to get off based on what felt right. It was a place that was unknown to us, and we continued out to a playground with great modernist constructions in steel. The playground was empty and the whole place felt abandoned in the light dusk. Through a passage we found our way to a nursing home and could see into the dining room through large windows. Shiny coffee cups stood ready to use. The facility lay still and deserted, without any people. Designed for the people living there, we as visitors turn into outsiders, estranged from the purpose of the area.
We then entered a labyrinthine park where all the exits were blocked. There was a surreal feeling of being locked-in, and we went around in circles. A dog lay staring behind a fence. The park was lush, displaying the season’s last breath of green.
In the end, we finally came out of the enclosed park through a gate and up a street with a shop where Young bought candy with cherry flavor, “Happy cherry”. The experience of the city mixed with a taste of artificial cherries. Suddenly we were back in the city pulse. Mr Ko captured the scenery with his camera phone. Big, beautiful facades bathed in the last evening sun as we found an old factory turned dance venue. Artists from the factory came towards us, inviting us to an upcoming show.
A remarkable coincidence marked the end of our trip, as we arrived at the bus stop on Pankstrasse where almost all of us had been already. During my first day in Berlin I took a bus in Moabit, and got of at this very bus stop – by chance. Olya, who was the only one that never been there before, led us there.
I want to believe that we can create new opportunities to change our common preconceived view of the world. The dérive took us to unexpected places in Berlin, but the same method can be used in places already known to us, with eyes wide open. To not take anything for granted, but to analyze the small displacements – the nuances in everyday life – as well as questioning the outward manifestation in relation to what is our own gestures, or what is just a representation.
Charlotte Åberg 2015
Dream workshop in Storvreten
The bus is driving uphill towards Storvreten. I signal to the bus driver as we are approaching Hålvägen. A grey water tower stands tall next to concrete apartment buildings. Here, ArtAgent got access to an association premise owned by the local housing corporation Botkyrkabyggen, and we are getting ready to fill our space with art activities for residents in the area.
Josef is meeting us outside. He lives in the area and is taking care of the bookings. Despite being in a rush, he eventually decides to sit down with us over a cup of coffee. We end up having a long conversation about the war in Afghanistan. He is one of many Uzbeks from the northern Afghanistan who fled the country. There are a few people from there who moved to Storvreten and often meet up. During springtime they often organize barbecues in the courtyard.
–This place is not always this dead, he adds with a smile while gazing over the empty courtyards. And in the summer it’s nice down by the lake.
We are directed to a storage room and begin filling it with drawing material. A fan is turning rapidly and cold air is streaming in from an air outlet by the window that does not close. We sit there and wait for another hour after Josef leaves. But no visitors, despite the luring brochures about a “Dream Workshop” that have been handed out to the residents living in the neighbourhood. Outside the window there’s a man in a big neon-coloured overall, methodically going through the dry lawns with a lawn vacuum. Darkness begins to fall.
It is already dark. The bus is standing idle on the hill. The bus driver, a middle-aged man with well-trimmed grey hair, is declaring loudly over the speaker that a woman needs to leave the bus immediately. She says nothing, standing next to her daughter while holding a baby carriage full of groceries. The daughter does not have a valid ticket. Silence is spreading. The bus driver is staring disapprovingly at the woman but eventually decides to start the bus and continue driving. We get of at the next stop. It takes a while to get out. Kids are screaming and an older, hefty woman is not in a hurry.
A breath of fresh air hits us as we enter Hålvägen, coming from the nearby forest surrounding the apartment complexes. White cars from Botkyrkabyggen are lined up in the parking lot. Lott and I need help with a key that does not work. A young girl opens the door as we reach the main office. We take the opportunity to ask her about the young people living in the area, the kids that we have seen passing us nearby.
– Can they be interested in our workshop? How do we reach them?
She responds that we should not expect much from these “youth gangs”
My mind is drifting away to another time, another place. A memory from yet another concrete suburb. Could I have been three, maybe four, years old? I was standing listening to a strange gurgling sound coming through a vent on the ground. It was from a gang of kids playing music in a basement. I was afraid of them, something was unfamiliar and inexplicable.
– Don’t go too close!
We are making a last desperate round out by the courtyard to try to recruit participants. A mom is hurrying by with her child and does not want to look at us, nor the colourful sign or our pennants creating the word “dreams”.
The winds have turned and the dark months are over. Josef is going away with his wife. He has no time for coffee and is passing us quickly, holding a roll of tape. Lott is drawing with a crayon on the street, and from the open door the spring light is finding it’s way into the gaping, empty space. I am standing by the window as I see the hand of a little child, trying to catch a paper airplane. Hurrying outside, I ask the boy if he wants to participate in our dream workshop. He nods and says that he will get his dad. Shortly afterwards the father approaches us, now with more children walking behind him. They get excited as they see the material – colourful origami-papers, markers, paint, and balls made out of cloth. After writing in the “Big Book of Dreams” the children start illustrating their dreams in different ways. The father tells us that the mother just disappeared, but seems remarkably calm and collected as he tells his story.
The Dream Workshop is running. We are collecting dreams at a festival nearby. Staff-members from Botkyrkabyggen join us for a meeting, and decide to also join us in our workshop activities together with residents in the area.
Everyone is cutting, pasting and sharing their dreams. We start talking about sleepwalking. Someone shares a story of one neighbour who is sleepwalking in the staircases at night. Inside the room, I feel like I am a part of a silent togetherness. We do not always need to talk as we are visualizing our dreams. Thoughts come and go. Here we are, complete strangers, somehow sharing something important that cannot always be expressed in words.
The air is calm in Storvreten. The evening sun tries to penetrate the large plastic layers that are glued over the windows. Our concentration is broken when we realize that we have gone over time. Lott comes out with a cart that we fill with collages, drawings and colourful cloth balls. “The Book of Dreams” has gotten a cover in gold.
Charlotte Åberg 2014
Notes from a prison
We leave the airport on our way to Tirana. It’s dark, not a single lamp post is lit and there are no billboards to be seen along the road. Houses and petrol stations are dark in the quiet landscape. The electricity gen¬erators start up later, with a loud clatter, as we walk along Ali Demi road. Gradually the roar passes and is covered by a muffling filter in the night.
The day is warm, the chaos of the city changes into a single rhythm. The patterned façades, cars traversing pavements, big craters in the ground, dogs, debris. There is a lot of coming and going, the city becomes a moving image. Long gravel streets, the sun and the dust make them white, black mountains enclose them in every direction.
Through a turquoise hatch, the prison guard peeps, then he closes it with a slam. Suddenly the door opens, he rushes out and screams to the taxi driver that this is forbidden territory. Syni, our assistant from Tirana, tries to calm him down and tells him that the workshop in the prison with invited artists has been set up in advance. He doesn’t believe her so finally I have to call the prison director, Marinela Sota.
The big iron gates open with a creak and we are allowed in with our luggage of dream diaries, art materials and pieces of board. The prison courtyard is bathed in sunlight, lawns and lime trees between low brick¬work houses. A prison cat with red spots sits peering in the sun. The mountains are closer now, bluer. There’s an apartment building just outside the prison courtyard, creating a contrast between outside and in¬side. The building is big compared to the small barracks, and the residents can look out over the prisoners from their balconies.
The room where the workshop is to take place is cramped and cold, guards, medi¬cal staff, social workers and psychologists are crowding around the table. Lott has prepared a blackboard which is soon filled with notes on everyone’s occupation as well as on possibilities and dangers, when we examine their workplace. Entela, our interpreter, writes with ornate text in a lan¬guage we don’t understand, exchanges the chalk for a felt-tip pen on large papers.
When the prison director comes in the character of the room changes. She has an unusual authority although she spreads a feeling of lightness around her. We have arrived at the point in our workshop where we tell each other our dreams. Lott and I have already given a short talk on our background and why we’re so interested in dreams. When I’ve spoken I wait for the interpreter to translate. There is a delay, an elasticity in the conversation that allows you to digest your impressions. The partici¬pants’ movements are cautious, someone holds their arms protectively around their body, someone else clicks a pen.
Marinela tells us that all her dreams take place in the house where she grew up, a simple house in the country in a small mountain village. Some dreams are about the daily work in the prison, other dreams are not so easy to understand. Lott says that we don’t look for an explanation to their dreams, just pictures and feelings. A little of the room’s heaviness has lifted after Marinela’s story. They understand that this isn’t such a big deal, anyone can talk about dreams. – We have a tradition of talking about dreams in Albania, says a police constable. But we do it at home, with the family, not at work.
– My family regard my dreams as a serial with my stories growing to a novel, says a young female social worker.
The psychologist, the social workers and the prison director are all in their thirties and all of them are women. The male, older participants are the police, the pris¬on guards and vice directors. Some older women are dressed in police uniform, others work with medical care, cleaning or in the kitchen. Next to me is a big man in his fifties who is the dentist of the prison. The room is warmer now, the gestures and the expressions wider, more sweeping. The dentist talks about Albanian traditions, how you’re not supposed to tell a dream before noon on Sundays, although later is all right, and how you wake a sleepwalker with water.
The sun makes striped patterns on the table through the barred window. The cold in my joints and blood has disappeared but I can still feel the chilly humidity from the wall as though something is left from older times. Interrogation, torture, suffering and humiliation. The encounter with the em¬ployees is transformed into something else when I think about what actually takes place in a prison. The psychologist wants to put emphasis on how stressful her work is. It’s a job with great responsibilities and she can easily see how the work related stress comes out in her dreams. She’s not the only one to put her dreams in relation to work, a majority of the participants do. Some of them dream in advance of things that will happen at work, others find solutions to problems in their dreams.
Outside the room we are met by a crystal clear light. Grey paper boxes are lined up under a staircase. Pontus and Vigan have helped us with them while we have been talking to the staff. We lay out paint, ori¬gami paper, pearls, glue and other things. The table is quickly filled up when the boxes are brought out. Entela and Lott stand in the sunshine and talk to a police¬man who must be about twice their size. He is the last one to enter the cramped room and starts to paint a boat in one of the boxes with a sensitive palette. One of the quieter men makes a decorative image from green origami paper and white paint. They laugh and talk, in fact no one ques¬tions the assignment. In the boxes they shape the dream stories they have told us earlier, a third part of the project will be to talk about the content of the box during the opening of the show.
The next day the room is filled with other people. The atmosphere is completely dif¬ferent, maybe because of the mix of people in the room. The conversation is slow, there is something constrained about their dream stories. Several get caught up in lengthy comments about symbols and the meaning of dreams, and in most cases the personal narrating is absent. Only one older woman in a police uniform makes her voice heard. She sees her dream from anotherpoint of view, something about a strong re¬lation to a father and her shattered dreams about becoming a singer. Her voice fails her and her eyes water, but she pulls herself together and focuses on something else.
We hold the assignment with the boxes outside, in a little enclosure. Lott and I are both tense and affected by the constrained talks. I wonder if it has to do with fear of not being good enough. The older police¬woman draws a beautiful mountain in ink and sprinkles glitter over it, but then she tears out the picture and leaves the work¬shop. Lott and I get on each other’s nerves and the psychologist notices. Discreetly she comes to our rescue by talking about other things and by teaching me a couple of Albanian phrases. The conversation eases up, there’s more laughter. I see some new people joining the group with boxes where Lott is putting out paint. A flirty interaction takes place between a man and a woman who start to paint a box together.
After the workshop we sit down outsideour house on Ali Demi road and watch as dusk falls. The sky turns an unnatural purple above a shop with bride’s dresses. The dresses float freely as though they were ghost brides. Pontus comes by with gar¬bage bags full of yarn and tries to cheer us up. He is going to design knitted pullovers with the interns of the prison and see if it’s possible to sell them in Sweden while making a profit for the women. We enter a shop around the corner. Cages stand on top of each other, full of little birds.
Next morning we’re with the next group in the same room. Three male policemen, a female guard, two social workers and a psychologist. We start the workshop by telling them we want to try to reach a dia¬logue, to lift the conversation, make visible and elevate that which always takes place but which no one really notices or thinks about. A policeman in his fifties begins with a dream about how he tried to escape from the workshop since it’s his day off and he wants to spend it with his daughter. A man next to him, a policeman of the same age, says that his grandfather warns not to let other people interpret one’s dreams, it should only be done within the family. We assure him we don’t have any intention of interpreting their dreams, we want to talk about dreams to get away from preconceived conversations and roles. The unexplainable is interesting too.
An interest awakens in the man who ear¬lier wanted to escape and he tells us that he believes dreams can foretell the future, that dreams on several occasions have saved his life. The telling of dream stories pass around the table so that everyone gets a chance to speak. I see hands in dif¬ferent positions. A signet ring spinning around, hands to a face, folded or wildly gesticulating. Many speak of experiences with dreams that foretell the future, both in relation to work and outside of work. Agim, with signet ring and moustache,has a lined face and smokes continuously during the break. Suddenly his mobile phone rings with an oriental tune. He, who earlier wanted to escape, now has taken possession of the room. Before the next tale his whole body is charged. His dream story changes to a description about his experiences as a prisoner during the dictator¬ship. During an interrogation they tore out a tooth from his mouth which he saved and later made an amulet from. He continues to talk about the lawless society after the fall of the dictatorship, when people shot wildly with machine guns in the streets. He was himself attacked at the airport by a group of armed men but miraculously got away. He always brings his tooth amulet when he sleeps away from home, and if he goes abroad he also has to go to the mosque
The conversation flows by itself through inspiration. I feel I don’t want to leave this room now. A photoflash strikes a white light. A young woman tells about a strong dream she had as a teenager, in the dream her room is as real as in life. She wakes up, walks around in the room and turns around to see someone sitting in her bed, smil¬ing. Then she sees that the other person is herself. The dream scared her because in older times this was seen as a sign of the last days of a person’s life. But she herself thought the dream expressed a big change in her life, the change from girl to womanhood.
Sokrat speaks up and tells us about a recurrent dream he has had. He dreams about his 25-year-old handicapped daughter. Some distance outside Tirana, near Laç, there’s a holy place called Shna Ndou. The myth says that if you put your hand on the rock of the mountain there and wish for something it can come true. In his dream he always returns to Shna Ndou and asks that his daughter get well, that she will be able to stand up and walk. Several people stand around him, the surface of the rock is warm from all the hands that have touched it.
A social worker with clear eyes speaks about the mountain’s influence on dreams. – If you’ve had a nightmare go up to the mountain before breakfast and tell the dream quietly to it. Then the dream will not come true.
They speak one after the other, the conversa¬tion swings around the table, the exchange and the associations come more and more frequently. I notice a free attitude towards dreams that foretell the future, the power and influence of dreams. Lott and I tell our dreams too, something takes place in the exchange itself.
Erinda draws our attention the fact that we have to stop. I try a couple of times, but it’s impossible to stop what has begun. Sokrat is in the middle of an intense tale, his arms shoot out and he slaps his big hands together. One morning he woke with a pre¬monition about something dangerous that would take place during the day. So he took care to be extra careful, being diplomatic at work, avoiding noisy bars and dangerous roads. Later he was invited to his niece and her family for coffee and set out to their house. A big tree full of red berries grew in their garden. It’s a special kind of berry that exists in Albania, small and sweet as strawberries. He got a strong urge to taste the berries and climbed up into the tree. Once in the tree he lost his balance and fell several meters, but fortunately landed on bunches of grapes scattered on the ground below. For a short while ha had forgotten the warning the dream had given him.
The last workshop is brought to an end in the little room and the day is almost over. A mooing is heard from outside the prison yard, someone says it’s cows on their way to slaughter. Lott, Entela and I collect boxes and carry them out to the waiting transport – the prison ambulance. We fill it with box¬es that have been furnished, painted and decorated. Lott gets into the front seat and I jump into the back, we wave to the others and the door is closed by the driver. The prison gates open wide and the car drives out towards the city with the siren turned on. The ambulance gets right of way in the traffic and it feels like flying as I lie among all the boxes.
Charlotte Åberg 2010