SEDIMENTS AND SENTIMENTS or MUMS DON’T BITE THE DUST
It is one day before Mother’s Day in May 2022 when I am writing this text. I should remember to call my mum tomorrow to wish her Happy Mother’s Day. I am not really fond of these types of celebration that, in our days, have turned into a mere pretext for corporate profit. If our society really wishes to celebrate mothers, then why not create relevant rituals? Like the ancient Greek and Anatolian rituals in honor of Cybele, the mother goddess, who rides a lion-drawn chariot to the accompaniment of wild music, wine, and a disorderly, ecstatic following. But before we get to this point, there is something more practical to be done: allow mothers who live outside Fortress Europe to visit their children in the EU without requiring a visa. It should be easier for Latifa, Mohamed’s mother, to see and work with her son, as she states in The Power (of) The Fragile. And if we continue our reflection, going beyond our ‘safe’ bourgeois artists’ bubble: authorities should stop separating refugee children from their families in their quest for a life away from war and adversity.
I am in Vienna and my mother is in Athens. We, too, are separated because of me pursuing my desire to dance, just like Mohamed Toukabri. Latifa in Tunis has always been and still is happy for her son but also feels lost after the separation.
After the show, I happened to sit at the same table as Latifa and she once more recounted – in French this time, not in Arabic as in the show – her own love of dance and how her dad would punish her for going to the disco every Saturday night in Tunis in the 1960s and 1970s. But she kept going. Latifa, I feel you in my own way. You were happy for your son to pursue his dream and are proud of him. When I had to leave home to follow my vocation as a dancer, I had to fight for it, too, and had to convince my parents that this was what I would be doing. Persistence is sometimes necessary, so I am proud of you for not giving up the disco!
When I think of mothers, I cannot avoid thinking of domestic work as well. This is because my mother not only kept her own home clean but also worked as a cleaning lady for several of our neighbors in the suburbs of Athens. Always busy with dust and floors. Julia Müllner focuses predominantly on dust in her work. Moving about in a misty room in an attempt to clear the air with her moves and images, her fragmented physicality and presence in the given space work like an odd spell. She isn’t looking for cleanliness or purity, instead she gets busy surviving, living in a room full of accumulated particles which create a mysterious haze. Perhaps she seeks visibility. To make herself visible but also to discover what is hidden under the dust and behind the haze.
The multiple voices of sound artist Crystal Wall serve to enhance this ambience of witchcraft. When Crystal first enters the stage space, she appears to be Julia’s doppelgänger. They are of similar build and they both wear the same style of cap. When Crystal recites a text in a demon’s multiple voices, seemingly entering our space from some other realm, I am certain: they are many and they are here demanding my attention, just like the individual accumulated dust particles.
Absence, presence and essence
The presence of dust indicates the absence of people. At the same time, we are told that stardust is an essential component in the creation of the world. Dust does not ask for permission to enter our world. It travels slowly and in secret – indifferent to borders. It lands on all surfaces, inviting us to caress it and at the same time caress the surface which it has landed on. Julia herself caresses the floor, while Mohamed and Latifa caress each other, reminding us of the importance of touch and contact. Two sensations we have all been deprived of during the pandemic years. The engagement with dust is a – sometimes obsessive – invitation to relate the human with the non-human. Touch is a prerequisite for the relationship between mother and child to be established and to flourish.
This makes me think of borders again, of separation and keeping a distance. What about contact between cultures? What chances of blossoming does a culture have when it raises bureaucratic and physical borders? Latifa, Mohamed and Julia manage to create their art by challenging and transgressing these borders. They pursue their creativity by combining their intergenerational dreams and by eliminating the fake and constructed distinction between what is pure or clean and what is impure or dirty.
One of the foundations of European colonialism is exactly this differentiation and separation between the pure – white, male, human – and the dirty – people of color, women and other genders, non-humans. Mohamed starts his performance by explaining theatre terminology of and types of dance which reflect the European dance canon to his mother and ends it with an extravagant raising of the middle finger to the European ‘statue of integration’ in a carnivalesque presentation of Latifa as ‘Mother Europe’ or as the US American Statue of Liberty. Julia’s piece begins with her looking troubled and working in a room filled with mist which she never ends up cleaning. On the contrary, she manages to stick to her femininity in this dusty world and succeeds in manifesting a poetics of suction hoses and sand worms.
Costas Kekis started dancing to loud music at home and in clubs. Now he works as a performer, choreographer and dramaturgical advisor for several artists in Vienna and Hungary. He studied at SEAD in Salzburg and completed the Master programme in Critical Studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. His works and collaborations have been shown at Ostertanztage Salzburg, at festivals in Athens, Berlin, Zagreb and Berne as well as in Vienna at Brut, Raw Matters, TQW, WUK and ImPulsTanz. He has performed in works by Doris Uhlich, Oleg Soulimenko, Fanni Futterknecht, Daphna Horenczyk and Sara Lanner. For the past two years he has served as artistic coordinator at the ‘Performance Situation Room’ of the EU network project Life Long Burning in the scope of ImPulsTanz.