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Community Leadership (2016)

I started my organisation, Ort Gallery in 2012 and became aware of how I could bring people together, create strong groups and empower others to take charge of their situation. Ort Gallery is an artist-led space and as a trained artist I see my position within the organisation as a cultural producer and curator of the projects I programme. I started questioning the modes of participation of our audiences as part of my artistic enquiry. My curatorial approach of collaboration and conversation was the starting point for my work as a cultural leader.

Ort Gallery is based in an underprivileged neighbourhood in Birmingham with over 80% of residents from BME backgrounds. In order to engage residents from all social groups I started working with community ambassadors, active individuals who act as a middle (wo)men between the community and the organisation. With their help I am able to understand the needs of the groups and how to overcome barriers to participation. This experience has shown to me that issues that stem from diversity can be addressed by bringing people together because the facilitation of dialogue can lead to social change. I want to work towards a more cohesive and fair society. 

I believe that I can change society for the better by promoting social mobility and facilitating dialogue between people from different ethnic backgrounds. Especially now when the topic of immigration has become a highly contentious issue, I believe that the private sector need to offer a more informed view than the current media trend in order to protect existing immigrant communities.

I believe that leadership can be a collaborative process. Instead of a top down management model, I believe the community itself can be the decision making body, as long as good communication amongst people is ensured and a strong team emerges. I see myself positioned in the middle of this community group collaborating with the group and taking responsibility for the decisions made. I am keen to use the experience I have made of engaging and developing a relationship with hard to reach communities to create social change. 


YouTube (2014)

The YouTube culture seems to create a new generation of communication methods. The sharing options on a global scale allow people to be in control of their communication like never before. News are spread in a new, more immediate manner, however they have undergone a treatment of opinion and subjective viewpoints. Anyone becomes a commentator on society, politics, lifestyle, health, fashion etc. A new truth is created and it is inherently tied to capitalism. Even life choices in connection to family, friends or relationships cannot be fully removed from the consumer culture. Mental states and emotions are just as valid as a purchase of a new pair of shoes. Anyone can become an expert on YouTube, a Guru, a leader of followers and anyone can comment on the Guru's videos, anyone can add their view on any matter. This is done publicly and openly, and above all in a very emotional manner. People either love or hate someone or something, nothing in between seems to exist. And anyone can vote on other people's comments and mark them as spam, report or block them as well as praise them and thumbs up them. Everything becomes important and in the same way everything is trivial. Hundreds of thousands of people watch someone that they do not know propose to their partner and millions watch someone else that they do not know cuddling their pet. There is no scale from the mundane to the awe-inspiring, all is equal, everything is awesome and therefore everything is boring and useless. But whether you call it amazing or boring, either way millions will watch it, share it and like it. So there is no need to even label it amazing or boring. Democracy had finally reached it's perfect point of equality. People vote, people share, they like and they dislike. Anything, everything.

People know what they want and they will get it. Whenever they want and how they want it. Immediately. In HD. Freedom of speech is fully accomplished. You cannot advertise a cigarette brand on TV but you can do so on YouTube. There seems to be no editing, no censorship. Yet all videos are packed full of advertisement paying both YouTube and their video-creating partners enough money to buy houses and fancy cars. 18 year old earn more than their parents from their bedroom. We watch a young woman cry who we have never met in 'real' life, we leave comments, try to comfort her and empathise with her situation. We know her. She's our friend. Her name is Bunny and she lives in Texas. She is going through some tough times. Her name is Anna and she lives in Cork and some people on YouTube hate her. It's tough on her. Her emotions are real and our empathy is just as real. We choose to watch her suffer, no one makes us. We relate to her in a way that we never could to a starving child in Africa. We don't want to watch that, we cannot help this child. But Anna and Bunny we can send them emails and letters and things to their PO Boxes, we can buy their merchandise on their Etsy stores and we can comfort them that way. But if we join Oxfam to help the starving child what good will it do? There will always be another one starving after this one. It's old news, it's always been like that and always will be. The fake-real Anna and Bunny however, they are different. They are better versions of me, more beautiful, more successful and famous, richer, honest and brave, going through tough times and showing me that life gets better.

We're allowed to stalk Anna, she uploads new videos daily, we're part of her life and we witness it all. The happy times and the misery. She wants us to be part of her life, we have permission to be there. She makes voyeurs out of us by leaving some information unrevealed. We sometimes feel like we got there by accident because she forgot to edit a shot out, we see a bit of flesh, a tear, something that was supposed to be hidden. Not all subscribers will have seen it, but we did, I did. I am left hanging at times, pondering about certain details, putting the pieces together myself. The next instalment might give me another piece and I hang on to that until the next video is put online, the next instalment of the repeated virtual reality of mundanity and emptiness. 


Some Thoughts (2011)

My family is from East Germany. I grew up hearing stories from my grandparents about their experience of the war as teenagers. It had a huge impression on them and they see themselves as victims. They are adamant that it is not their fault, none of it, they could not have known what was going on, and they do not feel any sense of guilt. We moved to Belgium when I was 6, the socialist regime having had a massive impact on my parent's life by crushing their study dreams and by locking them up in a country they did not feel at home in all their life. Belgium symbolised freedom and wealth for us. We were a close-knit family; we travelled and turned our back on the past. I grew up learning about German guilt, every year reading another world war, Nazi Germany or cold war book, appropriate to the current age. I was never told to feel guilty but it felt like it was expected of us, the right way to feel. So I felt guilty, for my country, my culture and on top of that for my grand parents who I considered ignorant. They should have known better and at least now they could feel remorse. Nowadays I understand that they had to tell themselves that they did all they could in order to keep living their lives. They had not chosen to have a horrible youth, sitting in cellars during bomb raids and running out of their burning school. But what shocks me is their racism, still today, without them realising how racist their comments are, they embarrass me deeply whenever I see them.

I believe that a lot of this made me who I am and it made my assimilation into the British culture more complicated. I struggled aligning myself with what I considered a nanny state: paternalistic messages openly displayed, people following the trends without much reflection, surveillance not only accepted but, as it seemed, blindly trusted. A state that struck me as worse than what my family had run away from, as people seemed to want and embrace this kind of paternalism. I was a bit shocked and found people terribly ignorant. Why didn't they realise how they were contained, controlled, supervised? How dare they expect me to feel guilty for what my country had done and themselves be so ignorant of their own mistakes? So I reflected a lot about what it meant to have the identity I do, wondered about what my past had made of me and how it would influence me in the future. All types of covert and overt surveillance, data collection, privacy and so on fascinated me. I simply could not believe what was happening. How were people so at ease with a system that made them feel free but obviously did the opposite? Was it because I had a completely different notion of freedom that I was more critical, wearier?

These notions of freedom, control and humanity remain in my work till today. They are the driving forces of my artistic enquiry. I started working as a support worker of the elderly, children with cerebral palsy, people with brain injury, people with mental health problems, people with learning disabilities and on the autistic spectrum. I observed all the human notions from misery to happiness. I saw exploitation, abuse, indecency, people unfree, without dignity and respect and I saw the absolute opposite people full of empathy, caring for others, real happiness, love and carefree spirits. I saw respect and support across ages and classes, genders and cultures. I observed life at it's fullest. Yet, the job never had any romantic notion of humanity, everyday life in care homes and support centers is too close to the line of absolute misery to become romantic. There is always a barrier, call it professionalism or distance, either way the line is too fine for one to become comfortable.

These experiences made me reflect on my life and human suffering as well as pure happiness. It made me reassess my thoughts on my family and my new home country and I realised that I had been the most ignorant of all. I had seen the world as black and white, yet it was just different shades of grey. It was too easy to think of a whole nation as ignorant, to justify my own views over others as right. The view of right and wrong suddenly seemed absurd in a world where something like 9/11 can happen. If anything the cold war literature I read tons of in school taught me that it was impossible to think of the world in such a dichotomy. Yet I found myself thinking that way and with what an arrogance! I finally had a reason to feel guilty.

But there was something else that drew me to people that were different, outcast from society, often put away. It was a personal fear on the one hand of losing control over my own or my friends or family’s lives. And I was also drawn to these people who were in such a situation. It wasn't pity, empathy maybe, but the real reason was curiosity. If my life was so simple, so clear, how would it be if it were all different? Didn't schizophrenia perfectly describe the madness of the world I no longer understood? Wasn't that knowledge the only certainty I had? How could I not hold on to it? These people understood something I did not. It fitted so well with my newfound view of the world.


What does it mean to live today? (2010)

How have we – as a society -  changed? How does mass culture and virtual communication change us, the way we think, acquire knowledge and behave in society? How much are we influenced by social currents, by political power, the media? When does influence turn into control?

Ideology means that we are caught up in a structure, unaware of it and hence incapable of escaping. Like in a Kafka novel, we get to points in our life, that make us realise that we are on the inside. Like bumping into an invisible wall. We feel powerless against whatever it is that is controlling us. Just like an analogy of the relationship to God the control is executed by political and institutional power today through the individual internalising structures. This means that within us, in our thought patterns and consecutive behaviour, we have absorbed society and its constraints. We imagine that we are free, but are really controlled through indiscernible systems.

Orwell uses the eradication of history and the minimisation of language as metaphors for these systems. It follows in his novel 1984 that new generations get born into a fabricated society and over the generations reality ceases to exist. Orwells dystopia still draws analogies to todays society: mass media, for example, serve similar processes of feeding the masses a fabricated version of the truth and reality.

Of course, in Baudrillard’s terms the values of truth and reality have changed drastically since post-modernity, as signs of power have replaced real power and herewith created a virtual or hyperrealsociety. Reality in a pre-first world war definition is no longer possible due to the dissimination of information on a global scale. Every strand of knowledge has its own definition of a term and uses it for its unique investigation. There is no longer one answer or one truth. As Debord pins down in his The Society of the Spectacle, the ideology itself remolds the whole real to its own specifications. In days of internet and mass communication real experience is replaced by virtuality and the concept of real time becomes impossible.

From here it follows, that we live under the control of power structures, influenced through mass culture, inter-subjectivity and virtuality. We become people that are worth less than our data, not even our thoughts are our own in a cartesian sense. What are we? Beings out of a Sci-fi story, like Huxley’s Brave New World? Blindly marching along with the masses? Dumb sheep following the herd, like Chomksy proposes, just like the society of a fundamentalist regime?

Camus, Sartre, Kakfa, Auster, Huxley, Orwell and many other post-modern writers express this feeling of absurdity, illness and alienation in their novels. We are clinging on to the values and morals that have long lost their meaning. We believe we are free, freer in fact than any generation before us, freer than any society outside the western world: we have rights and we make use of them. But what do they really mean? Are these rights and our freedom just a front to keep us happy, to stop us from thinking more often of that invisible wall we bump into from time to time? It is felt when the voting system is not democratic, when less skilled people get the job you wanted because their daddy had the cash, when your bank denies your credit check because you went to a peaceful demonstration, when you spy around in other people’s facebook accounts, when someone leaves a bag behind on a tube and you feel your heart racing out of fear... But we put it down to our ant-like triviality, don’t we. We accept without knowing what we're accepting…


Hyperreal Thoughts (2010)

In today's society much of old fashioned communication has been replaced by virtual means to interact with others. In fact many therapists are trained today to deal with issues people encounter when being completely displaced from their social environment. Baudrillard goes as far as to to say that reality has been replaced by symbols and signs. We experience a simulation of our own human experience, where the media blur lines between what is really needed and what is a commercial stipulation. We enter, in his words, into a state of hyperreality where we become incapable to discerning between reality and fantasy. I am interested in what effect this ideology has on our thoughts. Even though our thoughts are seen as a radically private concept, Descartes calls it a Private theatre, we are influenced through education and language acquisition in society. Our thoughts cannot remain completely independent of external influence.

In the 1976 Chomsky-Foucault debate this question was disputed. Chomsky argues that we are born with innate concepts, while Foucault is of the opinion that we procure all knowledge through the society we live in. What is interesting is, that Chomsky went on to write many publications dealing with the control media possess over people by manufacturing consent. So in this regard he agrees with Baudrillard that the media society is responsible for a new kind of human experience of reality.

Lyotard describes knowledge as power in a postmodern society. Power states fight over information and data as they used to over land. This has a very clear cut impact on the individual when their private data is collected and shared on a daily basis. The surveillance society has become a modern version of Orwell’s nightmare. We live in a world dominated by information and we experience life as a simulation of its own. This means that our identities are redefined. We are living in a western individualist democracy but are at the same time all adhering to the same principles and ideology. This means that even though we hold the belief that we live a life according to our personal choices and are even encouraged to believe in this freedom, we are part of a shared subjectivity, simply by living according to this model of hyperreality. Our human experience is shaped by society and makes us equal through this process.

Returning to the idea that our thoughts are the one quality of life we hold that is essentially personal and cannot literally be accessed or controlled by power structures, we are influenced by society and cannot think totally free. Being part of a shared experience, we choose to behave according to social norms as part of a human need for social recognition. Like Hegel said, we can only be private when there is a society around us to justify this quality. In several novels of the authors Kafka and Auster, the protagonist is caught in a net of events that he is incapable of solving. He cannot release himself of this situation and is forever prisonner of his own fate. This metaphorically expresses the idea of ideology perfectly. The individual struggles against his personal experience but cannot free himself of the restraints of society. This means that in a hyperreal human experience, our thoughts and thought patterns must become hyperreal themselves, we can no longer differentiate our real thoughts from fabricated ones.