The state of becoming
Reflections on the Art spaces and Residence Summit, Kino Kultura, Skopje, December 2019
Let me start with an introduction to the events that took place in Copenhagen during the days of our summit. I hope it will be productive to share this with you, since I feel that I went through a steep learning curve during those days. The summit was an eye-opener to me, but so was a pending shit storm, which was a growing threat to the survival of Trampoline House.
Please allow me to fill you in…
Two days before we met in Skopje, I got a phone call from a quite aggressive journalist writing for a small, but influential web magazine. He asked me questions like: How do you respond to the fact that I have several witnesses who used to work for you in Trampoline House, who claim that the direction of the house is allowing wide spread sexual harassment of employees by refugee users of the house?
This web magazine had in the same month published a series of articles about another small NGO with similar accusations of bad leadership and horrible working environment. These articles had the effect that the Board of that NGO, as a containment strategy fired their founder and director.
The accusations were horrific, and my spouse and I, who are part of the founding group and today’s co-directors of Trampoline House, were hurt emotionally, and intellectually. A group of former employees had been planning to go public with this attack for almost 2 years. Although we are certain that the alleged indifference to sexual harassment is untrue, fabricated to catch the attention of sensationalist journalists, we were still dumbfounded by one question:
How could we have produced this level of resentment?
Back in Kino Kultura, I left our conversation too often as I had to respond to e-mails from the journalist, get advise from my board and try to calm down the worried staff in Copenhagen. Whenever I got a phone call from an unknown caller, my heart rate went ballistic.
Why do I think this is interesting in our context?
I believe that the participants of the Summit, although their methods and agendas are different from one another, share a common goal: to break down the barrier between the artistic practice and politics, life, the social realm. Trampoline House is as such born with high ethical standards and a desire to innovate democracy and integration. An artistic project which have morphed itself into a private institution independent of the art scene. The transformation has been so complete that most people do not recognize the artistic heritage.
Once the artist (or anybody) leaves the symbolical order and enters the social, mistakes are bound to happen. It is rare to find a singular answer to a question that involves more than two people, and it is impossible to achieve complete justice and equality. The nature of a good democracy is that it is allowed to make mistakes today, as long as we try improve tomorrow. As the founders of Trampoline House we invited ourselves, our employees, the volunteers into a messy experiment, mashing up cultures from all over the world to shape a culture of democracy.
The process of growing from an artistic proposition of how to change the world, into an independent institution with hired staff and thus, a direction, has demanded increasing leadership with a steady focus on the vision. At times more leadership has been in demand before the leaders where ready. At times the demand was for a leadership which would have ruined the community and the vision. We are developing a new culture, and can’t just adopt conventional hierarchies. Sometimes we have to be brave enough to stay in the chaos, to see what is in the state of becoming.
In Skopje, I found it very inspiring to listen to practitioners from many different political contexts. Although our projects are different in purpose, strategy and context, we all work for social change and empowerment of a precariat in one way or other. We all have to deal with the inhuman logic of capitalism, neoliberal oppression and nationalist demagogy. Marijana’s account of the Dance Station Service raised my own expectations in terms of what is achievable in terms of anti-hierarchical organization, in a context where the cultural DNA is socialism. The different strategies of the political activists of Skopje is a showcase of overwhelming creativity faced with the raw power of criminal capitalism. Jean Phillipes insight in the attempts to energize the local network around Zeitraumexit Manheim are important, not to speak of Danae´s inspiring comments on the political. Back in Copenhagen, I recently had a conversation with Andreas, concerning his amazing latest project. What I got from this conversation, was his desire to develop an artistic social platform that has the ability to reach beyond the aesthetics. To be able to reach into the real and allow the content to become dangerously close to life. It is an ambitious and at times dangerous desire, because when we touch each others lives we become responsible for each other. But once you taste it, there’s no going back (I think you said that, Andreas?). Maybe the feeling of danger comes from a necessary loss of control, which you have to suffer to reach that point, where “a new we” actually touch “us” in ways that matter far more than a conventional artwork.
In short, what I got from our conversations in Kino Kultura, from our continuation of it in Copenhagen, is: Hope for the future, because Trampoline House is but one among peers. And this is a movement.
Morten Goll, Copenhagen, April 14, 2020.
The web magazine issued 3 articles using sexual harassment allegations to target me and my spouse, as well as the foundations supporting Trampoline House. During the same period in January, another web portal brought the story. Their second coverage was a complete vindication of Trampoline House, and the stories never reached the national press.
5 reasons why:
- We took our board’s advise, and hired a professional media coach, who took control over our public appearance in interviews.
- Our Board was 100% behind us throughout the whole process.
- The head of a small but influential “sister” NGO, wrote a personal letter to the editor, imploring him to stop the vendetta.
- An unknown number of our current employees and interns wrote personal letters to the editor, telling him that they were barking up the wrong tree.
- Our sponsoring foundations expressed unanimous confidence in Trampoline House.
Meanwhile the other NGO, whose board had fired their director, subsequently called an extraordinary general assembly, at which they ousted the board, and reinstated their former director. That’s how it goes when a shitstorm gets out of control.
Post Post Scriptum:
The lesson to learn: could we have done otherwise? What went wrong to the left, as we were concentrating on succeeding to the right? After all, interdependency includes all of us.
Morten Goll is a socio-politically inspired artist working with social platforms for political change. He is the executive director, and co-founder of Trampoline House, a non-profit, self-organized, user-driven community center, where asylum seekers, Danish citizens and anybody else can meet, share experiences, and learn from one another on equal terms. Located in Copenhagen, the house was established in October 2010 by more than 100 volunteering asylum seekers and Danish asylum activists in reaction to Denmark’s asylum policies.
Art Spaces and Residencies Summit is organised by Lokomotiva – Centre for New Initiatives in Arts and Culture in the framework of the yearly program “Contemporary culture and public policies” 2019, developed as part of the project “Program of Lokomotiva in Kino Kultura – project space for contemporary performing arts and contemporary culture” supported by the City of Skopje, Ministry of Culture of North Macedonia and Centar Municipality and Life Long Burning, programme line Performance situation room supported by Creative Europe.