GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije video is part of Margareta Kern’s long-term project on the women who migrated from Yugoslavia to West-Berlin in the late 1960s to work in the factories producing video and television equipment. The official term for those workers was Gastarbeiter or ‘guest worker’. Women made up a large proportion of migrant workers, yet their stories seem to be largely absent from the official histories and archives.
The double-channel video posits two actions alongside each other. It is at once a re-enactment by actress Adna Sablych of edited interviews with the women Kern met in Berlin: Bosiljka, Jana and Gordana, who recall their experiences of migration, work and life in the factory. At the same time, the video subverts the impulse of verbatim theatre and the documentary film genre for 'authenticity' by employing a range of tactics, from the subtle interferences and pauses in actress' speech, to staging re-enactments within a minimalist film-set in artist’s studio in London. On the second screen we therefore see Kern hand-drawing an object that belongs to each woman on a blackboard: a cat, a Gobelin tapestry and a lamp. Archive footage of television circuit boards assembled in a Siemens factory and a news broadcast of Tito's visit to Germany in 1978, splices through the performances, inviting a multiple ways of entry into that history of labour migration, re-configuring the relationship of document/ary, testimony and historical imaginary.
‘GUESTures does not just offer a representation of a hitherto ignored part of German history, of its entangled history with Yugoslavia; of the women, who finally get acknowledged as makers of history. It shows how migration, as Italian political theorist Sandro Mezzadra has argued almost a decade ago, needs to be understood as a “fait social total” and as such requires to be reflected and accounted for across disciplines and with and through image making and narrative: those very tools that “make” migration.’
Two-channel synchronized HD video, 33 minutes, English subtitles Margareta Kern, 2011
GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije (Project)
Margareta Kern's project GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije (2009 - ongoing) is a series of carefully staged archival work-stations, a kind of 'travelling archive' of artist's research into the labour migration of women who moved from Yugoslavia to West-Berlin in the late 1960s to work in the factories producing video and television equipment.
Alongside, the double-channel video of the same name, GUESTures contains personal photographs from the women Kern met and interviewed in Berlin - these 'family album' photographs reflect aspects of their life in the workers dorms, their factory life and their leisure time. It also contains personal letters given to the artist by one of the women, who received them from her family at the time, reflecting her loss but also a sense of freedom. This material is transcribed and exhibited as transparencies, that are left for the viewer to 'research' and organise, de-centering the impetus for a coherent and linear narrative and foregrounding personal storytelling as a valid form of 'history from below.' These 'work-stations' have also been a focal point of creating spaces for 'collective readings of the archive', workshops in which the gallery visitors, as well as local migrant groups are invited to read the material, and also contribute their own stories. In this way, the archive is always moving, always migrating.
GUESTures also includes archival news footage from the German television broadcast on Willy Brandt's official visit to Yugoslavia, in which he is shown planting a Cedar tree in the Friendship Park, Belgrade in 1973. Kern returned to the park to find the tree and photographed it in August 2011.
The project is accompanied by the recent publication GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije (English, German, Croatian) which includes texts by Natalie Bayer, Nanna Heidenreich, Katja Kobolt and Bratislava Kuburović that further raise questions about the visibility of precarious histories and feminist migration archives; the politics of display and regimes of knowledge on migration; and the role of fiction in the stories of migration.
"The publication GUESTures is a documentation, elaboration as well as a discursive and visual continuation of an eponymous art project by Margareta Kern. The project is generating forms of “visibility and intelligibility” (Rancière, 2009) and thus generates agency of a group whose existence the grand histoire has continuously overlayed, erased and rendered unimportant and invisible. GUESTures | GOSTIkulacije is thus an art installation and an archive on “Gastarbeiter” or women “guest workers”, who came to West Germany from the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia during the wave of mass migration from the late 1960s, for (temporary) work. This publication documents the genealogy of the project, which the artist started during her residency in Berlin in 2009." Katja Kobolt, curator, editor and producer of GUESTures. For more details and to order a copy, please click here.
The Growth Point
In response to an invitation by Spacex and curator Claire Louise Staunton, the artists Margareta Kern and Jonathan Hoskins were in residence throughout spring and summer 2016 exploring the ways in which infrastructure and governance impact upon everyday life.
The residency was situated in the new town of Cranbrook that is currently under construction in East Devon, close to Exeter.
The artists engaged with the new town as a physical and psychological proposal for a new community, in an historical moment when the role of the state in shaping urban development and providing social housing is being dramatically restructured.
By 2031, Cranbrook will comprise 8,000 homes and 20,000 people, making it the second largest town in East Devon. It is part of the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point, a public-private sector partnership delivering a series of large developments in the region. Its staff are part of East Devon District Council, but it involves central government, nearby local governments and the New Community Partners Consortium of property developers and Hallam Land Management, a land developer that acquired the site of Cranbrook before the development began, when the land was still agricultural.
The project culminated in a contribution to the symposium Living Together on 28th June 2016, as part of which Kern and Hoskins led a ‘Convention of Future Experts’ exploring how ‘risk’ and ‘failure’ could impact the town’s future, in dialogue with the local residents, town councillors, town planners and other stake holders.
The small publication produced by Hoskins and Kern for the event can be downloaded here.
The artists are currently exploring a range of experimental narrative structures and production modes through which to expand their research and continue conversations.
The Body State
The Body State video by Margareta Kern casts unruly bodies in action, as they struggle to speak out and resist.
Drawing of a female protestor being dragged away from the crowd is sharply juxtaposed with shouts and bells of the stock exchange, plunging us into the violence of the speculative global finance. The footage of anti-austerity protest filmed by the police in London has been hacked, slowed and splashed with white paint, like the paint bombs thrown on the policemen’s visor; all the while a disembodied narrator’s voice indexes body parts. Scratching, glitching and failures, all point to a possibility of a crash in the system, a cut in the frame, an opening for a different light to pierce through and be animated.
The Body State is part of the video thrilogy titled To Whom Does the World Belong? taking its cue from the film Kuhle Wampe, oder: Wem gehört die Welt? produced by Brecht, Dudow and Eisler, 1931.
bodies that can't take anymore, images that can't take anymore
'bodies that can't take anymore, images that can't take anymore' by Margareta Kern uses stop-animation made up of 954 pigment-ink prints of every third frame of the news footage video taken by Tages Woche journalists, during the Basel Art Fair 2013. The original news footage documented an attack of the riot police on protestors who staged an intervention into the artwork ‘Favela Café’ by Tadashi Kawamata and Christophe Scheidegger.
Breaking down the violence of the riot police captured on camera, into every third frame, Kern's video highlights the choreographed nature of the military state apparatus. The missing frames push us out of the frame, revealing the materiality of image-frame printed on paper, at the same time pull us in by the injustice that is being performed, in a loop, endlessly, inside of it.
'bodies that can't take anymore, images that can't take anymore' is part of the video trilogy and a touring exhibition titled To Whom Does the World Belong?
Screened as part of To Whom Does the World Belong? solo exhibition at KCB Belgrade, 2015 and VN Gallery, 2013; as a performance piece at the Whitechapel Gallery, London 2015; and as a talk with Valeria Graziano at BLOK, Zagreb, 2015
images that can't take anymore. bodies that can't take anymore.
HD Video, Loop, Margareta Kern (2013-2015)
Installation View, KCB Gallery, 2015
The Body Economic
The Body Economic video is the third in the trilogy of the videos 'To Whom Does the World Belong?' tracking the body in relation to the economy.
'On the screen we see a hand drawn line rising and falling sharply as though in a heart beat or tracing fluctuations in the market. In a similar style, suicide and unemployment ratings become interchangeable. At one point a quarterly stock exchange report is underwritten by the speech of student activist Mario Savio delivered in 1964. Drawing a parallel between the university system and a machine process, Savio urged students to put their bodies - the raw material of industry - in the way of production in order to force its mechanisms to stop. The body that teeters on the brink of a crudely drawn tower block in Kern’s film does not fall pray to the mechanisms of economy, but is instead allowed to fly out of the screen. It forms a pocket of relief amidst many other images that claustrophobically collapse in on themselves as they fold toward the centre of the screen. ' Laura Guy, to continue reading the full text published on the occasion of the solo exhibition at VN Gallery, Zagreb please click here.
The title refers to, and draws on the book The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills, by David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu which investigates the human cost of austerity.
Please send an email firstname.lastname@example.org for the password to view the video online.
The Body Economic
HD Video, 6' 26", Margareta Kern, 2013
Strike / 1984
In 2012, Margareta Kern was an Artist-in-Residence at Durham University's department of Applied Social Science, collaborating with Professor Maggie O'Neil. The residency was concerned with the miners’ strike in 1984/85 as a historical, cultural and class rupture, and the rise of neoliberal ideology accelerated by the 80s Thatcherism (and later New Labour) whose consequences are felt today.
'The time in residence has created a space for me to engage in more depth with the issues of memory, archiving and historicising radical politics and its representation and contestation on screen.
Funded by the Leverhulme Artist in Residence Award, 2012.
Screening at the Whitstable Biennale, Stages in Revolution curated by Victoria Brooks and Andrew Bonacina (2012).
‘Side by Side Women Organise’, by The Other Side Video Collective with the Nottingham Women’s Support Group, Nottingham, 1985, 44 min., VHS transferred to DVD, colour.
Curtesy Northern Region Film & Television Archive
‘Graduation Dresses’ is a series of photographs taken by Margareta Kern of young women who have graduated from secondary schools in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina in the period between 2005 and 2008. Their dresses, made by the artist’s mother who runs a tailoring business from her home, are based on images found on Internet, in fashion magazines and on television, of celebrities and models wearing haute couture dresses. Kern photographs the graduates in their homes and through this engagement with their personal spaces captures a significant moment in that transitional journey from adolescence to womanhood, revealing both their incipient maturity as well as their vulnerability. The photographs, accompanied by images on which the dresses were based, not only raise geopolitical issues specific to post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina, but they also speak of the effect that globalised circulation of celebrity images has on the young women everywhere.
Clothes for Death (Odjeća za Smrt) is a series of photographs of women who prepare clothes in which they wish to be buried, taken mostly in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, the home countries of Margareta Kern.
"Susan Sontag describes photography as 'an elegiac art... touched with pathos.' Kern's photographs have a melancholic air about them, so to ask how absence is inscribed within Clothes for Death may seem absurd. It's there of course in the display of carefully selected clothes worn only in death; the Christian iconography that adorns so many rooms; the unstinting gaze that pierces each image. But it also lurks in the very organisation of pictorial space: the sparse whitewashed walls that corner the diminutive figure of Rosa; the materiality of their uneven surfaces and small soft shadow cast upon them; the open wooden chest emptied of burial clothes; and similar effects across the series - an empty cardboard box; the 'vacant' bed that Liza faces, as if at a wake; stretches of windowless walls, the occasional window, blinded with light, like a blank canvas. Yet death is constantly interrupted by the detail of life, in all its ordinariness: a blue mug, a bedside light, a carton of juice. Death and life in uncanny relation." Pennina Barnet, Curator of The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth at the V & A and lecturer in art and textiles.