DISTANT LOVE – a diary about people and landscapes

Distant love 


Copenhagen April 2020
In an ironic state of affairs, Denmark closes all its borders due to the Corona epidemic, just as I am preparing my work for the exhibition on 100 years of cultural friendship between Germany and Denmark. 

My plan is to show a work which I made in 2003 in the city of Bleckede, northern Germany.

During my three-month stay at Kunstlerstätte Bleckede, I discovered that the river outside my window had once separated East and West Germany. 

I became curious about how it might have been to cross the river for the first time after the demolition of the border, and how the historical circumstances had affected people’s relationship with the landscape. This landscape, which to me was foreign and exotic, possessed a completely different drama for the villagers. For them, It represented simultaneously the feelings of fear and longing. 

Now I am walking around Copenhagen also longing for something. For the first time in my life, I am experiencing the limits of free movement in my own city. Due to asthma and bad bronchitis, I have been isolated for over a month, during Denmark’s shutdown.

I don’t go to shops and the closest I get to people is watching the supermarket delivery person when he or she carries the goods through the half-open door to the hallway. 

 I feel forgotten by the outside world and play WordFeud with strangers. I take long walks at Vester Cemetery, because there are very few people there. I walk around the tombs wearing the big round sunglasses I bought in Rome in February. I hold on to a melodramatic fantasy that passers-by think I’m a grieving widow. 

 For many years, wandering has been central to my artistic practice.

I gather inspiration for my work, by strolling around  the town and observing the world from the streets. A long time ago I discovered, that if you want to elicit new and random experiences in the city, you have to invent a structure that forces you out of ordinary routines. Improvisation requires an order which can be broken. 

Now the obstruction is suddenly dictated by an erratic virus, which causes one to be constantly aware of the movements of other people. 

During this time, everybody is a flâneur. We circle each other in the streets, parks and cemeteries of the capital, which suddenly seems far too cramped. I walk with a distance of 2 meters from people in my own neighborhood and look at them, as you  might look at people when in a foreign country. Sometimes I end up at the other end of town, because the circumstances and other people’s routes pushes me out there. 

We are a large organic mass who constantly and instinctively measure the space between us. Some go around in groups of two or more. There is no distance between them, so I suspect they are related to each other. It is me who has to move away on the pathway and sometimes jump out into the street – there is a hierarchy developing on the pavement. 

But I also start to see my own city with new eyes, I discover details and buildings that I have not noticed before. Maybe because the figures have drifted into the horizon, I become more aware of the landscape I loiter around in.

I begin to take an interest in the interior of the burial grounds in the cemetery, and think that they look like little private gardens. Many small and different hedges form boundaries between the graves. 

Copenhagen May 2020
Most of the country is still shut down while we celebrate the liberation of Denmark from World War II on May 4, with candles in the windows. It feels wrong to watch old movie clips on the television with happy people running around, hugging each other in the streets. 

I myself am totally exhausted from not being able to get close to anyone. I can’t really decide if it is the restriction or lack of structure which bothers me the most – or perhaps it’s that most of all,  I do not know when it all ends. 

Bleckede April 2019
16 years after my first visit, I take the train from Berlin to see Bleckede again. In the bus from Lüneburg station, I fall into conversation with a lady, who tells me that the artist’s residence has been closed and replaced by a beaver museum and an aquarium for rare fish from the Elbe. 

 The entire border area and the river has become a protected nature reserve and a popular destination for nature lovers. The many years of forced distance between humans, has formed the basis for a diversity of plants and animals living side by side. 

I walk around the village, have lunch at a cafe that I recognise from last time and pass the “Bleckede Zeitung” building with the blue and yellow signs. I walk down to the bird sanctuary, where my studio was 16 years ago, walk into the bird museum and buy a ticket for the new aquarium. There is a stand with leaflets that suggests various scenic excursion routes for cycling tourists. 

I locate my own studio apartment inside the building. Just inside my old residence, some big pale fish are swimming around in a huge pool in green lighting. In the neighbouring studio I catch a glimpse of the beaver museum. I continue out through the forest, across the dike and down to the river.

It is out of season, the small ferry inn is closed. So I stand for a while in windy weather on the small quay and wait for the ferry to arrive.

I sail over to the east. I am alone on the ferry and there are still distances between the farms on the other side. 

The woman on the bus had told me that people from the west still aren’t moving to the east, but that new people from abroad, who would like to live in the big old houses, have arrived. 

I walk around for a couple of hours in the almost deserted landscape. In the yard of one farm, stands a drove of donkeys, a few meters apart from each other, looking out me through the fence 

It is still very beautiful here. 

On the way back to the ferry, I pass a large sign with the text: 

On this location Germany and Europe were divided until November 26, 1986 at. 1.15 pm 

Bleckede January-April 2003
I live in the middle of a bird sanctuary on the outskirts of the small town, next to two German artists. They sit in their studios and work with full concentration all day. One is working on a series of non-figurative paintings for an art fair, the other is writing a film screenplay. I am restless and curious about what reality I have landed in. 

There is a river close to where we live, but it is frozen. I have to wait a few weeks in order to take the little blue ferry to the other side. While waiting, I walk around the city for days. I visit the cafe, bookstore and library, which is located on the ground floor of a public school. 

 I look at the houses and the people. Each day, I discover more and more details. I think about what life is like for the people of the village. Most of them have the curtains drawn in the windows all day, so you do not see how they live. 

 In the middle of the main street is a curtain shop with a box outside, filled with piles of gauzy curtain leftovers on offer. I recognise some of the patterns, from the windows I’ve passed. 

I discover a local archive. Here I find an older map of the area. One side of the river is missing. On the west side all the streets are accurately drawn – but on the east side, there is a large blank surface. It is here that it dawns on me, that the river has been a frontier. 

Not only had the village been divided in two – only very few people knew exactly what the other side looked like. On the east side was a 4 meter high border fence and armed border guards with dogs. If you jumped into the water from the west side for a swim,  and got too close to the opposite shore, you could hear warning shots,

For most of my time in the city, the river has over flowed its banks. 

I think a lot about how often it changes width and appearance. 

While waiting for the ice to melt on the river, I put an ad in the local newspaper. I am looking for people who were on the first ferry crossings after the border had fallen. 

I borrow a bicycle, that I will take with me on the deck over to the east side, as soon as the ferry sails again. 

I ring the bells of the big old houses. Most often it is older people who reluctantly open their doors. They listen just long enough to hear my explanation and get a piece of paper from my hand with my fax number. I think it comes at a price to live in an area, where your movements have been controlled for decades. 

I begin to hear stories of a previous artist at the residence, a woman who in the 80s was allowed to head east to look around – performer Lili Fischer from Hamburg. The only thing she brought back was dust in various shades. She had smuggled it into some slide frames. 

Meanwhile I am slowly beginning to make contact with people who want to talk to me about their experiences. 

A woman in her 30s from the east says, that when her mother took her on the first ferry to the foreign world on the other shore, 14 years ago, she was terrified. She felt a fierce and irrational anger against the border guards. Why didn’t they shoot at the boat? Her worldview was broken. The life she had lived so far, was worth nothing. 

I meet her a few days later and now she tells me that she has picked the box of work certificates and identity papers from the GDR time up in the attic, and has been looking through it all. She is now aware, that these things had meant a lot to her back then. 

A librarian at the village library tells me about the mood she was in when she first sailed out into the landscape in an easterly direction. In the midst of the feeling of unreality, it struck her that she now lived in the middle of Germany – and she is actually the type who prefers to sit in a discreet corner when, for example, she enters a cafe. 

Some people describe the episode as a dream they feared waking up from, others were afraid the border would close again, as soon as they reached the other side. 

Sir. M, an older man from the west side, has begun visiting me on a weekly basis. We drink coffee in my studio and he shows me some scrapbooks, with things he has collected on the east side, because as a scout driver he had a special permission to go over there. 

There are pressed plants on the front pages, but in the back of the book there are cigarette papers, napkins and other souvenirs, that he has secretly smuggled back. He had friends over there and was on  the very first ferry that sailed east on December 24th. “But,” he said proudly: “I was the only one dressed up as Santa Claus.” 

He tells me about the euphoria and about how it was to hug and hold strangers tight. 

He uses the phrase: “The tears flowed on both sides of the river”. 

Hamburg October 1995 
I arrive with my possessions in Hamburg. I am going to start at Hochschule für Bildende Künste in a few weeks, and I am very excited. A good friend has driven me down here from Copenhagen. We carry my moving boxes into the room I’ve rented, and head out to look at the city. It’s a normal weekday, but almost all of the shops are closed. 

We don’t understand  why the streets are empty, but I buy some water glasses for my new home in an open souvenir shop on the Reberbahn. As we come out onto the street, we bump into a middle-aged couple. We ask them why everything is closed.  

“It’s a day off,” they say, “The reunion day of the two German states.”  

“Oh congratulations!” I exclaim.  

They don’t answer. 

 

 

This text is written for the catalogue of the exhibition
“Always Together – Mostly Happy”
Århus/Hamburg August-September 2020

Loppemarked Leopoldplatz

Loppemarked Leopoldplatz

Loppemarkedet på Leopoldplatz var afspærret med rødstribet bånd med ordene “HALT POLIZEI” eller “TATORT”. Bag afspærringen blev sælgerne afhørt af uniformerede betjente. En række yngre politifolk stod som linievogtere og holdt nøje øje med, at hverken sælgerne inde fra pladsen eller de nysgerrige kunder udenfor kravlede over eller under afspærringen. 

En ung fyr med dreadlocks kom op af trappen nede fra Ubahnen. Han havde store metalblå høretelefoner på og bevægede sig muntert i takt til den musik han havde i ørene. Uden at ænse situationen, bøjede han overkroppen ned under det stribede bånd, rettede sig op igen og fortsatte ind på pladsen. Da han var nået et par meter ind på området, blev han stoppet af en betjent, som viftede med armene og med et vredt ansigt dirigerede ham tilbage til fortorvet. 

Mængden af folk på ydersiden af båndet voksede og folk diskuterede ivrigt, hvad der mon var på færde? De fleste mente, at det var skattekontrol, medens andre holdt på, at der måtte have været åbenlys kriminel aktivitet, fordi noget af båndet var afmærket med ordet “gerningssted”. Flere havde hentet kaffe eller sat sig på en af de små cafeer langs pladsen, hvorfra de observerede situationen.

Jeg gik hen i det modsatte hjørne af pladsen og råbte til to betjente inde på området, om markedet mon ville åbne igen senere? “Det skal de ikke regne med !” råbte den ene tilbage. “Men hvad sker der egentlig?”, spurgte jeg. De svarede ikke, men vendte sig om og fortsatte deres patruljering mellem boderne. Jeg gik tilbage til den modsatte ende af pladsen. En sælger havde dristet sig hen til afspærringen og oplyste det undrende publikum om, at der havde været et knivstikkeri om morgenen. Politiet havde fået fat på een person, men mente at der stadig befandt sig en gerningsmand inde på området, derfor var de nu i gang med systematisk  at afhøre alle stadeholderne. 

Jeg besluttede mig for at forlade området og gik hen på en pakistansk cafe i nærheden og spiste frokost. Jeg blev siddende i lang tid ved et bord ude på gaden og kiggede på folk i solskinnet, hvorefter jeg begav mig tilbage til Ubahn stationen for at tage et tog hjem. Da jeg igen passerede loppemarkedet, var afspærringen der stadig. Endnu flere mennesker havde taget opstilling ude omkring gerningsstedet og politiet holdt ikke længere sælgerne samlet i midten af området, men stod stadig og talte med folk i mindre grupper inde ved markedsboderne. 

En sælger holdt en lampeskærm og en vase hen over det stribede bånd, medens han råbte en god pris ud til forsamlingen på fortorvet. Et andet sted pegede en ældre kvinde på en lila bluse, som lå i en bunke tøj på et bord lidt længere inde. Sælgerne løb i fast rutefart med varer fra boderne og ud til båndet, hvor de højlydt diskuterede priser med de ivrige kunder. 

Jeg fortsatte ned i Ubahnen.

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Cameroun – Alt er performance

24.09.2018

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27.08.2018
Europa, verden, universet

25.06.2018

Hvordan får man ligestilling på kunstscenen

28.05.2018

Kunstneren møder sit publikum
– om vigtigheden af den kunstneriske samtale

30.04.2018

Er du så færdig?

27.03.2018

Konservering af øjeblikket

26.02.2018

Korrespondance med landskabet
– er der nogen, som lytter til protester ved offentlige høringer?

29.01.2018

Som at lave mad i andre folks køkken
– om kunstneriske processer i folkeskolen

The Challenge

The Challenge
Today I got a challenge from German artist Christiane Hütter.
She gave me a coin from Brazil: 1 Real.
She told me to keep trying to change it into something else
and keep changing the things I got.

At first I was waiting next to a garbage can in Copenhagen Central station. I had the idea that my only chance was to see if people wanted to get rid of some waste, which I could buy. But people were to busy they didn’t even notice me. Then I tried in a shoe shop, asking if I could get a shoebox or something. But they almost got scared and told me that they were not allowed to change money. 

But then I changed the coin into a beautiful Italien lemon in a restaurant.
Then I changed the lemon into a can of purple spray paint.
The spray got changed into two packets of luxury cigarette papers.
I keep the papers in my purse.
I want to continue changing some other day.

 

Omonia

Omonia, 13.04.2017
Finest Greek Aperitif Digestive

Tsipouro, honey and herbs
25% alcohol

I wander around a street with no visible name. There are some stalls selling decorated Easter eggs made of porcelain and plastic. All the shops except an instrument shop on the corner are closed for Easter. Its window is full of acoustic guitars in different shades of light brown. A bald guy with a goatee has taken one of them down and stands playing it in the window as if he were on stage. He leans his head back and closes his eyes, surrendering to the music in front of the big imaginary audience on the street.

I sit at an outdoor café and order an orange juice. Jazzy pop music comes out of the open door, and the atmosphere reminds me of Berlin. An Asian street vendor comes up and shows me a 5 cm gadget that can magically thread a needle. I can get it cheap, he insists: “Special price, 5 €”. In the end I go into the café and pay to get away from him and his gadget.

I continue through the quiet streets. It’s a public holiday. The shop shutters are down and people sit chatting at outdoor cafés. The streets are paved and have large pots with trees in the middle. I reach a building that looks like a squat. There are several banners in Greek and two in English, one asking people not to take photographs without permission, and another with the words “Long live revolutionary struggle”.

I pass a beautiful, old building elegantly draped in a transparent, blue tarpaulin and arrive at a square with a small, unkempt, home-grown park. There are lots of hand-painted banners hanging here. A group of young people are sitting under the largest banner. I ask them in English what the signs are about. But they don’t know. They’re on holiday from Spain and are sitting here because they think the banners are pretty to look at.

I carry on and suddenly discover that I’m lost. I stop at a poster with pictures of a black cat photographed from different angles. It’s apparently lost too. By asking around I finally manage to find the main street Akademia.

I continue in the direction of Omonia Square. Almost there, I see that one of the many street vendors is selling plastic passports in different colours. The last in the row is green and has the words “ALIEN´S CARD” printed in gold letters on the front.

Metaxourgio

Metaxourgio, 10.04.2017
Corfu Spirit

Kumquat liqueur
15% alcohol

In the middle of noisy Metaxourgio Square with its cafés and hotels a stout, old lady with gold spectacles and shocking pink lipstick is lying on her back on a mattress on the pavement. Her personal belongings are neatly packed in plastic bags around her. She has undone the top button on her blouse so her cleavage shows above the quilt covering the rest of her body.

I turn down a narrow street, the name of which is totally erased, and enter an area of empty shops. Flimsy curtains hang in front of the windows. I walk on and discover homeless people lying in cardboard boxes alongside the buildings. One of them is lying on his back on the bare pavement. His legs are bent skywards and his arms are stretched out to the sides in an open, almost meditative pose.

Around the next corner I suddenly find myself in an area with lots of activity. Everyone is carrying, pushing or driving things around on pallet trucks. There are Asian wholesale stores selling suitcases, bags, groceries, and kitchen utensils. I pass through the area without speaking to anyone, and no one seems to notice me being there.

I enter a slightly nicer neighbourhood. A car with a trailer full of potted trees and bushes comes around the corner. It looks like a floating garden. Plants are peddled via the metallic loudspeakers bellowing into the street. Some of the trees are trimmed in winding spirals – like strange plants from another planet. 

I go around the back of Keramikos and look at roses and ruins through the fence. I continue through the noise on Pireos Street and up through an industrial area of auto repair shops, nightclubs and scrap dealers. One of the walls is so damp that mould is growing up it in patterns.

The last bit of the way I follow a narrow road under the motorway and run into a lot of men and a few women sorting cardboard, bottles and metal into shopping trolleys. One man has built a neat little house out of cardboard boxes for his dog. He’s even made a small, cardboard doormat. Now he’s sitting on the ground next to the homemade kennel drowsing against a wall.

Translated by Jane Rowley

Athens

Circling the City

ATHENS
During Documenta 14 (Learning from Athens) I spent a month in Athens.

While there, I embarked on a series of strolls through the city.
In an attempt to break the mapped-out tourist routes through the Greek capital my strategy was as follows:
I chose a drink.
After emptying my glass, I tuned it upside down on a map of Athens.
The ring the glass made on the map then became my route through the city.
These ‘Tipsy Walks’ took me through many different neighbourhoods and parallel realities.
Mette Kit Jensen

www.mettekitjensen.dk

Preparing myself for walking the streets of Athens.
Tomorrow I´ll take a drink and turn the glass upside down on a street map.
The circle which appear will function as a my route through the city.

Rom

ROM.

Jeg flanerede ned ad Via del Corso. Kiggede rundt på de elegant klædte mænd og kvinder. Det var tydeligt at se hvem der var lokale og hvem der var turister selvom de fleste af os gjorde os umage. Der var amatørerne og så var der de rigtig professionelle, romerne. Intet under at der tidligere havde været indføjet i ægtepagter hvor mange gange om ugen manden havde pligt til at køre frem og tilbage på Corsoen i karet og vise konen frem i hendes fineste tøj. 

De mange modebutikker lokkede og jeg blev suget ind af en glasdør hvor der lå en stabel bluser i årets petroliumsblå farve. Ekspedienten holdt en af dem op. Der var en lille sløjfe på og den så ud som om den var syet til en dukke: ”Fleksible size, Signora” , ”One size, fits all, it is stretch!”, sagde han og hev ud i den. Jeg smilede høfligt forlod butikken og fortsatte ned af gaden. Mit mål var at besøge Pasquino, den talende statue på Piazza Pasquino. Statuen havde fået navn efter en rapkæftet skrædder og havde tidligere stået foran et mondæn modehus et andet sted i kvarteret inden den blev flyttet til sin nuværende plads. Legenden om statuen er at den taler, kritiserer byens velhavere, politikere og paven. Tidligere var der dødsstraf for at lytte til den. Den virkelige historie bag er at folk lagde sedler med politiske protester i munden på den. 

Jeg daskede videre ned ad gågaden opslugt af uendelige spejlinger af sko, tasker og kjoler, et scenario som dog blev brudt hver gang jeg kom til et gadehjørne. Her holdt der politibiler fyldt med bevæbnede mænd, et brutalt sceneri som stod i skarp kontrast til de opstadsede folk på lørdagsindkøb. Hist og her så man dog grupper på 5-6 unge mennesker med sammenrullede røde faner som ventede på bussen. Om eftermiddagen skulle der være protester mod finansverdenens grådighed og social ulighed. Arrangørerne var den internationale protestgruppe ”Indignati”, ”De Indignerede” .

Jeg drejede af og nærmede mig stedet hvor jeg havde fået fortalt at Pasquino stod på hjørnet til det romerske bymuseum. Han var temmelig ramponeret, knap genkendelig som figur og han holdt et falleret fragment af en torso i sine arme. Munden og øjnene lignede noget som nogen havde forsøgt at skrabe ud med en ske. Ansigtstrækkene var fuldstændig udviskede efter adskillige og voldsomme forsøg på at stoppe hans ytringer. Jeg stod og kiggede på hans opløste ansigt i lang tid. Jeg sagde ingenting og det gjorde han heller ikke.

Senere på dagen var der sort røg over byen. Demonstranter havde sat ild til forsvarsministeriet og adskillige modebutikker.