Being in Lesvos I realized that my sociocultural background made me feel identified both with locals and refugees rather than my own group. But I also became aware of how problematic it was for me to be there. Just doing calligraphy while staying at one of the places dealing with the biggest flow of refugees felt wrong. So what I ended up doing was arranging an international dinner with my new friend, who I contacted through a network of travellers. Far from an art-based ethnographic research, the international dinner held at my friend’s home felt like any of the many other international dinners I have arranged before.
When it came to the point of actually producing a work, I realized that I didn’t want to use the material from that dinner. Both because there was no artistic intention involved, and because I felt that the people involved didn’t experience that as a work either. I felt that intellectualizing a space where I connect with people at a very authentic level meant betraying both them and myself.
But the associations with gathering around food, the words community, collaboration and coexistence stuck in the back of my head. Does a table full of food guarantee a positive encounter? Adding a few layers of abstraction to the real experience, I ended up producing a video installation recalling and old Chinese parable that I heard over twenty years ago. The parable of the long chopsticks is a poetic view about heaven and hell.
An old man knew he would die soon and wanted to know what Heaven and Hell were like. He visited a wise man in his village and asked, “Can you tell me what Heaven and Hell are like?” The wise man led him down a strange path, deep into the countryside. Finally they came upon a large house with many rooms. They went inside and there they saw lots of people and many enormous tables with an incredible array of food. Then the old man noticed a strange thing, the people, all thin and hungry were holding chopsticks 12 feet long. They tried to feed themselves, but of course could not get the food to their mouths with such long chopsticks. The old man then said to the wise man “Now I know what Hell looks like, will you please show me what Heaven looks like?” The wise man led him down the same path a little further until they came upon another large house similar to the first. They went inside and saw many people well fed and happy, they too had chopsticks 12 feet long. This puzzled the old man and he asked, “I see all of these people have 12 feet chopsticks too, yet they are well fed and happy, please explain this to me. The wise man replied, “In Heaven we feed each other”.
The video installation consists of two videos: one showing hell and the other showing heaven, projected next to each other in a continuous loop. The handcrafted chopsticks were hung on the wall next to it.
Media: video, pinewood, paper and rubber bands.