GUEST # 01

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April 28, 2011

Some time ago we decided that our tiny guest room upstairs can be available for both professional and personal reasons alike. Read more about that here. We only ask a small favour in return: a small and personal first impression of the neighbourhood, in relation to our guests’ experiences with projects such as KijkRuimte.

Ivana was our first guest participating in the Gast≠Vrij#2 project. She was here for a couple of days and left a postcard with a black and white picture of the American actress Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011) and the Yugoslavian Dictator Josip Broz Tito (1892-1980) at Vanga, one of the 14 islands of the Brijuni Archipelago at the North Adriatic Sea.

On the back of the postcard Ivana wrote a small text:

“Memory in Black & White
Memory of grayness yet of potentiality
Memory of warm energy…”

The Picture

After a convulsive history, the Brijuni islands where declared a restricted zone by Tito in 1949 and became the seaside residence of the marshal. By the time this picture was taken, some 22 years later, Tito’s false imposition as a host was no longer present in the minds and thoughts of all the worldwide important and well know quests he was entertaining on ‘his’ island during the holidays.

This particular photograph raises questions about the relationship between the two figures depicted in it: the communist dictator of Yugoslavia and the American film star who personified Cleopatra, the most expensive Hollywood film production ever back in the days…

Just by looking at the picture, taken inside a house during the daytime, the old Tito and the (still) beautiful Elizabeth, both dressed in casual summer clothes, appear to be in a very comfortable and friendly setting. Like at home, he has lit a cigarette and she just poured herself a drink. Whisky maybe.

Her affirmative and dominant posture overshadows Tito’s passive, more reserved and less dynamic pose. We can almost relive the scene: Cleopatra just arrived and with an imperial gesture orders Tito’s staff to carry her luggage to her quarters, while host and quest rest at the bar. Elizabeth is indeed plying the role of a good guest: when in Rome, do as the Romans do. At Tito’s island…

But her eyes, in contradiction with her gestures, still transpire the Dionysian philosophic character of Elisabeth, looking into the infinite, cloudy and focused on faraway concerns. Maybe she felt she had to prove herself in front of such an important politician and influential person? The man who confronted Stalin, declaring Yugoslavia a nonalignment and neutral country. The man who was political friends with Nixon, the president of her own country and the other player in the Cold War game.

Or is Tito the greater actor here? In his apparent passive attitude, he maybe ordered his personal photographer to register this historical moment, to prove to everyone the good relationship between Yugoslavia and the Western world.

Either way, both host and quest are surely very conscious of their own political and social position. Even in their holiday uniforms…

The text

“Memory in Black & White”

On the back of the postcard Ivana wrote about memory. A historical photo… As always, history is the self-made product of the winners. It is a cleanup of all the gray graduations of reality. ‘To make it clear’, they say…

“Memory of grayness yet of potentiality”

But Ivana goes on about the grayness of memory. Although she is referring to “potentiality”, a term that incorporates the concept of the future in its own formulation, she is speaking about the present moment. Exactly because the present is a dynamic conjunction of the past and the future encapsulated at the same time in a moment. The right now moment. If we consider the fact that she wrote this small text in the Van der Pek neighborhood, we could think that the term “potentiality” refers to her surrounds as a place to live and be. This justifies the word ‘grayness’ as a description of the physical world where Ivana was in the particular moment that she wrote this message. But looking at a broader context than her empirical surrounds, we could relate to ‘grayness’ as a description of the present moment, where the ‘winners’ are not yet defined and where everyone still has a voice and, more important than that, a responsibility to define which history we will tell in the future. This thought justifies her last sentence:

“Memory of warm energy…”

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