Weapons for Fighting the Causes of Trauma

Corners of Europe is a platform that insists on collaboration projects with the idea of connecting artists from various geographic corners of Europe, with different professional backgrounds and artistic approaches. It encourages the networking of individuals who express themselves in various types of media in order to produce artworks that will communicate with the local community. They are performed in several locations, in temporary residences established in various “corners” of Europe, and always involve local specificities.

Bridging the Silence is likewise meant to use its structure in different cultural and geographic contexts. Early in May, it was performed in Northumberland, the Zagreb edition came next, and now it is about to continue its tour in the Corners’ residencies of Ljubljana and San Sebastian. Visual artist and performer Beatriz Churruca has been using the body and movement in her work, Hrvoslava Brkušić adapts the medium of expression to the message, using film, visual and audio installation, and performance, and Deirdre Cartmill uses poetry as her medium. The starting point of the project was the fact that artists from the Basque Country, Croatia, and Northern Island all come from the regions with a traumatic past, and some social groups feel the consequences of that past to the present day. At the beginning, the differences between the three socio-political contexts seemed imposing, but the artists’ wish was to find a baseline that was common to them all. Despite all these cultural differences, the stories of experienced traumas have proven universal.

The artists have joined their approaches and art forms into a common articulation, an audio tour that follows and introduces various individuals and their ways of dealing with the emotional consequences of war, violence, and sexual abuse. The audio project is a cluster of fragments recorded during various interviews and poetry workshops held with various traumatized groups, combined with the narration of a fictionalized story told by a first-person narrator. The structure is linear and focuses on six central notions symbolizing various emotional states that the sufferers have gone through: fear, shame, anger, acceptance, love, and freedom. These notions are the thematic foundation on which the fictionalized story of the victims’ emotional journey has been based on, and it is around them that the segments of the recorded interview have been structured. These notions are also parts of a physical installation, “spelled out” on the bridge by means of mirrors reflecting the surrounding and symbolizing the possibility of mirroring the passers-by and the listeners.

The bridge has a double function: as a physical object in public space, constructed with the specific purpose of crossing a natural obstacle and allowing for unhindered movement, and as a label for the necessary psychological and therapeutic process of facing the trauma in order to overcome it and go on with one’s normal life, to the extent and in the way it may be possible. That future normality necessarily bears a posttraumatic stamp that marks it forever, and the artists have placed excerpts from the current state of normality on Zagreb’s bridge over the Sava, the only truly pedestrian bridge in the city.

Owing to the fragmented nature of the stories, they cannot be fully grasped without the textual explanation, which the visitors receive through the headphones. The point is in making the listeners face their own stories and to offer some comparative material as an antipode, an analogy, or some other form of relation instead of simply presenting the victims’ stories in a realistic manner. The Zagreb version includes three stories from Croatia: a soldier suffering from PTSD (twice wounded, his father killed), a teacher of Polytechnics (two children aged 1.5 and 3 seriously injured, her father as well), and a woman who lost her leg in an air raid when she was 13, making her a 80% invalid.

There are also two stories from the Basque Country. The first is about a teacher tortured by the police with the aim of gaining information about an armed group. The second is a portrait of a transgender person who was born as a woman and lives as a man, trying to accommodate this gender identity with inner emotions without a medical intervention. Two testimonies come from the UK: a victim of physical and mental domestic violence speaks of her ways of normalizing her life, and a military doctor speaks of Belfast in the 1970s, at the peak of the conflicts in Northern Ireland, from his own perspective.

Even though the intention of the three artists has not been to present gender-based violence over women, which would probably result in a feminine perspective, it is a fact that most testimonies come from women. One of them (the victim of domestic violence) was hurt exclusively for her gender role, while others suffered because of politics or armed conflicts. Parts of their stories are fused with a narration written on the basis of similar experiences, which poses the questions on the fragmentation of one’s personal identity (“Who am I?”) and on the quest for a new focus after the traumatic experience (“Which way should I take?”).

The line of narration follows the process of dealing with the posttraumatic state, starting from fear, shame, and anger and gradually coming out of the suffering emotions towards hope, with various stages of acceptance, love, and freedom. This cathartic journey as a way of overcoming a trauma has been used as a thread taking the listeners through the story while they cross the bridge. For this reason, the project insists on presenting those persons who have overcome the trauma instead of continuing to live in it. It is about bridging the critical state in order to go on living despite the experience, not about the traumatized persons cocooned in the permanent loop of their trauma. A reassessment of one’s own identity is thereby seen as inevitable, and the artwork has become a therapeutic treatment in the form of poetry workshops.

Textual references to the setting have been inserted into the narration – a reflection, sound of a car, steps on the bridge – and depending on the sound volume, this audio image merges with the ambience sounds on the bridge: the traffic, the passers-by, and the murmur of the Sava.

Bridging the Silence combines an installation in public space, an audio project, and poetry, drawing on the experience of persons who have gone through profound suffering. Their experiences have been used as a material for reflection that might help others, instead of presenting them as a monolith that would deprive the listeners of the possibility to inscribe their own experience. The collaborative form makes it possible to surpass a mere compilation of artistic expressions under a single premise. Instead, they question, reflect, and reassess each other, building up a new situation for some future expressions, which may again be needed as a tool for solving some future traumas and a weapon for fighting their causes.