Put Yourself in My Place Basecamp / Interview

To walk in somebody else’s shoes

Milijana Babić in conversation with Marijana Rimanić

Milijana Babić traveled with CORNERS to North and East, with the first and forth Xpedition in our R&D phase. Differences and contrasts she encountered in those two areas left a strong impact, so strong that she started to ask how it would feel like to walk in somebody else’s shoes, to live another life and to be in a place where chances and opportunities are different than those in the Balkans. She decided to switch places with Ida Hansson and Oleksandra Protsenko, twice, for a period of three weeks so that each artist experiences life in two other geographical corners.

MR: Can you tell me more about your project “Put yourself in my place” and other artists involved? How much has this framework of international collaboration that CORNERS set determined the topic of the work and the approach to its conception, and then realization?

MB: It is a collaborative project, developed by three artists: Ida Hansson from Umeå, Sweden, Oleksandra Protsenko from Lviv, Ukraine, and me. Without Corners as a framework for research and a chance to meet those artists, I believe the work would have never happened. During the North Xpedition, when we visited Sweden and Norway, I found myself in a completely different cultural context comparing to my home environment, so I started questioning how much context determines our lives. Paralelly, I started questioning how would it look like to work as an artist in the very north of Sweden, where life conditions are really special. I had in mind our Corners collage Oskar Östergren, whose story fascinated me. He is living in a small village in northern Sweden, at the “edge of civilization” figuratively speaking, but still being very active on the art scene, producing works with a colleague Fredrik Oskarsson living in the other part of the country, and everything functions smoothly. I was comparing this situation with mine, and was trying to imagine myself in this somehow exotic and appealing situation, but having in mind circumstances in Croatia, this seemed unachievable in our context. This also encouraged me to start thinking why things were like that. The whole North Xpedition passed in a kind of a cultural shock – everything there was different from the Croatian and Balkan context! The state is functioning well, vast nature is well preserved and taken care of, people are emancipated, well educated…

MR: The main concept of the work the three of you will engage in together is exchanging the place of residence – living and working place. How will this look like? How will you document your lives and the whole exchange process?
MB: The three of us are coming from places that were all Xpedition stations – Ida is from Umeå where North Xpedition ended, Oleksandra is from Lviv where East Xpedition started, and I’m from Rijeka where Balkan Xpedition ended. The trigger for the work was the question: how different are working and living conditions for artists in those regions, which bothered me and I realized it wouldn’t be appropriate to deal with this question alone. I’ll always be an outsider in Umeå or Lviv and I’ll always look at them from my own perspective. I wanted to pal up and to jointly approach this question. However, finding the answer is not the goal of the project as we may well not arrive at any, and furthermore it is about our private stories which cannot speak for others.

Ida, Oleksandra and Milijana

We will exchange life environments twice for the period of three weeks. We call that placement periods, unlike residence, because this is different from conventional artist-in-residence concept. Each of us can then experience two new life surroundings and the life of two other artists. Basically, we are jumping in the place of the other person – in her personal place, social place, professional place… Of course, we are not trying to be that other person, because that is anyhow impossible, although we are also not only the observers of the situation but rather active in somebody else’s life – being ourselves but walking in somebody else’s shoes. At the Basecamp in Sweden we were talking a lot about the border of entering personal lives of the other person and it’s very hard to define it. I think the process itself will set the border as the work will be developing. But entering another personal life is inevitable.

MR: The goal of CORNERS as a wider project is to bring into focus places that are outside cultural, political and social centers of Europe, and to connect those remote corners with one another. Those three places you included in the project are peripheries, but as you already mentioned – those peripheries are quite different from each other. What do you think, how much will your project bring together and connect artists and cultural organizations from those three towns?

MB: Probably on the personal level there will be the most connections, but on the other hand – this exchange will inevitably include art community from all three towns, since my friends and collages will become Ida’s and Oleksandra’s friends and collages for three weeks.

MR: Is it a coincidence that all three of you are women?

MB: I think it wouldn’t be possible to make a project like this otherwise. Even though it is impossible to live someone’s life, to come into the place of another women is somehow familiar. To try to ‘walk in a man’s shoes’ would be an impossible task and could make a good comedy. Position of a person/artist in society is significantly defined by his/her sex. I see this as women’s and feminist project.

MR: Is this based on experience you have living in Croatia where gender differences are quite visible, whereas, for example, Sweden is country where those differences are much smaller. Is it really like that? What’s the situation in those three countries when it comes to gender difference?

MB: I think the situation is very different in Sweden and Croatia. My experience during North Xpedition was that this is a highly emancipated society, not only when it comes to women emancipation, but on a much broader level. And I’m talking about rural areas, while in Croatia, even bigger cities have not reached that level of emancipation. My feeling is that in Ukraine things might be even worse, and that Croatia is in some ways ‘in the middle’. On the other hand, with Ukraine we have a certain ‘Eastern’ bond: cultural and historical.

MR: This project follows the topic you are dealing with for some time already. In some of your previous works you were questioning social and economical impacts of being an artist – namely – how artists in Croatia live, where and how they earn money, what are the conditions of production of artworks. Recently you exhibited your work “Looking for Work”. It’s a series of performative actions where you were searching for, literally, any kind of job.

MB: Yes, “Put yourself in my place” is a logical continuation of my interests and research. The work “Looking for Work” is examining a locally specific situation from inside, so now I’m trying to get outsiders’ views and to compare my personal situation with somebody else’s. Motivation is coming from personal experience, of course. I invested a lot into my education, have been active in the field of art for many years, but it is still hard to make a break through here. You are still referred to as a young artist in your 40-ies, your work is not paid, nobody needs (contemporary) art… My frustration is then carried out in such projects, and I am fighting naively for a better position.

Co-Creations produced on Put Yourself in My Place Basecamp / Interview:

  • Put yourself in my place

    Depending on our social background, we attribute different values to artworks, but also to different behavior patterns and to biological traits such as race, or sex. The consequence of this is always, inequality. Milijana Babić and Ida Hansson are two artists who developed their own methodologies for understanding differences in how society approaches art, through a specific long term continuous performance of swapping lives. By entering the life of the other, they did not play some kind of imitation game, but brought their own personalities into a different context.

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