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With Moment, at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Turkish artist Meriç Algün Ringborg deals with immigration, a central theme of the European political reality and currently the debate par excellence in Sweden.
On 14 September 2014, the Swedish Social-Democratic Party won the general elections, leaving the Moderate Party in second place. The two conform the strong two-party system of Swedish politics, but both, in turn, are made up of a coalition of parties. The Swedish Democratic party came third.
The winning party is the oldest in Sweden and has a strong Marxist-socialist tradition; the one in second place is centre-right; and the third has existed since 1998 but obtained parliamentary representation for the first time in 2010. After the elections of 2014 it has duplicated its representation to 13%. It is an extreme right wing party with a strong stance against immigration.
Little more than two months after the elections, at the beginning of December 2014, the government declared an early general election would be held in March 2015. The motive: the Swedish Democrats had supported the opposition’s Budget proposal instead of that of the government, meaning the opposition’s project obtained more votes. The Swedish Democrats announced they would systematically oppose any policies supporting immigration. The government unwilling to govern with the Budget proposals of another party called early general elections. Almost a month later, on 27 December, the government cancelled these early elections having reached an agreement with the opposition. In the end they will govern with the budget proposal of the Moderate Party but with the ability to introduce certain modifications.
Moment is a word that is written and pronounced the same in Swedish as in Turkish, apart from a slight variation in the accent. If a Swede listens to it pronounced by a Turk, he might think that the other was talking his language incorrectly, and vice versa. The word forms part of Ö (The Mutual Letter) a dictionary created by the artist, which brings together all the words that are written and pronounced the same in Turkish and Swedish. In the exhibition you hear the voices of two people, on loudspeakers that inundate the room, reciting in both languages.
One can perhaps understand the xenophobic boom in Sweden if one steps back a bit from the subject. In The Concise Book of Visa Application Forms, the artist compiles in a book all the forms required to obtain visas across the world. Some phrases from the book are placed in what look like billboards around the whole precincts of the museum. The reader in this way is assaulted visually with questions like “Do you want to live temporarily or permanently?” or “Are you and your partner living in a stable and genuine relationship?”. Taken out of context, these questions become totally absurd. To what extent can a government subjugate people who want to live in their country, under what parameters and with what pretexts?
Anti-immigration parties, like the Swedish Democrats, and in a more subtle manner, the Moderate Party, always use the protectionist motive of “protect the interests of your own people before those of others”, for Sweden has also been affected by the crisis: 8% global unemployment and 23% in those aged under 25 . Let’s zoom out: Why do we immigrate? Wealth doesn’t exist without poverty, as one is the result of the other. Each time we justify protectionist policies of a xenophobic nature, do we ask ourselves how what we buy is made or to whom has our country sold weapons, to participate in which wars.
In Sweden many people talk English. Even so, if you don’t understand Swedish you feel you are losing out on a large part of the country’s reality. For this reason, ever since I’ve been here I feel as if the country has many contradictions that I’m not quite able to define. On the one hand, Sweden is one of the countries in the world that has traditionally been most welcoming to political refugees, and on the other, I see, hear and read stories like the one Núria Güell visualised in Too much Melanin in 2013, that the critic and curator Martí Manen talked about in in A*Desk. If the Moderate Party, in power from 2006 to 2014, already promoted projects such as the REVA, that rewarded the police for each immigrant they captured, does Sweden’s fame for being open and supportive stem from before 2006?
The systemisation and minimalism present in Becoming Europeanexposes certain facts in way that is so apparently neutral that one has no other option than to question the whys and wherefores of this reality. In this work the artist creates a table in which she marks her legal status in Europe, from 2007 a 2012, in different colours according to the categories of tourist, temporary resident, permanent resident and awaiting citizenship. These categories are a form of control. While the capitalist globalization does its work on an international level, nation-states struggle to maintain their old sovereignty exercising their power over people within their territory.
If what governmental institutions really want to do is perpetuate the distinction of who is outwith and who belongs; who are friends and who are enemies, according to the terminology of Chantal Mouffe, they should put it into practice with a concrete definition of what demos is and who is the populace, offering all those who form part of it the same rights and opportunities, without distinguishing between first and second class citizens. Beyond what separates or distinguishes us, Meriç Algün indicates what unites as individuals and she invites us to choose how we want to define ourselves, regardless of how they want to pigeonhole us.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)