Tanja Boukal has been travelling regularly to crisis regions for the past ten years. In places such as Egypt, Greece, Columbia, Lampedusa, Mellila (Spain) or Sarajevo, Boukal’s practice takes as its starting point the local situations, from which she develops her artistic themes. As the artist says, “I deal with people, their situations and their strategies. In my work I do not want to show just the negative aspects, but draw attention to the things people do to change their situation or at least attempt to change it.”
Trained in art embroidery and stage design at Wiener Kunstschule in Vienna, Boukal’s early career focused on sculpture and installation. More recently she has used photography, and since 2007 she has begun working with soft textile materials. Employing embroidery, knitting and sewing techniques, Boukal aims to make the viewer approach difficult subject matter via familiar material in order to better deal with it and overcome the distance to it. For the exhibition A World Not Ours, Boukal will show newly commissioned work as well as already existing pieces, as part of her long-term research into the refugee crisis.
Ode to Joy, an existing work, is part of Boukal’s series The Melila Project:
Melilla is a Spanish exclave at Africa’s northern shore comprised of 85,000 inhabitants on a mere 13,5 square kilometres. It is surrounded by a fence, six to seven metres high that separates it from its Moroccan environs, guarded by military and police forces and equipped with high-tech devices, to keep refugees out of European territories. The external frontier of the European Union is additionally secured against illegal immigration by watchtowers, motion detectors, radar, night vision gears, and teargas bombs. Melilla is thus an example of Fortress Europe.
30.000 migrants from Sub-Sahara-Africa and Syria are stranded at this frontier of Europe, waiting for that “perfect moment.” Melilla’s inhabitants are confronted with the issue of the refugees, who are less concerned about the possibility to die at the attempt to overcome the fence than to return to their former lives. In the course of two research trips in 2014 Boukal had the opportunity to work with the refugees, inhabitants and volunteers of Melilla. Furthermore, she had the possibility to do workshops with refugees at the CETI-Camp, and to accompany self-sacrificing nurses in the Moroccan mountains. In Ode to Joy Friedrich Schiller’s libretto is used by Ludwig van Beethoven in the final movement of his Symphony No. 9, which was adopted as the Anthem of Europe by the European Union. The text says a great deal about the way Europe defines itself and its relation to uninvited intruders. With great pathos it describes the classical ideal of a society of equals, which are connected by the bond of joy and friendship. A white lace cloth, hand-knitted of highest quality cashmere by Tanja Boukal, bears the libretto of the Europe Anthem framed by barbed wire panels. This cloth accompanied the artist’s wanderings around Melilla. On both sides of the border, she took photographs of migrants wrapped in this luxury plaid, wrapped in these high ideals of Europe.
Three new works have also been produced for the exhibition following a site-visit the artist made this spring to Greece and Turkey.
Izmir Concrete (2016) is an installation with photography and cement bricks, which was created following a visit to Basmane, a neighborhood in the heart of the port city of Izmir, where the wheels of the refugee smuggling economy continue to spin. Migrants huddle inside grimy hotels, checking prices with the smugglers, buying flimsy life jackets, comparing boats and motors in shops, waiting for private mini-buses to the coast. Jewelry shops trade refugee pawned gold, and a shop offers money transfers from Syria. All this provides insight into what remains unseen before the ominous crossing to Greece.
Memories of Travels and Dreams (2016) is a new photographic work produced by the artist, who crossed from Greece to Turkey and back again during her trip to Samos. We witness the process of travel as a tourist through a boat trip from Kusadasi to Samos: buying a ticket in the office of the ferry company, shopping the duty free zone, entering the boat. There is plenty of space, life vests for every potential passenger and a coffee shop on board. It takes 1 hour 15 minutes to arrive safely in Greece. The ticket costs 35 € and children under the age of 6 travel for free. The refugee trajectory for the very same trip is a very different story: finding a suitable smuggler, buying life vests and water, deciding which of your belongings to leave behind you, entering the dinghy. As many people as possible to be squeezed into the boats, passengers are forced to drive the boat by themselves and everybody is afraid. The ticket costs 1500 $ and there is no discount for children available. Ten people a day have died trying to cross the Mediterranean, since 2014, according to figures from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) With the EU – Turkey agreement, migrants are now increasingly making the Africa crossing, which is even more perilous. More people died on this…
The work is about the difference of a trip on the same route. It is about the absurd situation where your passport decides whether you will go on an idyllic tourist journey or you are risking your life. Finally, Boukal is also producing a new video, Down by the Sea (2016), filmed on a cemetery in Pythagorion, Samos, where Syrian children who did not survive the crossing to Greece have been buried.
Tanja Boukal was born in Vienna in 1976. She is the youngest Austrian artist ever to have a solo exhibition in the Museum der Moderne Salzburg (2013). Other exhibitions include: No one has any intention of building a wall, Kunstverein Augsburg, Germany (2016) Demonstrating Minds, KIASMA - Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki (2015); Memory Lab – Month of Photography, Budapest Gallery, Budapest (2014); Answers on the Front of a Postcard, Opus Art, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (2012); Qui vive? Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Moscow (2008); Divided Space, Centre d’Arte Puccini, Florence (2002); and Youth Has Culture, Rotpunkt, Vienna (1997).
Ode to Joy, 2014
Cashmere wool, paper
Courtesy the artist
Memories of Travels and Dreams, 2016Print on Alu‐Dibond, padded fabric on plywood, rubber bands, postcards140 x 100 cm Courtesy the artist
Tanja BoukalJourneys, 2015Embroidery and C-print on canvasCourtesy the artist
Down by the sea, 2016Single channel video, colour, soundCourtesy the artist
Tanja BoukalOde to Joy, 2014Cashmere wool, paperCourtesy the artist