We are in the midst of strange days. In March 2020, Covid-19 emerged, and its spread was declared a pandemic. A pandemic that has revealed to us the deeper dimensions of the concepts of border, wall, limitation, and power.
Artist residency programs are designed to avoid restrictions, to allow artists around the world to move and cross borders both geographical and mental. They are there to break stereotypical habits that exist in social relations. They prove that they can create thought-provoking events, regardless of the concepts defined by border and nationality, if the ground for discourse and experience and space for talking about the concerns and thoughts of artists is provided. But due to this pandemic, what we are witnessing today has become an obstacle to residency programs’ goals. Borders are closed for artists to move, and a residency program is not a compelling reason to cross these borders.
What is happening today is shocking and alarming. This pandemic has provided excuses to most ruling systems, governments, decision-makers, and politicians around the world to test their absolute power in the direction of nationalism, racism, discrimination, and hegemony against each other and against nations. And this is what I expect artist residency programs to go against.
There are different types of residency programs for artists. Apart from the luxurious and commercial residency programs, which instead of being a place for dialogue and exchange become more of a place for artists to relax, other residency programs have the potential for empiricism, knowledge acquisition, and change. One can hope that the basis of residency programs is trust; on continuity of movements and thoughts. The two quarterly residency programs (Harun Farocki Institut in Berlin in 2017 and the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart in 2018) I experienced as a female documentary filmmaker based in Tehran, the capital city of a geopolitically sensitive country like Iran, held such potential for me.
Aside from the opportunity to screen my films at Silent Green Kulturquartier and Delphi Arthaus Kino, to have discussions with artists like Constanze Ruhm, Christoph Dreher, Vinicius Jatobá, and Susanne Foidl, to run workshops and lectures at Merz Akademie – Hochschule für Gestaltung, Kunst as well as Medien and Filmuniversität Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF, the space provided by both residency programs allowed me to expand the scope of my documentary film about nationality and border from the research phase to the production stage.
Together with the Goethe-Institut, once a year the Harun Farocki Institut offers selected candidates the opportunity to live and work in Berlin on a scholarship. I was the second fellow of the Harun Farocki Residency. Nourished by my own experience – I had lived in Perth, Australia, for six years – my goal was to research the subject of a short essay documentary film, which revolves around the complex of nationality that I have been exploring for years.
In Berlin alone, I recorded 30 audio interviews with various artists, filmmakers, writers, and theorists with different backgrounds and very different approaches. These discourses made dramatic changes in my point of view on the subject I had chosen and the film I wanted to make. As an Iranian, I always saw discrimination against Iranians who only have an Iranian passport. During this film’s research process, I realized that many people from different parts of the world, including Europe, have similar issues regarding their nationalities. In fact, the context of »nationality« is imposed on us and will remain attached to us forever, forming a kind of identity for us no matter where we come from. What I learned from my interviews was in line with the Berlin Wall and its very bitter history tied to bigotry and hegemony. The seeds of the Berlin Wall were sown in nationalism. My attention was drawn to the remnants of the Berlin Wall. Then I thought I could take the opportunity to be in Berlin to shoot my film.