Waving, Co|LAPSe at Vapaan Taiteen Tila, Helsinki, Finland (Street Performance & Performative Installation )
Street Performances: September to November 2017
Performative Installation: November 23-24, 2017
To convey (a greeting or other message) by moving one’s hand. I am waving. Yes, at you! Do you see me? I once again went out of my way to say hello. Do you recognize me? It appears not. Who decides how we are recognized? What does it mean to be seen? What does it mean to look?
This performative installation explores the everyday politics of recognition within Helsinki, Finland.
This piece is a response to an anti-Muslim demonstration I witnessed shortly after arriving in Helsinki in August 2017 to begin my graduate studies. The experience was an unsettling introduction to Finnish cultural politics, and one that shattered my perhaps naïve image of Finland as a highly progressive country. As a result of that day I undertook a fast education in Finland’s nationalist and anti-immigrant sentiments. Not long afterwards I began to experience the city in new, uncomfortable ways. I felt I was being stared at, looked down upon, and I couldn’t help feeling I was being perceived as yet another unwanted immigrant. My natural impulse in these instances was to simply wave and smile. Waving became a daily practice for me as I traveled to my routine locations: school, home, grocery store, etc. At first it felt like a way of introducing myself to Helsinki. Later, drawing inspiration from Charles Taylor’s work on the politics of recognition, it became a performance which allowed me to assess my own social positioning within my new temporary home.
After months of documenting my performances in the five main neighbourhoods of Helsinki, the time came to exhibit my findings along other LAPS students at Co|LAPSe, an evening of live art at Vapaan Taiteen Tila (Space for Free Arts). After going through over ten hours of waving documentation, I realized my manner of waving on the streets also communicated the anger that accompanies the feeling of othering. I waved at people on the street, but never stopped to talk or be truly recognized. I wanted to be accepted and recognized, but only on my terms and at my own speed. While documenting this piece I attempted to use the camera to express the inexplicable nature of my alienated experience through multiple experimental modes of waving —ie. doppelgänger waving, camera waving, reflection waving, etc. My experience of Helsinki lay somewhere in-between my performance and the camera, and it reflected the in-betweenness of my experience in Finland, being a Canadian in Finland, but also being an Iranian-Canadian.
For the culminating performance at Co|LAPSe, I projected a thirteen-minute compilation video of my waving performances on one side of the exhibition space, and on the other side there was a live-stream projection of a GoPro camera attached to a head strap. As viewers arrived I explained my story of witnessing the anti-Muslim protest and how it made me feel. Then, to bring the audience into the work, I approached individuals and invited them to undertake their own waving experiments with the GoPro camera. I gave them a crash course tutorial on how to wave from the heart, using the left arm closest to the heart, and also different waving techniques such as the drive-by-waving approach developed throughout my performance. Their only instruction and objective was to wave to everyone in Vapaan Taiteen Tila and have their own awkward, and alienating waving experience. In doing this, I invited them into my own little comfortable country, the Co|LAPSe art show, to experience for themselves a sort of approximation of the immigrant experience and the reactions of a puzzled audience. When participants returned to me upon completion, we often fell into discussions about the politics of this installation in a time of fascism and populism. Then upon finding another willing participant, I told them the gist of it and handed them the camera.