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Artists in Residence

 The Slovakian video and performance artist Tomas Rafa is a guest for three months at PROGR. The former high school in the centre of Bern's old town gained publicity as a result of the vote in 2009. The association composed of artists, gallerists, and institutional representatives has co-ordinated the running of the studios and exhibition space since the vote. The Stadtgalerie, as part of the association, runs the artist-in-residence studio together with Pro Helvetia, and provides a guest programme for musicians, artists and writers.

Tomas Rafa - An Observing Follower

Tomas Rafa on the balcony of his residency studio in PROGR, over the roofs of Bern, 2011.

During his artist-in-residence stay, Tomas Rafa (born 1979, Zilina) wants to examine and explore multiculturalism in Switzerland. In contrast to his homeland and its neighbouring countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, where large majority populations co-exist with a few minorities, there is a great deal of social, ethnic and linguistic variation in Switzerland. That's why Rafa is striving to meet as many people from different regions and backgrounds in order to gain a multi-faceted picture of local life. He wants to catch this with his camera in the role of a silent observer. None of the film scenes put together for the upcoming presentation in the Stadtgalerie Bern could be described as neutral documentation, but they do offer a kaleidoscopic image of society.
Rafa met part of this society a few days after his arrival in Switzerland at the battlefield commemoration at Sempach. The annual celebration at the Winkelried monument as a memorial to the historical battle acts as an occasion for right-wing nationalists to organise a march, although the organisers try and prevent this. The presence of fascist groups can be predicted at certain occasions, with certain situations and known factors.
Interesting for Rafa, because he has been investigating the diffuse demarcation between patriotism and dangerous nationalism and xenophobia over a number of years. Rafa films marches, assemblies and rallies. The protagonists are grouped into two camps as either activists and aggrieved parties standing up for their ethnic, political and sexual rights, or as the right-wing extremist mob. In between, a cordon of policeman tries to keep the two groups apart, not always sympathetically or without partisanship. For the shots at close range, Rafa walks equally with either group, which is often only possible with appropriate clothing and maintaining the pretence of holding the same convictions. Meanwhile he records what potential for violence is within these radical groups.
Rafa is trying in his documentation neither to accuse nor to polemicise but to observe. He explains that the one-sided, simplistic spin placed on events by the media does not necessarily live up to the complex realities of political rallies. His short films, which can be seen on his website New Nationalism In the Heart of Europe, with the option of English subtitles, are supposed to reveal the incident without bias. With this he is implicitly sharply criticising the media who document such events, mostly from a very secure distance. The object of his work is to show consistent phenomena in reoccurring situations with regional and contextual differences to uncover political simplifications. The uncovering of these basic structures does not happen only in one sequence, but through stringing the individual films together.
A starting point for his current work was his film about the action Mur Prepacte (Forgiveness For the Wall). Bullet holes in a wall and floral tributes and candles laid out for a six-member Roma family who became victims of a racist assault are shown. The film ends with the Slovakian word for 'forgiveness' written in big letters on to a wall which seperates Roma from non-Roma in the east of Slovakia. The methodical radicalism of his approach shows the influence of video artists such as Artur Zmijewski who studied, like Rafa, at the Academy of Visual Arts under Grzegorz Kowalski in Warsaw. This is where Rafa completed his post-graduate studies with the support of a scholarship from the Visegrad Funds after he had studied at the Art Academy at the Institute for Digital Media in Banská Bystrica, Slovenia. During his residency Rafa has been engaged in a systematically similar approach, but with culturally different subject matter. His project presentation in the Stadtgalerie in PROGR will show which conventions he has been able to find in Switzerland and how congruent the appearance of multiculturalism is with the actual condition of society.

Project Presentation, Stadtgalerie Bern, 22nd September 19.00

This interview is published with the support of the Swiss cultural foundation Pro Helvetia Moving Words for the Swiss advancement of translation.

Translation: Paul Harper

Deutsche Version


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Ausgabe 9  2011
Autor/in Franz Krähenbühl
Künstler/in Thomas Rafa
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