BY TJASA FERME
Home, a paradigm, yet full of contradictions. What does the notion home really signify? Must it be somewhere we come from? Can it be something we’re trying to find? Is it a warm nest jammed with memories of loving parents, innocent memories full of sunshine and favorite sweets out of our grandmother’s oven? Or is it unknown, a place we’ve always dreamed of, have searched the planet and not yet found? A corner of the world where we feel safe, loved, “arrived”, our authentic selves where we feel at home? Maybe “home” is just a feeling of feeling at home?
I’m a Slovenian American. No, I’m a Slovenian who has spent the last nine years trying to survive on an extraordinary artist visa in New York, who just got a green card. Does the green card make me an American though? Would a “permanent resident” status ever change my idea of “home”?
Lots of questions, no clear answers, definitely no clear borders, just very clear bureaucratic categories and laws.
Without a clue and with a ton of enthusiasm, I recently joined a European theatre project co-produced by the biggest Slovenian NGO, Maska and Swedish “Skogen”. We spent the first part of our creative engagement in the most proverbially creative and segregated city in Sweden, the city of Gothenburg. Our devised theatre project is entitled “Back To The Promised Land”.
The core creative team consists of: Slovenian director Mare Bulc; actress Mirel Knez, who is ethnically Slovenian and spent the first thirty two years of her life in Sweden, though was ultimately swayed by the siren mother country and returned to the country of her parents’ origin - her promised land; a Slovene activist, philosopher, journalist and rapper Miha Blažic aka N’Toko; and me, a Slovenian actress and creator whose promised land is in New York and who after graduation at the National Academy dashed over the big pond and never came back for more than a month.
We’re all deep in the debate and in the trenches about “The Promised Land”. What is it, where is it?
Mirel and I both came with a ton of ideas, impressions, personal stories and tons of journals, which put us way over the luggage weight allowance. Mirel wanted to move to Slovenia because her promised land included warmer people and a more socially vibrant environment. I moved to New York because I wanted more challenges and to explore new lands including myself.
N’Toko’s experience is directly with refugees; he runs a refugee center in Ljubljana helping them seek asylum, file paperwork, look for work, and integrate into Slovenian society.
We delved into a discussion of what drives the migrations of us as the creative team, what the real idealism is and if it’s the same ideal that drives refugees and other migrants.
Some research showed we are not the only ones asking these questions; world-famous Slovenian pop-philosopher Slavoj Žižek wrote a much criticised essay called “The Non-Existence of Norway”, “There is something enigmatically utopian in this demand: as if it were the duty of Europe to realise their dreams – dreams which, incidentally, are out of reach of most Europeans” concluding “‘there is no Norway,’ even in Norway”. Sam Kriss, a young philosopher from UK replies, that instead of being cynical perhaps we should take these dreams as seeds of improvement. “If there is no Norway, then we’ll have to build it ourselves.”
We presented our work in progress in Skogen on October 28th, 2016. It comprised of a lingering sauna scene (an actual part of the audience tribune became a Finnish sauna), fake panel discussions showing the stereotyping of refugee and immigrant populations that the civilized west trades like commodities, US and Slovene border control improvisations and a satire lecture scene on “How to make it in New York”. This was followed by a film screening, which gave us a haunting insight into what it means to be a legal immigrant in Sweden. The presentation wrapped up with a panel discussion on sizzling topics and we ended at least a thick hour late. There was much to talk about. Immigration, as a subject in the arts, is no stranger to Sweden, being one of the top promised lands.
As I write this essay I am on the plane from Brussels to Ljubljana, where “Back to the Promised Land” will be finalized and performed in December. I cannot wait. I have yearned for years to be an international theatre artist dashing between projects from USA to Europe and in the last two years my dreams became reality. It is a supreme luxury in life to be able to do what you love and believe in and inspire others to do the same, always digging into unknown territories and bringing out excavations of archetypal human issues with glimmers of deeper understanding.
Don’t we all have ideas about how things should be or could be, but all we ever get in life are Plato's shadows dancing on the wall, vague imitations of a construct? How do we move in the realm of the absolute? What do absolutes have to do with reality and what would we be without ideals?
How do we cope with our expectations, ideals being shuttered or unmet?
Some get cynical and give up. Some fight their just fight. Some change an ideal for another ideal, like they change from partner to partner, one diet with another.
Isn’t that a human condition though? Doesn’t being human in it’s very root constitute being a conscious entity following some sets of ideals to build a better self, society and world?
And isn’t it the artists who are on the frontlines thinking, observing, telling the stories, being the loud voice so that the dreams can never be forgotten?
Promised Land is as much of an eternal idea as a search for home.
In often times destroyed homes, countries and lands, in kingdoms of ruins, finding home can be like a promised land- a fantasy hard to achieve. A desire to find warm, safe places where people feel relaxed and their most authentic selves is an ideal that will never cease to exist.
Tjasa Ferme is is an award-winning international Film/TV/theatre actress based in New York. She is a Slovenian National Film Award and Stane Sever classical stage award recipient. Known for: Three Trembling Cities, Simbi Zombies, Larry Gone Demon (8 wins), Two Pints Lighter, Weird (Cannes) and Revolution of Everyday Life. New York theater credits include The Upper Room (Rady and Bloom, New Ohio), Leaves of Grass (dir. Jeremy Bloom, the cell), Much Ado About Nothing (Beatrice, the cell), 400 Parts Per Million (dir. Peter Richards, Blessed Unrest) Red Noir (The Living Theatre) and more. Her first fully developed piece was the hit comedy Cocktales: Confessions of a Nymphomaniac, described by a NYC critic as “nothing short of brilliant.” The show ran for several weeks to sold-out houses and was later produced as part of Miami Art Basel. Her recent performance in Before God Was Invented was praised by the nytheatre.com reviewer as “a standout performance.” She is a resident actress at The Cell Theatre Company and PopUp Theatrics. She is also the creator of a short film Ophelia’s Flip (Cannes Film Festival, 2012).
BLOG SALON CURATOR
Ruth Margraff is a playwright and writing program chair at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Margraff's plays, poetry and opera works include Anger/Fly; Three Graces; Temptation of the Fresh Voluptuous; Cafe Antarsia Ensemble; Seven; Stadium Devildare; The Cry Pitch Carrolls; The Elektra Fugues; Night Vision; Deadly She-Wolf Assassin At Armageddon, Voice of the Dragon 1,2,3; Judges 19: Black Lung Exhaling; All Those Violent Sweaters; Red Frogs; Night Parachute Battalion; The State of Gristle; Centaur Battle of San Jacinto; Wallpaper Psalm. Her work has been performed at various festivals and venues throughout USA; UK; Canada; Russia; Romania; Serbia; Hungary; Ireland; Italy; Greece; Turkey; Slovenia; Czech Republic; Croatia; France; Austria, Sweden; Japan; Egypt; India, Azerbaijan. She is recipient of numerous awards from institutions including Rockefeller Foundation; McKnight Foundation; Jerome Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Theater Communications Group; Fulbright; New York State Council on the Arts; Illinois Arts Council; Arts International; Trust for Mutual Understanding of New York, CultureConnect.