“LANGER WEG DER GASTARBAJT”

While clearly remembering the outcomes of a certain project, what somehow escapes these forms of memory is the working process itself. 

Fotocredit: Daniel Jarosh

Although the work procedure is often neglected and left invisible in the project results, I have always found it the most interesting part of creating content. In other words: how do ideas come about, how do they transform and adapt, what is dismissed along the way, how do concepts translate and made visible, what messages do they succeed or utterly fail to deliver? Moreover, project-based working processes are often intense and periods of group activity which are charged with creativity, where those involved may spend hours, days or weeks in a communal frenzy only they understand. This makes it both challenging, binding, and at the same time, fragile. So, given this opportunity by the WIENWOCHE, I wanted to put in words several of these moments of our project’s evolution which speak volumes about its main messages – of course in the form of fragments and subjective snippets. 

First fragment: first meeting. 2016, AU gallery/club as headquarters. Alex Nikolic, Michael Podgorac, Ljubomir Bratić, Ivana Pilić, and a few others active in the post-Yugoslav community of Vienna. First encounter for many of us. We initially wanted to discuss the possibilities of organising something to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the work agreement between Austria and Yugoslavia, an event that marks the official beginning of the Gastarbeit (guest-workers) phenomena. 

Our voices cut through the heavy smoke filling the place. We argue, we laugh, we agree, we talk at the same time in a mix of several languages. Some of us leave, some join later. Somewhere between Ljubo’s immense knowledge of the Gastarbeit subject, Ivana’s exceptional mix of experience, enthusiasm and empathy, Miki’s contagious serenity and perseverance, and my sense of practicality, the actual project slowly took shape. WIENWOCHE gave us the go-ahead and we ventured out onto the “Langer Weg der Gastarbajt”

Second fragment: Dragan. During our research, we decided to organise readings in the cultural centre Moë, a former tin and metal factory. Michael, who was taking care of the place, told us that the last worker who worked in the factory before it closed was from Yugoslavia. He tracks him down, and we meet Dragan Bogdanovic. He recalls the last days of the factory. His descriptions bring the dead machines back to life, his body re-enacts the working movements. He tells us how once a machine caught fire and he tried to save it by covering the flame with his own jacket. We decide to offer this testimony to the audiences of the WIENWOCHE – so raw, so direct, so moving, so specific and yet so metaphorical.
Third fragment: the Gastarbeit scroll. One day before the project goes public. Ljubo rightly insists that we include the historical context of the Gastarbeit phenomenon in Austria. He prepares a meticulous timeline with the most important events. Miki goes out to print the text. He comes back to the gallery space with quite an impressive scroll, containing more than 4.000 words. We attach the scroll to the wall, but the story of Yugoslav Gastarbaiters is far longer than the building allows, so the story rolls out onto and across the floor. The visitors have to step over it carefully, thus transforming it into something valuable. I then realise that the project cannot ‘escape’ its own importance and relevance. Tired, we nod at each other in silence at the opening, grateful for the opportunity to steer the story towards this moment. 

(by JANA DOLECKI)

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