minichbauer: you are currently
finishing preparations for two projects, which are part
of re:public. both projects will take place in local suburban pubs: the
cooking project con-fusion
food at lunchtime, and the audiovisual event free
palms in the evenings. con-fusion
food is part of the long-term project pizzeria
babylon – how did this project emerge and how has
it developed since?
hamm: dzamil and i met at
the end of the 1990ies - we were both working in a suburban
pizzeria and kebab place. the place was owned by an iranean
refugee, and we were moonlighting - i was a student, and
dzamil as a refugee couldn't get a legal job. i studied
art and dzamil was very interested in art, but in finland
he hadn't done anything, he didn't have any kind of possibilities,
not the material circumstances, no studio, etc. the project
started like a joke, from talking about this kind of concept
of a pizzeria. since we are having an ongoing project.
con-fusion food here in riga is the third part of pizzeria
babylon, but the parts have their own logic and are
independent of each other. pizzeria babylon is more like a framework for working together. we
have done many different things, just sometimes we have
an exhibition and we put it under some theme, like pizzeria
babylon II - home delivery:
at that time, dzamil's son was in iran, and dzamil tried
to arrange that the son can come back to his father, to
finland. that was the main idea of this 'home delivery',
not only the very concrete meaning. i was documenting
and i drew some pizza boxes and things like that. there
was this abstract theme, but it was somehow joined by
this 'pizzeria thinking'.
the third part here in riga
is the project that is most drawn to cooking and food.
the main topic is the meeting of cultures and questions
of 'originality' and 'authenticity.' cooking techniques
- different cultures are meeting here, and they borrow
and learn from each other. there is cultural exchange
happening, and it is very difficult to find something
like an 'original.' almost every country's people claim:
this meal is something that is exactly from our country,
but when you research a bit closer, you see that this
element comes from here and that element comes from there,
and it is very difficult to find origins for the dishes
and cooking techniques, because things have been invented
in different places at the same time.
the recipes we use are mostly
from dzamil. he has combined - not on purpose, it just
happened - things like middle east pizza mixed with finish
pizza. it is a question of which ingredients you can buy
and what kind of cookware you have to use. when we were
in iran last summer, i saw these things and they are totally
different, and it became very clear, how difficult it
is to even try to do this middle east food here. it gets
confused with finish techniques and ingredients - it is
not finish and it is not middle east, but it is something
new, some hybrid, it is something totally new and in that
way unique. - i do not mean this in the way like culinary
art, this concept of fusion food, where people try to
create new tastes from combining techniques of different
cultures, like italian and thai, very trendy. we are interested
in home food, people's everyday food. i don't want to
be involved anyhow in these culinaristic trends.
minichbauer: more like
hamm: yes, i started to
see these differences, and also dzamil saying: "i
tried to make this but it is not happening like that,
like my mother was doing it in iran." and then
we started to analyse these recipes, and we were getting
this idea, how much actually we are eating this food
and we don't realise what is the story behind it. we
collected these recipes, we analysed them and then we
created this menu list. there are eight meals, like
here in the re:public
program booklet the vegetarian risotto. there is this
world map and all the ingredients we need for this meal
are displayed in the area, where they come from: sunflower
oil is coming from that area, tomato and chilli is coming
from this area, potatoes is here, rice, onion, coriander
etc. there are also little stories about this. the history
of many spices is also the history of european colonialism,
actually spices was one reason, why europeans started
to find other continents. so this question of origins
of these ingredients is also quite political.
minichbauer: the project
takes place in two cafes in suburbs here in riga. who
is the 'target group' - people who just drop in and
could maybe not even realize that there is an art project
hamm: yes, it is for people
in that areas. there are also flyers to promote it,
but mainly it is for people who just pop in. and we
don't want to make any financial profit of it, the prices
will be just what we have spent. i think that people
will notice that it is an art project - maybe they will
not notice the posters, but they will notice the menu,
it doesn't look like an ordinary menu, it is quite big
minichbauer: the political
implications you mentioned, in which way are they being
hamm: the main theme of
the whole pizzeria
babylon project is: how does it feel to be a refugee
in finland? so there are political implications, but
we don't want to underline this. it is more like: "ok.,
sit down, order some food, and maybe you can read a
little bit this menu." and maybe he or she starts
to think about what has happened in the world... we
don't give any solutions, we want to make people think
by their own. of course it is political, and also, after
the terrorist attacks in new york, everything which
is linked with muslim countries has been somehow politicised.
minichbauer: how did this
change the project?
hamm: it changed very
much - not our way of working, but it changed the way
in which the audience looks at it, and interprets it.
in this way it has been politicised. i don't mind it,
but i never underline it so much. because i want it
to be easy to find, easy to feel it, not too complicated
and not too big a message. i am more interested in the
experience - like i told, the whole pizzeria
babylon project is the form where refugee people
can give his or her voice. they cannot speak our language,
the language is so difficult, but the images are a possibility
to say how does it feel.
minichbauer: you travelled
to iran in the course of the project last summer?
hamm: it was not defined
as part of the project, but of course everything you
do is linked to the project. the setting of pizzeria
babylon has been that i am a native in finland and
dzamil is a refugee, and we had planned for a long time
to change that, so that i am in his home country and
to get to experience this feeling as a foreigner in
the other country with a totally different culture,
and he is feeling home. and i took some photographs
and video, and was getting to know the music. there
will be some material in the free palms evenings.
minichbauer: what did
you learn about the current situation in iran?
kamanger: iran right now
is not like for example twenty years ago. there has
been change. but i can say again, right now it is not
like ten years ago. again it changed. some 25 years
ago, there was the shah time, and after the shah was
gone with the islamic republic everything changed. there
was not any restaurant, any cafe... no alcohol, 'no'
to many things. the situation was so rigid, especially
the young people felt that they could not be in any
way free. but within the last five or six years there
has been some change.
hamm: but i think it is
sometimes like one step in one direction and then two
steps in the other direction. so maybe there is some
opening happening, but it still is really slow. and
when i understood correctly what people told me, it
was the problem of the shah time, that he tried to westernize
the country too fast, and this brought this counter-reaction
that the very hardliner things could get so popular.
kamanger: the shah said
that within five or six years he was going to make iran
like sweden, the second sweden, with all the freedom.
but the people, they were muslims of course, they didn't
like this idea, they didn't want this kind of freedom.
i had been missing iran more
or less for twenty years. i was a prisoner of war for
ten years after the iraq-iran war, then i got back to
iran for almost one year and then i got out of iran.
when i went over there now, for me it was nice, i had
been missing this country and these people. but when
i talked to people, they don't like the situation right
now, they want everything to be changed.
hamm: one of my projects
was related to isabella bird. she was a writer and traveller.
more than one hundred years ago, in 1893, she travelled
to kurdistan. she wrote two very big books about this,
with nice drawings. one project for me was to follow
her footsteps and to photograph the same places where
she had been, and i interviewed people, how they deal
with isabella's thoughts about themselves. what i found
very clearly, was, that in the countryside, in the mountains,
it doesn't matter, if the shah is in power or the ayatollah.
kamanger: no, it doesn't
hamm: the gap between
the ordinary people and the ruling elite is enormous.
and the elites and the ayatollahs use all the money
out of them. and it has been like that for hundreds
of years. the power-relations haven't changed a lot
in the long period.
minichbauer: as one part
of pizzeria babylon that happened before re:public, there was a project in southern spain...
hamm: we planned to go
there together, but then dzamil got a visa and went
to iran, and so i did the project on my own. andalusia
- the morisque culture, the border to north africa.
i drew little portraits of illegal refugees from northern
africa, a series of 130 portraits. and i also had a
project to photograph the trespasses of europe, like
also bosphorus in istanbul or aran islands in ireland,
and i have also photographed finlands border, where
refugees try to get into europe. this has been a very
long-term project, because it is expensive to travel.
but now it is finished.
palms are audiovisual events that take place in
the evenings, in the same suburban pubs here in riga.
you did this project in finland before. how did the
project come about?
pitkänen: some one and
a half years ago i got to know kalle and dzamil a bit
closer. we had many things in common, because i had
also worked with refugees during a longer stay in slovenia,
mainly refugees from former yugoslavia and the balkans.
i went around whole slovenia to refugee camps and immigrant
centres. i did interviews and took pictures. for more
than a half year i was actually living with them, more
or less every day i went to one of these places, listening
to the stories of the people there. i published a book
about it, mostly photography, which is called blue book.
palms developed from small
pieces of bar-talks between the three of us. we were
discussing how we could bring some different music to
the 'normal' audience, who normally only listen euro-pop
and things like that.
hamm: at the time when
we started this project, i was living in lahti, a medium-sized
city hundred kilometres from helsinki. in lahti it is
really bad with racism, there is very open racism. we
wanted to provide a possibility to get to know other
cultural expressions, and we thought that music might
be a very good way because it is easy to adapt.
pitkänen: the first evenings
took place in a finish bar which was owned by a croat.
hamm: actually, there
were not many refugees coming. we wanted to play the
music for them in a finish bar, but these suburban bars
are of a very racist attitude, and finish people are
very aggressive, when they are drunk. but we got some
contact. it was not easy. we had six nights, the local
customers started to like it, but first they were really
openly against it.
pitkänen: and when the
whole series of these happenings was over, they started
to ask: "when are you going to arrange a new party?"
and they started really to feel in that music - arab
music and eastern european music, which has many influences
from arabian music.
hamm: we had some little
activities for the customers. like we just left papers
and pens on the table, and we had this kind of puzzles,
so people can a little bit do something. we also had
videos from the countries which we projected on the
wall. giving a voice, showing the country and people's
everyday lives, completely different from the cnn-propaganda.
minichbauer: videos from
of the areas we are showing.
hamm: for example here
in riga we are going to have a video from iran.
pitkänen: and i have been
working with balkan people, who are living in lahti,
for the video; so there will be some portraits.
minichbauer: what is the
style/aesthetics of these videos?
hamm: my video is a road
movie, landscape, people's everyday life. no text, it
is not like a movie but video for a bar, with music...
pitkänen: mine is more
like a hypnotic portrait from these people from balkans.
minichbauer: what is the
situation in lahti where the project was originally
conceptualised and created?
pitkänen: lahti is not
a centre for refugees, there are only a few refugees
living with their families.
hamm: they are really
pitkänen: there are three
or four cities in finland where there are more refugees,
but not in lahti. those few families are just with themselves.
kamanger: lahti is a relatively
small city, i think that is why only few refugee families
live there. most of them cannot live in a small city.
many people cannot get jobs, and in a small city, they
can just stay at home, because there is nothing else.
when i came to finland, they sent me to a small city
with 10,000 inhabitants. it was so difficult there.
for me it was so small, i couldn't go on sitting at
home everyday. i have to go to a restaurant, but how
many times i have to go there? i can't go to the restaurant
every day - always restaurant, restaurant, restaurant.
it is much better to live in a big city like helsinki,
there are many places, where i can spend my time, i
can go out, go shopping, i can visit many places.
hamm: we wanted to somehow
open the situation, but as i told, they didn't really
come because of this restaurant culture in finland.
pitkänen: but because
the owner of the bar is a croat, i think people from
the balkans living in lahti, they came over to see what
happened. and there were also arabian nights events
and so, and they came to see what is going on.
hamm: it was a try. and
at the end many people were coming...
pitkänen: and it was a
success, it became a cult in lahti.
minichbauer: how did the
project transfer to riga?
hamm: we also wanted to
find out about refugee people here in riga. but there
are not so many, not that scale as in finland. and then
we just thought, we could play the music for the local
suburban people. i was here in spring and found that
people in these suburban areas have been living quite
isolated lives, they don't know for example about different
music styles like arabic music. so the project intervenes
in that situation. and we also invited local djs and
vjs to come to these suburban areas.
minichbauer: thank you
current exhibition by kalle hamm
& dzamil kamanger
galleria pirkko-liisa topelius, helsinki, 18 08 2004
- 04 09 2004