Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan
Maja and Reuben Fowkes: Your work is set in woodland that has been devastated by deforestation and therefore offers no place to hide for those escaping conflict or persecution; do you see parallels between the situation facing refugees today and those who sought to escape the violence of World War II?
Anca Benera and Arnold Estefan: In terms of scale, yes, it is comparable, but is much more complex. We are less interested in statistics and the implications of different geopolitical forces in this matter but rather what it generates at a social (individual) level. The message behind our work echoes what the Lithuanian filmmaker Jonas Mekas described in his memoir “I Had nowhere to go” as a refugee between 1944-1954,showing the loneliness of a young man who had just escaped the worst nightmare of war and violence, only to discover the lesson of cultural clash and unhappiness in a new “homeland”. In European history, during the 1990s, there were other waves of refugees, for instance after the conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo, however this is the first time that Europe has faced a mass influx of refugees from outside its region. As of writing, after the Paris attacks, we see a growing, latent fascism and anti-Muslim attitudes in Europe, which generate new struggles, while fences are being built, creating similar violent war-like tensions for those who are trying to escape war.
MRF: The title of your film, No Shelter from the Storm, could be interpreted both directly, in terms of the fact that today forests no longer offer a place of refugee, and also from an ecological viewpoint, in that due to drastic anthropogenic changes to the landscape the natural world today seems less predictable and more hostile or alien; can we still rely on nature to be natural?
The image of the woodland devastated by deforestation was filmed in Romania, in the Carpathian Mountains. It is one of the last virgin forests of Europe, and is being destroyed now by multinational corporations and corruption.The problem is that scarcity of resources causes new conflicts and war, and vice versa. Living now (temporarily) on the other side of the world, in California, we realize that natural and the unnatural are interchangeable. In the struggle to make the desert habitable, nature had to be re-invented. And what is left from the wild desert has been gradually taken over by the military infrastructure, thus becoming a natural shelter for the army.
The figures we seeing walking through the forest are whistling a song that originated as a Ukrainian Cossack folk tune and then crossed over into an American anti-war folk hit of the 1960s; how important is this specific cultural and historical background to understanding the film?
ABAE: Actually, this is essential in understanding the work.We decided to show the film for the first time in Kyiv, because of its relevance in that context. Basically, the original lyrics were taken by Peter Seeger in 1956 from the Ukrainian Cossack folk song Koloda-Duda, referenced in Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quiet Flows the Don” (1928), in which war – in the form of both international conflict and civil uprising – provides the epic backdrop to the narrative. The never-ending wars and conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, are each linked to colonial history and Cold War politics. The timelessness of this anti-war song is self-evident.
MRF: How has the Anthropocene changed the timeless experience of hiking through the wilderness?
ABAE: It did change a lot, if we only think about the fact that our footsteps are measured by APPs and our location on Earth is done by GPS points...
MRF: In the film, we never see the moment when the two walkers cross paths, although towards the end their whistling intermingles; is there a hidden, optimistic note to this unseen harmony?
ABAE: It is about the human condition of our age. The intermingled whistling is a solitary struggle, in the hope of collective solidarity.
Anca Benera & Arnold Estefan, No Shelter From the Storm, 2015, film still from HD video, 5 min., 43 sec
Anca Benera (born in 1977, Romania) and Arnold Estefan (born in 1978, Romania) are artists and co-founders of the Centre for Visual Introspection in Bucharest. Working collectively since 2011, their practice examines power relations in social, economic, and political contexts. Specifically, their works reflect the confrontation of the individual with forms of institutionalised power. They live and work in Bucharest. Their works have been shown in: Der Brancusi-Effekt, Kunsthalle Wien (2014); Sights and Sounds: Global Film and Video, The Jewish Museum, New York (2014); Art Under a Dangerous Star, tranzit.hu, Budapest (2014); A Few Grams of Red, Yellow, Blue, CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw (2014); Mom am I barbarian? 13th Istanbul Biennial (2013); Like a Bird. Avian Ecologies in Contemporary Art, Translocal Institute, Trafo Gallery, Budapest (2013); Winning Hearts and Minds project conducted by Critical Art Ensemble, dOCUMENTA (13) Kassel (2012) and Intense Proximity, La Triennale, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2012).