WELCOME

In 2014, Mareike taught performance for the master’s class at the Centre of Contemporay Art Tbilisi, which resulted in the student performance “Three Sisters -The Leaving Party” loosely based on Chekhov . Following this workshop performance, the students decided to continue their work with Mareike, now having formed their own artist collective – New Collective. Under the direction of Mareike they devised the follow-up performance WELCOME, an immersive performance about female migration and labour which was invited as one of the best newcomer performances to FLARE15 Festival in Manchester/UK in 2015.

The performance WELCOME was due to premiere at the festival, but the UK Visa and Immigration Office had its own plans for the performance. The Georgian members of the group, which were all but Mareike, were denied visas to the UK.

So instead of the planned performance a protest took place during FLARE 15 Festival. Mareike, who due ti her German passport could enter the UK, took over the small stage at Contact Theatre and instead of the performance staged a protest, with the Georgian artists joining online, they had debates with audience about visa laws and freedom of movement. Additionally, they had create a video installation as a visual protest message.

Instead of the performance this video installation was presented on the empty stage. It shows the actresses in their characters stuck in transit

A short report about the start of what sometimes felt like a Kafka performance:

“We were very happy and excited to find out that our follow up performance WELCOME has been invited to FLARE15 Festival in Manchester this summer. I had planned to post updates about the rehearsals and coming up performance here. Unfortunately, things have become a bit more complicated than we had expected. Here is the story so far:

What happens when you try to do a performance about migration in an EU country, with most members of the ensemble coming from outside EU

Together with six young Georgian artists (namely Ana Chaduneli, Tamar Chaduneli, Tamara Gobronidze, Ana Jikiani, Gvantsa Jishkarina and Nata Kipiani) I have been invited to create a performance for FLARE15 Festival, in Manchester/UK. Everything had been arranged – flights reserved, rehearsals scheduled, the festival has announced the program featuring our performance – which is going to deal with the situation of migrants in Western Europe and particularly in the UK – the only things missing were the visas for the Georgian artists. I myself am in the privileged situation of being able to travel almost everywhere with my German passport, without having to spend hours at embassies, writing down every personal detail about my life and of course justifying the numbers on my bank statements. So in the end 1000 Euros were paid as the application fee for all visas, the most intimate and ridiculous questions answered in the visa application form, a personal interview at a visa office gone through – including the woman conducting the interview mocking the members of the group about their financial situation – finally all documents were sent to the British Embassy in Ankara (that is why an single application instead of 90 Euro costs 200 Euro when applying from Georgia, sending paper is expensive).

We were all aware of the fact that the UK has very strict visa regulations, but didn’t expect that our performance would become reality even before entering the UK. In the end all we wanted to do is show a performance at a festival that had invited us.

To make it short – all visas were denied on the sole reason that the artists, don’t have enough money on their bank accounts. I am not sure what would be considered as a sufficient amount, but I suppose the amount that my bank statement is currently showing surely would not either, still no one denies me to enter the UK. But a group of artists that has been officially invited to an international theatre festival in Manchester, instead of a visa, gets a note in their passports stating that the person checking their visa application is the opinion, that their application is not genuine and the intend behind their visa application is to illegally stay in the UK and possibly apply for social benefits. Thus by saying that, basically criminalizing the artists and trying to impose that they are lying. Quote from refusal letter: “…I am not satisfied that you are a genuine visitor to the UK and will leave the UK at the end of your visit or that you have sufficient funds available to cover your costs whilst in the UK without working or accessing public funds…” So what else can you do to prove that the sole intend of your visit is to do a performance at festival, if even a signed statement by the festival doesn’t seem to be credible for the visa office?

The festival’s artistic director has been great and trying to support us in every way possible, calling and writing to everyone possible in order to change the decision on the visas. So far without success, the visa office only offer is to either file an official appeal which takes six month to one year or to reapply. Reapplying would also mean again paying a visa fee of altogether more than 1000 Euros. We already paid that sum for the first application, which of course is non-refundable. Even is reapplying we would only again send in the same documentation stating that the festival is taking care of everything including making sure everyone leaving the UK afterwards. How is it possible to run international art festival and work inter-culturally, if everyone outside the European Union first has to prove that they are rich enough in order to be allowed to participate?

I met this group of artists, when I was teaching them in performance and from this our collaboration developed. This kind of collaboration is normally praised in every leaflet of the EU, collaboration across borders, inter-culturally, connecting people, raising important questions on current issues, etc. But considering current visa legislations and procedures these terms just stay empty shells, it is not possible to actually fill these terms with life, because it is not wanted. We like to talk about freedom, but the artist’s freedom from outside the EU stops at the EU borders. How can I teach students in Georgia, showing them possibilities for their artistic career, when I all the time have to inform them about their limitation? How can I instigate an artistic exchange, if that in the end only means that I can travel somewhere on EU funds but shouldn’t consider inviting artists back. We are living in hypocritical times, abusing terms like “freedom” and “choice” while constantly denying the fact that these terms have become replacement for “restriction” and “privileged selectivity”.

To be continued…”

More information about the whole story you can find here

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