For Juliano Mer-Khamis (2013)

On stage: Jurij Konjar
Light design: Joanna Lesnierowska
Music: John Coltrane
This creation took place in dialogue with Joanna Lesnierowska
Partners: Španski Borci and Art Stations Foundation Poznan
Thank you to the technical teams of Art Stations Foundation and Španski Borci
Produced by: Jurij Konjar

“For Juliano Mer-Khamis” is a piece inspired by a man and the place he called home, though the performance speaks of many people and many communities. Through recounting his own journeys and through personal practice Jurij Konjar examines what does make sustainable change. How to keep a practice going while on the road, how to integrate it into daily life and what it feels like to live as an artist.  How one man’s choice to do what he knows best, in a place where it is needed, keeps inspiring even after his violent death in 2011. All this, in a time it takes to make a soup. 

Between 2011-2013 Jurij Konjar spent some weeks each year teaching, performing in and working with the Palestine and the Greek local communities. This performance is about what got cooked, eaten and digested along the way.

The story, as told in the performance:
“Whenever I get somewhere new I like to take a moment to arrive. First I go to the office and I get the keys to the dance studio. I check if I can unlock it.. if it’s clean.. if it’s warm. The next thing.. I go to the appartment, where the home’s gonna be for the next two weeks or so…and I check if it’s clean, if I can unlock it, if the internet works.. this is where it usually gets complicated.. And then, I go food shopping. I first go to the open air markets. And I try to find the people that still look like they’re growing their own food. Then I go to the store that sells legumes..nuts..seeds.. the stuff that I eat. Whatever I don’t find I then buy in the supermarket: like olive oir, salt, soy sauce… By that time it’s usually four o’clock and I’m hungry; so I go and cook something. The first thing I usually make is a soup. A soup because it can stay in the fridge for a whole week. It’s fast – when you’re hungry you just heat it up. You can add stuff to it.. you can dilute it.. you can add grains.. you can share it with friends.. it’s not just something on a piece of bread, six times a week… I don’t like electric stoves too much.. but it’s what you find in these rental appartments. You need a few days to know how the stove behaves. The olive oil should only go in once the pot is hot, so it doesn’t burn; and then immediatelly the onion. You don’t add-in all the vegetable at once, cause some cooks faster then the other. I use sausage as a base… When I buy my vegetable, I select all that looks tasty to me. I have a taste for quality. Then, once I open the fridge, I like to work with what I find there. It all goes into the pot. When I first met Penelope Illiaskou.. she was talking about Athens. She looked desperate sometimes. People are loosing hope that things will ever get better. She also said they’re abandoning public spaces. ..they live outdoor. There’s nothing happening outside.. signs of desperation. When she finished I introduced myself.. and told her about community.. in Vermont.. to dance and to garden. And next to that community there’s another one, of puppeteers.. started by Peter Schumann. Came to New York to dance; though he met people like.. continued doing puppets; made big shows; served pasta; were called B&P, served alioli and bread. Got too big..went to Vermont…commnunity growing around.. their own farms.. artists growing food. Going to communities, and work with them, giving them tools to express what was on their mind. Making shows quickly.. perf in street.. building things.. empowering. So I suggested to Penelope that myself and two dancers from B&P get over to Athens in festive season and make a piece by performing it first. And then performing it again – in another place. And like that build it, and in the end perform it in a double bill with G.V. Took a while to get the money and the details together, but on Dec 23rd last year I was landing in Athens. I was coming straight from Jenin, Palestine. And before I was in Israel; and before in Cyprus. And everywhere, in spite of what I knew, seemed calm. But in Slovenia there was demonstrations and fights with the police over the corruption. I was thinking – what am I doing here? Then when Maura arrived on Christmas day we had a meeting with the community, because the invit was extended to the Athenians if they want to come with their ideas to come together. Stop. It’s like a mirror. Too many ideas. So much I can’t feel what I’m thinking. We had an interesting problem – so many people showed up. On their faces – what are you gonna do? The thing is, Bread and Puppet are pretty famous. They have books written about them.. with photos … and they’re translated.. and the puppeteers.. there are many puppeteers.. When I cook I try not to make jokes.. which.. I don’t want to make jokes.. but.. I think it’s to cook shows.. But – it’s not my thing and I try to resist. Like I also try not to move all the time.. which I also.. you know. What was the longest stop I’ve made today? Sometimes I have so many ideas I can’t feel. And the more I know.. the less I know. I think. Better not stop. I’ll have to work with what’s there, though. So we’ve agreed with Maura, that we’re gonna do two shows; one’s gonna be with all the Greek people; with the tools that she knows that I’ll learn. And we’re gonna do a 2nd show; make a trio by performing it. And we’re gonna start with a group piece. So we decided to build a boat. so we started looking at locations where we could perform the piece. We had a Fb list.. got materials.. learnt names.. learnt what the Greeks are thinking about.. same things as you-me? They were very consistent with following.. asking what we’re doing.. and I was very happy.. I was also unhappy. And I was ashamed that I was unhappy, because something great was happening. All this people were coming together – people that have never met before. From Athens.. through this ___ of us being there. And they were working together, we went out, we performed.. we were learning. what we are doing.. and then.. we didn’t really have the time to do the rest…The main, not the rest… And that should be enough. I thought. But it wasn’t! I’m not a community worker! I’m not an activist! I’m not an organizer. I’m an artist. And if I’m not…if I’m facebooking …and not part of the becoming.. I get frustrated and then when it’s done I want to just close myself into something small for two months and not get out. So that’s not… When I find myself with no floor.. I usually.. go to something I know very well. ’cause it tells me where I am. So…four days before the performance of the Boat piece and the Goldberg Variations I started practicing the G.V. I took a few long walks where I could see far above the computer screen. I slept in the middle of the day. I stopped talking so much. And.. in the performance I felt very calm. I felt like I’ve done… everything. And I just need to do it once again, for one hour. I felt I had a lot of time to think…too much. To feel where I am..and take the door that I’ve seen. Lots of people showed up. We heard there’s going to be about 30 to fourty people. But I guess they were maybe 120, maybe more… (to the public) Can you hear me? They came to see what this foreigners were doing with the Greeks over Christmas and New Year. And they came late! Many came late and I would dance and I would.. dance like this: “Welcome, it’s your place”. And they were very quiet. And during the show I felt tears coming to my eyes and then after the show I just went off and I cried. Which I not so special, except that I only cry when I dance. So I guess each one of us has their own (“alibi”)?. And then other people came and they were crying. So I guess a release happened, of some kind. There was a lot of… After, we did the best Boat Show ever!, I thought. Outdoor. it became strong. There was this moment where someone would scream: »A ten second dance for everybody that commited suicide in 2012.!” The number of the suicides went up in the last years and it’s not really information that’s being talked about much there. After the show I went a close-by island and I switched off the phone .. for some days. It’s not easy being a guest.. all the time. It’s like having someone in your house all the time. But before I went to the island I aksed 10 Greeks to join me next weekend.. to go around their city..their city… to walk around.. a Walkaround. Of two days. Where we show eachother space. How we see Space. What we see. How we inhibit Our space. Our Athens. We met at 10 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday…in Monastiraki square. I thought we’re gonna go to some place where we performed the Boat piece, like Metaxurgio, or Exarchia.. places where things were happening. But we turned to the Acropolis. And we were going up the Acropolis. And I thought “Why?”, but I didn’t say anything… And all the time there was a police helicopter above another part of the city.. because a demonstration was planned for the same day. A demonstration was planned on the same day, for a place called “Villa Amalia”. Villa Amalia. Villa Amalia is a squat under Victoria Sq. Victoria Sq is btw the immigrant workers area and the Neo Fascist area of Athens. So it acted as a kind of a buffer, this squat, that was made by an Anarchists in the ’80’s.. sorry.. by the artists. And then the anarchists took over later. And the police closed it as a part of the pogram of the government to close down all the squats because that was where apparently the people who were rioting (was what I actually wanted to say “demonstrating”?) were gathering. And then when people protested against the closures they locked them up and they pressed charges. And they were not true. So the protest that day that we went out on the Walkaround was against the locking up of the people. Normal people. People, who were saying something. And…we were reminded of that presence by the helicopter.. all the time. And I was still thinking “what are we doing in the Acropolis?” And the helicopter was there. We were quiet. Later I found out, that the dancers I was with .. someone told they were scared of going to the demonstrations and they were ashamed of being scared. Cause they didn’t have the money to buy themselves out or they were scared they’re gonna get locked up, like the people before. and so the reason why we went to teh Disneyland of Athens, to the Akropolis, was because the dancers thought if they would be in the city they should be with the demonstrators. Is it possible to learn this text by heart, in a week? In order to have subtitles? But – I can only have live translation. Someone typing it live. Because the text needs to be iprovized, the story told. Depending on what happens in the dancing.. in the rhythm… When I get somewhere I like to take a moment to arrive. To use what’s there then. To see what’s there. I often go to new places. And I feel as a foreinger I have this advantage: that I’m a foreinger. SO, for the 1st moment I’m immediatelly interesting. What is he doing there? What are you here? What are you doing here? And then it depends on what I do the next moment.. if I keep that attention or not. Kinda like on stage. The title of this piece is (called) For Juliano Mer-Khamis. Juliano Mer-Khamis was an Israeli Palestinian who worked on bringing education and the art to the youth in Jenin regugee camp in Jenin, Palestine. First he was a… well he was an actor. And he was in the army… Israeli army… his mother was jewish. And he was quite a succesfull actor in Israel, he had a life going. And his mother was helping the Palestinian children during the occupation and the wars. She was helping them have an education. And, through theatre, to give them tools to express the anger and the frustration.. that they were experiencing. And, he went with her, they were working together… then in ’95 she died… and there was the 2nd intifada.. a war.. and when he went back to the same place.. the actors that he worked with became militants and mostly died. So he started again, this time he moved there.. to Jenin.. and he started Freedom Theatre, together with two colleagues. And Freedom Theatre was a centre for the kids and the youth and everybody, I guess, in the Jenin refugee camp. And they had a lot of things going. They didn’t just make shows and tour them; they had a school for creative writing, for journalism, for lights and sound, for acting, for film directing, editing, cultural management.. they have facilities for that, too – crude, but working. And he was killed after the 30th show of Alice in Wonderland. Was shot in front of the theatre, five times. But (without him) they finished the show that they were doing at the time; and they went on a tour… the tour around the world. And I find.. still for the people who go there.. not only there… and Juliano… I see him as someone who went and did what was necessary at a place.. what he did well.. he did his thing.. in a place where it was most necessary. It mite have not been the easiest choice.. but it left consequences.”

More whole-performance videos are available here

External links:  a video of Juliano Mer-Khamis performing on the streetin an extract from the documentary film Deadly Currents .