When the world becomes at odds with itself, that is often when the most influential & radical artists arise with the arts that provide the groundwork of new aesthetic syntheses. Exemplary of this zeitgeist of cause & effect is the prolific Berlin based artist Mary Ocher who presents the world premiere of the emotional & important video for “Washed Upon Your Shores”. Taken from the Klangbad released album The West Against The People produced by Faust’s Hans Joachim Irmler, the international Audodiktat art collective member zooms in on the disparities between political citizenship polemics in an inclusive hymn in the name of humanism. “My political conviction is anarchism, dealing much with subject of authority,” Ocher described in reflections on their multidisciplinary approaches to the mediums of music, poetry, literature, performances, activism in the pursuit of establishing new constructs of mind & soul expanding art-forms. “I have a terribly megalomaniac desire to create a new genre, for years it’s been nearly impossible to get any attention to my work because it fell between too many chairs, but now we have access to an endless supply of music past and present, that I think this generation is so much more knowledgeable about music than any of those that came before.” Mary further illustrated this globe-spanning ambition coupled with the infinite challenges of endless creative exploration & finding new unique approaches to expression. “My biggest fear is to run out of things to try and cuddle up in the safety of something familiar and dull forever; one way of battling it is occasionally looking for instruments I don’t know how to play.”
Through the the lenses of a split-screen view, the video for Mary Ocher’s “Washed Upon Your Shores” illustrates the stark polar opposite travel experience that are predicated upon a difference of passports. On the left side of the screen we observe the passage procedurals of an EU traveler contrasted with the right side of screen that showcases the trials & tribulations of a non-EU citizen in transit. Juxtapositions are seen from elaborate accommodations & amenities on one side pitted against perspectives of badlands, choppy waters & severe situations of inexplicable peril & hardship. Mary on the left side shows planes, boats, green roadways & highways to anywhere in the world while exhibiting in the right window refugee boats of dire desperation being intercepted by military-border authorities incarcerating people into detention centers of barbed wires fences & high towers. The safe passage way of EU-based country commuters are shown in opposition to images of the dead that didn’t make it to their destination, where security for the jet-setters are met with complimentary coffee & window views while the undocumented are cast to the cold coastal entrances into rocky adversity & harsh weather conditions.
Ocher further exemplifies the EU idea of privilege where the everything from evening nightlife entertainment & amusement park adventures are enjoyed while those from war torn nations are left to uncertain futures with their entire worlds are packed into one succinct suitcase. The video works to create the feeling of travel in motion where Mary’s song resounds like an ancient traditional song of a seafaring immigrant in pursuit of a new land of chance & greater opportunities whilst fleeing situations of oppression (only to stumble into new systems of xenophobia & dehumanization). The solemn sound & visual art piece accentuates the ease & leisure of the westerner out in the world placed up against the adversity & duress encountered by their eastern counterparts from impoverished & inhospitable nations. The message that Mary Ocher sends out to the world is statement of love that extends beyond & without boarders & the barriers that keep us from welcoming & loving one another. “Washed Upon Your Shores” is an urgent wake up call for the world, particularly the western countries of authority that set international civic policy, to accept one another unconditionally. Ocher makes a plea to work together with one another, to better understand one another & embrace a unity that our world has never before in its entire sordid history ever embarked upon.
Mary Ocher presented us with the exclusive & insightful reflections on the visual for “Washed Upon Your Shores” as well as the new album The West Against the People:
Just like the album, the video is followed by an additional piece of text, it is not as essay this time, but a summary of conversations I’ve had with people who traveled all the way to Europe by land and sea.
The video was shot on tour all over Europe and bits of Asia last year. It has taken me to 20 countries from its release date in March to December 2017, and it shocks me every time how radically different the experience of crossing a border can be, based on your citizenry. That’s the moment when prejudice, a slight hint of dislike, becomes a full blown discrimination that renders one powerless, or the moment you hold your breath until that passport is stamped and you can rejoin the line.
Your passport dictates each experience you are about to have. You can find the passport index online to discover which nationalities rank the highest, those belonging to countries that are most welcome in other parts of the world and do not require visas.
At Berlin’s foreigners’ ministry (the Auslaenderbehoerde) different nationalities are treated in different parts of the building and some may apply for certain visas that others may not. There’s only a handful of non-EU nationalities that qualify for the well sought out freelance work visas, or god forbid—artist visas! And since most do not cross paths in that big building, you may often not realize exactly whether you are being treated better or worse than another, but I’m sure one can guess.
The subject of refugees and their journeys has been dealt with on this side of the pond endlessly, it’s been constantly in the news and all over 2017’s giant art fairs: The Venice Biennale and the documenta is Kassel. Imagine a world that is upside down and a whole different ranking system would then apply, but for now we obsess over our responsibility while voyeuristically observing these struggles.
Mary Ocher elaborated further on the histories that informed “Washed Upon Your Shores”:
My parents and I arrived in Tel Aviv in 1991 during the gulf war, but sirens indicating running to the shelter at night are nothing in comparison to the horrors that led to a mass exodus in 2015. Here are the remarkable stories of two stern individuals who crossed the land against all odds:
The first, a woman of 35 traveled with two kids (of 8 and 14), along with a family with 4 children. They started from Syria all together, the border with Turkey back then used to be mere barbed wire, now it is a solid wall, she says. They continued by tiny boat with 60 people, unfit for more than 35, suddenly the boat stopped, they turned on a light to find out what had happened, and the Greek coast guard came and took them into Greece. It was terrifying to see the children in the water, if we had only known how difficult it would be, we would have never started. From Greece on to Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, all by bus, with the help of the red cross and for a fee, then from Slovenia onward to Germany by train…
Her husband would make an average of 5k before the war, he was a carpenter, the war made his services redundant and they were left penniless, and determined to live a full life again. Everyone’s parents had stayed in Syria, by the Turkish border, in a small Kurdish region.
The second, a man of 22.
A desire to leave started building up at the age of 14 or 15, Europe felt closest, though impossible with a weak passport. Sweden was the destination of choice, but he met a German girl on the way that changed the plan a little. From Turkey to Greece, with his passport no visa was needed, he had collected money from all relatives, nearly 2k. He made a friend once in turkey.
A Facebook group helped with legal and practical advice. He had also met a man who claimed to take him by boat, only 43 ppl, 100% safe, he wanted $80, in advance…Facebook suggested that was likely a scam. His pal and he then found another connection, safer. Part of the fee they were told, will be used to purchase a safety vest and a waterproof bag for valuables.
They waited five hours for a car to take them to the boat, afraid the military would come instead and rob them. Finally the driver showed up and what was said to be 43 people were put pressed together in one truck with a single hole for air and nothing to hold onto. Once outside someone put a life jacket too tight on a baby and he couldn’t breathe…the two boys cut the vest and the baby resumed breathing normally, the horrified parents asked them to stay close and promise to take care of the baby if they themselves don’t make it.
The boat had finally been brought, small, made of rubber. They helped inflate it and fix the old engine. The person operating the engine got to ride for free, he was risking 15 years in prison if they got caught, this also meant the person had no experience.
The smuggler watched from the shore and instructed them by phone. There were two islands and they did not know which was Turkish and which Greek, a man pulled out a knife and threatened to punch a hole in the boat if they didn’t try the isle he thought was the Greek, a struggle broke and the dwellers of the boat decided against the man’s request. They were 75 people it turned out, and in spite of the difficulties, had reached the Greek shore in a record time of one hour. The guards had nearly caught them, but their boat was too slow.
Next it turned out he was only four hour late at the Macedonian border that had been closed, forcing him to return to Greece and gather further advice. There he found a demonstrators’ camp a crowd who spoke English, from UNICEF, the red cross etc…he joined in and started cooking for the community, where he met his future partner.
He then continued on his own and encountered an accent specialist at the Serbian border, sure they would then find out he is not Syrian and deny entry, he was surprised to find out that the specialist felt sorry for him and let him go. They were required to name countless things to determine whether they were Syrian: names of schools, streets, souks, monuments, which currency they had, which numbers they’d have to call to reach the police or the fire department…The trip from Serbia to Croatia and Slovenia was simple, until he encountered another translator and another camp. They took all phones away, it was very nearly a prison. The people they met suggested to hide among a Syrian family and pretend to be sick or asleep. They did not pretend and with their true identities they were allowed to enter Austria.
On the bus to Germany all their papers were confiscated, so they could not escape. They were at the police station for 4 days, were asked to strip to check for marks, so that they’ll be easy to recognize in case they commit a crime. In Munich he had officially applied for asylum. Only 1% of his nationality is granted asylum, mostly dissidents and journalists, the rest are sent back.
Many people he had met on the way still live in camps, which is a form of house arrest.
Mary Ocher’s new album The West Against the People is available now from Klangbad & all platforms.
Catch Mary Ocher touring North America through June, with a series of dates that begin March 7 in Victoria, BC. Dates here.
Keep up with Mary Ocher via their site, Facebook & Twitter.