Queer in Small Town Slovakia

Despite the presence of a shops called 'Trendy', 'Sissy' and a bright pink shop called 'Dorothy' there are no signs of gay/queer life in Sturovo. Applying the statistical 10% average to the population of about 15,000, there should be at least a few. No visible presence generally means that being gay and out is not so cool and not regarded as safe by those who are.

When gossip spread the status of my sexual orientation beyond the small circle of people I trusted I felt exposed and vulnerable. Worst of all I realised that my work with the children was potentially placed in jeopardy. I reacted defensively by being extra careful with what I said or did. It felt unpleasant though like an ill fitting armor. Needless to say I was totally surprised to finally meet another gay man after 6 months of queer isolation.

The lack of a common language made connecting with people generally very difficult. Realising how rare our chance meeting was and how little time there was left to establish a connection, I had to bypass the habitual chatting and engagement of the mind to become acquainted. I took a risk, dropped all armor (ahhh), surrendered and engaged the heart to connect with this man. With my armor gone, I felt light, connected and whole again. Being able to give free expression to an integral part of one's being is vital for well-being, for being well. Our meeting was a wonderful opportunity to heal the bruising caused by the armor.

Beans for a Boy

Video stills from a dinner with a boy:
Dried beans soaking in water.

One day Balint, 9 year old Hungarian boy came to visit me one day with his mother. While we were busy talking in the studio he sneaked into the kitchen where leftovers from lunch were still sitting in a pot on the stove. He took a tea spoon out of the drawer, tasted the vegetarian bean dish, washed the spoon and put it back again into the drawer, leaving no trace of his secret mission. Once home he told his mother and said that my food tasted really good!

A toast with fresh apple juice.

Consuming a bean.

So I decided to invite him over for dinner one night, but alone!!! His mother dropped him off, and the two of us had to make conversation over dinner without an interpreter. The only thing we both agreed to do is talk and reply regardless weather we understood anything that was being said, which was most likely very little, if anything at all.

No thanks, to the second helping.

Homemade ice cream for desert.

He brought with him a wonderful gift, a handmade book containing a short story illustrated with art, diagrams and even a musical notation for a song. It became a great conversation piece. I still don't know what it is about, but it is quite magical.

He is trying to explain his story to me, I am trying to make sense of it.

He liked the dinner and the whole event so much that he now wants to cook a dinner for me at his place! This is tentatively scheduled for later this summer as time is running out with only one day left. I filmed the whole event and once I have figured out what was said I intend to edit it and show for all to enjoy.

Text and a song.

I thought it was extremely brave of this kid to go to the house of a foreigner, have dinner with him on his own and eat food that he is not accustomed to. This kid does not know what xenophobia is and with his fantastic attitude and sense of adventure probably never will. The relative social isolation I have experienced in Sturovo from adults has been compensated for by the wonderful spontaneous interactions with kids.

A pirate turned into a cow, or something... (translation pending)

Borders and Barriers Exhibition and Ritual

Click HERE to see a detailed documentation of my final exhibition in Sturovo, Slovakia (13/14 April 07).

Searching For Silent Night (video release).

Silent Night is often the first carol played at the start of midnight mass at Christmas. The transition from one of the bussiest times in the year to one of the most peaceful moments of the year. This video goes searches for the carol in the streets of Vienna. When the carol is found it is anything but silent.

By Marcel Baaijens, 2006.

TRT: 14 minutes

It may take a while to download this large file.

So make a cuppa or get some wine while the video downloads and be rewarded for your patience with uninterrupted viewing.

Days Passed Don't Return (video release).

A short documentary about an encounter with an old man along the ancient pilgrims route of El Camino De Santiago, Spain
(St. James' Way).

By Marcel Baaijens
Duration 2:46 minutes.
Spanish with English subtitles.

Tip: Make a cup of tea while you download the video and you will enjoy uninterrupted viewing by the time you get back.

Borders and Barriers

‘Borders and Barriers’ is an art exhibition by Marcel Baaijens from New Zealand. Marcel is serving as the 7th Bridge Guard at the Bridge Guard Art and Science residency in Sturovo. The exhibition illustrates his attempts of building bridges using art as a connective medium between:
1. The children from the local orphanage and him self,
2. The children and each child’s authentic self,
3. The children and the people of Sturovo.

For the first and second bridge Marcel invited two children at a time into his art studio to make art. Thirty-two children took up the challenge. Most children would initially draw pictures with three blue clouds and a yellow sun. Such pictures have little to do with art or creativity but all with conformity.

Marcel then used his art facilitation skills to draw out a more personal picture with a unique individual quality. His approach, which is founded on ‘Critical Pedagogy’, is radically different from traditional art education offered through the school system. It is an individual approach based on the following two simple yet essential assumptions:
1. Everyone is creative.
2. There are no mistakes in art.

In order to engage in art, or any form of creative thinking, people need a safe environment and permission to connect with their authentic selves. Generally children and adults are discouraged from connecting with their authentic selves. This is especially true for children who are raised in institutional settings where they are cared for and managed in groups. Discipline, compliance, and the comfort of the carers/managers and the group often come before the interest and needs of the individual and determine what children can or cannot explore in life. In such settings it is easy loose one’s unique identity, one’s self esteem and faith.

Offering each child the opportunity to create art in the studio with Marcel has been a unique experience for many of the children, one Marcel hopes they will remember whenever they have to make important choices in life. Creativity is a crucial skill for navigating life. It is all about making the best choices for oneself, without creative thinking, one will default to conformity. In doing so one’s Soul is denied expression.When the Soul is denied expression, apathy and depression set in.

There is much apathy and depression present among people who have been oppressed by an authoritarian regime such as communism. Communism discouraged people from being authentic, connecting with one’s Soul and with other Souls. The regime is gone but the effects it had on people such as sub-conscience, internalised xenophobia have not. Xenophobia, the dislike or fear of foreign people, their customs and culture is still present and effects people like gypsies, gays, children in an orphanage, a visiting artist from New Zealand, Jews, Muslims, etc.

Sub-conscience xenophobia can easily transform into hate, which easily transforms into aggression. Xenophobia is an invisible sub-conscience barrier that is much harder to recognise and overcome than any visible state border or natural barrier such as the Danube. Becoming conscious of the existence of a barrier, by naming it or making it visible is a first important step in overcoming it. How else does one learn why and where a bridge is needed?

Installation, 5x3,5 m, paper, tape, digital images on paper.

Marcel employs the metaphor of the siege of Troy to make this barrier visible. The city wall of Troy was an insurmountable barrier that was overcome with creative thinking. The Maria Valeria Bridge has been rebuild, the national borders opened, but an invisible ‘Trojan’ sub-conscience barrier of xenophobia still survives today in post communist Eastern Europe. Becoming conscious of the existence of a barrier, by naming it or making it visible is a first important step in overcoming it.

Detail of the Trojan Horse with portraits of the children from the orphanage.

The third bridge that Marcel attempts to build consists of paper horses. Horses, decorated by the children of the orphanage and himself that will be strategically displayed in the heart of Sturovo. It is not a trick as in Troy to win a war, but a genuine attempt to raise awareness as well as an invitation to the people of Sturovo to take a closer look at the exhibition titled ‘Borders and Barriers’. The exhibition will feature artwork by the children from the orphanage, illustrations of the transformative process the children experienced and Trojan horses addressing issues of xenophobia.

Detail of the Trojan Horse with images of barriers in Sturovo.

The exhibition will open on Friday 13 April, 5:00 p.m. and can also be viewed Saturday 14 April 10:00-5:00. The Trojan Horses are on display in the centre of Sturovo from 5 April till 15 April.

A Trojan Horse decorated by Mario (r) in a local bar.

A Kiwi or not a Kiwi is no longer a question.

Broken Greenstone

My greenstone (New Zealand English for jade) pendant broke a few weeks ago. These things seldom happen by accident. It was quite special to me as it was a farewell gift from the Sisters of Compassion. All those present blessed the pendant and later in Tasmania I had a Tibetan Rinpoche ad a Buddhist blessing to it. I am not sad that it's no longer usable as my 'protection'or as my identity tag.

I like to think I am strong enough by now. I have learned new skills to invoke protection. Wearing a greenstone around your neck is very much a cultural thing for New Zealanders. After seven months being away I feel less and less identified with the nation. It is a land where I last lived and where I will most likely end up living again (unless a foreign, damn charming knight without armor and a golden heart will steal mine). But does that make me a New Zealander? My passport says I am, but that's for the sake of bureaucrats. Less and less do I identify with any singular culture or nation.

Having lived in various places it does not make sense anymore for me. I am happy to leave my attachment to any cultural identity behind. I feel lighter. There is less to carry on the next leg of my nomadic journey which will begin on the 27 th April. I will 'bury' my pendant remnants in the Danube before I leave here.

Kiwi in Pink.

Having said all that I was quite bemused when I was given a whole bunch of oddly shaped kiwi fruit. First I played with them (yes Mum I know, you're not supposed to play with your food, but... I had fun) and then I ate them all. Yum!

Kiwi Atol

Blue Heart

Pink Heart

Atol in Red