Moving ants on a painted tree

The point of departure for our ongoing project MOVING ANTS ON A PAINTED TREE is this image that we – an artist (Iris Blauensteiner) and an anthropologist (Christine Moderbacher) – stumbled across while attempting to film container villages built during the so called “refugee crisis” in 2015 at the Austrian Slovakian border area. As in many border regions of Austria, Germany and other EU-countries, people were temporarily accommodated in containers at the parking lot of the old tollhouse at the former border station. The containers symbolized inclusion and exclusion at the same time. In the meantime, almost all of these temporary villages, including the one near to the small village of Berg, have been dismantled. Through participatory workshops with the local population, we aimed to question what traces have remained in an area that is marked by the continuous opening and closing of borders. But nobody came to our workshops and very few people wanted to talk to us at all. “Refugees, borders… nobody is interested in that anymore!” we heard many times. What remained from a one-month residency on site were many questions, and the start of a film that spans an imaginary arc rethinking metaphorical zones of invasion and containment; a film that questions figures of speech used in migratory language – that reveals uncomfortable parallelisms and discloses entanglements, showing how much of the present is interlaced with the past. But all this will be ready later on. For right now there is this image. And the question: “What do you see?”

Reflecting one of the central ideas of the ANTART Network as well as this exposition, MOVING ANTS ON A PAINTED TREE is a project that seeks to advance the dialog between art and anthropology through combining ethnographic field research and artistic tools of representation. However, in practice, we also reached limitations and faced difficulties that often remain unspoken. The final film (to be presented in spring 2021) will unfold our at times different approaches, reflecting on how art and anthropology diverge and converge.


(A project supported by Viertelfestival, Otto Mauer Fonds, Gemeinde Berg, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology Halle.)