2020 - 2022
Who Cares? is a project initiated by MOHA - an artist collective based in Amsterdam. Through creative ethnographies, research labs, and performances, we investigate and uncover the meaning of "care" in contemporary society.
I'm helping MOHA designing their ethnographic fieldwork and making sense of their research from a sociological perspective. As MOHA plans to step in the shoes of professionals in the field of care such as nurses, public cleaners, housekeepers, social workers, farmers and gardeners, when possible, I will also join in this journey to make the other familiar. Moreover, MOHA invited me to facilitate a co-creative research lab at Het Huis Utrecht in February 2021.
Who Cares? is artistic project that investigates the place of care in our society. It is initiated by the artist collective MOHA and will take place in the next two years. Below you can read an excerpt from my field diary written during a preliminary research we carried on in Rotterdam Zuid last October.
from my field diary
10 October 2020
Imagine a grey square in the suburbs far south of the city of Rotterdam. Like an interval among words, it is an empty space surrounded by huge and mostly grey buildings but a cultural centre, comprised of a theatre and a library. A few steps away from the entry of the library, the power women of MOHA. Sitting there, with a warm smile in a cosy and colourful living room. A landscape painting in the background. A yellow vintage sofa, a carpet, a table with some cookies and tea. The goal of MOHA is to welcome visitors in this space and talk about the complex and multi-layered notions of “care” and “carers” in contemporary society. They call this setting “the office” and receives two different kinds of visitors: the curious chit-chatters who don’t sit but just engage in an informal conversation, and those who instead take time and engage with MOHA to tell their stories about “care” following a more structured conversation. With their office, MOHA is there to observe, engage, watch, listen, connect, seek stories and become part of the square.
Care is a complex notion to define, yet I can tell that is everywhere and in every little details of MOHA’s office and every little gesture that the duo makes. You have both MOHA’s mental and physical attention. A smile. A compassionate gaze that tells you “I’m moved. I see you. I hear you.” Before starting the conversation, Alice asks me whether she can pour some essential oil on my wrist. The essence is “bergamot”. To stimulate memories, she says. Like many other before me and after me, I’m here to talk openly and honestly about care in my personal and social life. As I sip some warm tea, Alice poses questions to help me tell stories and Olivia writes them down with an old typewriter machine. My experiences will come to gather with other’s into a dynamic presentation, a collective assemblage of stories that presents and shares our commonalities, while honoring, recognizing and celebrating our differences. To me, this is also an act of care, an attempt to "repair” and “re-assemble” the lost collectivity in a society where the predominant climate encourages individualism and division. It reminds me that “I” does not exist without “you”. Nor beyond “we”.
Diving deep in MOHA’s archival collection, one can meet very diverse people and caring bodies and voices. A woman who likes learning new things, who is loving and caring with others yet has issues taking care of herself. An artist who writes texts that make other people think. A mother who takes care of her kids. A daughter who tries to love her despicable father. A boyfriend who cooks a meal. A stranger that gives you a hug. A black nurse who heals a racist. A homeless that speaks about assertiveness. And much more.
While some caring performances assembled in MOHA’s archive exhibit a great depth of care, others are more simple and can be routine’s activities. Most of them require some levels of physical, emotional and mental labor and while some performances can be “paid”, most of them are “unpaid”. Care is performed in our homes, in our cities. In our bodies and in our minds. It can take the form of a chit-chat, a therapy, a meal or a chamomile. Of the shampoo in your hair. Of a look. A conversation. An inspiring text. A doubt. A disagreement. A clean street. A game of darts. Care can be performed when talking, looking, sharing. When feeding, healing, giving, playing, cleaning. Taking one’s hand. Kissing. Learning new things. Facing a refusal. Being kind and honest. Compassionate with yourself and others. We can almost tell that everyone’s actions and thoughts are (or at least, should be) moved by care. Yet despite care’s pervasiveness, MOHA’s stories reveal a couple of pain points when it comes to “how” to be caring. Authentic care - a response to one or more needs - is a dialogical process that affects both the "carer" and those who/which are cared for. And like love, it is based on honest communication, respect, compassion...and challenges to our own ego. While it is (relatively) easy to take care of members of our family and circles of friends, it might be more difficult to care for others we don’t know as it is more difficult to empathize with them and step in their shoes. Yet in MOHA’s material is plenty of pitiful, compassionate, personal and troubled stories, with which somehow I can empathize with. Their archive seems to tell me “let us honor differences while finding continuity and connection”. The stories they collected are mostly written in the “I” form - except for those reported only in their field diary - making it easier for the reader/ listener to empathize even if they report only bites of the original stories. In this way, it is like MOHA tells us that we can never possess the knowledge of what it is to be another person, but the hope of a more caring society is that we have the capacity to imagine a glimpse of another’s experience and find a personal connection and perhaps even a common cause. In this regard, MOHA’s archival material has the potential to trigger new forms of supporting one another. I see and support MOHA’s commitment to treating care as a subject worthy of critical attention, and I look forward to learn more with and from them about care in the next two years.