The only things I knew about what was happening in the room were a) an argument about if the girl was really typing the answers people gave or not, and b) that someone I knew replied ‘bomb’ after being asked what word they associated with ‘terrorist.’ I thought about that a fair bit. Then of course ‘bomb’ became my answer as well. But I’ll come back to that later.
Firstly I would like to mention I’m that person who laughs when confronted with serious people. I try and mitigate this as I don’t want to be pulled up at customs for odd behaviour, but I do find it difficult. Therefore I was chuckling a little when I first went into Asylum, by Francesca Emms and Amelia Taverner. Amelia greeted me, asked me to sit, and proceeded ask me some questions. It was humid, she was wearing a suit, and while my hair was reacting to the weather, hers was sleek and unaffected. I giggled some more and tried to draw a smile or glint. She did not flinch. And so we began. Or she began and I followed. It was mechanical and efficient, and it began to dawn on me that I while I might be answering truthfully (to questions like ‘Where do terrorists come from?’), that I didn’t really understand the implications of my answers, if any. I contemplated lying and giving ridiculous answers, but wondered if this might be disrespectful (to the gallery/Amelia/humanity/myself).
The aspect I loved about Asylum was that after we finished I was left with my own answers, as problematic as I felt some of them were. Some of my answers were media influenced, others were given as I thought about Lebanon, where my father’s family emigrated from. Some, such as ‘How many sexual partners have you had?’ were given with a mixture of apprehension and humour. It was all out there with my date of birth, name, and my associating bomb with terrorist. Do I believe that really? No. But was it the first thing that came to my mind. Yes.
The most striking thing I was left with was the certainty that I have no understanding of what it is like to feel unsafe. Where the only option is to leave home and subject one’s self to the elements, to possible imprisonment, violence, and unknown governments, and a number of other awful alternatives.
My application to the state of Asylum is ‘pending.’ When asked if I believed I was a terrorist I said ‘I don’t believe so.’ I walked away with an A6 sized card with some information on it. It says that per capita Lebanon is the largest host of asylum seekers, while New Zealand ranks 90th. We drop to 116th if our wealth is taken into account. I am left with an uneasy feeling that no action is an action in itself. I am also grateful that I was asked questions so foreign to me that my problematic answers could reveal themselves.
Asylum was part of The Performance Series 2015 that ran at 30upstairs from the 20th – 28th of November 2015. An updated version of the project will be at The Performance Arcade 2016 on Wellington Waterfront 2 – 6 March. View more about the Arcade here: