Interview with Stephanie Misa
Being & Feeling (Alone, Together)
Spring 2020 – Virtual Exhibition at Lamont Gallery
Artists in Being & Feeling (Alone, Together) explore embodiment, emotion, and being: how we make our way through the world, full of feeling, as solitary individuals and together with others.
Stephanie Misa’s installation Transplant is “a series of stories rooted in real-life, of people transplanted into Vienna, Austria… a book on being alien, and being other.” In her video A Bedtime Story for Someone Else’s Child, three voices read Mira Lobe’s Komme Sagte die Katze (Come, Said the Cat), a children’s story. Audience members hear different ways of speaking and listening when the tongue wraps around a language that is foreign, familiar, or loved.
Q: Why did you choose Mira Lobe’s story “Komme Sagte die Katze”? What do you think the author’s original intent was/is in writing this work?
A: Mira Lobe wrote “Komm, Sagte die Katze” in Vienna in 1974 and is considered an Austrian icon, larger than Dr. Suess. Lobe emigrated from Görlitz, Germany with her mother and sister to Palestine (in 1936), and then to Austria with her husband and children (in 1950). Her first children’s books were written in Hebrew in 1948 and published in Tel Aviv. Lobe is no stranger to the plight of the immigrant, nor does she shy away from topics of identity and difference. I can only really guess at Lobe’s intention when she wrote “Komm, Sagte die Katze” but in her entire oeuvre of children’s writing, this story is the most explicit in its inclusivity and working together to build brighter futures.
Q: What do you hope listeners will absorb and possibly latch onto as they hear the story read in three languages?
A: The story in the video piece A Bedtime Story for Someone Else’s Child is read in German by three readers with different levels of fluency in the language. The words of Mira Lobe are used as the medium where differences play out — the reader’s relationship to the German language and the viewer’s/ listener’s impression of the readers (and who they are) based on how they read.
Q: The menagerie of animals in this story ultimately find their safety together, and in the end, a new home to inhabit – a new beginning – a new family – can you expand on the notion of immigration and belonging that seem to be at the heart of this story?
A: While Lobe’s animals do find safety and security in the end, as they manage to work out their initial fear of each other (the utopia)— in A Bedtime Story for Someone Else’s Child, I push at a different tension, using voice and language to emphasize how immigrants are often marked (as other, as different) from the moment they open their mouths and try to speak. More often than not, these markers of difference make it hard to belong. The title A Bedtime Story for Someone Else’s Child also refers to a very specific immigration (one in which the Philippines excels) that exports labor for care work — nurses, caregivers in nursing and private homes, nannies, physical and occupational therapists, maids — a huge number of which are female, who work for other families to send money to their own back ‘home.’ It is especially poignant to note that these immigrant workers are currently in the frontline of the worldwide pandemic, serving a country where they are employed but not necessarily welcomed.
Q: Do you believe the sharing of a universal struggle can be a grand “cultural” equalizer of sorts where we come together regardless of our differences because we’re truly in need of one another?
A: This certainly is the ideal picture, where struggles (such as this COVID-19 pandemic) unite us, and push us towards solidarity and kinship — but as we see, this is currently not the case. I think what the pandemic highlights is the fractured state of things: how healthcare is not (though it should be) a universal and accessible right, how those with casual work contracts cannot afford to stay in home quarantine, how those living in densely poor areas do not necessarily have running water to wash their hands or the space to social distance — the pandemic is exacerbating what neoliberal capitalism has left us with— a collapsing and rigged system. What should come next, what would truly equalize us all?
Q: In contrast, your piece Transplant (a series of stories) explores individuals’ experiences of “being other”, “being alien” – once “transplanted” to another country, do you think we are tirelessly trying to find pathways of connection between the individual self and the collective experience in order to identify and create new beginnings?
Q: As you explore the usage of marginalized languages in your performance piece, you identify the idea of “containment” giving “mother tongue” its power. What parts of your migration journey (or the stories of others’) brought you to this realization of containment giving way to power?
A: The idea of “containment” that I’m working with in the performance lecture Filipinos, Cannibalism, and Mothers Dancing on Tongues is specific to embodiment, where language is tied to a body, a mouth, a voice — it has a point of origin, a texture, a history. When you speak, you speak from a specific place. In the performance, I talk about languages that are only spoken, meaning not used for reading or writing or formal education. But these are also languages linked to specific bodies, with specific histories, ones that have mostly been relegated to the side and considered unimportant. There are so many names for it: creole, pidgin, dialect, bastard tongues…
My own ‘mother tongue’ is exactly this, an orality that has resisted colonialization and nationalist whims, what does it mean that I can still speak it, that it hasn’t dissolved entirely? I see its resilience as a sign that there is a need, a use, and a sentiment that it fulfills. Is that power? I still don’t know.
Stephanie Misa: www.stephaniemisa.com
Interview Conducted by Aimee Towey-Landry
Aimee Towey-Landry joined the Lamont Gallery in the winter of 2018 as the interim Gallery Manager and in 2019 she became a gallery attendant. She has over six years of experience in arts administration from her positions as Registrar and Exhibitions Coordinator at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art in Largo, Florida and Special Projects Coordinator at the Tampa Museum of Art in Tampa, Florida. She is currently working with a team of professionals to build a non-profit that serves the homeless and the housing vulnerable populations of greater Concord. She also volunteers at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.