Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Once We Were Birds

Tina Carr, Annemarie Schöne and Angharad Pearce Jones at Oriel Myrddin Gallery

We had S4C in Oriel Myrddin Gallery today filming our new exhibition, Once We Were Birds, for the TV show Wedi 3. The presenter is Angharad Pearce Jones, a prolific and highly skilled Welsh sculptor who mostly works in metal and moonlights on tele!

Once We Were Birds is predominately photographic with some video work, it documents the artists odyssey in the spring of 2009 to visit Roma communities in Hungary. The artists, Tina Carr and Annemarie Schöne brought a fabulous book about gypsies in Hungary into the gallery today too which contains the little folk story from which the exhibition is named; translated by Péter Szuhay, World is a ladder, which some go up, some go down: Pictures of gipsies in Hungary in the 20th Century. It's too lovely to edit, so here is the full text:

Once We Were Birds….then became what we are – the Gipsies. Each of us had wings at that time and did not have to earn our bread by begging and picking; we just flew with the other birds and ate what they were eating. In the fall, when – sudripe hi odjari – that is, the weather turned cold outside, we took wing with the other birds and headed for faraway Africa. When we were bored here, we flew there, when it was boring there, we flew further on, that’s how it was.

Well, it wasn’t a golden life either, for the captive bird has a better one, as the silly “gadzso” , it’s keeper, pets it – “csiriklori, verebori” – and throws seed in the cage, every day. But the free bird gets its own food, at any price. In turn, it is free.

To make a long story short, when we were flying over fields parched by the sun, for many-many days, without food or drink, well, one night, or rather dusk when you can still see, we saw rich fields down under. Then the Gypsy-chief, I mean our bird-chief, waved with his wings to go down; we did so and started to pick the nice wheat grains.

As hours passed by, we happened to eat ourselves chuck-full after many days of “bokhalipe” (fast), so that we couldn’t possibly fly that night. So we stayed the night, then morning came and we ate again for we were hungry again. Then we couldn’t take wing again, and came the noon, and came the night and we were still there.

In the meantime, we kept getting fatter and fatter. By then, we couldn’t possibly fly up even if we wanted to. To be sure, we got accustomed to this new comfortable life, when there was no need to fly neither here, nor there, for men I mean birds could find everything in the place. Before long, we couldn’t even jump, let alone fly, only to pace slowly, leisurely.

Then fall came and the rich field started to wither, did not yield more and the rats and voles helped to pick up the remaining grains from the ground. There was nothing else to do than to get down to harvesting as we learned from the animals of the field. We scraped holes, lined them and filled them with what we still had, then covered them. Finally, we started to throw together twigs and straw so as to make a hovel for passing the winter in it. While working, our legs became thick; our wings degenerated and became arms. It was the end of our beautiful life, the end of flying from one world to the other. Why, we Walachian Gypsies – once “puro rom” – are birds even these days. If we pitch a tent in the valley, we long to be on the hilltop, if we stand on the peak, we wish to fly into the valley. Only now we have to get there on foot.

We live a life of laziness, scraping together penny by penny, for the simple reason that one day we all become birds once again.
Bartos, 1958.23-25

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