Maj Hasager is a Danish artist and filmmaker based in Copenhagen, Denmark. She studied photography and fine art in Denmark, Sweden and the UK, earning an MFA from Malmö Art Academy, Sweden. Her work deals with power structures, identity, memory, the construction of history, and architecture, looking at how these interlinked phenomena are interpreted and represented culturally and spatially. Her artistic approach is research-based and interdisciplinary, and she works predominantly with text, sound, video and photography. The recent years Hasager has used oral history interview techniques as a method for accumulating information relating to personal stories, a site, and historical or political matters. It allows the material to unfold itself through different voices and from different perspectives and functions as a way of mapping an area or a context. Often these interviews lay the ground for the way she makes use of narrative forms and fictional writing as a tool to address personal stories in the context of socio-political matters.
She has exhibited her work internationally in events and institutions such as; Society Acts, Moderna Museet Malmö (2014), A voice of ones own, Malmö Konstmuseum (2014), Community works, Cleveland Institute of Art, 2014; Past Upon Past, Red Barn Photo Gallery, Belfast, Ireland (2013), Decembers, LAZNIA Centre for Contemporary Art, Gdańsk, Poland (2012), Liverpool Biennial, UK (2010). She has been awarded grants in support of her work from the Danish ArtsCouncil, The Danish Arts Foundation, Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (Beirut, Lebanon), ArtSchool Palestine, Danish Centre for Culture and Development and the Danish Arts Agency. She is the programme director of Critical and Pedagogical studies at Malmö Art Academy, and is a guest lecturer at the International Academy of Art – Palestine, Dar al-Kalima College, Bethlehem and University of Ulster, Belfast.
Ask Kæreby is a Danish composer. He studied music production in Copenhagen, earning a MMus degree from The Royal Danish Academy of Music.
Kæreby’s artistic practice is interdisciplinary and research-based, including elements of experimental composition, sound design and electroacoustic music. He is interested in the presentation of narratives by means of sound – not through traditional musical gestures, but using different approaches such as musique concrète or the futurists’ bruitism. Working in the intersection between known formats, Kæreby wishes to challenge our ways of listening – to music (live as well as recorded), to our surroundings and to (sonic) art.
He has been awarded grants in support of his work from The Danish Arts Foundation,
Danish Musicians’ Union, Wilhelm Hansen Foundation, Familien Hede Nielsen Foundation, Dansk Artist Association, Ellen & Erik Valdemar Jensen Music Grant, Anders Månsson & wife Memorial Grant and Karen Margrethe Torp-Pedersen & husband Foundation.
A week has passed since we arrived at this lovely place – Fresh Milk. It has been a week of ongoing conversations that have taken us through different trails of pasts and presents, and imagining possible futures. It is our first collaborative residency, and we are collecting sounds, photographing, digging through the archives and following traces in the history of the island. We will both do teaching as a part of our residency. Maj will explore notions of social practice together with fine arts students at Barbados Community College and Ask will conduct an experimental sound workshop every Thursday for the coming three weeks. We are both really excited to be here. For Ask it is his first visit to the Caribbean, and for me it is a return to where I stayed for quite a while in the late 90’s – more than 15 years later it is a very different meeting with the region. Like looking at a faded colour photograph of oneself and appreciating that time too is passing.
Our first day at Fresh Milk was a solid introduction to the Colleen Lewis reading room – as well as the joy of tapping into Annalee’s encyclopaedic memory that became increasingly activated as our conversation progressed. The result is now a pile of books on my desk in the studio. All of them are relevant for both of us, and create different entry points to the place and its layers of histories.
Fresh Milk is an unbelievable valuable and important resource for contemporary art, writing and sound. It functions as a critical platform for exchange of ideas, and the level of engagement from both Annalee and Katherine is highly motivating, as is the studio space – the perfect place to think and reflect. After an insanely busy year, it is indeed something we both are benefitting from and it allows us to explore different notions of our own individual praxes as well as working together, sketching for a new collaborative project. We can already conclude that our time here seems too short.
We have spent the first week of our stay following traces of written and official history by looking at what is represented by the different museums around the island that we have visited. When working in an unfamiliar setting we try to acquire at least a basic understanding of the place – while being fully aware that we experience with the gaze of an outsider. So this past week has been an attempt to scratch the surface and begin exploring the island by local buses – which until now has been a great starting point for conversation as well as eavesdropping on teenagers chatting during morning rush hour.
A few highlights from last week, which has been packed with visits to museums, site visits and research: A lecture by the historian Karl Watson titled “From Sugar to Tourism” on the shifting landscapes of the island, which gave a broad spectrum of information on post plantation Barbados – as well as the future influence of tourism. It was indeed food for thought thinking through the perhaps short-term strategies for tourism that might not benefit the island with any sort of sustainability. Another highlight was the beautiful Arlington House Museum in Speightstown where a very dedicated invigilator gave us a brilliant tour of the house – if you can forgive the overly interactive aspect of the museum, the displays offer a more critical reflection on the colonial past and the slave trade. Last but not least in terms of highlights: Photographing and recording sound on the east and the west coast – offering two very different entry points and landscapes to explore.
The blessed rain pours down massively. After a dry wet season the plants, trees and animals feel energized and revitalized. Monday is spent in the studio and the rain creates a perfect soundscape on the metal roof, where the sound is intensifying and suddenly loosens its loud grip to make the wind and the surrounding sounds audible. The studio is quiet and we are planning the South Coast trip later in the week. Our plan is to see the majority of the island by local buses and it demands a bit of logistics, good walking shoes and some determination to make this happen – as time is a luxury that many visitors to the island seem short of. Insisting on taking our time is indeed in stark contrast to the past year of activities, and it is highly appreciated.
Annalee is waiting in her car outside the apartment – I (Maj) can hear her beeping and grab my things before closing the door behind me. We move down the hill towards Barbados Community College (BCC) where half an hour later I will give a lecture on my work to a group of students from the fine arts department. Hours later, I am enriched by the level of conversation and questions raised amongst the students, and I can’t wait for the next session where we will go more in depth in terms of a close reading of a text, and thinking through social practice together. As we are leaving the BCC, Annalee takes me to the top of the campus to show me an old derelict building – despite it falling apart you can sense the grandeur of the structure. She tells me that it is a former sugar plantation house and it sits fairly dislocated or perhaps amputated at the edge of campus. Here the generic campus buildings seem to be rejecting a contested past, and the neglect of the house (or perhaps its symbolic meaning of colonial power) seems to be a way to suppress a past by letting it dissolve slowly by time. Though perhaps forgetting, as Annalee mentions, that the first black Chief Justice on the island Sir Conrad Reeves lived in this house too.
History spills out of wooden drawers in the chilled archival hall of the Barbados National Archives where we arrive Wednesday morning. We are slowly chewing our way through archival documents – via neatly organized index cards in perfectly fitted drawers tracing migration movements after the emancipation in the 1830’s – in particular looking at the massive exodus of young Barbadian men leaving for work in Panama either constructing the railway or later digging the Panama Canal. We are following the trail of the “Panama money”, the encouragement – and later restriction – of migration, the riots in 1937 and the formation of trade unions. One thing leads to the next as the hours vanish in the archive. The archive itself is somehow stuck in the past, and the sounds of heavy books being dropped on tables echo in the vast space. At 4 pm the archive is slowly shutting down, and we leave the air-conditioned hall with a chill. Outside the archive at 4 pm on the dot, the art historian Therese Hadchity picks us up. She left Denmark 25 years ago, and we spend hours over coffee discussing contemporary art in the Caribbean, social practice and the potential pitfalls of this type of practice – to mention a few of the many topics covered over three hours in good company – definitely a conversation to be continued.
Thursday morning begins with some more work on the hydrophone (underwater microphone) – Ask is still attempting to secure the cable so water is kept out when immersed. Thanks to the Colleen Lewis Soldering Iron, Annalee’s extended family and local hardware and music stores, an improvised solution begins to materialise. The plan is to test it over the weekend when we are walking along the South Coast. Thursday is also the first session of the sound workshop that Ask is teaching. Six people turn up at Fresh Milk for the first dose of soundscape recording and composition – some have a bit of a shell shock. It is a rocky ride through Musique concrète, Pierre Schaeffer, soundscape, acoustic ecology, Murray Schafer and the physics and technology behind it all. As the dust settles, questions arise and a most interesting debate takes form – I am very much looking forward to the continuation.
We head out early Friday morning, and as we leave the apartment at dawn, Annalee’s lovely father offers us a ride to St. Lawrence Gap at the South Coast, and thereby cuts our journey shorter by an hour or more. St. Lawrence Gap is the first place where we immerse the hydrophone fully in seawater, and thank goodness it is water proof despite its very homemade look. Maj has volunteered to be the assistant in the sea (what a dreadful task) and Ask is at shore with the recorder and headphones. Suddenly sounds of sand on the sea bottom are coming through and it is very exciting. The recordings continue throughout the weekend in different locations and both in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
We end the weekend trip at the Good Life Café near Accra Beach, where we meet the multitalented artist Mark King, who quickly turns out to be a stimulating conversation on both art and global politics.
Falling into the rhythm of spending a quiet Monday in the studio. Ask is giving an artist talk at Barbados Community College (BCC) today, and gets interesting questions in return. The quiet morning turns into an unrhythmical dance with different institutions in the Barbadian system. Nothing moves forward and I (Maj) am almost bursting with impatience. It seems like there is a lot of historical footage that is stuck in the back of government archives, and not accessible at all. Someone mentions over the phone that all the material prior to the independence in 1966 belongs to the British government, and every year the Barbadian government purchases some of its past… colonial powers apparently linger on when negotiating heritage.
Tuesday morning is Maj’s second teaching session at Barbados Community College (BCC) – a failed Internet connection at the college leads to an improvised session anchored in conversation and text on paper with a group of very engaged students. Connections are made between critique, history from below and individual praxes, and opening even more layers in the complexity of place, authorship and subjectivity. Tuesday evening is spent at Tiki Bar at Accra beach for a Fresh Milk lime, where artist Alicia Alleyne, Therese Hadchity, Annalee Davis, Katherine Kennedy, Natalie McGuire, Ask and Maj all meet – as well as director of the national trust Lennox Honychurch who comes by with his laptop to share his research on the Panama canal.
We can see one of the former signal stations in Barbados – named Gun Hill – from where we live. On a small hill top the red building seems far away. When we finally look at a map the distance is less than two km, and it becomes the morning walk up the steep hill – really appreciating the clouds’ mercy as we are making our way to the top. The view from the top is indeed splendid, and we have been told the Barbados National Trust is also trying to make use of the site for weddings and other special occasions, but we wonder who would want a backdrop such as this, which was built primarily to alert in case of more slave uprisings, two years after the 1816 revolt. Adding insult to injury, enslaved labour was also used during the construction of the signal station, and the British West India Regiments bought slaves to supplement their normal recruiting until 1807, when slave trade was abolished in the British Empire – though outside of the army, slavery itself was upheld until 1838.
The week slowly disappears – halfway through we visit more museums in Bridgetown, and Thursday Ask holds the second sound workshop, which adds to the layers of last weeks conversation. At dusk when we leave the studio at Fresh Milk. The colour palette of the landscape suddenly has similarities with old paintings of the Danish landscape. An odd sense of overlapping moments and time appears as the daylight fades.
The bus route 1A seems to have vanished into thin air, forcing us to reshuffle our tightly packed daytrip schedule on Friday. After 3 hours of rumbling we reach the north most part of the island and visit the beautiful site of Animal Flower Cave, named after the sea anemones that live there. It’s still quiet so we get a personal tour of the area from Don – including a climb down (and back up) the cliffs to immerse the hydrophone, which we later take out in the waters of the West Coast, completing its travel to the four corners of this microcosm.
It is noon and the sun is merciless as we are waiting for the bus in an attempt to find alternative routes to reach the old sugar plantation of St. Nicholas Abbey in the parish of St. Peter – which is rumoured to present a somewhat controversial interpretation of colonial history. The bus never shows up, but instead a kind person is offering us a ride back to Speightstown. It turns out that the driver is the artist Victor Collector, who is known for his realist landscape paintings of Barbados. Somehow he has been documenting the changes of the Bajan Landscape over the past twenty years, and on our way back to the city he stops along the way to describe the changes in the landscape, and how it looked when he painted different sites. He leaves us in Speightstown, and we manage to get across to St. Nicholas Abbey just in time to get a tour of the house. Almost through the tour, we are both baffled by the fact that there hardly is any mention of slavery.
When we raise it with the owner who happens to suddenly appear, he dismisses the lack of addressing slavery in their official tour by saying the world is built on exploitation, and that he is the descendant of white indentured labour in Barbados. Our claim is then why not take this as the point of departure to discuss the conflicted and colonial history, instead of whitewashing the present by only describing the architecture and current production, relegating any mention of slavery to witty subtleties from the tour guides? The film claimed to demonstrate the history of the plantation is a 1935 home video, with a voice over from 2000 that is so completely devoid of any sensitivity towards the past or the present, let alone empathy, that we are left dazed and frustrated from the deadpan voice, worthy of an auctioneer at a fish market.
We walk across the fields of the sugar plantation as the daylight fades – to catch another bus to continue our journey.
It seems now like a distant memory of being warm and sweaty night and day. We have returned to Copenhagen after a detour via London and Cologne, and suddenly the days are even shorter and the evenings and nights seem darker and colder. Winter in Copenhagen is a challenge. It always feels strange to have to reflect back on recent events when shifting location, and it sounds like a voiceover in my mind when trying to reconstruct the pieces and images that go with it.
Our fourth and final week begins in the library of the Barbados Museum and Historical Society, which seems to have chosen cryonics as their method for preserving their material. Maj meets with historian Miguel Pena while Ask reads on the formation of workers’ unions and migration to the Canal Zone – until the chatter of his teeth becomes so disturbing that we leave to defrost in the tropical sun. Even this didn’t prepare us fully for the Danish winter though…
We also pay a visit to Government Information Service, located in an unassuming building in the outskirts of town, and seem to operate with a landline and the phone book as the primary resources. They are the sole distributor of the documentary Diggers, which is the only locally accessible source of footage from the construction of the Panama Canal. As it’s right after lunch, and our contact person is not around, we meet and greet seemingly all employees in the office, as a prolonged discussion over the spelling of the title takes place until we finally leave with DVD and receipt in hand.
Tuesday afternoon we are picked up by a driver, who is struggling to find our location hidden away in the centre of the Island – we are in fact “out of range” according to his company’s definition, and it does feel that way sometimes, which seems curious in such a small place.
We take the hydrophone sailing off the west coast, capturing some wonderful eerie sounds when anchored or wind powered – though any engine active in the entire bay can be heard clearly. As the sun sets, the visual beauty of the surroundings rivals the sonic seascape.
On Wednesday morning Maj meets Annalee to have a studio visit on her work. Exciting conversations unfold before we head off to meet Allison Thompson, the director of the fine arts department at Barbados Community College (BCC), where exchanges on pedagogy, teaching methods and structures are shared. In the evening we are attending the opening of This Quagmire, an exhibition by Versia Harris at the Punch Creative Arena in the Morningside Gallery at BCC.
Wednesday is also the final session of the sound workshop, and everyone chips in with fascinating yet very different compositions. We are also busy preparing for FRESH MILK XXVIII, which is quite a packed evening with both of us presenting work, Maj in conversation with Therese Hadchity, and the Beyond Publishing collective presenting their activities as well.
A packed final week, that somehow sums up the intensity of a month’s residency at Fresh Milk. Our suitcases are loaded with reading material and textile works by Mark King when we leave Walkers in St. George. A huge thank you to the wonderful Fresh Milk team: Annalee Davis, Katherine Kennedy, Natalie McGuire and of course also Barbara and Vere Davis. One thing is for sure: We can’t wait to return.
Fresh Milk’s first connection with the artists was made through our participation in a ResSupport fellowship at Akademie Schloss Solitude in 2014; to read a piece by Katherine Kennedy in conversation with Maj Hasager during this fellowship, click here.
This residency is supported in part by the Danish Arts Foundation