Interview – Bewogen Festival

Publication date:
Monday, 7 January 2019 – 10:42

Thiago Antunes is the creative brain behind ‘Inburgering in W’, an escape game inspired by civic integration programmes in European countries, which require immigrants to prove their ability to adapt to their country. During Bewogen festival, you can join this game in the basement of GC Kontakt.

Thiago, tell us about ‘Inburgering in W’. What is it?

Thiago: Inburgering is the name of the integration tests that immigrants have to undergo in order to get a residence permit, first created in the Netherlands during the 1980s and then adopted in many other European countries. I had to take the Inburgering exams in the Netherlands myself, and they intrigued me a lot. It was really fascinating for me the process of representing a whole culture and a society through multiple-choice tests. There are all those short videos, depicting ordinary situations, like talking with a neighbor or a colleague, where you are asked to choose “the best reaction” for the migrant character. It is really funny. Nonetheless, I didn’t feel that my actual process of adaptation was taken into account there. As a migrant, as important as learning a language and the social codes, it is crucial to rapidly master how to deal with prejudice, non-sense, awkwardness, miscommunication, and the colonialism that permeates every situation. Furthermore, there are also the people you meet on the way, struggling for similar reasons, and the strong bonds you create with them when complicity comes up.

How did you come up with the idea of an escape game?

Thiago: My initial idea was to build a performance that could create the conditions for that to happen, and then I got to know these escape games. They have plenty of similarities with an immigration process: a limited amount of time to “win”, the surveillance apparatus, solving non-sense puzzles. Thus I started working and researching the mechanics of it in order to create a participatory performance that could queer up the integration exams. After a residency in Zsenne ArtLab in Brussels, I was selected for ENTER Festival in April 2018, where we created the first version of Inburgering in W in the basement of GC Kontakt, hosting sessions for a huge variety of people: refugees, neighbors, workers, students, and spontaneous visitors. Then in November, we created a version called Inburgering in A for BANG! Festival, which took place at Studio Citygate. It is clearly a site-specific project, that is designed for each spot taking into account each context and the materiality of each venue.

How do the people who participate react?

Thiago: There are mixed reactions. For some people, dealing with the situations proposed in the game is completely unrealistic, or just absurd. This is usually the opinion from people who have experienced very little from a European immigration office. For migrants in general, it triggers a bunch of memories, related to the moments when they were not able to completely understand the local language(s), the landscape, and the social rules. Anyway, the general response is that it is fun, and a nice way of making new acquaintances.

Is there a moral/a message you want to spread?

Thiago: I want to share alternative ways to deal with an experience of displacement, that might be extremely hard for most of the people, but also brings a lot of opportunities, as soon as you start understanding the actual power-structures behind it. I cannot predict how people may react, or thestrategies they will come up with during this experience. There is this sense of complicity among the participants that is very often reported in their feedback. Also, the body awareness, the attention to space and the others, are capacities that this performance requires and promotes.

Why do people have to come to Bewogen festival?

Thiago: Well, one of the reasons I see is that there will be a lot of things made by migrants, or in collaboration with them. Although immigration is a trending topic and is broadly discussed in many spheres of society, it is rare that migrants have the opportunity to speak for themselves, especially as artists. I have seen so many performances and artworks that aim to address migration but are very often created and performed mostly by white European artists. Bewogen Festival is an opportunity to disrupt that system and get in contact with the unknown. And maybe enjoy it.