Christiania - 'A Tale of Two Cities'
Christiania, or ‘Freetown Christiania’ as it is officially known, is a 84 acre former military base near central Copenhagen dating back to the 17th century which is, quite simply put, a community without comparison anywhere in the world. The area has been occupied and run as a self- proclaimed autonomous state since 1971. Ruled as a direct consensus democracy and disregarding much of Danish legislation, it has remained a bone of contention between the citizens of the freetown and the Danish state for the past nearly five decades.
Christiania has become synonymous with anarchy, activism and autonomy, and is often celebrated for firmly maintaining its self-regulated alternative societal structure, urging all of its citizens to make their voice heard through the so called common-meetings. Yet it has also, more complexly, become famed for its very liberal views on hash and cannabis, and the so called ‘Pusher Street’, where drugs are sold openly, defying the otherwise strict Danish anti-drug policies.
In 2011, Christiania arrived at an unparalleled milestone in its existence, reaching an agreement with the Danish government to purchase the occupied land through a state-financed loan equating to approximately £30 million. In one of their biggest common-meetings to date, the Christianites voted to accept the offer of buying the annexed land through a private trust set up with the help of Knud Foldshack, the lawyer who has led the negotiations between the freetown and the state for the past 14 years.
Like Pusher Street, opinions are varied regarding the purchase of the land. Some support the purchase and call it the most important step Christiania has ever taken to secure its future, while some see it as a leap towards its inevitable demise. Regardless of their stance in the matter, everyone agrees that Christiania is taking a significant step towards a new era, one in which the inhabitants are no longer occupants, but the indirect owners of an area which in essence was founded on the principle that no one should be able to own the land. With much of the media representation dominated by disagreements between the Christianites and the authorities, images of police raids in Pusher Street and not much else, I have become increasingly interested in exploring the complex issues and ideas that underlie the freetown.
Butoh: 'Inferno of the Human Mind'
Butoh is an avant-garde performance art which developed in Japan in the 1950’s, partly as a reaction to the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. It is an art form that focuses on the most difficult sides of life and humanity, and is often referred to as “The Dance of Darkness”. Butoh portrays feelings of aggression, suffering, forbidden sexual passions, and human frailty, and can be described as a performance which in some ways intends to traumatise the viewer as much as the performer.
When first coming across Butoh I immediately became struck by how different Butoh looked to any other type of visual expression I had seen before. Butoh, I also learnt, dealt with many of the same challenges that the medium of photography, and particularly documentary photography and photojournalism grapples with. The many tangents between the two subjects include dilemmas of representation in relation to culture, identity, suffering and trauma.
In September of 2015, I travelled to Japan to explore the presence and heritage of Butoh. I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to collaborate with many of the most important figures in Butoh, many of whom are still practicing it today. Through photographing Butoh using methods inspired by the avant-garde movement it grew out of, highlighting an immersive combination of movement and abstraction, I wish to recreate a sense of the traumatic sentiments that Butoh aims to express.