A window of vulnerability by Skye Arundhati Thomas

Belin, Bergen Assembly, foto: Thor Brødreskift

‘A window of vulnerability,’ declares a soft padded pillow at Belgin, one of the main venues of the Bergen Assembly 2019. It sets a premise: here is a space that is open to an exchange of vulnerability and tenderness. Belgin—filled up by an architecture of many such springy and large pillows shaped in cubes, wedges and flat rectangles—is a space for the city to gather together, but not have to make purchases in order to stay together. To flop over the pillows and read; to build forts or tunnels with pillows and play; or to sit still and listen to a piece of music. I watch as children scurry across this landscape on the opening days of the Assembly, and I myself nestle into its spongy corners. It’s like a cafe without the need to spend capital; like a friend’s living room where the friends around you are those you haven’t met—yet. It was also the site of two editions of the Parliament of Bodies: The Impossible Parliament, curated by Paul B. Preciado and Viktor Neumann, a nearly 12-hour long series of performance and lectures that hoped to deconstruct notions of legislative assemblies (or “parliaments”) by envisioning a new, generative, non-normative template for the same. While the Parliament did bring together a diverse group of performances, lectures and dialogues, the night I attended, I did feel critical of the infrastructure it proposed: who had access to this space of vulnerability and who did not? It is the tendency of large scale art events to propose an international globalism, but in this they often falter, and tend to end up disconnected from their local context.

Belgin is named after the Turkish arabesk Popstar of the same name, who took the stage name Bergen after spotting the Norwegian city on a postcard. Its picturesque views charmed her, but also gave her a kind of clean, fresh and foreign slate. While Belgin’s story is marked by tragedy—her husband threw nitric acid on her face in an effort to disfigure her beauty and stop her from singing, and later, murdered her—hers is also a story of resilience: she got some plastic surgery, curled a lock of hair over her burnt eye, and carried on. Belgin hovers over the scene here: she parades in a gentle, diffuse beauty, she reminds us that the dead—to paraphrase the title of the Assembly, are not actually dead—and indeed, they linger, and force us to reconcile with the contradictions and complexities of our lived political and social times. The story of Belgin is a powerful place by which to begin the discursive practices of the Bergen Assembly, it’s a narrative shocked back to life by the courage of a performer who survived, evoked and performed without compromise. In the times we live in, the state of emergency seems to no longer be the exception but the rule. Indeed it is a time of crisis, and perhaps tenderness and vulnerability are our only remaining recourse.