Polish-American artist Krzysztof Wodiczko wrote that a contemporary immigrant can become an “unintentional prophet” who dreams of a better private refuge and also of a better public democracy that could welcome strangers like himself. The Immigrant/Stranger remains a key figure of the twentieth and twenty-first century modernity. At the same time experience of immigration complicate and embarrass our theoretical metaphors bringing in inconvenient political and personal histories. The immigrant is always a trickster who balances the experience of loss with an improbable hope.
The immigrant subject remained central to my scholarship and to my art work as it moved from the reflection on nostalgia and its discontent to the cross-cultural approach to the experience of freedom as a form of co-creation in a public world. In my Viennese work-in-progress the immigrant subject confronts personal histories and mysteries. It took me more than twenty five years to remember my own forgetting of my first transit through Vienna in the early 1980s. After my departure from the Soviet Union I was a refugee (“a non-resident alien”) in an extraterritorial camp for Soviet Jews that existed in an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Vienna in the late 1970s – early 1980s. In 2012 through archival work I discovered the address of the camp and revisited this extraterritorial territory at the cross-roads of many inconvenient histories and realized many ways in which the landscape of transit and the experience of immigration has haunted my work.
Svetlana Boym is Professor of Comparative Literature and Associate of Harvard School of Design and Architecture at Harvard University. Writer, theorist and artist, she is the author of The Future of Nostalgia (2001), Architecture of the Off-Modern (2008), Ninochka (a novel, 2003) and, most recently, Another Freedom: The Alternative History of an Idea (2011). She delivered lectures and performances in Vienna Kunsthalle, Freud Museum, Centre Pompidou, Centro de Arte Contemporaneo (Madrid), Royal Theater in Copenhagen as well as in major American universities. Her on-going art projects are “Nostalgic Technologies”, “Phantasmagorias”, and “Phantom Limbs.” Most recently Boym took part in the Venice Architectural Biennale in 2010 and is now working on the Off Modern exhibit at the Ludwig Museum in Budapest for 2013.
Native of St. Petersburg, Russia, she now lives and works in Cambridge, USA, and on www.svetlanaboym.com