Aliza Shvarts’ recent work Anthem (2019-present) is about how the body can be a material/platform to speak and be heard. This work “is a comparison of the different sexual assault evidence collection kits or ‘rape kits’ used in each US state. […] the kits vary in language, content, and form. A kit might contain 7 or 21 steps; it might use legal or medical language (‘victim’ vs. ‘patient’) and gendered or gender-neutral terms (‘panties’ vs. ‘underwear’). As an object, a rape kit is a crucial site where physical experience is transformed into testimony—one that has the power to support or supersede the survivor’s own voice. Viewers are invited to pick up, handle, and compare the reproductions of the kits’ internal contents, which are on display on the shelves in the space.” (“Anthem (2019-present).” Aliza Shvarts, https://alizashvarts.com/2019_anthem.html. Accessed 17 January 2022.) Also In the interview, she mentioned, “[t]he kit, as a discrete body, solves the problem of relation, of the interdependency of the body on larger systems and practices of care.” (After Emily, editor. “A conversation with Aliza Shvartz.” OCTOBER, vol. 176, 2021, pp. 88-110.) So in her work, Kit is an indelible material because it’s a part of body but also a “discrete body”.
In order for us to make a code together, listeners also need to start complaining about the behaviour of the institutions vigorously. Because in this procedure, if the listeners don’t stand up, there is no place for a throwing cord. And Aliza Shvartz’s work came to mind while thinking of institutions claiming “principle” to the complainer about an obscure, unclear problem.
Her first work, Untitled [Senior Thesis] (2008), consisting of a yearlong performance of self-induced miscarriages, was declared a “fiction” by Yale University and censored from public exhibition. When an institution puts forward a ‘principle’ that has the power to enforce an individual, it should be aware that an individual’s complaint is no way to enforce the institution. After 10 years later, she exhibits this documentation in another space (player, 2018). Finally, the “Truth”/ “Story” came out from undersea. In her work, the form of art could be the cord. And this platform “Art” comes out in public with a different kind of power than the principles of the institution. Her work encourages me to contemplate what and how to bring the past to the surface. Especially about the way how it’s through the right form to reveal.
While I research the example for the role of the listener, I found Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s artwork. It draws the role of interpretation and intervention during testimony. In his work, Abu Hamdan represents the historical scene in the Nuremberg trials in 1945–46. This trial was the first trial that uses a simultaneous translation system in the world. In this trial, simultaneous interpreters are nowhere to be seen. Yet their presence was captured by the flashing yellow and red lights built into the witness stand and the prosecutor’s podium, which were used to slow down or pause the speed of the sound flowing into their headphones. (“The witness-machine complex(2021)”, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, http://lawrenceabuhamdan.com/witness-machine-complex) These lights interfere with and control witness statements in many ways.
Lawrence Abu Hamdan mentions “[t]here’s an exchange that begins with a Russian witness named Jakov Gregorvion, […] He’s asked where he comes from, and the follow-up question is “Does that village still exist?,” and the answer is “No, it does not exist.” And then the yellow light goes off. Already, it’s weird, and immediately the judge tells him to slow down. So this strange and frank detail, which contains a huge amount of violence, is immediately kind of overwritten by the light, by the way, the court makes a demand on the voice and what it needs to sound like. When the yellow light flashes a second time, he freezes for over a minute, his testimony entirely derailed. In another instance, Marie Vaillant-Couturier responds to the yellow light by altering her speech to an incredibly robotic staccato […].” (McHugh, Camila. “Lawrence Abu Hamdan on Translation, Nuremberg, and the Juridical Unconscious.” The Online Edition of Artforum International Magazine, 12 Oct. 2021, https://www.artforum.com/interviews/lawrence-abu-hamdan-on-translation-nuremberg-and-the-juridica l-unconscious-86875)
Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s work reveals the violence of being interrupted to testify. If someone’s testimony can be influenced by the light of a machine that’s regarded as neutral and emotionless, then how can a human – regarded as a subjective – tune in to the speaker better? Furthermore, what does ‘neutral’ mean? Should a person who has the power to listen exercise “neutrality” as emotionless? I would say no.
The role of listening should not be an appraiser, also that doesn’t mean they should be a saviour. Instead, it has to be an alliance so that they could pull together throughout the whole process of complaining to protest. This non-vertical relationship is woven and formed based on listening and understanding. Thus, let’s start to imagine a cord that is made of sturdy trust and patience weaved together. Remember, you can’t weave a cord with a single strand. Two strands have to be twisted together. The code that we made together like this could be the last hope we can hold and help the complaint to get out from the bottom of the sea like a rope. Or this code can be the link that allows complaints to reach us.
In her book, Sara Ahmed keeps talking about how the complaint is not conceived seriously and authentically. Likes she mentioned, inside of the cabinet, we can easily find out a dead complaint buried intentionally which is the general end of the complaint. Furthermore, she mentioned “holding the doors” (chapter 6). In this chapter, she depicts the attributes of the complaint itself or attributes of the process of complaint. “I can hold the door for you.” is the same meaning as “I can hold the door for you till I want.” So the meaning of “holding door” or “hearing complaint” is always up to the discretion of the gatekeeper and listener.
During reading her books, I focused on the fact that every complaint has a different narrative and context. But even though it comes from a discrete background, most of the complaints are written in the same form and lose their own story during the process of “hearing”. In a way, keeping the ambiguity of complaints is key to the revival of buried complaints. Eventually, I conclude, AMBIGUITY is only concretized through an individual platform. However institutional systems deny and disregard the exceptional and ambiguous situation exceedingly. Thus, they define all problems in a form.
On the other hand, forcing integrity and authenticity on complainers is another kind of violence. This problem also applies to the form that must be marked ‘compulsory’(*) on one of their designated entry. Most often, the word “genuine” or “truth” is abused and misused. Especially if you are in the position of “hearing”, you’d say “I want to know the truth of the whole story.” Thus, you want to dig the truth. Eventually, it will hurt the person you are facing now despite the truth only existing regardless of the role of “hearing”.
Thus, I started to question how can I let the complaint be exposed to the surface like it was supposed to be without interpretation and intervention. The process of hearing should be distinct from imposing. Then, what can I do for complaint when the time has been passed to expose so it has been stuck down below. Furthermore, as a result, what is the role of the “listener”?
Read it again, and then again. A never ending cirkel.
Hello, you have called Complaint! hotline’s answering machine.
We have run out of answers and all operators are currently busy.
But feel free to leave your message after a short signal.
Rely on artificial
No one will stop you
Don’t laugh, don’t cry
And don’t drop the handset
If you want to speak
Press the key number one
If you use uncensored vocabulary
Key number two
If you just want to shut up
Press number three
Your pain will be recorded
For quality improvement purposes
In Eastern Europe, people don’t usually complain. Officially.
It means that you are a traitor. Or could be betrayed. You can always resign though.
Resign from your identity. Resign from your home. Your tribe, your status, your life.
Because you show THEM where it hurts. Your vulnerability is your biggest enemy. If you are
taking away someones’ status you might succeed. But THEY will erase you… right after your
complaint will be filed into the void.
And you will be very, very tired.
Shadow of our ancestors’ generation trauma. Post-soviet toxic patriarchy.
THEY are not even pretending to care.
“если ударил, то люби” *
*If they hit you, they love you
I have a fresh story of making a complaint in silence. In total, earsplitting silence:
Here I will tell a fresh story of this kind of complaint. Introduction of an artistic performance by Iranian artist named “Mahmoud Bakhshi”.
On February 17,2022, he occupied a gallery, kept it empty with only artist statement on the wall:
For second of March,
With twelve years delay,
Dedicated to (names of two political activists who have been in house arrest since twelve years ago)
As a sign of comradeship, I won’t leave my studio as well. I will block all ways of communication and won’t hold any events.
In this essay the aim is not to criticising on behalf of my country’s art scene, but for me, as someone who knows the artist in person, it was so shocking, a suicidal act. I think the the most certain and terrifying characteristic of death is being forgotten, and this artist volunteering chose to be forgotten in order to make a complaint.
This performance was one of my motivations to travel to my country. I wanted to talk to him, but wasn’t even sure if he accept visitors. So, I took a risk, took a taxi, asked the driver to wait for me. Fortunately he accepted visitors and we talked. I won’t deliver his words, but prefer to share an experience of being in his world for couple of hours; that feeling of passing life on the other side of the door and still choose not living it. Struggling with fear, doubt, loneliness and still insist on making complaint in silence.
For me, it was a breathtaking experience; this self-willed solitude for protecting a belief is respectful. I know I will think about it as long as this performance continues, and will whisper to myself:
Be brave enough to complaint .
In my previous text I emphasised on the relation between complaint and individual psych. Here, I prefer to discuss another aspect of it; the relation between complaint and political/ social acts.
I am coming from the land of complexity and complaint.
The unfairness happens everyday and complaint comes after. In most cases, the consequences of these acts of complaint are too much. I know plenty of bitter stories of people who paid unbelievable price for what they couldn’t/ cannot stand. Because they couldn’t/ cannot be comfortable in uncomfortable situations and the price is their youth, heath, family and their life. They lose and lose and lose but they are not a loser. They insist on making complaint and eventually they make changes.
At some points, only presence of people on the streets became a way of making complaint. Although some of us are lost about complaint in private, most of us are professional in public. We know how to make a complaint even with a colour, hand gestures, or just being silent, doing nothing.
“I don’t know how to complain”.
This was my very first sentence in our first session. And that hit me hard.
For some time, I was in complete denial. But then I started to think and realised I had had lots of difficulties due to this “disability”. Yes, I am calling this “disability” since I had to – and still have to – struggle a lot. I have been in abusive relationships, leading to severe mental problems. Then, I had to start the healing process, which wasn’t easy. Sometimes it was just Therapy sessions, but the last one made me take anti- depression medication for more than three years.
I was stuck in relationships or even friendships like that because I didn’t know how to complain. Because I was always asking these questions: “am I have the right to be uncomfortable?/did I do something wrong? Do I deserve this misery? Can I fix this? Yes, I need to fix this!” There was always a conversation between me and me. Sometimes, when I was suffering, I had to ask other people: “ listen to this story, do you think I was right?”
And it was not the only consequence. I started to feel so uncomfortable in my own life that I decided to leave and start the new one. There is no doubt that it was a reasonable decision in many aspects, but the reason for this decision still breaks my heart.
In the early days of my new life, I felt incredibly guilty. I couldn’t enjoy it. I was here. Finally, I got everything that I have always wanted, and I have tried so hard for that for a long time. I felt guilty for the good weather, new experiences, and new opportunities. I was guilty because I could choose my outfit after years of mandatory Hijab. Because I could enjoy the wind in my hair. I felt that I owe everyone something. I used to cry a lot out of guilt. I felt guilty for having a nice cup of coffee in cold weather. While studying Sara Ahmed’s book, I realised that the relationship between complaint and guilt is meaningful. I could see this complexity in the book’s stories, whether they were told directly. Since I am very enthusiastic about psychology, I started to study this matter on the psychological aspect and consider myself a study case. So, In this essay, I will discuss this journey of me, the journey of lasting guilt.
Based on an essay by Kendra Cherry named “ What Is a Guilt Complex?”, there are four types of guilt:
• Natural guilt: If you genuinely committed a wrong and feel bad for what you have done, guilt is a normal response. This type of guilt can be adaptive and can motivate you to take action or make changes in ways that are beneficial in the future. For example, you might relieve your guilt by apologising for action or changing problematic behaviour. If these actions are not addressed in a way that allows you to move on, however, they may lead to lingering feelings of persistent guilt that interfere with your life.
• Maladaptive guilt: Sometimes, people feel guilty about things that aren’t within their control. For example, they may feel guilty that they didn’t prevent something that they had no way of predicting. Even though there was nothing they could do, they still felt strong feelings of regret, shame, and guilt.
• Guilty thoughts: Everyone has negative or inappropriate reviews from time to time, yet sometimes people develop feelings of guilt for having such thoughts. Even though they may not act on them, they may fear that it means that they will or worry that others will find out about their “bad” thoughts.
• Existential guilt: This type of guilt can be complicated and often centred on things like guilt over injustices or guilt about not living according to one’s principles. One type of existential guilt is known as survivor’s guilt. Sometimes people will experience a guilt complex because they are doing well when others they care about are not. This can emerge when someone survives some time of accident or disaster in which others are harmed, but it can also occur when others experience misfortune when you don’t. (Cherry, 2021)
I am suffering from “Existential guilt”. I was/am in pain because I always felt/feel I could do better for people; I could BE BETTER. I am in pain only because I did not behave as expected. If they cause me pain, the reason is I wasn’t/am not good enough. If they leave me, I did something wrong; if they mistreat me, it is my fault.
So, I looked back. I investigated my past cultural background. I was constantly told that it was not pleasant to complain, and this is my obligation to be creative enough to survive the situation that bothers me. “Tolerance” was equal to “Braveness”. For instance, My Ex used to tell me: “ you make me treat you in this way”. And still, after so many times, this sentence brings me a great deal of insecurity. I still cannot understand how I can cause myself so much pain and why the person I loved the most wanted me to believe that? Why did I not speak up? Why did I stay silent? I found part of my answer in Carl Rogers words:
“When another recognises your pain (expressed by complaining) and validates your experience, this feels good and momentarily connects. He believed feeling heard was extremely powerful”. (Berry, 2021)
In other words, I was/am feeling guilty because I couldn’t/ cannot get the validation to my pain, And I was not being heard. Even now, while writing these sentences, I constantly ask myself, “am I being a drama queen, AGAIN?” I don’t have an answer. But At least I could find the source of pain: my pain was/is not valid in the world.
I believe in order to solve a problem, I need to see it first; respect its existence. In other words, maybe “words” can be skeleton of feelings. Of course I am not a specialist, but I’d like to propose that “words” can even be considered as a medium between conscious and unconscious, And Now that I exposed a problem, I want to recognise this problem as well.
So, I made a straightforward survey on Social Media and asked people who are sharing the same language with me to complain about something that caused them pain, but still, they don’t feel safe enough to express that. I felt this is my way to at least expose the problem. I had about fifty complaints in 24 hours. I translated some of them as examples:
- I don’t know what I want to do with my life.
- Why didn’t the guy sell the car to me? Why are people not responsible for their words?
- Why don’t people use indicators while driving? It pisses me off. – The government is ruining my life.
- I want to hit my father or even kill him. He hurts my sister.
- I am never his priority.
- Why people can’t respect my privacy.
- I feel I am being taken for granted.
- I still have nightmares about my ex-husband.
At this point, I felt that although their complaints and problems matter, my message is that: I hear you. Your pain is valid.
All in all, I believe being able to complain is a life-changing skill and, at the same time, an opportunity. On the other hand, the feeling of being heard could prevent lots of unnecessary obstacles in life. The fact that, in my case, I made one of the most important and most challenging decisions in my life – immigration- on the direct side effect of not being heard, reminds me of the significant importance of this matter, and my heart is with people who are struggling with this bitter feeling. I imagine them in the dark, freezing woods, and I hope they can see the light. I hope someone hears their stories; someone aches for their loneliness.
Kendra Cherry, 2021, what is a guilt complex https://www.verywellmind.com/guilt-complex-definition-symptoms- traits-causes- treatment-5115946#:~:text=Guilt%20is%20described%20as%20a,Crying (Accessed: Feb 2022)
William Berry, 2021, The Psychology of Complaining, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-second-noble-truth/ 202104/the-psychology- complaining#:~:text=Complaining%20is%20a%20form%20of,it%20 may% 20drive%20people%20apart (Accessed: Feb 2022)