Last week we received a message on facebook. “My name is Claudia Janke. I'm German artist based in London currently working on a pan European project called Wavelength to create a joyful beacon of friendship and humanity in times of uncertainty and division. At the moment I am travelling the European Union visiting all EU member states in the run up to Brexit to create short films of people waving at my camera. I am in Amsterdam next week and wondered if you want to be part of this.” Of course we wanted to. So on a greyish Monday morning some of us waved at her camera, and thus at you, all over Europe. But we also seized the opportunity to ask Claudia a few questions.
Last summer I was asked to develop a project in a fragmented housing estate in London to foster community cohesion. That's when I came up with the idea of neighbours waving at each other. I was looking for a form of communication that on one hand wasn’t too intimidating to take part but on the other opened the door for the possibility of a deeper connection, waving does both.
Waving is universal, cross cultural and has a certain magic to it. We all do it – we wave at our friends, loved ones and passers-by from windows, bridges and trains creating a moment of intimacy at a distance even between strangers. It’s a beautiful way to acknowledge one another. It’s a simple gesture, but a powerful one and something most of us can participate in.
During my research into waving I learned that it originates as a signal to strangers that one comes in peace and doesn’t pose a threat - a fact that couldn’t be more fitting for a project that intends to unite people in order to foster “disarmament" and compassion, connection and solidarity.
What did it cause amongst the community, and do you think it can be repeated on a transnational level?Wavelength-London had a great impact on the community. People still talk about it a year later. Whether it is that they feel proud to have taken part in the film or how it changed the community for the better, people are still feeding off the energy that it created. It inspired people to be curious about each other and gave them a sense of community back. This also includes members of the public and neighbours of the community , who experienced the magic of the waves during the screening. They fed back that it softened their view of others and enabled them to make connections they otherwise may not have made. Wavelength was experienced as "life-affirming” and "moving". It enabled people to step back and see the “other” in a new light. People found themselves challenging their own prejudice and preconceived ideas about people.
It was this affect on people that made me want to take waving to Europe. I believe that Wavelength can disrupt divisive narratives and reignite a sense of inclusion, compassion and motivation also on a transnational level. It already connects and unites people over the excitement and shared experience of creating this pan European beacon of humanity and peace, together. Participants share posts and galvanise support encouraging people to take part.
Many people are participating in the success of this journey and project, which couldn’t happen without solidarity and friendship. Part of the project is that I am finding my participants ,wherever I find a host in each of the 27 EU countries I am visiting. The beauty of this project is already unfolding as people are looking for hosts all over the European Union. I am contacted by strangers, who are supportive of the idea and want to help. I’m hosted by friends, friends of friends and their parents, extended family and strangers. Already people are uniting celebrating the togetherness and inclusion Wavelength aims to foster and I am only at the beginning of the project. It’s just so great. Astonishingly, I already have most countries covered but I’m still looking for hosts in Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania and Croatia :)
Why the European Union?
Having witnessed first hand the devastating impact that divisive politics can have during the on-going Brexit nightmare, I feel everything possible has to be done to contest the forces driving forward division and fear across the European Union and beyond. From Germany to Hungary to Italy and France everywhere nationalist sentiment and populist forces have been increasingly successful in entering mainstream politics. Their growing presence and strong rhetoric aggravate fear and division amongst citizens.
We, the citizens of the European Union have been under such pressure from these divisive forces that it is easy to forget how much we have in common and remember the things that unite us. Wavelength aims to reignite this sense of unity and togetherness.
How will this resolve this crisis?
My goal is to counter nationalist and populist sentiment through connecting people across borders from the widest range of social, geographical and economic backgrounds possible. I think fostering a sense of connection, solidarity and positive participation in society is vital in standing up against fear mongering and division.
Wavelength creates a joyful shared experience and the opportunity to see each other in a new light promoting an understanding and respect of difference, irrespective of dehumanising national boundaries. It contributes to a sense of inclusion, compassion and motivation to counterbalance the tensions caused by divisive forces threatening the well-being of our society.
Waving, of course, can also be seen as a gesture of saying goodbye. Can you understand some of the emotions in continental Europe which exist on Brexit like ‘yes, you made your point, now just leave…’
Yes, I can relate to it the sentiment of “ will you leave already” but I don’t think this is the time to give into nationalist ideas and division, however appealing this might seem. In many ways now is the time to come together and get active. I think there is a lot at stake. Waving Britain good bye might seem like a funny idea to some but it really isn’t. Many people in the UK are devastated to lose their European citizenship and freedoms and for us European citizen living in the UK times of uncertainty await us with immigration measures stripping us of the right to vote and access to the European court of justice.
So how does all of this make you feel hopeful about our future?
So far I have been surprised how much people are supportive of the idea to express their solidarity and friendship with others. The mood I found stands in sharp contrast to the picture populist forces try to paint. People seem to be very concerned and confused about how the powers that drive forward division and hate could have gained so much influence. There is a sense that there is a need for reform but not a need for splitting up the European Union. It’s been very encouraging to experience this and to see how much people feel part of the bigger picture. And yes, this does give me hope.