TERRA NULLIUS | interview

Paula Diogo talks with Nikola Marković and Monika Husar / KomunikArt

How did you get idea to elaborate on the idea of Terra Nullius in a first place? Was it the concept based on geo-political implications of the term, or just the starting point for metaphorical use of it?

PD: I think it all started with a book from Sven Lindqvist called “Terra Nullius; a journey through no one’s land” about the occupation of Australia. But in fact, I think the book was actually a way to enter the recent (and ancient) History of Portugal and the relation with its ex-colonies, that deeply affected generations and that is still difficult to approach. It’s obviously also related to the narrative of the whole Western world History and how it shaped our ideas about race, class, culture, gender and sexuality. And the way we need to be able to put it into perspective and question, in order to envision new possible futures. Or new necessary impossible futures, as some might say. It was also a moment for me to stop and say: wait, this is not working for me. Can I think it through? 

What would be the no man’s land, zero-point, when it comes to the world of theater and performance? 

PD: I think there is no point zero in performance. Everything has been done before. But individual perspective it’s always absolutely new and necessary. Our very own individual regard towards the world and the ability to express it cannot be repeated, and holds a significant place.

Where and how do you see the space for the new ways of living indicated by the idea of Terra Nullius, outside of capitalism and market values?

PD: That’s a daily fight. I think capitalism will collapse. I really do. And I hope it will happen during my lifetime. I need to believe that new ways of living are possible, and every day I try to move myself and make changes in that direction. I think that for sure collective action is one of the ways for change. Capitalism tried, for a very long time, to convince us that individualism is the way. That the more things we have, the happier we are. That we can survive alone inside our houses, our computers, our phones. But it is a lie. It’s hard to be in relation, because you cannot avoid friction, but what we need to do is to constantly learn how to deal with friction in positive and constructive ways. One of the things that I’ve learned (or remembered) during my stay in Iceland is that it’s powerful to have strong individuals in a collective body. May it be a family, a society or a political party. 

Ursula K. Le Guin says “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words.”  And I guess that even if I doubt it every day, I still believe that.

Per Wikipedia, there are currently only three territories in the world sometimes claimed to be terra nullius, and one of them is actually on the Serbian-Croatian border, on a part of the Danube river shore. And your performance will be very close to the entrance of river Sava into the Danube. Did you have in mind this curiosity while preparing the performance in Serbia?

PD: I’m obsessed with lines and intersections. The meeting point of Sava with the Danube immediately stood out as something to be noticed. The piece was created in public space. Always with the conscious, and sometimes constant reminders, that public space almost does not exist in cities. Everything is private or almost, even when it belongs to the state. The idea of Terra Nullius as a concept was useful to think about the impossibility of a territory without ownership. And what is ownership. And how that could subvert this relation with things.

I just found out about Liberland with this interview. But it makes sense in a territory so disputed as Serbia to find out about a terra nullius place recently constituted as a micronation.

In Belgrade, after the collective experience with the audience on performance sites, there will be a talk in Magacin cultural center. What kind of talking interactions are you hoping for? Do you find the talk itself and exchanging the reaction on the performance valuable as a performance itself?

I never thought about it that way. Talks for me are always a way to continue a conversation that is opened with the performance. So, in some way it is an extension of the performance. It’s a precious opportunity for the conversation to go both ways and hear how my thoughts echo in other heads and bodies. In the last years in Portugal I think we lost the ability to talk or at least to do what usually comes with the talking: listening. And I heard that in Serbian you are great at both listening and talking, so I have great expectations for this talk. 

The work starts with a question: what’s your story? And that is a proposal to start the empathic movement from within. What constitutes you? How do you build up your relation to the world? What and who do you carry with you?

(Interview given in the context of the Festival Kondenz 2023 Feminist Futures – Belgrade.)

images @Luka Knežević Strika