I am conducting the most fleeting of visits to Sarajevo to help with the launch of the Story Maps, a participatory mapping project as part of the ERC YouCitizen project. The map is a composite of Sarajevans’ (both young and old) stories of attachments to particular districts, sites, intersections or buildings in the city. They vary greatly in form and purpose, some are deeply personal stories of emotional attachments to places, some comprise passionate celebration of particular cafes or recreational areas. One thing is certain: the maps make you see and feel the city in a different way. For me they have overlaid a new pyschogeography of the city, where a derelict house on the edge of the city is transformed into a collection centre during an enforced migration, a residential suburb into the backdrop for the heartbreaking loss of a relative and a central city street into an arena for swapping comics during the siege of Sarajevo. It can’t help but make you think about the utility of this method as a means of tracing alternative geographies of the city and tap into this phenomenological question of the role of memory in shaping the constitution of place.
We are holding the exhibition of the maps in Art Kino Kriterion in central Sarajevo as part of the Pravo Ljudski Film Festival. Part of the purpose for me being here is to capture the responses of young people to the maps as they watch the individual documentaries. This is proving to be a challenge — and I think there are three reasons for this. First, I think these deeply personal stories are difficult to respond to in a singular and immediate fashion, they are such a varied array of stories and the connect with diverse set of sites in Sarajevo, it seems tough to come up with a succinct response to the maps as a whole. Second, perhaps the place that people are expecting to comment is not in person but online? We may be moving to a new terrain where people express their opinion through likes and shares, rather than formulating a response to a stranger who asks their views. Third, the site of the exhibition is important, as the Art Kino Kriterion is a key site for the film festival and is simultaneously holding another art exhibition by young people (of comic and photographic interpretations of the city — also really worth seeing, some incredible drawing). There are therefore numerous calls on young people in the cafe to engage with aesthetic material, it is tough to always convince people to view the maps (which, depending on level of engagement, can take some time). I think most importantly it makes me reflect on the ongoing challenge of producing visual media as part of a research project outcome, and how we capture the attitudes of viewers once this material has been produced.
Alex Jeffrey, November 2015