13 – 14 DECEMBER 2019
Venue: Franz Josefs Kai 3, 1010 Wien

Livia Alexander | Midia Amir | Berivan Aslan | Khaled Barakeh | Ramesch Daha | Özge Ejder | Stefan Fritz | Lewis Johnson | Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi | Kilian Kleinschmidt | Fiona Liewehr |  Sulaiman Mahmoud | Thomas Schmidinger | Nil Yalter | Samar Yazbek | Golnar Shahyar

Conceptualised and moderated by
Isin Önol

Organised in the framework of the exhibition The Other is Oneself, curated by Fiona Liewehr
Project initiated by Sébastien de Ganay

The conference The Other is Oneself accompanies and departs from the exhibition of the same title and expands on the far-reaching dialectic of “the self” and “the other”: These two poles within our conscious, emotional, and collective worlds have always decisively fuelled the process of synthesising who we are. How do these fundamental concepts evolve due to the process and experience of migration — on all sides involved?

We have invited artists, politicians, government and NGO professionals, and scholars across the social sciences, humanities and legal disciplines to share experiences, analyses, and perspectives that enrich this vital discourse.


11 March 2020, Onvista: “The Other is Oneself und Hilfswerk International helfen geflüchteten Menschen vor Ort
15 December 2019, MedyaScope: “The Other is Oneself Conference in Vienna: Understanding the Other within the Other“, by Isil Öz (Turkish)
16 December 2019, Açık Radyo (Open Radio): Haricten Sanat, interview by Celenk Bafra (Turkish)

The dichotomy between the collective self and other has been a defining dimension throughout the history of human civilisation — in times of peaceful evolution, but especially also during crises, confrontations, and atrocities. The ever-shifting distinction between the self (us) and the other (them) can be read as the very definition of what merits the status of “human” within each society — and by consequence, who is entitled to which level of rights, and what is undertaken to guarantee those rights. Long before the modern Declaration of Human Rights, each tribe, city, people, nation and empire crafted their own versions of “human rights”, often explicitly stating who positively has rights, and taking for self-evident which genders, cultural, ethnic or social classes are to be excluded or ignored. An intriguing variety of pathways has been developed by which some of “them” can become “us” after having been occupied, or after having migrated.

In the contemporary discourse on exile, flight and asylum, a particular controversy and dilemma has emerged around the notion of the self and the other: On the one hand, the right to asylum is seen by many as an indispensable component of human rights, which in turn they see as the very foundation and essence of their collective self. What’s more, many people share the core social value of hospitality and insist to welcome “the other” unconditionally, without expecting direct or even delayed reciprocity for helping in need. On the other hand, the fear of losing power, prosperity and eventually the own cultural identity as a consequence of immigration has a strong impact on our democratic choices. There may be sufficient wealth to ensure peaceful lives for the current electorate, but is there enough to share with “the other”? Can our values and social contracts survive the advent of the other? How do the self and the other evolve throughout this encounter? Has the self-image ever been honest?

The conference The Other is Oneself accompanies and departs from the exhibition of the same title and expands on the far-reaching dialectic of “the self ” and “the other” along several dimensions.
It aims to span a space of thought that encompasses a diverse array of experiences, analyses, perspectives and approaches, articulated by artists, politicians, government and NGO professionals, and scholars across the social sciences, humanities and legal disciplines.

Many of the conference participants embody personal histories that involve around the always transforming, frequently humiliating and all too often traumatizing experiences of migrating, of seeking asylum, of being forced to flee. To be displaced from a familiar social fabric and to find oneself dropped into the thin air of goodwill of an alien community amounts to a total existential challenge, individually and collectively. Under sufficiently positive circumstances, this challenge can lead to tremendous personal and collective growth and mutual learning — on all sides. All too often, however, this potential is drowned in a swamp of resentment, frustration, shame and fear, long before it has had a chance of unfolding. Looking into the long-term future of humankind, beyond acute crises and emergencies, it will remain a key determinant of our histories-to-come, how we collectively learn from past failures in averting the catastrophe of being forced to flee, and in understanding the tensions amidst both, the migrating and sedentary populations, that migration inevitably exposes.

The first encounters between the ones who newly arrive and the ones who are already there has many relations to the ancient roles of guest and host. Not only the social sciences, but myriad forms of teachings, debates and stories the world over have been drawn from the tension inherent to this constellation. How can a basis of trust be established from nothing? Can the awkwardness inherent to entering a stranger’s private space be overcome, and how does it arise? Are the cultural vocabularies available to the two parties mutually compatible, can they understand each other enough to give what is desired and receive what is offered? — Hospitality, after all, is a double-edged virtue, in that it offers but also obliges, in that it gives respect but also demands it. To welcome a guest in one’s home entails giving them access, but in a carefully limited and graded way. The elaborate scripts and highly calibrated ways of acting that have evolved around the tension of guest and host are a rich source for understanding what it may mean to be in a society of humans; and a botched encounter of guest and host is perhaps a “maximum credible accident” of the social.

While inter-personal hospitality may constitute a foundational social interaction and a necessary condition for meaningful migration dynamics, it is indispensable to understand the distinct emergent effects of migration and refuge on the scale of populations and in the evolution of our social fabrics. Beyond economic concerns of resource sharing, and fears of losing out, the process of migration tests the reach of solidarity and the limits of empathy. With debilitating intensity, any lack of sincerity, fairness and conclusiveness in the collective self-image and social “modes of operation” of both, the migrating and sedentary groups, get exposed. In host societies, the fear of losing the own cultural identity and social achievements under the influx of an incompatible group of aliens often articulates itself in outright racism and systemic rejection. In migrating societies, the dynamics may unfold in a strikingly similar way, albeit with reversed roles.

To overcome this self-fulfilling encrustation and accept the challenge of reaffirming what is worthy and necessary about the foundations of the self — and eventually mending what is untenable — must be our objective, and this conference aims to contribute. The multiple “selves” and “others” involved in such processes are to be exposed to scholarly and artistic examination; practical thinkers and theoretical doers are challenged to articulate their experiences. As a focal point, the conference aims to explore how the space of art can be opened to communicate individual experiences and to mobilize personal memories, in contrast to — but not rejection of — the more abstract, statistical accounts provided by government institutions and the media. To generate constructive confrontations across the disciplines and viewpoints, the format of the conference is designed to first allow for sufficient space to elaborate on a specific notion or dimension. Then it will activate “responders”, “sceptics” and “questioners” to challenge otherwise unquestioned, unconscious assertions along orthogonal lines of thinking and perceiving; For we must yet again re-invent ourselves, and “our others”, these two poles within our emotional, conscious and collective worlds that have always decisively fuelled the process of synthesising who we are.

Isin Önol

Download the Conference Programme