In February 2008 by her own initiative and with the support of the European Cultural Foundation, Daniela Paes Leão travelled to Macedonia for an investigation stage with the intention to develop a project in the future about the country’s identity. In the time span of just one week, the artist had met and interviewed a great deal of interesting people from all walks of life. These individuals were able to give her a broader and more complex view of the political and social reality in Macedonia at that time and the country’s turbulent historical background. Paes Leão realised she had enough material to edit a film that became a work in itself. The film, or more precisely a video essay, can be viewed as a travel notebook about Macedonia and its culture. The video essay style or perhaps technique as first discovered and employed as such by Paes Leão in this project, became a very important aesthetic approach and story telling tool in later projects such as The Freedom to Question, REDOX and Museu da Crise.
Video stills from ‘The notebook of Diplomacy’ ST - Hi8 - 4:3 - 11’39” EN
Setting out to investigate the subject of identity, during her one-week journey, physically and mentally crisscrossing Macedonia, the artist found herself studying the dynamics between concepts of ethnicity, nationality and citizenship in a country that existed in an ephemeral state between its post-communist tradition and the capitalist promise of the European Union. The physicality of the country made the artist recognize that ‘being present’ results in a different kind of knowledge and perhaps more complex understanding than one would get from for instance reading cultural information about a subject such as a cultural identity. At the same time, being confronted with new landscapes and relationships, in the broadest sense of the words, consequently will influence one’s perception of Europe and themselves as a European as well as one’s reading of themselves as part of this reality. We need ‘the inside other’ as a counterpart in order to be able to define and complete the ‘self’. On a more personal level, getting to know Macedonia and being confronted with that reality, also informed the artist’s own reality and deepened her notion of the concept of identity, a subject Paes Leão has been working with throughout her artistic career.