• Legion of Memory

Legion of Memory

Legions and Refugees

  • "...if we want to be equal to the absolutely new tasks ahead, we will have to abandon decidedly, without reservation, the fundamental concepts through which we have so far represented the subjects of the political (Man, the Citizen and his or her rights, but also the sovereign people, the worker, and so forth) and build our political philosophy anew starting from the one and only figure of the refugee." - Giorgio Agamben

Perhaps we are all refugees. While most Canadians are free of the more obvious manifestations of refugee status, I think we can all claim a certain level of identification with this position. Perhaps it’s at our place of work, within our family, where we live, or maybe it’s due to an increasing sense of the world’s commercial commoditization. If we have experienced a meaningful sense of displacement and alienation, perhaps we may all claim the status of refugee.

Imagine a little girl, who goes to the Legion every Saturday with her father; while he would go to a bar in the basement to smoke and drink himself into a stupor, she would wander upstairs to a small stage, where she’d perform little acts of imagination to while away the hours. When I heard this story, relayed as a memory, it made me think that perhaps an old Legion Hall is a peculiar place of memory. Do Legionnaires come to these halls to remember, or to forget?

When I first moved to Kitchener I took several taxi rides and within the space of about three weeks, I met four drivers, who had once lived in former Yugoslavia. All had left because of the war; all were refugees who had left behind lucrative work, family, and a history, in order to come to Canada, a peaceful new home. While all were happy to be free from war, all were so obviously displaced and troubled by the disconnect between their ‘new’ lives and their ‘old’ lives. These new Canadians, who had been ripped from their former lives by war, were haunted by memories while they tried to commit to a daily act of forgetting a life destroyed by war.

This performance has emerged from such stories: the sense of alienation in a Legion and the displacement of refugees. Both perspectives pose two important questions related to living with the experience of trauma: How do we perform our memory? How do we perform our forgetting?

We wondered how these refugees of memory and forgetting might meet in this former Legion Hall, a place of memorial, itself displaced by the passage of time and disuse. We have tried to let the physical site, the building and the various objects left in it, speak for themselves. We have tried to find the voices of war refugees, citizens, who were very much targeted in every battle plan. We chose to interview a particular, local community: immigrants from former Yugoslavia, because they have come from a place of recent war in Europe – where many said, in 1945, that war could never happen again.

I welcome you to a performance where you are free to wander, explore, and engage with what you find; you are invited to continually redefine your experience of the site and the event within it. As audience members, you are now displaced, refugees from conventional theatre, and thereby, free from sitting in the dark.