Retracing steps: mobility and the debris of history

The unbearable heaviness of mobility.

This paper will look at a site-specific performative project, Traces, which took place in Sofia. My research investigates the traces of a politically repressive past, during the former communist regime of Bulgaria. It investigates what traces of the regime are left, not only in places, but in the memory of people, in people’s bodies, including my own.

In order to investigate this archaeology of memory and the effects of a political system, I travelled not only across oceans to Europe, but through the silence around that which had been hidden and erased, to speak to people who had known my grandfather, a political prisoner under the totalitarian regime.

In this paper, I will look at mobility as something which is tethered to history, to memory of generations before us.  Through text, film, and still images, I will look at how the return to discover a traumatic political past is not only a geographic return, not only in time, but in a sense a return into a site of deeply personal and family memory.

Drawing on Secret Police dossiers, the work of Mike Pearson and Michael Shanks in Theatre and Archaeology, the idea of trace in Walter Benjamin, and of the ‘difficult return’ in the work of James Thompson, I will discuss the threads and traces which weave through generations, and which are present in this work.

The site-specific project Traces involved walking to unnamed sites in Sofia. In one of those sites my daughter – born in Australia – sat deciphering the diary of her grandmother in a small apartment, laden with a troubled and semi-hushed history, and with absences.

This is a paper looking at the unbearable heaviness of mobility, and the after-shocks across time, place and generations.