Categories
Artworks

Life Jackets

Life Jackets by Ai Wei Wei (Installation at Berlin Konzerthaus)

Ai Weiwei used fourteen thousand life jackets that he had transported from Lesvos to Berlin to decorate the six marble columns of the Berlin Konzerthaus (Concert House) for the Cinema for Peace Gala, held there on February 15, 2016. Each life jacket was meant to represent a single refugee, while its larger-than-human scale was meant to draw attention to the sheer number of human lives affected by the refugee crisis. Ai’s installation coincided with his stay on Lesvos (January to April 2016), where he set up a workshop and collaborated with local and international artists and photographers (such as the Photography Association of Mytilene). Other artworks by Ai featuring life jackets were installed in Copenhagen and Vienna, while an exhibition of his work, much of it related to and/or produced in Lesvos, was held at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens. 

According to the artist’s statements during a press conference held at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, as of July 2016, there were 500,000 life jackets–“the last thing you grab when you have to escape”–left on Lesvos. By removing them from the island and bringing them to other locations in Europe (to which most refugees arriving at the hotspots were prevented from travelling or relocating), the artist raises questions about the way in which goods, capital, and some people–those with powerful passports–move with ease across borders, while other people–including the vast majority of those displaced by war–remain stuck, are immobilised, and are enclosed by those same borders.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

References

AFP News Agency, “Ai Weiwei Life Jacket Installation Highlights Refugee Plight,” YouTube, July 13, 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=SEFQTsQ37hE

Ai Weiwei at Cycladic, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, 2016, www.cycladic.gr/en/page/ai-weiwei-at-cycladic# 

AP Archive, “Ai Weiwei Turns Migrant Lifejackets into Art in Copenhagen,” YouTube, June 30, 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3u2zTWXi4s.

Azzarello, Nina, “Ai Weiwei Wraps Berlin’s Konzerthaus with 14,000 Refugee Life Jackets,” DesignBoom, February 15, 2016, www.designboom.com/art/ai-weiwei-life-jackets-refugee-konzerthaus-berlin-02-15-2016/.

Photos by Cheryl Howard

Categories
Artworks

“Emerging Economy” poster by Depression Era Collective

Artists’ Statement: 

“The Tourists” is a collective project for those who cross Southern Europe and for those who reach out to or watch them go by.  Devised and run by Depression Era, the project operates as a subversive tourism campaign. “The Tourists” respond to History-in-the-making: the wave of refugee and mass migrations from Asia and Africa to Europe and the simultaneous increase of global tourism in the Mediterranean.  These are parallel, converging global events producing states of emergency, distress investment, collateral conflicts and cultural patronage, at the same place, at the same time. The Tourist lives in a divided, burned-out, hyper-mediated public sphere. Her identity and citizenship are in flux; she is lost in transit, perpetually anxious, alienated, resigned or resisting;  he is a simulator of social involvement, impotent to frame History in anything more than a postcard, slogan or tweet. Among the narratives of power, encounter, arrival and departure featured in Global Media and contemporary art, the images and slogans of “the Tourists” expose seemingly idyllic landscapes containing the debris of unspeakable violence; frame portraits of women and men in alien places, strangers in their land, visitors among ruins, stateless, networked, indolent and conflicted; and document a generation of fearless children. It is not clear whether these belong to tourism ads or disaster news streams.

We find the poster by the Depression Era Collective a provocative reminder of the emerging humanitarian economy that was part of the management of crisis which included huge funds to NGOs that were responsible for the management of daily life in Lesvos. At the same time the government criminalised solidarity by people who were not registered as members or staff of NGOs with many cases of arrests of solidarians under the accusation of trafficking. This was a direct attack to an international movement of solidarity that was present on the island and an attempt to shift solidarity to humanitarianism.

Myrto Tsilimpounidi
December 2019

 


 

References

Depression Era Collective ‘The Tourists: a campaign’, https://depressionera.gr/tourists

Poster by Depression Era Collective
Photo by Myrto Tsilimpounidi

Categories
Artworks

‘The Other Side of Hope’

“The Other Side of Hope”, Aki Kausrismaki, 2017

Aki Kaurismaki’s film ‘The Other side of hope’ premiered in the Berlinale 2017 and was awarded the Silver Bear. One of the two main protagonists was a Syrian refugee who had reached Finland in seek of his lost sister. 

In an interview, protagonist Sherwin Haji from Syria, said he “was very skeptical about the whole thing”, when we was approached to play. “I mean, ethically. But when I read the script I think it was a very beautiful thing for me. And it convince me – not only on professional level, but on a human experience level that someone so far from the Middle East, from Finland, comes a director who really believes that it’s possible to make change and it was a fascinating thing to see how he dived so deep into the character of a refugee”.

In the movie, now as Ali Khalid, when interviewed by Finnish officials he answered: 

I am a mechanic. I worked in a garage on the outskirts of Aleppo.

On 6th April last spring, when i returned from work something had happened. 

When I arrived home it lay in ruins. I don’t know who fired the missile. 

Government troops, rebels, USA, Russia, Hezbollah or ISIS.

My sister Miriam arrived at the same time. She’d been in the shop, queuing for bread.

We started to dig right away. The neighbours helped. 

By morning, we’d found my father, my mother, my little brother, my uncle, his wife and their children. They’d been eating lunch together.

Next morning when we buried them, I borrowed 6000 dollars from my employer.

My cousin drove us in a van to the Turkish border. We crossed the border on foot.

We were lucky – there were no border guards.

After two weeks we paid 3000 dollars to a smuggler. 

He took us to Greece in a boat. From there we walked through Macedonia to Serbia.

We arrived to the Hungarian border. There was a panic and I lost sight of Miriam.

I saw them close the border. Miriam remained on the other side.

I tried to get back through the police line. Two policemen grabbed me and threw me down. 

They handcuffed me and put me in jail. 

Official: Did you experience violence?

Khalid: All the time. 

They tried to take my sister three times, but good people helped us.

(…)

Official: Continue. You were thrown into jail. 

Khalid: I was beaten up but released after four days. I searched for my sister but I could’t find her. 

I asked all the refugee camps, but no one knew anything. 

For months I went around Hungary, Austria, Slovenia, Germany. 

I also went back to Serbia – I though she might look for me there. 

Official: How did you get across borders?

Khalid: Easily, no one wants to see us. We cause problems.

Official: Didn’t you apply for asylum anywhere?

Khalid: No. So I could move freely looking for my sister.  

On the premiere’s Press conference Mr Kaurismaki answered that ‘Cinema does not have such influence. But my honest try is to force the three people who go to see this film (think) that we are all the same, that we are all human. And tomorrow it will be you who will be a refugee. Today it’s him, or her.’

Orestis Pangalos
December 2019



 
Categories
Artworks

‘Patrias de Nailon’

A flag made of plaster was installed in a Valencia city plaza in 2016. Another pretentious quasi-political piece of art? Finally, a video projection would be screened on it featuring edited material including real war scenes and footage from the refugees on boats crossing the sea to reach Lesvos and other islands. Various countries’ flags would intervene between the shots representing the nations and their borders. In such a manner the artists were criticizing the nations’ laws, politics and the authorities’ actions for the refugee dramas and deaths. After a while the flag would burn in real flames and spectacularly collapse under the sound of music and fireworks while the audience were applauding. The whole concept and its result could be considered a quite inventive example of mix media art performative installation in public space, treating and ultimately successfully commoning such a sensitive subject.

 

Orestis Pangalos


References

Patrias de nailon, Javier Jaen and Jose Lafarga, Valencia 2016 http://vimeo.com/160366885


 
Categories
Artworks

Marble Tent

Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside) by Rebecca Belmore

Constructed out of local materials–marble–and installed next to the most iconic architectural feature of the Athenian cityscape, Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside), was one of the artworks exhibited during Documenta 14 (2017). Belmore hand carved a hyperrealistic tent—in this context, instantly recognisable as a symbol for refugees, since it is often their accommodation on the island hotspots and in mainland camps. As the refugee crisis becomes “a state of perpetual emergency,” the “makeshift retreat” of the tent becomes a shelter in the regime of waiting that characterises displaced lives who have sought international protection in hostile political communities. Yet, as Belmore explains, “[t]he shape of the tent is, for me, reminiscent of the wigwam dwellings that are part of my history as an Indigenous person,” Belmore explains: “Wigwams (wiigiwaam in Anishinaabemowin), traditionally constructed of bentwood of young trees and covered with birch bark, are a rather ingenious solution for building with the materials available at hand,” enabling nomadic people “to make their home wherever necessary.” 

The obvious contrast between the form–a tent–and the material out of which it is constructed–marble–raises questions about how what is meant to offer temporary protection or shelter on the move, becomes physically emplaced, static, and stuck: a permanent condition, as immobile and as heavy as the marble itself. At the Moria hotspot and the camp surrounding it, where such tents are pitched, not for days or weeks, but for months and years, they are a testament to the struggle for survival in adverse conditions of winter weather and political indifference and cynicism.

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

References

Documenta 14: Rebecca Belmore’s Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside, 2017) Marble (140 × 200 × 200 cm) https://www.rebeccabelmore.com/biinjiyaiing-onji-from-inside/

Photos by Scott Benesiinaabandan

Categories
Artworks

Chessboard of the world

“Strategy games on the chessboard of the world:

Art installation at the University of the Aegean”

Artist: Fereniki Tsamparli 

 

Artistic statement: 

In late 1922, after a three-year war between the Greeks and the Turks, the Turkish army entered the city of Smyrna, located on the Asia Minor coast. One day later, a large part of the city burned with hundreds of thousands of people, desperately trying to save themselves, boarding small, overcrowded boats, crossing the nearby Aegean islands such as Lesvos, Chios, Samos, etc. 

In 2015, refugees cross the passage between Turkey and Lesvos again – this time people coming from Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, etc. By the end of the same year, about half a million refugees arrived on the island. So, the summer of 2015 there was an important time for Lesvos, as the island was experiencing a refugee crisis for the second time!

The island was full of refugees, reaching the east coast, often stacked in small, insecure, and overcrowded boats. Their first concern was to get rid of the unnecessary cargo – wet clothes and life jackets – in order to move forward to the recording centers that had been set up for this purpose in various parts of the capital Mytilene.

It is at this point in time that I return to the island from a short trip to Athens and the sight I see looking up from the window of the airplane are the abandoned orange refugee lifeboats that resembled a fire that burned the east side of the island. Both this particular sight in itself, with all its emotional charge, and the abandonment of lifeboats and other rescue materials on the island’s beaches, which temporarily threatened the marine and coastal environment, became a source of inspiration for an action that would combine, on the one hand the proper management of some of this “waste” (foam contained inside the jets and torn plastic boats); and on the other hand, to make, through art, a political hint for the situation in which all these people were facing based on decisions they had not made themselves.

This was the plan: The lifebloods of foam would make the chess pawns of a giant chessboard, while square pieces of abandoned plastic boats would make up the chessboard. The aim is to highlight two key issues: the refugee crisis and environmental protection.

Following a request to the University of the Aegean for funding of other materials (paint, glues, etc) and many days of voluntary and hard work, students and city dwellers, under my guidance, transformed these seemingly insignificant materials of the Aegean daily life in 2015, into 32 large pawns about 1.2 m high, mounted on a large (25m2) chessboard. From thirty-two chess pawns, after being coated with pulp, sixteen were painted in orange and the rest in green, thereby attempting an indirect reminder of the two issues that gave inspiration for the project (orange for the life jackets and green for the environment).

 

Myrto Tsilimpounidi


 

Photos by Iasonas Panagos (reproduced here with permission)