Refugee, asylum seeker and migration matters have turned into complicated issues in the last few years, with quite a few European countries finding it difficult to handle the flows of people arriving at their borders. Coming up with sensible and modern migration policies to counteract some of the most inevitable issues arising and reabsorbing the number of migrants may not be easy, but the scariest thing so far has been the way some politicians have used migrants as inanimate tools to raise concerns about terrorism, and increase the levels of insecurity and anxiety.
As boundaries change and millions of people are relocating, trying to escape wars, poverty, violence and oppression to look for a better life elsewhere, we should maybe start considering further issues, including identity, mixes of cultures, and societies shifting.
Understanding migration dynamics can actually be done also from a design point of view as the Rotterdam-based Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen tried to do last year with the event "Design Column #11 Migration Matters" (the Design Column is a small exhibition about themes inspired by news items). The latter called upon designers to contribute ideas to help refugees and featured practical and conceptual projects related to the migration crisis that moved from the data published by the United Nations' refugee agency UNHCR on the Global Trends Report.
As the humanitarian crisis continues and reports announce that, worldwide, approximately sixty million people are currently displaced, the museum decided to come up with "Design Column #13 - Migration Matters 2" (until August 28 2016), a new event inviting more designers and artists to launch innovative projects that answer new dilemmas.
The projects as usual vary, including a few investigations on surveillance, the role of drones in the migrant scenario, and the effects of the barriers that are being created in the shape of fences, walls and longwinded bureaucratic procedures.
Ruben Pater analysed for example the patterns in the fences created to keep immigrants away: each fence has a unique motif that the artist has read as a metal signature, transposed on the pages of a series of notebooks that can be filled with ideas, sketches or stories.
James Bridle's "The Right To Flight" is a project revolving around a military surveillance balloon hung with cameras, transmitters and tracking apparatus, launched from the roof of a car park in south London every day for four months and collecting data without anybody complaining about being spied.
Along the same lines and moving from the theme of surveillance but looking at the destructive power of modern technology, Gonçalo F. Cardoso (Discrepant Records) and designer Ruben Pater analysed the use of drones in war zones. These devices are usually guided by people located thousands of kilometres away who do not hear the sounds of the places they may be targeting.
The absence of the sounds of warfare for the drone pilot contrasts with the fear that the sound of a drone instils in people hearing them. Pater has released an LP with the sounds of seventeen types of drones - from small consumer drones to large military drones - on the A side and a composition by Cardoso inspired by the destructive sound of drones on the B side.
The Design Column also features two in-depth investigations that should be filed under a discipline that has developed recently - "forensic architecture".
"The Left to Die Boat" (2014) from the Forensic Architecture research agency focuses on a boat with 72 refugees left to drift for fourteen days in the Mediterranean Sea while different authorities used the complex and overlapping jurisdictions at sea to evade their responsibility for rescuing people in distress.
"Rafah: Black Friday" (2014), a collaboration between Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International, offers a reconstruction of the events in Rafah, Gaza, at the beginning of August 2014, when, in retaliation for the murder of two Israeli soldiers and the capture of lieutenant Hadar Goldin, Israel conducted an air strike in which 135 civilians were killed. These two documents are particularly interesting as they are the proof of a new trend in architecture based on mapping and analysing various data to enable an objective reconstruction of complex issues.
It may be naïve thinking that artists, designers and researchers can solve a vast problem such as migration, but, acting as visual reporters, they can surely raise awareness and help us understanding the magnitude and complexity of this problem, providing insightful reconstructions while trying to offer people a wide range of projects to approach the issue.
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