Photo: Wild Places by Lisl Ponger. Photograph. Courtesy Charim Gallery.
Peter Knight is moved by a bold exhibition that challenges notions of asylum and migration at the Pump House Gallery in Battersea Park.
The recent expansion of the European Union has led some quarters of the press to focus on issues of asylum and immigration in the UK.
The Trading Places exhibition, at the Pump House Gallery in London until May 29, has been organised and developed by the curatorial team B+B and offers a challenge to these media stereotypes.
The exhibition counter-balances the 'social' and 'political' arguments with individual opinions from immigrants and asylum seekers themselves, along with a host of documentation from European cultural organisations.
Sarah Carrington, one half of B+B says: “we’ve been working with central and eastern European artists for just over a year and we were keen to present practices dealing with immigration in London. Much of the work on display has never been seen here before.”
Photo: still from If you could speak Swedish by Esra Ersen. Colour video. Courtesy of the artist.
A key part of the exhibition revolves around the notion of identity, in relation to our sense of home and family. In a video piece on the ground floor entitled 'Mi/Mi', Dubrovnik city dwellers move towards the camera’s lens, pushing and blurring themselves against the wall of anonymity that exists in all social conurbations.
A voiceover recalls the phrase, "I am not a hero, I am an artist." The author of this piece now lives in Geneva after leaving her native home of Sarajevo.
Her message seems to indicate a willingness to release herself from the labels of political asylum. She is neither sad nor confused about her relocation and insists that societies and media institutions should not treat or portray her as the 'outsider', simply because of her origins or for her reasons for relocating.
Trading Places seems to fuse together three main areas of debate. The questions of understanding our sense of 'identity', 'home', and 'nationality' are evident in Sajla Kameric’s video installation, 'Dream House', which emits a sinister wail from it's position on the second level of stairs.
Photo: still from Dream House by Sejla Kameric. Colour video. Courtesy of the artist.
The author states: "we are dreaming. They and I. Of different worlds, different circumstances. In our dreams, I am not a refugee shelter, they are not refugees. I am home, and they are people living in the home of their dreams." A single shot of a barracks building in an asylum camp, sits on a tundra-like landscape during the semi-light of dawn and dusk.
Sarah comments on the exhibition’s main objectives, saying: "we felt the need to create a space for conversational activism; to discuss and debate different strategies in understanding Britain’s relationship with Europe by presenting sensitive and provocative projects that investigate and map experiences of migration."
One website in the archive accompanying the exhibition is www.social-impact.at It investigates cross-border statistics and methods of immigration. The organisation has produced a leaflet, on display at the gallery, informing potential migrants on how to illegally cross borders, safely and effectively.
The publication of such a leaflet follows detailed investigations into the deaths of thousands of illegal immigrants across Europe, and is designed to help protect those individuals who seek desperate and illegal means of migration.
Photo: still from For Aesthetic Reasons by Marko Raats. Colour video. Courtesy of the artist.
The exhibition has adopted a fresh and original position and running alongside are a series of free, open discussions and film screenings. Thursday May 20 sees the UK premier of Klub Zwei’s documentary; Things. Places. Years. Guest speakers, including many of the artists exhibiting at the gallery, have also been invited to discuss the themes of immigration and asylum to an open audience.
In Marko Raat’s film 'For Aesthetic Reasons' Andres Krug, a young Estonian art historian, and a fan of Danish modernist architecture, goes to Denmark to try to find out if he can live permanently in Denmark, purely for aesthetic reasons.
The film explores the existence of these invisible barriers, which prevent the free movement between nations and states. It questions the banal notion of 'nationality', and asks for reasons as to why society has allowed for divisions to exist between people.
It is this separation and sense of otherness that Trading Places primarily explores, making us question our own notions of identity, nationality and home. A truly refreshing exhibition.