Boîte-en-Valies, 57th Venice Biennale
Two works made for the 57th Venice Biennale May 2017 and Point Of Contact November 2017 for Boîte-en-Valise
INFLATABLES – Boy On The Beach – 240cm x 300cm x 4200cm
Tape and Hydro-formed Steel
Platitudes - installation
Projection, Cardboard, Crome and Glass Mirror
I watched this elderly man for some while, drawing in an art class at Aspex in Portsmouth. He had Alzheimer and I could almost feel his hesitant mind trying to map; forcefully connecting resistant parts of the brain and turning ideas slowly as he contemplated the array of pens he had accumulated in front of him. His laboured considerations only countered by his surprisingly decisive “murmurations” of marks, which slowly coagulated into something tangible and eventually filling the available space on the paper.
The Boîte-en-Valise project had an oddly disjointed timeline in a similar way to my experiences reflecting on the Alzheimer group. Nothing flowed logically; encounters gained significance later in the project, slightly out of kilter with the program. At first I felt the community engagement was a bit of a miss match to the inflatable sculptures I had been working on. The inflatables came about through a search for empathy with the much-copied image of the little three-year old Syrian boy washed up dead on a Turkish beach. What drives a family to take such risks? What is the morality of looking at the image of a dead child? Why does it take the body of a child to prick the hierarchy of our moral conscience and provoke action? I wanted to start building these inflated life rooms; I wanted to inflate everything to turn it into a life preserver.
I am an immigrant, but not the one you imagine when you close your eyes. My children are refugees but not the ones you picture when you are asked to think on status. Much of what I have been thinking about throughout this project is to investigate the lived life, to find an equivalence of experience or at least one I can recall from my past. However despite sharing some of the language of displaced people in the naming of my status, migrant or outsider, words that might draw understanding actually just widens the gulf between us.
I have taken Boîte-en-Valise and the Generator project as an opportunity to accumulate an ongoing series of experiences that I have continued to make work alongside. It has allowed short periods of public engagement to generate quite radical change to my practice, which might have never happened.
Venice was extraordinary, an opportunity to test work at a platform where I want my practice to be seen regularly. It was short and sharp but very positive. The project was one of constant flux and accumulation, from the US to UK to Venice and back, a shared experience between artists, curators and community groups and individuals.
In the return show to Syracuse the generative lag-time meant that the Portsmouth Alzheimer workshop was just being processed into my thoughts. The man’s fractal perception of his world mirrored what I was experiencing. I have started to work with immigrant groups and activists here in Syracuse, found old churches that are now mosques and towns that are named Hope. I feel things changing again.
INFLATABLES – Boy On The Beach
The simple use of inflatables refers to the boats flooded, with hundreds of lost souls, set adrift in the seas towards Italy and similar crossing points from North Africa as well as the idea of a temporary inflated emergency room. It is a direct response to the ever-expanding social problems that grow from the war in Syria, refugees and questions of personal morality in emergency situations.
This work is born out of my feelings of inadequacy to understand the distance one person might chose or be forced to travel in the need to survive. Sadly it starts with the image of the young Syrian boy on a Turkish beach, my inadequacy to find a true position of empathy due to lack of real peril in my own life and a distain for images like these that set up hierarchies of suffering trying to prick my conscience. In this soul searching I have taken this opportunity to return to the ideas of reconstruction, working to re-find a comparative childhood space to build relations. It is an ongoing experience developing through memory and discussions with people and groups who may help to inform. As an continuing generative project it will use Aspex Gallery’s outreach groups in Portsmouth through “Generator” and “Boîte-en-Valise” at the 57th Venice Biennale as a way to extend the way we might open up discussion on refugee migration, empathy towards displaced peoples and how we react as individuals to an increasingly unstable global movement of populations.
The inflatable yellow bubble is a reconstruction of a memory of a childhood day on the beach, recalled as if threw the artifice of sunglasses, affectedly bright and full of wonder. The figures are hydro-formed silhouettes of the artist’s adopted son reduced in scale to the age when they first met; his last day of being three and the age of the boy on the beach when he died. It is an exercise in finding empathy, searching for experiences that might give some insight into the terror that accompanies the stories of refugees, remembered moments of getting lost in a cinema and memories of seeing vulnerability in a newly adopted son.