Editorial: Migrating Stories

Volume 1, Fall 2017

With aims of establishing a theoretical, analytical and exploratory extension of the Screen City Biennial and deepen out perspectives to the biennial’s framework of activities, the first volume of the SCB Journal departs from the theme Migrating Stories. This is a theme evoking notions of globalisation, post colonialism, diaspora and cultural displacement – topics explored across artworks presented in the biennial. This journal issue however takes the opportunity of further exploring the concept of migration in art, in a series of articles, interviews and research texts that all together examine a complex picture of art’s relation to how culture today transforms with migration relating to mobility, movement and transition. While the biennial presents artworks that convey real migratory stories – as found in artworks for example showing the artist’s own (Yucef Merhi, Poet on Earth) or family’s (Dana Levy, This Was Home) history of migration, documenting migratory cultures of others (Marcus Neustetter, Syria), or tracing the loves of sailors left behind in the world’s harbours (Evangelia Kranioti, Exotica, Erotica, Etc.) – the migrating stories evoked in the artworks not only concern literal narratives or memories but also stories of migration as a symptom of our time (see curatorial statement, Migrating Stories) – a symptom manifesting itself in for example cultures of nomadism (Budhaditya Chattopadhyay, Exile and Other Syndromes; Matti Aikio, Nomad Talks and Lávvu).

The consideration of migration as a symptom of our time in relation to art reflects a conception of art not as objects of our cultural history but modes of it, as noted by Mieke Bal in “Migratory Aesthetics: Double Movement” (Bal 2008). Rather than offering a representational condition – making social, cultural and political issues matter of content per se, Bal offers a perspective on ‘migratory art’ as mobilising aesthetics that originate from migratory cultures and bringing them into new sets of relations and contexts, whereby the art may contribute to developing our understanding of contemporary culture in its complexity.

Migratory art may evoke an aesthetics conditioned by migration, aesthetics tempered by cultural shifts. Maeve Connolly proposes in her article “Settlement, Shelter and Stowaway: From Location to Logistics” a shift in relation to place in conjunction with our changing media – from ‘locational’ (the sites and places of art) to ‘logistical’ (attention to how relations between sites are produced through circulations of ‘things’ and journeys of people). Connolly argues that a ‘logistical’ relation to place has enabled – and inspired – curiosities about movements of people, re-purposes of the built environment, how histories of infrastructures could be re-written, and overall expand the visuality of migration.

Nilgün Bayraktar considers in her article “Spectrality and Dark Humor in Artistic Engagements With Refugee Mobilities: Incoming (2017) and Homeland (2016)” the sensitivities entailed with bringing stories of refugees’ experiences into aesthetic narratives and expressions. On the basis of examining two artistic responses to refugee im/mobilities in the twenty-first century, she reflects on how art can convey ‘migrating stories’ without merely reconceptualising and reducing issues of contemporary crisis and emergency conditions. This is, especially when providing counter-hegemonic imaginings and new forms of visuality through the representation of mobilities in their art. In continuation of Bayraktar’s inquiry, we can ask: how can the art open up spaces to examine, question and “feel” a migratory condition in contemporary culture – which might offer alternative experiences and ‘stories’ to those represented in the media and by our hegemonic systems?

While a political event might have given rise to an artwork – as we find in the biennial in works by among others Enrique Ramírez, whose perspectives on the departures of creating his works Incoming (2017) and Sailors (2017) commissioned by Screen City Biennial are elaborated in the journal in an artist conversation with him, moderated by Daniela Arriado; and in the augmented reality installation Virtual U.S./Mexico Border by John Craig Freeman, who contextualises his practice in the journal. But we can also locate a notion of migratory aesthetics in the art as denoting an operative, political dimension.

In contemporary migratory art we find a tendency of artistic responses to address and sometimes seeking to affect urgencies of our time in society, politics and contemporary culture. In examining a ‘critical’ conception of the term of repair, in her article “Working the Break Point: Maintenance, Repair and Failure in Art” Teresa Dillon identifies a tendency of ‘critical repair’ in the work of artists working with ‘the broken’ – repairing it – by way of making visible how we live and ‘maintain’ our socio-technical lives. Peter Weibel takes the notion of maintenance a step further, proposing in his article “Cultures of Repair” a strategy for individuals and minorities to act out effects on reality by making use of especially the communicative experiences and infrastructures available today. He grasps a current condition in which artists and everyone else are ‘wrapped’ in a situation of the global web and social media, enabling simultaneity in dissemination and the emergence of global events. When asking: “Is there anything beyond the media?” Weibel evokes the question to what extent protest – and, we could add, political enactment in art – is kept in the layer of mediation and remediation or actually set free in the real operations of the world to affect and ‘repair’ the status quo, to interfere with the mechanisms of our social construction of reality. In considering Weibel’s suggestion that ‘only within a defect democracy we can repair democracy’ through the scope of contemporary art, we can consider how only when situated – and operating – within our contemporary world and its media can art ‘repair’ or help to maintain our contemporary condition.

Especially when installed in public domains of both urban environments and online, artworks exist and operate ‘out there’ and within the contemporary world; which entails a shift from static space (of enclosed and isolated exhibition spaces for art) to embeddedness in dynamic sets of relationships in the real world. The question is how the aesthetics of the art operates – here, in the present moment and in the given context. Politics is not only written into the works but also arises from their migratory aesthetic as dynamics or impulses that operate in the contexts of installation and reach. In this sense, the political dimension in migratory art is enacted when embedded in new contexts, new sets of relations; perhaps bringing with them tensions, symbolism and sensitivities from other contexts, which, when situated in the new one, become ruptures in the distribution of sensibilities here. What is enacted is a sense of politics of the moment – the moment you encounter with the art as much as the moment of time that might be portrayed in the art as object, situation or narrative.

The topic of art’s recent forms and modalities when migrating into public space is examined in two research articles in the journal, which are developed on the basis of roundtable discussions between representatives of the local art community in Stavanger and Norway at large in March and October 2017.

Articles by Catrien Schreuder, Annika Wik and Tanya Toft Ag elaborate on a migratory tendency in contemporary art – as migrating into the material environments of our contemporaneity. In her article “Injections of Art Video Works in Semi-Public Places” Schreuder traces the migration of video art in public space back to an avant-garde trajectory starting in the 1960s. In examining three video work installations by Dara Birnbaum, Chris Doyle and and Pipilotti Rist she suggests a potential in the art of “injecting” public space with multiple viewpoints and alternative perspectives. In a current perspective on the physical migration of video art into public space presented in the article “Encountering Images: Insight Into the Evaluation Process – Film and Moving Images in Urban Space”, Wik reflects on methodologies for art in public space today based on her role as researcher in the EU project Smart Kreativ Stad in Stockholm. Namely, in perspective of initiatives of popup cinema combined with live music performances – with special attention to the emergence of changing viewing positions of citizens.

The article “Art in the Intelligent City” takes a look at the inquiries of art when situated in the middle of a contemporary, technological context with so-called smart city visions synching up with developments in our global communications network – a current-near-future scenario for Stavanger and many other cities worldwide. Ag highlights a role for art – as a phenomena historically connected with our paradigms of science and everyday life – especially in conveying, mediating or ‘making graspable’ complex experiences we are conditioned by in ‘mediated’ environments today.

While migratory aesthetics might operate at a macro scale at a transnational level, it also operates at a micro scale of the sensory level. Grasping the political nature of migratory art and aesthetics is not only about the politics written into artworks but also about the nature of aesthetic perception that meets the works here and now. Here, we leave behind a notion of aesthetics in the sense of beauty or as formulated by conservative art history in favour of a take on the term in the original sense of the word closer to Baumgarten, as a means of apprehending the world, as pertaining to human perceptual sense experience. In this we can locate a political dimension in the art’s particular modes of expression not only in the content or theme of the art but in the meeting with human perception – at this time, in this place, and depending on what we are used to seeing, hearing and doing. In this sense, migratory aesthetics may enact the political by affecting and rearranging our perceptual landscape.

The concern with how human sense perception is conditioned by migration as a techno-cultural, perceptual symptom makes a point of departure for the artist conversation with John Cleater, held in March 2017, in which he elaborates on his practice with augmented reality as an artistic method of exploring an in-between space and reconfiguring human perceptual engagement with the world through our mobile devices today. This is also elaborated on in the article “Migrating the Visual Experience of Other – VR as artistic exhibition practice in Jonkonnu / Gens inconnus by Olivia McGilchrist” by Camilla Jaller, who asks, while examining the VR art installation in the biennial framework, if perception is to be regarded as ultimately migratory in itself?

Reflections on the dynamic relationship between artistic expressions in migratory art – especially, when art migrates to new technological forms of mediation in VR and presentation online – and audience perception are also shared in interviews with four curators, Inês Grosso, Tina Sauerländer, Fernanda Parente, and Vanina Saracino, who have selected works for the biennial’s online exhibition.

In a concluding note, before sending you – the reader – off to explore this first edition of the SCB Journal, I wish to return to a Latin origin of the term of repair in the word repatriare, in the meaning of “returning to one’s country”. In this we recognise a movement towards a place that is ‘home’, or familiar; but perhaps, rather than heading to a place or a location that is habitually or frequently visited or occupied as one’s ‘home’ – we could consider a return to an emotional or existential ‘home’ in a sense of human self-reference to one’s time, place and context. In that sense, art that conveys our migrating stories today may bring us closer to a condition of (re)finding ourselves as nomadic, transitional, and technogenetic human beings in moments of our cultural histories today.

Tanya Toft Ag



Mieke Bal, “Migratory Aesthetics: Double Movement”, in Mieke Bal and Miguel Á Hernández-Navarro (eds.), 2MOVE: Video Art Migration (Murcia: Cendeac, 2008), 13-82.