Red in the Sky for Refugees
From beginning to end, viewers are guided by the uninterupped red distress signal of the fireworks, where one may experience a range of conflicting emotions, spanning from fear to hope, ultimately allowing us a small glimpse upon the realities surrounding the modern migrant.
Can you explain the situation which led you to reinterpret fireworks while in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea ?
I operate at the crossroads of information analysis and visual creation. The notions of tension and failure, notably due to migration, are a constant in my works. I observed the migratory phenomenon in 2011, when I was a student studying political science. At the time, the shipwrecks and arrivals were noticed around Lampedusa, a small Italian island off the coasts of Tunisia and Libya. Then, notably due to the Syrian conflict, the displacements became concentrated around Lesbos. In the 2000s, these migrations already existed in the Canary Islands and the Straits of Gibraltar with a similar mode of operation: an uncertain crossing on an overloaded boat. This massive influx of refugees is traumatic to our period, and is heavily covered and commented on. As an artist, one must offer a different perception. The challenge was to lay bare the facts of an extreme reality, without actually revealing images of migrants or following media portrayal norms. The Mediterranean is a symbol of utopia and tourism, historically tied to commerce and immigration. Today, it’s a water border where shipwrecks of exiles are a repeating occurrence all across the region. I wanted to consider the whole of the Mediterranean, not just one specific zone or one specific time. The project’s date and location are neither indicated nor shared. It happened at night, isolated somewhere in the Mediterranean, without an audience or any formal authorisation. It exposes a freed representation of the migratory drama, currently determined by either death or a clandestine life.
Can you explain the duality of watching the fireworks? Why red?
To discuss refugee shipwrecks, I wanted to use maritime codes. As a metaphor for the woes in the Mediterranean, I was attracted to the red distress flares that sailors use. The idea was to create a firework, inspired by the meaning and color of the flare. The clandestine performance uses a powerful paradox, representing a tragedy with a universally festive symbol. It transgresses moral and legal rules to introduce a radical perception that goes beyond the classic compassional approach. Completely red, the firework has been converted into a mark of urgency. The monochromatic rockets are interpreted as luminous and animated sculptures, with an immediate visual impact. Their usage is both political and critical.
What is the significance of recording this piece on an iPhone?
I wanted an appropriate medium for recording the project. The cell phone is an essential tool that refugees use to communicate, find their way, and translate during their migration. Untitled (fireworks.mov) is a performance captured on an iPhone and is associated with Land Art, in a natural, maritime setting. Nobody outside the team was present and the published images are the only existing archives. Filmed in a low, pixelated resolution, this was another way to avoid the traditional media approach. The project is a symbolic creation on the failure of the journey to Europe. It’s about uprooting, exile, and the consequences of social chaos. I wanted the work to carry that same sense of urgency and for it to blend artistic creation with realistic situation. The rudimentary aesthetics of the video recalls the videos shared by the migrants themselves, usually filmed with their cell phones in the middle of the sea. The composer Bedis Tir then created Techno music that is obscure and aggressive, tailored for live projections.
Specified as “not a form of activism," what category would you say represents this piece?
The lines between Art and Activism are sometimes blurry. Interpreting human drama does not define me as an activist artist. The performance is not supported by any organization. I wanted to show a social and violent truth through subjective reflection, with no political discourse. My works do not tackle the world’s chaos, they represent it. There is a sort of resistance to my work but it’s translated through a visual proposition. I look at symbols or stories and transpose them into an artistic framework. This “micropolitical” engagement is much different, for me, than that of true activists and the rescue boats in the Mediterranean. Untitled (fireworks.mov) is a global work, equal parts performance, video, photography, and music.
Do you plan on creating a continuation of this piece relating to the realm of transgression and political messaging?
I’m obsessed with subversion, ever since I discovered graffiti as a teenager. I’ve held onto the naivety and norms of that era. Gusto Zagg is a fictional character that I use to sign my, sometimes clandestine, works. I’ve evolved into other mediums, according mainly to the subjects and intended meaning. I’ve worked on the theme of migration in different ways, through sculpture, installation, and print. (fireworks.mov) is a spontaneous, independent, and finished creation. It will be presented as an immersive exhibition in 2019.