It happened so fast. I heard a rip, saw a blur of yellow tarpaulin, and then saw the panicking youth. He dropped down onto City Road and began to sprint in the direction of Islington.
The lorry driver, who was already on the pavement and could have come from anywhere in Europe, had a few words of advice for our new arrival. “Run, motherfucker, run!” he cried above the traffic.
This little episode, which I witnessed today, on my way to waterside contemporary, has nothing and everything to do with the new video installation by George Barber, Fences Make Senses.
In one scene from the timely film, a yellow lorry sits on a dusty road in the near East. Without giving names or dates, or even location, the VO informs us the truck was used to smuggle people.
Fifteen would-be migrants got on board. Only two survived the journey. This truck is contrasted with a UK-based fleet of similar vehicles taking Kenyan green beans to British supermarkets.
Barber made his name by sampling video footage in the 1980s. And needless to say the film here is a deft montage of reportage, advertising footage and abstracted views of the sea.
What is perhaps less in character are the dramatic scenes, which offer Brechtian pause for thought; well-spoken British actors confront some of the problems facing those in the Mediterranean.
In the most toe-curling episode they attempt to buy a boat from a huckster. It is little more than a child’s dinghy and they think it has a puncture. But what else can they (we) do?
In fact, peril encroaches on all sides in the Hoxton space. Barber has installed the film in a no man’s land between land and sea. We sit on bales, amidst the flotsam and jetsam of steerage.
The film speculates that, if we are still around in 100 years’ time, borders will seem weird. For the 50 million displaced people on our planet, such a time clearly can’t come soon enough.
Fences Make Senses can be seen at waterside contemporary until December 12. See gallery website for directions and opening times.