Tag Archives: refugees

George Barber, Fences Make Senses (2015)

Image: www.waterside-contemporary.com
Image: www.waterside-contemporary.com

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.

Theodore Price, COBRA RES 1.9 (2015)

david rosenberg

For those of you blissfully unaware, COBRA stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room A, and despite first appearances the acronym has nothing to do with James Bond.

COBRA meetings are convened by the Prime Minister in times of special crisis. And in the UK we tend to lurch from crisis to crisis; this in no way impedes COBRA’s evil-sounding mystique.

But since 2013, whenever the great minds in the Cabinet have got together for a COBRA sesh, an ad hoc group of artists and writers has got together to respond to the response.

This ongoing project, COBRA RES, is as shadowy than its inspiration, although artist Theo Price has curated seven editions. The latest is 1.9, a response to the refugee crisis in Calais.

It launched in East London last night, in the form of a book of flash fiction (ie; stories under 1,500 words). The prelude to this was a walking tour about the history of migration in East London.

Our guide was David Rosenberg (pictured), who knows all there is to know about radical politics in this part of town. He told us about the 1936 Battle of Cable Street as if it was yesterday.

In this part of town, former synagogues serve as mosques. Church of England schools observe Islamic holidays. And blue chip artists keep it real with townhouse mansions in Fournier Street.

He also filled us in on the Huguenots, French protestants who fled here in the 17th century to escape persecution and bring us the word, refugee, from the French refugié.

We got to Spitalfields with its faux bohemian bars and eateries. With names like vagabond and vintage, these throw into stark relief the historic trials of local Jews, Irish and Bangladeshis.

As David made clear: refugee and economic migrants are one and the same; incoming communities have brought us net gains; migrants in Calais have plenty to offer us here. So, why the crisis?

COBRA RES 1.9 contains 20 stories and the half dozen I have already perused are great. But perhaps I should declare an interest.  I was a contributor; still, you can buy the book here!