This essay is an inquiry into two intermedial installations that address the experiences of people on the run from war or poverty, yet overtly hinder and problematize the viewer’s identification with the depicted refugees. By doing so, Friday Table (2013) by art collective Foundland, and Isaac Julien’s video installation Ten Thousand Waves (2010) differ from the many contemporary discourses dealing with the so-called refugee crisis that suggest a blind assumption of empathy’s benevolence. Taking theoretical texts concerning the relation between empathy, politics and the (lens-based) representation of refugees by, for instance, Slavoj Zizek (2016) and Jill Bennett (2005) as a starting point, I read Friday Table and Ten Thousand Waves as reflections on the pitfalls as well as the critical political possibilities of empathy in contemporary debates on refugees. Moreover, I argue that the two lens-based installations in question are able to examine the limits of empathy and identification with refugees through their common denominator: intermediality. Both Friday Table and Ten Thousand Waves combine lens-based media (photography, video and film) with non-lens-based medial forms such as drawings, graphs and calligraphy. As I will demonstrate, the interplay between different media is decisive when it comes to the way in which the three works of art produce, manage and reflect on the relation between spectators and depicted refugees.
If the inline PDF is not rendering correctly, you can download the PDF file here.
Agamben Giorgio. “Beyond Human Rights.” Radical Politics in Italy: A Potential Politics. Ed. P. Virno and M. Hardt. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P 1996.
Agamben Giorgio. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Stanford: Stanford UP 1998.
Arendt Hannah. On Revolution. New York: Viking Press 1963.
Barthes Roland. Camera Lucida. 1980. Trans. Richard Howard. London: Vintage 2000.
Bennett Jill. Empathic Vision: Affect Trauma and Contemporary Art. Stanford: Stanford UP 2005.
Bousfield Nick. “The Logic of Sovereignty and the Agency of the Refugee.” York Centre for International and Security Studies Working Paper Series 36 (2005): 1-14.
Brecht Bertolt. Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. Trans. John Willet. New York: Hill 1964.
Clohesy Anthony M. Politics of Empathy: Ethics Solidarity Recognition. London: Routledge 2013.
Deleuze Gilles. Proust and Signs. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Braziller 1972.
Demos T.J. “Life Full of Holes.” Grey Room 24 (2006): 72-87.
Edkins Jenny and Véronique Pin-Fat. “Introduction: Life Power Resistance.” Sovereign Lives: Power in Global Politics. Ed. Jenny Edkins Véronique Pin-Fat and Michael J. Shapiro. London: Routledge 2004.
Hirsh Marianne. Family Frames: Photography Narrative and Postmemory. Cambridge MA: Harvard UP 1997.
Krauss Rosalind. A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. London: Thames 1999.
Lang Johannes. “Hannah Arendt and the Political Dangers of Emotion.” Hannah Arendt Centre. Feb. 2015. Web. 28 June 2016.
Levin Thomas Y. “Rhetoric of the Temporal Index: Surveillant Narration and the Cinema of Real Time.” CTRL Space: The Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother. Ed. Thomas Y. Levin Ursula Frohne and Peter Weibel. Cambridge MA: MIT P 2002. 578-593.
Mouffe Chantal. On the Political. London: Routledge 2005.
Muller Nat. “Visualizing Displacement: Foundland in Conversation with Nat Muller.” Ibraaz: Contemporary Visual Culture in North Africa and the Middle East Sept. 2014. Web. 29 July 2016.
Mulvey Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures. London: Macmillan 1989. 14-26.
Nyers Peter. “Abject Cosmopolitanism: The Politics of Protection in the Antideportation Movement.” Third World Quarterly 24.6 (2003): 1069-93.
Pugliese Joseph. “Penal Asylum: Refugees Ethics Hospitality.” Borderlands 1.1 (2002): n. pag. Web. 10 July 2016.
Paulissen Vivian et al. Remixing Europe – Migrants Media Representation Imagery. Amsterdam: Doc Next Network 2014.
Owens Patricia. “Reclaiming ‘Bare Life’?: Against Agamben on Refugees.” International Relations 23.4 (2009): 567-582.
Sontag Susan. On Photography. New York: Farrar 1977.
Silverman Kaja. The Threshold of the Visible World. New York: Routledge 1996.
Spivak Gayatri Chakravorty. “Translator’s Preface and Afterword to Mahasweta Devi ‘Imaginary Maps.’” The Spivak Reader. Ed. D. Landry and G. MacLean. New York: Routledge 1996. 267-86.
Terry Fiona. Condemned to Repeat?: The Paradox of Humanitarian Action. Ithaca: Cornell UP 2002.
Vium Christian. “Icons of Becoming: Documenting Undocumented Migration from West Africa to Europe.” Cahiers d’Études africaines LIV (2014): 217-240.
Winston Brian. “The Tradition of the Victim in Griersonian Documentary.” New Challenges for Documentary. Ed. A. Rosenthal. Berkeley: U of California P 1988. 169-287.
Žižek Slavoj. Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees Terror and Other Troubles with the Neighbours. London: Penguin 2016.