Artivism: Art, Politics, Commitment

Vincenzo Trionepubl. EINAUDI, Italy 2022 (Translated from the Italian).

By Vincenzo Trione

Translated from the Italian

A new form of political art: artivism. The artivists question some of the emergencies of our time. They open up tracks in the surface of the news. They engage in concrete, courageous, visionary acts. To imagine another present.

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Chapter 3: Migrant Imaginaries

The impossible routes taken by refugees are also at the heart of the work of Laura Waddington, nomadic observer who has a literary background and who lived as an illegal immigrant between Europe and the United States. Skillfully moving beyond reportage and a journalistic approach in her short films and videos, the English filmmaker focuses her gaze on the experiences of those “adrift”, in the Middle East, the Balkans and Kurdistan, portraying the exodus of an invisible, tortured and exiled humanity, who are in search of a place to live, to rebuild their dignity and find peace.

From these conditions emerged Border (2004). At the origin of the work, was Waddington’s stays in the countryside around the Red Cross camp of Sangatte, a small French town in Nord Pas de Calais. There, the artist followed Afghan and Iraqi refugees at close quarters as they tried to escape from the police and make their way across the Channel tunnel that links France to the United Kingdom. Working with a small camera, she recorder their nightly attempts to flee: the running through the fields, the spasmodic waits, the violent interventions of the police. We leaf, as if through an intimate diary, encountering word-visions that lead us through lights and glimmers. On one hand, we follow the trail of the “firefly-people”, who retreat into the night in pursuit of their freedom: faceless and undocumented men, who are claiming the right to exist and to be recognised, captured as they make their way in the dark towards an “unlikely horizon” – flashes, shades of light, sudden explosions. On the other hand, are the spotlights of the Kingdom: the beams of police torches and the rays of light emitted by a helicopter sweeping tbrough the darkness.29

Shot in the dark, on the run, the frames grainy, overexposed, blurred, flickering. Attentive and lucid, Waddington immerses herself in the drama of drowning and desperate lives which she films from up close, without ever ceding to realism.

Intent on transgressing the modes of cinéma-verité, Waddington does not observe the refugees from the outside: she moves with them, in the cold of the night; penetrating their anguish and their fears, initiating an insecure negotiation with reality. She performs a total adhesion: seeking a visual cancellation of her gaze, in order to become part of the fields, of the panting breaths, of these attempts to run towards a more peaceful destination. A poignant and critical testimony, this filmic tale is at turns dispersed and hallucinatory, peppered with “sparks of humanity”.30 They are “glare-images” which, as Georges Didi-Huberman has written, appear to be constantly on the verge of disappearing: murky, beaten, out of focus, grainy, blurred, shot at an irregular pace, almost in slow motion, captured by a camera shutter open to its maximum. Conceived in order to “organise our pessimism”31, these endangered images evoke the violent alienation of existences on the edges and margins of society, and are accompanied by a voice-over, which similar to the music in the background, like a continuous wave, ever the same and incessant: is the voice of a young woman who tells her story and her encounters.

This respectful and restless encounter with reality ultimately transforms the documenting of a personal experience into an abstraction that opens up many questions inside us. Confused and fragmented, the filmed material evokes a specific human condition, without showing and exposing its subjects; the anonymous “actors” dissolve, so as not to be discovered. We breathe in the power of loss and the inaccessibility of the visible.32

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How to avoid falling into the quicksand of moralism, anaesthetization and aestheticization? Among the artists we have met on our critical journey, some – such as El Anatsui, Steyerl, Hatoum, Alÿs, Waddington, Abdessamad, Paladino, Iñárritu, Balestrini, Björk, Saraceno and Eliasson – have suggested possible pockets of resistance.


29 Didi-Huberman, Come le lucciole cit., p. 93.

30 Ibid., p. 93.

31 Ibid., p. 95.

32 E. Marcheschi, Videoestetiche dell’emergenza, Kaplan, Torino 2015, pp. 89-92.