My piece in the experience was set out to demonstrate how media and politicians craft the fear of others (Syrian refugees and Latino immigrants) in order to gain personal and political power. Then I sought out to deconstruct this fear by showing an alternative view that represented the trajectory of these others through soundscapes and the use of actors’ shadows. In these reflections I will discuss some of the theories and art pieces that informed the project and I will interweave with the process that I went through to develop it, including the research on media discourse and soundscapes to craft the story.
Strange Others was informed theoretically by Sarah Ahmed’s Strange Encounters, Carl Di Salvo’s concept of adversarial design and Clara Bishop’s account of installation art. Ahmed explores the ways in which ‘some-body’ can come to be recognized as a stranger, and the ways such encounters are instrumentalized to be assimilated or excluded. This instrumentalization of the stranger is enabled by what she defines as “stranger fetishism”. She investigates the production of community and the role of the process of estrangement, which she accounts as “the condition for the emergence of a contested community, a community which ‘makes a place’ in the act of reaching out to the ‘out-of-place-ness’ of other migrant bodies” (Ahmed, 94). This process was evident with the media’s description of diseases of migrants and alleged violent behavior.
Carl DiSalvo referring to Chantal Mouffe’s political theory of agonistic pluralism sees a role for designers to construct agonistic spaces of contestation where people (users or participants) can be confronted with alternative positions. One of the possibilities of the use of adversarial design according to DiSalvo is to give form to problematic situations, distinguishing shape and substance that is otherwise vague, into the political condition. In this sense it provides a way to “experience an otherwise confusing situation” and be manifestations “expressive encapsulations” of some aspect of the political condition (Di Salvo, 2012, 118).
In this case I tried to craft through four scenes an argument about the role of the United States in the conflict of Middle East by including the declaration of war in Iraq, a bombing in Syria, the anti-immigration discourse, and the real condition of refugees and migrants. At the same time I situated spectators in what appears at first a comfortable position that escalated in affective effects focusing on a phenomenological body experience, that I hope turns into a political and embodied critique.
In the 1st scene a TV screened a remix of multiple clips of media commentators and politicians using fear of refugees and immigrants. Some of the most useful clips where grabbed from alternative media such as Media Matters and The Young Turks. According to Anne Wagner, as cited by Claire Bishop “one way of refusing the pacifying comfort of mass media, which centers on the illusion of presence, intimate and belonging, is for artists to create a discrepancy between what the viewer sees and feels, and what she can be sure she knows” (Bishop, 96).
In the 2nd scene lights go off and there is a sound design of bombing, violence from Syrian war and from border violence Michoacan. Claire Bishop also discusses the use dark spaces, stating that they dislodge our sense of self and dissolute the sense of space. I hoped for this moment to create a moment of fear and confusion in viewers. In the 3rd scene a woman, with a child from Mexico are crossing the border and are detained, for this sound design I used bytes from a detention in the border.
In the 4th scene I represented a Syrian man and his take on how they have been treated as a refugee, how this has affected his identity and how he expect people treat him with respect because he treated Iraq refugees with respect “as brothers” when they look for refugee in Syria. These bytes where selected from the Documentary of the Guardian We Walk Together: a Syrian refugee family’s journey to the heart of Europe
Visually, I was also inspired by The Europe of Strangers by Krzysztof Wodiczko (2009), El Nica (2003) a play about a Nicaraguan Immigrant in Costa Rica.
Ahmed, Sara. 2000. Strange encounters: Embodied others in post-coloniality. Psychology Press.
Bishop, Claire., Oxley, N., Petry, M., & Archer, M. 2005. Installation art: A critical history. London: Tate.
DiSalvo, Carl. 2012. Adversarial design. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.