"The Restless Earth" at La Triennale di Milano

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Phil Collins
/how to make a refugee /(1999); video still
Courtesy Shady Lane Productions and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Phil Collins
how to make a refugee (1999); video still
Courtesy Shady Lane Productions and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

"The Restless Earth"; installation view
Photo: Gianluca di Ioia

"The Restless Earth"; installation view
Photo: Gianluca di Ioia

Francis Alÿs
/Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River Strait of Gibraltar/ 
(2008); video still

Francis Alÿs
Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River Strait of Gibraltar (2008); video still

"The Restless Earth"; installation view
Photo: Gianluca di Ioia

"The Restless Earth"; installation view
Photo: Gianluca di Ioia

"The Restless Earth"; installation view
Photo: Gianluca di Ioia

"The Restless Earth"; installation view
Photo: Gianluca di Ioia

Lewis Wickes Hine
/Indianapolis fruit venders, Italian boys, Indiana, August /(1908) 

Lewis Wickes Hine
Indianapolis fruit venders, Italian boys, Indiana, August (1908) 

Pascale Marthine Tayou
/SAUVETEUR (passport vendor 2) (The rescuer) /(2011)
Courtesy Pascale Marthine Tayou and Galleria Continua

Pascale Marthine Tayou
SAUVETEUR (passport vendor 2) (The rescuer) (2011)
Courtesy Pascale Marthine Tayou and Galleria Continua

Rokni Haerizadeh
/The Sun Shines on a Graveyard and a Garden Alike, And The Rain a Loyal Man 
 From A Traitor Knows Not/ (2016-17)
Courtesy Rokni Haerizadeh and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

Daniel Etter, Tyler Hicks, Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev
"2016 Pulitzer Prize For Breaking News Photography"
Courtesy Daniel Etter, Tyler Hicks, Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev

Rokni Haerizadeh
The Sun Shines on a Graveyard and a Garden Alike, And The Rain a Loyal Man From A Traitor Knows Not (2016-17)
Courtesy Rokni Haerizadeh and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

Daniel Etter, Tyler Hicks, Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev
"2016 Pulitzer Prize For Breaking News Photography"
Courtesy Daniel Etter, Tyler Hicks, Mauricio Lima, Sergey Ponomarev

Manaf Halbouni
/Nowhere is home/ (2015)
Courtesy the artist

Manaf Halbouni
Nowhere is home (2015)
Courtesy the artist

Adel Abdessemed
/Hope /(2011-15)
Courtesy Adel Abdessemed

El Anatsui
/New World /(2009)
Courtesy El Anatsui and Jack Shainman

Adel Abdessemed
Hope (2011-15)
Courtesy Adel Abdessemed

El Anatsui
New World (2009)
Courtesy El Anatsui and Jack Shainman

John Akomfrah
/Vertigo Sea/ (2015); video still

John Akomfrah
Vertigo Sea (2015); video still

Bouchra Khalili
/The Mapping Journey Project/ (2008-2011)

Bouchra Khalili
The Mapping Journey Project (2008-2011)

Wafa Hourani
/Qalandia 2087 /(2009)

Wafa Hourani
Qalandia 2087 (2009)

Hassan Sharif
/Suspended Objects /(2011)
Courtesy Hassan Sharif Estate and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

Ziad Antar
/Allah Tower II / Burj Khalifa II/ (2010)
Courtesy Ziad Antar and Almine Rech Gallery

Hassan Sharif
Suspended Objects (2011)
Courtesy Hassan Sharif Estate and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

Ziad Antar
Allah Tower II / Burj Khalifa II (2010)
Courtesy Ziad Antar and Almine Rech Gallery

Rokni Haerizadeh
/The Sun Shines on a Graveyard and a Garden Alike, And The Rain a Loyal Man 
 From A Traitor Knows Not/ (2016-17)
Courtesy Rokni Haerizadeh and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

Rokni Haerizadeh
The Sun Shines on a Graveyard and a Garden Alike, And The Rain a Loyal Man From A Traitor Knows Not (2016-17)
Courtesy Rokni Haerizadeh and Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde

Meschac Gaba
/Memorial for Drowned Refugees /(2016)
Courtesy Meschac Gaba and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Pawel Althammer
/Black Market /(2007)

Meschac Gaba
Memorial for Drowned Refugees (2016)
Courtesy Meschac Gaba and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery

Pawel Althammer
Black Market (2007)

Pascale Marthine Tayou
/The Falling House 4 /(2017)
Courtesy Pascale Marthine Tayou and Galleria Continua

Liu Xiadong
/Things aren't as bad as they could be /(2017)
Courtesy Liu Xiadong and Massimo De Carlo

Pascale Marthine Tayou
The Falling House 4 (2017)
Courtesy Pascale Marthine Tayou and Galleria Continua

Liu Xiadong
Things aren't as bad as they could be (2017)
Courtesy Liu Xiadong and Massimo De Carlo

"The Restless Earth" at La Triennale di Milano

by Barbara Casavecchia

 

Migration is a pressing issue in Italy, where nearly two hundred thousand migrants landed in 2016 and over five thousand lost their lives at sea. The opening of “La Terra Inquieta” (The Restless Earth, a title borrowed from a collection of poems by Édouard Glissant) occurred right in the middle of a storm in the Italian media amid claims that NGOs were helping migrants get across the Mediterranean by rescuing them from drowning. After the European border agency Frontex released its “risk analysis” report for 2017, Italian populist politicians accused NGOs of acting like “sea taxis” and colluding with human traffickers. A week after the vernissage, the police carried out an over-Instagrammed operation on migrants gathered near Milan’s Central Station, with the aim of “cleansing” the area and restoring decorum. Like numbers, images play a key role in this infowar.

With “La Terra Inquieta,” curator Massimiliano Gioni not only deals with borders and crossings as a theme, but positions the exhibition itself in a border area, where the same conflict – between information, aesthetics, documentation and exploitation – plays out that the media regularly trespasses into while circulating images of migrants and refugees. And while Gioni’s ideological stance is clearly concerned to recognise the urgency of the crisis and make his audience react to it, it’s also evident that several of the works he selected (by over sixty artists) argue in favour of the “right to opacity”, to quote Glissant again. Take, for instance, a selection of videos made over the past four years by the Syrian collective Abounaddara, which reject the victimisation of individuals living war zones, as well as Phil Collins’s memorable video how to make a refugee (1999), which documents how a film crew constructs a pitiful portrait of a Bosnian family. Khaled Jarrar’s Infiltrators (2012) shows the attempts of groups of ordinary Palestinians to cross the over-four-hundred-mile-long wall erected by Israel around the Occupied Territories, while in This Lemon Tastes of Apple (2011), Hiwa K peacefully “infiltrates” a political demonstration in his hometown of Sulaimany, in Northern Iraq, playing the harmonica together with a guitarist giving a rendering of Once Upon a Time in the West.

Reality and fiction collide over and over again: one of the best juxtapositions is between dramatic photos by the four recipients of the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography – which focus on the Balkan route followed mostly by Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan migrants – and forty-three sheets from the series The Sun Shines on a Graveyard and a Garden Alike, and the Rain a Loyal Man from a Traitor Knows Not (2016–2017) by Iranian-born, Dubai-based Rokni Haerizadeh. After printing news media stills, the artist delicately repaints the figures and their surroundings with gesso, watercolor and ink, so that destruction and brutality are turned into a surreal theatre (of cruelty). Its context is still readable, but any overexposure is mitigated.

An archival section, with period photos by Lewis Hine and covers of the illustrated magazine La Domenica del Corriere, documents the massive Italian emigration that created a diaspora of over 23 million of people between 1860 and the 1970s. It’s telling, I think, that this image-based exhibition finds its climaxes where images are missing: one high point is an indignant and heart-breaking letter of appeal sent to the EU authorities in 2012 by the mayor of the tiny islands of Lampedusa and Linosa, asking how “such a tragedy can be considered normal” and if “the European policy on immigration views this offering of human lives as a way to reduce the influx, or even as a deterrent”. Another is one of the last works on show, Banu Cennetoglu’s The List (2005–): a series of books listing all the known refugees, migrants, and asylum seekers who have died within European borders from 1993 until today: over 30,000, the last update says.

 

BARBARA CASAVECCHIA is a writer based in Milan.

The exhibition at La Triennale di Milano is on view until August 20, 2017.