Thursday, 27 February 2014

A special encounter - meeting Lucy Wood and TO6411

On Friday the 21.02.2014 I finally had the chance to meet Lucy Wood and TO6411. In bright sunlight I made my way to the South Dock Marina lock office. While waiting, one man of the harbour staff stopped to ask what I was looking for. When I explained whom I wanted to meet he nodded understandingly. "I haven’t seen her this morning.” Apparently the artist and her project are well known at the local port.

The conversation with Lucy Wood turned out to be a real revelation and a great pleasure. Planned as a humanitarian project, the performance piece “Lampedusa to London” is not positioned in the realm of the art world especially, nor is it supposed to be political in an explicit sense. The aim of this was to bring together as much people as possible and to not drive those away who are sceptic or frightened as soon as they hear the word ‘political’, which might remind them of (dangerous) protests and so forth.
The project is self-funded, therefore granting the freedom to experiment and to decide without restrictions from other shareholders. According to the artist one bank approached her and showed interest in the project, but as they asked to put banners along the side of the boat, the artist resigned and chose to realize the project on her own. She did not want it to be used as a promotional tool.

As it was called ‘performance piece’ the stress is obviously on the performative, on the experience that you gain when you are around the two protagonists Lucy Wood and TO6411. When the artist refers to the boat she uses the pronoun “she”, thus putting emphasis on the personal bond they have build during the four months of their travels in 2013, but also proving that the found object TO6411 is regarded as an agent, that is to say a subject in its own right.
During the trip the sit-ins with locals from the 63 stops did not have to be particularly organized because she (TO6411) attracted and amazed passers-by that stopped and started a dialogue with the two memory agents.

What was especially surprising to me were the reactions that Lucy Wood recalled from the local authorities and involved groups on Lampedusa. Initially expecting encouragement or at least good will, the artist was confronted with unthought-of obstacles. For repairing works on the boat Wood would be charged ridiculous prices and when local groups threatened to burn the boat because of fear for the island’s tourism she had to sleep on it even before the journey had started. 

Lucy Wood started exploring migrants and migration flows already in the late 1990s.
The name of the large-scale project “Distant Neighbours” is taken from Mexicans, who used it when referring to Americans, their vecinos distantes. The cumulative and constantly growing piece is planned as a visual book stretching over several projects/chapters over the course of more than one decade.
The first chapter is situated at the border between Mexico and the USA. For her research the dedicated artist moved to the ghost town Ruby, an old American mining town near the border. For the migrants, trying to overcome the border to enter the USA it takes about four days to cross the rocky and dry landscape.
After focusing on the desert in this first chapter, in her following chapters the artist worked with the sea, as a means of travelling and a transmitter of migration flows, which can be just as cruel as the desert.
When she started her trip in June Lampedusa was not so well known at all, which might be a reason for the discouraging reactions of the locals. But by October, when the tragedy had taken place, things suddenly changed. Lampedusa was reported on world-wide and the scope of Lucy Wood’s project seemed somewhat to urgent to be appropriate. Accordingly, the UK media changed their plans to report on the artist’s project due to the recent events. Only belatedly on the 18th of December 2013 there was an event with politicians and church leaders, which were invited by Lucy Wood to go down the Thames to Westminster on World Migrant Day on TO6411.

The boat will be at the South Dock Marina until April. Afterwards Lucy Wood will have her stored somewhere dry until she finds an institution or investor that is willing to take over responsibility.
Till then I want to use the chance and unique opportunity and organize another sit-in with students from Goldsmiths College especially from the course “Transcultural Memory” conducted by Astrid Schmetterling, during the course of which my project  on floating memory arose. The time and place will be announced soon. But it will probably take place on the 15th of March. The Idea is to meet TO6411 and Lucy Wood, to get an idea of the small boat, that initially housed 36 migrants and to start a conversation with the artist about her project and the role of the artist as memory agent in general.
Further details will be announced here.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

First mass border crossing in 2014

The BBC reported yesterday on what has been called the 'first mass border crossing' from North Africa to Spain in 2014. The attempt of hundreds of migrants who tried to swim from Morocco to Spain ended tragically for 14 of them who got shot by rubber bullets from the spanish authorities. Those bullets did not cause their death in the first place, but as a result caused the drowning of the swimmers. 
Spain has repeatedly asked the EU for help in dealing with the migration flow from Africa. Concerning this most recent incident EU Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom claimed to be "very concerned". Well, being concerned won't save those who are risking there lives while trying to cross the almost impassable border to Europe.  

Italian navy rescues African migrants in January 2014

This footage from the 03.01.2014 stresses the ongoing crisis and the urgency of the migration and refugee problematic in the Mediterranean.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Anchoring in a sea of crisis - the artist as memory agent

TO6411 as depicted on Lucy Wood's homepage.


The refugee crisis in the Mediterranean does not seem to find an ending. It was only in the early beginning of this year that 233 migrants were rescued by the Italian navy. According to Navy officials there were men and women from Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, Zambia and Mali as well as from Pakistan. Following Reuters the number of sea arrivals from Northern Africa to Italy has tripled in the course of 2013, all told. The urgency that is implied in this report demands for the kind of mediator that Ètienne Balibar has in mind.

At this point I would like to suggest British artist Lucy Wood for this role, who has been engaging with the refugee problematic for the last couple of years. After several visits to the island of Lampedusa she achieved to convince local and national Italian authorities to grant her one of the refugee boats. Together with T06411 (see image above) the artist travelled from Lampedusa to London. During her performance-piece (this name has been given to it by the artist herself) she organized sit-ins with locals from the 63 stops (see map). While navigating the vessel (which had beforehand been put under construction to meet European standards) Lucy Wood supplemented her journey with constant blog entries on the project’s blog “The chronicles of Lampedusa.2013.” Here she reflected on the difficulties and progresses of her project. “Lampedusa to London” is the forth chapter of her “Distant Neighbour”-project.[1] The preceding three chapters had already dealt with migration and displacement – a major concern in the artist’s work.[2] 

With her performance Lucy Wood in a way gives a site to the floating memory of the refugees of the Mediterranean and at the same time she enacts the concept of travelling memory. Within the realm of transcultural memory the notion of “travelling memory” has been pitched by Astrid Erll to capture “the fact that in the production of cultural memory, people, media, mnemonic forms, contents, and practices are in constant, unceasing motion.”[3] Erll argues that literature and art can operate as memory agents, which are actually shaping transcultural memory. With her project “Distant Neighbours” Lucy Wood appears to be precisely such a memory agent.

Another sit-in on T06411 will be organized together with the artist in march 2014, while the boat is still based in London. Further details will be announced here.


[1] When discussing the parable of the Good Samaritan Avishai Margalit argues that “the notion of a neighbour is powerful enough to cross tribal, religious, and ethnic boundaries.” The second part of her project title “neighbour” can thus get over the distance that might geographically separate continental Europeans from the refugees on Lampedusa. Avishai Margalit, The Ethics of Memory, Harvard University Press, 2003: 42.
[2] The first chapter „Vecinos distantes“ (2009) focused on „the migration of Mexicans and Central Americans from Mexico to Arizona USA.” The second and third chapters “Vincini Lontani 2 & 3” already stressed the plight of refugees in the Mediterranean, namely on Lampedusa. The information is taken from the artist’s project homepage: (last visit: 03.01.2014).
[3] Astrid Erll, Travelling Memory, in: Parallax, vol. 17, no. 4, 2011: 12.