Karine Giboulo: Wellen
By MF Rattray
In the discourse of contemporary art, the migrant occupies a liminal position only available in theory. Existing within the in-between space of Nation and State, culture and unculture, possessed and dispossessed, they embody a subjectivity consistently objectified and as a result rarely understood, rarely the object of empathy. To be nowhere yet everywhere, nearby however far, and forever drawn to a situation most of us take for granted – a peaceful existence in the absence of threat, starvation, genocide, execution, persecution – is their plight. While many of us seek to problematize the system in which we exist, to take on its laws and define our own agency within parameters set by the State and Economic form, the migrant excises their own political agency and willingly enters into unknown possibility. They are prepared to take little and leave in search of this possibility, more often than not undertaking the journey under threat from all sides.
Recent geo-political events have thrust the migrant and refugee into extreme focus, and the difficulty each of us face with a mass is that it remains an arduous task to recognize each as their own. The potential of one outweighing the actions of another, the latest click-bait newsperson ready to pounce upon the stories of few to the effect of thousands, is a result of our post-fact reality: a reality tempered by structures of belief that stand-in for empirical evidence. Many of us seek to abandon the State, yet we demand its organizational structure once confronted with a reality too complex to bear. In this process we become alien, all too aware of how little we understand about ourselves, let alone our ability to understand the needs of the other. The migrant induces fear, a loathing of our common humanity where the fallacy of human rights is laid bare: human rights are contingent upon citizenship, not the right of existence. Yet within their plight a simple truth of life is forever present: the want of peace and security and the will to do whatever it takes to achieve it, to protect our children, to feed our family, to escape violence.
Karine Giboulo’s work is relevant to our contemporary moment, not for what it represents but how it represents it. In miniature, our dominance over the fate of the migrant rests with our status as conscientious observers. We tower over these effigies of suffering and possibility, holding dear the belief that art can consistently attack yet revere the realities of militarism, and remain a stable hierarchy where a status symbol of monetary worth holds the power to manage taste. As such our gaze is violent, our appreciation diluted by our inability to create the system that needs to exist within the shell of the system we currently occupy. Our ways of seeing outweigh our projections and our critical commentary upon them obstructs a sycophantic fantasy.
No one is illegal. Every human deserves access to peace, prosperity, and the freedom to achieve their own agency, whatever that agency may be. Should it take small figurines contained within a mock barbed wire encampment, appropriately arranged in a gallery setting and consistent with the aims and goals of the global contemporary art market, to remind us of the fact that our world system has consequence and the toll of this consequence is human suffering? The answer to this question, each one us must discover for ourselves. Occasionally, in its purest form, art holds the possibility of reminding us about the choices we make each day, and inspires within us the will to create the world we hope to see, not the world we must represent.