In 2015, as part of his project on refugees, the Mobile Lives Forum commissioned artist Ai Weiwei to pay particular attention to how the latter use their smartphones in an emergency context. The first photos and videos – accompanied by the analyses of sociologist and mobility specialist Mimi Sheller and art history and theory researcher Guillaume Logé – can be found in the Artistic Lab section of the Forum’s website. New photos, videos, guided tours and analyses will be published on TheRefugee Project webpage, in the Artistic Lab section, throughout the course of this year.
Born in 1957, artist 艾未未 (AI Weiwei) shares his time between Beijing, Berlin, and his studio on the island of Lesbos, in Greece. His work takes a variety of forms, including video, photography, installations, sculpture, architecture, curating, publishing, blogging, music and happenings. His extremely rigorous approach, both conceptually and artistically, unflinchingly addresses some of the most sensitive subjects in our society. An important part of his work is now about the migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle-East.
Since December 2015 Ai Weiwei has been exploring how refugees communicate, get their bearings and travel using their smartphone. For many, the latter has become their most valuable asset. Mobility, as a rule seems, to go hand in hand with the ability to communicate – as if, without communication, we were somehow incapable of moving. How can we get information regarding itineraries, transport modes, destinations and the different possibilities without being able to communicate? How do we let others know where we are? This increasingly intrinsic overlap between physical and virtual mobility likewise questions our reliance on the infrastructures that make these new forms of communication possible.
For refugees, these questions are crucial: what if the ability to locate relatives, send out a distress signal, receive money, organize the next leg of the journey or simply figure out which route to take depended on this mobile connection ? While we have long spoken of the “double absence” of migrants (both from their country of origin and from their host country), certain researchers now allude to the “double presence” made possible by ICT and notably smartphones. This phenomenon occurs from the beginnings of their perilous and uncertain journeys, by allowing refugees to stay in touch with their families and organizing their arrival in Europe. With Smartphone use they are able to reassemble their social ties from a distance.