Migrating Stories

Migration is a condition of our contemporaneity, a symptom of the world’s interface today. The plight of thousands of migrants putting their lives in peril to cross the Mediterranean and other geo-political borders in the escape from war, terror and miserable living conditions evokes the ways in which people, politics, history, ideas and personal narratives today migrate to new locations and dislocations, revealing the urgencies of elsewhere in our here and now. With Migrating Stories, the Screen City Moving Image Biennial takes contemporary conditions of movement as its thematic framework for examining the complex forms of transition in all its guises – from one place to another, from one state to another, from one memory to another, and from one perceptual state to another – as a general narrative to describe our human, cultural and communicative existence today. The Biennial presents expanded moving image artworks from a broad international range of artists dealing with current complexities relating to migration. Their works reflect deeply upon journeys, diasporas and post-colonialism, transformation of place, and ‘alien’ realities.

We have recently witnessed, as a symptom emerging from roughly twenty years of globalisation, that parts of the world have been closing in on themselves while cultivating nostalgic perceptions of history and cultural origin. As the connectivity of the world’s economies and cultures grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the interchange of world views, ideas and cultures strengthened a sense of a global ‘we’, which, with the evolution of the Internet, became connected in a global ‘now’. In Europe, progressive visions of a region without borders facilitated optimism and an identification with migration and free movement in younger generations, while the pressure from citizens frustrated with work migration, right-wing sympathisers and older generations fearful of the insecurities of a globalised world – alongside increasing refugee migration from the Middle East in particular – has recently led to a need for a redefinition of borders. Brexit, walls, rising populism and support of far-right and nationalist parties challenge a crumbling European dream of migration as synonymous with openness, connectivity and exchange. The current climate of distrust and scepticism towards globalisation is inducing the collapse of dreams and the shuttering up of countries. The idea of migration is trapped in the gap between a vision of global co-existence and fear of the other.

The Biennial unfolds in the urban setting of Stavanger, a coastal city in Norway, which, situated outside of the European Union, has developed in a bubble of its own. Since 1969, when oil was first discovered in the North Sea, marking the beginning of what in Norway is commonly known as the ‘oil adventure’, the city of Stavanger has passed through the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s on a wave of wealth, barely affected by the global financial crisis of 2007-2008. However, this bubble of affluence, more or less disconnected from the world, burst with the oil crisis of 2015-2016, with thousands of people losing their jobs. This caused a paradigm shift in the city’s relationship with the world. While Stavanger’s current state of transition departs from stories migrating from a financially glorious recent past, it crystallises with stories migrating from new technological narratives, new openings to international relations, and newcomers arriving from (or, arriving to) ‘alien realities.’ The still-raw wound of the oil crisis requires a reconceptualisation of Stavanger’s local identity and for new visions to replace the old. These include visions of the city as ‘smart’, visions of new business adventures in a recently emerging start-up community and creative industries, and visions of relations to the outside world in search of a new industrial-financial identity and new connections to the global ‘we’. The Biennial’s thematic approach focuses on these migrating stories in relation to migrating stories from the world.

The 2017 Biennial extends the thematic concerns of the Screen City Festival 2015, Labour and The City In-between, in light of a European post-industrial climate focused on labour migration as this relates to Stavanger’s state of change with regard to industrial, architectural and social spaces and an unstable economic future. The 2017 Biennial brings these concerns to a global perspective in lieu of the recent redefinition of geographies, borders and identity in relation to space and belonging. The 2017 Biennial takes the harbour of Stavanger as the historical, site-contextual and conceptual point of departure, presenting artworks along a route from Stavanger’s west end through the city harbour to its eastern district. The Stavanger harbour was the physical point of departure for Norwegian immigration to America in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the first few decades of the twentieth century, for the journey of workers to Stavanger’s offshore oil platforms, and for tourists, migrants and newcomers arriving in Stavanger today. The North Sea simultaneously symbolises a horizon of dreams of better lives and new adventures elsewhere, of an essential relationship with natural resources and the rise and fall of wealth and security, as well as symbolising international connectivity and a new cultural expansion of the city and the collective mind.

The Biennial presents, explores and expands the moving ‘image’ as a radical temporal art form along established and experimental artistic trajectories and in critical dialogue with the current urban sphere and context in Stavanger. When the moving image first migrated to an urban context with the avant-garde movement in the 1960s, this was initially in an attempt to challenge the perceptual prism through which audiences experience visual art. In the urban domain, perception was liberated from the spatial coding and isolated exhibition contexts of both the black cinema space and the white museum. The emergence of the artistic movement ‘expanded cinema’ followed the technological advent of video in 1965 and the contemporary earthquakes in the paradigm of modern art in expressions of institutional critique, including critical reflections on the housing of art in galleries and museums and its lack of social function. New ideas pushed art towards more ‘active’ participation in socio-political issues in public spaces and everyday life. Expanded cinema also followed conceptualism in its concern with shifting ‘art’ from the object as currency in the commodity system of art to the thinking processes relating to the art. Expanded cinema manifested the ‘dematerialization of the art object’ in experimentation with perceptual reconfiguration and various ‘materialities’ of the dematerialised moving image. Departing from its origins in the source of light, today the moving image continues to expand cinematic, sonic, mobile, augmented, responsive and computational modes of expression. It continues to challenge human perception in the conditions of our contemporary communicative existence – which is becoming increasingly multi-dimensional, multi-temporal, and multi-sensual.

In the contemporary urban context, the moving image is continuing its migration into new forms and inquiries, and into new perceptual experiences in contingent relation to technological culture, human technogenetic development and literacy, and urgent urban matters. The Biennial is dedicated to moving image artworks that reflect and advance the artistic trajectory of the expanded moving image, artworks that examine its contemporary cultural resonance, philosophical depths and conceptual borderlines. ‘Movement’ in the image is considered not only in terms of an artistic hybrid format in artistic expressions of cinema, live cinema, video, light art, virtual and augmented reality, computer gaming and net art, but also in terms of how ‘images’ move as memories, perceptions and cultures.

Dedicated to drawing out and facilitating new connections and complexities between the expanded moving image, architecture, technology and the urban context, the 2017 Biennial reconceptualises the ‘screen city’ in architecture beyond material structures and urban surfaces to encompass the architectures of digital infrastructures that increasingly characterise our contemporary communicative existence. In addition to projection surfaces and monitors, the architecture of the ‘screen’, as the sensible-material surface of the expanded digital image, has become interface rather than representation. The ‘screen’ has expanded with digital technology, become three-dimensional, tactile, and multi-sensual, continuously exploring new ontological experiences between the visual, the relational, and the physical, and able to move us telematically in immersive scenarios. The contemporary digital image is computer generated and virtual, building from combinations of binary digits in 0s and 1s containing information and undergoing spatial transformation in electronic circuits. It continuously migrates into new spatial and visually sensible spheres and spaces for multisensory experience, with a temporal dimension open to unpredictability and change. These modalities of the digital ‘image’ affect our human orientation and societal organisation as communicative forms of architecture. In operative, computational modes the digital image increasingly ties in with how we understand and imagine our surroundings, their developmental processes and relations to the world, and our relationships as individual human beings to humanity in a global perspective.

Reflecting on these new modalities of ‘the screen’, the Biennial presents the expanded moving image across its entire range of artistic expression today, that is, as it unfolds to explore the mediated (material) reality of perceptual experience. The program presents artworks transcending fixity in space, format and ambiance; they are also mobile, virtual and augmented. The variety of the artistic program establishes lines between spatial experiences with the expanded moving image in early cinematic techniques – in live cinema of real-time audio-visual performance – to contemporary spatial experience in technologically advanced image environments, integrating with the urban context.

In the Biennial framework, in collaboration with the exhibition spaces of Stavanger’s museums, art spaces and concert hall, expanded moving image artworks will unfold in the spaces of the art scene as well as in the urban context of the city. Taking forms such as projections onto walls and under bridges, audio-visual journeys accessible via your mobile phone, augmented and virtual reality experiences, and installations in industrial containers on the harbour front containing worlds of varied and multi-sensual realities, the artworks presented in the Biennial program will take you through the streets and assorted environments of Stavanger. The artworks invite you to explore the city ‘through’ the art, and its relationship with the world’s migrating stories.

In the curatorial process of developing the biennial especially four themes presented themselves in the artworks, as thematic, connecting lines: Artworks speaking to nomadism and nomadic thinking of the migratory being – in real or imaginary voyages across land, the sea or into outer space, human wanderings and migration of objects, notions of both escape and escapism, reflection on human destinies or existential conditions of transition, and some artworks taking you onto physical journeys across space, time and real-virtual dimensions. Artworks speaking to concrete and complex existential relationships between diaspora and homeland – reflecting memories of worlds that have been lost or are no longer accessible, stories of human connections to historic moments of ethnic persecutions, genocides or post-colonial experience – or moments of human resistance to such – and to processes of redefining one’s identity (or mixed identities). Artworks speaking to conditions of alienation in displacement of people, memories and cultures, as well as to the longing for alienating oneself. And, artworks speaking to disrupted or destabilised ecological systems of social, political, economic or environmental landscapes – landscapes of both natures and territories of debate – affecting new ecologies, and the forces of transformation behind, eventually causing new ecologies to emerge and others to be lost. While the artworks span across and beyond these four themes of journeys, diaspora, alienation, and lost ecologies, these themes organise the catalogue in a way that reflects our curatorial guidance from the artworks.

The presentation of the artworks in the catalogue also reflects a line of artistic research that feeds and reflects on the Biennial’s activities. Rather than representing only artwork descriptions we have aimed at letting the artist’s voices come through and highlighting points of access to the works, which reflect the artists’ own hints, advises or observations. This method of presentation and dissemination of the art is mirrored in the audio guide accompanying the installations during the Biennial and in the content of the SCB Journal. With this approach to the art we aim at presenting the expanded moving image to audiences from various alleys of curiosities – audiences with much as well as little experience with these evolving contemporary art forms – as well as to ‘expand’ the art by opening up wedges for deeper contemplation, analysis, discussion and wonder.