Annotation: Beyond the World’s End
Chapter three, The Visual Politics of Climate Refugees, I
I’m splitting this chapter into two different sections, this one discussing the negative visual examples and the second exploring more positive methodologies artists have used.
“The problem is that many anti-austerity activists rarely discuss climate breakdown, and environmentalists seldom mention war, racism, or occupation, leading to compartmentalization on each side reinforced by the restrictive visuality of environmentally determined migration. That compartmentalization, also expressed visually, carries political implications in that migrants are typically viewed as disconnected from histories of socioecological entanglement that render many of our governments complicit in the very production and management of migration. And by ignoring those entanglements, it makes it easier for reactionary commentators, policy makers, and politicians, in acts of contemporary scapegoating, to situate the displaced as agents of injustice and themselves (somewhat perversely) as the victims … Against that eventuality, it becomes imperative to generate critical visual resources - central to the formation of a properly political analysis - in our activist and social movement responses, in order to aid in the collective transformation toward a just world.” 1
Demos is discussing how (while probably well intentioned) The Argos Collective, Stanmeyer, Haner and Ai Wei Wei are creating works depicting really complex issues as static images or performatory video; They aren’t changing the narrative of migrants as isolated victims among other things that the mainstream media capitalizes on. All artwork was focusing on humancentric issues. Demos is showing through these examples that there are limitations with a single photo or even a video. This reminds me of Ariella Azoulay’s presentation during VCFA’s Winter residency. The origins of the camera highlight these deficits.
Although slightly negative, learning in this way is helpful to my research; I’m not only thinking about how to frame my own research question but how to execute it in a way that is meaningful and more importantly isn’t feeding into disaster capitalism.
“While the formula offers reassuring visions of redemption, manifested in images of encompassing filmic splendor and Ai caring for the less fortunate, it leaves viewers with a nagging feeling of undefined guilt and no clear solutions. Empathy is a position few of us would oppose. But we also need to take matters deeper in terms of interrogating the causes of the oppressive conditions that make life miserable for multitudes and that propel displacement. Once those causes are understood, proposals can be more readily designed for structural changes to the systems that produce inequality in the first place. This is a basic recipe for a properly political film - political because it would challenge the systems of resource distribution, including the international trade agreements, inequitable access to technology, corporate monopolies, legacies and continuations of colonialism, and practices of institutional discrimination that maintain inequality. If climate change is, as Eyal Weizman2 argues, the telos of colonial modernity, rather than simply its accidental outcome, then what else would it mean to challenge its terms?”3
1. Demos, T. J. (2020). Beyond the world’s end : arts of living at the crossing. Durham ; London Duke University Press, page 69.
2. Fazal Sheikh and Eyal Weizman, The Conflict Shoreline: Colonialism as Climate Change in the Negev Desert (Gottingen: Steidl, 2015).
3. Demos, T. J. (2020). Beyond the world’s end : arts of living at the crossing. Durham ; London Duke University Press, page 85.