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Fences Make Senses

George Barber

United Kingdom, 2014
28 minutes, 03 seconds, Colour, Stereo, 16:9
Original format: HD video
Available formats: HD Video / HD Digital file

“There are now more than 50 million refugees & displaced people in the world, more than the number at the end of WW2”. No single person or country can do much against that figure but nevertheless press and tv images inveigle themselves into the imagination and demand a reaction.The idea for ‘Fences Make Senses’ evolved as the artist saw increasing documentaries and tv items on refugees. Most documentaries and news items centre on in-depth interviews, usually the interviewed are in squalor, casually disliked by their ‘host’ country and often kept in limbo make shift style circumstances for years. To nail it, often they have lost everything; relatives, children, towns, identities, lives – all their baggage all gone. As a viewer, as a typical human being, one is lost as to what can be done. The USA and European Union combined refugee acceptance rate is currently 140.000 per year – many would say generous but minuscule against the millions. All Western countries have definitions of ‘refugees’ but are hardly likely to set up tents in Africa or the Middle East recruiting those who fit legal international definitions. Instead, they prefer to force them to walk, climb, swim, be abused, be locked in containers, be enslaved and finally take huge risks with heartless greedy people smugglers, in total travelling thousands of miles to get to the West – and only then does the system ‘check’ if they fall into the category of refugee. Hypothetically, of course, they could have been assessed in their village – or what’s left of it – many months previously. But no country, for all its fine high fluting legal definitions and international agreements, is actually going to recruit people who actually fit their legal definition of ‘refugee’. A European Union Embassy tent in Somalia, Congo, or Syria – with a jaunty definition of a refugee up on the side – might soon attract a football stadium multitude per day.Anyway, the scene grows more awful and desperate the more one reads and sees.But for George Barber, inclined to make an art piece responding to the world’s vast refugee and migration situation, the key concept became this: instead of re-interviewing the forsaken, the artist decided that it might be worthwhile to get a group of Londoners and friends – who are precisely not refugees – and re-stage some of the common refugee experiences. To get people who are not refugees to rehearse, to think through, to experience and act out the lines. To improvise the themes, situations and ideas that refugees frequently face. E.g. buying a totally inappropriate boat from a rogue, or having the wrong paperwork at a border, or on towards more philosophical notions – like the moral dichotomy of the typical ship Captain in the Mediterranean whom routinely ignore refugees – and come up with those eternal self-justifications like, ‘if we stop for one boat we’d have to stop for all of them’. (In fact, government GPS satellites know which ships routinely ignore refugees. But nobody is prosecuted.) The improvised re-enactments in ‘Fences Makes Senses’ are philosophical too. In one scenario, the piece ponders the distant future, where perhaps in 100 years; people might see the whole idea of needing to have a passport in order to go anywhere as offensive. An affront and infringement of rights. Our era’s stopping people moving – in a world which is an orgy of free movement anyway, and using their lack of paperwork to do it, might very well seem offensive in a hundred years. Re-staging and rehearsing international barriers and borders form the key idea in ‘Fences Makes Senses’. Additionally, the artist’s voice-over further explores the injustices and paradoxes of the situation. Finally, the repeated poetic metaphor asks of the viewer; ‘Imagine swimming to a place where you are not wanted’. This line is based in reality as statistically the most successful illegal migrants are those that break away from the boat near land and swim on their own. Basically, if 20 people arrive on a beach all together, somebody will alert the authorities – but if just one single person quietly slips onto land with say their cloths in a plastic bag on their backs, they also stand the best chance of slipping into that society.’Fences Make Senses’ is ultimately a re-enactment of debates around displaced people; in effect, the rehearsing, the acting out helps to re-ignite and reframe the World’s biggest problem and perhaps state it in an unexpected way – as compared to relentlessly re-interviewing the unfortunate.

Themes