Trellis: Public Art Commission
Artist Edwin Mingard and I have been commissioned to produce a piece for the Trellis: Public Art programme, part of UCL Culture, with additional funding from Arts Council England. Over the course of 2020/2021, we’ll develop and produce a moving-image piece that explores surveillance and asylum seeking in East London. While the project is borne from overlapping professional interests, we see it as a chance to work in a mutual way with partners who have been oppressed by the UK’s border regime, providing the platform and support to tell a story with multiple voices and narratives. The piece will be produced in close collaboration with those who have first-hand experience of migration as well as other stakeholders, including migrant advocacy and technology justice groups. Our overriding conceptual concern is the tension between hostility and hospitality. From NHS data-sharing to biometric IDs, the Home Office has introduced a variety of surveillance practices that have outsourced immigration enforcement onto society at large. This has made routine activities and daily life in Britain (from finding employment to opening a bank account) hostile and inhospitable. At the same time, migrants, asylum seekers, and their advocates are envisioning alternative futures for Britain, actively wrestling with the hostile environment policy, and trying to find more just if messy answers to the question of who is welcome. The work will juxtapose the machine-readable, data-driven surveillance so central to the architecture of the Home Office with the forms of hospitality that have emerged in migrant-rich spaces in East London. We see this work as a way of turning the lens on the hostile environment policy, which has brought devastation to so many, while exploring that which escapes the grasp of the Home Office: the rich, textured cultural and social lives of those who have made East London their home.