Talk by Christine Ross: “Art for Coexistence: When Migration meets Climate Change”

Free entry
Language: English

You are invited to a talk by Professor Christine Ross organized by the research program “Contemporary Aesthetics and Technology” and the “Centre for Research in Artistic Practice under Contemporary Conditions” at Aarhus University, in collaboration with Kunsthal Aarhus.

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The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has recently reported that migration— “the continuously growing numbers of people forced to flee and the increasingly dire options available to them”—will “define the twenty-first century.” At the end of 2022, the number of displaced people worldwide exceeded 100 million, the highest number since World War II. This means 1 in every 78 people was forced to leave their homes “due to conflicts, violence, fear of persecution and human rights violations”; this also means that thousands of migrants continue to disappear or die along migration routes across the planet. These figures are expected to increase by cause of lasting and rising conflicts, and climate change. How is European and North American art responding to that escalation, and why is this response critical to the development of the 21st century? The answer to these two questions can be encapsulated in a single yet multilayered term: coexistence—the state, awareness, and practice of existing interdependently. Contemporary art in revealing, contesting and rethinking the dark interdependences shaping migration today—the interdependences between citizens-on-the-move of some of the poorest, most colonially damaged, and most politically unstable countries worldwide (parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America) and citizens of some of the wealthiest economies and democracies worldwide (Europe and North America), between these migrating beings seeking asylum and Europe’s and North America’s growing unwillingness to grant them asylum. Challenging that relation, art invents a set of interconnected calls for more mutual forms of coexistence: calls to historicize, to become responsible, to empathize, to story-tell. There lies contemporary art’s original contribution to migrant justice.

This lecture examines art’s response to the evolution of migration in North America, particularly within US-Mexico and North-South border zones. Focusing on and contrasting artworks by Mexican artist Felipe Baeza and Isuma, an Inuit collective of creators based in Igloolik (Nunavut), it investigates the ways in which they establish the relationship between migration, necropolitics (the term coined by Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe to describe a “politics of death and injury”) and climate change. Baeza’s collages and Isuma’s video-and-webcast interventions are not without confirming the Mixed Migration Centre’s 2022 Review, which states that “climate change and extreme weather continue to be the most significant driver of displacement worldwide.” I want to suggest, however, that their artworks are widening the understanding of the role of climate in migration: they bring climate change and climate migration to the fore, but also disclose the weaponization of climate as an antimigrant measure, climate-dependent biodiversity as a tool for migrant survival, climate rights, and Indigenous climate knowledge. Baeza’s and Isuma’s calls for responsibility and storytelling deserve our full attention: they enrich the migration-related notion and practice of coexistence.

Christine Ross is Professor and Distinguished James McGill Professor in Contemporary Art History at McGill University. Her areas of research include contemporary media art, vision and visuality, art and depression, reconfigurations of time and temporality in contemporary media art practices, participatory media and art, artistic redefinitions of the public sphere, and migration.
Her most recent book project, entitled Art for Coexistence: Unlearning the Way We See Migration—a study of contemporary art’s response to the migration crises—has just been released by MIT Press (2022). Other book publications include: “The Participatory Condition in the Digital Age” (coed), “The Past is the Present; It’s the Future too: The Temporal Turn in Contemporary Art” and “The Aesthetics of Disengagement: Contemporary Art and Depression”.

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Portrait of Professor Christine Ross.
Portrait of Professor Christine Ross.