Autumn Lines highlights the many borders migrants have to cross
London - An imposing “wired fence” of 2,100 metres made from ribbons, ropes, shoelaces and electrical cables greets visitors of London’s Sprovieri Gallery, the site of Italian artist Francesco Arena’s exhibition Autumn Lines, a display of installations inspired by the Syrian migrant crisis and their perilous journey to Europe.
War-weary migrants travel thousands of kilometres by foot, boat and train, crossing borders that Arena sought to highlight in his works, using geometric and primary forms, including cubes, circles, horizontal and vertical lines.
A picture he saw on the internet of a flow of migrants walking through Europe or queuing up at fences erected by certain countries on the route to stop the migrants from crossing inspired his works, Arena said.
“The operation of using the idea and geometric shapes to make a final sculpture was the result of a long mental process,” Arena said, adding that he has focused on the topic of refugees because migration is one of the oldest movements of humans and has affected people around the globe for centuries.
“Coming from Italy, a country where many people migrate from, I feel I can relate to the migrants. At a certain point, everyone has been a migrant for one reason or another,” he said.
Autumn Lines displays three triptych sculptures illustrating the borders that the refugees crossed. Like in a ballet, there is the step, the double step and the triple step.
In Passo (The Step), Arena translates the 170km between Budapest train station and the Austrian border, which is the distance refugees had to walk after their train was stopped. The leg is illustrated by a 68cm polished bronze bar, which is the same measurement as Arena’s step relating the work directly to the artist. On the bar is the engraving: x 250,000. Multiplying this by the dimension of the bar gives the distance from Budapest to the Austrian border.
In Passo Doppio (Double Step) the same unit of measurement and the same material formalise other distances and other “lines” — the 826km between the Syrian border and Turkey’s coastal city of Bodrum, and the 1,449km separating Bodrum from the Austrian border. The total of these two distances is what Syrian refugees crossed to make it into West Europe.
Arena formalises this “route” with two 68cm polished bronze bars, joined to form a right angle. Here too, multiplying the length of the bars with figures engraved on them gives the distance of the respective legs.
In Passo Triplo (Triple Step), Arena takes into consideration the distance between Munich and the Italian border (328km), the French border (310km) and Swedish border (78km). Munich is where the flow of migrants from Eastern Europe splits and they decide whether to go west, south or north. It becomes a crossroads of their journey.
The installation consists of three polished bronze bars of the same dimensions as the other works but this time the bars form a “T”. At the joint of the three bars numbers are engraved, which when multiplied by the bar dimension give the distances between Munich and the borders of Italy, France and Sweden.
The fourth installation in the exhibit, the “wired fence” titled Europe, 11th November 2015 is designed to be a portrayal of that day in Europe when Slovenia and Croatia closed their borders to prevent migrants from passing into Europe. They built a 2,100m fence.
Arena’s installation of ribbons, ropes, shoelaces and electrical cables is of the same size as the barbed-wire fence between Croatia and Slovenia. The fluidity inspired him to create the flowing installation of wire and ribbons to reflect migrant diversity. The place migrants were walking through in Croatia to go to Austria was visible through Google Maps, which he studied to understand the length of the trail migrants used.
Autumn Lines is designed to encourage viewers to interpret the Middle East refugee crisis in their own way, Arena said
The work reflected the eye of the artist and viewers may not perceive his work the way he wants them to.
According to German philosophy, everyone has their own way of seeing the world from their experiences and culture. “My art is not meant to give a specific message to viewers but to encourage viewers to question the world around them,” Arena said
“It (the exhibition) is a starting point of interpretations of the topic. Art works when it provokes the viewers to question the artwork.
“I hope my art will provoke viewers to think more about migrants .”
Autumn Lines is available to view through April 2nd at Sprovieri Gallery in London. The gallery premiered the exhibition, which may later be shown in other countries.