CO-OP Encounters #5: Migrant Image Research Group

by Unseen August 13 2018

Unseen CO-OP is back for its second edition. Introduced to increase the representation of artist-run initiatives and collectives worldwide, CO-OP encourages artists to present challenging works of art, dynamic presentations and new commercial formats. In the coming months, we’ll be speaking to each of the participating collectives to find out more about the collaborative processes that drive their practice forward.

This week we caught up with Elisa Calore, a graphic designer and researcher in the diverse group of twelve illustrators, photographers, artists, photography historians, graphic designers and publishers that make up The Migrant Image Research Group. Questioning the circulating media images of migrants by finding new photographs and possibilities of representation, the collective’s goal is to explore existing images and portrayals of migration, collecting testimonies that go beyond stereotypes.

What inspired you to start working as a collective?
The project started in 2010, when Armin Linke involved a team of artists and photographers from the University of Art and Design of Karlsruhe to work on the representation of migration in Lampedusa. Due to the complexity of the subject, Linke preferred to work in a group instead of working on his own. Some years later we approached the publishing house Spector Book; they studied the gathered materials and suggested adopting the form of a photographic novel, in which drawings could comment on the photographs, thus creating an external perspective on the images. We later found that these drawings could even show the sensitive content of particular images we couldn't publish.

Since then, the group has four illustrators and other new and important collaborators that are able to analyse the archival material. A necessary element in our group is the collaboration between the Italian contributions and the Egyptian ones. They understand the languages and political situations of the two countries involved in the phenomenon better than anybody outside of those countries could. During our research, we interviewed many image-makers who deal with the phenomenon of migration on a daily basis: refugees, social workers, military representatives, photographers and photo editors, aid organizations and inhabitants of the Italian island.

We visited the island of Lampedusa, Frontex headquarter in Warsaw and went to the other side of the Mediterranean Sea to understand what was going on in Egypt. The plurality of the collective mirrors the hybrid and polyphonic narrative of our research.  

How has working as a collective changed the way you interact with the art market?
This is a bit of a difficult question to answer, as we haven’t really dealt with the art market as of yet. Due to the private nature of the gathered material, the photos can’t be sold - but we have published a book and participated to the Photo Biennal in Mannheim.

What sets you apart from other collectives?
We are a big group of professionals at different levels of career. Each of us has different goals, hopes and dreams. We are from different countries and work in different artistic and professional fields. We didn’t know each other, the collaboration has not been an easy one - making the unexpected result all the more interesting.

What do you have in store for us at Unseen Amsterdam 2018?
Come and pay us a visit, and find out! We will love to give you something we’ve been preparing especially for Unseen Amsterdam, but until then: it’s a surprise.

Thank you, Elisa!

You can read more interviews with the collectives participating in CO-OP 2018 on our stories page.

Image: Kwadjo Anabisa and Andreas Listowell recount the story of their refugee journey, 2015 © Andreas Langfeld