System of Systems is a book published in conjunction with an exhibition that took place in Athens in May 2017, exploring how technology and bureaucracy are affecting the current migration process in Europe. Edited by Rebecca Glyn-Blanco, Danae Papazymouri and Maria McLintock, the book, launched yesterday, collates a series of visual and written responses to the systems that “determine the fate of asylum seekers”. Works by artists, designers, architects, academics and activists including Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Ayesha Hameed, James Bridle and Daniela Ortiz feature, and react to what co-editor Maria McLintock calls “the complex and knotty legal framework which individuals seeking asylum are forced to navigate, or, in many cases, elude”.
“We’re trying to demonstrate that the process of seeking asylum is indeed a system, but it’s not Eurosur’s (a division of The European Border and Coast Guard Agency) ideal, frictionless, single system,” says Maria. “It’s a system composed of many systems which are hierarchical, interlinked, abrasive and messy.”
The book is separated into three sections, Language, Territory and Agency, with majority original works alongside some republished ones that felt vital to the subject. It was funded entirely via Kickstarter by the trio, two of whom met while studying design at Goldsmiths in London, and then met Maria when working at New York’s MoMA.
“We were really stunned by how certain images captured the attention of the public and brought the crisis out of the gutters of the press,” Maria explains of the project’s origins. “As so often happens when a socio-political event occurs, the arts responded and after no time at all there were countless exhibitions, plays, etc., raising much-needed awareness of a desperate situation. We noticed a common theme emerging: sharing the ‘refugee story’ in order to humanise the crisis and pixelate individuals from a ‘swarm of migrants’.”
“We became drawn to designers and artists who were offering an alternative viewpoint on the topic and discovered a number of research-based projects that were exploring the use and presence of technology in the asylum-seeking process and its legal underpinnings. We felt quite strongly about bringing these provocative and thoughtful ideas together through an exhibition. Then we came across lots of activist groups (like The Refugee Phrasebook and Bread & Roses) and academics (like Andrew Herscher and Jill Power) whose work we couldn’t necessarily slot into an exhibition format but really wanted to make people aware of, so that’s when we decided to make a publication.”
As an example of what to expect in the book, Maria picks out a visual essay by DUF.space, called Asymmetries of the Jungle. The studio documented the Calais Jungle refugee camp via a bespoke tandem bicycle with built-in camera, before it was destroyed, and in its essay explains and explores the project. “The bicycle has several aims: to generate new opportunities to understand lived experiences of the camp, to ‘map’ the space in various ways, and to create a place for residents’ voices while also altering the dynamics of researcher and researched by inviting residents to ‘pilot’ the bicycle.”
The System of Systems book is out now.