JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2016 by Defrost.ed (here). Softcover, 32 pages, with 8 full spread color photographs and 76 smaller color images, most with text captions. In an edition of 1000 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)
Comments/Context: As the urgent refugee crisis of the past few years has unfolded across Europe, the documentary photographs of the thousands of fleeing people from North Africa and the Middle East have fallen into familiar patterns. We have seen countless images of ramshackle boats dangerously overstuffed with bodies, long marches of families carrying their belongings, and up-close portraits of the neediest of the migrants, particularly children, some having perished along the way. The seriousness of the photographs has deservedly matched the grimness of the situation, but like many images of war, tragedy, and other catastrophes, the piling up of similar pictures can have a numbing effect.
As temporary transition and resettlement camps across the continent have become more permanent with the passing months, the dire realities of life in these makeshift towns have become yet another layer of suffering inflicted on these rootless refugees. One particularly large camp in Calais, France, with some 6000 inhabitants at one point, became the subject of photo project called “Invisible Cities. Architecture of Exodus” by Marco Tiberio and Maria Ghetti. Applying a typological approach to the various tents, shelters, and improvised structures used as homes and businesses in the “New Jungle”, the photographers documented the individual buildings straight on, allowing the details of rooflines, plastic tarps, wooden framing, and other handmade architectural features to come through. Like images made by Bernd and Hilla Becher, or more recently by Peter Bialobrzeski in Manila’s shantytowns, they bring rigorous attention to the cultural significance of disappearing structures.
At some level, this kind of dispassionate conceptual approach to such an immediate humanitarian crisis might seem lacking in sensitivity or empathy, which is where the brilliantly incisive zine ImmoRefugee enters the artistic picture. Styled like the eye catching real estate brochures and newspaper inserts found in nearly every corner of the world, it recontextualizes the original photographs into a biting mockery of transactional consumerism, its harsh ironies forcing us to come to grips with the woeful conditions these people are living in. For disoriented asylum seekers looking for a new home, ImmoRefugee could be a handy time saver!
The parody of the look and feel of a typical real estate flyer is pitch perfect, from the shouting fonts and “best deal” promises to the silky language used to describe a property’s best characteristics. Listings are helpfully organized by neighborhood, although in this case, the designations tend to be national or ethnic – the “Sudanese area”, the “Eritrean area”, the “Afghan” area, the “Pakistani area”, as well as the more generically labeled “Northern” and “Commercial” locations. From there, each depressingly humble structure is lauded for its positives. Forlorn single tents are “well insulted” or “simple but classy”, some with “strong pegs” or “requiring some upgrades”, situated “close to the clinic” or in a “calm area”. More substantial structures offer more desirable amenities, from a “small veranda” and a “removable door” to “new materials”, “private parking”, and a “shared backyard”. Some of the turns of phrase are simply perfect in their caricature – “a modern house with a touch of vintage style”, “the possibility of turning the garden into an art space”, “very bright and livable”, “luxury finishings”, and “a good investment”. Some of the fake ads even include floor plans to show off how three beds might cozily fit into a cramped one room space.
While it’s hard not to chuckle at the overt ridiculousness of these shacks marketed as a “unique deal”, “not to be missed”, an “excellent opportunity”, or a “good bargain if you plan to stay for a short period”, that bleak humor quickly fades as the desperate fragility of these places hits home. This smart zine revels in blistering satire, turning deadpan views into crisp indictments of our collective disregard. In many ways, it works better at calling attention to the refugee problem than most of the usual photojournalistic techniques that have been tried. By couching his arch critique in the silliness of an overblown real estate brochure, Tiberio has created something memorably thought-provoking and original. Like Carlos Spottorno’s The Pigs, it’s the kind of risk taking, politically-minded publication that just might jolt us into paying closer attention.
Collector’s POV: Marco Tiberio does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Interested collectors should likely follow up with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).