Green light - An artistic workshop is a project by the Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, initiated in collaboration with Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna (TBA21). Conceived in response to the present challenges arising from mass displacement and migration, the project shines a green light for asylum seekers, refugees, and migrants and encourages civic engagement.
The pilot project at TBA21–Augarten, Vienna (March 12–July 29, 2016), proposed a structure that could be replicated and further developed in collaboration with other institutions and in other contexts worldwide. As of spring 2017, Green light has traveled to the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston, Texas (February 24–May 6, 2017, with 20 participants) and was presented at smaller seminars led by former participants during Art Basel (June 18–18, 2016), the International Peace Institute’s Annual Conference in Salzburg (September 4–6, 2016), and the National Gallery in Prague (March 17–19, 2017). Green light is currently taking place at Viva Arte Viva, the 57th Venice Biennale. Thus far the project has raised over 100,000 euros to benefit partnering NGOs and their various programs welcoming and supporting asylum seekers.
Green light is both a pragmatic endeavor and a model of world making. At each iteration, up to forty refugees and asylum seekers are invited for a period of seven to eight weeks to participate in the communal activity of building Green light lamps designed by Olafur Eliasson. This practical dimension is complemented by an educational program based on Shared learning principles. The events of this program explore a variety of perspectives on migration, citizenship, statelessness, arrival, memory, and belonging, and generate an exchange of knowledge, experiences, and values.
This artistic concept has been adapted and amplified by collaborating institutions, artists, and curators, each responding to their respective local cultural codes, institutional policies, and migration laws, which are not standardized by international law. Green light aspires to expand by partnering with institutions around the world that are eager to use the agency of contemporary art to support processes of civic change and to test alternative forms of community.
March 12–July 29, 2016
Green light - An artistic workshop was inaugurated at TBA21–Augarten in Vienna, Austria. Along with its partner organizations—Georg Danzer Haus, Caritas, and Red Cross Vienna—Green light invited a group of thirty-five individuals who had recently arrived in Austria as part of the large waves of migration from Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Somalia, Iraq, and other countries. In addition to building almost 1,000 lamps together, of which more than 400 have already been sold, the participants were invited to participate in a multifaceted Shared learning program. In addition to daily German classes devised to prepare the participants for official language exams, a series of weekly seminars, artists’ interventions, and special workshops were held.
Working at the intersection between art practice and experimental institutional formats, the seminars fostered active participation and discussion among Green light participants and the general public, and foregrounded personal narratives of migration. The seminars were developed in correspondence with the participants and were open to the public. In “Displaced” and “History(ies) of Migration,” two seminar structures that brought together students and refugees, often in one-on-one teams that also included the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of immigrants and refugees to Austria, the participants and audience members jointly deconstructed the notion of migration and its various impacts on the individual. “The Silent University” was initiated by artist Ahmet Öğüt to address and reactivate the knowledge of the participants and attempted to make systemic failure apparent. Its aim was to challenge the idea of silence as a passive state and to explore its powerful potential through performance, writing, and group reflection.
In addition to the public seminars, a number of artists, including Tarek Atoui, Johannes Porsch, Shuddhabrata Sengupta of Raqs Media Collective, and David Rych were invited to choreograph research-based, process-oriented interventions with participants at TBA21–Augarten. These intimate, procedural workshops unfolded over several days and were based on a belief in the transformative potential of collective and embodied artistic production.
Furthermore, international and local speakers, with various topics of expertise in artistic and institutional practice or critical theory, explored the social, geopolitical, and cultural aspects of migration through a series of lectures and talks. Key questions were the states of transition, globally and within the societies of arrival, the formation of new communities, and how art and its institutions can reflect and perform agency in regard to these contemporary challenges. Guest speakers included Shuddhabrata Sengupta, Mary Kreutzer and Leila Hadj Abdou, Ahmet Öğüt, and Mária Hlavajová.
February 24–May 6, 2017
Moody Center for the Arts, Houston, Texas
After its inception at TBA21–Augarten in Vienna, Green light - An artistic workshop was hosted by the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston—one of three cities in the US to have welcomed the largest number of refugees in the past years. In light of fundamental policy changes in the United States and shifting perceptions around the world, the Green light project functioned as a laboratory space for the communal exploration of alternative civic modes of togetherness. In collaboration with its partner NGO, Interfaith Ministries, the Moody recruited a group of twenty participants for Green light and developed a Shared learning program that catered to the needs of refugees and asylum seekers in Houston. Along with language classes, job formation training constituted a major part of the Shared learning program. In addition, several activities, including film screenings, artist interventions, and baseball and football courses, were offered to encourage and facilitate the exchange with the students on the Rice University campus.
May 13–November 26, 2017
57th Biennale di Venezia, Venice
On the occasion of the 57th Venice Biennale, Green light has been invited by curator Christine Macel to be part of the exhibition Viva Arte Viva. Eighty participants from a range of countries including Nigeria, Gambia, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, and China will take part in this iteration of the project. Located in the Central Pavilion, Green light is a space of individual and collective world-making that emerges from practical workshop activities and spreads out into society at large. By presenting a multilayered concept of hospitality that encompasses a wide variety of people—an artist, his studio, the participants, partnering NGOs, the visitors, and so on—Green light tests alternative models of community. Similar to the previous programs, the Shared learning program in Venice will encompass vocational and practical training (including job training, language courses, and psychological and legal counseling), collective applied activities, and a discursive program (lectures, talks, seminars). The contributors were selected based on a range of criteria, including interest in and experience with pedagogical working methods and formats, experience working with marginalized groups, development or directorship of schools or alternative educational hubs run or influenced by artists, and biographical diversity.
Green light Seminar Workshops
Green light is a participatory project that aspires to collectively explore new modes of community. When not realized as a full seven- or eight-week artistic workshop, Green light may be demonstrated in various smaller presentation formats, including short seminar workshops that last two or three days. These small-scale workshops serve as a platform for exchange for both participants and visitors where they can foster new contexts, networks, and communities and facilitate the exchange of experiences, as well as the communal construction and sale of Green lights.
June 18–19, 2016
Art Basel, Switzerland
On the occasion of Art | Basel, the Green light project was invited to present a seminar workshop as part of Zome Alloy—an architectural structure installed by Los Angeles–based artist Oscar Tuazon in Messeplatz in Basel. For two days, Green light lamps were presented and built by local art and architecture students together with visitors to the fair, under the supervision of two former Green light participants from Vienna.
September 4–6, 2016
IPI Forum 2016, Salzburg
Upon the invitation of the International Peace Institute in Salzburg (IPI), a Green light seminar workshop was held at the IPI Forum 2016 “Open Societies under Attack—The Return of Ideology” in the Schloss Leopoldskorn in Salzburg. Former Green light participants gave tutorials on the assembly of the lamps and shared their experiences of the project.
March 17–19, displayed through April 2, 2017
National Gallery, Prague, Czech Republic
As part of its annual Grand Opening, the National Gallery in Prague hosted an edition of Green light that unfolded over a three-day workshop in the Trade Fair Palace in Prague. Three former participants gave workshops and small tutorials to visitors interested in the assembly of Green light lamps and clusters.