From March to July 2016, TBA21–Augarten became the locus of an artistic workshop, a program of shared learning for thirty-five individuals who had recently arrived in Austria as part of the large waves of migration that year from countries including Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria, Tajikistan, Somalia, and Iraq. The program, open for the participation of the public, involved making an unlimited series of Green light lamps, designed by Olafur Eliasson, and also participating in a wider educational program. During their residency at Augarten, the Green light team organized its own four days a week schedule for the program. The agenda included production, classes, communal activities, and artistic interventions, all arranged in collaboration with artists, cultural producers, aid organizations, students, teachers, sports coaches, and the general public.
The pilot project at TBA21–Augarten, Vienna (March 12–July 29, 2016), proposed a replicable and sustainable structure that has been further developed in collaboration with other institutions and contexts worldwide. Thus far, Green light has taken place at the Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University in Houston (February 24–May 6, 2017, with 20 participants) and has been presented at smaller seminars led by former participants during Art Basel (June 18–19, 2016), the International Peace Institute’s Annual Conference in Salzburg (September 4–6, 2016), and the National Gallery in Prague (March 17–19, 2017).
Conceived by Eliasson as a metaphorical green light for refugees and migrants in Austria and beyond, Green light testifies to the agency of contemporary art and its potential to initiate processes of civic transformation. The Green light project responds to a situation of great uncertainty, both for refugees, who are often caught up in legal and political limbo, and for the European societies that welcome them. The Green light workshop constitutes a dynamic space that elicits various forms of participation and engagement. By collapsing the categories of production and reception, performer and audience, and art and social action, the project aims to open up the contested terrain between art and society, probing the question of what constitutes the “public” and negotiating a field of difference and similarity.
The crystalline Green light lamps are polyhedral units fitted with small, green-tinted light fixtures. Made predominantly from recycled and sustainable materials and designed to be stackable, the modules can function either as single objects or be assembled into a variety of architectural configurations. Over the period of the workshop, the lamps formed a steadily expanding environment in the exhibition space that carries the narratives of its making.
Olafur Eliasson says: “It is my hope that Green light will shine light on some of the challenges and responsibilities arising from the current situation, in which mass displacement and migration are affecting millions of people around the world. Green light is an act of welcoming, addressed both to those who have fled hardship and instability in their home countries and to the residents of the cities receiving them. It invites everyone to take part in the construction of something of value through a playful, creative process. Working together in an artistic context, participants build both a modular light and a communal environment, in which difference is not only accepted but embraced. Green light attempts to question the values of similarity and otherness in our society and to help shape our feelings of identity and togetherness.”
Green light also shines a light on some of the complexities of and issues caused by international asylum laws. As long as refugees have not been granted asylum in any European country, they do not have the legal right to earn a living or to access free education.
Green light – An artistic workshop is currently on view at Viva Arte Viva, the 57th Biennale di Venezia, in Venice, Italy (May 13–November 26, 2017) and at the Yokohama Triennale (August 4–November 5, 2017).