Ground Truth: The Migration Machine

| Workshop | Saturday 28 November, 2015 | Furtherfield Commons |

The Migrant Machine challenged participants to expand and rethink what potential responses to migration could be, creatively and beyond. How can we work with the technologies associated with migration (and their social effects) to inform and enact virtual mobility and cultural activism?

Thinking through ideas of art and social change, the day unpicked the abstract forces, the limited means we have to communicate them, and the dependency on automation, simulation, and capture to tell us the ‘truth’, but which escapes the importance of lived experience.

Migrant Machine crop square

The idea for a workshop materialised in the shadow of COP21 in Paris, and in light of the media attention depicting an exodus of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants into Europe. In particular, we were thinking about the complex flows of power that interlink fields of life like security, finance, health, climate and governance in contemporary globalisation, producing barriers to all forms of mobility.

We proposed that ‘technologies of migration’ instantiate themselves a new type of border, often geographically displaced and abstracted from our physical experiences of mobility. These technologies are subjects of social engineering, residing in websites and interview rooms, as well as more immediately perceivable ‘arrival infrastructures’ of e-border and immigration detention centres. Governments continue to seek ways to measure the political into policy. Expert devices, such as civic integration examinations, speech recognition technology, or European databanks of asylum seekers’ biometric data, map the phenomena of migration and mobility into knowledge practices, incorporating them into risk profiles and evidence-based strategies. For better of worse, the migration controversy highlights the fundamentally problematic challenges to a humanist relationship to data and information.

The Migrant Machine is part of a broader research project, Ground Truth: an investigation into changing relations of how we come to see, sense and survey our world. Based on groundtruthing, the calibration process used by scientists and cartographers to anchor the map or model to the data collected from the reality of lived-experience, the project aims to think beyond mapping as a responsive but singular tool of resistance and collaboration and towards being-in-the-world as a continual form of responsibility and entanglement.