The Wanderer

Kontaktraum Ausländer (Space of Contact – foreigner) – Ideas explored in the exhibition

The Wanderer

wanderer-thumbIn his current exhibition, Joe Felber presents a complex installation tied together by the theme of migration. The migrant [from latin, “migrare”, to wander, giving rise to “migrans” the wanderer] is, first and foremost, a being going from a place to another, leaving behind the customary, the habitual, maybe the conventional to explore new lands, thoughts and experiences.

Overall, Felber has created an art work which modulates the theme of migration in at least three different ways. Migration is, first of all, the subject matter of this installation, and constitutes the most prominent theme dealt with in the floor paintings. Yet migration is present also as an artistic act of abandoning conventional rules of art display and practice. Felber undermines elements constitutive of the contemporary art business by being radically participatory, experience-oriented and pleasantly unpretentious. Finally, Felber’s installation creates an environment of multiple sensory and cognitive dimensions which calls for careful and thoughtful exploration. The visitor is invited to wander himself through an assemblage of unfamiliar elements and to thereby make an experience of going beyond the well known.

Felber himself has been a wanderer throughout his life, very concretely by emigrating from Switzerland and immigrating into Australia, but also more abstractly as someone who has been seeking to overcome conventional art display and practice. Australia, Felber’s adoptive country, builds its identity on a common story of immigration, but has recently been struggling to find an attitude towards the settlers, job- or asylum-seekers arriving at its shores these days. Migration is, therefore, a personal, professional as well as political concern in Felber’s thinking and work.

The migrant always incorporates the other, the other that constitutes a mirror and challenges our attitudes through a singularity of his own. His presence is uncomfortable, because it forces us to acknowledge alternative possibilities; it is threatening since it obliges us to recognise another norm. The migrant, as the other, is always underprivileged and he does not fully belong to his adoptive place of living (although he may, at times, have the privilege of looking at things from the outside and being simultaneously a participant and an observer). In today’s world, migrants are mostly immigrants, recognised by the Citizen Services Departments or by the Boarder Control, registered as numbers adding up to explosive statistics. The immigrant is an entity created by convention, by acts of human cognition, which stipulate boundaries and thereby draw clear-cut frontiers of belonging. (Im-)migration has a variety of causes, ranging from the availability of jobs to political, social or economic oppression at the place of origin. It may also, in some cases, be triggered by curiosity and a Wanderlust too strong to be satisfied by occasional trips abroad. But immigrants, be they job seekers, refugees or adventurers, are always persons (Max Frisch famously reminded us: “we called for a work force, and there came human beings”) bringing with them their memories, ways of doing, customs and longings and exposing them to their new environment in an unprotected way.

Marion Haemmerli, Lausanne, Switzerland