The Refugees’ Crisis by Terence Quinn

Winner’s Story

I created my art installation ‘The Refugees’ Crisis’ in 2017 for my final MA Show at the UAL: Camberwell College of Arts. I have displayed it several times since then including for the Creative Conscience Awards this year, for which it received Gold in its category.

My personal Creative Conscience

The aim of my installation is to create empathy for refugees fleeing persecution and intolerable conditions in their homelands. Often the ‘refugee crisis’ is referred to as a problem for us in Europe, as most refugees seek refuge in EU countries causing problems for their populations, this has hardened attitudes towards them. My installation is titled ‘The Refugees’ Crisis’ as it is about them and not us.

By creating empathy towards the plight of refugees I hope to change attitudes which hopefully will encourage governments and in particular the UK government to do more to help those in need. My primary motivation to create this artwork was driven by my reaction to the fact that the UK refused to take quotas from the EU to accommodate refugees and in particular lone children who had become separated from their parents or worse. I felt and still feel that the UK is not doing enough.

Plain facts

  • Last year the UK admitted only 20 unaccompanied child refugees.
  • In 2017, the Red Cross reported that “An estimated 65 million people throughout the world have been forced to flee their homes.”.
  • The burden has largely fallen on those countries less well off than ourselves in the UK. “Developing countries host over 80 per cent of refugees”. The Times reports that there is a “Bigger refugee crisis looming”. Again the focus is on us and not the refugees. The thrust of the warning is about doing more to help secure the EU’s sea borders.
  • “There are more child refugees in Europe than at any point since the end of the second world war… last year over 25,000 children entering Italy arrived alone”. Are we in the UK so overwhelmed when “refugees living in the UK account for 0.18% of the total population”? – Unicef

The Refugees’ Crisis – a mixed reality art installation

The Refugees’ Crisis is an art installation based on a true story, first told in a BBC radio programme in 2015 by Emma-Jane Kirby, and made into her book titled ‘The Optician of Lampedusa’. I contacted the author and she gave me permission to make this work as an educational project for my final MA Show.

Through my art, I appeal to the emotions. By allowing the audience to as far as possible experience (not just watch) a true life story unfold off the Italian island of Lampedusa. I aim to engage audiences emotionally – to overcome the ‘conflict fatigue’ often felt when watching such scenes on TV.

How? – by the audience experiencing the refugees’ crisis not just viewing it

The art installation is delivered in three layers. Firstly, the physical art installation which consists of the sea, all around the viewer, projected on the walls and the floor, and the sound of seagulls. In the middle of the sea are two life-size 3D scanned and printed busts, one of Teresa (out with friends on a small boat) and a male refugee struggling in the water. They rest on transparent plinths facing each other, so that they appear to float. Next, the viewer wears headphones and is invited to stand in the middle of the installation listening to the narrators speaking directly to them (the effect created using binaural audio). Finally, the viewer replaces the headphones with a Mixed Reality visor (Microsoft HoloLens) and while experiencing the physical installation and listening to the narration as before, walks amongst several digital ghostly replicas of the refugee sculpture, this time ten-feet tall. This event actually happened, and you are in the middle of the scene, not just looking at it. You are there and are left with a haunting message whispered directly into your left ear.

Reaction? – an empathic response prompting change in attitudes

Two BBC newscasters saw the installation, including Emma Jane Kirby, visited the installation at UAL and made a programme devoted entirely to it. This was a surreal experience, as it brought home how much the installation had affected Emma Jane emotionally, as it took her back to the scene she had experienced when it occurred. Many visitors were visibly moved and brought to tears by the experience. In February 2018, I exhibited and spoke at St. Hugh’s College, Oxford University and in July 2019 at the UAL Digital Edge exhibition at Somerset House.

What next?

I am using my artwork as a basis for my research. Over 95% of museum collections in 55,000 art institutions worldwide are in storage and rarely exhibited. The Refugees’ Crisis demonstrates that it is possible to view volumetrically captured 3D digital replicas as though physically present alongside existing real life exhibits. I aim for museums to change the way they digitally record their collections, so that art from museum stores and from past temporary exhibitions can be viewed in mixed reality in existing museum galleries alongside physical exhibits, and to provide interpretation by digital replicas of real life artists and curators. My research was presented at the Electronic Visualisation of the Arts (EVA) London 2019 international conference at the British Computer Society on the same day as the Creative Conscience Awards 2019.