Concrete Interventions in Swiss Migration Politics
Martin Krenn and Katharina Morawek
“The Whole World in Zurich” is a project we developed and realized for Shedhalle Zurich over the course of more than two years, in collaboration with a transdisciplinary team.[i] The goal of the project was to combine the dialogical potential of art with political practice and administrative politics for the purpose of creating interventionist effects. Zurich’s political context, as well as the ideas, concepts, and experiences of other social art projects, contributed to the project’s development. Its artistic-political focus was on migration politics in Switzerland, particularly in Zurich, and on questions of how to develop and implement various models of urban citizenship in Zurich.
Our goal with this project was to create a space at Shedhalle Zurich that would allow for contemplation, discussion, and negotiation beyond practical constraints, eventually leading to interventions in local politics – a kind of social utopia. The idea of our utopia was to turn Zurich into a “safe harbor” for everyone living in this city. We started from the assumption that everyone who lives in a place is entitled to the same rights, regardless of their (national) citizenship. This constituted the theoretical basis for developing the project in terms of its methods, content, and aesthetics.
This vision of Zurich as a safe harbor or “city of arrival” was discussed and refined in a series of non-public “harbor talks” initiated and hosted by the project team, with the participation of decision makers, activists, and other involved parties. The talks addressed three aspects of urban citizenship: freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, and freedom of expression / cultural citizenship. Each of these three aspects was further developed as a project focus, with each topic overseen by two members of the project team. The “harbor talks” were complemented with a second event format consisting of three public “harbor forums.” These offered local and international guests, interested individuals, and project participants an opportunity to further discuss their ideas, framing them in a larger discursive context, without the pressure of implementing them.
The project design was based on the principle of alternation, which allowed for the formats to mutually influence each other. The first harbor talks were followed by the first harbor forum, the following harbor talks by the second harbor forum, and so on, until the events took on a life of their own, leading to three follow-up projects: an event series entitled “Salon Bastarde,” a non-partisan panel of experts working on a “City Card” for Zurich, and the activist Alliance against Racial Profiling in Switzerland. Harbor forum, Shedhalle Zurich, photo: Shedhalle
The project structure (1): harbor talks
The “harbor talk” format was inspired by the art project “8 WochenKlausur” by the artist collective WochenKlausur from Vienna, which took place at Shedhalle Zurich in 1994, and which represented a radical break with the exhibition format. Instead of exhibiting works of art, the group set up an office in the exhibition space. This office served as an “operations center” for the organization of numerous boat trips on Lake Zurich, which addressed Zurich’s drug policy, a hot topic at the time. Guests included people affected by drug problems, experts of varying backgrounds, and local politicians in charge at the time. The outcome of this dialogical intervention was the creation of a much-needed daytime shelter for drug-using sex workers in Zurich.
For our harbor talks on urban citizenship, we took up the WochenKlausur idea of inviting experts and affected individuals of varying backgrounds to a non-public boat trip on Lake Zurich, but we added another component to the event: the boat trip was followed by a discussion in the “harbor tower,” which was a central architectural feature of the Shedhalle exhibition space. Guests would meet on the lakeshore at “Opernsteg,” right across the lake from Shedhalle, and embark on a 30-minute cruise. After arriving at the Wollishofen harbor adjacent to Shedhalle, the group would make their way to the exhibition space. A hundred-year-old boat named “Ark” (Arche) with a capacity of 28 passengers was used for the crossing. We chose this ark because it is not commercially operated and has a rather unusual history for Zurich.[ii]
The various participants of the harbor talks would meet for the first time on the pier. On the boat, a participatory setting awaited the guests. The emphasis was on listening and on learning about the diverse circumstances of the participants, as, for instance, during the boat trip dedicated to freedom of movement, when undocumented migrants described their situation. The talks on the boat thus served as a kind of performative preparation for the second part in the harbor tower, a dialogical round-table discussion among the participants. Here, the conversation centered on specific solutions for the respective issues (freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, and freedom of expression / cultural citizenship). Since the harbor talks were not open to the public, records were kept for internal use only. The harbor talks succeeded in making the participants cast off their usual roles as decision makers, politicians, and other public figures for the duration of the discussions. This led to conversations beyond rhetoric clichés, where specific problems and interests were addressed.
The project structure (2): harbor forums
The three well-attended public harbor forums brought together local and international players who participated in debates and exchanged their experiences. The goal of enabling discussions on an equal footing had its equivalent in the deliberate spatial design of the exhibition room, which referenced common architectural features of harbors: interconnected “piers” surrounded the meeting place, which consisted of movable, multi-level seating elements.[iii] Whereas the first harbor forum offered insight into current debates on urban citizenship, the second harbor forum framed our project historically, with regard to the history of Shedhalle as well as of debates on the “right to the city.” Finally, the third harbor forum offered an opportunity to examine and discuss the questions and aims of the project from the perspectives of political theory, urban studies, art theory, and education: can an art project simultaneously function as a concrete political intervention? What notion of the “political” is needed for discussing equal rights for all city residents? How can we find new forms of collective action and solidarity? And, what do similar debates and struggles look like in other places?
The project structure (3): core topics of the project (freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, freedom of expression / cultural citizenship)
After the initial phase of exploration, the project team was divided into three sub-groups, each dedicated to one of the three core topics – freedom of movement, freedom from discrimination, and creative freedom. These three elements address fundamental and interrelated aspects of citizenship. Our emphasis was on a view of citizenship as action-oriented empowerment and as a de facto expansion of (social, political, legal, and cultural) rights. The premise was the theory that subjects constitute themselves as citizens through acts of citizenship (see Isin / Nielsen 2008). The detailed outlines of the three core topics also mirrored the specific competencies and interests of the project team members.
With respect to freedom of movement, Bea Schwager and Sadou Bah held several harbor talks, which were linked to the idea of establishing a “City Card” for Zurich. Before long, this resulted in an autonomous task group, which has meanwhile been transformed into an association; they meet monthly and continue to work towards politically implementing a City Card for Zurich. The City Card is an “entitlement card” intended to offer every resident of Zurich access to social services (such as health services, public swimming pools, and libraries), regardless of their residence status; at the same time, it is meant to serve as a valid ID when dealing with the police, the registration office, and other local institutions. Numerous cities in the US have created such city cards, among them New York City in 2015. However, the “translatability” of this type of idea, for instance between the cities of New York and Zurich, has its limits – a city card always needs to be adapted to the specific local situation. Over the course of multiple meetings, the City Card project team thus surveyed the political power structure and the constellation of current social struggles.
With regard to freedom from discrimination, Tarek Naguib and Osman Osmani developed various ideas during their harbor talks with invited experts, addressing the question of how to intervene in the visible and invisible structural forms of racial discrimination, for instance as exhibited by government authorities. At a workshop given by Tarek Naguib during the second harbor forum, they developed a plan to fight against racially motivated police inspections in Zurich by way of a public lawsuit, accompanied by performative actions. Inspired by this workshop and the harbor talks, Tarek Naguib and Mohamed Wa Baile went on to launch the multi-city Alliance against Racial Profiling in November 2016. The alliance demands that the police authorities end their racist inspections. According to the alliance, the discriminatory effects of institutionalized practices must be addressed and fought with suitable measures. In the manifesto on their website, they write: “We view institutional racism as a social problem rooted in “myths of superiority” and a “culture of discrimination” that have evolved historically. Racism is not primarily a problem of attitudes and behaviors, but something inherent in discourses and institutional processes.”
The third topic of freedom of expression was based on the notion of cultural citizenship and a demand for more “post-migrant” spaces in Zurich, resulting in the idea of the “Salon Bastarde.” Project team members Kijan Espahangizi and Rohit Jain hosted several harbor talks dedicated to the issue, inviting Zurich artists who had experienced racism. With the “Salon Bastarde,” they introduced the idea of a specific artistic-political intervention in the shape of events in various locations across Zurich. The salon aims to promote an anti-racist politics of representation as well as cultural participation in public spaces. A kickoff event in February 2017 (at the Exil club) was followed by a series of events in several locations and institutions across town. The salon is simultaneously an educational offering, an artistic format, an opportunity for scholarly reflection, and a political intervention. Freedom of expression / cultural citizenship is understood as the independently organized education and formation of an anti-racist, post-migrant community in Zurich, and as an appropriation and proliferation of public spaces. Each “Salon Bastarde” features an educational part addressing racism in Zurich and Switzerland through theoretical, artistic, and political analysis (with international guests), as well as through sharing personal experiences. This educational format is meant to enhance existing anti-racist knowledge and to connect individual experiences with each other. Thus, the aim is to promote empowerment and networking among people who have experienced racism, and to create institutional anti-racist alliances. In addition, each salon involves an evening event featuring local and international artists (with a migratory background) who explore the issue of racism in critical, experimental, or entertaining ways.
The project structure (4): the exhibition #urbancitizenship: City and Democracy
In order to make visible the ongoing and partly non-public processes, Shedhalle Zurich staged the exhibition #urbancitizenship: City and Democracy from June through September 2016. This exhibition, curated by Katharina Morawek, focused on the philosophy and methods of the larger project: what are the current considerations on urban citizenship? What is the potential significance of the concept for Switzerland and for Zurich? What are the methods employed in the project “The Whole World in Zurich,” and why does it use artistic tools? And, what results has the project yielded thus far? A number of concepts, terms, methods, and narratives were translated into diagrams and graphic representations by designers Roger Conscience and Carolina Cerbaro, who specialize in information graphics.
With its diverse formats and follow-up projects (the City Card Zurich, the “Salon Bastarde,” and the Alliance against Racial Profiling inspired by the project), “The Whole World in Zurich” has set in motion important non-state actor initiatives in Zurich and beyond, with the aim of effecting sustainable change. Several transformative processes and organizational forms have already taken shape.
On the one hand, an interpretation of urban citizenship based on social transformation requires specific strategies to promote the civil rights of citizens and not-yet-citizens. The project’s artistic, dialogical interventions succeeded in demonstrating the potential of urban citizenship. But to deliver on the promises of the idea requires more than art. Thus, the next step lies in the effective organization of social movements and task forces working independently of day-to-day politics, in order to influence progressive policies at the local, national, and European levels. That is the only way to produce political effects that entail permanent structural change. What is at stake is nothing less than the implementation of urban citizenship in cities worldwide as the first step towards a substantial, global process of “democratizing democracy” and expanding the “right to rights” based on an individual’s place of residence.
Alliance against Racial Profiling: Mission Statement, project website: http://www.stop-racial-profiling.ch/de/mission-statement/ (visited June 28, 2017)
F. / Nielsen, Greg M. (Hg.), 2008: Acts
of Citizenship. London
[i] The project team consisted of Sadou Bah, activist, Autonomous School of Zurich; Bea Schwager, head of the SPAZ Center for Sans-Papiers [undocumented migrants, translator’s note] in Zurich; Kijan Malte Espahangizi, director of the Center “History of Knowledge”; Osman Osmani, UNIA union secretary for migration; Rohit Jain, social anthropologist, University of Zurich and Zurich University of the Arts; Tarek Naguib, jurist, Center for Social Law at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences; as well as Martin Krenn, head artist, and Katharina Morawek, artistic director of Shedhalle Zurich.
[ii] Originally a cargo vessel for gravel, the boat sank in the mid 1930s, and was donated to a youth center (Jugendheim Schenkung Dapples) in 1936. The adolescents at the center restored it and converted it into a passenger boat, which is still in use today.
[iii] The harbor forums took place on 24 October 2015, 28 November 2015, and 6 February 2016.