Ai Wei­wei’s Hu­man Flow tracks the mi­grant cri­sis

Prendre la route pour sur­vivre.

Vocable (Anglais) - - Édito | Sommaire - GEOF­FREY MACNAB

Pour la pre­mière fois de­puis la Se­conde Guerre mon­diale, le seuil des 60 mil­lions de per­sonnes ré­fu­giées et dé­pla­cées dans le monde a été fran­chi. Avec Hu­man Flow, la su­per­star de l’art contem­po­rain Ai Wei­wei met en lu­mière l’am­pleur du phé­no­mène. De la Grèce au Ban­gla­desh, de l’Irak à la France, l’ar­tiste chi­nois est al­lé à la ren­contre de ceux qui ont dû fuir pour sur­vivre. Au cinéma le 7 février.

Ai Wei­wei is best known in Bri­tain for filling the tur­bine hall of Tate Mo­dern with mil­lions of “sun­flo­wer seeds” for a 2010 ex­hi­bi­tion. These seeds all loo­ked iden­ti­cal but ac­tual­ly were all hand-made, ti­ny pieces of por­ce­lain with their own lit­tle grooves and idio­syn­cra­sies. It is ea­sy to be re­min­ded of these seeds in his epic new fea­ture do­cu­men­ta­ry, Hu­man Flow. The film, shot in 23 coun­tries, has se­ve­ral high angle shots of men, wo­men and chil­dren in ten­ted villages, in boats, or in long files, wal­king down end­less roads. They are among the 65 mil­lion re­fu­gees in the world to­day who have been for­ci­bly dis­pla­ced from their homes. Ai Wei­wei is tel­ling some of their sto­ries.


2. Ai Wei­wei likes to ta­ckle new pro­jects from a po­si­tion of near igno­rance; to “come from ze­ro”, as “in­no­cent as a new born per­son”. In this case, he had vi­si­ted the Greek is­land of

Les­bos with his son. They were on ho­li­day when he saw scenes that ren­de­red him spee­chless.

3.“You are on this beau­ti­ful beach and then you see a din­ghy boat, pea­ce­ful­ly ap­proa­ching the port right in front of us. I tur­ned on my iP­hone ca­me­ra and star­ted fil­ming. What I saw was sho­cking and un­be­lie­vable – a ba­by being han­ded out (of the din­ghy), wo­men clim­bing out. There was no­bo­dy there to re­ceive them. I star­ted to hear their sto­ries.”

4. Ai Wei­wei’s me­thod of tel­ling the re­fu­gees’ sto­ries was prag­ma­tic. He be­gan by “do­cu­men­ting the si­tua­tion”, and slow­ly plan­ned his film, as his know­ledge de­ve­lo­ped. He has made ma­ny art do­cu­men­ta­ries and hu­man rights films that he shot “guer­rilla war­fare” style, post­ing them on­line so they could be seen im­me­dia­te­ly, but this was on an al­to­ge­ther gran­der scale. “I am ve­ry used to it, ve­ry skil­ful at that, but to do a do­cu­men­ta­ry to co­ver such a com­plex sto­ry…” his voice tails off as he contem­plates how daun­ting the task was. He was co­ve­ring ma­ny dif­ferent sto­ries, some stret­ching back for ge­ne­ra­tions (for example, the Ga­za scenes) and some about re­fu­gees who have on­ly ve­ry re­cent­ly left their homes.

5.The si­tua­tion of his sub­jects was chan­ging all the time. He nee­ded to come up with a struc­ture that would al­low him to deal with so ma­ny shif­ting pers­pec­tives. That is where the idea of Hu­man Flow came in.


6. Ear­lier in his own ca­reer, Ai Wei­wei’s si­tua­tion was the po­lar op­po­site of those whose sto­ries he tells. As a dis­si­dent ar­tist in Chi­na, he spent time un­der house ar­rest and had his pas­sport confis­ca­ted. He wasn’t al­lo­wed to leave home. In Hu­man Flow, he is fol­lo­wing sub­jects who’ve been for­ced to leave home. How does being de­pri­ved of the free­dom to tra­vel com­pare to ha­ving to tra­vel in or­der to sur­vive? It’s a ques­tion he has as­ked him­self.

7.Even when re­fu­gees are ac­cep­ted in a new com­mu­ni­ty, they will ra­re­ly feel they be­long. “If a plant had been cut off like this, it would die. As hu­mans, they have a ve­ry strong sur­vi­ving na­ture. But, still, they will live in dark­ness for their whole life. Don’t have the illu­sion they come for an eco­no­mic rea­son,” he says. “No­bo­dy, for an eco­no­mic rea­son, will risk their life.” He tells heart­brea­king sto­ries about pa­rents who send their chil­dren away to give them a bet­ter chance to sur­vive. “The boat comes down and you see people hol­ding chil­dren who have no pa­rents be­cause they can’t af­ford to pay the smug­glers. They let the chil­dren go first.”


8. There is a tou­ching and ve­ry in­ti­mate mo­ment in Hu­man Flow in which Ai Wei­wei cuts a re­fu­gee’s hair. Whe­re­ver he went, he tried to show what he calls “the hu­man touch”. The do­cu­men­ta­ry cap­tures the mo­no­to­ny of his sub­jects’ lives: Their des­pe­rate quest to keep their phones dry and char­ged; their constant wai­ting; their an­xie­ty; their de­sire to “fix up a lit­tle bit”. Cut­ting their hair hel­ped with that. The re­fu­gees are “proud people”, he says. “They have di­gni­ty. They are not beg­gars. They come to sur­vive. They are not as­king for mer­cy.”

9.There is a beau­ti­ful but ve­ry haun­ting shot in the film of a pile dis­car­ded life ja­ckets. It can’t help but make you think of pho­to­graphs of aban­do­ned suit­cases be­lon­ging to vic­tims of the Ho­lo­caust. The image makes you pause. You won­der how Ai Wei­wei re­con­ciles his ob­vious de­sire to create stri­king and beau­ti­ful images at the same time that he is re­cor­ding the hor­ri­fic ex­pe­riences of the re­fu­gees. Ask about this and he re­sponds that he was de­ter­mi­ned to pro­vide “beau­ty in the most dif­fi­cult si­tua­tions; in tra­ge­dy and in cri­sis... That beau­ty is bru­tal be­cause it is ve­ry in­dif­ferent,” the ar­tist concludes on a ve­ry sombre note.

1. to fol­low suit em­boî­ter le pas, faire de même / for ins­tance par exemple / to rot pour­rir / com­pound com­po­sé / di­sease ma­la­die / breast (du) sein / des­pite mal­gré / brea­tha­ly­ser dis­po­si­tif per­met­tant d'ana­ly­ser l'ha­leine (breath) afin de dé­tec­ter toute pré­sence d'une sub­stance/ici, ma­la­die (aus­si, éthy­lo­test) / stub­born­ly obs­ti­né­ment / to fail to ne pas. 2. whe­ther si (oui ou non) / such ici, de telles re­lia­bly de ma­nière fiable / use­ful pra­tique, utile to de­ve­lop mettre au point /sub­ject ob­jet / se­ve­ral plu­sieurs / trial es­sai, test / across par­tout en, dans tout(e) / ear­ly(-stage) ici, pré­coce / lung (du) pou­mon / to at­tempt ten­ter. 3. de­vice ap­pa­reil, dis­po­si­tif / do­cu­men­ted re­cord ici, preuves de son ef­fi­ca­ci­té / war­fare (de) guerre / cus­to­mer client, usa­ger / to ex­hale ex­pi­rer / across ici, sur / sen­sor cap­teur, dé­tec­teur o cause avoir pour consé­quence/ef­fet / to sort trier, clas­ser / ac­cor­ding to ici, en fonc­tion de / how fast... ici, la vi­tesse à la­quelle... / to move through tra­ver­ser / field champ / fin­ger­print em­preinte. 4. be­ne­fit avan­tage, ef­fet bé­né­fique / wi­des­pread gé­né­ra­li­sé / scree­ning exa­men de dé­pis­tage / to spot dé­tec­ter / cheap bon mar­ché / worth va­leur, ef­fi­ca­ci­té, uti­li­té / a breath of fresh air un nou­veau souffle, une bouf­fée d'oxy­gène; ici, élé­ment nou­veau et bien­ve­nu.

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