SITES OF REFUGE

In his recent art project Sites of Refuge in collaboration with the Liverpool-based ecumenical chaplaincies, namely, Baltic Blessings and Mission in the Economy, Filipino artist Jason Dy, SJ creates two interactive public art installations that explore notions of displacement, refuge and sanctuary. This is Dy’s on-going creative intervention of the changing socio-political, cultural and religious situations of communities. 

Site One: Tree Of Refuge

A Cedrus Libani tree is placed on a wooden pallet with its pot wrapped with canvas. A saffron cloth is tied around its trunk during the tree’s ceremonial blessing and its dedication as a tree of refuge in memory of refugees who have perished in the process of fleeing from their countries in conflict. The public are invited to write their hopes and wishes for the survivors of political, religious and cultural persecutions (not exclusive to the Syrian refugees) on the pre-strung shipping tags and to tie them on the twigs of the tree. Several piles of concrete rubble collected from various skips in Smithdown Road are placed in wooden crates to represent the debris of conflict.

The chosen tree is found growing on the slopes of Mount Lebanon in Syria. This geographical reference of the tree’s source specifies the current crisis in Syria that forces its people to seek refuge in other countries. Instead of offering naïve solutions to this complex reality, the work is a gesture of solidarity with the refugees through offered hopes/wishes. Aware of the need for the on-going search for the resolution of the current crisis, this work too encourages conversation about the situation.

After the duration of its display in Clayton Square, the tree along with the tied hopes/wishes will be planted in a church ground and the piles of concrete rubble will be placed around the tree to demarcate it as a sanctuary.

This participatory work appropriates the instructions of the Wish Tree projects of artist Yoko Ono. In appropriating Ono’s processes, the work connects to her advocacy of peace that is relevant to refugees’ plight.












Site Two: Transitional Shelter

The work Transitional Shelter references the images taken by British photographer Simon Roberts of the makeshift shelters built by the survivors of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) almost a year after the storm hit Tacloban, Leyte and other parts of the Philippines on 8 November 2013. Rebuilt shanties became temporary sanctuaries for families. This structure comprising mostly of discarded wooden shed materials collected by Shed King Company is reconstituted as sculpture. The public are encouraged to enter into the space and to write on the white wall verses from Psalm 77. An accompanying auditory piece of rain captured during the typhoon is looped serving as an ambient sound that is both disruptive and meditative.

The structure itself is a sculpture reminiscent of Tropicália Penetrables PN 2 and PN 3, 1966–7 by Brazilian artist Hélio Oiticica that encourages the public to interact with the structures taken from the favela architecture in Brazil. Unlike Oiticica’s concern with freedom and artistic expression in a repressive regime, the work is interested to present ideas of resiliency and residency in places affected by extreme weather conditions. What make these communities adapt to these difficult conditions as well as insisting in staying on in these places? The scriptural text from Psalm 77 offers various voices of people in distress who are appealing to God. The appeals are suggesting trust in divine providence as well as expressing their doubts. These appeals could also be extended to the role and action of governments in the management and emergency response to disasters.

Temporarily installed in the corner between Jamaica and Greenland Streets, the work adopts Oiticica’s attitude of bringing art into the experience of the everyday. In relation to its surroundings, the work’s installation in the street becomes unexpected and interruptive. From the inside, it provides an immersive space where it seems to provide shelter from the heavy rain as well as a meditative sanctum to reflect on the fragility of human existence seeking refuge from the perils of life, such as natural calamities.


















Notes:

Bhabha, H. K. (1992) “Double visions: Circa 1492.” Artforum 30(5), pp. 85-89.

Hesse, H. (1980)  Wandering. Wright, J. trans. London: Picador.

Kawakibi, S. (2013). The Syrian Crisis and Its Repercussions: Internally Displaced Persons and Refugees. San Domenico di Fiesole, FI: European University Institute, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, and  Migration Policy Centre (MPC). Available from [accessed: 18 November 2015].

Lacuata, R. C. ed. (2014) “A Tale of Three Disasters: The wrath of Sendong, Pablo and Yolanda.” ABS-CBN News [online]. Available from: < http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/specials/3disasters> [accessed: 14 October 2014].

Ono, Y. “Wish Trees - Imagine Peace Tower.” Imagine Peace Tower [online]. Available from: < http://imaginepeacetower.com> [accessed 8 October 2014].

Roberts, S. (2014) After The Storm [photograph]. Sunday Times Magazine, 14 February, pp. 12-13.

Smithson, R. (1996) “A Provisional Theory of Non-sites” 2nd ed. In Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, edited by Flam, J. Berkeley: University of California Press, p. 364.


Tate (2015). “Hélio Oiticica, Tropicália Penetrables PN 2 and PN 3 1966–7.” Tate [online]. Available from: < http://www.tate.org.uk> [accessed 23 October 2014].

For more information about the project, visit http://balticblessings.wix.com/sitesofrefuge