Event Report: Virtual Migrants

MCFly co-editor Marc Hudson went to an art performance and came away thinking “where else but in South Manchester would you hear a Zimbabwean, an Iranian, a Barbadoan and a Mancunian chewing the fat about the twenty-first century?”*

Virtual Migrants describes itself as a group that “connects and engages artists with digital media, and organises projects that add new aesthetics and perspectives to themes of race, migration and globalisation. virtual migrants create, exhibit and distribute artworks that incorporate digital media techniques that can be installed in galleries, public spaces or community venues.”

The idea of this latest piece, [which we should have mentioned was a ‘work in progress’] “Running Order“, performed at the Creative Corner Cafe in Whalley Range on Friday 18th May, was having four of the performers being interviewed for a radio programme about, well, climate change. The host, Amira Khan was “standing in” for DJ Verbosity.
The four characters were Tandee, Andy, Nisei and Tanhar, and the first question posed to them was “what are we doing to our planet?” The host started off, and threw in a looong quote from the 2009 “Anchorage Declaration” of indigenous peoples before the (scripted) observations of Tandee about land-theft and inequality in South Africa.
Next up, a question that has been of interest to the current writer since his aid work days in the early 90s – “What does solidarity look like, in the struggle against climate change?”
There followed observations about Barack Obama’s general inflatable-dartboard-ness, and debatable assertions about running out of oil. (1)

Tanhar (the Iranian) made perhaps the most pointed observations of the evening – that although increased dust and air pollution have taken hold in Iranian cities people there don’t know the reasons and are “not interested to know. They cope with it, like the other problems they’ve got…. ‘[Dust] is part of nature. How can I change it. I don’t think about it, talk about it.’
He read a poem in Farsi, which was then translated into English.

The line between fact and fiction was suitably blurred, with the names and biographies of the performers subtly tweaked throughout. That led to productive tensions in both the performance and the discussion afterwards.  All the performers were capable of projecting their lines clearly, passionately and naturally.

The performance was at its weakest in the early stages, when the connections between poverty, imperialism and the theft of land (which has of course been going on long before climate change kicked in) are clumsily, imho, shoe-horned into the agenda (2), and in the final stages where “solutions” is dealt with via a passing reference to Cuba’s special period, without any local initiatives getting a mention (and no, we don’t mean MCFly!).

The evening was at its strongest during the songs (the woman from Zimbabwe can hold a tune!) and when talking about the complicity we all have in the destruction of the biosphere, especially around the topic of flying (for the record – both MCFly editors have taken flights in the last twelve months). The Zimbabwean character took the Mancunian – “recently returned from El Salvador” – to task over this question.

The show closed out with a beautifully performed song “Amai” (which is Shona for ‘mother’).

A couple of audience members left, and while I understand why they might have done that, they missed a revealing post-show discussion.

If and when Virtual Migrants put on this piece– or a re-jigged version of it – again MCFly readers would be well-advised to get along.

Marc Hudson

* yes, lots of places these days. But it’s a rhetorical device. Give us the benefit of the doubt.

Footnote 1 We may indeed be running out of easily-accessible oil, but there are plenty enough accessible hydrocarbons to fry the planet several times over. As anyone born in the last 10 years or so will be able to attest, if they live to be 90.

Footnote 2 This isn’t to say that the problems are not real, or relevant, or that they are not worsened by climate change, or that the problem of climate change is in any way soluble without solving them; just that the case was weakly made, and unduly preachy. But that’s just our opinion.


About manchesterclimatemonthly

Was print format from 2012 to 13. Now web only. All things climate and resilience in (Greater) Manchester.
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3 Responses to Event Report: Virtual Migrants

  1. koojchuhan says:

    Thanks for this critical yet positive review, Marc, and really great that you ‘got’ what we were trying to get to; only one thing I’d like to add is that this piece was a “work in progress” as was stated at the start of the performance, and yep – there is a lot we are working on so hopefully the final version should be up quite a few notches from this at least.

  2. Apologies, Kooj and other members of VM, – it was indeed made clear at the beginning of the performance that it was a ‘work in progress’, and I should definitely have highlighted that fact in the review. I have added a [square brackets] comment to that effect. Please do let us know when the final version is ready, and we will publicise it!

  3. Anne Hicks says:

    Hello and thank you for this article. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

    Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant.

    Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

    According to Norman Myers environmental refugees are “people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty”.

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