A work by Multiplicity presented at Documenta 11 in 2002 . Today, 13 years later, it is more pertinent than ever. A clear analysis of the Cemetery in the Mediterranean Sea.
Maddalena Bregani works in the field of cultural production and communication. She is based in Milan, Italy, and mainly focuses on the different languages of new media with an experimental and interdisciplinary approach. During this conversation, she discusses the work “Solid Sea 01: the Ghost Ship” which was shown for the first time at Documenta 11th in 2002. Despite dating back to the early 2000, the work is sadly still incredibly relevant. By watching it, we once again face the pitiless and unresolved reality of the Mediterranean migrant crisis and the uncountable deaths. In respect for the victims and their families, the video is protected with this password: Multiplicity_2002
Solid Sea 01: the Ghost Ship. Cemetery in the Mediterranean Sea
Conversation transcription below
Solid Sea 01: the Ghost Ship. In respect for the victims and their families, the video is protected with this password: Multiplicity_2002
A Skype conversation with Maddalena Bregani on “Solid Sea (01): The Ghost Ship”
Tiziana Casapietra: So Maddalena, I would like you to tell us about the video “Solid Sea”: I saw it at Documenta (editor’s note: in Kassel, Germany) in 2002 now more than ten years ago, and I was really impressed; it’s one of the works I remember most vividly and lucidly. I was impressed by its ruthlessness, but I also found it poetic at the same time. And, years later, it’s still incredibly and tragically relevant.
Maddalena Bregani: This video was the result of Okwui Enwezor’s request to Multiplicity to submit a work for Documenta 11, of which he was the curator. It was the year 2002 and Multiplicity had been a multidisciplinary network of artist, architects, researchers and geographers since a few years. We had chosen the Mediterranean as a subject because we had been impressed by an investigative report on La Repubblica (Translator’s note: a major Italian newspaper) by the journalist Giovanni Maria Bellu, whom we then involved in the work. The Multiplicity group —a network of people operating on a project basis — included in that case Stefano Boeri, Francisca Insulza, Francesco Jodice, Giovanni La Varra, John Palmesino, Maki Gherzi, Paolo Vari and me. We had read on the newspaper that the largest Mediterranean shipwreck since World War II was finally coming to light after five years. There were 283 casualties. This shipwreck had been denied for as much as five years. What happened was that in 1996, the day after Christmas Eve, a Greek shipowner’s boat carrying four-hundred refugees and migrants had sailed from Cyprus and crossed the Mediterranean to reach initially Malta, then the Sicilian coast. But there was a great sea storm between Malta and the Sicilian coast. This is how such transshipments work: a bigger ship collects the passengers in a Mediterranean port; later, the passengers are carried ashore from the bigger boat by smaller fishing vessels used as sort of tender. In this case, while the passengers were about to transship from the bigger boat to the smaller one, the intervening storm caused a tragedy, as the smaller boat had been overloaded and the people fell at sea. Only about twenty passengers were saved. Obviously, the master of the vessel had not asked for help because the whole thing was completely illegal and the captain had chosen to transship the survivors to Greece. From there, the survivors and then the relatives of the victims exposed what had happened, but the Maltese port authorities, the Italian police, the Guardia di Finanza and the Sicilian Carabinieri had maintained that they never found evidence of the ship being there. Five years later, a fisherman from Portopalo (Editor’s note: in Sicily, Italy) had reported the story to the journalist Giovanni Maria Bellu. According to the fisherman, the fishermen from Portopalo and the surrounding area had been catching corpses for years and knew very well that a shipwreck had happened precisely there, just out of the Italian territorial waters. Giovanni Maria Bellu thus started an investigation with Salvatore Lupo, the Sicilian fisherman, using a video camera like those used to discover underwater archaeological remains. So it was that the remains of the shipwreck eventually came to light. In our work, we enacted the whole story as follows: there were two halls, in the bigger one’s shorter walls of which we projected two opposing projections. On one side, the video from the camera that, at a given moment, discovers the underwater remains; on the other side, the meteorological image of that day taken from weather Web sites, showing the exact point in the Mediterranean where the tragedy occurred. In the other hall we had gathered all the protagonists’ voices. This latter work had been created in the field by some of us who had gone to interview the fishermen, also using the shootings from a TV special for Rai Tre, “L’elmo di Scipio” by Enrico Deaglio, who was so generous as to give us all the interview shootings that had been filmed for the TV report. We had also reconstructed the different voices, which were obviously contrasting. What’s most impressing of this work is that the situation is basically the same now… At the time we were shocked because of the people underwater, it was the biggest tragedy since the war and it had been denied for years, nobody had worried, no searches were carried out and the bodies of these people who could no longer be recognized were still underwater. And the family voices we had gathered expressed how really tragic the event had been. Besides, the psychological condition of a mother, a wife or a parent that don’t know whether their dear ones are alive or dead has to be taken into account. In order to avoid prosecution, the trip organizers themselves were enacting false telephone calls to the deceased’s relatives in which they were telling them that they were still alive. Without the death certificates, the victims’ relatives could submit no claim to the insurance while wives, maybe with dependent children, could not remarry. Families were going through really dramatic and absurd predicaments. This happened in 1996 and it is appalling that, twenty years later, the situation has worsened exponentially. By now, our Mediterranean is a cemetery.
TC: Was this work shown anywhere else after Documenta?
MB: Indeed, it was shown around quite a lot. In Italy it was shown at the Fondazione Pistoletto, and here in Milan at the Xing space that was in Piazzale Lima. It also toured Europe. For example, in Germany it was shown at the Generali Foundation. But we weren’t part of the contemporary art network at the time. This was the first time our group was entering the contemporary art circuit. Personally, I was even rather surprised of my Documenta pass bearing the “artist” wording. Multiplicity had been established a few years earlier in 2000, the occasion being the presentation of “USE – Uncertain States of Europe” at the “Mutations” show in Bordeaux, which saw the participation of Rem Koolhaas, Hans-Ulrich Obrist and to which Stefano Boeri had also been invited to talk about Europe and the mutations that were occurring. That was the occasion for the establishment of Multiplicity’s multidisciplinary network, which had carried out a work about Europe spanning over two years; Okwui Enwezor had seen it and consequently invited us at Documenta.
TC: Thank you very much… We will try to circulate it further because I find it shocking that a work that dates back to more that ten years ago is still so relevant.
MB: In fact, I thank you for this chance. Actually, there’s one more thing I’d like to say. Why “Solid Sea”? “Solid Sea” because through this work we wanted to say that the Mediterranean Sea, considered as the cradle of civilization, a meeting place for different cultures, is actually a solid sea, a sort of barrier. As a consequence, individual identities never come across each other, be it the immigrants arriving on fishing vessel or the tourists on the cruise ships, the fishermen, the sailors, the submarine and platform technicians… It’s as if there were many identities, each of which with its own canal that never crosses that of the other… Every now and again, these sorts of paths running on the solid sea intercept each other and strange things happen. And so it is that the fishermen caught the corpses of the migrants, for example. Ours is a solid sea. Anybody overlooking our sea and sailing it is almost forced to take on a rather rigid identity without looking around, thus, for example, tourist do not look. It rarely happens, but every now and again you find images of tourists sunbathing beside corpses. This is the solid sea. @@@
Translated from Italian by Fulvio Giglio