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Exploring new mediums to discuss disaster displacement

Each year, more than 300 non-governmental organizations from some 90 countries take part in the annual consultations co-organized by the UN Refugee agency and the International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA). This event offers those working in the fields of displacement and protection issues the opportunity to meet and opens a space for the discussion of both successes and challenges. As part of the consultations, participants have the opportunity to attend presentations by Assistant High Commissioners and the Deputy High Commissioner, take part in Regional and Thematic Sessions, Workshops and ‘Food for Thought’ panels.

On the schedule for the third, and final, day of the consultations, a ‘Food for Thought’ event took place under the broad theme of climate change, specifically discussing the protection of people displaced in the context of climate change and disasters. Moderated by Atle Solberg, head of the Platform on Disaster Displacement’s Coordination Unit, the panel included a number of NGO representatives including the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Coastal Association for Social Transformation, International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development and OXFAM.

Beyond a panel discussion, focusing on the theme of “Putting People First”, this session gave space to artistic responses to the millions of people displaced each year by disasters and the impacts of climate change.

Art can be used to expand the discussion about disasters, climate change, and displacement through a diverse set of activities including art interventions in government meetings, regional artistic dialogues, commissioned artwork, an online art gallery, and publications. DISPLACEMENT: Uncertain Journeys is an integrated cultural component of PDD and aims to bring art research and practice to bear on international policymaking.

The event opened with a showing of a performance installation video by Artistic Director Lars Jan called ‘Holoscenes’, that explores our relationship with rising seas, and connects the everyday actions of individuals to global climate change.

Holoscenes features performers in a large aquarium attempting to carry out everyday tasks – making a bed, selling fruit, reading a newspaper – and to adapt to mini-floods created by a powerful hydraulic system that pumps up to 15 tons of water in and out. That often leaves performers forced to swim to the top of the aquarium to take breaths throughout the display.  The large aquarium has so far been exhibited in six locations, including Times Square, New York City. Lars Jan told The New York Times that he hoped it would make people “feel climate change in their guts, rather than just understand it”.

By presenting disaster displacement in a new medium, DISPLACEMENT: Uncertain Journeys aims to amplify and raise the visibility not only the topics of climate change, disasters, and displacement, but also features contributions from artists that come from regions that are particularly affected by such displacement.

The public’s attention was fully captured by the work of Lars Jan showing on a big screen in the Geneva Conference Center, and the interest expressed in the DISPLACEMENT – Uncertain Journeys project showed that art certainly has a place and a role to play in such contexts.


Click here to learn more about DISPLACEMENT: Uncertain Journeys.

The stories of water | Lars Jan

Holoscenes by Lars Jan

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Learn more about previous DISPLACEMENT: Uncertain Journeys events here


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