2013, exposed June 2015 at «dis/placed» at The Ditch, Shoreditch Town Hall in London.
While the swiss society has a humanitarian tradition, its welcome culture exists foremost in an institutionalised structure force placing asylum seekers. These lodges are representative for the federalistic structure of Switzerland with lodges situated in environments ranging from individual housing in a suburban context to unused military lodges on an isolated 2000m mountain pass. For the general public, these places are the only contact area with people claiming for asylum.
The photographs in the series ‘The expectation’ observe these contact areas from a passers-by’s perspective, looking at the bare reality of these places and their surroundings. As there is no forced interaction with the host society and the integration of displaced people is not foreseen by the authorities until the asylum-seekers have a positive decision, the photographs show a postcard view of the place without any human being. By reading the caption, the equivalent of the verso of a postcard, the perception of the place changes and questions the intuitive reaction to the place. By this interaction, ‘The expectation’ tries to disillusion the constructed swissness of the idealised and romanticised Swiss landscape.
The image of Switzerland as a paradise acts like a vacum for people in foreign countries. This tendency is documented on one hand by the high number of immigrants from EU/EFTA-nations and by the increasing number of asylum seekers. Migrants, earlier highly welcome as temporary workers (saisonniers) may today work legally in Switzerland as long as their country of origin is an EU/EFTA-nation and as long as they have a place of employment in Switzerland. They can get a residence permit for their partners and children via family unification and if desired may themself once become Swiss.
While migration within Europe is allowed, the access to Europe for third country nationals is complicated. But also more and more people struck by the chaos of war, by hunger crises, by governmental discrimination or missing economical perspectives seek shelter in Europe and Switzerland. For them, often the only possible access to Switzerland is to apply for asylum.
While the investigations concerning the application and the asylum seeker her/himself are ongoing, the asylum seeker lives in one of the five federal centers for asylum. Employment is allowed after 3 months of staying in Switzerland and is only possible if the asylum seeker finds a place to work and gets the permission from the government. What remains is to wait for a decision. If the investigations take long, the asylum seekers will be handed over to a canton or municipality. Where they get placed in cantonal centers for asylum seekers and depending on the cantons employments schemes have an opportunity to work – e.g. cleaning hiking trails. The way the accommodation is organized depends highly on the canton, as the final decision of how and how much the asylum seekers is supported is up to the canton.
My documentary work unveils the visual differences and analyses with the help of photography the architecture and urban pattern of and around the center for asylum seekers. The center as their point of departure for discovering Switzerland.
The work further is based on the different perception of space according to the perspective and background of the viewer. The place of accommodation itself is located in the context of idealized landscape and swissness, the federalistic tradition, the militia army as well as the visible reality. The lodging is often implemented in existing real estate, by temporary modification of existing spaces or in the conversion of former or not used military real estate.
The guideline from the preamble of the federal constitution “and that the strength of a people is measured by the well-being of its weakest members” as well as being conscious that there are hidden stories and fates behind the walls and fences of the accommodations add to strenght of the images. The photographs conduct this infrastructural handling of asylum seekers and reflect at the same moment the current political and societal pressure on the asylum system. The tension between trying to make Switzerland unattractive as a destination for asylum seekers and to sustain at the same moment the humanitarian tradition of Switzerland, manifests itself last but not least in these pictures.