The Migrant Through the Looking Glass: A Material Semiotics of the Contemporary Visual Art and Media
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In the midst of the current crisis of migration to Europe from the Middle East, a complex network of images and media materialities have been permeating through variegated bodies, technologies of representation, and visual territories. The term ‘crisis’ gained currency in the media from 2015 onwards, mainly due to the radical increase in the number of migrants to Europe. The civil unrest in North African countries, the Syrian civil war and the rise of Da’ish in Iraq and Syria led to a statistical abnormality in the number of immigrants to Europe, unprecedented since the second World War. In this context, media has played a key role in shaping a certain conception of the crisis. Owing to the pronounced effect and fear of large numbers, media, in particular journalistic media, have adapted a simplified casual schema to explain away this pressing issue. Accordingly, the crisis of twenty-first-century migration has been formulated in mainstream journalism as the effect of the military mayhem, social upheaval and the operation of certain opportunistic forces in the region (Reuters). Through what material and semiotic processes have these framing procedures been performed? In what ways have media sought to form the conception and perception of European migrant crisis? And above all, in what ways such framing acts can be contested and overturned? This thesis seeks to answer these questions through two tracks of analyses. First, by analysing an embedded video in one of Reuters’ journalistic programmes titled Migration Machine, this text shows how journalistic media frame the ongoing migrant predicament through mixed semiotic and technical procedures. Second, by examining the visual works of the Lebanese artist, Rabih Mroué, it is argued that art has the capacity to break through the signifying order of journalism to the effect of creating a new form of perceptual and conceptual experience. These analyses are carried out by adapting and readjusting Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of ‘assemblage’ as a theoretical choice to move past the simplistic causal schema in mainstream media representation.