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Michael Danner

Press release

Michael Danner – Migration as Avant-Garde

The sun is sinking into the ocean in a postcard-perfect view, a watermelon is being sliced up on the beach, and a gold blanket glitters in the summer heat. Yet Michael Danner’s photographs subvert our expectations and counter our clichés of a sojourn on the Mediterranean. Almost imperceptibly, they displace our inevitable associations of idyllic vacations and reinterpret summer, beach, and sea to show the threats of a humanitarian catastrophe. In the settings of our vacation fantasies, twenty-first century refugees on the coasts of Morocco, Tunisia, Spain, Greece, and Turkey are confronted with danger, loss, and death. Such gold survival blankets have been a symbol for Europe’s refugee crisis since fall 2015. According to the UN, over 70 million people around the world are currently seeking refuge—more than ever before. 

Michael Danner takes a political and anthropological approach in his work, in which explorations of conflict regions and their history play a central role. His long-term conceptual documentary project with the seemingly provocative title Migration as Avant-Garde (2008–2017) is a moving, critical, and rousing work about Europe’s borders. Danner’s surprising juxtaposition of the terms “migration” and “avant-garde” stems from his reading of political scientist Hannah Arendt’s essay We Refugees (1943). Beginning with her notion of flight as a radical act of self-determination and faith in progress, Danner’s project examines different forms of migration, including freedom of movement within the EU, labor migration, emigration, flight, and displacement. Migration as Avant-Garde deftly brings together numerous visual commentaries on the current global situation while allowing viewers to make their own interpretation and avoiding explicit depictions of desperate situations. Danner’s project is a counterpoint to the conventional journalistic narrative of news photographs. Instead of simply informing or deliberately shocking his audience, Michael Danner (b. 1967) creates a visual dialogue about one of humankind’s oldest actions: moving from one place to another.