Vienna’s streets were bathed in the strong summer sun. Many people sought to find shelter from the sun in the cool embrace of the shadows scattered around the city. As we wander through a park belonging to the campus of Universität Wien, we not only seek solace in the dappled shadows from the trees, but also endeavor to find the ‘Inhabitable’ exhibition located in the park. Amidst the trees, we suddenly discover a large tent made of recycled clothes surrounded by people. We now know by the sight of the tent that we have found the exhibition. We approach Carolina Rinaldi to ask her some questions. Carolina is one of the artists behind the exhibition and also a student in our Master’s Program.
“Can you give us a description of the exhibition we stand in front of?”
“The project “Inhabitable” was conceived by Paolo Giordano, who is an artist and social-cultural project manager, and me with a background in both human rights and the arts. Our shared thoughts and opinions about the pressing need to address the challenges regarding shelter for asylum seekers led to the birth of this idea in early 2022. Together we embarked on an in-depth investigation into the intricate relationship between clothing, housing, and the right to seek asylum.
Aligned with the principles enshrined in the 14th point of UDHR* and Article 11 of ICESC**, the project delves into the profound significance of the right to shelter for individuals awaiting the processing of their asylum status. We recognize the crucial role that shelter plays in providing a safe and dignified living space for asylum seekers during their uncertain and prolonged waiting period. Both clothing and housing serves as a symbol of social standing and sense of belonging in society. By exploring the interconnection between clothing and housing, “Inhabitable” sheds light on the fundamental need for adequate shelter to ensure the well-being, dignity, and basic human rights of those asylum seekers.
We hope to open up discussion and inspire action for change by highlighting the difficulties that asylum seekers experience in obtaining adequate shelter. Most people are already somewhat aware of the conditions that asylum seekers find themselves in through the press and social media. However, we find it important that people comes in direct contact with the conditions that asylum seekers experience so their circumstances do not become something distant and extraneous put in numerical data and partisan polemics, but something other people really experience themselves to better understand.
We share a deep belief in the power of art and human rights to drive meaningful transformation. We have both been volunteering for many years in very close contact with realities that do not meet whatsoever adequate living standards and needed to advocate for a change. Coming up with this was tough at times, but fantastic to work on something that is so aligned with our values.”
“How was the process from idea to product?”
“Last year at the Master Program’s World Café event, I presented very shyly and without much expectations to Sophie Hofbauer (from UNHCR) and she loooooved the idea and believed in us from day 1! The realization of this is only thanks to her, her commitment and her support.
We started off looking for funding, which took us a while and then Paolo and I started this crazy, crazy search for discarded clothes. Due to the limited budget, we also had crazy night trips with 200 kilos of clothes in a bus.”
“What surprised you the most?”
“I think what surprised me the most was the enthusiasm everyone has for this project. From friends to strangers to partnerships! Everyone we know, from either Vienna, Rome, Milan or Lampedusa want to somehow contribute, and that is absolutely amazing because it is what this project is all about: collective work and participatory art. Also, when we co-created the patchwork with Linea Adele from Social Tailoring in Milan, all the refugees and asylum seekers that work there were fascinated and eager to help build the exhibition.”
“What do you wish for other to take away from your exhibition?”
“I think I am not able to answer this question – or, I will purposely not want to answer more than that each of us takes in whatever he/she/they have the space to take in at an exhibition and I would not want to interfere with anyone’s thoughts as such. But the reactions I had were absolutely unbelievable: so many people cried and shared their emotions. I am wholeheartedly grateful for their support and trust in the project.”
“Tell us about the process working with cement”.
“I think it was one of the most intense moments of the whole project, at least from my side. It was extremely difficult to create the sculptures. Each of them took us between 14-18 hours of work, non stop… Because… Once you start to work with liquid concrete, you really cannot stop because it would dry out.
The toughest one personally was the pregnant woman for probably obvious reasons.
During the creation process, Paolo and I had long moments of silence or the exact opposite where we would talk about injustice for hours.”
We thanks Carolina a million times for making the exhibition and for taking the time to tell us about it.
We now turn to another student at our master’s program, Charlotte Askenasy, who contributed to Carolina’s exhibition with a living book event.
“My living books event was part of the exhibition Inhabitable. Living books is a concept where an invited person tells about their personal experiences on a specific topic to an audience. In this case, I invited refugees to talk. The concept creates a safe place for dialogue where topics are openly discussed between ‘human living books’ and their ‘readers’/listeners.”
“How did you come up with the idea?”
“I came up with this idea because I wanted to create a way for refugees to be seen and heard. I also wanted to turn the static role of the art sculptures into an active role through the refugees who spoke in front of the tent and the cement sculptures.”
“How did it feel to be in the process?”
“The process included talking to many different people in the refugee field around Vienna in order to find people who were interested in participating. I met with every ‘living book’ in person to share the message behind the project. Luckily I was able to secure four people to come to talk.”
“Anything you learned to do better next time?”
“Next time… I think I could try to replicate this event, but with more living books involved. I started off small with this event because it was my first time coordinating an event like this, but I feel prepared now to try another living books event with many more living books!”
We thank Charlotte for her impressive contribution to the exhibition as well. After wandering around the colorful tent for a bit and taking a closer look at the cement sculptures surrounding it, we step inside the tent to explore its interior. We see a cement sculpture of a person laying down on a mattress and several items with UNHCR’s logo on. We leave the tent and sense the atmosphere. Inspired by the entire exhibition and the inspirational words from Carolina and Charlotte, we then exit the park and step onto the heated streets of Vienna.