Wooloo Productions, a Berlin-based art and activism collective, has invited ten emerging artists from around the world to come to New York, where they will apply for “creative asylum” at the White Box gallery in Chelsea. For one full week, from April 24-29, the gallery at 525 W. 26th St. will be converted into a “detention center,” and the artists will not be permitted to leave the premises. AsylumNYC, an investigation into contemporary regimes of exclusion, is the group’s second U.S. project.
At the conclusion of the week, one talented artist will be selected to receive free assistance from an immigration lawyer to apply for an O-1 Visa for “extraordinary ability in the field of arts.” If successful, the artist will earn the privilege to remain legally in the United States for three years. The U.S. asylum project was conceived after Wooloo Productions was awarded the Future of the Present award from Franklin Furnace in 2005 for their European project, AsylumHOME.net, an online platform for asylum seekers.
Said Martin, coordinator of the project between Europe and New York for Wooloo Productions in Berlin.
Wooloo Productions developed this concept in order to draw attention to the difficulties faced by immigrants and asylum seekers worldwide. As in real life, the majority of applications have been rejected, and the immigrants will ultimately be dependent on the goodwill of strangers to thrive in their new environment.
Last month, more than 230 hopeful artists from 43 countries submitted applications via the website AsylumNYC.com. The ten most relevant have been invited to “apply for asylum” and develop a work/project using only whatever materials they can get gallery visitors to provide for them throughout the week. They will be stripped of any supplies or materials they bring from home. The project brings together artists from Brazil, Columbia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Poland, Serbia-Montenegro, Ukraine, and Venezuela.
Echoing restrictions foisted upon asylum seekers, foreign artists in the U.S. must be approved by immigration authorities in order to stay and work. To qualify for a U.S. visa, an artist or any other creative professional must demonstrate “extraordinary ability in the arts” as evidenced by awards, critical reviews, or professional affiliations. They must also be able to afford the legal expenses associated with this extensive procedure.
Functioning within these processes, AsylumNYC confronts its otherwise privileged participants with their own precarious freedom of movement. Just as contemporary nation states deem themselves capable of determining whether individuals are “real” refugees, AsylumNYC asks the creative worker to prove her/his creative worth before gaining status as a “real” artist.