Charles Heller


Liquid Trajectories: Documenting Illegalised Migration and the Violence of Borders

This PhD thesis offers an account of my trajectory as a researcher and aesthetic practitioner seeking to document and contest the violence of the migration regime operating between Europe and Africa. I describe the successive shifts my research and practice has undergone in a “diary of practice” of sorts. Through my successive experiments with the use of a wide range of sensing devises – ranging from photographs, videos, maps, satellite images and statistical graphs – this thesis explores the intersection between the politics of migration and that of aesthetic practices. In the introduction to this thesis, I describe further my approach and inscribe it within broader theoretical fields. In the second chapter, Image/Migration, I follow the “lives” of the images of migration I have produced as a documentary filmmaker, and enquire into their effects. Considering images as practices and objects which produce variegated effects depending on their use by different actors, I chart the way images depicting migrants’ precarious condition have become embedded in the government of migration. In a third chapter, Forensic Oceanography, I present a collaborative research project aiming at documenting the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and accounting for the conditions which have led to them. I engage with the complex geography of the EU’s maritime frontier and seek to reappropritate some of the tools normally used for surveillance – such as mapping and remote sensing – so as to reinscribe responsibility in a sea of impunity. In a fourth chapter, Tactical Statistics, I explore the potential of a critical statistical practice to register the violence of the European migration regime, which operates indirectly and leads to deaths on a structural basis. In a concluding chapter, For Movement, I discuss the conditions for thinking alternatives to the current migration regime in the form of a policy and right to universal freedom of movement.

Member of Roundtable Two