A Lighthouse for Lampedusa!

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Friday November 20, 5 pm, The Forum, NAI. Admission is free.

Every Friday afternoon during the Open City Event Program, a local “cultural ambassador” hosts a performance, presentation or discussion related to the theme of the week. Tomorrow evening, Lilet Breddels of VOLUME magazine will present artist Thomas Kilpper and his project/competition for A Lighthouse for Lampedusa! Following a film and short lecture by Kilpper, a discussion with curator Marina Sorbello will explore the possible role of art and architecture in socio-political issues.

A Lighthouse for Lampedusa!
Almost every day there are news reports of refugees arriving at Europe’s southern shores. In 2008, about 30,000 refugees reached Europe via the Italian island of Lampedusa. Thousands drown in the sea—aid organizations estimate that one out of ten migrants die during this dangerous crossing. For the relatively small island of Lampedusa, with about 4,000 inhabitants, the endless stream of arriving migrants causes a lot of practical problems, bringing the administration to the brink of collapse. In 2008, the refugee center reached breaking point when up to 2,000 people were held in confinement under cramped conditions, in a space designed for a maximum of 700 people. Instead of helping Lampedusa to ease the situation on the ground and to relocate the migrants to the mainland like in the past, the Italian government further escalated the problem when it insisted that the detained migrants be kept on the island, and to erect a second detention- and deportation-center for them. In January 2009, the islanders went on a general strike against these plans, using the slogan: “No Alcatras in Lampedusa.” Participants expressed their desire to live on an open island: “To live from tourism and to welcome the poorest of the poor if they arrive…” (quotation of the Mayor of Lampedusa, 2009)

So far there is no end of the stream of refugees in sight. What can be done to prevent these tragic deaths? Efforts to improve and sustain living conditions in the immigrants’ country of origin would, if successful, last for decades, if not generations. Since 2007, the Berlin based artist Thomas Kilpper has pursued the idea of constructing a “Lighthouse for Lampedusa,” which is to have a double function: to provide essential orientation at sea and help to navigate refugee boats into safety, and to house a museum and cultural center, which the island still lacks. The Lighthouse is conceived as a tower and a landmark building, capable of hosting a diverse and trans-national program of communication, negotiation, exhibitions, concerts and other cultural events on its ground floor. It would serve as a place that attracts not only new visitors to the island but also local people—making Lampedusa not just a location to talk about, but also a place to learn from and listen to the ideas of others.

The refugee crisis of Lampedusa cannot be solved via military protection of the coastline or the declaration of a “state of emergency.” An international ideas competition will be launched in collaboration with the 4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam—“Open City: Designing Coexistence” — and Volume Magazine, calling for architects, planners, artists, and activists to develop imaginative architectural solutions for a lighthouse, museum and cultural center situated on the island. “Lighthouse for Lampedusa” calls for a humanitarian and fair immigration and integration policy in Europe based on the respect of a refugee’s human rights. Since Alexandria’s magnificent structure from 300 BC, lighthouses have been associated with welcoming strangers: Can 21st century Europe afford a different “wonder” of welcome—this time at its own shore?

4th International Architecture Biennale Rotterdam IABR
Open City: Designing Coexistence