Critics’ Picks

Phil Collins, How to Make a Refugee, 1999, video, color, sound, 12 minutes.

Phil Collins, How to Make a Refugee, 1999, video, color, sound, 12 minutes.

New York

Phil Collins

The Met | Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
December 11, 2015–November 6, 2016

At least three exhibitions on view this fall on the Upper East Side telegraph, in divergent ways, historical instances of statelessness. These include Zoe Leonard’s affecting pictures at Hauser & Wirth, incorporating aged snapshots of her family who fled Poland in the wake of World War II; Phil Collins’s mesmerizing video How to Make a Refugee, 1999, at the Met, which was shot during the Kosovo War; and Karin Schneider’s show at Dominique Lévy, with its recent Artforum advertisement placed on the floor presenting a child in a refugee camp in Serbia. Of these, Collins’s short work is the sleeper hit. Tucked in a back corner of the museum, it is a quiet triumph that aptly scrutinizes what we mean when we say refugee crisis—a term that should be credited to political, hegemonic powers and not to displaced human beings.

The video commences with a photo shoot centering around a boy in Macedonian refugee camp. He removes his shirt to show a scar on his stomach, while a reporter parlays questions to him via a translator, ostensibly about his wound. Providing little information and no subtitles—though a nearby wall text informs that the boy is a Kosovar-Albanian refugee—the work is suffused with emotive detail, particularly when his family joins him at the end for a portrait. Throughout, Collins’s roaming shots, as if captured by a spy camera, contrast sharply with what he describes as the “rational or sensational standards of journalism,” offering a contemplative moment away from the noise to look and think about statelessness—a phenomenon that may be at its worst today but, as Hannah Arendt argued, that has been the result of every significant political event since the end of World War I.