Late modernity and postmodernity, between Adorno and Baudrillard, have accustomed us to think that we can see everything. The electronic media illuminate the earth before our very eyes, and we are convinced we can admire it all from above, from a wonderful equidistance. Only in recent times are people beginning to understand that this is not the case: what remains hidden behind the screens (the etymology of the word points more clearly to its function than one would think) is perhaps greater than what they show. While we delude ourselves that we can see on the other side of the world, things that are very close to us, as like what is happening just outside one of our own regional, albeit outlier capitals like Trieste, remain nevertheless invisible to us.
But do we, at least, “know that we don’t know”? This Socratic question is a very timely one for us in Italy today. We believe we are informed about one of the greatest tragedies that humanity is experiencing, stemming from the unfortunate history of European modernity enmeshed as it is in imperialism and colonialism, the exploitation of people and the environment, ecological disaster and climate change. We believe that the significance of mass migration can be conveyed through media spotlights and silent, yet very visible symbols, such as Trump‘s wall. But, actually, these stories and emblems do nothing else but elicit our dismay, as we hang halfway between allegorical “shipwreck complete with spectator” and “invasions”. These narrations and recitations of cold statistics tell us nothing about the people who experience those whirlpool directly. They end up inevitably suppressing those phenomena from our conscience. We don’t even see what these kinds of migrations really mean for humans. And our failure to see leads us to ignoring it, rather than to realize what we don’t know.
The Gateway to Europe. The Italian border of the Balkan route (Marietti 1820, “i Rèfoli Plus” series) by director Mauro Caputo and journalist Donatella Ferrario tries to recount this tragedy by focusing on the Balkan route, one of the lesser-known gateways of these migrations. Because of its invisibility, the hidden corridor called the Balkan Route is used by 800,000 people fleeing to Europe every year, through that network of borders bloodied by so many wars, some ancient some more recent. At the same time, this set of borders and roads is also temporary and artificial, as travel writers like Luigi Nacci and Paolo Rumiz have told so well in their books.
The door of Europe is the first in the Marietti e-book catalog to offer a film to accompany the text, in addition to the photography reportage. To call it a multimedia book would only slap on it a trending marketing label, while what the reader is actually is offered is a valuable example of so-called expanded literature, perhaps the future of electronic text (and not only). It sets off a fruitful dialogue of different languages, each with its own semiotic specificity, on the same theme.
This effective interplay of prose and image, of documentary and reportage, is a successful attempt to show the invisible, to say the unspeakable. In some ways, contemporary migrations present the same problem faced by the witnesses of the Holocaust: how to tell the tragedy of millions of people who had been made to disappear, literally evaporated? How to avoid making their numbers a”mere statistics”, but rather make the weight of their absence felt? Alongside effective symbolic representations, perhaps the most impactful images were those that documented the only material traces left by the deportees’ passage on this earth, i.e., the piles of clothes, shoes, hair and other personal objects.
Heavy clothes such as gloves and boots used by the migrants during the cold months are cast off in the lands they cross (photo courtesy of VOX produzioni S.r.l.)
Caputo chooses the same artistic route, following the paths of the contemporary erased and invisibles, so as to offer the most concrete testimony of a silent exodus, of a human tragedy that has been forgotten because it is hidden from the camera lenses. He also provides a re-reading of the same numbers in a different key: knowing that 1 out of 97 people in the world is on the run affects us differently than being given a larger but more abstract total. It helps create a relation between those people and us. Though their ‘erasure’ may be voluntary, they are nevertheless victimized by it, as they are forced to hide, escape, in order not to be caught and sent back; they must abandon their past and identity just like everything they have already left behind (origins, family, country, affections) to look for a future.
This journey across the borders of many countries, from Turkey to Slovenia, up at the gates of Italy by way of Trieste (starting point for their real destinations in other European countries) is called the game. But it is not a game at all – it is a long and tiring journey, full of difficulties, between the pitfalls of cold and rough terrain, and the atrocities and often inhumane conditions they have to face in the camps (which may even be fatal).
Medicines cast off near the Italian border by the migrants, photo courtesy of VOX Produzioni S.r.l..
Those who travel along the Balkan Route come from the farthest places on the planet and Caputo’s work documents how the situation is far more vast and dramatic than the one painted by official statistics. Upon arriving at the gates of Trieste, they leave in the last woods what little they managed to bring with them: shoes worn out by the journey, torn and worn clothes, tents and heavy clothing needed to survive in the open, as well as children’s toys, medicines, razors and toothbrushes. And most of all their documents: the last tribute that must be paid on the threshold of a hope for the future, is that of one’s own identity, to sever the link with a before to which they cannot return.
The photo shows a wall covered with documents and papers thrown away by migrants recovered by the crew filming the documentary The gateway to Europe. Courtesy of VOX Produzioni S.r.l.
This story appeared in Italian on April 27ì, in the Treccani magazine The original story can be read here.
Sory and images, courtesy of Treccani magazine.
Vincenzo Bagnoli: Born in Bologna (1967), he was one of the founders of «Versodove. Literature magazine ». He recently published Offscapes. Beyond the Limits of Urban Landscapes (Trafika Europe, 2016) and Soundscapes. 33 laps extended play (Literary Correspondence, 2018); (GIUDA editions, 2016); he has also collaborated on some documentaries of Home Movies and Mammutfilm.