“Off the Margins” is an international group exhibition organized by Organ Vida as a partner organization within the project “From St. Germain to EU – 100 years of a border” with the support of the Europe for Citizens Programme. It features works by artists Stefanie Zofia Schulz (DE), Verena Blok (NL), and Marvin Bonheur (FR).
Focusing on teenagers and the youth population in general, the artists contemplate different aspects of European migration policies – from specific experiences of labor migration, asylum seeking and life in migrant settlements to wider issues of migrant work, discrimination and racism. The exhibition also aims to reexamine the dominant documentary approach to the topic – selected projects tackle it through staged photography, street, “snapshot” photography and film.
Stefanie Zofia Schulz – Duldung
In the project “Duldung”, the artist Stefanie Zofia Schulz documents the everyday life of children and youths in the largest camp for refugees and asylum seekers in Germany. Although the camp was envisioned as a short-term housing solution, in the year spent developing her project, Stefanie worked with teenagers who spent their entire childhood there.
Her artistic approach is generally documentary, but the playful, intimate and, at times, humorous character of her photographs represents a remarkable aesthetic departure from the established representation of social issues. The uninhibitedness results partly from the age of the subjects portrayed – for example, they pose for her theatrically with props or allow her to record how they straighten each other’s hair with a clothing iron – but it equally stems from Schulz’s methodology, her commitment to gradually building relationships, trust and from a resulting creative union.
The harshness of life in the camp becomes most evident in the depictions of the setting. However, although remaining suggestive, Schulz is consciously playing with possible interpretations even here – she records the German flag proudly fluttering from the derelict façade of the apartment complex, the crammed mattresses overshadowed by a wallpaper depicting an idyllic tropical island or the glamourous images of models from fashion magazines messily plastered across a dirty wall. The title of the work, roughly translated as “tolerance”, references the eponymous document used by German authorities to regulate the temporary residence of illegal immigrants. Along with highlighting the term’s negative connotation – the suggestion that these persons have to be tolerated, put up with – Schulz positions her work as a clear critique of Germany’s restrictive migration policy.
Stefanie Zofia Schulz was born in Germany in 1987 in a housing estate for migrants escaping from Russia and Poland. She graduated from the Ostkreuzschule in Berlin in 2013. Her photographic practice focuses on the documentation of important social issues and living conditions of marginalised groups. Schulz presently lives and works in Berlin.
Verena Blok – Robota
The film’s title, “Robota”, is the Polish word for manual labor. Despite the former socialist government’s effort to imbue the word with a more positive meaning, in Polish language it has remained associated with arduous physical work. The artist films men in extremely closely cropped frames – fragmenting their bodies and focusing on specific movements such as the flex of a bicep or a twitch of the shoulder blade – in order to draw attention to the machinic quality of the body in motion.
The film introduces us to the everyday life of two young men and focuses on their displacement, the result of migrant work outside of their native Poland. Sound and image are rarely in sync, resulting in a jarring discordance; shots of idyllic landscape are combined with, for instance, the portrayed subjects’ candid expressions of outright racism. However, Blok also points to the fact that the brothers’ beliefs are greatly influenced by the government-controlled media and highlights the role of the media in manufacturing the Polish national identity. Whiteness offers the men a sense of pride and power they lack when participating in Western Europe’s exploitative labor market. Blok juxtaposes shots of the brothers with footage of muscular, socialist realist sculptures of male workers in Warsaw. The statues’ motionlessness and strong symbolism underlines the contrast with the brothers’ mobility and the void created by the decline of socialism.
Verena Blok (b. 1990, The Netherlands) studied at the Royal Academy of Arts in the Hague and AKV I St. Joost in Breda. She was nominated for the 2017 Somfy Photography Award and was the Grand Prix Winner of the 2013 Poznan Photo Diploma Award. Her work has been exhibited at venues including Utrecht Central Station; Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam; Galeria Fotografii PF, Poznan; and Het Nutshuis in the Hague.
Marvin Bonheur – The Trilogy of Bonheur
In the project “The Trilogy of Bonheur”, Marvin Bonheur explores urban space and the everyday life of the residents of the Paris suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, one of the city’s poorest districts and a so-called “no-go zone”.
The beginning of the project can be traced to 2014, when he started photographing the abandoned and derelict spaces in which he grew up. The depictions of the dilapidated suburb in the first part of the series, “Alzheimer”, function as a document of both the neglected space and the author’s childhood memories. In the second part, “Therapy”, his focus switches to the everyday life of the members of the local community, the artist’s neighbors, friends, “the forgotten ones,” as he calls them. Bonheur concludes the intimate contemplation of his childhood and youth with “Renaissance.” The last part of the trilogy features similar topics, only this time the artist approaches them with striking optimism, thereby presenting his vision of the future of the depicted space.
Due to the extensive documentation and the direct nature of Bonheur’s visual language – which combines documentary style, fashion and stage photography – his work becomes much more than just a personal odyssey, it actively dismantles stereotypes and counters the stigmatization of not only a place, but of an entire generation.
Marvin Bonheur (b. 1991, France) grew up in Seine-Saint-Denis, Paris. At the age of 20, he started to practice photography. Between 2014 and 2018, he started to photograph his everyday life in this suburban area with his film camera. The project is titled “La Trilogie du Bonheur” (The Happiness Trilogy). It tells of his memories, his everyday life and the dreams of a whole generation from working-class areas.
“From St. Germain to EU – 100 years of a border” is a project run by the association Društvo za evropsko zavest (SI) whose partners are ORGAN VIDA— International Photography Organization (CRO), Fotoklub Maribor (SI) and Österreichische Gesellschaft für Kinderphilosophie (AT). The project is co-funded by the Europe for Cirtizens programme of the European Union.
The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.