Visibility is tactical.

A fragment from the interview with Matthew Kiem for New Inquiry:

It is untrue that “we” do not know or see what happens in detention, or that if the people (the figural audience) did see, then “bad things” would stop happening. Whose gaze is being assumed here? The compulsion to visibility, a voyeuristic obsession with the visualisation of “exotic” trauma or of people of color suffering and victimised, ignores the extent of surveillance that detainees and undocumented migrants are subjected to, undermines the clandestinity and privacy that (undocumented) migrants often require so as to survive, and is often simply the occupational impulse of those whose income is derived from “making the scandalous visible” for a figurative, liberal (and white) gaze.

While it might seem harsh, it’s not a view that I came to recently. So rather than write a whole lot more on the subject …

From The Micro-physics of Theoretical Production and Border Crossings,” Borderlands 3:2 (2004):

… the concrete practices of tactical media which predominated among the noborder networks (Garcia and Lovink 1997) diverged between a tactical media applied alongside a tactical clandestinity … [and] media as strategy, as a form of lobbying of the not-yet-represented.

Most of “Signs of life” [Overland, no.167, pp69-73 (2002)] was concerned with the terms of visibility that obtain both within border control systems and among self-styled ‘refugee advocates.’ It includes a brief remark, a sentence that begins “There were, of course, those few who saw it as a chance for more visibility …” That piece obliquely references things that occurred which were not only annoying or dull, but extraordinarily awful and with horrible consequences for people on the other side of the fences and whose legal status made certain kinds of visibility nonviable.


The point about tactical visibility-clandestinity has been made elsewhere and since. This is one of the pointed questions in “Precari-Us?” [1]:

To what extent do the performative imperatives of artistic-cultural  exploitation (visibility, recognition, authorship) foreclose the option  of clandestinity which remains an imperative for the survival of many undocumented migrants and workers in the informal economy?

I have no problem at all with people deciding for themselves whether and how they wish to pass, or not, as it were. And therein lies the larger question of the way in which citizens routinely delegate to themselves the task of representation, of representing non-citizens, as a means of persuading a figurative audience implicitly composed of citizens.


1 “Precari-Us?” In J. Berry-Slater, ed. The Precarious Reader (London: Mute), 2005, pp.12-18.





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