Constellations of Offshore Detention. Panel at DNL Smart Prisons

Constellations of Offshore Detention. Panel at DNL Smart Prisons

This panel at Disruption Network Lab’s conference Smart Prisons discusses research-based works influenced by a broader notion of technology, which is not merely attached to technical devices. At the focus of the debate are offshore detention facilities as a specific technological application of systemic knowledge, and as a contemporary technique of border demarcation, surveillance, and control of society.

The speakers reveal a direct link between the facilities they have studied and examine the logistics behind rendering humans stateless in exterritorial spaces and maritime geographies. New York based artist Sean Vegezzi has developed a new artistic project on New York City’s carceral and policing infrastructure, focusing on a floating detention site used to hold inmates for the New York City Department of Correction. The Vernon C. Bain Center (VCBC) is an 800-bed, 191-meter floating detention facility moored in the East River within the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx. It functions as an auxiliary of the Rikers Island jail complex and is the primary facility for the criminal court intake in the Bronx.

Worldwide, VCBC is the only floating structure that was ever purpose-built as a detention facility. It has a projected closure date within 2027. Sean Vegezzi will showcase a corrected history of VCBC through a new video work commissioned by Disruption Network Lab, VCBC: Christening, featuring the only known surviving video documentation of the vessel’s christening ceremony in 1991. This short film will be brought in conceptual dialogue with the work of artist Adnan Softić, who lived in a floating “accommodation barge” – the Bibby Challenge, a cross between a cruise ship and container ship – set up by German authorities on the river Elbe in Hamburg to accommodate refugees fleeing the Bosnian War.

These mobile housing units can be easily used when required, dismantled without leaving a trace or easily relocated. In their artistic work, of which a video excerpt will be shown, Adnan Softić and Nina Sofitć engage with the phenomenon of extraterritoriality. The well-known dichotomy “refugees and water” appears in a new form, and the interest of the state becomes visible to maintain the invisible condition of the refugees. Prisons are a tool of legal enforcement and play a role in all legal systems. Jens Kambeck talks about special prisons in different countries and introduces the example of the airport procedure for asylum seekers in Germany. Comparing daily procedures in selected prisons in different countries worldwide, he examines the range between right-based-approaches to the economy of scarcity. In a short excurse to legal sociology and legal theory, the concept of legal pluralism and the legal kite (based on state law, international law, customary law and religious law) is introduced.

With Sean Vegezzi (Artist and Researcher, US – short film), Adnan Softić (Artist, BA/DE), Jens Kambeck (Attorney at Law, DE). Moderated by Tatiana Bazzichelli (Artistic Director, Disruption Network Lab, IT/DE).

Berlin (DE)
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