What a difference time can make. In 1940, Portbou (Spain) was a crossing point for refugees fleeing the Nazis, traveling from Marseilles to Lisbon. A sound-funneling monument now stands there in honor of Walter Benjamin, who after being discovered by the authorities committed suicide rather than go back. Looking back, we see the necessity of such “illegal crossings.” Few would now argue that the refugees should have returned home.
Today international uproar exists over undocumented immigrants. Nations close their borders. Towns refuse shelter. In 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. In 2018, new walls are proposed. Thousands are killed in civil war, yet refugees are demonized, even in nations built on the backs of immigrants.
But not everyone feels this way. In his own travels on the Lisbon path, Lucas Norer retraced the steps of the refugees, and learned more of their stories through local interviews. These became first a sound installation and now a USB card and booklet. While Norer’s politics are not overt, his message is clear: those who can help should help.
The path’s sounds are crisply reflected in these recordings, from nature to transport, interview to edifice. While many of these sounds are different from those heard by fleeing families, many must be similar: the birds descended from other birds, the winds descended from other winds, the reflections of gravel and dust. The footsteps that open the recording set the conditions: these are hard rocks, and this is a difficult path. The lonely drones echo the lonely hearts; the clack of trains awakens memories of Holocaust shuttles, whose Jewish occupants are headed for slaughter. While listening, one rejects political wrangling as priority. When lives are in danger, what value are labels?
The recording helps us to recall a nobler cause: protecting the innocent. Portbou is an honorable historical homage, but it also serves as a reminder of a time when fear triumphed over trust and led to demagoguery. We are experiencing raw echoes of that time today, the tolling of “Korridor” a solemn warning. Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Between that time and now, many nations awoke to the ideal of mutual responsibility. That idea can come around again, if only we allow it. (Richard Allen)