Migrants who make the daunting journey across the English Channel are usually only ever referred to in statistical terms. A perilous experience is turned into a simple daily numerical expression – those who survived, and those who did not – by media, news outlets, and political figures. Over the course of eight months in 2022, I spent countless days at sea in the English Channel and on the beaches of the south Kent coast to witness these crossings personally. 21 Miles attempts to show what this traumatic journey must be like for those who undertake it. The installation combines a single photograph taken in the middle of the English Channel, with over 400 audio recordings captured from many different journeys. My own recordings on location, archival recordings, and recordings provided by the people who made the journey are edited together to create the experience of a single English Channel crossing. The accompanying photobook contains an original poem by poet Daljit Nagra MBE.
The video of the installation is best viewed in full screen with headphones.
So far from Home to find his Faith
There was a man swallowing down in a man-hole
and none he knew were near him in the crowd,
he began to be plunged, then he held out his
heart and he wailed. Till the God-Word
shone from the foreign and flowed
him far above the world.
Where he lived upon the round
no longer mattered.
by Daljit Nagra MBE FSRL
Those who make the perilous journey across the English Channel are usually only ever referred to in statistical terms. A death-defying journey is turned into a simple daily numerical expression. These statistics appear in a newspaper column, on a TV news channel, or on a social media post and are frequently shaped into click-bait or mined for the use of political and ideological rhetoric. Life and death are often reduced to two simple sets of figures. The number of those who survived and succeeded to reach Britain, and the number of those who did not. This work exists as an attempt to move beyond the statistical dominance that consumes and overshadows this story. It aims to go beyond the focus on the numerical depiction, by bringing to light the very real human traces these treacherous crossings leave behind. The hope is that these traces and indications will shift the focus to a reflection of the traumatic experience this journey presents to those who undertake it.