'Like A Prayer': A Sound Art Piece Makes Us Hear How Deportations Sound Like
Like a prayer: Sounds of militarized borders (Hast & Kotilainen 2022) sound art piece is created in relation to the Academy of Finland research project Deportation in mediated society: Economies of affect in the aftermath of the “refugee reception crisis” (DEMESO). The aim of the sound art is to engage the wider public with the project, and to evoke conversations about the audibility of deportation narratives and experiences. Through the experience of listening, we wish to bring about intimacy, affective impact and to enable the listener to examine e.g. hierarchies of voice, encourage the audit to affront questions on borders, privilege, belonging, credibility and difference.
Time to read
Guest post by Dr Susanna Hast and Noora Kotilainen. Susanna is a researcher, songwriter, writer and associate professor at the Theatre Academy, Helsinki. She is the author of the novel ‘Body of Evidence’ (Ruumis/huoneet, S&S, 2022) and monograph ‘Sounds of War’ (E-IR, 2018). Currently, she is part of a project which studies militarization of language in Finland. Noora is a social-science historian specialising in violence, war, crisis, visuality and media. She has addressed militarism and war narratives, visual and media representations of crisis, humanitarianism and migration. Currently, she is a postdoctoral researcher at University of Jyväskylä, part of the project ‘Deportation in a Mediated Society’ (DEMESO).
‘Like a prayer’ does not attempt to popularise academic research. It is not an act of translation of scholarship to art. It is intended to be ‘non-representational’, a piece of art that does not offer symbols, messages or particular meanings. The piece is born from practice ‘structured by and productive of knowledge’, as Spatz phrases it. The practice is material and technical: the piece builds on auditive materials encountered by the researchers and it utilises techniques such as arranging, layering, altering, as well as technologies of recording, disseminating and editing.
‘Like a prayer’ is a product of craft, and it exists in relation to research. It communicates with research, it is an encounter with research, it speaks back to the voices it uses as material. As a soundscape, the piece uses vintage elements of sound processing, in particular, an echo-effect, but the echo is more than an aesthetic tool. The echo is the prayer, and the prayer echoes the idea of an impermeable nation state. The (unwanted) immigrant’s body troubles the absoluteness of state borders through landing differently, manifesting difference.
The piece is built around a mantra, a chant.
May our brother stay strong when he is dis-placed beyond the borders of this state.
May our sister stay strong when she is dis-located beyond the borders of this state.
May they land safely at the hands of authorities here and in the next country.
May you be protected against harm, brother.
May you be protected against harm, sister.
We pray for the young man whose mind is broken,
who was removed from F to K
and who is in need of medications and psychiatric care,
who was robbed and beaten,
who was denied treatment because of a tattoo taken in F.
We pray for A. who persists by escaping inside the country repeatedly.
We pray for the young man whose mind is
who was removed from
and who is in need of medications and psychiatric
who was robbed
who was denied treatment because of a tattoo
We pray for A who persists by escaping inside the country
We pray for the young man whose
and who is in need
We pray for A who persists
We pray for the young man
We pray for A
The text and its audibility is partly muffled as two voices keep chanting the prayer with different intensity, and partly overlapping. The prayer shrinks, is reduced and becomes more and more fragmented towards the end of the piece, so that at the end, A, a person, is a pronoun in the past – who was. Iteration after iteration, A travelling from F to K, life becomes narrowed down to the movement of transition, and transition becomes the place of being for the asylum seeker. Susanna Hast, the sound artist, explains that the letters A, F and K (instead of names) do not only refer to anonymity in research, or invisibility in society, but to a literary style or technique on anonymising, found in life writing and works of fiction.
In the sound piece different voices collide, compete for attention, and complement each other. A potential hierarchy of voices emerges between machine voices (military and civilian airplanes, a reading robot and sound effects), musical sounds (the bass and its appearance and disappearance), the one ‘authentic voice’ (recorded from a plane in an actual deportation case), artistic voice (the shouters during performance) and actor voices (Susanna Hast and Timo Kalevi Forss reading the prayer).
The hierarchy of voices proposes at least two questions: Whose voice is audible or preferable to us? And is loudness the only tool of political protest? As Hast and Bagheri Nesami argue, loudness is not affordable to all bodies, and then failure becomes protest instead of heroic and dramatic acts.
Research on contested borders
The DEMESO-project studies how the forced removal of asylum seekers - deportations - shape the lives of individuals and communities in Finland. It examines the ways in which mediated resistance to deportation forms and transforms communities, and considers how social relationships are shaped through new social media practices in the context of deportation. The role of emotions is crucial to the project, as one of the main objectives is to study how the circulation of emotions produces affective value both in mediated resistance and in social relationships.
Research has been carried out with Finnish communities and individuals who have resisted deportation orders of asylum seekers, such as Christian congregations, the Ecumenical Council of Finland and "the Right to Live" activist collective. Research took place in the context of the refugee reception crisis that began after 2015 when more than 32 000 asylum seekers mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in Finland. This led to various restrictions in asylum policies and Aliens' Act resulting in a high number of negative asylum decisions and decisions on deportations. Forced removals especially to countries in conflict became a heatedly debated and contested topic, resulting in more frequent protest and opposition.
At the time of the ever more forceful reliance on forced removals of asylum seekers who had received negative decisions, the Finnish Ecumenical Council published on its website model prayers that were meant for congregations to use in praying for those under the threat of deportation. “Like a prayer” uses the religious “prayer for those who had to leave Finland” as its basis, but takes the form of a secular, mantric prayer. The audio art piece also consists of sounds from the artist/activist Aapo Korkeaoja protest performance Hätähuuto/Shout of distress, performed at the Finnish Parliament house in August 2019, in which several people shouted in order to arouse awareness of the violent nature of forced returns.
It includes fragmental sounds from a deportation protest in an airplane at Helsinki-Vantaa airport in August 2017, in which distressed male voices are heard resisting an on-going forced removal. The piece moreover uses instructions for those whose residence permit has been denied and who thus are forced to leave the country, published by the Finnish Immigration Services’.
Materials in ‘Like a Prayer’:
Finnish immigration service: Deportation and denial of admittance or stay. If you do not get a residence permit, you have to leave Finland.
Hast, Susanna & Maryam Bagheri Nesami (2021), “Falling Like a Monster”, Ruukku (Issue 8), Research Catalogue. https://doi.org/10.22501/ruu.889932
Korkeaoja, Aapo: Hätähuuto / Shout of distress (Performance), 2019.
Stop Deportations (Video): Brave co-travellers stood up to oppose the forced deportation of Iraqi asylum seeker on Turkish Airline flight from Helsinki today. 15.08.2017.
This piece was originally published in Finnish here.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):S. Hast and N. Kotilainen. (2022) 'Like A Prayer': A Sound Art Piece Makes Us Hear How Deportations Sound Like. Available at:https://blogs.law.ox.ac.uk/blog-post/2022/12/prayer-sound-art-piece-makes-us-hear-how-deportations-sound. Accessed on: 06/02/2023
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