By Maja and Reuben Fowkes
A pair of giant turtles carrying clay models of houses on their backs were suspended in the gallery space for Slovak artist Oto Hudec’s Archipelago exhibition at the Bratislava House of Arts in 2017. They formed the striking centrepiece of a show that brought together two years of artistic engagement with the inhabitants of a village in the Cabo Verde islands and migrants from the former Portuguese colony living in the Cova da Moura neighbourhood of Lisbon. Working with these geographically remote but culturally connected communities through ceramic workshops, photography and documentary film, the artist uncovered the entanglements of home and migration, legacies of colonial exploitation and Anthropocene tales of drought, failed harvests and rising ecological anxiety. The hanging sculptures recall the non-Western and indigenous mytheme of the World Turtle that supports the living world and the oceanic migrations undertaken by an allegedly sedentary species.
The impact of climate change on local communities and the ecosystems on which they depend is a recurrent motif in the work of this Central European artist with a planetary perspective on ecological and social justice issues. Considering the connection between desertification and the exodus of climate refugees, his installation Long, Long Road made visible the pressure points between areas of relative prosperity in the West and migratory flows from the global South at strategic border crossings. Fragile figures made from cotton and wood are filmed crossing deserts, seas and the physical obstacles of anti-migrant defences in their flight from war and global warming. His model of a desert checkpoint is reminiscent of anti-migrant barriers between Mexico and the United States, but also the razor-wire fences that guard European borders against the unauthorised movement of people.