The Uhyst Refugee Asylum

2008, Uhyst, Germany


In Saxony, in the village of Uhyst, stands an 18th-century building, called the Dannenberghaus, which once served as a boarding school for boys from Europe's aristocratic families. Even though the building was inhabited as recently as during the DDR era and the last resident, an old lady, moved out only last year, the building has retained much of its original character. Archival documents, written in Gothic script, tells us how many pairs of shoes or nightcaps a student had to have and what was the recommended diet. We can also learn that the education went in a Protestant spirit. In one of the archival photographs, Nazi flags hang from the building's windows.

The project The Uhyst Refugee Asylum tries to imagine the situation twenty, thirty or fifty years from now, when Europe has, hypothetically, been flooded by a wave of refugees from all over the world. It also a question asked of the residents of the Saxony village whether they would be willing to accept them. Uhyst has already answered the question once, in the early 1990s, when the government floated plans to put 120 refugees in the nearby historical palace. The members of the Uhyst Heimatverein did agree though to the creation of a fictional refugee centre. On 12 July 2008, a banner with the appropriate inscription in English and German was hung above the entrance to the building, and on the windows and doors plaques were installed designating the rooms for different nations. Both the banner and the plaques were written using Gothic script, identical to the one used in the historical documents describing the young noblemen's menu and costume.

The artist chose twenty countries that the majority of European refugees originate from: Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Burma, Somalia, Iran, Eritrea, Lebanon, Kurdistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Pakistan, Tibet, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Chechnya, Salvador, and Cuba. Countries impoverished by war (e.g. Iraq) and those on a lower level of civilisational development, were given lower-standard rooms. The poorer the country, the more run-down the room. The choice of the rooms was one of the most cynical aspects of the project's strategy.

In a way, Gothic script is emblematic for European culture. It makes one think of German literature, German order and organisation. Because of our historical experiences, it makes us also think of genocide. In the context of the Uhyst Refugee Asylum, Germanness became Europeanness. Placing the refugees in a building whose order and customs are described with precisely this script meant facing the fictional refugees with the requirement of assimilation. And so in the room for refugees from Cuba was a copy of an archival document stating that a student should have twelve pairs of white cotton stockings.

The The Uhyst Refugee Asylum project was not so much an attempt to confront the villagers with an inevitable, in the author's opinion, future, as a question asked from the same position, that is, the position of an inhabitant of Europe. An identical, fictional refugee camp could be created in a Polish village.

Afghanistan, 50cm x 50cm
Armenia, 80 cm x 80 cm
Burma, 30 cm x 30 cm
Chechnya, 30 cm x 30 cm
Cuba I, 20 cm x 20 cm
Cuba II, 100 cm x 100 cm
Iran, 120 cm x 120 cm
Kurdistan I, 100 cm x 100 cm
Kurdistan II, 100 cm x 100 cm
Lebanon I, 20 cm x 20 cm
Lebanon II, 50 cm x 50 cm
Palestine I, 100 cm x 100 cm
Palestine II, 50 cm x 50 cm
Regulations, 40 cm x 40 cm
Tibet, 50 cm x 50 cm  
Vietnam, 80 cm x 80 cm  
Curator: Susanne Altmann
Realisation: Zweckverband Landschaftspark Bärwalder See
Production of photographs - Instytucja Kultury Ars Cameralis Silesiae Superioris
Uhyst Refugee Asylum leaflet