Kevin Kremer


Critical practice: understanding migration through collective poetry and the dictionary of freedom


In November 2018 I had the opportunity to take part in a workshop called “The Dictionary of Freedom - A Workshop on Migration” held by Sheena Calvert (Royal College of Art), Marteen Cornell and Niels Schrader (KABK) at the Royal College of Art. 

On day one we - a group of 10 - were introduced to the workshops’ reader, which was put together by Maarten & Niels. It included a variety of critical texts around migration, originating from poetry, journalism, and academia. After discussing the texts in-depth with the group, we decided to produce a publication - the dictionary of freedom - in response to the texts and the discussions around it.


My response to the topic was focussing on the texts from the reader, dissecting the language within them and focussing on individual terms that resonated with me while initially reading the texts. 

All these texts had a large scope in terms of talking about the concept of migration. Further, through their context and brilliant curation, they were critical in approach and helped to open up a much larger understanding of the topic. Examples were: 


»A We Refugees«
Hannah Arendt

»Blood in the Water«
Ala Tannir

»Scaling the q›Wall in the Head‹«
Ostica Bradatan

»Til Gravitation is the Cause of Migration« Michaela Büsse

Byung-Chul Han

»Playing the Part«
System of Systems


Not only my interest in the critical engagement with the topic throughout the workshop but also a very personal connection to migration were the reasons that I joined the workshop. 

In 2015 my family and I intensified our engagement in refugee relief in Germany. Besides hands-on help and welcoming four heart-kids to our family, we started a non-profit association - Good Friends eV - through which we were able and fortunate enough to receive generous donations by many. 

The non-profit focuses on supporting asylum seekers, including those within my family, by offering legal help and financial support. Because of this work, I understood how complex the political, emotional, legal, moral and financial context of migration is. (Especially when we are trying to form assumptions.) This is why I believe it is important to talk about migration in a more complex, even abstract, way. Therefore my contribution to the publication focussed on language, utilizing it to expand the vocabulary we use around migration and to facilitate new intellectual, conceptual and emotional connections within the context. 

For my contribution, I re-read the texts from the reader, this time identifying word pairs (continuing: terms) that resonated with me. The identified terms can be read ironically within the context, questioning our perception of truth and fiction in a fake-news era. They challenge the definition of migration, suggesting an expansion of our understanding of the topic and they remind us of the brutally honest, emotional truth of migration.


In relation to government-run disinformation campaigns, my contribution also focussed on information transparency and sourcing the layers of information it contains. Besides the definition, source, and context, the contribution draws contentions between the individual texts and the identified terms, allowing the reader to explore different voices, thinking and knowledge around migration. Images of conceptual artworks, merely captioned by their source-link (in code), further emphasize the notion of complexity and strong necessity of abstract thinking.

This workshop has given me the foundation of understanding which led on to a larger exploration of the philosophy of language, critical theory, and collective knowledge and experience.


In conversation with Niels Schrader, I was introduced to the concept of non-linear narration. This concept has inspired my thinking and has become the underlying principle of “Constructing Narratives”, a participatory installation, which was exhibited the RCA Work in Progress Show in February 2019. 


This installation invited the audience to construct narratives using magnetic panels on a metal, gridded fence. The twenty-four panels presented the audience with an expanded vocabulary, gathered from continued research of the concepts of freedom, borders, and migration. The layout and typography of the panels allowed the audience to read across panels, terms, and definitions. The origin of the terms was listed on a footnote panel attached to the side of the fence. Another side panel gave instructions on how to interact with the installation.


As the audience started to engage with the installation the language on the panels started to change, each time creating a new personal narrative contributing to a larger, collective, ever-changing poem throughout the duration of the exhibition. 

This system constantly generates new narratives that can help us see things differently, with more consideration and through abstract thinking. 


photo credit: Pamela Dimitrov

photo credit: Pamela Dimitrov

Since the terms originate from authors from different times and socio-political environments the audience can track the conversation of migration through time, individual viewpoints or voices of a generation. 

By observing the audience interacting with the installation I became aware of the notion of collective and shared experiences in my practice. Through personal experience, I have learned that empathy and the ability to connect with each other can bring communities together to create positive change and impact. Empathy and what it means to be human have since then become emerging and increasingly intrinsic themes within my work.

This has set me out on a path of further exploring the emotional impact of my work in relation to the socio-political contexts, research-driven approach and language-based foundation of my process. 

photo credit: Pamela Dimitrov

photo credit: Pamela Dimitrov

photo credit: Pamela Dimitrov

photo credit: Pamela Dimitrov


All these and other influences over the course of one year have shaped “Dialogue I: Freedom, Borders, Migration.”, exhibited at the Graduate Show 2019 at the Royal College of Art.


This installation creates a spacial dialogue inviting the audience to challenge, expand and consider our collective and individual vocabulary within this context. The installation connects to the audience - and the audience with one another -through technology and language, creating a powerful juxtaposition of content and context within a transitory space. The installation speaks to a deep, human honesty that allows us to reflect on collective trauma within a shared experience. It questions the very language it presents, reconnects us to our capability of compassion and invokes complex thinking about the world we live in.

Kevin Kremer