Art in the Storm of Flight

Fluten der Freiheit, Credit: Jakob Gruber

The project ‘Fluten der Freiheit’ highlights the moving and often life-threatening journey of refugees across the sea, bringing to life their risks and hopes in search of a better life.

The u19 – create your world category of the Prix Ars Electronica offers young artists a platform to present their visions and projects. These works deal with topics that are of particular interest to the next generation and are present in their everyday lives. Jakob Gruber received the Golden Nica of the 2024 Prix Ars Electronica for his work ‘Fluten der Freiheit’. In ‘Fluten der Freiheit’, Jakob explores the moving and often life-threatening journey of refugees across the sea.

At the centre of this project is a symbolic life jacket made up of the words ‘peace’, ‘democracy’ and ‘security’. This powerful animation is accompanied by a soundtrack that gives the viewer goosebumps and creates an oppressive atmosphere. The artwork conveys the enormous risks and hopes of refugees seeking a better life in Europe. Inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s quote from ‘On the Duty of Disobedience to the State’ – ‘Could there not be a government in which it is not the majority that decides right and wrong, but conscience? – the project questions the ethical and moral foundations of our society and encourages a deeper examination of the motives of refugees. In an interview with Jakob, we find out more about his inspirations, the messages he wants to convey and the challenges he faced in realising this project.

What prompted you to address the issue of refugees and their dangerous journey across the seas? Why did you decide to represent this through a word-shaped life jacket?

Jakob Gruber: In recent months and years, various political crises have unfortunately pushed important issues such as the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean into the background, even though this crisis is taking place virtually on our doorstep, in our neighbouring country Italy. With my project, I wanted to draw attention back to the people who are embarking on this dangerous journey, whose only hope in the EU is peace, democracy and security.

Why did you decide to represent this through a word-shaped life jacket?

Jakob Gruber: Why did I choose the shape of a life jacket? There are two reasons. On the one hand, the life jacket symbolises democracy, peace and security – elements that ensure people’s survival. The desire for better living conditions drives them to venture on this risky journey. On the other hand, the life jacket also has a figurative aspect. If you search for ‘Mediterranean refugees’ on the internet and click on ‘images’, you immediately see crowds of people on rubber dinghies wearing the eye-catching orange life jackets. These waistcoats have become a symbol of safety at sea.

How did you develop the soundtrack and what elements did you use to create the scary atmosphere?

Jakob Gruber: I mainly developed the soundtrack during my time at school and was able to perfect it thanks to the support of two teachers. I played the sound several times in class. My first attempt included the sound of a foghorn, which always startled or made at least one person flinch. As this effect was undesirable, I removed the foghorn.

I then asked myself the question: ‘What sounds do you hear when you are fighting for survival on the water?’ I thought of breathing, thunderstorms, heartbeats, the sound of waves, seagulls and muffled water noises. Then it was just a matter of fine-tuning the individual sounds. I arranged them in such a way that they almost tell a story. You just have to close your eyes to get enough impressions and understand everything.

Fluten der Freiheit, Credit: Jakob Gruber

How did your own experiences and background influence your approach to this project?

Jakob Gruber: I come from a family that is generally very tolerant of other population groups, and I think that has had a strong influence on me. It was important to me not to be discriminatory in any way. I wanted to draw attention to the still extremely bad situation in the Mediterranean, which has been going on there for years. In addition, the topic of migration is very topical both in Salzburg and at my school. As I live in this environment every day, it had a great impact on me.

What do you hope viewers will feel or think after watching your project?

Jakob Gruber: I hope that viewers experience a rush of emotions and sensory impressions after watching my clip and are left with them. I want them to be inspired to remember these issues that are happening right on our doorstep. Instead of having tunnel vision on certain things, I want them to think outside the box.

How do you see the role of art and animation in raising awareness and educating people about social and political issues?

Jakob Gruber: The role of art and animation is extremely important as it can reach people of all ages. I particularly want to appeal to children and young people. As soon as something moves that is unfamiliar to them, they pay attention to it. This makes it easier to reach the younger generations and sensitise them to these issues.

Even if this contradicts my project somewhat, I think the following statement is important: art doesn’t always have to have a political or socially critical background. Unfortunately, many people have forgotten how to simply enjoy something – to look at it, listen to it or feel it without needing a specific reason. Art should also be able to be simply enjoyed. As already mentioned, art does not always have to have a political or socially critical background. This animation should also help you to simply see and enjoy.

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Jakob Gruber

Jakob Gruber was born on 13 April 2007 and lives in Henndorf am Wallersee with his parents and younger brother. He currently attends the HTL Salzburg in the branch ‘Graphic and Communication Design’ and is in the 3rd grade (3AHGK). His hobbies include volleyball, playing the cello, photography, graphic design and art in general.

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