Written by Benita Fernando | Updated: January 20, 2020 9:44:44 am
In 2016, more than 5,000 displaced people perished while journeying across the Mediterranean Sea; 500 died in one shipwreck alone. Those who managed to reach land were often huddled instantly into space blankets as first aid to reduce hypothermia from the frigid waters. These emergency thermal blankets, originally developed by NASA for its space station Skylab, became synonymous with the refugee crisis.
Besides their practical use, they also look stunning, like gold and silver metallic foil. So stunning that they have been successfully turned into art material. Artist James Bridle made A Flag for No Nations (2016), in which an emergency blanket doubled up as a flag on the shore of Athens. The same year, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei invited controversy by getting celebrities, including actor Charlize Theron, to don these blankets and take selfies at the posh Cinema for Peace gala. In a more poignant project from 2019, artist Giovanni De Gara covered the doors of seven churches in Naples with emergency blankets, indicating a golden land that has been denied to refugees. This year, artist Pallavi Paul uses the blanket, already invested with symbolic weight, in her new installation, Far Too Close.