By Emma Cox

Full essay in the print edition and on Project MUSE

With roots in the Latin procedere, meaning to go forward, advance, or proceed, “procession” bears comparison with its derived terms “process” and “procedure” vis-à-vis the technologies of status determination that adjudicate refugee status. But the humanitarian crisis of en masse arrival, which cascaded a series of unilateral responses by EU member states in 2015 and 2016, altered the procedural functioning of political borders. In this context, a persistent mode of envisioning refugees as processional collectives came to connote something additional to the normative, legislated administration of transiting bodies. The intensively imaged and spectated movements of refugees and migrants into and across Europe form the basis of a mode of looking and responding, which I term “processional aesthetics.” A key aim of my discussion is to make sense of processional aesthetics – both as a way of seeing and as an embodied practice responsive to refugees – via an analysis of narrative and photographic representation, chiefly within news media, and of collective embodied responses, including community marches, walks, parades, religious ceremonies, and performance art. Understanding these representational domains as interlocked (that is, linked as aestheticized traces of Europe’s “migrant crisis,” if not necessarily co-constitutive of one other) gives rise to key questions: what is the disposition of processional bodies, and perhaps more importantly, what is the disposition of seeing that manifests the visual economy of the crisis?

Image group 1: A series of eighteen photographs, documenting the journeys of asylum seekers and migrants across Europe. September 2015. Photographs: Mauricio Lima, Anemona Hartocollis, and Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants/march-budapest-hungary

Image group 2: Two photographs, the first of asylum seekers arriving on the beach at the Greek island of Kos; the second of a tourist riding a bicycle past asylum seekers and migrants at Kos. June 2015. Photographs: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe and Petros Giannakouris/AP. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/06/kos-migrants-tourists-greece-traffickers-sympathy-solidarity

Image group 3: A series of twenty-two photographs of asylum seekers and migrants at the Greek island of Lesvos. October 2015. Photographs: EPA; AFP/Getty Images; AP. Available at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3259451/84-African-migrants-including-two-pregnant-women-baby-rescued-Spain-s-coast-boatloads-land-Greece-s-shores.html

Image 4: A dinghy carrying Afghan asylum seekers and migrants arrives at the Greek island of Kos. May 2015. Photograph: Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/31/kos-refugees-migrants-tourist-reactions-british-government

Image group 5: Two photographs, the first of an interfaith funeral for drowned asylum seekers and migrants; the second of soldiers carrying coffins. April 2015. Photographs: Malta Department of Information. Available at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-24/malta-holds-funeral-for-migrant-shipwreck-victims/6417290

Image group 7: Eleven images of satirical floats, Carnival, Germany (various locations). February 2016. Photographs: Picture-alliance/dpa; Reuters. Available at http://www.dw.com/en/carnival-float-makers-under-investigation-in-germany-for-racist-symbols/a-19034246

Video 1: “The Last Stretch to Sweden.” By Nabih Bulos. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/reporters-notebook/migrants/march-budapest-hungary

Video 2: “Light Up the Law.” Candlelit procession, Dundee, September 2015. Gomni Livestreams and Video. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-FYNBLyZ8s

Video 3: Procession in Tampere, Finland, by the activist groups, Soldiers of Odin and Loldiers of Odin. January 2016. Available at http://www.cbc.ca/news/trending/loldiers-of-odin-finland-1.3410837