David Swann

Kos - Material Witness


Output: Other

This body of work consists of two designs and one website content. The work investigates the inadequacies of International non-Government Agencies to the refugee crisis in Kos through the optic of improvisational design in the inter-space of the refugee and the volunteer.

The two designs are volunteer-led and refugee-led enquiries thematically united by improvisation. Instigated at the request of Kos-Solidarity, The LifeHacket Trio (2015) re-purposes abandoned life jackets into three products to support refugees transiting to the Athens. UNHCR Blanket+++ (2019) responds to the improvised practices of refugees within informal settlements through the lens of frugal innovation.

The Kos Archive website synthesises six years of Hellenic Republic Ministry of Citizen Protection National Coordination Center for the Border Control, Immigration and Asylum and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency statistics to provide a comprehensive situational understanding of migratory flow that created the social and political conditions for the rise of volunteerism and improvisation.

This research investigates the activities of the Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Kos-Solidarity, who provided essential frontline humanitarian assistance as no official reception facilities existed on the island. The work documents the archaeology of the refugee: ephemeral settlements such as Captain Elias hotel, the Archaeological Park and the Annex; and preserved 61 artefacts that connects the narratives of migration, volunteerism and improvisation. Acting as material witnesses, 16 objects were used to structure two object-based interviews and one focus group with Kos-Solidarity volunteers to understand the operational challenges they faced and the amateur operational systems they implemented. Their oral testimonies were thematically analysed using the Listening Guide methodology.

The outcomes were presented at: BBC online (2016), GCRF Demonstrate Impact Competition Briefing (2018), AHRC Design Research for Change (2019), UNHCR Global Compact for Refugees (2019) and the Geneva Health Forum (2020).

Research Output

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This collection of images displays the outputs from this project. Find out more details in the full case study below.

Research Method

Output A was instigated at the request of Kos-Solidarity volunteer (KS) and Manchester poet Louise Wallwein MBE. In Summer of 2015, the small island of Kos became a front-line destination with 18,600 refugees arriving in a six-month period to increase the island’s population by 62%.

Key Methodologies:

Full Project Output

REF '21

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David Swann