Shipwreck of Dreams

Emilio Nasser

2019 - Ongoing


”People would spend days and nights at the lake margins, longing to see the magical ship and have their desires met”, a forgotten legend once told.

‘Shipwreck of Dreams’ departs on the human journey for a better place by retelling this unknown ancient myth about a wish-granting boat on Lake Geneva in Switzerland. The project follows the traces of a self-organised school that roams in Zurich searching for a place and listens to the wisdom shared by the school’s interconnected multiple voices that meet at the crossroads of European migration policies. Together they tell stories about what to consider home.

The school ‘Autonome Schule‘ is a grassroots movement composed of locals and migrants in Zurich. It emerged in 2008 during the struggle against the new Swiss asylum law, which has become one of the strictest procedures in Europe. The history of the school is marked by the constant search for a permanent free space. Squatting, re-locations and solidarity have built its identity. Since then, the school has been an emancipatory political project against racism and social injustice. Mainly the school offers free access to German language classes for illegalized people and migrants. Furthermore, it is a platform to discuss and critique the Swiss-European migration policies of illegalization and a safe space where unrepresented people can play an active role in voicing their demands.

After years of drifting through different places, I landed at the school to learn German in 2019 and actively started to participate in some working groups. The project began as a collaborative process of conversations with immigrants, activists and others who passed through the school's history. It aims to navigate the school's multiple stories by photographing unseen paths, traces, and places. Collaborative portraits were set up to invite those who landed on the shores of Lake Geneva to draw inspiration from the myth to enhance their own stories and tell their dreams, hopes and fears: Empowering them to share their experiences of facing the reality of being away from home and the loved ones by writing them on a paper boat hat.

“A place where I love and I am loved, where I have my dignity…where I do not get fear, where I am happy”. Wrote B. on his hat.

The project seeks to connect the invisible traces of a grassroots space created by illegalized people and the often unheard voices of those displaced, trying to mend their broken dreams. Whereas the reframing of the myth attempts to open up a space for reflections on representation, racism, social injustice, and political border practice. Photographs, moving images, drawings and words address the current uncertain circumstances of migration and reveal their 'Shipwreck of Dreams'.

*The project is part of the ongoing collection of works entitled 'La memoria es un pantano' (Memory is a swamp). Those artworks are based on the research and revisiting of myths, local stories and oral memory to embrace and retell these narratives in a changing contemporary world. The different projects seek to open spaces for collaborative work contexts, reframing visions and speculative narratives.

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  • "What do we see and what don't, who belongs to a society and who doesn't? How racism creates visible and invisible borders between people." Claudia Wilopo, ethnographer/researcher at the University of Basel, wrote the text as an invitation to participate in the project. Working collaboratively is essential to keep my practice open.

  • On December 19th in 2008, sans-papiers and solidarity groups occupied the Predigerkirche in Zurich to protested against living conditions and demand the right to stay. According to the 'Autonome Schule' (Die Geschichte der ASZ,, the action was a response to the new asylum law that has come into force in Switzerland, which states that rejected asylum seekers should only receive emergency aid.

  • A. wrote "Stow away" on his hat while sitting next to the street of Manessestrasse, a building that was squatted at the beginning of the school in 2009.

  • K. is an activist from the school who was unexpectedly deported in 2022 after living in Switzerland for 20 years. He wrote "Home? The base, the school… an unknown" when he was still at the school.

  • In 2013, the school was forced to move away from the train yard area. It is a bitter irony that it is the construction of the new police and justice centre that is forcing them to do so. As noted in an article from Papierlose Zeitung, the self-edited newspaper of the school from 2009 to the present.

  • On January 7th in 2010, the police unexpectedly evicted the school pavilion, leaving the school homeless. The school criticises the eviction as disproportionate and experiences a great solidarity from individuals and institutions. A week later, the 'Theaterhaus Gessnerallee 'offered temporary home. The school with its 150 people moved four times. Twice it was housed in squats, and the cultural institution 'Rote Fabrik' showed solidarity. In April, the school finally managed to occupy an empty barracks on the site of the former railway station. It becomes their home for the next three years. This history of the school is documented online (Die Geschichte der ASZ,

  • "Home is where I love and where I am loved. It is also where I honour and am honoured, where I can dream, where I make my contribution. It is where I nurture, where I work, where I associate. It is where I am fearless and where I am happy." wrote B. on his hat.

  • "... where my soul relaxes, is nourished by me, my doubts disappear, and my fears evaporate." written by M. a cook from 'Kafe für Alle', a bar/kitchen meeting point at the school.

  • What stories are being told? What (in)certainties are visible? What does resistance mean? Who has to cross violent borders?
    Which everyday life is a threat? For whom is security normality? Which "normality" is
    protected?. Questions that Claudia Wilopo, ethnographer/researcher at the University of Basel, wrote down in a text in response to an invitation to participate in the project.

  • The ongoing short film was created during the year 2022 and shows the first chapter of 'Navigating the Invisible Border Space'.

  • A first photo book dummy was created in the year 2022.

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