Alien Staff, 1993

Media installation, Bàcul 168 x 16 x 15 cm

Since the late eighties, Krzysztof Wodiczko has been creating artefacts for immigrants and homeless people that function as implements for survival and communication. In the nineties, influenced by a stay in Paris, he concentrated on new projects dealing with collectives of non-EU immigrants in Europe. It was in this context that Wodiczko created the project Xenology: Immigrant instruments (1992–95), a working network for which he designed two mechanical devices. The first was Mouthpiece (1995), a series of small monitors showing lips in movement that, hanging from the neck of the users, emitted their voices as a substitution for the act of speech. The second was Alien Staff (1992–93), an instrument in the symbolic shape of a staff giving the immigrant the opportunity of telling his story and addressing people directly.

The instrument consists of an electronic staff, equipped with a small monitor and a loudspeaker at the upper end. At the bottom there is a transparent cylinder called ‘Xenolog Section’, containing samples and images of the life journey of the person carrying the staff: letters, visas, work permits, etc. Wodiczko designed it so the immigrant could hold the instrument in a public space, with the monitor at the level of his head. On the screen we see an image of his face and through the loudspeaker we hear the story of his journey. This attracts the attention of passers-by who approach the immigrant, thus reducing the usual distance between a foreigner and an indigenous person and establishing a dialogue normally vetoed by cultural prejudices.

The first model of Alien Staff was presented and tested in Barcelona in June 1992, in the context of Wodiczko’s first retrospective exhibition in Europe, Instruments, Projections, Vehicles, at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Later on, it was developed and applied to various other cities. A second model was constructed, with a few variations, in Brooklyn during the summer, autumn and winter of 1992–93. Later still, it was used by different immigrants in Paris, Marseille, Stockholm, Warsaw and Rotterdam. The Alien Staff in the MACBA Collection records two life stories: ‘Rencontre autour du bâton de l’étranger’ and ‘L’histoire de Patricia Pereda racontée par elle-même pour le bâton de l’étranger et filmé à Paris en juin 1993’.

Alien Staff is at once a portable communication tool and a cultural network for immigrant individuals and groups. In the words of the artist: ‘It is an instrument that gives the immigrant the possibility of “addressing” directly anyone who is attracted by the symbolic form of the equipment and the contents of the programme being “transmitted”.’ The shape of the electronic staff and the gesture of the person carrying it evoke the staff of Moses and the Biblical shepherds, but also a bourgeois walking stick from the seventeenth century. The small monitor, its position at the level of the eyes, and its proximity to the face of the user, are important aspects in the design. Exploiting the codes of ethnography and science fiction, Alien Staff demonstrates that changes in perception can produce more respectful attitudes towards others and encourage dialogue among individuals.

Technical details

Original title:
Alien Staff
Registration number:
Wodiczko, Krzysztof
Date created:
Date acquired:
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
Object type:
Media installation
Crozier with single-channel video, colour, sound, 15 min 20 s and single-channel video, colour, sound, 33 min 25 s
Bàcul 168 x 16 x 15 cm (height x width x depth)
MACBA Collection. MACBA Foundation
© Krzysztof Wodiczko
It has accessibility resources:

The MACBA Collection features Catalan, Spanish and international art and, although it includes works from the 1920s onwards, its primary focus is on the period between the 1960s and the present.

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Krzysztof Wodiczko "Alien Staff", 1992-1993
"Alien Staff" scheme
Krzysztof Wodiczko, drawing for the "Alien Staff", 1992-1993