Part Two | A Choice of States
Pt. 2: Writing on a Keyword
After last week’s preliminary search, I was still uncomfortable delving into any of the keywords I’d happened upon, none of which seemed to entirely reflect what I was exploring with my work. During class discussion, I landed on the word “statelessness,” which the professor both cautioned about getting too political with chose to use as an example for the rest of class, after which I never wanted to hear the word again. However, during this she mentioned the discomfort and the unhappiness that goes alongside statelessness. This is, or course, true for someone who is actually stateless, but as someone with a passport that allows access almost worldwide this rings false.
From here, however, I realised that in addressing the positive points of not belonging I was both demonstrating and addressing my privilege. I hesitated to explore the concept of statelessness in the first place because I was unsure how to address the privilege inherent in my brand of it, and felt that it needed to be addressed. I hope that can be resolved by focusing on the keyword of voluntary statelessness.
Rather than addressing the highly political aspects of those individuals born into nations that do not guarantee them citizenship, those individuals with complex heritage and those needing to leave their home countries without going through the proper diplomatic and bureaucratic channels, I want to avoid working with concerns that I have neither the expertise nor experience with to speak on with any kind of authority. Instead, what interests me is the sort of statelessness born, not out of necessity, but out of engaging with a rapidly globalizing world, recognizing the problematic nature of the nation-state and navigating the space between discomfort with one’s given nationality, love of discovery and the intricacies of exploring new and unfamiliar cultures.
Two ways of framing this are relevant to my work. One concerns language, cultural norms and communication between people of different cultures, between an outsider and “local,” to put it in its most derivative form. Language barriers can limit understanding, there is only a certain depth of conversation that can occur between two people without a common language, thus limiting the understanding two people can reach. There’s also a wide variety of work that explores nonverbal communication, such as body language, and especially art as a form of intercultural communication. Music and performance is the easiest and most commonly considered way for humans to interact beyond the boundaries of language, but visual art has a long history of engaging with universal truths, questions or problems. I’m interested in how to express those deeper concerns, attempting to surpass delays in learning language, considering difficulties of communication between individuals “fluent” in the same language and differences in dialects and norms within the same language but derived from different places.
The other way to frame the experience of voluntary statelessness is through material culture. Motifs and traditions repeated throughout the fabric of cities as distant as Dubai and Cadiz, watching how the obvious connection between the two manifests, not in the people but in their surroundings. Layers of history are contained in narrow Italian streets, a kind of cosy history that contrasts with the exposed marble on Greek hillsides, worn and dirty set alongside the sterile contemporaneity of the Arabian Gulf. We attach to these material qualities, see these hidden connections alongside the capitalist imperialism of common brands, of McDonalds in the airport. The contradiction of voluntary statelessness born out of globalisation is that the more people ascribe to it the less these cultural differences seem to manifest. Herein is another issue, the homogeneity of my generation of people with little concern for nationality besides what it is possible to discover from it, a curiosity that seems likely to destroy what it is curious about.
Images and Video Courtesy of Yomadic & the Monty Python YouTube Channel