The paper discusses a project that explores the convergence of technological and social space in six urban centres in the Americas and Europe around issues of migration, nomadism and notions of a better life. Melding form and content to examine the mediation of everyday life, the project relies on ethnographic and journalistic practices and on the Internet as an interactive public broadcasting environment for the dissemination of ideas; a place of convergence for migrant citizens in today’s globally interconnected world.
The work is inscribed within netart projects, an emerging practice in the late 90s where online visitors, or ‘users’, have the possibility to interact and participate by changing the material or contributing material. Often, one part of the project takes place outside of the Internet, where interaction is placed at the service of communication experiments designed to engaging reflection and dialogue, as in the case of Pat Badani’s project titled ‘Where are you from?_Stories’. The videos archived in the web-work are hyperlinked to a vocabulary of frequently used words (foreigner – accepted – familiarity – money – security…), extracted from these transnational, vernacular stories collected by the artist since 2002 in 6 global cities. ‘Where are you from?_Stories’ integrates interaction and narrative, but it is devoid of a plot present in conventional literary storytelling. The visitor’s aesthetic experience is not directed by the sense of inevitability existing in traditional, linear narratives. By blending strategies currently used in fields that converge with computers: interactive fiction, participatory gaming, and new conventions in storytelling in television and film; the work is structured so that visitors construct meaning through navigating and selecting archived videos at random (in a rhizomatic way), drawing individualized connections between the different stories. The heterogenous character of the samples shown in the digital platform and the presentation of the documentary stories in an interactive, web-based, non-linear environment, prevent us from taking the ‘talking heads’ for granted. New meanings are gleaned as each user/visitor selects at will and at their own pace, from the different viedeo-clips in the database. The project holds up a mirror to technologically mediated modes of communication today and to their impact on issues of identity.
What the project reveals is not only questions about the relativity of national boundaries in physical geography, or in the virtual web-world understood since the ‘90s as a space with no national boundaries; it also reveals questions about how identity is expressed in recent young user platforms like myspace.com or mypix.ch. What is also at play in the work is the migration of people, languages, cultural imagination, and the hybrid rather than the single perspective of the Nation looking at others, where migration is seen as a main force for social change. The work reflects a ‘double bind’ phenomenon because the concept of boundaries has become relative in a geopolitical and ideological sense thanks to mechanisms allowing the free movement of people, while on the one hand border control has elaborated stricter measures through so-called ‘early controls’ or biometrical controls. Further, a ‘double bind’ is also evidenced in a vision of openness and interconnectedness that is counterbalanced with the fear of identity loss and a wish to reaffirm ‘local’ individuality – a pull in the opposite direction of post-national citizenship visions.
- Flavia Caviezel, Academy of Art and Design, Basel, Switzerland