Reflections on other people, projects, books, films etc. that relate to Liquid Living

Mapping Journey by Bouchra Khalili

Mapping Journey by Bouchra Khalili

This is the last week to visit Imagined Places, a temporary exhibition at the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam (until april 14th).

In Imagined Places five artists portray a world where people are constantly on the move in search of a better life or a new home. They leave a country behind them but also take it with them in their memories. So the lives of all these people on the move are determined by their bond with several places. Official migration policy is based on country borders, national identity and a fixed place where someone actually belongs. Their lives are spent, however, between different lifeworlds: the here and now of where they are, the country they came from, and the place they are going to or would like to return to. All these places are real but they also exist as inner worlds: in memories, fantasies and yearnings. The artworks in Imagined Places depict these inner worlds that are sometimes at odds with reality. 

One series of videos I found particularly interesting was ‘The mapping journey’ by Bouchra Khalili in which immigrants that moved to Europe marked their journey there as they told stories of the several places they had crossed. It was harsh to see how often these trips involved periods in detention centres, life-taking boat trips, illegal jobs, extortionists etc. Liquid life is quite a different thing to those born on the other side of the European border, and this work sheds a different light on the correlation between freedom and insecurity.

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Zygmunt Bauman - Liquid Times

Zygmunt Bauman – Liquid Times

I believe this project is relevant to many more of my generation. As we head for a future in which social structures change at an ever faster rate, how do we find depth in the things we do? Digital nomads, Urban nomads, Technomads; our pre-settling ancestors are often used as a romanticised metaphor to describe how some of us live today. In reality however, nomads often moved because of a lack of freedom and were often too busy surviving for any innovation to take place. It wasn’t anything like the exciting and dynamic times of today.

It was the agricultural revolution that gave us more time. While some would grow crops for everyone to eat, others could educate children, build temples, or become master painters. Since we settle, we specialise. Millennia of further specialisation in our roles, our spaces and our time, brought us to where we are today. I wonder how we can continue specialisation in a future where our societies change continuously.

I’m not saying we’ll lose all science and culture if we continue like this, I’m actually quite optimistic. I am just interested in finding ways to avoid superficiality while hopping from one thing to the next. And I think the best way to do that is by reflecting on my own actions.

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Hunters Go Hungry

Browsing the web I came across Hunters Go Hungry. This art project is inspired by the eponymous GEM album ‘hunters go hungry’. It is the nature of musicians to feel the urge of being on the road; the idea that you need to move to avoid standstill followed by the fact that you might miss out on stuff if your life takes place on a defined location.

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In every age someone, looking at Fedora as it was, imagined a way of making it the ideal city, but while he constructed his miniature model, Fedora was already no longer the same as before, and what had been until yesterday a possible future became only a toy in a glass globe.

– Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (1972)


Fedora seems like a Liquid city. And this quote aptly illustrates one of my main concerns with a liquid future, or challenges in my liquid life for that matter: How do we use knowledge or experiences from the past in a context which is new, different?


What does it mean for the way we design products, buildings, cities?

Will things ever be finished? Projects ever be over? How will craftsmen be valued that focus on process and material rather than a once desired result but require time to be timeless?

What will happen to imagination if nothing stays the same? Do we have time to dream if we struggle to understand reality? Or will these dreams only become more extreme as a result?

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Souza e Siva, Netlocality (2011): “Urban spaces are becoming hybridized, meaning they are composed through a combination of physical and digital practices.”

Most humans seem to live their daily lives in certain patterns. Whether nomads following the same migratory routes every year, or city dwellers on their daily route to work. ‘Amsterdam Realtime’, a project by Esther Polak and Jeroen Kee followed participants’ positions within the city, over time using realtime GPS tracking. It is an interesting example that visualizes these patterns beautifully. Although quite a recognizable map of the city emerges when tracks are combined, individual routes often seem to focus around a few places. This “tendency of people to spend the bulk of their time in only a few places they regularly frequent” is also recognized in research by González, Hidalgo and Barabási on human mobility patterns (2008).

Regular locations to be visited will probably include the home, school, work space, supermarket and possibly the homes of friends or relatives. We visit these places to fulfill certain needs that are currently available through the infrastructure of our built environment. Could we also fulfill some of these needs without such a resource intensive infrastructure? As more of our activities are becoming digital, we no longer have to be fixed to geographical locations.

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Over the past decades, information technologies have become increasingly important for the way we live our lives. Their shrinking and the parallel rise of wireless technologies have allowed these technologies and the computing power they entail to be increasingly embedded in the world around us. The spread of new functionalities on continuously connected smart phones is one example in which e.g. the news, banking and our friends have become omnipresent, at least in some ways.

These trends are expected to continue and evolve towards a computing paradigms such as Ubiquitous Computing, Ambient Intelligence and the Internet of Things. In addressing these concepts, the concept of universal access is critical. That is, access at anytime, from anywhere and possibly through anything. We have already seen applications being developed within these paradigms that are currently entering the world around us; at work, at home and in public space. They use technologies such as GPS, RFID and AR and typically combine physical sensors and actuators, computed and networked digitally. Especially with the spread of smart phones equipped with a set of sensors and actuators and connected through mobile internet, many new functionalities have become omnipresent.

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20kg Generation, graduation project by Sanne Sofia Broks

Bauman, Liquid Times (2007): “Social forms can no longer keep their shape for long, because they decompose and melt faster than the time it takes to cast them, and once they are cast for them to set.”

With the rise of electronic, mobile communication devices, societal boundaries are blurring. The internet in specific has had a major influence on the weakening of divides in place, time and social roles. We can now work from home while joking on social networks that connect us to our friends, family and colleagues simultaneously and continuously. Now that many of our activities have become digital, we have identities in this digital place as well.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman uses the term ‘liquid identity to describe this constantly changing state of being (Bauman, 2000). These modern identities are created by ourselves, not by the communities we live in. “We no longer unconditionally identify with the people we are with physically, or with the situation we are in” (Michiel de Lange, 2010). Having the freedom to make personal decisions regarding life we are thus automatically constructing an identity ourselves, whether intentionally or not.

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