A week of seminars, lectures and workshops (part 1)

2 10 2009

It’s been a busy, busy week of taking in information, scrambling to digest it and writing it all down. Happily, an initial draft of my Bibliography and Aims & Objectives sections of my proposal have come out of this week, and so I am still keeping up with the workplan. I read somewhere that the best way to learn something is to teach it. This certainly was the case for the workshop I gave regarding my workplan. Although I had the main ideas and timelines hashed out on paper, it was planning for the workshop that really forced me to think through all the details in my timeline and look for any holes in the planning. In reality I think I benefited most from of all of it. Now all I have to do is try and stick to the plan 😉

Also this week, I was a part of two very engaging but different seminars. The first was led by TrAIN’s Oriana Baddeley and we discussed the merits and context of Mandan Sarup’s article on ‘Home and Identity’.  Sarup’s article was subjective and auto-biographical. His writing style is unassuming but he manages to slip in so much relevant theory that ones hardly realize how deep everything is getting until one is in the thick of it all 😉 Everyone in the seminar agreed that his writing is a refreshing difference from the  much of what you see in academic articles.

More importantly for me, Sarup broke down the main differences between Marixist and Heideggerian thought in the context of place and nation and ultimately identity. Essentially, Marx defined places as being created through movement of capital. Furthermore, Marx stated that ‘capital is about technological change and the (consequent) expansion of places.’ In last week’s Methodolgy Lecture, David Cross mentioned that his process was influenced by Marx and he referenced the Marxist tenant that clearly defines differences in use value (the physical and practical worth of a commodity or service) and the exchange value (the market worth of a commodity or service). This becomes relevant to my project as much of the migration of peoples is effected by individuals looking for a better life in a different place from where they were born.  A ‘better’ life can then be translated to more exchange value for their work. Thus, following this logic one can state that the migration of people is a consequence of a migration of capital which in turn is technological change. People follow technology. Of course things are not as simplistic as this in reality, but I find the connection quite between people and technology quite relevant. My coming to London to study digital art is in itself reaffirming this logic.

Sarup also summarized some Heideggerian theories relevant to place and the experience of the individual (Being).  Heidegger deals with issues authenticity and inauthenticity of place. Heidegger places more emphasis on the social construction of places and tackles issues of roots and rootedness in a place. Diaspora narrative will ultimately lead to themes of displacement and assimilation which for me is essentially the shedding of old roots and the finding new ones. In this en masse movement of people, an evolving transnational identity forms and ultimately changes the landscapes of the places it passes through. and the land in which they wish to settle. It is this aspect of the Philippine-London diaspora I wish to represent and refer to in my current project.

I hope to be able to find physical evidences of displacement and assimilation in London’s urban landscape. Specific transition points where this may occur could be in the evolving storefronts of specialty shops (Philippine variety shops that are a mainstay in both the Philippines and many metropolitan cities I have observed so far- Paris, Tokyo, New York, Montreal, etc.) as well as the line of consumer goods (both imported and exported) that these stores choose to carry. Restaurants are another good point of transition. Evidences of displacement and assimilation will be found in the menus of the Philippine restaurants of London. What dishes are commonly considered traditionally Filipino in London? What dishes can easily be made in London? How have dishes evolved in the cultural integration process of the community?

I am reminded of my time living in Tokyo and my first visit for breakfast at a Denny’s (a chain diner in North America that I had always known to serve a proper ‘Western Breakfast’ of sausage, eggs, toast and coffee or the standby Canadian preferred alternate of pancakes, eggs, pea-meal bacon and maple syrup). The Denny’s chain in Japan carried a similar menu of toast, eggs but little sides of seaweed, rice, fermented beans and green tea had slipped into the menu to fit the Japanese palette. As with most people who have left their ‘home’, food can be an immediate reminder that you have changed place.

Things will not and cannot be exactly the same as the place you left. For me this is often a good thing but for those who fight it, displacement can be profoundly felt. That said, I still am thoroughly frustrated with the ridiculous amounts red tape required to cut through to get internet access at home. It has been one month of trying to open a bank account to get a valid debit card, call British Telecom to set up a landline and finally get a modem installed in my flat and still no internet! Hot spots abound in my neighbourhood so I shouldn’t really complain, but it is just one of those points of transition where I am forced to accept my own feelings of displacement.

Oriana commented on levels of displacement between individuals and each of us in the group discussed how in some way or another we play the role of ‘the other’- the foreigner without place in society. She also noted that recently in London the Philippine migration has occurred through populations of women who are domestic staff to wealthy Saudi families that have moved to the UK. The levels of displacement these women are two-fold. Firstly, they are in England and must deal with assimilating to British culture from a South-east Asian background. Next they are tied to a family of Saudis who are going through their own assimilation and displacement.  I should also mention the obvious master/servant/division of class these women must also feel. Do the employers of these Filipina women relate more to their domestic staff now that they too are foreigners? With English as the primary language in the UK do these women feel more/less empowered in London? What influences if any have these women made on the existing Philippine community? How have they changed the visual landscape?

Lots of questions to answer. It seems like the closer I get to finding something, the more questions I get.

Aims & Objectives (first draft)

1 10 2009

Below is the initial “Aims & Objectives” Section for my proposal.

The primary aim of this project is to better understand the ways in which migration, immigration and movement of transnational communities are visually represented in London’s urban landscape. In particular, I will focus on visual representations of the Philippine diaspora. London arguably has the largest population of Philippine migrants in Europe but where is ‘Filipinotown’? How is this diaspora visually changing the city? What footprints (discreet and indiscreet) are being left in the landscape by this migration/settlement of people? What aspects of Philippine culture have been diffused, morphed or have remained intact in the integration process to the UK?

To answer these questions and achieve this aim, my first objective is to locate, observe, interview, record and photograph evidences of the Philippine community. I then intend to distill the collected data under my ‘subjective lens’ to find several underpinning themes. I stress the subjective nature of this project as I am a Canadian born Filipino living in London temporarily with my French-Canadian wife and mixed race baby. I acknowledge my unique narrative and influence it will have on this project. My diaspora story carries with it varied levels of displacement, biases and assumptions inherent to my life experiences. With the collected data, gained experiences and realized themes I will then create a series of digital collages that best illustrate my findings and the personal process I went through in searching for ‘roots’ in London.

The secondary aim of this project is to locate points of connection between digital art and the phenomenon of global diaspora. Specifically I want to better connect my digital art practice and interest in new media to my own research interests in transnationalism. How can I best utilize the immersive nature of digital media to represent the organic fluidity of transnational communities? Is there a need to make such a connection? To what extent have other artists and academics bridged these two possibly disparate themes?

To achieve my secondary aim I will start by locating any relevant discourse, key artists and primary schools of thought in digital and transnational art.  I intend to pinpoint, infer and possibly create further bridges between these two fields of study/art. My next objective is to acquire further digital imaging skills that better express themes of organic urban change, layered urban narratives, cultural displacements/integration and memory. These themes have been relevant for me in analyzing my diaspora narrative and have structured much of my current digital art practice. Finally I intend to create a series of works that digitally represent an essence/aura of a specific diaspora– that of the Philippine-Londoners of 2010.