Art and Mobility. An Introduction | HERMAN BASHIRON MENDOLICCHIO

September 27, 2013

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Intro

The primary purpose of this special issue on “Art and Mobility” is to reflect on the multiple aspects of cultural and artistic mobility and to open the way towards a transdisciplinary field of study that increasingly claims its place in the analysis and research of the social and cultural dynamics of the contemporary world.

The concept of mobility has finally entered the vocabulary and the agenda of numerous international institutions;[1] in certain academic research projects; in Masters and university programs (Intercultural Studies, Migration Studies, Arts and Cultural Management, Visual Studies, Global Studies, Leisure Studies, among others) and, above all, in many cultural and artistic organizations working internationally. However, the reality is that we are still facing a lack and shortage of narrative, literature and critique on mobility and its implications in the cultural, artistic and social domain.[2]

Nevertheless, the multitude of meetings, symposia and seminars that are taking place around these issues in recent years, clearly demonstrates the increasing interest in the topic. Seminars and studies on the impact of mobility on local, regional and international policies;[3] platforms to explore artistic mobility in the Mediterranean;[4] meetings to exchange ideas, fund strategies and experiences about cultural mobility between Asia and Europe;[5] programs to promote residencies of artists,[6] cultural professionals, researchers and even cultural journalists[7] – to name a few examples – are multiplying each day and indicate that the practical aspect of mobility, and its demand, are in a phase of substantial raise.

Within this panorama it becomes necessary to generate new questions and to look for new answers. In the global era and the liquid times in which we find ourselves, mobility is one of the more diffused practices and one that more needs to be investigated and analysed.

What kind of knowledge, ideas and visions, do mobility practices generate? How does mobility influence the transformation and evolution of urban areas, cities and new citizens? How could cultural mobility contribute to a responsible and sustainable transformation of society? How can it help to transform people, their vision, knowledge, identity and their perception of the public space and environment? How can it help to develop an intercultural knowledge?

Artistic practices and creativity are directly and closely linked to mobility. A great part of the art and architecture that we know would not have existed if it weren’t for the urge to travel, to discover, the need to go beyond the limits – territorial and intellectual – of the known.

To reflect on mobility today means to widen the perspective, to go beyond the concepts of travel, discovery and displacement; it calls for an analysis of the social, political, economic and cultural phenomena linked to it.

The practice of mobility can be thought of as a phenomenological experience where identity comes into contact with alterity, as a path of transformation where ideas, perceptions and preconceptions are questioned, as a value and as a conscious process of enrichment and of knowledge, and not just as a simple trip or a simple displacement.

Mobility presents multiple facets: it is directly related to the issue of diversity, exchange, experience and intercultural dialogue. At the same time, it makes us reflect on migration, exile and the obstacles faced when crossing borders.

The objectives of this publication are to reflect on a history of mobility, to go in depth in the processes of transformation of knowledge, culture and art in the practice of mobility and, above all, to think about mobility today, in a contemporary context.

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Travel, Exchange, Identity

The phenomenon of mobility, in conjunction with the evolution of the means of communication and transport, transforms our way of life and contributes to the formation of “horizontal identities”. As the writer Amin Maalouf suggests: “Things have changed so much in a few years that we feel infinitely closer to our contemporaries than to our ancestors. Would I be exaggerating if I said that I have more in common with a passer-by chosen at random in a street of Prague, Seoul, San Francisco or Barcelona, than with my own grandfather? Not only because of appearance, clothes, habitat or tools that surround us but also because of moral concepts, ways of thinking. And also because of beliefs. (…) In short, each of us is the deposit of two inheritances: one, “vertical”, comes from our ancestors, the tradition of our village, of our religious community; the other, “horizontal”, comes from our time, our contemporaries. It is the latter which, in my view, is more determining, and is more so each day that goes by”.[8]

Mobility, for its own characteristic of bringing places and cultures closer, operates as an engine of cultural contamination. Mobility is also understood as a will of search, of invention, of coping with the difficulties of life and the mysteries of thought. Mobility, I might dare to say, as an active practice close to philosophy and its exploratory sense.

The journey, the act of discovering through displacement itself, becomes a necessary tool of knowledge. According to the reporter, traveler and writer Ryszard Kapuscinski: “Herodotus knows that in order to get to know Others one must take to the road, reach them, manifest readiness to make contact; and that is why he continually travels (…) he wants to get to know Others since he understands that in order to get to know yourself better you must get acquainted with the Others”.[9]

The writer and sociologist Fatima Mernissi reinforces that idea of ​​travel as a source of wealth, remembering the words of travelers, writers and poets of the ninth century: “For Jahiz, the Adab strategy, to empower oneself by “adding the stranger’s brain to one’s own”, implies that you avoid getting stuck in your hometown and force yourself to travel: “Staying too long at home is one of the causes of poverty. Movement creates prosperity”, he recommends in his Book of Metropolises and Wonders of the World (Kitab al Amsar wa ‘ajaib al buldan). It is this key idea of Jahiz’s Adab strategy, of travelling far to communicate with the stranger and make yourself useful to him by exchanging goods, which was celebrated by poets of the Abbasid court like Syrian-born Abu Tammam (804-846 AD/188-231 AH) “Travel! It is the only way to renew yourself!” he chanted in Baghdad streets”.[10]

Cultural mobility is therefore thought as a way of renewal, as the antithesis to the superficial and affluent tourism, as an antidote to the collective cultural homogenization and levelling.

Mobility is revealed and determined as a matter of social impact; as an urban, local, regional and international regeneration; as a learning tool and as an instrument of cultural diplomacy.

One of the most interesting aspects of contemporary cultural mobility is undoubtedly the one referring to artists’ residencies, as well as the different types of exchanges between creators, researchers and centers of art and culture worldwide.[11] As stated by Soline Daccache, in the publication Made in the MED: “Artistic and cultural exchanges are, in my view, the best way to initiate dialogue and to bring civilisations closer together. Artistic residencies, workshops, festivals, seminars, fora… are the means by which we meet one another, know each other better, widen our horizons, strengthen our network and train ourselves”.[12]

To be mobile is to explore the plurality of self, the presence of others in themselves -remembering the famous expression “Je est un autre”, by the French poet Rimbaud– to stimulate the value of diversity and difference, as well as to recognize and to question models, obstacles, limitations, contradictions and inner paradoxes of mobility.

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Texts and Artworks. Collaboration and Participation.

The special issue presented here could not have existed without the enthusiastic proposals and responses from artists, critics, researchers and cultural practitioners, whose participation and contributions have generated new ideas and will certainly feed the debate on the many aspects related to art and mobility. First and foremost, I want to thank all the authors and artists who, with their texts and artworks, participate in the publication.

The issues, questions and topics addressed are many, among others:

The intrinsic relationship of mobility with cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and the development of identity; the increasingly important phenomena that are linked to migration, displacement, exile and diaspora; the reflection on the obstacles that exist around mobility, borders and Visa issues; the multiple aspects of artistic residencies addressed through diverse points of view: the personal experience, the critical reflection, the question of hospitality, exchange and interaction, the social impact of the phenomenon, the development of virtual residencies and virtual mobility, etc.; the interest and concern for the issues of sustainability, responsibility and eco-mobility; the nomadism and the intrinsic mobility that exist in the performative practices, theater and circus; the mobile aspects of translation and language; many issues related to the aesthetics of mobility; the relationship between cinema, critics and mobility; the issue of mobility and cultural policies.

The specificity of this edition lies also in the communion of critical texts and artistic projects. Here theory and practice, textual criticism and visual creation go together. A formal and visual peculiarity that relies on the potential of the digital and derives from a conscious choice of the InterArtive editorial committee. For this particular issue I have to thank the constant editorial assistance of Christina Grammatikopoulou and Marisa Gómez in all the phases of the project.

A special thanks is addressed to the partners with whom we have shared the project. I want to warmly thank the Roberto Cimetta Fund, On the Move, the Delfina Foundation, the Institute of Leisure Studies at the University of Deusto and ENCATC for their support and for their invaluable contributions. To work in a network is an important component and an unavoidable necessity of our contemporary times. The results, the value and the dissemination of this project assume a seal of quality above all thanks to the participation of professionals whose work and commitment have long been focused on the theme of art and mobility.

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In conclusion, to discuss and to reflect on mobility begins with having an experience related to it, because the boundary between theory and practice is hybrid and subtle.

In order to go into depth on the relationship between art, culture and mobility, it is important to create a continuous reflection and an active and ongoing exchange of information. Mobility begins before “movement” and continues later, through contact and the development of exchange networks useful to activate new projects and new ideas.

It is increasingly necessary to develop a “mobile thinking” – not stuck in immovable categories – in order to raise new questions, to develop new knowledge and to re-imagine new horizons. Mobility is a growing reality that we all have to face, explore, investigate and improve.

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Herman Bashiron Mendolicchio holds a PhD in “Art History, Theory and Criticism” from the University of Barcelona. He is the Chief-Editor for the “Art + Mobility” Special Issue, InterArtive #55.

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[1] Check the European Commission / Culture: Mobility of artists and culture professionals. Online: http://ec.europa.eu/culture/our-policy-development/skills-and-mobility/mobility-of-culture-professionals_en.htm [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[2] The most important online library on artistic and cultural mobility can be found here: http://on-the-move.org/librarynew/ [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[3] Some examples: On the Move, European cities and cultural mobility: Trends and support actions. (2013). Online: http://on-the-move.org/files/; Roberto Cimetta Fund, International Artistic Mobility and Territorial Diplomacy. (2012). Online: http://www.cimettafund.org/content/upload/file/Report.Seminar.24.5.12.en.pdf; ERICarts, Mobility Matters – Programmes and Schemes to Support the Mobility of Artists and Other Cultural Professionals. (2008). Online: http://www.mobility-matters.eu/web/index.php [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[4] Check the Project: Istikshaf: Exploring Mobility in the Mediterranean. More info: http://istikshaf.org/content/about-istikshaf and http://www.cimettafund.org/article/index/rubrique/1/lang/en/id/3 [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[5] Platform meeting of Asian and European cultural mobility funders. More Info: http://on-the-move.org/about/ourownnews/article/15512/platform-meeting-of-asian-and-european-cultural/; and: Bashiron Mendolicchio, Herman, “Exchanging Visions and Experiences on Mobility. Exploring the Asia-Europe connection”, Culture360. 3rd July 2013. Online:  http://culture360.org/magazine/exchanging-visions-and-experiences-on-mobility-exploring-the-asia-europe-connection/ [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[6] Among the most popular networks of creative residencies is necessary to mention Res Artis: http://www.resartis.org and Trans Artists: http://www.transartists.org/ [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[7] Check the programme Unpack the Arts. European Residency Programme for Cultural Journalists. Online: http://unpackthearts.eu/ [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[8] Maalouf, Amin, “The Challanges of Interculturality in the Mediterranean”, Quaderns de la Mediterrània, nº14. IEMed – Barcelona, 2012. Online: http://www.iemed.org/publicacions/quaderns/14/qm14_pdf/13.pdf [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[9] Kapuscinski, Ryszard, The Other [Ten Inny], Kraków: Znak, 2006 p. 14.

[10] Mernissi, Fatima, “Adab or Allying with the Stranger as the Strategy to Win the Globalised Planet”, Quaderns de la Mediterrània, nº14. IEMed – Barcelona, 2012. Online: http://www.iemed.org/publicacions/quaderns/14/qm14_pdf/16.pdf [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[11] More Info: Gardner, S. (ed.) 2013 ‘International Perspectives on Artist Residencies’, D’Art Topics in Arts Policy, no. 45, International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies, Sydney. Online: http://media.ifacca.org/files/DArt45ResidenciesMay2013.pdf; and: Cezar, Aaron (ed.) “Residencies”, The ArteEast Quarterly (Winter/2012). Online: http://www.arteeast.org/2012/02/28/january-2012-residencies/ [Accessed: 20, September, 2013].

[12] Daccache, Soline, “Mobility to do What?”. In: Made In the MEDiterranean. The challenges of artistic exchange in the Mediterranean. Roberto Cimettta Fund – Fondation René Seydoux. 2007. P. 21.

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