The Former State Project | Progress Post #3

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short abstract realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

The Former State Project | Progress Post #3

On representing Yugoslavia: the case of Spomenik

The Former State Project: A Journey through Yugoslavia studies mobilities and the geo-humanities, the textual landscapes represented in a travel-guide and the project team update the form through a novel take on the travel-writing genre: a multi-media travel-guide about a place that is no longer. The project team (as stated in progress report #2 on the academic output from this project), were unable to trace the journey taken in a travel-book written prior to the formation of a socialist Yugoslavia. Yet while static we produced a paper to be published in Dialogues in Human Geography (co-author Carl Dahlman), and two creative outputs that were funded through this commission, with each artist receiving the funding to complete this work. The first creative output is a series of poems that will make up a collection called Spomenik, and the second creative output is a lyric video that considers mobility and text.

In a digital age, the former Yugoslavia holds a place in the imagination through the images that we are subjected to through social media. Mostly these are images of giant concrete monuments in various states of repair, and they fit the retro-futuristic aesthetic that we view the former state through. Simon Barraclough began to research these monuments and to engage with them, writing a series of poems, each involving a different process of looking at these objects and crafting words to describe them. Jack Wake-Walker then spent time experimenting with new technologies to make a film using the words from one poem to reflect upon the movement of words, with the film itself resembling a virtual Spomenik experience in a landscape that is void – perhaps getting at precisely the issue at hand, this landscape is more than representational, and there is a lived landscape of the former Yugoslavia as we explored in progress report #1 and progress report #2.

 

Spomenik I: Ink Poems

Spomenik II: Found Poem

Spomenik III: Eyebombs

Spomenik IV: Clickbait

Spomenik V: Mostar Random

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Spomenik III: Eyebombs (Lyric Video)

 

This final progress report marks the end of this stage of The Former State Project which could be considered the remote, distant, static stage prior to the embodied, present, and mobile stage that will take place in early 2022 when the project team finally trace the journey made by Rebecca West in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon – now, however, we do so with a greater understanding of what is at stake in such travel writing about the Balkans, which is the imperialism of the geographical imagination as represented in travel writing on this region. These concerns are explored in the first academic output from this project co-authored with Carl Dahlman which focuses on a contested riverscape between Serbia and Croatia. It is called, ‘Montage space: borderlands, micronations, terra nullius, and the imperialism of the geographical imagination’ and is forthcoming in the journal, Dialogues in Human Geography.

James Riding, March 2021


The Former State Project | Progress Post #2

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short abstract realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

The Former State Project | Progress Post #2

On imagined geographies and the gaze from afar

The Former State Project: A Journey through Yugoslavia studies mobilities and the geo-humanities, the textual landscapes represented in a travel-guide and the project team update the form through a novel take on the travel-writing genre: a multi-media travel-guide about a place that is no longer. The project team aimed to trace the journey taken in a travel-book written prior to the formation of a socialist Yugoslavia. Yet as the world stopped due to the pandemic the ways in which academics have approached their research has inevitably changed. At the end of progress report #1 the team envisaged that we might still be able to travel to the former Yugoslavia before the end date of this grant. Yet this was not to be, and as such we worked on three outputs. The first is a paper about the former Yugoslavia that is soon to be published in Dialogues in Human Geography (co-author Carl Dahlman), the second is a series of poems that will become a collection called Spomenik, and the third is a lyric video which aims to get at mobility and text, fitting the theme of our project. In this second progress report, we consider the academic output from this project by focusing upon a contentious borderscape that reveals a lot about the region and its post-socialist, post-conflict transition.

 

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This article extends work in human geography on thinking space relationally and topological space, arguing for a relational conceptualization of space that employs montage in small seemingly confined spaces to tell big relational stories. Empirically it explores a micronation projected onto watery western Balkan no-man’s [sic] land and reveals an exploitation of Balkan history and geography that underpins perceptions of the southeast European peninsula. Liberland is a new right-libertarian unofficial country that claims a disputed tract of middle Danube riverbank in a contested riverine borderscape between Croatia and Serbia, where the fantasy geography of emptiness and terra nullius reappears in a new imperial present. The hackneyed performances that self-proclaimed micronations undertake to legitimize themselves are placed alongside a relational story of regional cultural landscape and more-than-human geographies in this fluvial political-ecological borderland in order to undermine alt-right libertarianism, Balkanism, and imperialism.

The paper is about a self-proclaimed micronation that occupies what they claim is terra nullius between Serbia and Croatia. Gornja Siga is an island, orphaned by competing boundary claims, lying beyond the winding cadastral border – which Croatia asserts – and beyond the main channel of the Danube – which Serbia asserts. The result is a small pocket of riverbank and a narrow point bar that neither Croatia nor Serbia claim lest they undermine their possession of other more desirable Danubian adas or river islands on the east bank. This territory becomes the site through which we understand the former Yugoslavia and the former state in the present. We were unable to visit the site and as such pieced together what we could find on the internet about the small river island:

Gornja Siga lies in a flood-prone borderscape that was once the southern Hungarian counties of Baranya (Croatia’s Baranja) and, across the Danube, Bács-Bodrog (Serbia’s Bačka). The historical cohabitation of Hungarians, Danube Swabians, and various Slavic peoples has given rise to layered toponyms that belie the now official Serbo-Croatian signage. Nearby are the villages of Zmajevac (H: Vörösmart), Mirkovac (H: Keselyüs), Suza (H: Csúza), and Zlatna Greda (H: Bokroshát) in the Croatian municipality of Kneževi Vinogradi (H: Hercegszöllős; G: Weingärten), while Bački Monoštor (H: Monostorszeg) sits directly across the Danube in Serbia on the way to Sombor, the closest city. ‘Gornja Siga’ is a mix of the Hungarian word for ‘island’ (sziga) and the Serbo-Croatian word ‘upper’ (gornja). It was once the site of a village whose residents fled a major flood in 1722, rebuilding across the Danube at Bački Monoštor in Serbia, which today has a majority Croat population. Kneževi Vinogradi, the Croatian municipality that abuts Gornja Siga, is a rural landscape dominated by arable farming, viticulture, livestock breeding and dairy farms. It is the only municipality in Croatia today with a majority of Hungarians, slightly outnumbering Croats; the once numerous Germans now just 1.8% of the community (DZS, 2013: 45). Since 1991 the area has lost 20% of its population and was targeted for development as an ‘area of special state concern’, not only due to its demographics but primarily because it was under rebel control during the Croatian War of Independence (1991–1995).

This material landscape was under threat from a textual colonisation. As such we began to think about this place as a site that was bombarded with fragments of representation. Borrowing from literary montage we worked to undermine the textual colonisation by remembering the material landscape and the politics of this landscape. This approach neatly fits with the final aim of the wider DiSSGeA project to become a research hub for the humanistic study of mobility, meaning the movement of people, objects, ideas and texts in space and time. In terms of how we went about doing this, we draw in the paper from literary montage, and go back to the work of the geographer Allan Pred (1995) who was inspired by Walter Benjamin (1982) by

using a fragmentary literary technique to display juxtaposition by representing space inherently as a montage of ‘things, meanings, and practices’ (Cresswell, 2019; Pred 1995). Thinking beyond the discipline, we extend debates on space and relational thinking, or ‘thinking space relationally’ (Jones, 2009), in a borderland, intertwining flow-like takes on space, and more fixed takes on space. We express sociospatial relations from a topological stance and acknowledge relationality yet insist upon ‘the confined, sometimes inertial, and always context-specific nature of geography’ performing a ‘moderate relationalism’ (Jones, 2009: 487). We extend the conceptualization of ‘phase space’ (Jones, 2009) and place a renewed emphasis in a virtual present upon digital representation, reanimating ‘the symbolic life of landscape’ (Cosgrove and Daniels, 1988).

Space we argue is played-out ever more so as montage in an era of mass digital image-making and we use montage to describe space as images affect how we witness, experience, and understand spaces in a now more virtual reality. Increasingly human engagements with space occur through digital encounters, processes, and technologies, from data ‘harvesting’, to platform urbanism, to smart cities, as smart-phone apps direct humans through space and digital interventions reconfigure our encounters with space (Kitchen, 2014). Cyberspace is no longer viewed as separate from everyday life, rather the ‘digital turn’ has led to theorizations of the virtual and physical realms, as entwined (Ash et al, 2018a). Building upon a nascent ‘digital geographies’ in this article we argue that new epistemologies and ontologies are needed to reflect a digital revolution (Ash et al, 2018b). Here montage is enacted and could be further exploited – through diverse media (writing, film, photography, gaming, mapping) – as a metaphor, a description, an epistemology and an ontology (for a classic example of montage see Benjamin, 1982). 

We made sure to return the materiality of this landscape beyond the merely representational too, as this was the only way in which to undermine the textual colonisation by a self-proclaimed micronation:

The act of claiming territory, of planting a flag, suggests Gornja Siga is dry land and it is distinct from the waters that bound it. Yet the island lies barely above the Danube in a floodplain. The ‘land, marshy and prone to seasonal inundation, is choked with unregulated scrub, with here and there the lone tongue of a poplar or the gentle shag of a willow’ (Lewis-Kraus, 2015). Flooding of 2.5 meters or more has regularly submerged the ground of this little isle until it has become part of the riverbed (Hrvatske Vode, 2020). As territory it is fundamentally permeable, consisting of recent Holocene alluvial sediments that formed fluvisols and gleysols in riverine paleochannels, a legacy of repeated flooding visible in the complex terrain of meander scars and oxbow lakes (Bogunović et al, 2018). Just upriver, at Bezdan, the average discharge of the Danube can range from 992m3/s to 4788m3/s, a nearly fivefold difference (Sommerwerk et al, 2009). This section of the middle Danube was a wide marshland made legible as land and water only in the nineteenth century with the advent of levees, drainage, and transportation canals.

In addition, we began to pull apart the representational acts that this self-proclaimed micronation had bestowed upon this landscape:

A right-libertarian political movement has begun a performance of space that is captured in the digital map of Gornja Siga (Branch, 2014; Kitchen and Dodge, 2007). Ground-truthing this performed and represented space by travelling through this Balkan riverscape, reveals something rather different. Gornja Siga is difficult to access by car from Zmajevac, driving along Ulica Maršala Tita (E: Marshal Tito Street) until it becomes Ulica Dunavska (E: Danube Street), before turning south onto Ulica Siga (E: Siga Street) though a flat floodplain kept dry by drainage canals. The final part of the journey must be taken on foot, entering the northern tip of the disputed drop where it clings to the Danube’s western bank. A Liberland Settlement Association provides assistance to cross the border but to do so, you must first visit a base camp about three kilometers from Bezdan, across the river in Serbia. After arriving at the base camp, you are required to join the Liberland Settlement Association and must volunteer during your stay. Once on the deserted island, a winding single-track trail takes you to a clearing where a yellow house with a roof yet no windows or a door nestles in a clasp of trees (DeSilvey and Edensor, 2012). A yellow and black Liberland flag hangs beneath the gable end and the Liberland motto – ‘to live and let live’ – is scrawled above an arch in black spray paint, a reminder of a fleeting memorial presence constellated here (DeSilvey, 2007). Provenance unknown and abandoned thirty years ago, the ‘hunting hovel’ was later demolished in September 2017, and the first unofficial Liberland dwelling in Gornja Siga is no more (Lewis-Kraus, 2015).

We concluded the paper by deconstructing the imperialism of the geographical imagination and the use of travel writing, and in a sense questioned again the project of following an old text by a British travel writer:

Reportage and travel narratives about apparent ‘geographical oddities’ is a shop-worn imperial genre, which includes atlases of ‘improbable places’ (Elborough and Horsfield, 2016) and ‘countries that don’t exist’ (Middleton, 2015). Liberland certainly fits the mold of the sort of place that once surprised readers of National Geographic and that now appears in the Atlas Obscura franchise (Sack, 1959; Schulten, 2001). Edging between stolid and sideshow, this genre recounts the strange and uncanny alongside the serious and solemn: displaced peoples are presented on the same plane as remote lighthouses or archaeological excavations. Displaying the idiosyncratic in encyclopedic detail, the visuals are sublime achievements of image and map, yet the effect is to objectify a world for discovery by the reader’s knowing, metropolitan eye. In Keating’s (2018) journeys to the ‘edge’ of nationhood, Liberland is featured as just such an oddity to take seriously, placed alongside other ‘outlier states’ in an inquiry as to what makes a country. Its exposition alongside Abkhazia, Kurdistan, and Somaliland, a Mohawk reservation, and an island nation threatened by climate change leads to a conclusion that the borders of earth may be emerging from a period of ‘cartographical stasis’ and that examples such as these reveal an international order that may not hold (Keating, 2018).

Yet it is perhaps this paragraph from the paper that reveals what is at stake when outsiders write about the former Yugoslavia, as this is not a blank space to be filled. There are political questions at stake in this landscape that are yet to be resolved and this space is perhaps symbolic of the difficulties that remain after the collapse of socialist Yugoslavia in the early 1990s:

In the geopolitical terms used to describe the political-ecological spaces in the Croatia-Serbia border dispute, the disclaimed territory of Gornja Siga is a ‘pocket’. This hybrid socio-natural boggy pocket was created in the late nineteenth century when Austria-Hungary cut a wider, straighter path for the main channel of the Danube from Bezdan/Batina south to Apatin, and again through the marshes at the Danube’s confluence with the Drava River (Klemenčić and Schofield, 2001). The old Baranja cadaster, which Croatia claims, runs with the old meanders, now just scars and oxbow lakes thus crisscrossing the main channel of the Danube, which Serbia claims as its frontier. Control of the pockets was a significant issue raised before the Đjilas Commission in Belgrade in August 1945 after the liberation of the region. Here during the third session of the Anti-Fascist Council for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ), the administrative boundary between Croatia and Vojvodina was to be set. The decision was made more delicate by wartime expulsions and competing post-war policies to resettle new majorities of Croats and Serbs in the area following the ‘withdrawal’ of Hungarians and Germans (Zečević and Lekić, 1991: 24-27). In the end, the Commission could only recommend a provisional settlement using ethnic and economic criteria and, like other Yugoslav borders, left precision for later, producing roughly 10 adas on the Danube from Hungary to the Drava River.

The final paragraph of the paper which is the first output from The Former State Project is key and describes our motivations:

In the absence of an ‘intimate geopolitics’ of bodies residing in this small island space who embody this little territory as a lived experience, we trace relational stories from the region to resituate this contested space in the human and more-than-human geopolitical landscape of a post-conflict, post-socialist, post-Yugoslav, western Balkans (Smith, 2012; Smith, 2020). Extending relations beyond the proximate, we trace lived and embodied geopolitical relations to represent this right-libertarian colonization across various state boundaries to elsewhere in Europe and on to the U.S., to reveal their individual and collective political agendas and affiliations (Ahmed, 2000). Balkanism provides the grounds for colonial violence, and as we show here by montaging the connection between space, nature, and politics (Catz, 1995; Ekers et al, 2013), it is possible to reorient, subvert, and sink a Balkanist imaginary, gaze, and claim. Liberland is a discomforting imperial act of planting a flag in the ground and in the imagination; an imaginative, textual, cyber colonization described by Todorova (1997) in Imagining the Balkans and Goldsworthy (1998: 211) in Inventing Ruritania as

the way in which an area can be exploited as an object of the dominant culture’s need for a dialogue with itself.

The final progress report will describe the creative outputs from the project and to conclude the academic outputs progress report, we wish to restate our desire to undertake this journey through Yugoslavia and yet, with the world trauma of the pandemic and immobility, we have given much thought to what this journey should look like. While we envisage tracing the journey made by Rebecca West in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, like in the first academic output, key sites along the way will be exhausted, and the horizontal, thin, floating across space done in much travel writing will be deconstructed through static, slow, intimate, grounded, and vertical geographies of symbolic sites. Thanks to this initial research the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust funded extension of this project will begin moving from a more thoughtful footing.

James Riding, Jan 2021

 

 

Ahmed, S. 2000. Strange encounters: Embodied others in postcoloniality. New York: Routledge.

Ash, J., Kitchin, R. and Leszczynski, A. 2018a. Digital turn, digital geographies? Progress in Human Geography 42(1): 25-43.

Ash, J., Kitchen, R. and Leszczynski, A. eds. 2018b. Digital geographies. London: Sage.

Benjamin, W. 1982. Das passagen-werk. Berlin: Suhrkamp Verlag.

Bogunović, I., Trevisani, S., Pereira, P., and Vukadinović, V. 2018. Mapping soil organic matter in the Baranja region (Croatia): Geological and anthropic forcing parameters. Science of The Total Environment 643: 335-345.

Branch, J. 2014. The cartographic state: Maps, territory and the origins of sovereignty. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Catz, C. 1995. Major/minor: Theory, nature, and politics. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 85(1): 164–168.

Cosgrove, D. and Daniels, S., eds. 1988. The iconography of landscape: Essays on the symbolic representation, design and use of past environments. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cresswell, T. 2019. Maxwell Street: Writing and thinking place. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

DeSilvey, C. 2007. Salvage memory: Constellating material histories on a hardscrabble homestead. Cultural Geographies 14(3), 401–424.

DeSilvey, C. and Edensor, T. 2012. Reckoning with ruins. Progress in Human Geography 37(4): 465–485. Dewsbury, J.D., Harrison, P., Rose, M. and Wylie, J. 2002. Enacting geographies. Geoforum 33(4): 437–440.

DZS. 2013. Popis stanovnistva, kucanstava i stanova, 2011, Statistička izvješća 1469. Zagreb: Državni Zavod za Statistiku Republike Hrvatska.

Ekers, M., Hart, G., Kipfer, S. and Loftus, A. eds. 2013. Gramsci: Space, nature, politics. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Elborough, T. and Horsfield, A. 2016. Atlas of improbable places: A journey to the world’s most unusual corners. London: Aurum Press.

Goldsworthy, V. 1998. Inventing Ruritania: The imperialism of the imagination. London: Yale University Press.

Hrvatske Vode. 2020. Karta Opasnosti od Poplava: za veliku vjerojatnost pojavljivanja – dubine. Zagreb: Hrvatske Vode.

Kitchen, R. 2014. The data revolution: Big data, open data, data infrastructures and their consequences. London: Sage.

Jones, M. 2009. Phase space: Relational thinking, geography, and beyond. Progress in Human Geography 33(4): 487–506.

Keating, J. 2018. Invisible countries: Journeys to the edge of nationhood. New Haven, CO: Yale University Press.

Kitchen, R. and Dodge, M. 2007. Rethinking maps. Progress in Human Geography 31(3): 331–344.

Klemenčić, M. and Schofield, C.H. 2001. War and peace on the Danube: The evolution of the Croatia-Serbia boundary. Durham, England: International Boundaries Research Unit.

Lewis-Kraus, G. 2015. Welcome to Liberland, the world’s newest country (maybe). The New York Times Magazine, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/magazine/the-making-of-a-president.html [last accessed June 08 2020].

Middleton, N. 2015. An atlas of countries that don’t exist: A compendium of fifty unrecognized and largely unnoticed states. London: Macmillan.

Pred, A.R. 1995. Recognizing European modernities: A montage of the present. London: Routledge.

Sack, J. 1959. Report from practically nowhere. New York: Harper Collins.

Schulten, S. 2001. The geographical imagination in America, 1880–1950. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.

Smith, S. 2012. Intimate geopolitics: Religion, marriage, and reproductive bodies in Leh, Ladakh. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 102(6): 1511–1528.

Smith, S. 2020. Intimate geopolitics: Love, territory, and the future on India’s northern threshold. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Sommerwerk, N., Hein, T., Schneider-Jakoby, M., Baumgartner, C., Ostojić, A., Paunović, M., and Tockner, K. 2009. The Danube river basin. Rivers of Europe, 59–112. London: Academic Press.

Todorova, M. 1997. Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press.

Zečević, M., and B. Lekić. 1991. Frontiers and internal territorial division in Yugoslavia. Belgrade: The Ministry of Information of the Republic of Serbia.


Pearls from China | Progress post #3

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short abstract realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Pearls from China | Progress post #3

Combining empirical evidence with a bit of creative imagination to fill in the gaps in the historical record, we wrote this progress report in the form of a script for our short movie production. It focuses on a specific period of the journey that will lead a group of Zhejiang Chinese to Europe during the second half of the 1920s. Given the dearth of direct evidence and with few documentary sources available, we came up with a possible reconstruction based on the individual characteristics of a few protagonists of this migration, people that we know well because of their subsequent European exploits, and the traces they have left behind in the memory of people we interviewed.

What if…

SHANGHAI 1924-1925

 

Between late 1923 and early 1924, the entire contingent of Chinese people in Japan was repatriated in Shanghai. Their names are listed in a Japanese language publication documenting the operation of the Narashino refugee camp (Narashino Internment Camp for Chinese and Coreans. Relief and repatriation of affected Chinese, Volume IV).

Among these men, anti-Japanese feelings ran high, because of the harassment and brutality that had targeted them following the Kantō earthquake and fire. The Japanese arrogant display of power was all the more a source of chagrin as it followed them to Shanghai, were the Japanese had the upper hand in the section of the International Settlement beyond Suzhou Creek, particularly in the Hongkou district, where most Japanese businessmen and settlers had taken up residence ever since the first Sino-Japanese war of 1895.

In fact, following the Boxer Rebellion, foreign powers had gained further territorial concessions within China, where they enjoyed extraterritorial rights, shielding them from Chinese law. Shanghai was then a foreign-controlled metropolis, a city that all diplomatic missions and business interests of the great colonial powers of the day had made their own. In that world populated by yangren, or “foreigners from overseas”, the fledgling Republic of China struggled to make its voice heard while the Japanese, inheriting the German sphere of influence in Shandong after the Great War, were gradually extending their influence over vast regions of northeastern China.

Lishan, Sichung and Susan, back from Japan, were looking for a new job abroad. In Shanghai, among the guests of the hotel where they were staying, they had met an old friend who also hailed from Qingtian, their home district. Like them, he also had been a maisan, a peddler of umbrellas and other trinkets, in Japan: his name was Tschang Nudin.

All together, they were looking for a way to turn their lives around.

They were walking along the Hongkou pier in search of inspiration and new opportunities.

 

Lishan: There are Japanese devils everywhere. They seem to be kings in this part of the world…

Sichung: I think that if we want to remove Japan from our lives, well, we have to go to Europe; there will be no Japanese down there …

Nudin: If you decide to leave for Europe, I will be happy to go with you… Will it be like the Bund?

Susan: Probably. Or maybe more like the Ginza in Tokyo, with smaller buildings, but modern public transport, and more cars…

Sichung: A friend of mine told me that many Chinese are going to Paris. There they work as street vendors… After all, that’s what we ourselves did in Japan.

Nudin: Are you serious? Are we really leaving?

Susan: Well, wait a minute! We first need to understand a couple of things. For instance: how much does the trip cost? Then, how do we get a passport, a visa, and a ship ticket…

Lishan: Ship? No way, I would rather travel by train, I’ve had with ships, I get seasick all the time.

Sichung: Don’t worry Lishan. Let us figure out the routes and costs of the trip, then we’ll see whether and how we’ll leave.

Only Lishan already had a passport, Nudin and Susan had to buy one from fellow Zhejiang migrants that had just returned home to attend their father’s funeral, or the birth of their first male child. There were agencies in Hongkou that could provide them with such papers, though they weren’t cheap. These agencies also provided financial services, useful to get remittances to their families once they were abroad, or to borrow money for the trip. Some could also provide easier access to visas and train or boat tickets.

They went back to the inn where they were staying in the Hongkou district, near the river. It was a typical Chinese two-story building, with a shop front and an upper story where you could rent a room. Quite different from the modern architectural marvels strewn along the Bund which, in only a few years, had deeply altered the city’s skyline. Some of the tallest buildings could rival London, or even New York.

 

Lishan: I have a proposal, it’s a bit risky, but if all goes as it should, it could help us change our lives forever.

Susan: Let’s hear it.

Lishan: If all of us pool our money together, I could gamble it and see how much we win. That way we could raise the money we need for the trip…

Sichung: Typical Lishan, any chance is good for a little gambling… but maybe it’s not a bad idea… After all, that’s why you are known as “the Professor”!

Susan: There’s four of us, we all have stashed away some of our earnings during the internment… and Lishan really is good at winning. Ok, I agree!

Nudin: Me too, sure. So… Do you really mean to pool all of our money?

Sichung: If we have to risk it, well, then let’s do it properly. If we all bet a hundred pieces of silver dollars, it won’t be too big a loss if we lose and we might win a tidy sum. We could go to Europe as gentlemen, how about that?

Susan: And how are you going to gamble our money, Professor?

Lishan: Mah Jong, obviously! But I haven’t decided where yet.

Susan: Well, that’s up to you, but I will go with you. I want to be there when you win for us.

Sichung: Yeah, me too, we all come and if we strike gold, then we’ll go celebrate together!

 

Mah Jong is a card game with great symbolic value. It has a strong relationship with Feng Shui and it hides many meanings in the features of its tiles. It is a game that requires great skill, strategy, decision making and a little luck. To play Mah Jong you need a pair of dice, 144 tiles and at least four people.

 

Gambling was officially prohibited in the foreign concessions. As long as it remained a habit of the wealthiest class, in the city it was played in private homes or in tea rooms. Yet as the custom spread within the middle class, many city brothels adopted it as “complementary” entertainment.

Lishan and his friends reached the house of Li Yangchun on foot. It was only ten minutes away from their hotel near the Hongkou Old Dock on the Huangpu river.

Their host let them in and showed them a table where other people were already waiting, standing up near their chairs. Then he shuffled the tiles producing the typical rustling sound that marks the start of the game.

Seats were assigned with a first roll of the dice.

When Lishan sat down, his friends stood behind him.

 

Sichung: Stay focused Lesà, please!

Nudin: Come on Professor, take us to Europe!

 

Friends were whispering behind his shoulders while Lishan stared silently straight in front of him. The game had begun, and he didn’t want to get distracted.

The man sitting in front of him had not spoken yet, but he was looking at them with an open smile, as if he were aware of a funny detail. Something that only he knew.

When he opened his mouth, he silenced them all.

They thought that speaking their own local dialect, no one in Shanghai would have understood them. The city was a crossroads of different people and nationalities: there were Chinese from all over the country, each one with their own tongue. They too had formed a group precisely because of their common origin, those mountain villages along the river Ou, just beyond the town of Qingtian. Yet as it were, the man sitting in front of them, was a fellow villager!

Susan: Where are you from?

Shafò: Renzhuang.

Nudin: And what’s your name?

Shafò: My name’s Wang Xuefang, you can call me Shafò. I guess you want to go to Europe. Well, so do I, and apparently we had the same idea: to win a tidy sum before leaving.

Then, looking straight into Lishan’s eyes he added:

Shafò: Let’s play together, ok? Then we divide up the total.

Lishan: So be it.

 

They played all night long and they multiplied their investment.

Each of them saved 3/4 of the winnings and then they unanimously decided to invest another 100 dollars each the next evening.

They went on like this for a week, and in the end, those one hundred dollars of initial investment had become more than 2500. A real nest egg! In addition, with Wang Xuefang, they had welcomed a new member into the group. Now it was a question of how and when to leave.

Wu Sichung belonged to a family from Wu’an, a big clan with previous migration experience. Some of his relatives had been to Europe at the beginning of the century and, once they returned to China, they had settled in Shanghai where they became business brokers, helping along those who wanted to do business abroad, or even wanted to settle there. They offered various services, functioning both as a travel agency and as a bank, and providing contacts to refer to on arrival in several European cities.

 

Sichung: Hello uncle, we are here because we would all like to go to Europe, can you tell us how it works?

Uncle Wu: So you would like to try your luck overseas, huh? How much money do you have?

Sichung: We do have money. We recently won a lot, but we definitely want to work: we want to do business abroad, work hard and get rich!

Uncle: Have you ever heard of fake pearls?

Sichung: Yes, we have heard that some Chinese work as street vendors in France, selling such trinkets…

Uncle: That’s right, it’s the easiest way to get around and make your way into their markets and business practices…

Nudin: And… How much does the trip cost?

Uncle: It mostly depends on the class you want to travel in. Are you interested in traveling by ship or by train?

Lishan: Both of them. I think we’ll split up because I really don’t want to go by boat. And I choose to travel in second class so that I start saving right away, but I also want to travel quite comfortably since the journey is long.

Uncle: So you’ll need approximately 400 silver dollars. On the other hand, those who want to take the ship can calculate an extra 50 dollars, always traveling in second class. I will get you the tickets and if you leave me the passports I can also take care of the visas.

Nudin: Me and Susan don’t have a passport though …

Uncle: No problem, let me take care of everything. Come back in about ten days and everything should be ready…

The following week Sichung’s uncle contacted them at the hotel. Everything was indeed ready.

Uncle: There would be a chance for you to leave immediately, the destination is Paris, in France. Are you interested?

Were they ready? They did not know if or when they would come back but they didn’t think too long about it. They were more than ready.

 

Nudin: Count as all in. Tell us when and where, and we will be there.

Uncle: Calm down, one step at a time. Let’s start from the train journey: it takes 18 days to Moscow and from there, there are another 3.000 km to get to Paris. I could book a double cabin seat in two weeks.

Lishan: Great!

Uncle: Regarding the trip by ship…

Sichung: The important thing is not to choose a Japanese company, I don’t want to have anything to do with them anymore, even if their tickets are cheaper.

Uncle: No, no… I was thinking of a British company that has just started operating on the Liverpool-Yokohama route. It is about 30 days of navigation. You could embark in Shanghai and disembark in Marseille …

Susan: It would be perfect.

Uncle: Ok. Here are your passports complete with a visa to enter France. Once you get there, you will need to contact Mr. Kung He Chong, at 50 Rue de Gravillers, in Paris.

Susan: But how are we going to deal with all these foreign names?

Uncle: Don’t worry about this, sooner or later you will get used to that. As for Mr. Kung’s address, I prepared a note for each of you.

Sichung: Thanks uncle, really! You organized everything.

Uncle: Those who work well will always have good customers, remember that my dear nephew and good luck!!

 

The fake pearls trade was booming at the time and Europe appeared as a very promising market for these cheap, shiny new forms of bijouterie.

The young friends were so excited that they went to a small river deck restaurant to celebrate the adventure they were about to undertake.

 

Lishan: So here we part our ways, I will meet you again in Europe. Thanks to Mr. Kung I will be able to find you in Paris.

Susan: Yeah. We, on the contrary, will stick together. We’ll take a gentleman’s voyage by ship. It’s the latest fashion, don’t you know?

Lishan: I know, I know. But I have never liked water and, honestly, I think that from the train I will have the opportunity to see a beautiful piece of the world. I must confess, I am a bit curious. I will use the time I will spend alone to reflect and prepare myself as best as possible for our adventure. Maybe I’ll start studying some French, it could be useful.

Sichung: Au revoir, alors, mon ami et vive la France!


Flying Boat | Progress post #3

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short abstract realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Flying Boat | Progress post #3 

The Flying Boat project as research has been delayed by the pandemic. As a visualisation of mobility, the research is hampered by an inability to travel. Across the globe, populations are sheltering indoors. Repeated lockdowns across Europe, a huge market, has decimated international aviation. [1]

 

Restrictions on travelling to Hong Kong are similar to many Asian and Australasian states – entry is limited to residents who must quarantine on arrival for 21 days at their own expense. As new variant of the virus was discovered in the UK in December 2020; direct travel to Hong Kong from the UK was specifically not permitted. [2]

 

Hong Kong has a history of witnessing viral outbreaks. Since the flu pandemic of 1968, virologists have identified the city as a sentinel territory for detecting new viral pathogens. [3] This sensitivity implicates poultry and populations of migratory birds, mobile reservoirs of pathogens, as vectors of viral outbreaks. [4] New realms of material mobility and spatiality, and their intersections with known mobilities, have been revealed by the pandemic. London (United Kingdom) 08.30 24.01.21 summarises aspects of this new landscape of non-mobility, referencing distant Hong Kong, in early 2021 inaccessible to this researcher. London … is a composite work drawn from research conducted online and pre-pandemic material.

In this context, Hong Kong as an urban environment can be freshly understood as a layered, liminal space at the intersection of multiple social, financial, material and biological assemblages, mobilities and entanglements. [5] The Flying Boat research project has undergone multiple revisions of subject and theme; responsive to global events. This is a fertile and generative research area that will reward further investigation, visual studies work and filmmaking.

Notes 

[1] For data on travellers to the UK, see table 12, CAA data site – https://www.caa.co.uk/Data-and-analysis/UK-aviation-market/Airports/Datasets/UK-airport-data/

[2] https://www.coronavirus.gov.hk/eng/inbound-travel.html

[3] For a fascinating ethnographic account see Keck, F. (2020). Avian Reservoirs: Virus Hunters and Birdwatchers in Chinese Sentinel Posts.

[4] http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2021-02/03/c_139718344.htm

[5] Historical accounts have located Hong Kong as a centre for business flows – Bickers, R. (2020). China Bound: John Swire & Sons and Its World, 1816 – 1980. More ‘placial’ accounts are emerging such as Du, J. (2020). The Shenzhen Experiment: The Story of China’s Instant City.


Flying Boat | Progress post #2

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short abstract realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Flying Boat | Progress post #2

The Flying Boat project began as a provocation; it imagined a retro-future, a world to come severely afflicted by climate change and fuel scarcity, and reverting to past modes of mobility. The short video Fellows, California 17.03 21.07.19 shows the limits of witnessing carbon infrastructures and shifts to the implications of mobilities that contribute to destruction as an subject for representation.[1] The video briefly illustrates the rationale for the retro-future proposition. [2]

 

Fellows, California.. positions images as significant actants in our understanding of the world.[3] An underdeveloped sub-theme is the division of the globe into zones of resource extraction on the one hand; and resource control and consumption on the other, the imperial system of resource sequestation operative in the heyday of Flying Boats. [4] Parallels with popular culture in the imagined worlds of The Hunger Games, Total Recall II and The Handmaidens Tale can be noted, as can the embedding of spatial conflict as enriching narratives. Here, visual montage as generative of analysis is briefly tested. Active engagement by an audience is key to this approach to representation.

 

Notes

[1] This is of course a site visit, or “ground truthing”. In a celebratory mode, the mobility and fluidity of the twenty-first century is explored in Bauman, Z. (2000). Liquid Modernity; the grounding of western democracies in fossil fuel extraction more critically analysed in Mitchell, T. (2013). Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil. The challenges of depicting climate change are explored in Ghosh, A. (2016). The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable and Nixon, R. (2011). Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor.

[2] Data for sea level rise can be downloaded here – https://sealevel.climatecentral.org/maps/google-earth-interactive-global-cities-at-risk-from-sea-level-rise

[3] A visual cultures approach – cf. Mirzoeff, N. (2016). How to See the World: An Introduction to Images, from Self-Portraits to Selfies, Maps to Movies, and More. That images might be ‘actants’ is a perspective native to Actor Network Theory pioneered by Bruno Latour – cf. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory.

[4] See Massey for a discussion of the importance of space in narrative – Massey, D. (2005). For Space. The intersection of spatial and uneven space see – Smith, N. and Harvey, D. (2010). Uneven Development: Nature, Capital and the Production of Space.


Pearls from China | Progress post #2

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Pearls from China | Progress post #2 – video and synopsis

At the beginning of the century, China was at a turning point. In 1911 the Qing Empire was finally overthrown by a republican revolution, ushering in a complex transition to modernity. The situation was unstable: warlords fought for military and political power, throwing continental China into chaos. Coastal ports, tethered to a growing regional and international web of trade and exchanges since they were first opened to foreign contact after the Opium Wars, were conduits for old and new migration. Abroad opportunity beckoned for the precious few who had contacts overseas or knew how to access them.

 

After World War I, Japan consolidated its status as a modern power, already well integrated in a global economy. It was geographically and culturally closer to China than America and Europe were, and it was even less expensive. Its ties with the Zhejiang coast, thanks to its proximity to the southern reaches of its territory (Kyushu, but also Taiwan and the Ryukyu islands), intensified, and it became the destination of choice for many Chinese who decided to dedicate to business. Regular shuttle transit connected the Shanghai railway terminals with those of the port of Nagasaki, creating a corridor of commodity and passenger transit that spanned the whole of Eurasia.

 

Among the early Zhejiang migrants to Japan, there was a young Wu Lishan, anxious to try his luck abroad. According to his documents, he was just seventeen years old when he left his home village, Longxian, in the Fangshan valley of the Qingtian district. He was the secondborn of two brothers and he took to the sea in the hope of making a name for himself. Longxian was already a chaoxiang, a village of migrants, so for his clan it should not have been too difficult to provide for a ticket to Japan.

 

He finally made it to Tokyo in 1923, together with other young people like him, all coming from different villages along the Fangshan, Sidugang and Ou valleys in the district of Qingtian. Many belonged to the same clans, or their families had forged business or bridal alliances in the past, and they spoke the same language, a peculiar Wu dialect that was hard to understand for other Chinese. They were a very tightly knit group, with common habits and tastes, similar stories and dreams.

 

Hu Xizhen: This sure is another world!

Wu Xizhong: Yeah! Nothing to do with our little mountain villages…

Wu Lishan: This is not a mere sea-trip, we are travelling towards the future!

 

These young kids were ambitious: though they sailed off as migrants, their goal was not to become coolies laboring abroad for little money and a life of hardship and abuse. They thought of themselves as traders. Like many other migrants from Zhejiang, they sold cheap Chinese made articles on the streets of the Japanese capital and its environs, especially in Kanagawa and Ōshima, in the vicinities of the port cities of Yokohama and Kawasaki. Like most of his fellow Qingtian migrants, Wu Lishan sold umbrellas, a popular item especially during the hot summer months.

 

In Tokyo, the most upmarket shopping district was the Ginza. Designed by the Irish architect Thomas Waters as western-looking, brick-house precinct, it was meant to showcase Japan’s modernity. It had wider roads, paved sidewalks, modern lights, tramcars, and a variety of high-end stores, cafes, breweries, and wine shops. It counted about ten large department stores, with the Mitsukoshi being the most iconic.

 

Wu Lishan worked alone all day, and only in the evening, he retired to the small guesthouse he shared with his fellow countrymen. They passed their free time playing Mahjong, a habit that these Chinese would cherish throughout all their existence. Wu Lishan was a good player, his friends even called him “The Professor”! Life was good, everyone was making good money, and all seemed to be going according to plan.

It would not last.

 

On September first, 1923 at 11:58 am, an earthquake of magnitude 7,9 hit the Kantō plain, on the Honshū Island. Tokyo was destroyed in minutes; the port of Yokohama was swept away as a tsunami hit both the coasts and the islands to the south, while strong winds began to blow, turning into tornados. It was lunch time, and in most homes fires and cooking stoves were lit. Powered by the winds, the fires started to propagate all around the city, in veritable whirlwinds of fire. As the earthquake had broken the water tanks and it was quite impossible to quell the fire. The fury of the elements caused such mayhem, that it was to be matched only by the firebombing of Tokyo during WWII. More than 120.000 died in the disaster, two million were left homeless. But for the thousands of Koreans and Chinese living in the Kantō area, the worst was yet to come. Prompted by pre-existing tensions between the Japanese and the Korean minority living in their midst, vicious rumors started to spread in the aftermath of the disaster, and Korean domestic servants were blamed for not taking care of the stoves, or even of spreading the fires deliberately, poisoning wells, spreading disease… a murderous wave of xenophobia spread throughout the nation, as vigilante groups were quickly put together to seek out and kill non-Japanese Asians on the spot. Martial law was declared, but it was too late.

 

Crowd: It was the Koreans! They took advantage of the confusion to cause fire and stole in the houses!

 

Some soldiers and policemen even joined the vigilante groups, killing thousands of Koreans and hundreds of Chinese from the hinterland of Wenzhou, who were mostly mistaken for Koreans. Trying to protect those who survived, military and police were ordered to collect and transport the surviving Koreans and Chinese in government-run detention centers. Wu Lishan and his friends luckily escaped the wave of mass murder that obliterated many of their fellow Chinese. He was among those interned in the Narashino internment camp, where he remained until the Chinese diplomatic mission in Japan requested the compensation and repatriation of all Chinese people in Japan. After this diplomatic incident, the migration flow from Zhejiang to Japan ceased completely, and it started to be redirected to Europe.

 

According to some Chinese sources, in Shanghai and Wenzhou it was possible to refer to banking agencies that procured tickets, passports and visas for expatriation, providing also useful contacts in Europe. They played a key role in the sudden surge of Zhejiang migrants in Europe between 1925 and 1926. In 1925, in Germany, several hundred of Chinese from Qingtian settled in Berlin, near the Schlesischer Bahnhof (today Berlin Ostbahnhof), the historic terminus of the railroad from Asia. At the same time, Chinese migrants from Zhejiang appeared in Spain, France and Italy demonstrating real migration chains between the hinterland of Wenzhou and several European countries.

 

Wu Lishan was among them. His name appears both in the papers of the returnees to China from Japan and, since 1934, in the Italian documents. Family stories tell that between 1925 and 1934 he has been wandering through Germany, France and Holland and that he reached his old friends in Italy only in the early 1930s.

 

 

After the Kanto earthquake, Wu Lishan and his friends that were repatriated to Shanghai from Japan, came into contact with a broker of a French (possibly Sino-French, or even a Japanese/Sino-French joint venture) trading company that was recruiting sellers for a new kind of product: fake pearls made of coloured glass that were as luminous as the real ones but a great deal cheaper. It is still unclear whether the first batch of this merchandise was acquired in Europe (there is some evidence that its source may have been European from the onset) or from a Qingtian wholesale trader in Paris, but in 1925 and 1926, these fake pearls were all the rage across Europe. Czechoslovakia may well have been the true source of these articles de Japan all along, and there surely were Chinese who imported them from the city of Gablonz an der Neisse (today called Jablonec nad Nisou), in Bohemia, where glass trinkets and artificial jewellery were industrially mass produced since the nineteenth century.

 

Wu Lishan and his friends had no way to go back home, they had barely started on their migrant journey, and all the money they had was still not enough to repay for their tickets abroad. They needed to up their ante, and this fake pearl selling scheme seemed quite interesting. So, together with his friends, he took the chance to leave and discover what Europe had to offer. He decided to travel by train because the travel was shorter, while his friends chose to go across the globe by sea. At that time there were only 2 possible routes: the Tran-Siberian railway that snaked her way through Asia and Soviet Russia, reaching Berlin in a couple of weeks, and the sea route stretching across the South China Sea, the Malacca Strait and the Indian Ocean, going up the Red Sea and the Suez Canal, and finally entering the Mediterranean Sea in about 40 days. The final destination was Marseille if the shipping company was French or Trieste if it was Italian.

 

In Europe, these Zhejiang Chinese quickly dispersed in search of the best markets, where laws were lenient enough to allow them to work as street hawkers. France, among the European nations, was the one that appeared to have tougher regulations, restricting public selling of goods on the streets to French citizens. Things were better in Germany, Spain, and Italy, at first. Once the fake pearl boom was over, in most countries the Zhejiang migrants switched to different trades: in Germany they sold cheap crockery and in Holland they peddled peanut candy.

 

In Italy, the Zhejiang migrants quickly switched to different wares, sourcing their merchandise from Italian wholesale traders. Soon, they opted for silk neckties, woolen sweaters and leatherette belts and wallets. It was a germinal moment for Chinese immigration to Europe, one that eventually took full advantage of the transport revolution started during the late nineteenth century, as ever more sophisticated steam engines had drastically shortened the distances between countries and peoples, ushering in an increasingly global economy and a more cosmopolitan society.


The Former State Project | Progress Post #1

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

The Former State Project | Progress Post #1

On travel writing in the Balkans

The Former State Project: A Journey through Yugoslavia studies mobilities and the geo-humanities, the textual landscapes represented in a travel-guide and the project team update the form through a novel take on the travel-writing genre: a multi-media travel-guide about a place that is no longer. The project team will trace the journey taken in a travel-book written prior to the formation of a socialist Yugoslavia. Yet before we reach the beginning of this repeat journey, we backtrack a little in this first Progress Report and attend to some of the questions which have arisen regarding such attempts to describe the Balkans. This archival groundwork is the opening of our mobile project on mobile texts, which is presently stilled while in lockdown and immobile as a deadly virus travels the earth. We describe and analyse European imaginary geographies and excursions through this region known as, the Balkans, while we are unable to.

The unlit eternal flame located on the slopes of Trebević Mountain in a former Yugoslav republic, Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is part of a neglected memorial park (Spomen-park Vraca) completed in 1981 and dedicated to the victims of World War II in Sarajevo—after the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) was dissolved, the site became a tactical position for artillery and snipers during the siege of Sarajevo (1992–1996) and was subsequently destroyed (Photograph: James Riding).

It is possible, according to Robert Munro (1895) in his Rambles and Studies in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia, that from the earliest times the Balkan peninsula was inhabited by a mixed population, open to fluctuating civilizations from the shores of the Mediterranean to the nomadic hordes from Asia and northeastern regions of Europe (Munro 1895, 4). Little is known of this period, when the western half of the Balkan Peninsula was called Illyria. Northern wanderers—Avars, Serbs, Slavs, and Croats—found a footing in mountainous Bosnia and the Romans were driven to the Adriatic coast (Munro 1895, 4). Without ever being in a commanding position, the Ottomans took control in this liminal land of Orthodox and Latin Christendom.

By the mid-fifteenth century the Ottoman Empire stretched across much of the former Yugoslavia, linking Europe and the Middle East. A rival of Orthodox Russia and Western Europe, it lasted for more than four centuries. In 1875, when Arthur J. Evans was writing, an insurrection was underway against four centuries of Ottoman domination, with Bosnian peasants demanding a redistribution of land and fair taxes (Evans 1876). Only when Serbs, Croats, and Montenegrins joined the insurgency did it become a national war of liberation of the south Slavs—the Yugoslavs. The revolt lasted three years and was brought to an end only through the diplomacy of the Great Powers, culminating in the 1878 Congress of Berlin. It was decided that roughly half of the former Yugoslavia—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Vojvodina—would be occupied by Austria-Hungary. Several decades later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was shot in Sarajevo in 1914 by a revolutionary, Gavrilo Princip, precipitating a declaration of war against Serbia, and World War I. After the mass conflict, in December 1918, the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes emerged. The revolutionary movement, though, was hampered by lingering religious differences—Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Islam—coupled with a renewed sense of nationalism across Europe post-empire.

As is revealed in these shifting regional geographies, the western Balkans have been a meeting point of cultures for centuries. The culture of the region was formed through this interaction, undermining a sense of a nationalist political identity in the form of a homogenous nation-state. Nonetheless, as Arthur J. Evans travelled through the region, he noted its Islamic nature (Evans 1876). This was a standard response in the travel writing of the era, evident also in the Rambles and Studies in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia undertaken by Munro (1895). In 1851, Edmund Spencer wrote, “Scarcely a ray of Western thought had penetrated during the four centuries that had passed away since the Crescent replaced the Cross on the dome of Saint Sophia, and the empire of Constantine crumbled before the might of the Othman; centuries of ever increasing intellect, civilisation and prosperity” (Spencer 1851, 1). For Spencer, the dawn of a brighter day had arisen on the night of Turkish misrule, rekindling the hearts of a neglected and uncared-for Christian people:

Awakened from a trance, to a consciousness of their own power, to an appreciation of that lofty destiny, from which for centuries they have been excluded … Unheeded and uncared for, by those nations of Europe claiming the swarthy son of distant India and Africa, while a portion of her very self remained torpid and corpse-like. (2)

What is more, Paul Edmonds (1927) extolled the hospitality of these exoticized and primitive locations in, To the Land of the Eagle, where an Englishman could travel without fear of being shot. The places through which Evans, Munro, Spencer, and Edmonds travelled, walked, and rambled were for centuries known by the Ottomans as Rumeli. Only relatively recently did the name Rumeli fall out of use, the region becoming instead European Turkey, or Turkey in Europe, and, eventually, around the time Evans and Munro had completed their travels, the Balkans. The name the Balkans refers to the mountains near the centre of the peninsula, across which travel writers would journey to Istanbul.

When we travel through the former Yugoslavia, we intend to drift somewhat against this previous work by outsiders on this area of southeast Europe. Perceptible in historical-geographical travelogues of the Balkan peninsula is Balkanism, and these older regional texts are reminiscent of the more recent ontopological accounts of a fractured landscape that Campbell (1998) identified more than twenty years ago in the western Balkans. Indeed the Balkans of today is known and enframed via the collapse of Yugoslavia and its enduring aftermath, and the discursive designators of place are here drawn from a Western imaginary geography of the Balkans (Goldsworthy 1998; Todorova 1997). A repetitive Balkanism takes place, where the region is viewed through an idea that the Balkans is a place of immutable ethnic hatreds outside of a cosmopolitan Europe: a place of mindless slaughter on formless ground (Toal 1996). This imagined Balkans can be found in the opening lines of Glenny’s (1999) magnum opus, The Balkans, 1804–1999, where Stoker’s (1897) Dracula is said to be representative of an almost gothic region. In the old Orientalist tradition, it seems as if the Balkans occupies the center of some sort of imaginative whirlpool where every known superstition in the world is gathered (Glenny 1999).

Echoing the well-established literature on representations of the Balkans in literary studies and geography—such as Inventing Ruritania (Goldsworthy 1998) and Imagining the Balkans (Todorova 1997)—Mazower (2002) argues that representations of the Balkans loaded the Balkans with negative connotations: inharmonious conditions, small antagonistic states, and hostile nationalities, all of which conspired to form the intractable Balkan or Eastern question. Writing of the Balkans as Europe’s ghost, Žižek (2000, 1-2) argues the region is always somewhere a little further to the southeast, and the Balkans are a photographic negative of a multicultural, post-political, post-ideological Europe. A “postmodern racism” exists, Žižek argues, where an imaginary Balkans is constructed as the intolerant other, while the rest of Europe has supposedly come to terms with otherness in its much vaunted – indeed marketed – language of cosmopolitanism and multiculturalism (Žižek 2000, 1-2). An imperialism of the imagination is projected onto the Balkans, where an exploitation of Balkan history and geography in Western cultural representations and performances has created a region that is the “Wild East” of Europe and Oriental at the same time (Goldsworthy 1998).

In Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey through Yugoslavia, a story of a six-week ethnographic trip taken by the British writer Rebecca West (1942), the past is shown side by side with the present it created. Publication of the book coincided with the Nazi invasion of Yugoslavia and the epigraph reads: “To my friends in Yugoslavia, who are now all dead or enslaved.” Spomenici—the plural form of the word spomenik, meaning monument in this part of the world—emerged after the conflict, built to memorialise the dead to whom West referred. Unlike many of the monuments built after World War II across Europe, they could not remember a triumph. After the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was invaded by the Axis powers in 1941, internal fighting began between the Partisans—Europe’s most effective anti-Nazi communist resistance movement, led by Marshal Josip Broz Tito—the Ustaše—Croatia’s fiercely Catholic, fascist, ultranationalist, terrorist organization, murdering Serbs, Jews, and Roma while ruling part of Axis-occupied Yugoslavia—and the Chetniks—Serbia’s anti-Axis movement, seeking to retain the monarchy and striving for an ethnically homogenous Greater Serbian state. World War II in Yugoslavia was not simply a war of liberation against an encroaching occupier, Nazi Germany; it was instead a multilayered and divisive conflict in Yugoslavia, which could still be felt long into the twentieth century.

The giant monuments built to commemorate World War II, on sites where battles were fought and concentration camps existed, are not statues of human warriors. Spomenici instead resemble abstract organic sculptures, emerging from the Earth, as if there was a silent acceptance that to use the body—the site of trauma, violence, degradation, and extermination—was both ethically and aesthetically impossible. Nature, apparently, is less problematic. Indeed, what type of human form might be possible here after a divisive and multilayered conflict that dehumanized so many? Nonfigurative concrete spomenici stand as an alternative to statues of human figures, alone in dense forests, teetering on the top of mountain peaks, or clinging to cliffs. Solidly anchored to the land beneath, abstract swirls of material large enough to top the trees round about them, socialist-era spomenici take on the organic form as if grown straight out of the soil. These giant swirling concrete shapes, dotted across the landscape, each gesturing toward the organic, provided a shared monumental history and identity for socialist Yugoslavia. They commemorate those who died as a result of fascism, remember the antifascist struggle begun in the region during World War II, and celebrate the socialist revolution achieved in its aftermath. Despite their massive, somewhat ambiguous, organic material presence—a warning from history of the evils of Nazism and fascism—nationalism returned to the region before the end of the twentieth century.

After the fall of communism and the death of Partisan guerrilla leader and unifying symbol Josip Broz Tito in the same decade, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia seemed increasingly doomed. Remembered affectionately by many, the benevolent dictator, “father Tito,” eventually became president for life, serving concurrently in various other roles until his death in 1980 at the age of eighty-seven. Many citizens of Yugoslavia who lived through the Tito regime actively removed themselves from nationalist and identitarian debates, which were geared toward the ending of socialism and Yugoslavia (Alcalay 2004, ix). Ammiel Alcalay (2004, ix) writes of an “intellectual surrender” fed by the heroic imagery of Partisans, and the promise of stability that socialism and father Tito provided. Without Tito, the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1945–1992) soon ceased to be.

There remains a nostalgia for this bygone socialist era in the seven successor states that stand where Yugoslavia once stood. Yugo-nostalgia is a little-studied psychological and cultural phenomenon. It refers mainly to a nostalgic emotional attachment to desirable aspects of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, economic security, a sense of solidarity, socialist ideology, multiculturalism, internationalism and non-alignment, includes customs and traditions, and looks fondly back upon arguably a more rewarding way of life. Such nostalgia effectively reclaims cultural artefacts, even propaganda films. Present cultural manifestations of Yugo-nostalgia include music groups with Yugoslav or Titoist retro iconography, artworks, films, theatre performances, and tours of the main cities and monuments of the former Yugoslav republics. These positive facets are placed in opposition to the perceived faults of the successor states, many of which are still burdened by the ongoing fallout of the Yugoslav Wars and are in various stages of economic and political transition.

*

Prior to the formation of Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia, in spring 1936, Rebecca West visited the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and in spring 1937 West travelled through the former Yugoslavia, returning once more in the summer of the following year. Published in two volumes in 1942 as a thousand-page travel-book, the 1937 expedition remains today an important, evocative and rigorously researched guide to a former state. West’s book acts as a vivid exemplar, a guiding through the landscape and a dense document of the past which provides a template to follow in the present. Yet, it also evokes a Western gaze upon this peninsula known as the Balkans and is guilty at points of Balkanism. The project team as stated at the beginning will cautiously follow the route of West’s 1937 journey, which took in the north of the former Yugoslavia first, travelling south initially to Zagreb, Croatia, from Nazi Germany.

Entering the former Yugoslavia became the first descriptive section of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, following a Prologue, and was called Journey. West described Zagreb and travelled through Croatia to the coast and the Adriatic by road, stopping off at the Plitvice Lakes, before travelling by sea south along the coast past the island of Hvar and Split to Dubrovnik in Dalmatia. This route was described in a section devoted to Croatia and another section on Dalmatia, each including chapters on certain sites, cities, towns, and villages, which were stopping points on West’s journey south. From Dubrovnik, West took an ‘expedition’ by road, and in a section called Expedition, West travels to nearby Tsavtat (Cavtat) and further into Montenegro visiting Perast and Kotor, before returning to Dubrovnik. Following the short ‘expedition’, West travels east from Dubrovnik by road into Herzegovina and this becomes the next substantive section of the book, Herzegovina, and it is made up of two chapters on Trebinye (Trebinje) and Mostar. The next section of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon is titled, Bosnia, and begins with seven chapters on Sarajevo that amount to almost 100 pages of description. From central Sarajevo, West travels to the nearby suburb of Ilidzhe (Ilidža) and to Treboviche (a mountain in Sarajevo) and beyond Sarajevo to Travnik, Yaitse (Jajce), and Yezero (Jezero), writing a final chapter on Sarajevo to conclude this section of the journey.

From Bosnia, West travels to Belgrade, Serbia, by train from Sarajevo and she remains in Belgrade, writing nine chapters on the city and former capital of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) in a section titled, Serbia. From Belgrade, West takes a train to Skopilje (Skopje) and in the section on Macedonia she travels more extensively to a monastery, a mountain, and a convent, to Bardovtsi (Bardovci) by road, before taking a horse drawn cart to Neresi, and this is followed by a longer trip to Lake Ochrid (Ohrid) where she writes a number of chapters about places surrounding the lake before returning to Skopje and concluding the section there. The following section is called Old Serbia and begins with a chapter called The Plain of Kossovo (Kosovo) before West reaches the capital of Kosovo, Prishtina (Pristina), and Mitrovitsa (Mitrovica) and Petch (Peć). The final substantive section of the book is titled, Montenegro, a place that West returns to, this time visiting Tsetinye (Cetinje), Lake Scutari (Skadar), Podgoritsa (Podgorica) and Budva. That was the end of her Easter journey, as she writes in the Epilogue, travelling by boat north along the coast of Croatia and back to Zagreb to conclude.

*

At a crossroads of memory in the former Yugoslavia, this Creative Commission aims to analyse, document, and perform a former state in the present by repeating a definitive yet contentious journey, incorporating contemporary understandings of memory, heritage and mobilities in human geography and the geo-humanities. Analysing multi-directional memory, post-memory, and trauma this project about a former state, describes and explores acts of memory, memorial practices, monuments, nostalgia and socialism, and conflict, politics and memory, through a mobile and multi-sensory approach in lived landscapes of memory. Previous work in the western Balkans has focused primarily upon conflict, economic and political transformation and transitional justice, here however we are interested in the spatial practices of memory, literature, and place in post-conflict, post-socialist states and we explore how collective spaces of memory, and memorial acts, objects, and texts affect the present in the successor states of the former Yugoslavia.

Having existed in various forms throughout the previous century, Yugoslavia retains a certain territorial shape and authority in public discourse as a former state in Europe. Yet lacks any recognition or legitimacy as a state today, over twenty-five years after its collapse. Despite this, Yugoslavia is a non-aligned feature on world historical maps and is still remembered and mobilised in different ways by former citizens. Yugoslavia remains within living memory and is tangibly present in the built heritage and cultural representations of the former land of the south Slavs. It is a post-conflict, post-socialist, post-Yugoslav landscape. While Balkanist stereotypes continue to define this region after the series of armed conflicts, ethnic cleansing and genocide that took place here at the end of the previous century, bringing to an end the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. West’s journey taken in the lead up to World War II enables us to think temporally as well as spatially about the region, as the multilayered and divisive conflict continues to be felt, memorialised and remembered in the ex-Yugoslavia. Here these two periods of mass violence are brought together through a performative intervention in post-Yugoslav space on personal and collective memories of a socialist Yugoslavia and its collapse, for both are intertwined, define and drive the contemporary (geo)politics of memory in the region (Riding 2019).

In the past decade, there has been a convergence of transdisciplinary thought characterised by geographical engagements with the humanities, and the integration of place and the tools of geography into the humanities. This emerging intellectual terrain is of course not entirely new, as it speaks back to a long tradition of topographic books and travel-writing by authors in regions such as the Balkans, however the emergence of a newly geographical humanities is explored anew and re-performed in this project by bringing the geo-humanities and mobility studies (the new mobilities paradigm) together. Incorporating a sensuous and materially sensitive approach to grounded fieldwork we undertake a poetic, more-than-representational, and more-than-human reading of the post-conflict, post-socialist landscapes encountered. Arts-based mobilities methodologies identified as part of the new mobilities paradigm will as such be developed in the post-Yugoslav landscape including mobile interviews, time-space diaries, site-writing, poetry and filmmaking.

We have indefinitely delayed the mobile fieldwork in this immobile time, and as such the next Progress Report will be a project trailer—film footage gathered from previous journeys through the region—while Progress Report #3 will be—if travel is possible—field notes taken in the former Yugoslavia while tracing West’s route through the landscape.

James Riding, May 2020

Alcalay, A. 2004. Introduction: Everyday history. In Sarajevo Marlboro, M. Jergović, xii–xvii. Brooklyn, NY: Archipelago.

Campbell, D. 1998. National deconstruction: Violence, identity, and justice in Bosnia. Minneapolis, MIN: University of Minnesota Press.

Edmonds, P. 1927. To the land of the eagle, travels in Montenegro and Albania. London: Routledge.

Evans, A. J. 1876. Through Bosnia and the Herzegóvina on foot during the insurrection, August and September 1875; with an historical review of Bosnia and a glimpse at the Croats, Slavonians, and the ancient republic of Ragusa. London: Longmans, Greens.

Glenny, M. 1999. The Balkans, 1804-1999: Nationalism, war and the great powers. London: Granta.

Goldsworthy, V. 1998. Inventing Ruritania: The imperialism of the imagination. London: Yale University Press.

Mazower, M. 2002. The Balkans: From the end of Byzantium to the present day. London: Phoenix.

Munro, R. 1895. Rambles and studies in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Dalmatia. Edinburgh, UK: Blackwood.

Riding, J. 2019. The geopolitics of memory: A journey to Bosnia. Hannover: ibidem-Verlag.

Spencer, E. 1851. Travels in European Turkey, in 1850. London: Colburn.

Stoker, B. 1897. Dracula. London: Archibald Constable and Company.

Toal, G. 1996. An anti-geopolitical eye: Maggie O’Kane in Bosnia, 1992-93. Gender, Place and Culture 3(2): 171–186.

Todorova, M. 1997. Imagining the Balkans. New York: Oxford University Press.

West, R. 1942. Black lamb and grey falcon: A journey through Yugoslavia. London: Macmillan London Ltd.

Žižek, S. 2000. The fragile absolute: Or why this Christian legacy is worth fighting for? London: Verso.


Of Steel and (Un)Stillness | Progress Post #1

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Of Steel and (Un)Stillness | Progress Post #1

Representing and territorialising sound.

Our commission “Of Steel and (un)Stillness” is essentially built with and through sounds and images. While a considerable part of the materials to be used were gathered during the shooting of a documentary film, our work also comprises the creation of a kinetic and sound-installation through the assemblage of spare car parts, collected in Lisbon’s outskirts. The need to present 2D printable elements as requested by the Creative Commissions team has challenged us in the way we think of, and represent our work.

In this post we try  a different outtake on the source material. The following spectrograms shall be seen as “splinters” from the original audio tracks. Some consist of raw recordings, while others have been processed by communication apps (Whatsapp for example). Together, these clips create a representation of the sounds of mobility as embodied by one specific roadster, a 60 years old Senegalese man, and in at least two different journeys made in Peugeots 504. Some of these elements also allude to how audio recordings circulate today. Circumstances as such stimulate the search for new methodologies of archiving and alternative ways of making sense of the set of information contained in these audio recordings. In this vein, by providing the context and geo-location in each of these spectrograms, we further explore the possibilities of representation. Such rearrangements intend to go beyond the immediate sensorial and aural worlds of sound and image. We can thus  reflect about cycles and textures, but also of noise writ large, as elements of this specific type of mobility of people and objects. Closely tied to the pace of this roadster’s mobility, the selected clips provide a graphic anthropo-(s)cenic soundscape, in which man-made sounds easily overlap and override natural sounds.

The four sound clips have been created with different audio recording set-ups, comprising of two different audio recorders, for ambient sounds, and several smartphones.

1.  10 seconds in the life of a car entering the desert landscape. Motor running monotonously, two other cars pass by. Mobility produces sound. Stereo recording. 25°42’44.4″N 14°39’00.2″W

2. Whatsapp is paramount for routiers while on the move. The smartphone ringing insistently breaks the monotony of the motor running. A policeman, normally in an outpost between Nouadhibou and Nouakchott, has become a regular contact. An instrumental relation has been established. He begs for something:
“…des chaussures sport pour un vieux, c’est tout. Un vieux qui marche, qui fait le sport en marchant. Alors, de pointure 44. Avec une pointure de 44…”
(Whatsapp audio recorded from a routier’s smartphone, received in Portugal)
20°57’50.2″N 16°15’04.9″W     to      38°44’57.0″N 9°13’13.0″W

3. Welding Cycles. White Noise. Belfaa.
The routier has established a solid network of Berber mechanics, namely in and around the town of Belfaa (1500 Kms away from the point of departure in Portugal). Hitherto, all mechanical interventions had stick to the essential. The chassis is now welded in a local workshop in order to fix structural damages. The routier keeps this information for him only as part of broader risk management and sales strategies. The regular intervals in the spectrogram depict the welder’s operations. White noise is present throughout.
30°02’44.0″N 9°33’56.6″W

4. Humming and Hissing. Stopping.
Crossing the border of Morocco to Mauritania through Guerguerat Strip. The straight horizontal line of this spectrogram (first 50 seconds) is a humming mixed with a warning siren that is repeated in short cycles (thus creating the continuous line). The giant 10 meter tall scanner searches cars potentially involved in smuggling activities. The roadster’s car in which we travel has just left this apparatus and dogs have sniffed the car. We are waiting for green light to move forward. Another routier, whose overloaded car had entered the scanner, flees and leaves his vehicle behind. The car in which we travel stops before crossing Guerguerat’s Strip (a no man’s land claimed by Saharawi resistance) while “our” roadster works out the next step. Birds sing throughout. The humming low noise is finally interrupted (at the end of the recording) by a sound resembling a hissing sigh of relief. It is a truck’s air brake being released.
(Audio Recorded in December 2019 at the Moroccan border, leaving to Guerguerat strip)
21°21’43.9″N 16°57’41.1″W

5. Rebuilding mobility through cycles and repetitions.
This last spectrogram shows a composite of the previous four tracks. Clips 1 and 2 have been replayed three times, the 3 is only partially represented, and clip 4 is in its full-length.
This composite audio condenses a set of mobile activities, from transnational communications, to borders and risk management.

April 2020

Of Steel and (un)Stillness is a  Creative Commission of:

Pedro Figueiredo  Neto  (anthropologist, filmmaker), http://pedrofneto.com/

Ricardo Falcão  (anthropologist, filmmaker) www.rikfalk.com

Paulo Morais (sound artist),  https://vimeo.com/paulomorais


Pearls from China | Progress Post #1

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Pearls from China. Mobility of goods and migration flows from China to Europe in the 1920s | Progress Post #1

April 30th, 2020

Pearls from China is a project proposed by Daniele Brigadoi Cologna, Matteo Demonte and Ciaj Rocchi that has the goal to deepen and showcase the geographical mobility of goods and people in the mid-1920s. In particular, Pearls from China aims to document how the commerce of fake pearls by Zhejiang’s traders – who exported, imported and marketed them in different European countries – was instrumental in sustaining the earliest Chinese migration to Europe.

Analyzing sources provided by professor Daniele Brigadoi Cologna, Ciaj Rocchi and Matteo Demonte started working on key geographical stepping stones and on a cast of main characters in this migration epic.

By tracing trade and travel trajectories, we have defined a first route by ship that passed through the Suez Canal, and a second by train along the Trans-Siberian railroad.

By profiling the main actors of the mid-1920s Chinese fake pearl trade, we have uncovered the story of a small group of Chinese from Zhejiang whose presence in Japan is proven by documents regarding the compensation requested for the mistreatment suffered following the 1923 Kanto earthquake, as well as by a few rare photographic documents.

There is also documentary evidence regarding the presence of the very same group of fake pearl peddlers in several European countries between 1925 and 1926, when they moved between Germany, Holland, France, Spain, and Italy.

We are now working on the storyboard/videoboard for a short video-documentary. We decided to focus on the turning point: repatriated to China from Japan after the Great Kanto earthquake, our main characters arrived in Shanghai, where an intermediary agency offered them a chance to leave for Europe. There, a Sino-French company was recruiting sellers to sell a novelty product: fake pearls.

According to Chinese sources, in Shanghai and Wenzhou it was possible to refer to banking agencies that facilitated the procurement of passports and tickets for expatriation. To these repatriated migrants, those agencies provided useful contacts to refer to once they arrived in Europe. This process explains the sudden surge of arrivals in 1925-1926: for many emigrants who had just returned from Japan, the money saved during the time spent working in that country may have barely just covered the price of the trip.

In 1925, in Germany, several hundred of Chinese from Qingtian settled in Berlin near the Schlesischer Bahnhof (today Berlin Ostbahnhof), the historic terminus of the trains that arrived from Asia.

In the summer of the same year, in Spain, Madrid’s public opinion reacted with amazement to the sudden spread of Chinese street vendors of fake pearls through the streets of the city center.

A few months later, in February 1926, the same scene repeated itself in Italy, where the press and the prefectures of the Kingdom were alarmed by the sudden “Invasion” of the several hundred Chinese pearl peddlers who arrived in Italy in droves, mostly across the mountain passes with France.

Although this migration left an obvious mark in the statistics of the Chinese presence in France during the same years, only a few French sources on Chinese migration clearly cite the itinerant sale of fake pearls as an economic insertion strategy.

These pearls, made of colored glass, were often passed off as made in Japan items, or even as a Chinese product. Though the early batches of fake pearls sold may have been imported from the Far East, there is evidence of subsequent supply coming through Chinese and European wholesalers active in Paris, who mostly sourced their ware from Central European manufacturers.

Thus, it appears that the pearls may have mainly been produced in Europe. Chinese sources mentioning fake pearls among the goods treated by the wholesalers of the Gare de Lyon and the Marais, speak of them as “pearls of Romania”, but other European sources point at the city of Gablonz, in Czechoslovakia, as a likely source, as between the two wars it had become a key hub for costume jewelry manufacture, with over four thousand companies on site.

Our goal is to recover as many international sources as possible that can help us trace the itineraries linking the production and circulation the pearls, and to prove their role as an economic insertion strategy for the first Chinese migrants who settled down in continental Europe.

As a creative contribution, our ultimate goal is still to realize an animated documentary in which routes and people combine with scenarios and stories that have occurred between Europe and China in the 1920s.


Flying Boat | Progress Post #1

Playing with ‘Variations on Mobility’, the four Creative Commissions teams in 2019-2020 have developed their projects along different trajectories traced by the unfolding movements of People, Objects, Texts and Ideas across times and spaces. As small groups composed of academics who have embraced art in their research practices, or artists working in collaboration with scholars across various disciplinary backgrounds, the Commissions engage different Theories and Methods of mobility, working with ethnographic, archival, historical, anthropological, geographical and creative methodologies. The following text and original images represent a short progress post realised by the team to help us follow the path of their creative work.

Flying Boat | Progress Post #1

In spring 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has severely impacted air travel around the globe. In April 2020, passenger numbers were 9% of the same month in 2019. Nation states have identified the mobility of people as a means of contagion, some have responded with travel bans and the grounding of airlines. The Flying Boat Geohumanities Creative Commission has pivoted from investigating the possible impacts on climate change on air travel to explore instead how the pandemic will impact on the future of air travel.

Two overlooked aspects of air travel are emerging from the pandemic; the clear socio-economic inequalities of this mode of transport; and its latent materiality. Flying is a privileged mode of movement: from the global perspective, only 20% of humanity have ever set foot in an aircraft; and in wealthier societies it is a luxury activity. Fair travel is framed as a release from gravity and a freedom to roam the globe, yet as its material entanglements with the Covid contagion have brought it to earth. The infrastructure of aviation is deeply invested in material practices; airports are amongst the largest built environment installations, yet now grid-locked by nose to tail, parked aircraft. Oil is trading in April at negative prices; the onstream infrastructures of fuel production are too cumbersome to slow or stop.

This short video, entitled Chek Lap Kok, 9pm, 1 December 2019, documents a walk to Hong Kong Airport from the Expo centre on the airport island, by means of slow travel, under makeshift conditions, and without carbon expenditure. It’s a harbinger of lean and informal travel arrangements which may be a feature of time to come. This is a provisional, work in progress for the Flying Boat project.

Stephen Connolly
Layla Curtis

April 2020