Performative Debates in a Debatable Land*
These are the nine chapters which give structure to our body of research Debatable Land(s). The chapters are given loose interpretations, and are intended to foment debate and inspire thought.
Islandomania /Tourism*Islandphobia/lawlessness*Islandphilia/Corruption*Islandism(outsourcing problems)
*Post-Islandism (sourcing problems)*Islandification (paradise)*Counter-islandness(migration)
Deserted Island, Financial hub, piracy, ‘lawlessness’, paradise (tourism), prison, utopia, outsourcing problems. The ideas and concepts of Island ranges from a physical space, a metaphor and a psychological state. How can we connect (to physical space) and disconnect (with old patterns or systems) and rather use ‘ISLAND’ as a powerful device for e.g caring, curing, (dis)comforting? Selected writings on islands reveal the island variously to be both real and imaginary, mythological and scientific, but as most problematic when constituted in political terms as a sovereign entity. Humans tend to reproduce what they know (“Robinson Crusoe Syndrome”)- a linear thinking of time and space. In order to live WITH the island in symbiosis an entire new set of relationships would be needed, as it seems. A cohabitant model of living.
What would change if we look at the land from the sea’s perspective or land as a storage of memory like in indigenous cultures? And why do phobias connected to the fear of space exist? Do we need to relearn our relationship to space/nature/the elements? How does land look like in this scenario in which land is not a commodification any longer?
One divides into two, two doesn’t merge into one
Symbiosis*cannibals*selfish entities*PARA-SITES and BASTARDS*Horizontal*vertical*three dimensional.
Zones, areas, sectors. Borders, boundaries, limits. This, quite often, is the language deployed in relation governance, and manifested in management tools for organising physical spaces. We aim for uniformity and unification instead of symbiosis or diversity, when we think of spatial organisation. Notions of jurisdiction, authority, sovereignty, administration etc. How to conceive the difference between two kinds of difference? What tools do we need to imagine land as something debatable and therefore make a One and another One dynamic, irregular, wayward, equal, empowering? (Un)commoning or futuring land, defining own space by producing the ‘Other’ space, shared, safe or open space, between the personal body, the environment, the public, the role of memory and history. How can we gain different narratives of ‘identity and belonging’ away from possessing space? As something, that is negotiation rather than a ‘selfish entity’(virus)? Parasiting or bastardisation?
What types of new physical and immaterial territories could we imagine? How do we see land compared with immaterial manifestation in Malta, e.g., visible and non-visible territories?
What is the difference between negotiating private and public land, the two main categories of land? What (new) criteria would we need to employ in order to create a third or even fourth category?
Is it about completion or separation?
Zeroland: Of Horizons and Trails in the sky
PIRATES*INVADERS*INNOCENT PASSAGE*FRONTIERS*FREEDOM OF THE SEA*REGRETS*COUNTRY WITHOUT LAND* (history) Sovereign Military Order of Malta*Unintentional Consequences (memorial)*(In)dependency*Contiguous zone*Ephemeral.
This chapter asks, what different ideas could be born from looking closer at fleeting notions of space like the ‘horizon’, a fundamental part of shaping the concept of islands?
Which contradicts the material space at the same time it relates to it? History tells us that when we start to move, we can easily transform the horizon into a frontier. Like the trail in the sky, the horizon destabilizes the idea of the is(land) as something tangible, constituted by time and space.
Traces of fleeting horizons.
The Shadow Lines
GHOSTS (fishing)*BUFFER ZONE*TRANSITION*Alternative History*Paradise*Hydrofeminism*‘Protection’* (Treaty of Amiens)*The other side*Immateriality
This chapter tries to refer to or narrate historical moments, temporal and geographical situations from an alternative perspective, perhaps also in an unusually different way.
Perspectives and points of view form a system of lines that bring together or separate geographies, people and discourses. Lines we have in mind and that are relevant and visible from one perspective but do not exist from another, only in an imagination of them.
A non-linear narrative built out of a web of memories from many people that never pretends to tell a big story. Instead, this is where various memories from different people come together containing different shades for the same experience.
Imaginary lines also serve as a metaphor for the actual political reality behind the creation of political constructions like nation states or the European Union, apparently immutable organisms fixed in nature.
An attempt is made to bring the arbitrariness of geographically drawn borders and cartographic delimitations into the foreground, to cross physical borders in order to show them as absurd and shady. A conceivable glimpse into the history of colonization.
The Mediterranean Sea, seen as both, as a metaphor and as a spatial visual language, imagining the world from the perspective of the seascape, and not from the land.
How about narrating the territory, the land, the island, from the perspective of the sea as an alternative story?
Aliens*Invasive Species*Weaponised bodies - exploitation*Masks*Lynchings*Dazzle Camouflage*DNA*Rotten*sickly*luscious*saturation*THE OTHER*white nation*Borderless trade*trading borders*passport trade
This chapter asks: Given our history, what does it mean to belong here on this island? How do we determine which plants, animals, organisms, ideas are beneficial, which harmful?
Robin Wall Kimmerer talks about the “colonising” loosestrife, kudzu, and cheat grass that have the habit of taking over others’ homes and growing without regard to limits, vs the “naturalized” Plantain that is useful, fits into small places and coexists, so prevalent that we think of it as native.
Knowing our past, when foreigner has often meant dangerous, how do we expand our capacity to be in harmony with the unfamiliar, the uncomfortable? Daphne Caruana Galizia and Lassane Cisse both paid the ultimate price for their perceived power to upset the status quo. How do we respond to behaviour that threatens our wellbeing?
How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected ideas about who is welcome or shunned? What absurdities has it brought to the surface?
Fragments and Traces
Fragments*De-historicising the archive*Colonial monuments*archaeological remains*Għar Dalam*Taxonomy*Self-definition*Soil*Panama papers as archaeology*Ashes*Erosion*Extraction of resources and data*Offshore
What and whose stories have we pieced together so far from the fragments of history that we have access to? Are there other stories that can and need to be told at this time?
Are Algorithms the new coloniser? Using fragments of information, and traces left behind by our online actions to create a new world order that we must comply to?
Hunters and Collectors
Argonaut and Cricket*commodification*shelter*appropriation*welcome*
homing*solitude and conviviality*bucolic scenery*queering
Hunters, collectors, farmers, trappers, poachers, buyers, builders, inventors, investors – they all need land. Land that needs to be quantified, qualified, measured, weighed and valued. Before aeroplanes were invented, map-making was done using a triangulation technique, dividing the earth’s surface (or any area) into a network of triangles, in order to calculate distances and areas. Interestingly triangulation is also a manipulative device to engineer rivalry between two people – a sort of small-scale ‘divide and conquer’.
The capitalisation of living matter produces a new political economy (Rosi Braidotti) - the monetisation of living organisms in nothing new, and the human race has long bestowed upon itself a quasi-sacred, inalienable authority over other living beings.
How much physical land do we actually need to survive? How much water, how much soil, and how much light? How much metal, coal and plastic?
It may be time for a new land reform, and a new way of thinking about who owns which land. Ambiguous areas such as the coastline and rural lands are particularly in need of protection from enclosure and privatisation.
Land is the only thing that lasts.
The next Revolution will not be funded (or televised)
Oxygen*utopia*menagerie*hysteria*radical*dissent*democracy*convulsions*uprisings*fake news*paranoia*bread revolution*migration*radical care
This chapter wants a cheap rebellion - a budget insurgence. Franz Fanon spoke of the true revolution, that “changes man and renews society” – it is this renewal and oxygen that we need, but do we want it and can we afford it? Do we even know what we want? What would the world look like, the day after the revolution?
Is a revolution against economic growth possible through a bacchanalian vision of the Mediterranean lifestyle of pleasure, instead of through violence or hardship? This chapter proposes a decolonisation through sloth – without hard graft, there would be no economic development, no investment potential, and therefore no private take-overs of public land.
Alternative modes of revolt do exist – radical care can be seen as an act of revolution. The creation of art is a statement against money-making production - simply doing nothing inherently inverts capitalist logic of value.
The target of a revolution is not always clear - is it a coloniser, and if so, coloniser of what?
grey areas*staying wayward*rooftops*shifting borders*ecosexuality.
This chapter takes inspiration from an ugly, useless urban non-space – grey, cracked concrete and abandoned warehouses. Like an awkward teenager it sulks and snots through alternate moments of deviancy and divinity.
Terrain vague is defined by Ignasi de Solà-Morales as land in a “potentially exploitable state but already possessing some definition to which we are external”. Its future use and value are unknown, and up for debate or negotiation – which gives this chapter a subversive and free quality.
This wasteland presents a counterpoint to the consumerism and bustle of the city – an enforced idleness is itself an anathema to busy -ness. Therefore, within this chapter exists an opportunity to pause, change direction or do something unpredictable.
It’s also a sloppy clause in a contract – that grey area that’s less precise than it should be. But there’s always something to be gained in that by those who play their cards right.
Because a wasteland is never completely barren – weeds grow through the cracks, and garbage takes on an alternate identity. Nothing begets nothing.
*The Debatable Land(s) Project
The project Debatable Land(s) proposes a body of research which contributes to the emergence of dialectic debating and decision-making. The term ‘debatable land’, which we borrow for our project, originally referred to a piece of land where sovereignty was in question; this land and its borders were intangible for centuries, until a map of the territory was drawn, and it became a ‘knowable place’.
Lines-on-a-map as a result of claims of belonging – which have tended to escape the rigorous theorisation of other key concepts of space – are themselves not free of ambiguities. In our search for generative concepts of belonging - which reflect on the texture of how it is felt, used, and practised - we take Malta as a case study.
Our research is not presented as a chronological narrative, or as a logical chain of arguments towards one perfect or imperfect state. Rather, it can be seen as a reflection on the sporadic, random, and sometimes oblique nature of human action and global events, and on the shifting nature of power, historical narrative, and collective memory.
With its land, sea, underwater, and aerial borders, the island state of Malta serves ‘Debatable Land(s)’ as a mirror of the many chronicles of power-plays, migration, exploitation, and the instinct for self-preservation. The borders around the archipelago of Malta seem well defined, whereas the aerial, sea, and virtual borders remain blurred.
Under the lens of a microstate like Malta, events become magnified – nevertheless, they are not exclusive to this archipelago, and our viewpoint shifts from the minutiae to the global spectacle. While archival material, newspaper reports, and historical research are presented and referred to, the exhibited materials and artefacts recognise that information does not equate with knowledge, and historical record is just that – a record – not the event itself (Mantel, 2017). Similarly, we take facts, current events, and behaviours – like border controls, coercive behaviours, or populist rhetoric – as symbolic tokens of the ideologies they represent.
The »Debatable Land(s)« research is structured as a series of questions, but – as in a plebiscitary democracy – we know that power lies with those who design the questions (Ali, 2020). We sift through an abundance of information and data, not to accumulate more knowledge, but to construct alternative meanings – an act, event, law enacted can ultimately mean less than a memory, a smell, a flash of insight. These questions form the basis of the Debatable Land(s) performative debates which will take place in Malta in 2021.
The exhibition Debatable Land(s), which constituted the first phase of this project, can be seen here.