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Lacing Lands: moving in relation
On land, politics and advocacy work, as told through the spaces I found myself in
This is a patchwork of how I see politics, how I position myself, and hopefully, a route to helping you position yourself. You can watch the videos and walk through the spaces I’ve found myself in, and maybe, see how our spaces overlap. Or, you could read through the framing of the project and follow the links to see various experiences of politics and advocacy work that talk along with me and weave this together. Or, perhaps, you’d like to read through the spaces on your own time. Either way, you can browse through, switch between layers, explore links and form your own journey.
Switch between stories using these red buttons!
Switch between stories using these red buttons!
While ‘land’ is simply the earth beneath our feet, it is also a very nebulous concept that gives way for vastly different ways of understanding it, and living on or with it.
How did you deal with boundaries of such a vast matter, especially while doing research for this project? How did you deal with the feeling of having to make it concrete?
This project started with the goal of making a practical list, and a collection on advocacy work and actions in relation to land and ownership for people to use, but quickly the project became quite complex. Events happening in Russia were affecting me deeply, and they felt like the only examples of advocacy work that came to mind. Things I lived, and felt the urgency of through my experience, stood in the way of completing my research task, or so it first seemed. But then I realised my experiences were crucial to researching, asking questions, drawing lines, realising who I am in relation to a place, and how that is affected by land . Seeing things in relation showed that the boundaries created by definitions and classifications are arbitrary. For example, the various expressions of action — claiming one’s body ,
claiming one’s space,
making art ,
doing political actions
are in fact intertwined—the claim for body and the claim for self-expression is rooted in the claim for space, the claim for land, and the claim for existence on said land.
Along the way, I realised it is necessary to be intuitive and non-linear, to overlay, to put things into many categories, to merge them, to bring together personal and hectic approaches with ones that become structured and polished, and so on. Questioning and working against the separation of things and events can establish a ground upon which to work with such complex a meshwork of relations. This brought me to the urge to create spaces as artistic vessels for communicating my ideas generated from this fluid collection of artistic work and actions.
As I have gotten to know you through working together, you have strong feelings about generalisations, yet you don’t shy away from making leaps in your way of thinking and making.
How do you deal with the tension between the overview that theory can establish, and the peculiarities of your own experiences?
For me theory is a way of seeing the world not superior or inferior to personal lived experience. It sometimes helps us to understand the world more, while at other times theory contradicts our experience, and that which we perceive. What I have learned for myself is to live through what I am reading and turn it into something embodied and felt. Some ideas resonate with me and change my practice and outlook, while the world and my practice change how I approach ideas and theory. I often hesitate to use phrases like “I believe that…”. it feels like I cannot integrate theory into my lived experiences, as if I am not skilled enough to handle its generalisations. I am constantly learning to be brave enough to work through and develop firm beliefs, I try to use leaps and generalisations as tools for understanding rather than dismissing them. I think there is a complex balance in having firm beliefs that are in constant flux with the particularities of others.
There are two seemingly unrelated matters that can be considered a thread in your series of stories, which are belonging and distributed authorship, a term that you introduced to me in this project.
Can you elaborate on what distributed authorship means to you, how it comes back in this design project, and how it relates to matters of belonging?
Authorship is an invention of capitalism, and is much like owning real estate . Some (…) do not want to nor can they own land and ideas. Does it mean they have no thoughts and no land to stand upon? In fact authors never stand outside the systems that enable them to be; we are never detached from the people who came before us, and novelty is not the ultimate creative goal. Instead it is the ability to map and draw new routes without erasing, or overlooking the landscape, the capacity to speak without silencing, to mix, re-mix and accept connections along shared struggles and common causes throughout the years. Distributed authorship to me is accepting that I always build upon the work of others. In this project, my thoughts, ethics and design solutions are not mine, they did not emerge in a vacuum, they emerged from collisions with others and my surroundings. I use tools created by others, which allows me to create through the research of many; I sit on a chair built by others, talk to Rana and friends and teachers, have the opportunity to get the education and time to work on this project. What is the need of claiming sole authorship, of creating a line between me and the world if not the need to monetise?
Lacing Lands is a collection of remembering how one lives on and with land. How so?
We have forgotten of how strongly we are all tied to land , and to the resources and space it provides, how much it influences all the complex workings of our politics and day-to-day lives. We forget to be present and curious of material flows. We want to run away from what we might call the ‘ruins’ that our politics and our daily routines leave behind. Instead, we running towards utopias that shift our attention away from our habitat that is lived by us but does not belong to us. Each and every politics requires different kinds of actions, as people and ruins mutually implicate one another and are in constant co-habitation, which differ depending on local circumstances. To move forward we need to think in non-linear and multiple geographies and time frames—not one timeline that we all climb in order to reach Mars.

I feel the urge to listen to those whose habitats have been destroyed. I want to think of our shared land as a complex network of actors, ground ourselves, claim our spaces in order to recreate spaces differently.
What does storytelling in and through design make possible?
I feel that storytelling most closely conveys and represents how we live, and in that sense it allows for a more immediate experience. We remix everything, even our memories constantly rebuild themselves, that goes also for storytelling, yet at times storytelling in its chaotic and sometimes inconsistent raw shape transmits how life is, and with it, a sense of truthfulness that one can recognize and accept as life itself. Every time we create a work, we create a space and we embed a narrative or a guiding system (a pathfinder) into this space. Yet often we are not mindful of what default narratives we integrate into our designs, what default tools, formatting and programming languages we use. I feel that these tools and formats, and the need for polishing and rendering design for the sake of clarity overpower inconsistent and complex matters of people's relation to environments and their stories. Accepting chaos and withholding default tools and stories gives space for a diffractive approach ; it allows us to understand the relationship between design and place-making politically, and place-making as a political tool. I have tried to think through this in terms of patchy-ness , and have used it in this project in order to increase the depth of our screens.
Switch between stories using these red buttons!
Russian Classroom (on belonging)
The first space where I find myself is a Russian classroom, quiet and flooded in sunshine, dust swirling around tight ponytails landing onto closed student books. The sun creeps down on my desk, slowly taking over my space. I sit huddled in the back of my chair. We are reciting poems of the first half of the 20th century. I stand up, and start citing a poem by Sofia Parnok. It is about her romance with Marina Tsvetaeva. Two famous women in Russian poetry, in a couple of tender words breaking historical narrative. Some people remain asleep on their desks behind me, nothing is broken for them. I read the poem aloud, holding my breath. The teacher is biting her tongue, annoyed. It is an act of resistance, not only mine or Sofia's, but ours together. In this moment, I am a continuation of her claim for existence. And the hundred years between us is a mere formality. We build upon many people’s work. But true relations are forged once you find specificity. They bend the distance of time and geography and allow you to find yourself and locate your experiences in relation to others. What makes me interested in advocacy work is the recognition of shared experiences and differences. Advocacy work asks of us to determine who we are and where to stand. Recognition takes place between very distant and very different humans, as soon as connection is felt and an urgency is shared. Through recognition and commitment, we become part of one another’s fights. All advocacy work is a continuation of efforts by others, not a novelty. One of my friends said recently: there is no past and future, is there? Some things from my past are still actively a part of me, and my dreams for the future are the substance of my present. I think it is true for all politics and advocacy work. Histories, narratives, poetry, ideas are always present — Only spoken if written, and always silent if not told. I say the last line and sit down. A classmate turns to me and spits: 'I think she is sick, I won't read her poetry ever again'. And as the teacher calls another person on the list, and the class rustles softly, my time has bent ever so slightly.
An Email to Student Affairs (on generalisations)
Bureaucracy is flat and claustrophobic. Black on white in 12 sized font. Printed out and scanned and printed out again. This space is a maze of hyperlinks, jumping away from you, a maze of qualifications and forms, incorrectly typed passwords, automated replies, and pending applications. In this world there are many possibilities. On the website it says you can get one of two scholarships, you have access to a student counsellor and everyone is on your side. ArtEZ is happy to welcome International Students and NON-eu students alike. Visa will be arranged and insurance documents will be sorted. In this space you exist as a general idea, a category, a group. “NON-eu students do not qualify for this fund,” “NON-eu students cannot use this service,” “NON-eu students are invited to an Asian movie night.” I have spent many long hours in this unpleasant space. When I followed my needs in this white space, they slid in the cracks of the possibilities. When I was bowling my eyes out in the counsellor's office, saying I do not think time will help, and I am in dire need of a job to afford this education, I was met with screeching empathy. When I experience hardships, I constantly feel resistance. I am a NON-eu student, an immigrant and I do not fit into the narrative of opportunistic abundance. I find myself being turned into a problem. Empathy brings you thus far, but doesn’t get you out of this flat claustrophobic maze. Self-identification does not equal representation. This is who I am , not who you want me to be. When I tell my experiences to other students or teachers, I feel they recognise me and not some general notion of who I am categorised to be. We see each other and connect, create unions and friendships, because we know each other through our specificities. What makes a difference is that we have a shared sense of urgency, not empathy. Current political language uses a lot of generalisations. While abstraction is a natural way of grasping the world, when it starts to overpower your experiences, it becomes dangerous. Institutions render you into abstraction. In a particle system of specificities, this always means exclusion and loss of meaning. There is nothing universal about life, and generalisation freezes action, diffuses it until it is an equally distributed layer of passive awareness of a general problem.
A Seminar in Teams (on awareness)
From one flat space we move to another–this time a gateway to something tangible. We come together for a seminar, square after square, building up a wall of faces. My camera is on and I constantly try to sit straight. We start with a warm up, talking about Elize - first chatbot therapist created in the 60s. We have some time to play around with her, I find it funny. Her clumsy answers and a huge gap of understanding amuse me, she reminds me of talking to human therapists and insurance consultants. When asked, I joke about my observation. Dutch Mental Health system for NON-eu students, huh? I sense tension. My eyes slip to my notes, where I read a phrase from Jennifer Deger's essay: "Atlases can teach you that there are many different ways of seeing the same place.” While talking about politics we often can hear the word 'awareness'. Raising awareness. To me it has always been an interesting concept, because my awareness comes from within. It is understanding of where I stand and how my existence clashes with systems and institutions. When your identities clash with systems, speaking on them is always met with tension. Even if no one is saying or doing anything that would make you uncomfortable, being aware of difference takes up the whole space. From an early age I was taught to leave my opinions behind, with real urgency and fear behind my mother's eyes. People I follow arrested for tweets, artists arrested for drawings. This awareness, unspoken yet tangible, is not bound to formal censorship. It is internalised and lived. When I mention my identities, or when I share my opinions, I am acutely aware of the tone I choose. And I think, if one has never been in the situation of choosing between what you are and what you should be, censorship and the will to speak out against it, would seem detached from day-to-day life. For me, it is the air we breathe, the shift we feel while claiming ourselves, the consequences we face and live. I closed Teams, got up, and circled my room, restless. I asked myself: where am I in relation to this twisted line, did I overstep it, did I break any unspoken rules of conduct? And, indeed: how differently do we experience the same digital space, the same joke, or the same line of text?
A Queer Party (on existing)
I am in a loud space, enmeshed with people in bright clothes, shining brighter under the neon lighting. The dress-code was "whatever makes you feel gorgeous and festive", the rules are active consent, the people are screaming to Deceptacon by Le Tigre, and I imagine that everyone in Moscow hears us. My whole life I wanted to run away from the country that I found unsafe and unstable. Walking home, I sometimes would close my eyes, and imagine I was walking somewhere far away. In some other Land, where things are okay. But what capitalism, sexism and all the -isms could offer was always an illusion. All will be well—if you behave. If you are a patriot, if you work hard, if you are straight, if you are pretty, if you just follow the rules. And I wasn't and I couldn't. And while the rich were getting richer and flied off to excursions on Mars, leaving our terrestrial ruins behind, I had no space in those utopias. I felt powerless, denied ownership of my own habitat. And as my heart aches from all the jumping, with rainbow flags flying and people laughing—for the first time I do not feel futureless. I realise that existing in spite of set systems and moreover outside of them is what truly holds power. 'The fugitives' managing to remove themselves from systems and make a living. The strongest advocacy, I believe, is not only directly attacking a problem, but creating a space, community, or ideology separately, underground — in a parallel world. Such spaces in themselves are political: people living their lives and their conflicts, partying, singing, dancing, fucking, learning, talking. Some say, 'If you have a revolution, new systems will appear and it's gonna be just as bad'. Not only is this completely untrue, it also misses the point. What is truly dangerous to oppressive systems is discovering there is, actually, another way. Radical presence against utopias. "We could do without it, like this:...."
A bar (And then what..?)
I remember at a Climate Despair discussion in a bar in Nijmegen, I was recommended 'Anarchy works' by Peter Gelderloos, in response to my despair. This book was structured as a set of questions. Aren’t people naturally selfish? How will decisions be made? How will people get healthcare? Who will protect us without police? How will cities work? How would we have food? The answers were examples of different communities for whom things worked. Not an abstract idea of ultimate greatness, just suggestions and examples. Asking concrete questions and daring to try to find answers together is vital to changing toxic narratives. Existing systems are one of many possible ways and if you break the rules of conduct, Earth does not crumble. Who is around me? Where am I in the landscape of these networks? What systems hurt me? How do others deal with these same systems? What am I aware of? What connections do I form, where do I belong and feel present? How can we change and where would the change lead us? Our whole life is a process — of identity-formation, of gasping the world, of connecting to others, but focusing only on process and not knowing the future is dangerous. Beliefs can constantly be in flux, but it is important to keep asking: where do I stand and where am I going? And while asking all these questions, try to be intimate with the stories others tell. Find novel indisciplinary ways to get to the answers. Answers are lived, tried out, abandoned and made anew. I am going to take narratives very seriously and keep moving forward with new ones, no formal bureaucratic documents, no tables, no percentages, no generalisations. Just a patchwork of something that is hard to nail down and put into predetermined ideas on identity, politics and advocacy work.