On Charlotte Lakits’ photographic project "Tell Me About Home"
Et hjem er ikke nødvendigvis noget stabilt og vedholdende, men noget flydende og immigrerende, som samtidig skaber udfordringer i form af negative fordomme overfor den fremmede og udelukkelse; mod den som ikke er på vej videre, men som slår sig ned. Lorenzo Imola - BA fra Islands Universitet i kunstteori og filosofi og praktikant på Nuuk Kunstmuseum fra januar til juni 2019 - har skrevet om den franske fotograf Charlotte Lakits projekt ”Tell Me About Home”; et fotoprojekt situeret i Nuuk.
Charlotte Lakits visited Nuuk in August 2018 and again in early 2019. She wanted to get to know the people of Nuuk. The stories and pictures she collected in the process make up her project Tell Me About Home, which was presented in an exhibition in Ilimmarfik during the month of February, in Katuaq on the occasion of Multi Kulti festival, and most recently at Institut français du Danemark as part of Copenhagen Photo Festival. The present article will be included in a forthcoming book on Charlotte Lakits’s work.
Af Lorenzo Imola, foto Charlotte Lakits
A bow stretches through the air, smoothly just as resolutely – fatally. It covers indefinable distances and eventually touches down on a well definite spot, precisely and with no impact whatsoever. A destination – or destiny. There it may meet other lines – paths, lives, situations in a broad sense; lines that have perhaps always been in that particular portion of the universe, others having ended up there after analogously ‘blind’ flights, whether chosen or casual.
A joint: when these lines intersect, they sometimes bond and tie together, creating new meaning – nonetheless frequently only to leave again. But even then, maintaining maybe a connection and without ever excluding they will at some point come back, or somehow meet again.
Of arching branches and lymph nodes
This is the image that involuntarily came to my mind as I read some of the stories presented by Charlotte Lakits in her photographic project Tell Me About Home. A familiar sensation indeed, one that I have started to recognize after some time wandering across different countries: it turns up recurrently as I witness some of the improbable encounters and connections of a humanity on the move.
That is, every time the world seems to show how its crushing vastness and the nullification of that very vastness end up meeting in the lives of individuals – and consequently of societies.
The effects of such impressions can be rational disbelief, trustful surprise, laughter, acceptance of the inescapable – and unfathomable.
Whatever be the reaction, what said perception is likely to do – after dignifying in a first moment exactly the distances and all unpredictable factors that in general would seem to hinder such encounters – is to let these disproportionate obstacles feel much lighter, all borders become less meaningful and more surmountable. “Small world”. It unveils an invisible net of relations, and we discover ourselves to be part of it: a complex, branched out and interconnected narration of different existences.
To the extent that one has any interactions with the world, she will be able to identify herself within such interconnectedness – perhaps as defining a line that connects (more or less remotely apart) worlds in the World, but also as a point that through unity of place links other mobile lines.
«Greenland brings people together», that’s what she says all the time.
And he will add: «I think it’s nice to be here and meet people like you – just passing by. And I’m just like you. I don’t know how long I’ll stay here.»
White on black
Some of the black-and-white portraits show us young faces emerging from an obscure background – an uncertain area that blending with shadows and dark hair seems at times to claim parts of the people themselves. These outlines, blurring out in the enveloping world, could arguably not present themselves more explicitly: simply and absolutely faces, persons, identities as such in and against the dark – prior to all imposed definitions.
Other photographs, characterized by pasty shadowing and strong contrasts of shining white and deep black, show people now standing out, almost imposed on the surroundings like a relief on which light can break and wind brush. Still others pictures, permeated with the greyscale, blend the individuals into their surroundings.
Together with the more environmental subjects, interleaved between the portraits as to contextualize them, all these photographs have a feeling of suspension imbued of meaning.
We breathe, and stop breathing, with the people in the pictures; it feels sometimes like inhaling the silence of a look scanning the environment, holding one’s breath like the silence that dominates a moment of reflection, perhaps even revelation – exhaling when a broader picture of life eventually discloses in front of us.
Charlotte Lakits has an educational background in philosophy and ethics. Her Master project dealt with the relation between identity and place, particularly in the context of migrations.
Although the scope of her project Tell Me About Home and the situation it draws up undoubtedly reach beyond Nuuk alone, we can say that, exactly by resting on a received image of Greenland as a remote and sparsely populated island, this setting allows the net of lives and stories and the interconnectedness of present-day world to emerge even more vividly.
The form of life “on the move” being hinted at here nearly normalizes George Simmel’s characterization of the “stranger”, which in 1908 he described “not in the sense often touched upon in the past, as the wanderer who comes today and goes tomorrow, but rather as the person who comes today and stays to morrow. He is, so to speak, the potential wanderer: although he has not moved on, he has not quite overcome the freedom of coming and going.”
The mobility we are talking about takes on profoundly different forms though. It is not only the “lyrical mobility” of the (more or less well-off) individual, free to wander explore and experience, it is also – and more problematically – the highly limited, desperation-fuelled one of refugees and other migrants, or even the commuting between fixed poles made necessary due to scattered families and need for work, and so on.
Radical relocation, or a state of continued mobility marked by a lack of stable points of reference would appear particularly weighty when that involves children and youth, in other words those groups that are right starting to tackle the question of who they are. While they may be affected in a heavier way and disorientated by multiple co-existing environments and languages, by the very same token they probably have the possibility to make sense of such situate-ion(s) right from early on: understanding diversity and learning how to deal with this form of life, the balance, self-reliance and openness crucial for living without one prevailing gravitational centre.
Sometimes they wonder where they belong. Where is this place called ‘home’?
Because they were born here, because they know the language, they’ve been told that they are as Greenlandic as they are Danish and Russian.
both-and ? neither-nor
Used as we are to a pragmatic need for locating one specific origin (preferably geographical and national, and subsequently cultural too) with which to identify people, the life patterns shaped by shifting residence, families with mixed origin, and increasingly multi-ethnic societies can come to challenge an understanding of identity as a unitary, clearly outlined phenomenon bound to an origin.
Feeling negatively divided with regard to identity (that is to say, neither one nor the other, rather than both-and), with the consequent arduous quest for a definition of some kind, is a condition experienced also by many Greenlandic citizens who happen to have roots elsewhere, Danish for example.
Some goes for second-generation immigrants far and wide across the globe, who happen to live in societies that try to alienate them on the basis of superficial factors (physical outlook, names, etc.), thus refusing to acknowledge them as equals. With frustration- and ignorance-fostered intolerance becoming louder and louder, this is indeed a growing socio-political issue these days.
The path traced by the present project brings the question about identity well beyond the split, leading us rather to tackle the notion of a fluid identity associated to peregrine lifestyles. Identity ceases to be fixed and clearly circumscribed in relation to places, it frees itself from belonging to some unitary national entity and allows rather for contamination and plasticity in the emergence of an individual. In general, identity is situated in lived experience rather than bound to coordinates with predefined characteristics.
To put individuals in a geographic and cultural context, based on their origin(s), is surely useful to the extent that it allows to locate more or less precisely an environment in which they grew up or have lived, and that as such is likely to have had an influence of some kind on the person they are. What not least is being challenged here is the necessity for such environments of origin, object of a sense of belonging, to both be confined to one and to completely condition people’s identity.
People above (all) – places under(lie)
Here it is worth pointing to the fact that talking of “environment” allows us to bring both place and people into the picture. Admittedly, in Charlotte’s view people weight definitely more than the places alone: when deprived of a particular community one identifies with, a place turns empty.
I feel to add here that such “emptied place” would then mostly act as a familiar frame, in which one ends up standing alone. The more or less rooted knowledge of the place would at that point constitute only some kind of basic relation to the world (to the situate-ion), on which to start building new meaning.
Fundamental to Charlotte is to challenge a certain negative attitude that can arise when facing the possibility of a fluid, open-ended form of identity and home; some may nostalgically harm the dissolution of stable singularity as the paradigm of belonging, and invoke the superior benefit of having one place to call home. Instead, if anything, we should embrace this “fluidity” as a promising alternative way of being situated in the world – a new side of that fundamental condition we might have otherwise taken for granted.