I had a strange experience last winter; I was walking in the woods, near my home, to the hilltop where I always go (or could I call it a small mountain? It’s not really a mountain, nothing grand, just a rocky elevation that allows for some views of the woods and the city). Like I said, I go there often; over the last few years I’ve probably been to this hilltop, or mountain, every single week. Why? Because it is close, because I get some fresh air, I get exercise, I get to refresh my thoughts, and I like walking. I have even started running again. But there’s more: I really like going there, despite the fact that I prefer real mountains, or the sea. I prefer the more spectacular views, and mountains, of the western coast where I grew up. Here, on the southern coast, everything is more modest, downplayed. And although I have lived here most of my adult life, I have never really considered it ‘home’. Of course, it is my home, I know that. And I like the place, and I like living here. Most of the time. But does it like me? Does it consider me part of itself? Considering a place as ‘home’ is a complex issue, even when the relocation is just between places in the same country. I know, because I relocated twice in my childhood, and again as an adult. (This is not to overstate my own experience: The world is full of examples of relocations far, far more complex than these, and the people experiencing them have my deepest respect. And also my interest & attention for what these experiences may represent, and also how they may be producing new insights)
Well, the strange experience, last winter in the woods, was this: I suddenly realized that I felt at home. That I considered these modest hills my landscape, a place where I belonged, spectacular or not. And, even more strange: That the landscape saw me as belonging there, welcoming me, allowing me to be part of the place and offering me things that were good for me: Fresh air, exercise, reflection, elevated views – of the landscape, and of life in general. This experience made me grateful. And curious; why now, why here, and why all of a sudden like this, and how? I have been and am still interested in this: What makes us belong, feel at home, establish a (sense of) home, or some kind of practice that allows us to be part of a place, a community, a society, a landscape, a city, a group…
In relation to this experience, I have started looking into the concept of «territorialization» and «ritornello» launched by Deleuze and Guattari; that repetition or returning may be an important part of creating a territory, a belonging, a space (Don’t ask me exactly how, I still have to read A thousand plateaus to see if that makes me wiser). During these walks I have taken snapshots that I have entered into my digital diary, a log, where I also record audio, speaking to myself, or, perhaps, to my future self that will try to make sense of this extensive archive of images and talking.
Last summer, we carried out the first course in Lesvos in «Arts-based ethnography». I challenged myself not just to organize the course and supervise others, but to do something of my own, a small tryout of how I could direct my own questions and interests to the encounter with Lesvos. I chose to start looking into the question of what creates or constitutes an experience of home, or belonging. So, when I could find in-between time, I met with a few people who had made Lesvos their new home. I asked them to describe a place in Lesvos that made them feel at home. I recorded their descriptions in sound. Then I went to that place, and recorded video (which also made me realize what a terrible cameraman I am – so much to learn!).
I now have encountered three people, with three narratives and places. This summer I hope to expand on this work, and see how it evolves; if people will take me to the places or situations that, for them, offer them a sense of belonging, of home. And then to see what comes out of that. Some kind of film? A video installation? A narrative in sound? Something more in the directions of ethnographic interviews? Or, perhaps, the ‘work’ is more in the act itself of going places with people and reflecting on these questions, like a social art project? Or maybe it is more of an autoethnographic work, a self reflection? For me, first being trained in ethnomusicology (in short: the anthropological approach to studying music), and later to have been working closely with artists and scholars from different fields of art, there are some interesting things that happen when combining artistic and ethnographic approaches. The whole course itself will, hopefully, be a laboratory for the participants to explore that. For me, in doing this little side project (OK, that is the southern coast modesty speaking), there is something interesting happening when the researcher/artist does not hold back on the personal dimension of the research, that this work is, potentially, not about anything else than understanding what happened on a walk in the woods in winter. But still, many issues may be unfolding from that.