Traces of Locality (and Hence Territoriality)

Photoessay, 2017

Published in Understanding Territoriality: Identity, Place and Possession, 2017

Composed as a result of a 10-days residency module The Shifting Place. Aesthetic, spatial and temporal fractures of transitional territories, project co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the EU, mentored by Giusy Checola at UNIDEE, Cittadellarte, Biella (IT). 

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First evening. Soaked.

The rain did not stop to fall profusely in heavy drops all the way up west-northwest from Milan to Novara and from Novara to Biella. The train had to hit its road passing through a sea of flooded green fields. I thought to myself, perhaps those were rice fields? A friend, not really a friend but a

guy I met later in Biella, told me that summertime is becoming more tropical

and humid in (north) Italy, which allows the revival of, if not an ideal milieu for mosquitoes. The rain is hitting historical records in Palestine; the new phenomenon

of heavy showers of rain during a very short

period of time measured around 100 ml in less than one hour some years ago. This winter, the flooded streets killed an old man in his drowned car.

As a tradition, in the night of the Feast of the Cross (عيد الصّليب), women in the Galilee place around 7

heaps of salt on the house roof to check the fertility of the upcoming winter season [1]. Each heap signifies one month starting from October to April. If the salt melted away that night, it means that the specific month which the heap indicates is supposed to be rainy and wet, if not there won’t be rain.

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[1] Dr. Shukri ‘Arraf mentions in his book al-Ard, al-insan wa-aljuhd ( الأرض، الإنسان والجُهد ) translates The Land, he Man and the Effort that according to the Julian calendar it is used to place up to 12 salt heaps on dry fig leaves representing the whole months of the year. Shukri ‘Arraf, the Land, the Man and the Effort, 1982, p. 231 and 232 (Arabic).

Meandering through the prairies and mountains of the province of Biella and (re)thinking “territoriality”, the first thing that came to my mind was land. However, it took me a while to find a specific word (in my spoken dialect) that we use for “territory” and I could not find one; we actually use the word “area” instead - منطقة mantiqa. And if I had to think about “territory” in the Palestinian context, both etymologically and conceptually, it would be associated with province, which reads as إقليم ʼiqlīm in Arabic [2]. Which phonetically resembles the verb acclimate in English. The Occupied Palestinian Territories and the Palestinian Authority (PA). While “locality”, linked with culture and civilization mostly, would point out some artefacts, artisans, goods, (body) gestures, and dialects; features and codes of the local production (in its broaden context) of different places in Palestine. The oranges of Jaffa, the bananas of Jericho and the grapes of Hebron! Which obviously has more to do with the (local) place. Local translates as محلّي mahalli in Arabic [3], generally means domestic. It is the kind of thing that feels familiar and well known for long or close associations.

[2] For more uses of the word and examples please check Reverso Dictionary http://dictionary.reverso.net/english-arabic/territory/forced

[3] See the online dictionary bab.la, direct link http://en.bab.la/dictionary/english-arabic/local

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Breakfast - brie cheese

- “It seems to me”, said a "lobbyist" guy I met in Amsterdam, “that the global understanding of territoriality, term and use, is being politically overcharged with nation, nationality, and nation state. Which is very problematic”. Nodding my head, I agreed with him.

- “This political load that territory is charged with echoes very negatively. But what do you think? What is the difference between territory and locality? Or how they intersect?” He asked me.

Well, I think they mostly go hand in hand, although locality is defined by norms and codes that we, cultured beings, created. For instance the same specific body gesture in Palestine would give a completely different connotation in Italy. I mean, in Palestine it is very common to use your hand and fingers to ask somebody, that cannot hear you for any reason, to wait. But this same hand gesture implies a very unrespectful intention in Italy! While territoriality is born with us, within us.

- “How do you mean?” 

Territorial behaviour can be a natural behaviour, an instinctive reaction. Look at animals for example.

- “But you know what nice and interesting I find? Is when you think horizontally about local [problems]. For instance, Amsterdam city would collaborate with Barcelona and Brussels on the Airbnb problem [4]. The three cities have to think beyond their territory, beyond the local and national even. Because on national level, this is not interesting. Not even important. Personally speaking as a Dutch guy, I would have more things in common with somebody who lives in a big city [like Amsterdam] around the world, than with a mere guy from the Northern countryside!”

Inflamed on what “territory” means and on what I have said and heard in the chit chat with the lobbyist, I went to look up “territory” in the online version of Oxford dictionary and read the following: 

 

  • An area of land under the jurisdiction of a ruler or state

  • (Zoology) An area defended by an animal or group of animals against others of the same sex or species.

  • (Especially in the US, Canada, or Australia) An organised division of a country that is not yet admitted to the full rights of a state [5]. 

 

How not to be reactionary the same way cats (because this is the most typical example that comes to mind) are? How is this possible/or not within (national) states? 

 

“[..] it will be a state totally dependent on Israel economically. That's the first thing to note. Second, it will be at the mercy of Israeli security so that it will not have the power to let

people in and out; that will still be in Israeli hands as it is today. Third, it will not have

contiguous territory, a very important point. That is to say, if it comes into being now there

will be several cantons, all of which will have to be connected via Israeli territory so Israel

could cut off one canton from another.” [6]

Landscape creating, rather forcing territory

Walking beside the deserted buildings of what once were textile factories along the river in the foothills city of Biella, gives the same feeling of hollowness and agitation that some empty buildings and houses (in “big” cities) in Palestine give. These houses and buildings can be abandoned for either their owners have left Palestine, or they were destroyed during one of the Intifadas and invasions, and kept untouched since then. But the factories in Biella are left due to the shift in the global market. And I wonder how would that same horizontal approach that the lobbyist guy finds interesting and despite its optimism, would function here? How would solidarity of people (in Ramallah for instance) with people in Biella affect the social structure both in Palestine and in Italy? How can not to let it be beneficial for capitalist structure only, which makes living opportunities in certain parts available and affordable for a very specific layer of people? How not to keep marginalised areas left out unless a beneficial (governmental and private) purpose emerges?

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[6] Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2003, volume 21, pages 635 - 651, An interview with Edward Said, by Cindi Katz and Neil Smith. Direct link http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1068/d2106i and Edward Said, The Morning After , 1993. Direct link http://www.lrb.co.uk/v15/n20/edward-said/the-morning-after

Ulufer Çelik, 2017

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Unprepared and unequipped we (a group of 10 artists and art practitioners) arrived at the ecomuseum in the Biellese Alps (Ecomuseo Valle Elvo e Serra) and were glad, perhaps not all of us, to join a semi-hiking tour the museum arranged on that day. We started to climb the mountains nonetheless, and it was such a special celestial feeling to be above the clouds. We passed through stone houses that at first glance seemed to be abandoned and unused, and some of them were enough petit to not be able to contain people or cattle. But shepherds, who are peculiar to this region, use these houses for a shelter in pasture times; a period in the year, usually between spring and summer, when they together with their herds go on pasture journeys that typically last for a couple of weeks. Basically, the shepherds use these houses to hide from rain and to rest, or to keep the butter they prepare fresh, explained the ecomuseum’s director. How funny that some stone houses in the Palestine seem abandoned and unused, but they truly are, for that that people are banned to reach them, and if they could, they are not allowed to make use of them [7]. The stone houses in Palestine are abandoned and unused because there are less traditional farmers who still use them. As they were traditionally used to save the olive crops, their entrances were shut with dry branches of olive trees to prevent wild animals from entering and destroying, or eating the collected crop.

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Last day. Replete.

At Cittadellarte we attempted at building a final presentation, while checking different methods and testing a variety of paraphernalia. A presentation that could somehow shed light on what could be grasped from our journeys regarding the big terms (of locality, territory, space and place) that we have been chasing. I think that the challenging prospect of such virtuous, I intended to say naïve for the short duration of the programme despite its serious and complicated topics, experiences lies in the reduction and the allowance of decontextualisation of information that such brief observational trips foster. Let me try to put it differently, I feel that art, in some situations, is expected to provide solutions where it is barely capable of observing things. The experience at Cittadellarte allowed me to get exposed to new issues, situations and problems of the local place indeed, that I could relate with for their familiarity and similarity with the place I come from. However, I always found myself helpless and incapable of providing solutions to these problems through my artistic practice, whether in Biella or in Palestine.

The “cartographic reason” [8] as a tool of drawing territory occupied my mind and my eyes throughout the 9 days in Biella. The Biellese Alps play a major (geographical) role in featuring the territory of the region (and of the country) and of its “local” weather. Although in other places on earth [9], other landscape-factors of more urban, political, or colonial would force a territory and sovereignty. The separation wall in Palestine (and formerly in Berlin). On the one hand, the wall creates an extraterritorial zone (say Gaza strip as an over territorialised and over controlled place for example), but on the other, it also creates a non-territorial space for that that Palestine exists within and beyond the wall.

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[8] John Pickles, A History of Spaces: Cartographic Reason, Mapping, and the Geo-coded World , 2003

[9] See http://www.palestine-studies.org/jq/fulltext/198349 and http://www.justinteriorideas.com/tag/teddy