Local in transitional spaces

Pelin Tan

I think the concept of local can no longer refer to a homogeneous cultural geography. Local does not simply describe a place; moreover, being local becomes an act in itself[1], contextualized by medium, the politics of space, economic transformation and collective human behaviors. Locality is constantly reinvented by informal economies, gender, ethnicity and cross-cultural practices. This locality is an active practice of orientation not only in geographic space, but in the spatiality of social relationships and networks. I am interested in artistic practices that engage with locality on several levels, such as sites as zones of contact and new ways of participating/collaborating, where the borders between social and cultural patterns and realities are blurred.

In her work, Nadin Reschke approaches locality through the persona of a nomad, presenting the artist as a mobile mediator who moves between geographic, social and cultural spaces. For example, in so far so good, Reschke traveled eastward from Germany through fourteen countries, getting involved in communities and developing dialogues and collaborations with artists and other residents. For her travels, Reschke designed and sewed a tent. The tent is one of the oldest forms of dwelling and deeply connected to nomadism. It can be packed up and pitched wherever needed, creating a portable space for both contact and retreat.In this project, the tent was used as an element, an object in situational social and cultural encounters, raising questions about nomadic lifestyles, processes of transition and cultural identity.

Using the tent, the artist created temporary sites in public spaces for short periods of time. Here, site differs in meaning from the typical art historical site, a static location for an object-based, self-referential installation. To understand Reschke’s work, we need to consider an alternate definition of site: a zone of contact where a local act arises out of particular kinds of participation and collaboration: “cultural borrowing, appropriation and translation – multidirectional processes”[2]. The tent in so far so good created a site in several ways. As people stitched images onto the tent using the traditional process of embroidery, they expressed and confronted the different social and cultural consciousnesses of other participants. A site, a zone of contact, arose in the tent’s stitched surfaces. The tent also created a site in the sense that it delimited a temporary, semi-public space within a space, which anyone who wished to could enter and share an experience with the artist, whether by participating in an action, talking, or sharing a cup of tea. Considering public and private space is vital to understanding the local in transitional spaces. Reschke’s travels brought her to many social communities whose perception of public and private space differs greatly from the dualist definition prevalent in the West. For example, in Turkey, under Ottoman rule, the space between public and private expanded step by step with the creation of semi-public spaces as urban structures, bridging the space of the home to streets that were actually involved with the acts of the subjects. With the tent, Reschke was able to question the public/private dichotomy and create a semi-public space. This space, too, became a contact-zone, a site of locality.

In transitional spaces, the local is transformed into the experience of a place situated within a number of conditions or specificities. These include social structures such as networks, the appeal of “community,” and the territorialization of politics.[3] In the process of so far so good, Reschke involved herself in these structures, creating and expanding them through her practices. In following projects, she also considered further aspects of locality as a situational experience, in particular, trans-local relationships between cities and personal stories or subjectivities.

In Kalýntý or what is left over, Reschke traveled through Istanbul researching people of Turkish parentage who moved “back” to Turkey after having lived in Germany for most of their lives. The artist visited many sites as people invited her to their homes.Every visit created a temporary contact zone, a site that was intimate, almost isolated, due to its spatial situation in a home. This contact zone was based on a mundane act, meeting for a meal and a conversation, but by creating it again and again with different collaborators, Reschke brought together their subjectivities: diverse stories that, combined, revealed patterns in the experience that they had in common: of being caught between two cultures. Out of the practice of traveling and visiting and the process of collecting these experiences, Reschke made an audio-installation in which the voices from the various sites came together and sat around the same table. The installation not only allows all the stories and Reschke’s travels between the different visits to converge in one experience, but also re-creates a site or contact zone where visitors to the installation can also sit at the same table, sharing space and stories.

Reschke further investigated the sharing of stories in 15×75 hingucken weggucken, a project in Wilhelmsburg, an area of Hamburg in transition, in collaboration with artist collective Oda Projesi. During so far so good, she had pitched the tent outside Oda Projesi’s neighborhood project space in Istanbul, bringing the neighbors together for an embroidery workshop in which patterns in the usage of public space arose in discussions and simply in the comings and goings of participants. In their Hamburg collaboration, the artists again used a temporary space to reveal the conditions of public space. This time they focused on a big concrete wall in Wilhelmsburg. The artists traveled to four different sites with a minibus, using it as a meeting place where residents could participate and collaborate, not only with the artists, but also among themselves. Speculating on the existence and function of the wall in public space led the residents to discuss their own uses and perceptions of public space in Wilhelmsburg, revealing their experiences of change in their city’s built urban environment. Though the artists were not locals in the geographical sense, they practiced locality by orienting themselves within existing social networks, creating a site for residents to speak, discuss and act. In this way, they tapped into the community’s subjectivities, which themselves communicate new social relationships and cultural patterns.

In each of these projects, by redefining the concepts of site, collaboration and participation, Reschke is able to go beyond simply representing places and communities, as earlier artists have done. Whether in a tent, at a table or in a minibus-office, Reschke creates uncommonly leveled places between public and private space, between social networks and cultures, between migration and belonging, where locality emerges as a situational practice in transitional spaces.


p. 63; “An Ethnographer in the Field, James Clifford Interview”, p. 52-71, Site-Specificity: The Ethnographic Turn, Ed. Alex Coles, Volume 4, de-,dis-,ex,. Black Dog Publishing Limited, London

p.17, Kevin R. Cox, “Locality and Community: Some Conceptual Issues”, European Planning Studies, Vol.6, No.1, 1998, London, UK.