Between (Non) Places

What it means to exist among multiple cultural identities

Cultural influences and interactions have always held a significant role in the psychological development of one’s sense of self. Having lived in both the States and Croatia, I was curious about how my own identity adapts to my location, and how much it is reliant on my surroundings. With my own experience driving this research, the process became extremely self-reflective: being a part of two cultures simultaneously without feeling you are entirely a member of either creates a feeling of constantly standing at a “threshold,” one that was inevitably transferred over from having grown up in a multicultural household.

This, as a result, can radically influence one’s identity and sense of home. As a graphic designer and photographer, I felt it also had the potential to be examined from a visual standpoint.

Before I began investigating, I assumed the amount of literature on the topic was going to be slim. This was a concept that was difficult to quantify and test for, and it was going to be challenging to draw concrete information from ethnographic research in the form of interviews and short films. However the amount of content that already existed on the topic was abundant: I came across terms like cross-cultural code-switching and acculturation––vocabulary I didn’t realize I lacked to describe my experience. Soon enough, these became the very building blocks for my discussion about identity and sense of belonging.

When my mom told me she used to try to conceal her slight Croatian accent after moving to the States, it felt like a form of verbal self-protection. The mere act of speaking reveals so much of who you are and where you supposedly belong. That in itself is an extremely vulnerable position. Assumptions are easily made, and people instinctually try to pinpoint the source of your non-native speak.

But it isn’t all bad. There is perpetual novelty to existing in the world when you have more than one culture in your life. You are constantly questioning your environment — you have grown up with the ability to recontextualize your given surroundings and know what you are experiencing in this very moment isn’t the only way to go through the world.

Personally, I find great joy in that. But it also means I never feel fully a part of any single circle. I am always entering and exiting these spaces. My home is here, but it is also there. These shifts create a constant flux, a lack of stability. So I was curious — what is the visual result?

In design we often speak of responsiveness as being the epitome of visualizing a concept. We are expected to produce a language that is not only representative of a current idea or value, but also one that is flexible enough to be adapted over time to changing surroundings. But it is our identities as the creators that are ultimately the most responsive entities in this whole process. We are constantly reacting and morphing to what is around us, even within a single cultural unit. Add another culture into the mix and it is difficult to separate who you are and the cultural influences that have joined together to produce your current sense of self.

This liminality and sense of internal questioning is the feeling I hope to recreate with my installation. The motion of physically entering a separate, transient space among many individual exhibitions reflects Augé’s notion of the non-place and never feeling fully a part of any singular location. With projection and video featuring a performative component and fragmented imagery, the installation attempts to recreate the sensation of existing among multiple identities. This body of work not only intends to confront viewers about their ability to move through spaces freely, it also seeks to recontextualize cultural adaptation as both a physical and incredibly psychological process.

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