In 2015, an unprecedented number of migrants and refugees reached Europe. Unlike post-World War 2, when refugees and displaced people were fleeing the continent, these people wanted out of Africa and the Middle East due to conflicts in these regions, and sought promises of safety in Europe. At time of writing two years later, the events in these regions continue relatively unabated, and indeed in some ways, have worsened.
It is particularly important to note that fully half of all the migrants coming to Europe in 2015 came directly from Syria and more than a million migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea during that year. Most migrants landed in Greece (80%), and the majority of those arriving on the island of Lesbos.1 Half of all seeking asylum in Europe in 2015 were (are?) Syrian. In fact, fully half the population of Syria are now displaced; more than 11 million people have left this particular homeland, many never to return.
The numbers are staggering.
After finishing my first book, I was dismayed to see how things were deteriorating in Syria after the hopefulness of the Arab Spring, and could see distinct socio-political parallels with the events of World War 2 that compelled my own little family to flee a decimated, dangerous Europe in 1949. I could not however, foresee the extreme magnitude of the resultant diaspora and was deeply disturbed by the response (or rather lack of response) of many European countries, as well as the UK, the United States and Australia. Indeed, the collective reaction to the multiple and ongoing deaths at sea was, ‘If we rescue them more will come,’ rather than, ‘We need to rescue them.’2
I was genuinely appalled, especially at the responses of Australia and Hungary, my dual homelands.
At the same time, I felt that I had more of my own story to tell in this context, and that despite the elegant theoretical assertions in the extant literature regarding the accessibilities of shifting selves and multiple belongings, together with my own writing on these subjects, things were still not quite right with me. I continued to feel deeply drawn to the country of my parents’ births and couldn’t help but see the similarities unfolding around me. I was thus compelled to write and make and journey some more.
And so, this work is a sequel. It is an extension of the themes of identity, belonging and migration in my first book, Displacement, Identity and Belonging: An Arts-based, Auto/Biographical Portrayal of Ethnicity & Experience (Sense, 2015). However, it is also more than this, as all good sequels ought to be, and thus is a development and a complete work in and of itself, both embedded in and transcendent of the first book. The books operate both in tandem and individually as stand alone works.
And so, this is also a story of loss, trauma and survival: the loss of a first language and anxious efforts to regain it; the trauma of displacement, danger, death and homelessness; and the survival of hope, optimism and existence itself. It is a story that is in constant movement, shifting between modern and contemporary historiographies of migration, displacement, homelands and ethnicity.
Architectures of Engagement
Like the first book, this work is also an arts-based portrayal, also an auto/biography, a memoir, a multilayered history and a deeply personal journey. Although language and language loss are the foundational themes, this book is by virtue of its design, a map. It is a cartography not-to-scale of a moving-with and moving-through, a wayfinding to the particularities of the self and the universal themes of place, time, memory and language. This wayfinding to place, specifically the homeland/s is also a concept in flux. Themes of movement are an unsurprising constant in stories of migration; in this story, it is the slow movement of walking that takes centre stage, as a mapping event, a shifting drift, a form of engagement, and a literary flourish (more about this below).
As a work of arts-based educational research [ABER], this book could be viewed as a multi-layered thought experiment (O’Rourke, 2013), with various apparatuses in play, namely creative writing, memoir, poetry, song, and the visual poetics of photography; all things that as an artist, are both dear to my heart and my compulsions as a scholar. This work could thus be viewed as interdisciplinary.
However, I prefer to think of it as transdisciplinary, transcultural: a sweet suite of languages and experiences that are activated in, by and through the reading. Here I use the prefix ‘trans’ as a deliberately political prefix, but also intentionally derivative of its original Latin etymology – that of ‘across, through, beyond’.
In this work, as in my own identities and doings as a practitioner, I cannot silo nor exhume any of these creative practices from my scholarly posture, my ontological or epistemological positionings. There are multiple ways to know and to think. There are even more ways to express and communicate. I am instantaneously and inexorably moving across and through and beyond as an artist, writer, poet, photographer and erstwhile lyricist. These practices, identities and the spaces within and between them are entwined, entangled and enmeshed in ever increasing manifestations, and thus their engagements across, through and beyond this living inquiry (Springgay, Irwin, & Kind, 2005) create a particular way of knowing and of being – in the spaces of the trans.
Appropriately, the form of the work in an ABER publication, whether it be a creative work or more traditional publication like this book, is integral to the content, theoretical framing and dissemination (Lasczik Cutcher, 2018). Thus, this book is simultaneously an artwork, a textual rendering, a self-portrait, an event always in the making that cuts across, between and through all of the selves that come to the assemblage of the reading/s. This work is forever in the making, spinning and carving and breaking through traditional modes of academic writing and dissemination in the unfoldings of the readings and encounters yet to come.
Performance occurs over a time which will not be repeated. It can be performed again, but this repetition marks it as “different.” The document of a performance is only a spur to memory, an encouragement of memory to become present. (1993, p. 146)
Another architectural manoeuvre the reader may note, is the full-page images and poetic interruptions between chapters. These devices are also self-consciously placed and deliberately proposed.
The images are photographs that I created whilst moving through Europe during 2015 and their inclusion as a body of work is but one of the maps I generated for this work. Indeed, the photographs manoeuvre as a cartography of time and the stoicism of inert presence. They are temporal entities, placed to emphasise the inertia of historical legacies. As Papas reminds us, time is circular, it “is beneath our feet. It is above us, around us. We carry it in our flesh…Time hovers. It haunts and teases. It is the ball we move in. It is the history we walk on” (2012, p. 12). As the reading will reveal, I was struck by the memorialising element of aging facades, of history ever-present on contemporary streets, inert bystanders to the historical dramas played out in their presence. In some ways the buildings are like aging trees, silent sentinels and stoic witnesses to the malevolence and undoings of humanity. Time has passed, but the edifices remain largely unchanged yet revealing their age, soaked in history. The photographs occupy full pages in order to accentuate their monumentality, to confront, and to enable a lingering-with. Indeed, this suite of imagery seeks to slow time, to slow the reading, to slow the pace of the moving-through, to slow the scholarship (Lasczik Cutcher & Irwin, 2017). To rest, reflect and aesthetically recuperate before the next leg of the journey.
The poetry also seeks to decelerate the reading in a moment of aesthetic repose, however the poems operate as both connecting phrases and as disjunctive apparatus between the chapters. They seek to shape understandings alive with possibility. Rather than providing reflective moments, they seek a ‘diffractive performativity,’ a cut, an intra-action (Barad, 2007), where the embedded poetics transcend the text and operate like a barrier, which forces its light outwards under pressure, bending itself into new understandings and transconnected lines of flight (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). In this way, the poetry performs as both provocation and metaphor, confronting yet aligning with other types of border crossings, obstructions and challenges, such as those faced by migrants and the disenfranchised every day. These diffractions seek to open thought rather than to mirror, to break through constraints rather than to echo. Such thinking ought to be ever possible in the constructions and readings of rigorous ABER texts so that they may potentially map new territories and thought experiments.
These disruptions are also key theoretical moments in the text that entangle and intra-penetrate. The reader may notice that at first glance, this work has little or no recognisable critical elements beyond this preface. This is intentional, since I aimed for an ergonomic, smooth and fluid reading. Although I have highlighted footnotes in places to guide the reader directly to some sources, I have laboured to ensure that these are few, and indeed sought alternative modes of criticality such as the poetic intra-ruptions. I find foot/endnotes to be interruptive at the best of times, yet have engaged them here only as necessary, in order to clarify certain features. For example, I have sought to honour the use of genuine language elements in the story in order to authentically write to the concept of language as a barrier, a sometimes opaque border that can defy slippery crossings. In this case, the interpreting footnote deliberately interrupts the text so that the reader may experience a moment of such exclusion and frustration, to seek a necessary translation, in order to apprehend and move forward. In other places, footnotes are only used when categorically necessary.
With respect to other, theoretical presentations, this work seeks to flatten scientifically dominant traditions and to further push towards a democratising of theoretical discourses. In a close reading, the reader will note the critical embedded within the narrative, poetic, visual and creative devices. The vigorous and proactive reader will ‘hear’ the theory in the narrative (Bunda, 2017) and will recognise it in the poetics.
This is a deliberate strategy that has its tentative genesis in the first book, which was initially conceived more than 15 years ago. In that work, although the narrative and creative elements were surely theoretical, I felt I had to include more prosaic, purpose built, heavily theoretical chapters as a way to ensure the work appeared ‘scholarly’ and demonstrated an unequivocal engagement in and with the literature, as if somehow, I had to show I wasn’t indolent and that I was a proper academic.
Wonderfully, the field of ABER has moved on since that time at a dynamic pace and there are many scholars who have engaged with theoretical discourses embedded into fictional, visual, poetic and creative accounts (see for example Barone, 2001; Dunlop, 1999; Leavy, 2015a, 2015b, 2015c; LeBlanc, 2016; Prendergast, Leggo, & Sameshima, 2009; Sameshima, 2007; Piper, 2017), that obviously demonstrate academic authenticity and rigour. These examples, and my own developing scholarship, arm me with the impudence to enthusiastically expand beyond traditional modes of theoretical discourse. Although this current book is a layered offering as was the first book, the layers in this work are privileged aesthetically, which is not to say that the theory is absent.
I have written elsewhere regarding the dominance of the linguistic turn in academic discourses, and the exclusionary nature of some scholarly writings on the nature and accepted forms of criticality (Cutcher, 2013; Lasczik Cutcher, 2018). Since I am not a scientist, but rather an artist, the way I come to know is creatively, artfully, joyfully ascientific.
A particularly accessible example of artful criticality I often return to is that of Picasso’s Las Meninas, a suite of 58 paintings after the Velazquez masterpiece of the same name. Picasso’s collection of this particular theoretical discourse is investigative, critical and far beyond mere homage. It is unquestionably research. As such, this collection (and others) provide sufficient modelling for this turn of thinking more effusively towards a visual/aesthetic-as-critical discourse.
Whilst I am not in any way comparing the work of ABER scholarship (and certainly not my own) to Picasso’s oeuvre, what I am doing is highlighting but one artistic precedent – there are thousands more in the modernist painting realm alone. Rather, my argument is that in the fields of Art and literature, there are various models of practice and dissemination from which artist-scholars such as myself can draw. As a woman from a non-English speaking background, issues of language access are particularly pertinent. I am passionate about producing and disseminating inquiry that is readable, accessible and ergonomic. The reason for such passionate advocacy for intelligible research is twofold.
Through the fictional format I was able to deliver the content, layer more themes, portray composite characters more sensitively, create empathic understandings, promote self reflection in readers, create longer lasting learning experiences for readers, and most important, get the work out to the public. (p. 2)
In my work with this book, theory is embedded into the narrative largely without interruption, sourcing or explanation. The theory is deeply contextualised in ways that are obvious for the proactive and nuanced reading. As Springgay et al. (2005, p. 30) eloquently argue, in ABER, words and art are not illustrative of each other, “but instead, are interconnected and woven through each other to create additional meanings.” This is living theory, theory that is active, rather than static – mobile, supple and functional, it is theory that seeks to do, rather than to merely tell. Theory that aims to accomplish the very thing it speaks of and gestures towards.
Secondly, my advocacy for accessible research that moves beyond its own functions and out into the world is as I have mentioned, a particular passion. As a teacher of 35 years experience and as a teacher educator, the nexus between inquiry and learning is one to which I am deeply committed. Teachers and learners must have direct contact with contemporaneous research that does not privilege just one type of academic discourse, and can immediately inform their ongoing practice and knowledge development. Time and time again I have witnessed my students discouraged and deflated by the very act of translating dense academic publications, linguistically far removed from the real world of their own future work. The very act of reading such texts discourages the up-take of the findings, and thus the research risks backfiring. Different languages serve different functions and sometimes the task of interpreting can leave the reader discouraged and disgruntled. Such experiences do not make for rich learnings that stick.
Thus in much of the work I seek to disseminate, the reading of these texts is designed to be in and of itself an aesthetic, readable moving-through of thought and encounter in order to experience the journey and epiphanic moments with me as they unfold through artful theoretical devices and readings. In this way, the text and the images, the poetry and the history, the reader and artist/writer, are able to hold hands in this journey in a deliberately designed intimacy as we walk, wayfinding, moving-through and moving-with the critical together.
As mentioned, this book is a work of ABER. As such, it is positioned experimentally as a walkography. This walkography is also situated within a genealogy of experimental walking practices in the Arts and emergent walking practices in education (see for example, Gros, 2014; O’Rourke, 2013; Solnit, 2014). Simply put, a walkography takes as its central premise, walking as a method of inquiry, which is shared through the ‘ography’ of an account or portrayal that might be written, visual, performed, or otherwise documented. The ‘walk’ of the walkography can be thus an embodied movement through space, a work of writing, a drawing, a painting, a photograph, a performance or any combination of these and more.
The ‘ography’ of walkography also alludes to other research ‘ographies,’ including but not limited to a/r/tography,4 ethnography,5 photography;6 all discreet yet related domains with their own domain-specific paradigmatic imperatives. For the purposes of this book, the walkography is engaged and positioned both with and around these domains, and draws unevenly and pragmatically from them, with a/r/tography being a particularly significant source.
A/r/tography is a prominant ABER methodology that for the past twenty years has established useful theorising and practices that operate within and beyond the liminal spaces of Art, research and teaching (the a/r/t) (Irwin & Springgay, 2008), yet now moving beyond the identities of artist, researcher and teacher towards a more disruptively diffractive (Irwin, personal communication, September 28, 2017) relational unfolding of praxis, theoria and poeisis (Rousell & Cutcher, 2014). Elsewhere I have worked collaboratively with colleagues through the lens of a/r/tography into territorialising concepts of affect and the carte or map as conceptualised by Deleuze and Guattari (1987) to assemble and engage in a methodology of c/a/r/tography (Lasczik Cutcher & Irwin, 2017; Rousell & Cutcher, 2014), which leans wholly into ambulatory practices such as walking and painting. The present walkography aligns with c/a/r/tographies of collaboration and wayfinding in synergistic and philosophical modes of thought and abstractions of movement and encounter. However, the concept of the walkography as engaged herein, tilts more idiosyncratically towards walking, conceptualised as an assemblage of reverberative and resonating sensations, pedagogies, materialities, events, encounters and aesthetics.
Like time, a walkography is always in movement, tethered to languages and exchange. By its very nature, a walkography is a shifting and dynamic organism, and indeed the terms ‘walk,’ ‘walking,’ and ‘language’ are meant to be de-composed, defied, transmuted, allegorical, provocative (Cutcher & Irwin, 2017; Irwin & Lasczik Cutcher, in press). One can take a ‘walk’ through paint (Lasczik Cutcher & Irwin, 2017), or take a line for a walk, as the artist Paul Klee once asserted, describing drawing. He said, “A line comes into being … it goes out for a walk, aimlessly for the sake of the walk” (Klee, 1961, p. 105). The creative work shared here began just like this. Yet another feature is that this book may both be positioned as a walk in the reading – a walking-through, a moving-with text and image and poetics as a wayfinding.
Thus, walking as a metaphor for movement, event, or action can be extended beyond previously understood definitions, and thus its conceptuality is also in continual movement and instability (Lasczik Cutcher & Irwin, 2017). Similarly, the languages of exchange can include but are not limited to verbal, written, performative, musical, visual or any combinations or mutations of these. The walkings and languages may be an assemblage of embodied or disembodied events and sensate encounters, or may also be singular and literal. As mentioned, it is in the reading that the unfolding of the qualities of the walk and walkographies are revealed.
A walkography by its nature is a Peripatetic Inquiry (ibid), drawing from the Aristotelian peripatetic axiom, later adopted by Thomas Aquinas, which states Nihil est in intellectu quod non sit prius in sensu.7 Walking slows down the pace of thought, in a rhythmic awareness of sensations and perceptions as one becomes (more?) cognisant, self-conscious and immersively engaged.
…invisible the places where light begins,
where it goes, since the whole wild experience
of seeing seems to stop with the firm earth
but now I walk daily the dyke that writes a thin
and tune my skin to listen
to light’s lyrical lilt, sung in sun-washed,
moon-drawn, shadow-scribed lines,
resilient, resonant, measured without end
together with the poetry of Alex de Cosson (2018, pp. 3–5), who in slowing into the act of walking, also shares that,
Without walking I cannot think – without thinking I cannot be
My being becoming is fundamentally related
to my heart beating,
my arms swinging,
my feet stepping –
(P)lace it in your backpack
as you walk
These passages and thoughts bring me to a review of the geneses of walking as a method of inquiry.
Legend has it that Aristotle’s Peripatetic School was so named because Aristotle liked to walk while lecturing. Much later in 1789, Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in his confessions, “I can only meditate when I am walking” (Solnit, 2002, p. 293). Baudelaire (1964) first wrote about the flâneur in 1863, the legendary loiterer, sauntering through Paris, a connoisseur of the street, some say with a tortoise in tow on a leash. The flâneur was subsequently transformed into a focus of scholarly interest and theorised by Benjamin (2006).
In “Twilight of the Idols,” Nietzsche (1889) explored the relationships of thought to movement, asserting that all truly great ideas are conceived whilst walking. Demonstrating this very concept, James Joyce is reported to have entirely conceptualised and constructed ‘Ulysses’ on his long walks around Dublin.
The genealogy of walking as a form of contemporary Art and research can be traced back to the beginnings of conceptual Art in the 1960s. No doubt having its abstract origins in the Dadaist work of Marcel Duchamp, walking and mapping as artistic practices have existed for the past 60 years. For example, in 1953, the artist Chichegov depicted an “ideal city of the future in which drifting is the main activity of its inhabitants. Landscapes that change from one hour to the next will result in complete disorientation. All the other arts will be superseded by architecture” (O’Rourke, 2013, p. 9). Guy Debord founded the Situationists, a collective of artists in Paris in the 1960s who initiated the practice of psychogeography, which “involved a process of mapping psychological states as affected by movement through geographical locations, and often took place in urban locations through the improvised iterations of the artist” (Rousell & Cutcher, 2014, p. 72). Developing the idea of ‘the drift,’ or dérive, of unplanned journeys, Debord (1958) engaged these concepts as critical to understanding psychogeography, which has since been revived by contemporary artists, with some engaging GPS technologies in their practices. O’Rourke (2013) and Solnit (2002) give further, comprehensive historical and contemporary accounts of walking and mapping as Art and research forms.
Arguably the most renowned artist to engage the landscape-as-canvas through walking as an artistic practice is Richard Long, for his seminal work, “A Line Made by Walking” (1967). Long walked repeatedly back and forth across an English field in Wiltshire, ‘drawing’ a line by disrupting the ecology of the site, flattening the grass into a corridor or passage (Rousell & Cutcher, 2014). Long photographed the work, the notion of documented forms itself was a new practice at the time. Thus, his repetitive and meditative Art action operates as an abstract line, itself an architecture of movement, situated and in-place (Rousell, Lasczik Cutcher, & Irwin, in press), and the beginnings of a global practice for the artist. Long has since made a career of variations of this initial important work.
The materiality of a research text will shape its epistemology, and in ABER the methodology will also do so. In the case of this walkography, “Walking blurs the borders between representing the world and designating oneself as a piece of it, between live art and object-based art” (O’Rourke, 2013, p. 13). In this way, we can think of walking as drawing and drawing as walking, determinate on pace, route and affects of the vectors that modulate the lines (Rousell et al., in press). In this, as for other ABER methods, practice makes practice.
Like the work of Long, walking is way of drawing a line, psychologically, in place and on surfaces. Indeed, such lines may be conceptualised as abstract lines of flight (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). Such lines of flight may vary in velocity and trajectory, rupturing and cutting into spaces, thoughts and experimentations, which then may engage in becomings of mobility, makings and displacements so fundamental to the themes of this book. Ingold (2007) reminds us that lines may become a meshwork, entangling with other abstract lines of thought, action and sight, holding together, becoming multiple. He prompts, “The lines of the meshwork are the trails along which life is lived” (Ingold, 2007, p. 77, emphasis in original), unfolding in the encounter. Lines can thus be thought of from their own perspective and capacities, affectively, abstractly, as form giving, as aesthetic causalities, with infinite permutations and yields. “The abstract line is non-conceptual, impersonal, transitional, interstitial, form-giving. The abstract line is a vector that passes across singularities, and in doing so, proliferates a new series of lines-in-potential” (Rousell et al., in press). Walking (a) line/s is a lure for feeling (Whitehead, 1978), for doing, for knowing, for telling (Cutcher, 2015). In this way, the line is life (Ingold, 2015).
It is indeed useful to think of walking as a way of making lines, of making drawings that perhaps pre-existed more traditional forms of human mark making. Indeed, when we think of walking, we may think of the ways in which walking might be engaged and realised throughout history as well as contemporaneously.
For most of the world’s populations now and in the past, walking has been and is an absolute necessity, an essential way of moving from place to place. Indeed for most of the world’s populations, walking is the only option if one needs to go somewhere, an abject necessity – for work, for water, for education. It is also the only way many asylum seekers and refugees have been able to migrate, which is a fundamental reason why this work has been positioned as a walkography. The subject under study, the method and the theoretical framings resonate, vibrate and cohere.
In contrast for the privileged, walking is often an indulgence, a pleasure-making activity, one that is engaged for health reasons, fitness reasons or entertainment. Walking is something many ‘make the time’ to do, rather than an incidental and fundamental mode of moving through the world. This diverse division of privilege and operation ought to be recognised in any walkography.
If you undertake a walk, you are echoing the whole history of mankind, from the early migrations out of Africa on foot that took people all over the world. Despite the many traditions of walking—the landscape walker, the walking poet, the pilgrim—it is always possible to walk in different ways. (cited in O’Rourke, 2013, p. 247)
Interestingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, is the relationship of cognition to movement that is recently being borne out in the literature. Walking, like writing, mobilises thought. Drawing from myriad inquiries on movement and thought as well as a recent Stanford suite of four studies, researchers found that walking enhances and intensifies creative ideation, by at least 60% and in some cases, 91% (Opezzo & Schwartz, 2014). Such findings happily dovetail with the practices of Aristotle, Nietzsche and Joyce, who understood this centuries ago. The French philosopher Frédéric Gros (2014) also asserts that a long rambling walk in nature allows us to commune with the sublime and expand consciousness.
Within this work, my experiences with movement and in movement concur most heartily. The practices of this walkography of walking, making lines in space and capturing/crafting lines on surfaces are irrevocably entwined. As Richardson and St Pierre (2008) remind me, “The product cannot be separated from the producer, the mode of production or the method of knowing” (p. 962), and further still, that “for me, writing [walking] is thinking, writing [walking] is analysis, writing [walking] is indeed a seductive and tangled method of discovery (p. 967, emphasis in original). As I walk, I write, I inquire, I capture, I analyse and I draw: moving-with and moving-through. As such, this walkography is an entangled and enmeshed becoming.
See the BBC documentary online, entitled ‘The Year of Migration’ at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03b1t3g
The song ‘Gypsy’ had serendipitous beginnings. My creative partner Tahlia McGahey and I began working together on an unfolding collaboration of musical renderings of my poetry and writing. Tahlia was particularly inspired by the mythography at the beginning of the first book and worked to refine the lyrics, which reflect the gypsy metaphor engaged with throughout that work. Once the lyrics had been finalised, Tahlia then took creative management of the recording and production of the song, in Nashville in 2016. At time of writing, the song has not yet been released, but will be made available in the coming months. The melody is a haunting reminder of flight, loss and yearning.
See the writings of Irwin (2004, 2013); Irwin and de Cosson (2004); Springgay et al. (2005); Triggs et al. (2014) for seminal writings on a/r/tography.
See for example Lillis (2008); Silverman (1985) and Pink (2013) for Visual Ethnography.
Photography literally means, drawing/writing with light.
Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.