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The idea of citizenship is generally linked to a geographic location or belonging to a nation-state, implying a set of rights and privileges. Whereas some people aim to transcend their geographic or nation-state related borders virtually, others are obliged to physically cross borders, having to leave their conditions and statuses behind. Millions of invividuals lack ‘homes’, state belongings and therefore certain or all rights.

The right to be a citizen is a human right. Nevertheless, not all humans have rights and neither they are citizens or have an eligibility for a citizenship. Braidotti claims in her seminal essay The Posthuman thatthe human is a normative convention”, which makes this condition “highly regulatory and hence instrumental to practices of exclusion and discrimination”[1]. In her view, the excess of technological intervention, the threat of climate change and the potential of human enhancement defines the post-human condition[2]. Does the impossibility to access the most essential rights and goods define a pre-human condition?

As we navigate through a software mediated technocapitalism, we might be tempted to think that we are becoming posthuman. However, millions of other human beings –persons, people, former citizens– are compelled to move physically from what once was their home, in order to potentially achieve the protection which is denied back in their nations. How can you transcend something never reached?

Internet and the networked nature of  some parts of the world have led to a certain idea of the global. This contemporary nature makes it possible to become part of a global community; to become a “World Citizen”[3]. Such a citizenship belongs to a “second place” and can be achieved without physically moving from one spot. It has the potential to transcend geographic boundaries and nation-states, being refered to as liquid, algorithmic or global, and contrasting with the impossibility of a large amount of people to get to belong to a traditional physical nation-state in the first place.

The tension between those realities plus the illusion of an expansive liquid state and our existance as quantified entities is explored by artists, such as Femke Herregraven, James Bridle and Christopher Kulendran Thomas and their liquid, algorithmic or global citizenship based projects, respectively.

I

The EU materialised after the european project’s values envisioned in the 1940’s, based on interdependent states subordinating themselves to core european values rather than on a superpower. This model of a cosmopolitan united force and a “political anthithesis of a nationalistic Europe”[4] has failed. More than half a century later, the flow of other citizens of the world, escaping from the threat of genocidal attacks by proxy wars, the so-called refugee crisis, in addition to the already existent migrant flows, has, again, spread an increasing irrational panic and subsequent aim to control and close borders, feeding national feelings and triggering anti-european and anti-anything-Other political movements.

4

Screenshot of Liquid Citizenship, Femke Herregraven (2015)

Extraordinarily massive migration flows, such as Syria’s exodus, are involuntary and “entirely” legal under the circumstances to escape and find safety in another country –however you get there.”[5]. 11.5% of the country’s population has been killed and 1.9 million wounded[6]. More than 4.5 million people have fled abroad[7], looking for hope in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, in addition to other European states, from which Germany, Sweden and Hungary are receiving most of them.

Those estimates and available data seem to not be enough to keep the supposed cosmopolitan european values of protecting one another afloat. Rather, Eurocentric universality keeps emphasising a binary logic between the self and the other and emphasising the notion of ‘difference’ as pejoration[8]. The current European humanism is “imperial and speaks of the human in the accents and the interests of a class, a sex, a race, a genome, ignoring the rest”[9].

In german philosopher Karl Jasper’s idea of humans, fellow feelings and sympathy lie in the nature of civil society, as a mechanism for the common good. Lack of compassion is due to lack of imagination and therefore cruelty is an incapability of putting oneself in the place of the other. Moreover, in the place of those who suffer[10]. None of these numbers seem to delude the feeling of otherness and rejection however. No sympathy for the other. Rather than as a unified Europe there is a Eurocentric way of defining others and fearing them.

II

Although Syria’s is perhaps the current conflict most recurrently followed by Europe, it is of course not the only one. Artist Femke Herregraven brings actual information together in regards to regular and economic citizenship possibilities, in order to make the asylum seeker and migrant realities visible.

The online interactive platform Liquid Citizenship (2015) was commissioned by V&A Museum within the frame of the exhibition All of This Belongs to You (2015), which aimed to show how design and architecture in defining civic identity, technology, security, citizenship, democracy, the public realm and urban experience. Through Liquid Citizenship’s interface, the user gets a profile (nationality) assigned randomly. As a citizen from Rwanda or Kyrgyzstan, trying to flee to another country, the user navigates the interface discovering the advantages, jurisdictions and legal limitations of many countries and even getting tips for the routes, in order to reach the countries of destination.

1

Screenshot of Liquid Citizenship, Femke Herregraven (2015)

Liquid citizenship is a pragmatic and speculative tool with the potential to awake fellow and compassion feelings, in order to realise the difference between privilege and right and how different reality is in regards to one’s status or nationality. It makes visible that our rights are not the rights of all, rather given gifts, and that the liquid condition of the current times we live in stays at an inaccessible virtual level for many, as they don’t even have access to the most essential condition.

III

The spinning wheel of capitalism –in the words of Rosi Braidotti– de-territorialises what is different and commodifies identities, generating a “vampiric” consumption of their quantified versions[11]. The four horsemen of our privileged techno-scientific global economy are information technology, cognitive science, nanotechnology, biotechnology[12], whereas the apocalypse of the Other comes in the form of war and exile.

Christopher Kulendran Thomas’ latest project “New Eelam” (2016) acts as a proposition of citizenship beyond borders, in an age of “technologically accelerated dislocation”. “New Eelam” is a multi-layered project that brings together the past historical and more recent Sri Lankan context and the techno-scientific capitalist western society.

BB9_Christopher_Kulendran_Thomas_01

9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art 4.6.–18.9.2016 Christopher Kulendran Thomas, Installation View

 

Kulendran Thomas develops this project based upon the Sri Lankan civil war triggered by the discrimination and citizenship deprivation of Tamil Sri Lankans and their frustrated attempt to create the independent state Tamil Eelam. The external appearance of the installation through which the project is introduced feels corporative; as if one was about to close a deal, seating on the modular sofa SHIRAZ facilitated by the furniture design company E15. Commodified communalist can be purchased as a sort of flat-rate. Technology enables a flexible global circulation as a citizen in this proposition:perhaps finally realising the as a contemporary immaterial version of Tamil Eelam.

Layers of history, fiction, reality and speculation melt in the form of a corporate scenario where you see a half documentary half promotional video piece. The decorative elements within the installation are in fact local contemporary artworks, purchased by Kulendran Thomas in Art Galleries in Sri Lanka. Shifting their original yet effervescent context, Thomas starts new narratives and conversations between the local and the global, acknowledging the history of his own country. The same history is being repeated with other names and landscapes.

IV

A more factual less speculative work, yet projective of the possibility of a secondary citizenship beyond international borders and personal identity, is Citizen Ex (2016) by artist James Bridle. He proposes an algorithmic citizenship, depicted by real statistics from our own tracked data. The location of the servers hosting the visited websites turn into colorful graphics, revealing what the user’s algorithmic citizenship would be. This application can be downloaded as a plug-in for the browser.

Those who belong to the techno-scientific societies become participants in the power mechanisms of a system where information mining and surveillance are turning individuals into quantified entities, ready to be commodified and exploited for varied purposes. This quantitative reduction remains too often invisible to our eyes, yet has a huge effect in the way we are perceived, categorised and targeted by corporations and even the government[13].

V

Ironically, neither the victims of war crimes and their disastrous fates can escape from quantification. Their lives, too irrelevant for those who have the power to save them, become mere numbers and statistics, as for instance at the Syrian Archive[14]: a database in the form of a website depicting war crimes commited in Syria at the moment, for the sake of potential justice operations. This initiative favours some hope in a more peaceful future rather than being used in the present to save the lives before they turn into data.

In this disenchanted techno-scientific society, communal ideas are becoming either double fold mimicry (sharing economies in disguise) or just utopian and unfeasible, while feelings of superiority and otherness are being reinforced. Technology and art in combination might have, through the imagination Jasper thought was needed, the potential to touch the sensibilities that newspaper statistics can’t affect any longer. Perhaps this “excess of technological intervention” could be used to help, from the posthuman perspective, to shift conventions and turn the unlucky ones into humans, and subsequently citizens, in order to find a place to call home.

BB9_Christopher_Kulendran_Thomas_09

9th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art 4.6.–18.9.2016 Christopher Kulendran Thomas, Installation View

Gabriela Acha


Gabriela Acha is an independent curator based in London. She will soon complete an MFA in Curating at Goldsmiths University of London and was running the temporary gallery Green Ray in Deptford –together with Nathalie Boobis and Katy Orkisz. 


Links

Liquid citizenship: http://femkeherregraven.net/liquid/#pre-regular
CitizenEx: http://citizen-ex.com/
New Eelam: http://bb9.berlinbiennale.de/participants/kulendran/


Notes

[1] Braidotti, Rosi The Posthuman, p.26

[2] Braidotti, Rosi The Posthuman p.57

[3] Global Citizenship: http://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-global-citizen/

[4] Levy, Daniel and Sznaider, Natan, Human Rights and Memory, p.71
In chap 5 from minority to human  the chancing face of rights, Levy and describe Karl Jasper’s philosophy, a german who didn’t emigrate during the III Reich and was not a nazi. He advocated for a universal kantian cosmopolitanism, a world without others and without borders.

[5]www.redcross.org: http://www.redcross.org.uk/What-we-do/Refugee-support/Refugee-facts-and-figures

[6] Article: Report on Syria conflict finds 11.5%  of population killed or injured, published in February 11th 2016:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/11/report-on-syria-conflict-finds-115-of-population-killed-or-injured

[7] Article Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts, published on March 4th 2016 at ww.bbc.com: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911

[8] Braidotti, Rosi The Posthuman p.15

[9] Braidotti, Rosi The Posthuman p.15

[10] Levy, Daniel and Sznaider, Natan, Human Rights and Memory, p.47

[11] Braidotti Rosi The Posthuman p.58

[12] Braidotti Rosi The Posthuman p.59

[13] Some information taken from ICA’s website by Maya Caspari

[14] syrian archive: https://syrianarchive.org


Christopher Kulendran Thomas images:

New Eelam, 2016 Mixed media
Developed in collaboration with Annika Kuhlmann
Film Production Klein and West, Mark Reynolds
Design Manuel Bürger, Jan Gieseking
Architecture Martti Kalliala
Production Design Marcelo Alves
Biosphere Matteo Greco
Creative Director Annika Kuhlmann
Courtesy Christopher Kulendran Thomas; New Galerie, Paris
Foto/Photo: Timo Ohler

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