Breaking-Even (past theory assignment extract ©2008)

03/12/2009 § 1 Comment

Breaking off, breaking away, trying to balance losses and gains

(either the struggle of doing so or being dissatisfied with barely breaking-even)

I have used this exercise to explore what it is that defines me as both a person and a designer and what influences and motivations lie behind who I am. Being an immigrant has played a huge role and I will discuss this more fully, shortly. Another big influence on my work is surrealism.

Whether it is a further effect of cultural displacement or something I was always going to be aware off: I feel sensitive to fragility of the fundamental convictions upon which we, humans, build our interpretation of the world around us. This has led me to have an interest in psychology and philosophy and all of this has led me to have strong theoretical concerns, and queries in reply to which my practice comes into being.


I consider myself very much a Russian citizen although I have now spent half of my life in New Zealand and have doubled my passport ownership. This has given ground for potential questioning of my nationality. To me, however it is very clear how I want to see myself, as Russian, I may be living in New Zealand, that is true, but note, it was through no choice of my own. This potential conflict between how other people can interpret such an important part of my identity and how I prefer to see myself has produced a painful learning curve and has forced me to deal with the influence of living outside of Russia for such a prolonged period has had on me.

Coming to Paradise
We came and found paradise but something
was missing in the water, in the sky,
in the movement of hands that couldn’t embrace or punish.
Our children have the largemoist eyes of wounded deer
but must betray no sign of weakness
they must be winners or nothing.
Our children know all the songs all the shows all the jokes
they try to learn the memories too our children are like the rest.
It is a sign of fluency to dream in a language
but we dream wide-awake we think about our dreams in broken silences.

Kapka Kassabova, Someone Else’s Life. (Michigan: Bloodaxe Books, 2003) 78.

Moving from Russia to New Zealand has no doubt changed my life like nothing else. I was almost ten years old, in the middle of learning who I was. In the years since I have spent much time wondering why I experience a sense of longing and frankly even disgust at leaving my roots behind. While I did not identify with other Russian immigrants, or community organisations – in the wake of my parents being content to be social recluses, I clung to my language through sheer will power, keeping it alive in my conversations with myself. Much of my time was taken up with longing to feel at peace with the deficiency of my own culture, I think I tried to remedy it by being more receptive to other immigrant’s cultures but as a result I feel like I have become something of a collage.

I am a Russian who has to learn her own slang, buys traditional Chinese sweets for treats, cooks African stews as my every-day food and warms her own sake. Being welcomed into the lives of people form Iraq, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, South Africa and China, has made me culturally knowledgeable and sensitive. More so than my parents or anyone who is deeply submerged in their own culture, I am more open and capable of understanding their view of the world. My level of exposure is higher but what I see is blurred by space and time, as my friends and their families are like me adjusting to finding themselves culturally displaced.

Despite having lived here for over a decade I remain anxious of blending in with the locals, because I know sometimes my name is the only sign of who I really am. I am reluctant to learn anything more about my host country or its culture but am irreversibly influenced by osmosis. Having always been quick to identify myself as an immigrant I have come to realise I now, will always be one, wherever it is I live.

A significant moment for me in working towards understanding my identity conflicts was talking with Rona Ngahuia Osborne, when she visited as a guest speaker as part of Aspects of the Pacific paper. With her being of both Maori and European decent, I asked about how important it was to have an identity conflict was to her practice, the surprise came when rather than answering in terms of self she talked about the whole world. She explained about cultural identity concerns multiplying, that it was part of globalisation, a rapidly growing phenomenon on an unprecedented scale – an inevitable result of changes in the world. That it is a rich talking point.

What I took away from that lesson is that in a way it is being on the cutting edge of innovation to deal with it – a future concern. The course showed me that not only do I have to deal with the issue because…

“…our identities are invariably interwoven with our ability to communicate in expected ways,”
Bradford J. Hall, Among Cultures: the challenge of communication. (Fort Wort, Texas: Harcourt College, 2002) 104.

…but that it is actually possible. Since then I have come to realise that many artists work from some of the same concerns as mine and are doing so successfully. Shirin Neshat, Akram Khan and Jacque Chan, are some of these. I am coming to terms with the fact that I face loss of any simple traditional notion of nationality or fully belonging to any established culture.

I guess what I am, is a citizen of the world, an immigrant wherever I go, culturally broad-minded and wistful.

Oxford dictionary says the Greek words for ‘world’ and for ‘citizen’ combine to make ‘cosmopolitan’ – an adjective meaning; “consisting of people from many different countries and cultures: a cosmopolitan metropolis,” or “familiar with and at ease in many different countries and cultures.” ( 01/09/2008) I am at ease within many different cultures but unfortunately, for fear of rejection (like the ugly duckling), my own is the one I am least comfortable in, but yet participation within it, is the most rewarding. That is my current situation, finally I am addressing it.


Despite the literal translation I like to think of it as an idea of an ‘underlying reality’, creating just a little confusion in what and how things really are. I think some people don’t question enough, the soundness of the rules on which they assume their world operates, which they take for granted. Undermining reality involves searching for a place where the abstract, subconscious and dream can co-exist in apparent harmony with the rational and everyday, locked into a delicate balance.

This is a very important intellectual neighbourhood for me because it also has the ability to open up someone’s eyes to another world view. I think its strength lies in slight but powerful, poignant undermining of conventional interpretation of the world: a David and Goliath kind of approach. In this way it has power it to peacefully open dialogue between different paradigms – ways of viewing the world.

“Thought meshes with reality or calls it in question.” Jean-Luc Godard, Phillipe Senne prod, et al. 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. (Directors Suite DVD France: Madman Entertainment: Argos Films, 1967)

From the very beginning design has held hope for me in being able to bring resolution to my feelings. I think it is my insecurity about identity, which has made me to doubt not only myself but the world and has led me to be interested in philosophical debates and surrealism. I think it allows me to (more legitimately) view my situation in the way I want to, rather than the general consensus – to question reality, what I refer to as reality is people’s…

“…everyday presuppositions, certain fundamental beliefs, concepts, principles and standards. They represent the ground on which we stand, the background in terms of which we think, know and act.”  Christopher Falzon, Philosophy Goes to the Movies, an introduction to philosophy. (London: Routledge, 2002) 9

In a study I did last year, a series of photos were taken one after the other at 5:55 pm on one day (Figure 1). Admittedly I was changing the presets on the camera, but to me the changes demonstrate how easily our perception of our surroundings can be influenced or even manipulated. By choosing and showing only one of these photos to you, I could give you completely contradictory impressions of that evening although it would supposedly be recorded with photographic accuracy. I think that any of these photos could be close to the reality of the observer on that evening; a human’s perception of reality is just as flawed as that of a photo camera. The brightness of the scene and details can be changed by the observer’s physiological state – the state of the body, mood, and memory.

“The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use — these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch.”  David Carr, La Philosophie de l’histoire et la pratique historienne d’aujourd’hui: Philosophy of history and contemporary historiography (Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press, 1982) 321


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