ESR 3 Blog April/May 2022: Maria Mkrtycheva

‘Bringing the world home’ is a motto that marks the entrance to the exhibition halls of the Ethnographic Museum in Stockholm, and namely to the open storage. Thousands of objects are placed in glass cells covering the walls from floor to ceiling. Deprived of labels or any added narrative, these artifacts are tossed into deep water of agency: they ought to speak for themselves, supported only by their affinity to their own family (of objects), but not to the museum as their master or host. As is explained on the website: “The storage is not about one theme, phenomenon or place. It is a ‘third place’ in which exhibition, public, database and collections meet”. According to the sociologist Ray Oldenburg who coined the term at the beginning of the 90s as part of the placemaking practice, “third place” is where regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals happen beyond the realms of home and work. Third place is not a home, and, moreover, can only exist if there is a home.

‘Bringing the world home’ resembles the title of Martha Rosler’s photomontage series Bringing the War Home, conceived at the end of the 1960s during the US military intervention in Vietnam. Pictures of nice interiors come into collision with the war footage and serve as a striking illustration of the phenomenon of a ‘living-room war’ – a war that is brought directly to your home by the media and that becomes naturalized and unnoticed by smoothly blending into the familiar environment of your daily life. Aiming for her viewers to identify themselves with a place, Martha Rosler describes a home as a place of belonging, a place “where you stand”. The idea of a home as a holistic entity that draws the line between self and other signifies not only a living room but also a nation or a national culture. Bringing the world – or the war – home thus can only be done if the home exists as a nation state.

The notion of home is one of the most relevant for my own self-identity. Throughout several years of moving home, the line between self and other, private and public or home and the world appeared to be not just shifting but non-existent. The idea of ‘bringing’ something home as the metaphor of arrival at a homogenous and fixed space on a trajectory of linear time has replaced itself with the idea of ‘bringing home’ to the world. The very line marking the border between binaries turned into the liminal space that could be inhabited on its own. Being in this in-between space is to be displaced from the fixity and fetishism of identities.

To be in-between is to be unhomely. Unlike being homeless which means falling out from either side of the binary of private and public spheres, unhomeliness creates an extra-territorial and cross-cultural locale. Instead of writing the nation by bringing battlefields, colonized objects, cultural differences or other trophies to a shelter of a people-as-one space, the notion of unhomeliness allows a liminal space for hybrid existence between self and other.

Within the framework of the ethnographic museum the slogan ‘bringing the world home’ could also mean repatriation – returning the objects to their would-be home countries. But in reality returning home (both for objects and for people) appears to be a much more complicated process than finding a new one. Out of the 6,000 artifacts only a few of the most significant pieces could undergo the bureaucracy on repatriation of European museums. Out of more than 5 million refugees who fled Ukraine and Russia since the start of the war the majority do not have an opportunity to return home. But those who are fleeing the war and are thus displaced from homes, and those who are opening their homes to the refugees find themselves ‘beyond’ the symbolic power of territory and the nation state.

With this regard the motto ‘Bringing the home to the world’ sounds like a more urgent solution (both for objects and for people) to finding the sense of belonging and identity in the liminal space of unhomeliness.

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