What does it mean to be translocal? Is this question relevant in these times of decreased mobility? There seems to be no doubt that things will change after this crisis and we’re all grappling with what these changes might look like. One area that will definitely take a while to return to normal is travel, there is speculation that the drastic decrease in mobility will last for a year or more. But even while flights are grounded, connections between far flung places won’t just stop, even in a world where people are less mobile. 

More than just mobility

Although it’s difficult to find one definition for translocal, researcher Simon Peth describes it as ‘a variety of enduring, open, and non-linear processes, which produce close interrelations between different places and people. These interrelations and various forms of exchange are created through migration flows and networks that are constantly questioned and reworked.’ This is a very open definition that can be hard to transfer to real experience. 

I like the way geographers Brickell and Datta (2011) explain the translocal experience as the ‘simultaneous situatedness across different locales which provide ways of understanding the overlapping place-time(s) in migrants’ everyday lives’. Living in a translocal context is about more than just moving between places. It’s also about settling in a locality, getting to know a place and carrying that knowledge within you. Experiences and knowledge of a certain place don’t leave us when we relocate, even if we don’t visit that place often. While we are living in one city we still may be communicating regularly with another place and while we talk with family on the other side of the world, we’re transported to their living room, their context and concerns. 

I used to buy olives from a Greek man in Melbourne who sold them from his front yard. Through broken English one day he said that during the day he lived in Melbourne, while during the night he travelled back to Greece. He’d been living in Melbourne for more than 20 years, but his past experiences of life in Greece were still so present for him that they were with him constantly. 

There is so much more than just physical displacement that happens when people connect between localities. Instead of just focusing on the movement, perhaps in the coming months and years we can also consider the impact of the local, how the experience of various localities influence us and stay with us, even when we move on. Settling in to the local for a while can take time; hyper mobility will reduce, at least for a time, but perhaps that will give us time to move more slowly, to rest in place for a while before moving on. 

Translocal flows don’t have to be undertaken at the same speed as they once were but it doesn’t mean connections between places become weaker. 

Exploring the local remotely

I’ve been interested in the way people connect creatively across places, as creative projects demonstrate how we can appreciate the unique feel of a place. One such project explores what makes a place unique, through sound. Even before social distancing the Cities and Memory project, founded by sound artist and field recordist Stuart Fowkes, sourced field recording from all over the world, soliciting contributions from the public. They have so far gathered more than 3,000 sounds featured on the sound map, spread over more than 90 countries and territories from more than 550 contributors. 

Each place has two recordings, the original sound and a reimagined sound. The sonic reimaginings, or reinterpretations, take any form, and include musical versions, recomposed ambient music, rhythm-driven electronica tracks, vocal cut-ups, abstract compositions and more. As the project explains, each recording allows the listener to ‘explore places through their actual sounds, to explore reimagined versions of what those places could be – or to flip between the two different sound worlds’. This is not only a recoding of place, but listening below the surface to what place could mean, to the undercurrents of a locality through its vibrations. 

Another project that explored the political and social issues central to unique local contexts was 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS by Artspace. It was a year-long project throughout 2018 that engaged 52 artists and collectives to stage actions in unique, physical locations throughout Asia and share them with global audiences online every week. It connected the specific local challenges to a wider global discussion, encouraging artists to take audiences inside their experience of place. 

Both projects focused on the experience of the local, sharing the specific feel of a place to a global audience. While the Cities and Memory project brings to the surface an often overlooked element of our cities, the 52 ARTISTS 52 ACTIONS explored the myriad ways of experiencing place through the eyes of locals. 

These are just a couple examples of how we can explore creative interpretation of localities while being rooted in our own place. What creative work speaks to you about your place? 

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