Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Stitching Nodes in Belgrade
Last week I was invited to the Women Writers in History Conference in Belgrade. It was a brilliant opportunity to meet women academics from across Europe who are researching womens writing, and compiling an important archive. I gave a paper about Ada Lovelace and the significance of her Notes to the understanding of the Analytical Engine; as well as discussing the contemporary problems of craft and embroidery within feminist discourse. I retitled my rant on 'why I hate knitted cake' as 'Let them Knit Cake'.... (the paper will soon be online). I was only sorry that the one woman who left the conference in disgust at the embroidery, didn't stay to hear my talk. But her action reminded me that embroidery is a very sensitive and divisive political issue. But the subject of our embroidery is not just embroidery itself - but the concept of the digital commons.
Throughout the conference people started to embroider the text of the term 'Nodes' from the Raqs Media Collective's (RMC) 'A Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons' 2003. This expanded definition of 'Nodes' allows for an interrogation of the relationship between identity and place, national territory and cultural identity, which was particularly pertinent to read whilst in Belgrade, a city which asserts its Serbian nationalism at every turn. However, every aspect of Serbain culture is a well-balanced fusion of the Ottomon and Austro-Hungarian Empires, including food, architecture, music, and language. For example a plate of cakes is offered with the explanation: these are the Austrian cakes, and these are the Turkish cakes. Language: this is cyrillic script, and this is from the latin script.
The designation of nodes in a network as people or places is problematic in terms of complex identities, where people are not singularly from, or representative of, one place. So the exploration of ‘no-des’ is a more useful concept in which identity exists between nodes, rather that at a specific node. In this instance we can think of nodes as ideas connected by vectors of thought.
Whilst RMC discuss no-des within an Indian-Hindi context, we can also use these ideas to reflect on the Serbian context on the cross-roads between east and west.
Aleksandra Vranes clearly argued in her Keynote that although there are nationalistic claims on high culture , popular, folk or 'common' culture evolves from a more complex multi-cultural identity. In my conversations with the conference participants, none of us seems to have a singularly located identity. So, ‘Des’ as “homeland or native place” is problematically claimed. ‘No’des’ is not simply a place of no designation, but a positive way of being in the world, where ideas circulate and culture evolves. As RMC write:
“No-des is that site or way of being, in ‘des’ or in ‘par-des’, where territory and anxieties about belonging, don’t go hand in hand. Nodes in a digital domain are No-des.”
The Women Writers Conference will continue to stitch and discuss 'No-des' at Chawton House in England, November 2011.
I was completely overwhelmed by the kindness and generousity of Dr Biljana Dojčinović and her team at the University of Belgrade. Everyone worked effortlessly to ensure that we had the best possible experience of Belgrade, and to make the embroidery a success. Biljana even donated her mother's embroidery threads to the project, and had the beautiful fabric cut by a professional tailor caled Jasmina Panic Samsara: . Thank you to all the student volunteers who helped run the embroidery table.