Redefining Oikos. Where Do We Feel at Home?

Editorial APRIA Platform Open Call #2

APRIA’s Open Call for 2020 ‘Redefining Oikos. Where Do We Feel at Home?’ accepted submissions from the ArtEZ University of the Arts community and beyond and was directly influenced by the Covid-19 pandemic. As we were urged again and again to ‘stay safe and stay home,’ it soon became clear that home is a very complex concept and is certainly not associated with safety by everyone.

Oikos has always had complex and contradictory meanings. The ancient Greek word has three distinct but connected concepts: the family, the family’s property and the house. So, on the one hand, it denotes private property, belonging and family ties; on the other, politically and historically charged power relations that define who can belong to a space and what its borders are. Households thus function in terms of what is known as ‘oikopolitics,’ which determines gender roles, architecture and borders of locality and globality, even laws that govern who belongs to a family, who is considered ‘us’ and who ‘other.’ ‘Oikopolitics’ thus concerns migration policies, race ideology, social and cultural identities and labour division. Today, as technological surveillance, big data, trust in biopolitics, laws, cultural rules, and ideas of time and space determine where we are and where we feel at home, the notion of oikos needs to be readdressed and redefined.

In issuing this Open Call, APRIA wanted contributors to reflect on questions such as: ‘What or who determines what home is?’ and ‘What does it mean to be at home?’ Seven contributions from ArtEZ students and staff were selected, a variety of artistic research in form and content. The researchers delve into the complex meaning of oikos, re-examining concepts of home and the tension between safe and harmful spaces in times of crisis. In addition, the APRIA board invited guest writer Adriana Knouf to share her article in which she reflects on the theme of oikos in a beautiful and complementary way.

APRIA Advisory Board member Tabea Nixdorff writes: ‘With this second iteration of the APRIA Open Call, we were hoping for contributions that explore strategies and critical thoughts about (re)defining home beyond hegemonic notions. Too often, “home” is reduced to citizenship, national borders, the nuclear, heterosexual family and, consequently, a one-dimensional understanding of housing and care taking. How can we map “home” as something related to community and cohabitation, embodied knowledge and localities, without reinforcing power structures that marginalise and often criminalise any body not fitting into the aforementioned frameworks (e.g. because of being stateless, being in a queer relationship, being houseless, being disabled)?

Many of the contributions we’ve received reflect on “home” through the lens of the artists’ or designers’ experiences and practice. While creative communities often work under precarious conditions, many of its members enjoy privileges, based on “social capital” through education, professional networks and creative skills. Acknowledging their situatedness, artistic researchers can complicate and enrich our understanding of home: by reflecting on the bodily and mental effects of being confined to one’s dwelling, and the role of mobility and movement for creating meaningful encounters. Or, by exploring alternatives to Western practices of care, often patronising the one that is being taken care of.’

Board member Agnieszka Wolodzko writes: ‘In the face of crisis, home became a seemingly space of unquestioned safety, of easy confinement, neutralised from its social and cultural politics, unproblematic…’ She continues: ‘As the pillar of social, economic and political decisions about bodies, a home became an invisible and imperceptible space of governmental and ideological management. To stay healthy, to work, to raise children, we were policed to be at home. The existence of home as a space of nuclear family conditioned and justified all the political and economic measures that were undertaken or neglected because of it. As a result, this unquestioned assumption of the given status of a home allowed not only to control the virus but also to revitalise and strengthen the patriarchal ideology, heteronormative values within society, and the logic that violence, abuse and death are matters to be dealt with in private. The privatisation of the body and its conditions under the heteronormative and patriarchal regimes proves to be well under untack today, in the era with the virus.’

In her letter from the pandemic, the artist Adriana Knouf breaks the silence. Through the desperate urgency to voice the inequality of confinement, she points to the struggles and urgencies of rethinking home outside the heteronormative regime. Weaving her story as a trans woman, she maps the conditions of what it means to stay safe and sane in the world measured by the nuclear family ties, individuated by given roles and habits. Can we reimagine queer nests of safety as conditioning any political and economic decision? Can we form and practise care outside the heteronormative family ties that will shape our social and political habits?

Board member Hanka van der Voet asks: ‘And what happens when one does not have a permanent residency; a home that can function as a safe space in times of turmoil? ‘Impermanence and displacement are defining living circumstances on a global scale, and through war, pandemics and climate disasters, these circumstances will touch even more lives in the near future. It is also a challenge many (international) students dealt with during the Covid-19 pandemic. While experiencing the privilege of travelling and being able to study abroad, many faced the challenge of not being able to return home for an extended period of time in their small spaces with their (often many) roommates.

It is this experience that led Alessandra Varisco and Lu Lin to create the contribution ‘What About Pockets as a Safe Space?’, in which the duo questions notions of safety and intimacy in living environments for international students and their nomadic lifestyles. They developed a garment as a metaphor for shelter, where the body can settle as the inhabitant of a room and the pocket serves as an intimate space. The duo quotes Janet Myers, writing: Pockets offered a degree of privacy that was unusual because “In the days when people often shared bedrooms and household furniture, a pocket was sometimes the only private, safe place for small personal possession”.’

Questions such as ‘what does home mean when you’re travelling?’, ‘how do I connect to others?’ and ‘how can I make my body feel at home?’ are also asked by Lenn Cox in her contribution ‘Collective Wandering: Hanging Out with Our Everyday Ecology.’ In this essay, she elaborates on her experiential research into self-organised socio-ecological communities and collectives, which sprung from her need for more commonality in her practice and life and wondering about how to collectively build and live actual alternatives to the neoliberal capitalist systems that dominate our daily lives.

Board member Cassandra Onck writes: ‘As mentioned before, the global pandemic highlighted the fact that there are many people who don’t have access to a safe space. In their contribution “Disconnected,” Paola Carosso and Wolkenman use their practice as musicians, songwriters and music therapy students to explore and voice their perspective on the refugee camps at the European borders. Through their bi-linguistic songwriting process, they reflect upon their privilege and ask themselves how to create a new home where the other is welcomed and resources can be shared. Questioning one’s own privilege can evoke feelings of discomfort that make it tempting to look away. But how can we stay connected with the world outside of our own safe spaces?’

Board member Caroline Barmentlo adds: ‘Two questions come to mind meditating on “oikos,” its many meanings and associations and the contributions to the Open Call. Firstly, we live in times in which our homes no longer are fixed places; how does this affects us? And: thinking of “oikos” in its original meaning, who exactly belong to the oikos of our countries and why do we hold back people who want to participate in our oikos?’

We hope that the beautiful, thought-provoking and inspiring contributions that this Open Call provides will open up a framework of thoughts through which we can redefine the concept of oikos.

This open call includes contributions by:

Adriana Knouf (PhD), artist-in-residence at Waag in Amsterdam, writer, and xenologist (published on 9 September 2021)

In times of forced isolation through physical distancing, the state reifies heteronormative nuclear families through demands to shelter at home. Such decrees simultaneously deny the potential violence of the home, as well as more fluid notions of relationships. In ‘What We Do in the Shadows: A Manifesto for Tranxxeno Becomings,’ Adriana Knouf asks: ‘How can we consider more expansive possibilities of tranxxeno nestings for this moment and future crises to come?’

Jochem Naafs, lecturer and tutor ArtEZ Bachelor of Dance (published on 16 September 2021)

Using five poems originally written for the performance Blank Whispers, ‘Home is Not a Third Space’ reflects on a situation in which we cannot immerse ourselves in dance and theatre. We are locked up in our homes, and even the privileged cannot see the world as their home anymore. Our actual homes are more than ever multifunctional, but because of this it cannot serve as the Third Space in which to experience meaningful interactions like those we experience in the theatre. By re-reading and sharing these poems, Jochem Naafs hopes to revive such an experience.

Alessandra Varisco, M.A. student ArtEZ Fashion Strategy & Lu Lin, cross-discipline designer (published on 23 September 2021)

‘What About Pockets as a Safe Space?’ is an ongoing project questioning safety and intimacy in living environments for international students. In this project, Varisco and Lin translated the empty room into an empty garment with a lining full of pockets. In this translation from the room to the garment, they imagine pockets as drawers and shelves which can be filled in with personal objects. By using pockets as a research tool, they engage the participants to reframe the definition of space and give personal interpretations. Collecting diverse experiences of safety, Varisco and Lin provide an overview of the intricacy of the topic within our current society through the garment.

Sharon Stewart, independent researcher ArtEZ Professorship Theory in the Arts (published on 30 September 2021)

‘Listening to Oikos: The Making of Soundtrackcity’s Home Expedition Guide, Homing Inside Out’ discusses how a sense of home is established through the sounds we hear and make, day after day. Relationships are drawn between the Covid-19 semi-lockdowns and regulations, the work of Soundtrackcity, and the work of sound artist Elise ’t Hart.

Lenn Cox, alumna and mentor on the ArtEZ M.A. Practice Held in Common (published on 7 October 2021)

With her curatorial nomadic practice ‘Collective Wandering,’ Lenn Cox explores self-organised learning-working-living environments. By researching (and doing) practices of home-making which are based on the values of collective care, collaboration, solidarity and support, she aims to stimulate social ecology. In this essay, Cox elaborates on her experiential research into self-organised social-ecological communities and collectives, which sprung from the need for more commonality in her practice and life and her wondering about how to collectively build and live actual alternatives to the neoliberal capitalist systems that dominate our daily lives. It is essential that we—engaged designers, makers, cultural workers, artists—begin to act, negotiate and create our own conditions together and research and reflect on all the ways livelihoods are made.

Mira Dietl, alumna B.A. ArtEZ Music Therapy & Job Bunschoten, B.A. student ArtEZ Music Therapy (published on 14 October 2021)

In the song ‘Disconnected,’ Paola Carosso and Wolkenman use a bi-linguistic songwriting process to explore and voice their perspective on places to call home in our current social political climate. Paola sings in Arabic and takes the perspective of the person looking through the fence to the other side, where Europe waits, close but yet so far away. Wolkenman, speaking in Dutch, can choose: to shout and get frustrated, or close his eyes and not even see the fence.

Barbara Lehtna, Theatre maker and M.A. student ArtEZ Home of Performance Practices (published on 21 October 2021)

‘Respectful Care: Denouncing Mothering’ is an essay investigating and exposing the limitations of patriarchal stereotypes which derive from grounding care on motherhood as a stoic archetype. By drawing from biographical experience as well as professional practice in the field of dialogic theatre, alternative modes of care are explored and proposed.