Countless things make their way across the globe every day—whether as official merchandise on huge cargo ships, as unofficial merchandise in clandestine antique- and drug trafficking, as virtual figures on domestic computer screens or as souvenirs in the luggage of tourists and migrants. Things overlap or intersect with practices, meanings, and aesthetic forms of various origins in course of this migration.
But what does a Croation national team jersey signal when it is worn by a boy in Raqqa? How does one settle in on the Bibby Challenge, a floating container village in the middle of the Elbe near Övelgönne? Why does a suburban Hamburg household have a Chinese opium pipe? And what does a Neolithic goddess figure from Mesopotamia tell us about our current world political situation?
While public discourse is still struggling with questions of national and cultural affiliation, an independent transcultural order of things has long since been developed on the quiet—and not just since the immense flows of goods and migration in recent decades.
This precarious, highly mobile mixture is the scene of various negotiation processes: While some things are considered insignia of collective identities and can therefore provoke violent defensive reactions (think headscarf or football team scarf) there are a whole range of aesthetic forms that are open to interpretation and can be acquired and reworked in various ways. These include food, melodies (Japanese Bossa Nova, for example) and patterns (such as the industrially-produced copies of traditional Indian and Indonesian textiles by Paisley and Vlisco), but also furnishings (the so-called “Persian carpet”) or fashion (recall the artful deconstruction of Western and Japanese clothing by Comme des Garçons).
After all, material culture still includes a whole arsenal of everyday materials and ordinary objects (such as rubber, porcelain, silk or jeans, for example) whose transcultural origins are rarely considered, let alone explicitly perceived.
All of these things smuggle themselves into everyday life and change it completely. So they are not mere objects that you can dispose of at will. Their materiality and aesthetics seem to be based on the practices, perceptions and self-relations of their owners. To understand these informal forms of globalization, “migratory things” have to be understood as mediators or catalysts of social processes that actively contribute to society’s transformation.
The “Mobile Worlds” project traces this complexity of the world of things on different levels:
A large-scale exhibition at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg explores nothing less than a new museum order. How can the traditional departments (such as “antiquity” and “modern” or “European” and “Asian”) be overcome so that things have room to take on a life of their own?
The exhibition is linked to a collaborative educational program. Doesn’t the museum actually have a lot to learn a lot from its audience, especially when it comes to transcultural experience?
An ethnological research project examines the material culture of post-migrant societies based on the composition of households. It turns out that even the most profane everyday things never allow only one interpretation—their value is always contentious and their use changes.
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