YOU ARE HERE
Throughout this semester, I have found myself constantly questioning, “What does it meant to be in a space?” I am in Siena; I have been here for almost four months now… at least, physically I have been here for all that time. But mentally, I have been all over the place. At times, my mind has been here in Siena with my body, more often now than when I first arrived. Other times, my mind is at home with my parents in New York, in New Rochelle with my aunt, or in Williamstown with my school and my friends.
What I have come to understand about myself from being abroad is that my sense of being is indivisibly connected to the people I am sharing the space with. There are only a handful of spaces in this world venture to say I am attached to physically, meaning that my attachment is with the place itself. The first is my parents’ apartment in New York City. I’ve lived in that apartment for my entire life and it is the only home I have ever known. When I think of home as a concept, the encyclopedia in mind my flashes images of this apartment at me. The second is my dad’s family’s house in New Rochelle where my aunt still lives today. Throughout my life, this big red colonial has served as both my second home and my refuge. Every unrealized plan to run away and countless unfilled weekends have resulted in time spent there. I would also add Williams College to this list, as well, the campus as a whole, perhaps, but also specific places within like the old library, the student center, the art building and the dorm that I lived in for the past two years. Yet I know as I am writing about these places that in the paragraph just above I was writing instead about the people in them. And so I ask myself again: is it the space or is it the people? I’ve always said that I loved my apartment best when I am home alone, but if it were really alone, if my family and all remnants of their presence were removed would I still be attached to the place? No, there is simply no way because what I love about that apartment is the way it bears their touch.
When I first came to Siena, the space was all foreign to me, as was to be expected. I was not one of those who felt at home amidst the hospitality of the Sienese. Though the majority of people I met in the city were friendly, I did not feel that I had a foundation here. I did not yet have any place, or more importantly any particular person(s), to center me and give me a sense of stability. I felt as though I were floating out on an ocean, searching desperately for something, anything, on which I might rest upon. Almost four months later, I would still describe Siena as foreign to me. Not every part of the city and certainly less than before, but the majority of it is still unknown and uncomfortable to me. Yet, this is not at all a bitter ending for I have come to find my center, my stability instead with my host-family in their home, where I feel I belong as much as I have ever felt in my life. As my sense of belonging with my new family has grown, I have found that it has spread to other parts of my life here in Siena. My friendships and relationships with the rest of my school community have all deepened the more confident I have become in my relationship with my family. Perhaps, this could all be summed up to the workings of time, but I am quite sure that it is the result of the sense of balance and greater ease that belonging has gifted me.
Below is a more concise, and perhaps more precise, description of this project, which I prepared for the exhibition:
Belonging is a complex sensation. How is it that we come to feel we belong? Do we belong to spaces or to people, or both? Does one influence the other? And how does feeling that we belong alter our experiences of space, people and time? Since I have come to Siena, I have been fighting with myself to step out of the mindset of a foreigner and embrace my role as a new inhabitant of the city. Through the relationships I have forged with my homestay family and the Siena Liberal Arts & Art Institute communities, I have formed pockets of spaces throughout the city where I feel I belong. What I have come to understand about myself from being abroad is that my sense of being is indivisibly connected to the people I am sharing the space with. My knowledge of a space comes from my knowledge of the people within: how they see the space, how they use it, how they live in and with it. Thus with this new self-awareness, I have launched project “YOU ARE HERE” asking those around me to share their most sacred spaces within the city with me. Below is the prompt I sent to all my collaborators:
This is the initial prompt I sent to my three collaborators:
What is do you consider your sacred place within Siena? Provide me with the name of the space and its location within the city. If the place does not have an official (or unofficial) name, then provide me with a description of what it is. Similarly, if there is no exact address then explain how and where I can find it. This place can be anything you choose, depending on however you interpret the term “sacred.” Your place can be a public space, a space that has entrance free, or even a place that requires trespassing (within reason). What do you want me to do in your sacred place? What time of day do you want me to go? What thing(s) do you want me to look at there? Where do you want me to stand or sit? Please write up a few sentences (1-3) about your place and send these back to me. I will go to your place first on my own, and document my visit. Then we will arrange a time for us to go to the place together, and I will document our visit, as well. After I have re-visited everyone’s space with them, I send you all a description of my own sacred place. You are then all invited to come to my sacred space with me. For various reasons, you all cannot go to my sacred space on your own. However, once I have brought you there I will give you a chance to explore the space on your own without me present. I would ask you to document your visit to my place, the same way I will be documenting my visits to yours. This documentation will be displayed in the exhibition as evidence of this experience/process.
And here is how they responded…
Throughout the experience, I found myself belaboring on Ananya’s directions; timing my steps in my head, counting my breaths and the number of times I moved my head side-to-side. In my efforts to be obedient, I felt that I was missing out on experiencing the space by trying to be too much like Ananya. The point of visiting this spaces, I came to observe, is not to mimic or replicate the behaviors and/or experiences of my collaborators. Rather, this project is meant to help me (and others who engage with it) understand and utilize these spaces as platforms for possible interactions, experiences, thoughts, attitudes, actions, ect. that have been meaningful to others.
For our re-visit (or rather our re-tracing) of Ananya’s route through the city, she and I collaborated on the idea of documenting our experience through audio. During preparations, Ananya proposed that we speak only in Italian in order that the recording could be understood by all members of the Italian speaking population. “Perche gli Italiani parla italiano anche dobbiamo parlare italiano.”
Below, you will find a compilation of excerpts from our shared experience. For me, it was uncomfortable recording myself speaking in Italian. The English language is always hard for me to let go, particularly in intellectual settings, because it is the one language in which I feel I have my own style, my own cadence, my own way of expressing myself. After the re-visit with Ananya, I felt quite unfulfilled. There were so many more things I had wanted to ask her about and/or comment on that I simply did not have the vocabulary for to say in Italian. How was the experience different going with another person instead of alone? Did the experience change depending on what mood you were in before hand? Also, I found that when I was staring around a lot, people were staring at me staring. Did you notice this as well? Did it bother you? However, the point of the re-visit is not necessarily to provide me with answers to all of my questions. I am interested foremost in experiencing these places in ways that are authentic to the people who choose them. I, thus, included the re-visit into the design of this project in order see how these spaces may change or become re-activated in the presence of someone for whom that place has great personal significance.
The place that Becca chose is almost entirely different from Ananya’s route to San Francesco, both formally and for me personally. For one, Antico Bar La Lizza is a place that I had already been to many times before, both alone and with others. Yet, it is certainly a social place, quite unlike the basilica, which despite being a space of gathering still provides for a very solitary experience. I was interested in collaborating with Becca from the beginning because we seemed to share a similar attitude regarding our place within the city. I was not surprised that Becca chose a sight of social gathering as her sacred place; I would have done much the same. However, what intrigued me about Becca’s place is that she chose somewhere that provides a different experience with each time. Also this space is not simply about socializing with the people you already know or the people you came there with, but it is a space for encountering new people and new stories (albeit often in the comfort of already familiar company). This diversity of experience seemed to be a central aspect of this place. For my visit, I invited Lori Lamberto to accompany me to the space because Lori, in my mind, is much like La Lizza herself: a very social person with whom every encounter provides a completely new and different experience. Below is the audio from our experience together.
Becca and I just recently completed our re-visit. Below, you can here the audio from our experience. Further reflections and analyses will be available within the coming days. However, I think in someways the audio speaks for itself far better than I could.