Text: Grace Hewitt
I am a native of Australia but I have lived in Finland since January 2011. Currently I am engaged with the thesis phase of the NoVA Master’s programme.
The Master’s thesis, which I am currently working on, is an arts-based and autoethnographical investigation into the on-going experience of homing myself within a foreign country and culture. I aim to gain a deeper understanding of what constitutes home when an individual is experiencing diaspora or in-betweeness? As well as the ways in which I construct a sense of home and belonging, within both my native and adoptive cultures and countries.
My methodology employs the practice of embodied writing and embroidery as a way to gain access to new and deeper insight and knowledge. Due to the fact that December 2015 marks the first time I have travelled to Australia in over two years. I decided to experiment with embodied writing and journalling as a way to mentally process the long journey and turbulent feelings that come with crossing the world and its timezones.
This paper is an experimental exploration of literal and figurative liminal space.
16.12.2015, 17:02, HELSINKI-VANTAA AIRPORT, FINLAND:
The passport control officer stares at my passport and then at me, back at my passport and then at me, back at my passport and then back at me. I begin to grow nervous as he holds my eye contact. I feel myself begin to smirk.
“You look somewhat different,” the officer says.
“Well, that passport is almost seven years old,” I explain.
“Do you live here?” he asks me, looking a little suspicious and confused.
I switch to Finnish and answer somewhat haltingly, “Joo. Mä oon asunut Helsingissä viisi vuotta. Tarvisetko nähdä mun oleskelulupa? (Yeah. I have lived in Helsinki for five years. Do you need to see my residence permit?)”
“Please!” he replies rather enthusiastically.
I produce my permit and he begins studying it instead of my passport, interspersed with small talk in Finnish.
“Niin, Australiasta Suomeen? (So, from Australia to Finland?)”
“Joo (Yeah),” I answer, stumbling for something more to say without switching to English.
“Nyt on aika pimeää (It’s a little dark now)” he laments.
“But not at home!” I gush. And there it is, that word again… home. It rolls off my tongue seemingly so easily that no one would ever guess at the tension in which the word is steeped.
Home is a concept which has monopolised my thoughts. In the six years, since leaving Australia, I have experienced an odd tension when trying to conceptualise and understand home. A tension which raises, but then refuses to answer, a plethora of questions such as: Is home a physical place or a mental creation, a state-of-mind, so to speak? Does home exist only in my memory or is it purely constructed from my memories? And, is it possible to have two homes?
My wandering mind is brought back to reality, as the passport control officer continues with his, mostly one-sided, conversation.
“Vietätkö Joulun Australiassa? (Will you spend Christmas in Australia?)”
“Joo (Yeah),” one more monosyllabic answer.
He finally hands me both my passport and residence permit, “Hyvää matkaa! (Have a good trip!)”
“Kiitos (Thanks)” I mumble as I slink off through the border gates.
17.12.2015, 15:37, SUVARNABHUMI AIRPORT TRANSIT HOTEL, THAILAND:
It seems to me as if transit is a very fitting word to describe the half space I now occupy. Not quite here and not yet there. Where am I? Obviously I am physically in Bangkok, Thailand, but mentally? Emotionally? In terms of time zones and body clocks, where am I?
I am in a liminal space.
Andrea Eimke in her Master’s thesis Liminal Space: An investigation of material and immaterial boundaries and their space in between (2010), states that a liminal position is not characterized by the dichotomy of either/or, but rather neither/nor and also both/and (p. 11). Liminal space is nowhere space, it exists on the threshold between two possibilities. In this way, long-haul travel constitutes a liminal space, as one traverses the threshold between one physical place and another.
I have been thinking about this long journey back to my native country as a physical manifestation of the homing process that takes place within me everyday. An embodied and rather sensory, living through of the space between Finland and Australia. An experience fraught with jet lag, sweat, cramps, hunger and bone-breaking weariness but also excitement, anticipation and longing.
19.12.2015, 06:30, 150 BRUCE STREET, AUSTRALIA:
Dad texts me at 06:30,
up 4 a swim?
I am actually already awake (cheers jet lag!) and just getting out of the shower. I call him back,
“Hi Dad…Yeah I’ll come, but can we get breakfast after cause I haven’t eaten yet?… Okay, see you soon.”
I go and wake up my little sister and let her know that dad and I are going swimming. She is all sleepy eyed and messy haired.
“Alright, I’ll come too,” she says, “but I have to be at work around 08:30.”
The weather is crystal clear and hot! The temperature is already well over twenty degrees celsius and the smell of bush fire lingers in the air.
“Now this is Australian summer!” I think to myself.
At 07:30 the beach is already relatively busy and the tide is going out. The water is intensely salty and aqua coloured. Considering the temperature of the air, the water is a brisk sixteen degrees celsius and it takes the breath out of me as I dive under the first wave. But, the peace, affinity and utter contentment I feel in the water is akin to a drug induced high.
Water is my element. I have been swimming and riding waves basically, since I was six years old. I do not know what it is to be afraid of the ocean and anyway, I know this ocean. I know it so well and even though I ignore it, even though I choose to live so far away from it, it still knows me. We know each other, and swimming in it now feels like the embrace of an old friend – comfortable and familiar. It feels like home.
Lucille Korwin-Kossakowski in her article Displacement: The mandala guides me home towards different ways of knowing (2013) states that, she believes, the concept of home plays a key role in the development of people’s sense of themselves and their sense of belonging to a place. However, not only in the structure of their private dwellings but also in a deep-seated familiarity with the environment and sensual surroundings. She expands on this further by saying, “In relocating from one place to another it is usually the intangible elements that we miss the most. It is precisely the space and the relationship we had with it that is lost. Our sense of self that developed from interacting with the environment, our intimate and sometimes unconscious understandings of the light, smells, tastes, sounds and the perception of our familiar space that leaves one feeling bare and alone in a foreign environment” (p. 6).
Korwin-Kossakowski’s understanding and experience of home certainly echoes parts of my own experience and journey. When I first left Australia, I did not expect to miss the beach or the summer thunderstorms or the blazing azure of the Southern Hemisphere sky. I did not believe that scenery or nature or sensual experience was something that human beings developed a relationship with, something we carry with us, something that shapes who we are and our sense of belonging. I have come to realise though, since being away, that a part of how I home myself is via my proximity to salt water and beaches. I do not feel comfortable if I do not live in a city with a coastline, because I grew up living by the beach, and deep water and the ocean inspire a sense of total calm within me. Therefore, the euphoria and sense of belonging I felt swimming in the pacific ocean again, came as no surprise.
My understanding of home and how to home myself between two foreign and familiar cultures, is an indefinite and ongoing process. Embodied writing and journalling, throughout my recent travel experience, has helped me to become more comfortable with liminality, and maybe this is where I am actually most at home, in the in-between.
- Eimke, A., (2010). Liminal space: An investigation of material and immaterial boundaries and their space in-between. (Master’s Thesis). Auckland University of Technology
- Korwin-Kossakowski, L., (2013). ‘Displacement: The mandala guides me home towards different ways of knowing’, UNESCO Observatory Multi-Disciplinary Research in the Arts E-journal, 3(1), 1-17. Retrieved November 10, 2015 at: http://education.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/1107888/015KORWIN_PAPER.pdf
Grace Hewitt is originally from Australia but has lived in Finland since 2011.
She completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts and a Diploma of Secondary Education at the University of Newcastle, Australia, in 2007 and 2008 respectively. Between then and 2014 she worked as a teacher of all ages in Australia, England and Finland.
Now she is a student in the Nordic Visual Studies and Art Education (NoVA) Master’s programme at Aalto school of Art, Design and Architecture.
Her interests currently lie with: the concepts of home and in-betweeness, arts-based research, experimental writing, autoethnography as methodology, as well as fibre and textile based techniques such as embroidery and needle felting.