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As I write these lines, I find myself in my grandmother's old house. This house has become a refuge, a voluntary exile, a quiet place to write about a journey between the Same and the Other.

While this place is now quiet, for the past ten years  it has been a temporary residency for artists of all kinds.[1] The space within its walls has been used as a studio and its surroundings as an inspirational context from where to develop, collaboratively or not, a multitude of creative practices. This building, which long ago was the household where my mother and her sisters grew up, later became an art residency, and is now empty and silent, hosting me to write, alone.

As I write these lines, I find myself in my grandmother’s house.This house has also become also a space of seclusion after a long research journey, my own rihla, which has brought me towards the North — to Edinburgh, London, Montreal and New York — but most importantly, towards the South — to Marrakech, Algiers, Tunis, Alexandria, Cairo, and Amman.

While I was trying to give an answer to the multiple questions informing my research, something unexpected happened. A novel condition arose, one that made us confront our vulnerability and acknowledge the limits of our practices as artists, curators, researchers or otherwise. Indeed, the global pandemic has forced us to be immobile, to live in lockdown, to inhabit a forced hibernation in which not even the simplest of embraces has been allowed. All of a sudden, we, self-proclaimed privileged (hyper)mobile cultural workers have found ourselves unable to move and confined to a life in isolation. In this shifting and unpredictable context, how do we reconnect with one another — with our surroundings and unknown others — from a place of isolation? How do we extend solidarity when we can’t physically meet? How do we create and inhabit spaces of dissonance, where different voices can be heard? And how do we develop artistic practices when one of the core premises — that of humans gathering to experience something unknown — is no longer possible? In short, in such limiting circumstances, where does the value of traveling and the journey reside?

As Houari Touati enigmatically stated, long before this pandemic arose: 

For Touati, in our contemporary context, “there are no more travelers; their race has disappeared. All there is left is tourists, those who never take on a destination without turning it into an industrial formula for a sojourn” (Houari 2010, p.257).

The commercialisation and commodification of the journey are also chief concerns in the debates currently affecting the mobility of artists, curators and researchers alike. Indeed, much of the mobility in the arts today is economically driven. In line with Touati’s preoccupations, the Finnish curator Taru Elfving asks us to overcome the “age of innocence,” in which international mobility within the creative sector has been uncritically enhanced. As Elfving stresses, “We need to reflect more closely on the terms of our travel today: Who has access to global circulation? How and what processes of value production does it take part in? Who and what do travel and networking actually serve? What is the cost of being on the move — ecologically, socially, personally, intellectually? When and how can travel be considered sustainable?” (Elfving 2017, p.22). Elfving goes a step further in affirming that

Indeed, within the journey, within constant change, those that practice the creative act — artists, curators and researchers — inhabit ambiguous lands. On the one hand, they have become privileged carriers of new knowledge(s), making visible overlooked realities, breaking down grand narratives, constantly eroding Otherness. On the other, the urge to travel, to be mobile, has become at the same time an unsustainable practice. This unsustainability affects not only us and the relationships with those close to us, but most importantly the multiple ecologies that allow life to be. Indeed, self-congratulatory hypermobility, the lure for the Other, artistic monoculture, exclusion and ecological neglect increasingly condition the practice of artists, curators and researchers around the globe, overlooking our precious blue sphere, the space we live in.

As these lines are being written, one of the world’s largest tour operators is shutting down its tour packages in many parts of the world, and many countries have restricted international travel for their citizens and non-citizens alike. As in the present context, Touati’s words ring true: ‘there are no more travelers.’ (Houari 2010, p.257). What he is referring to though is not the forced immobility we, privileged tourists, are experiencing but to the realization that “the ‘identical’ has spread over the planet under the alienating form of the market and the fetishism of merchandising. What is to be learned from different conceptions of the journey? How, by retooling the history of art residencies with new trans-cultural approaches, can we unfold alternative futures?

As Virgil enigmatically stated more than 2000 years ago, “the goddess can be recognised by her steps”. This research can be understood as one of the steps in a path that we will hopefully continue to walk together, as we keep walking towards the ethics of the encounter, the journey between the Same and the Other.