Year 9, n.29 January– April 2019 From Roots to Routes

Year IX, n.29, January – April 2019
From Roots to Routes

curated by Anna Chiara Cimoli, Viviana Gravano & Giulia Grechi

How much will you have to bend down
to find your root,
for the circle to get closed?
It does not close
And not a circle
A spiral.
(Ghiannis Ritsos, Bare Body, 1980)

When we thought of giving roots§routes a new life, we imagined a sort of spiral path in which, while tracing a huge curve, we do not close a circle but trigger a further trajectory. Let us start from the name that we chose almost nine years ago: roots§routes. In the common sense, the word root indicates stability, something that anchors, and to which we are indissolubly and intentionally connected. Roots are often called into question, especially in the European ethnocentric thought, as a firm identity metaphor. Roots as “origins”, an element which is defined once and for all, maybe a space of nostalgia.

Very often, especially in recent decades, roots have become the system to indicate the origin, the “origins”, the elements that link each individual to their land, often understood as “nation”. Now we would like to try to look at the way roots work in nature, to understand how this meaning is biased, oriented, determined by a desire to recognize “naturalness” to a cultural interpretative datum.

The roots go deep, they are constantly growing and moving, they crack floors and asphalts they stretch out of the earth and expand endlessly. If there is an element of a plant that resists any kind of “education”, that does not stop, and that incessantly changes its shape, it is the roots. Furthermore, when a plant is repotted or moved, it is first of all the roots that take possession of that new portion of territory. If they do not, the plant dies, but in doing so they show the importance of the spirit of adaptation and the ability to transform each new space into a possible home, perhaps once again temporarily.

Roots are already routes. There are plants with aerial roots: they indicate then heavenly, suspended routes. Édouard Glissant, developing the thought of Deleuze and Guattari, speaks of rhizome cultures: multiple, ramified, like ginger[1]. For Paul Valéry, the observation of the garden, at the last stage of life, is already a dip on the elsewhere, somewhere over there[2]. The roots are therefore rails, vectors or pointers. They go where they are needed, like men and women. The trajectory in its making becomes an element of vitality, the intelligence with which the bodies organize themselves along the way becomes a dance. Here we focus our attention so as not to miss the step that only guarantees development and growth: survival, probably. That step is never predictive: it always lives in the realm of possibility. It searches the light intuitively.

Putting, finding or shaping your roots, taking away from your space the place that will be yours, building, planting, appropriating, millimeter by millimeter, your own home: belonging entirely to your country, knowing that you are from the Cévennes, becoming from Poitou.

Or: having only the clothes that you wear on, not storing anything, living in hotels and move often, and change city, and change country; speaking and reading indifferently four or five languages; not feeling at home anywhere, but well almost everywhere. [3] It is not about making an illusory and elitist praise of nomadism, or an aestheticization of diaspora[4]. Rather, it is a question of recognizing the fact that every cultural construction, including our own identity, including “our” modernity, is in transit and is marked by movement, translation, migration[5]. It is a matter of recognizing the radicality (forgive the play on words, which nevertheless opens other routes of meaning) of the experience of unhomeliness, which speaks about the trajectories of identification of many people who in the present times question themselves about their belonging. It is about feeling “the world-in-the-home, the home-in-the-world”[6], which blurs the traditional definitions of identity and difference, because it disputes any illusion of authenticity, or purity[7]. In short, it is a matter of recognizing that roots and routes are not in opposition, or in continuity, but that they articulate many possibilities of belonging, imaginations, aspirations and placements at a translocal level, right where people translate roots and routes into their daily experiences, in multiple and complex ways. It is precisely here, in this in-between space, that conflicts arise, that power and new forms of nationalism are expressed, here are strong dissensions and counter-narratives. Roots§routes as spaces, De Certeau would say[8]: trajectories, paths or even indications of possible directions, steps that leave traces and disseminate new senses of places and of themselves. In 2011, in the occasion of “Documenta13” in Kassel, Francis Alÿs realized in Kabul, Afghanistan, Reel / Unreel, a short film of about 20 ‘. The scene begins with children running empty tire rims or bicycle tires on the street, keeping them cleverly balanced using only a small iron rod. It is an ancient game, which has crossed all the latitudes of the world. The landscape and the people of Kabul parade next to these children who roll their wheels. A sudden change of scene shows children who, with the same technique but this time directly with their hands, roll a reel of film that, turning, leaves the film on the ground as a trail of unrecognizable images. A running child unrolls a red one and another, behind him, re-rolls the film on another gray reel. The film gets dirty because of the earth, it is trampled and risks breaking, but it arrives to the end, and the child lets the red coil jump from a cliff where you can see all of Kabul from above.Alÿs writes in the credits that the Taliban entered the film library in Kabul and set fire to dozens of films stored there, which burned for over 15 hours, but then specifies that they actually set fire only to copies, because they did not feel like burning the originals.This work represents a road concept in which we identify ourselves. A space where, in a precarious equilibrium which requires attention and skill, which accepts dirtiness, roughness of the ground, unexpected jumps and meetings, there is a long film, which is always a story. A story that, however, cannot be crystallized into a single image and appears as a continuous flowing line. Alÿs did not choose a ghetto in Los Angeles, or in Mexico City where he lives, or in a suburb of Brussels in the country where he was born, but in Kabul, an area that the “West” considers the seat of radicalization, the seat of “radicalisms”.And the roots§routes wheel turns in the opposite direction, like that of Alÿs, looking for counter-narratives.








[1] Édouard Glissant, Poétique de la relation, Gallimard, Paris 1990.

[2] Elio Franzini, “Il giardino e la grazia”, in Alessandro Tagliolini and Massimo Venturi Ferriolo, Il giardino: idea, natura, realtà, Guerini e Associati, Milan 1987.

[3] Georges Perec, Espèces d’espaces. Galilée, Paris 1974.

[4] Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, London, Verso 1993.

[5] Iain Chambers, Migrancy, Culture, Identity, Routledge, London 1994.

[6] Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, Routledge, London 1994.

[7] “If we look at culture (…) in terms of travel, the organic naturalized interpretation of the term culture seen as a body with roots growing, living, dying and so on is questioned. We are struck more clearily by constructed and controversial historicities, points of displacement, interferences and interactions” (James Clifford, Routes, Harvard University Press, 1997).

[8] Michel De Certeau, l’invenzione del quotidiano, Edizioni Lavoro, Roma 2001.