How do you map your world #3- Migrant Places Patterns and Dwellings, by Jennifer Spector

How Do You Map Your World #3


Migrant Places, Patterns and Dwellings - Interoceanic


Jennifer Spector

Panama Correspondent


PDF version available here


Let us drift a while along the outskirts, map our stories at the edges, dwell at the borders and edges. Is the Canal also a monument made invisible [1] through its abundant visibility, so grand and present and such an emblematic marker, that we cease to truly see it? Perhaps it is because it is so much seen that it slips away from us into that elusive, mauve region of invisibility. How do we then make visible that which we so closely encounter/witness; the utilitarian mechanism, the great machine, sprawled along the city’s roads, seen from mountains, while crossing bridges, from café windows, from  cruise chips decks, tanker depths, by ship workers and by the thousands upon thousands of visitors marking place, in transit through Canal waters? It is time to get lost, fall down the rabbit hole, find new markers to the layered surface. Inquiry as Performance and interconnectedness; action and platform, experience and logistics, a dye set in the stage of the new imaginary, brought forth in drift.

Language also comes in transit, moves across stones, makes a trace, scratches off an original. I reset my gaze - the Canal as meme, a locality at the broad mouth of the broken hut, lighthouse keeper mired in history’s passages, a place of crossings, yet fixed with its undeniable physicality, its metaphorical carnage-carry, a place at the brink, in some ways, no place at all. Experienced more as an inheritance than as self-discovered coordinates, the Canal comes to us unknown yet is immediately absorbed. So loose the map. Toss the compass. Linkages and carryings find their static way in passage via performance and inquiry and dialogue, along the edges of histories and bloodlines. For me, here in the country I have come to call home, I find Fluid States Panama Interoceanic, to be a way back to the non-place, the unfamiliar, where I can watch what has become so present become unfamiliar again and explore transformative inquiries while engaging the platform.

Festooned with lost steps and convolvulus stems, an issuing comes forth, the players in déshabillé, their yawls and schooners on the bank, stripped to the same bare place, ourselves in the forum, in rooms, working the ships passing through the Canal while others inland gather at tables and museums; who becomes the interstice? The migrant in the in-between? Shape-shifter, half-dweller traveller, the beast and the thimble. Intertextuality of documentation ascribes an excavation of place from out of earth, into the physical. Through the themes and inquiry points Fluid States Panama Interoceanic generates, I have been thinking about these one hundred years of the Canal, and my own 2 short decades in its proximity. The Canal, while holding deep value and aplomb, has undergone an obfuscation, drifting without true points within its own intervening space. The performance of every day - of ships and labor and currencies and the great machine churning, spilling forth its bounty can become a danse macabre, – the viewer as participant inured by the refraction of its tangible worth as a conduit for something else rather than continuous, ceaseless motion. “All places are ‘migrant’. And our selves, similarly; not simple, single points of consciousness slipping across neutral planes, but selves that are motion and in motion within and without, extended 'organisms' shaped and shaping relations with each other, reacting to and adapting the geometry of inanimate geographies, cultural transmissions and ideology's reproductive system, moving about basins of attraction, patterned and patterning; a self as likely as any place to be "just passing through."[2]

I see new pattern-making possibilities in Fluid States Panama, with the liquid occurrence of inquiry as a gestural oar, a site for exploring relations between the active and passive, the engaged and witnessed, the watershed or the open sea, together enacting a reframe of the full spectrum of associations, both with and engendered by the Canal. The artist Georges Braque once wrote “Let us forget things, and consider only the relationships between them.” While we can never ignore the ‘thingness’ of the Canal, we can reconsider its intertextuality, the muscular webs it weaves through commerce and sociological landscapes and the line it casts across nations. “Performance has to be a wager,” wrote the poet and critic, Joan Retallack. While much of her writing applies to poetical language, I find this statement resonant with my own field of inquiry and symbiotic with the themes of Fluid States Panama. Our presence here and our questions come carrying their own shapes, like shanty dwellings left at the side of history. The Republic of Panama, as a country, dwells inside the larger encasing imaginary of the Canal, skewing the idea of home and what it means to be held by something or to be in possession of it. “While ‘dwelling’ has clear ontological connotations, it is expressed through existing forms of spatial arrangements such as region or nation because these have a history of standing in for place. Imagining place as dwelling usually means imagining place as home, region, nation and so forth and equating identity with those bounded and rooted spaces.” [3]

How will performance during Fluid States Panama spearhead a reexamining? I wonder and look forward to reading through surfaces, listening in, watching for dentations against the waled fabric of absence; to see what is waged, dispersed, released. Does one begin to peer outward? What affect will these dialogues have on our perception of the Canal? How does a country take shape as it evolves when so much of its steerage and history has been shaped by the hands of others? In this abstruse zone, so kinetic and energized, there remains that tenacious focal point - the undeniable, physical life of the Canal. Like the Russian nesting doll, the matryoshka, it harbors many things, some taking off with the lid wide open and others smaller, embedded. Perhaps our geographies, routes and cartographies are not so wooden, and through creative investigation and prodding, can we again look inside.



1. Musil, Robert. “Monuments,” essay. Print.

2. Smith, Phil., “A Short History of the Future of Walking.” Rhizomes 7, Fall 2003. Web.

3. Janz, Bruce B., “Making a Scene and Dwelling in Place: Exhaustion at the Edges of Modes of Place-Making,” – “Imag(in)ing Place,” Rhizomes 18, Winter 2008. Web.


Copyright –  Jennifer Spector  (2015) “Migrant Places, Patterns and Dwellings -- Interoceanic”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015, available

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