Project statement

URBAN LAYERS. IDENTITY FLOWS

Identity is never a fixed condition: rather, it is a flow constantly crossing the pathways of everyday life. Being an unstable state of the subject, a product of interactions and relations, shaped by changing cultural frameworks, identity amounts to nothing more than a sensitizing notion, rather than an analytical concept. A tension always embedded within the word identity, a never–ending tension between flow and closure, between homogenizing trends and reinforced cultural heterogeneity. Closure is the thrust of subjects and social groups towards the conservation and the defense, sometimes aggressively acted, of their identitary, cultural, and symbolic boundaries; flow pushes the moving of those boundaries, drives them back and forth, moves the center of gravity of the conflicts and wedges them within daily practices.
Because of its structural ambiguities, identity has always been at the very hearth of the philosophical, sociological, and psychological debate: but these sciences have only managed to achieve no shared definition of what exactly identity could be, and how it should be built and become manifest in the game of human relations.
So, were the Visual Arts, in every age and by any medium, to perform the task of building public and shared representations of social, collective and individual identity. Cave paintings, stone and clay and fresco, and then painting, and finally the photographic, cinematographic and electronic representations: identity has found in these human products its ideal breeding ground for affirming itself, for witnessing the incessant flow of peoples, languages, cultures, signs, goods, for everything that made the history of man.
Nowadays, Urban Layers will explore this elusive dimension of the concept of identity through the work of young photographers. Their sight will trace, in four different situations — Gibellina, Lecce, Malaga, Thessaloniki — the signs of the stream that crosses our time building it day by day, always suspended in the constant tension between closure and flow. Identity Flows is the title of a photographic research, born within the project URBAN LAYERS; and it is at the same time a non neutral point of view on modernity. We affirm that identity is a stream, and as such it cannot be confined in, or restricted by, the artificial embankments of cultures understood as closed, waterproof systems. We feel that it is up to the young photographers whom will be selected for IDENTITY FLOWS, to their imaginative sensibilities, their empathetic sight, the task to explore the heart of this contradictory Euro-Mediterranean identity, composed of diverse and multiple characteristics. The implications of such a dichotomized identity in a globalized world need to be examined by revisiting its history through their common bonds that rely on their past collective memories, but also through what makes them distinct from one another today.

Identity Flows recognizes that the historical interactions between the peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea have largely contributed to the drawing of the cultural, political and religious civilization of the region and affect the itineraries of several other movements occurring in other regions of the world. The Romans, the Islamic golden age, the Middle Ages, and the
Modern Era testify to an original history that is indispensable to consider in order to comprehend the renaissance of the Euro-Mediterranean identity as a central issue to decorticate the present situation. Our project aims to rediscover its potential as an essential bridge between other regions and different cultures. Indeed, although for centuries the Mediterranean symbolized
a cross-roads between the actors of both sides — the Northern shore (Christian Civilization) and the Southern part (Islamic Civilization) —, acting as a historic viaduct for a variety of ethnic, religious and cultural traditions, today the Euro–Mediterranean as a united and diverse land–related identity does not necessarily suggest a vivid and vibrant entity. Rather, if we assume that a Euro–Mediterranean identity truly exists, we should also draw attention to the importance of distinguishing between its root elements. The distinction to be made concerns the Euro–European identity as an outcome of its shared history and culture on the one hand, and the Mediterranean identity as a distinguishable historical links and joint memories on the other. Accordingly, the idea behind the existence of a common Euro–Mediterranean identity relies on what European countries as whole, including the North East ones (not only the Mediterranean ones), and North African and Middle Eastern have and still share together. Their common bond would be their past collective memories and what came up from them. In the time of globalization processes, in the time of mass migrations, of cultures digitally moving, it is up to photography to grasp in one click the dynamic essence of identity by exploring it through the visualized
lives of Euro–Mediterranean people.

Luigi Spedicato
Department of History, Society and Human Studies
Università del Salento