Visuelle Kommunikation

Arianna Smaron

The Process of Liquefaction — Liquidity as a visual concept to understand the society we live in

How is it possible to understand the society we live in through metaphors and visual language?

Representing the concept of society is a challenge, which has no straight answer. Every era had a certain metaphorical representation of society, which shaped the perceptions of its time and culture. In fact, Johnson and Lakoff claimed our reality is shaped by the metaphors we decide to think by.

Zygmunt Bauman, a contemporary sociologist, claims that nowadays we live in the era of uncertainty and diasporas, in which all certainties and solids are in a process of liquefaction and change.

He uses the metaphor of “liquid modernity”: a simple and powerful image to interpret the mixture of feelings of the unknown, the consequences of globalization and individualization that we have to constantly face today.

By referring to Marx and his famous quote of “All that is solid melts into air”, Bauman questions how the development of technologies, means of transportation, and infrastructures, which flourished in the last century and altered our perception of time and space came about. The power hierarchies changed from solid institutions into new forms of liquid power, liquid politics, liquid relationships, and liquid life.

Liquid Modernity is not intended to be understood literally, with everything melting, but rather as a heuristic model, a poetic use of language, which responds to the need of talking about sociology, not only for intellectuals but to open up the field and its concepts to a wider public.

The present study strives to question the use of metaphors in the field of sociology by looking into their embodiments, Blumenberg’s guide, and examples of abstract processes in which liquid modernity can be found. The migration process, diasporas, and waiting times are some of the aspects where liquefaction can be visible and traceable. They are also analyzed by looking at different approaches such as networks and rhizomatic systems.

In visual research, Bauman’s metaphor is taken as a fundamental base of exploration – with the visual outcome as an investigation of the representation of society through that specific metaphor – but it is not a translation of the theory into images. Through the very process of experimenting, the metaphor is questioned, categorized, sometimes misunderstood, re-thought and re-processed up to the development of a concept of a video installation in which the metaphor is finally transformed.

Three visual languages emerged due to interacting with time, space, and viewers. They first go from a macro view of liquefaction, by filming the surroundings in the specific area of the Basel borders, selected to provide an insight of a specific area of examination; followed by a description of the abstract processes of moving, queuing, waiting, and migrating using graphic black and white elements.

Finally, the micro view reveals the feeling of our times by the action of breaking and manipulating materials.

The project is not an answer to the visualization of a metaphor for our times but rather a guide to the topic of liquefaction. It provides viewers with a possibility to agree, disagree, and raise the awareness of certain structures or relations and, perhaps, understand better that, in the end, it is all a matter of language.

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