Third Culture Kid: a term coined in the 1950s, to describe a person who has grown up in an environment not of their parents’ culture, one who builds relationships with all the cultures they have been exposed to but possess full ownership over none. At once the world in all its multitudinous facets belongs to you, and yet, you belong nowhere. The feeling manifests itself in the ‘nowheres’ of airports and plane flights, a sense of familiarity found in the placeless-ness of the jet lag between time zones, the suspension of time during immigration, the creation of a separate plane of constant reality where despite the changing cultures of food and language the landmarks of your own values remain fixed. The Internet becomes your best friend simply because it is a constant among the cultures: we are not the Internet age, but the age of the third culture disillusionment.
The idea of occupying a space that exists as a ‘nowhere’ on the historical, physical and cultural spectrum can be so easily inflected onto the modernist trauma of alienation. The paradox of ‘home’ being difficult to define when ‘continent’ or ‘globe’ can be considered in perspective creates a lonely sense of nationalism. And yet, French anthropologist Marc Augé has called this placeless-ness a form of ‘supermodernity’ – the very essence of what it means to live in the 21st century. The urban nomad defines modernist progress and so it seems strange that such alienation should exist, when a community becomes born out of transcendent cultural values creates an oceanic, all-encompassing yet fluid sense of ‘home’. Home is simply “one of the metaphors of life.” (J.B. Pontalis). So what, if ‘Home’ becomes less of a place than a concept?
Hussein Chalayan explored this idea of the relationship between the internalization of the concept of belonging and ‘home’ in his Spring 1999 collection ‘Geotropics’ which created a metanarrative on existence through travelling. The collection featured a resin dress fastened to a chair. As the model moved down the runway with her arms on the armrests it seemed she was perpetually sitting down, yet moving at the same time. It was firstly a statement on the ‘nowheres’ – the airports and suspension of time between airplanes and borders - giving birth to travel as a permanent state of being, and as much a means of destination as the destination itself. The chair was also bigger than the model with a subtly asymmetrical shell that created a cavity around her body as she walked, like a protective cocoon. This seemed to be a statement of the creation of a perpetual home – a personal nation, of sorts - as an adaptive form of protection against alienation: an idea familiar to any third culture kid currently living overseas.
This journey of alienation, therefore, ends itself in internal re-creation. However, Chalayan’s chair dress and the third culture kid’s creation of the perpetual, mobile ‘home’ are constructs only made possible through the separation of the identity from the material, tangible world. This leaves the implication of the receding importance of the physical space we occupy in defining our ‘home’. And with this we are left with a little irony: in an age heralded as materialistic, progress is leading us in a direction that is anything but. We are becoming no less superficial, but with much of who we are no longer defined by the tangible world, materialism is not something that can be used to describe us any longer.