About the projects

Identity formation in the digital age


When a number of refugees residing in a Dutch asylum center were given a smartphone with internet connection for a social experiment, the younger refugees instantly browsed to Facebook. Interestingly enough, they did not log in to their old Syrian Facebook-account, but rather made a new one. They filled in all their personal information, but changed one essential thing: their country of origin. The very first thing they did was construct a new identity for themselves. When asked about their actions, they simply answered: this will help us make new friends here.
Why do those kids believe their Facebook-account to be so essential for social connection? And what exactly is an identity? What makes you you? Would you consider your Facebook profile to be a component of your identity, or rather a (distorted) reflection of your true self?
These questions fascinate us greatly and motivated us to organise a research activity in the interest of investigating virtual identity formation with a focus on bridging youth culture gaps. Can digital media help bring refugees and natives closer together? Can digital media play a meaningful role in social, cultural and economic integration of refugees? Or do they have the adverse effect of dividing people based on virtual data rather than empiric rationality?
On Monday April 11th a series of debates and presentations will be organised at the Hong Kong University. In collaboration with the Dutch Embassy of Hong Kong we will invite a diverse audience including, but not limited to: professors, students, media professionals, employees of the embassy and volunteers for refugee aid organisations. A series of short presentations on the topic of virtual identities will be held to offer a variety of perspectives, followed by various roundtable discussions of debate motions and concluded by a short report of findings by each discussion group.
We hope to see a wide variety of perspectives and opinions to make an interesting debate possible! After the activity, a reception will be hosted by the Dutch embassy.


People and spaces

When you take a plane and go on a vacation, you have a look at cities from above. It is an interesting perspective. But most of the time we see them from below, we see it when we are just walking through it. Michel de Certeau wrote about these different perspectives and how they differ from each other. The city from above is made by urban planners and managers, the city from below is used by the people walking through it. The city is used in another way then it was planned to be used. Who is actually walking on the tiles all the time and does not cut the route by walking through the grass? The grass disappears and a small path of sand is coming to existence. There is a new path, made by the people in the city form below. They have an influence in the city, urban planners and managers change the city because of how people are using it.

In this project we take a look at people and their influence on the city. At the same time we look at the city and their influence on the people in it. How do people and space influence each other? And what does this mean for the future? Mobility and sustainability will be the keywords for this project.

There are a lot of ways of looking at mobility and space. People can be mobile in their space (f.i. if there are lots of options for transportation), but also space itself can be mobile. Spaces can be physically moved, for instance if you look at the idea of a floating market, or even whole floating cities. There are also a lot of mobile living spaces, like caravan’s or boats where people live on. Also,  a lot of spaces are designed in a way they can be given different purposes. Think about flexible working spaces, or coffee shops which are for working as well as for relaxation.

Work on sustainability of the environment is highly needed, and it seems to be in fashion too. Everyone likes to be eco­friendly. Governments work on this, but a lot of individuals (artists, entrepreneurs) do as well. This way, the sustainability trend is visible as well in architecture as well as in smaller stores. It can be small or big, a store that provides no plastic packaging is already an example. Other projects exist to think of is the fun ways to handle waste and the special places made for birds.

Living like a refugee

The subject of refugee education and housing has been the central point of our research for the last months. During our visit in Hong Kong we organized discussions with artists, human right lawyers and non-profit civic organisations about the way the Hong Kong society is dealing with its refugee problems. By combining the artists photo’s about refugee housing in different parts in Hong Kong and the juridical point of view of the lawyer and the civic organisation, we were able to create a debate wherein these different points of view gave us the change to create a thorough overview of the lives of refugees.

Next week, when the delegation of Hong Kong will be visiting The Netherlands, we will continue with this subject of research. Currently we are organizing a debate between provincial politicians, students from the university of Hong Kong and Utrecht and refugees from local refugee camps. Just as in Hong Kong, we are trying to create a platform where different organisation can share their ideas.

Combining these two debates with theories about ‘the other’ and ‘identity’, we are hoping the shine a new light on the current situation for refugees in Hong Kong and The Netherlands.

Absence and Presence

With modern technology closing physical distances in a digitally connected sphere, definitions of “Absence” and “Presence” are being re-constructed and re-considered as we communicate. As we try to understand the personal, national and global relations that are being shaped by these technological advancements, we are also seeking direction: how should technology shape our experience? How do we to let ourselves be connected? What opportunities does this connectivity have to offer us? How is the physical nature of communication affected by digital connectivity?

Artists worldwide have worked with these questions. Considering the artwork as ultimately being a communicative space, advancements in technology offer new tools to convey the artistic message. Also, digital connectivity offers new opportunities for creation and diffusion: worldwide, audiences shift to artists when they are actively present in the creation process, but digital connectivity also offers opportunities for ‘resurrecting’ images, texts and interpretations of artworks and experiencing them subjectively.

The project of “Absence and Presence” aims to map the tensions between presence and absence in art by applying this philosophical theme to the process of creation and meaning-making in the digital age. Rather than approaching Absence/Presence as a binary, this project approaches absence and presence as an experience and as a dynamic space of which the boundaries are being reworked as we participate and reflect on advancements in modern technology.


Un(fore)seen Cultures: speculations on minority politics, future societies and displacement

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