1. What is the periphery?
Periphery, as a political, economic, and social phenomenon, has been framed through world-system analysis that makes a direct reference to the world economy rooted in the capitalist mode of production. This view suggests the presence of a center (core, developed, industrialized part of the world) and marginal periphery (underdeveloped, poor, raw materials-exporting part of the world). In social terms, the “center – periphery” model suggests ways of interaction between them: the center is the place where decisions are made, the corresponding institutions and elites (establishment) operate, while at the periphery are territorial communities, the development of which depends on decisions made at the center. Often it represents a hierarchical structure specific for political, economic, and other forms of control and management – an influence directed along the trajectory from the Center to the Periphery.
Besides its strong link to economics and geopolitics, through the concept of the periphery, we can consider the processes occurring on the outskirts and in the border areas, which fall out of our sight. These peripheral processes with their own internal dynamics are often invisible and unrecognized, avoiding interpretation and being represented publicly. Taking this into account we could address the issue of representation by adopting a different point of view when looking at these processes in order to propose alternative models to the ones generated by the global hierarchical system of production.
There is a widespread view of the periphery as conservative, slowly developing, and inertial space, keeping traces of cultural traditions that melted in the intensive center. Does this mean that this is a vulnerable and easily manipulated space that needs to be protected and preserved? Or does it primarily demonstrate in the questioner the ceremonial position of watching from the center?
But can places that are considered to be the periphery become spaces for answering these kinds of questions. And what needs to be done for this to be possible?
Maybe for this, the borderline state of the periphery can be understood as a borderland – an intersection zone, a place of meetings, interaction, and diffusion of elements from different systems?
Edu-Art 2021: View of the Periphery or Peripheral Vision, with Vladimir Us and Maxim Polyakov (March 2021)
2. Three perspectives
a) perspective on cultural production
Considering the processes of cultural production, the periphery can be identified by asking the question of where this or that process is born, and where it comes in the form of a ready-made model.
Not taking into account the value orientations of the processes and the declared intentions, but focusing only on the mechanisms of export-import of cultural productions and phenomena, we will reveal the relationship „Center-Periphery” and the meaning of the roles in it.
Thus, we discover the periphery in the form of either a consumer or a resource for the center and the processes initiated in it and understand that cultural and economic logics are inextricably linked with each other.
In this model, the Periphery looks more vulnerable, deprived of the opportunity to form its own discourse, and doomed to transit from uniqueness to unification.
b) Urban periphery
Considering the city as infrastructure, we can identify the periphery not only by the formal territorial position but also by the conditions of equal access to all elements of the infrastructure of city residents.
In this perspective, the situation of a modern vertical city, with a clearly defined center, demonstrates social inequality through the lack of equal opportunities for access to infrastructure that meets the vital needs of people.
One of the tasks of the Soviet utopian projects was the reorganization of cities through the creation of a micro-district environment and common infrastructure standards for all residents.
Micro Districts that appeared in the second half of the 20th century are still the primary structural element for the residential area of urban periphery in the post-Soviet and some former Socialist states. The paradox is that such neighborhoods were conceived as an anti-peripheral project that includes decentralization in its tasks and provides equal access to infrastructure, consumer, and cultural needs for all residents of the city. Such periphery of the post-socialist city was designed with a logical connection to the industrial zones that require a large number of workers and various kinds of service personnel, for which the micro-district becomes the main living space.
The end of the socialist project and its economic logic, as well as the time of intense capitalism, turn many neighborhoods into a peripheral dystopia. The degradation of the industrial complex leads to a shortage of jobs and the cessation of infrastructure, social and cultural projects. In the urban periphery, organic processes begin to dominate over structural models.
c) The geopolitical perspective
Considering large political and cultural formations in a historical perspective, it is possible to determine under the control or influence of which center was this or that territory and its population in different periods.
Through such observations, Moldova can be distinguished into a unique phenomenon that can be called „The periphery of many centers”.
On the one hand, it can be considered a kind of buffer zone, demarcation territories on the periphery of various large political and cultural formations, which are being transformed, leaving unchanged the border-peripheral status of the region and the accompanying exposure to the influence of external forces and centers. But on the other hand, this situation creates a unique situation of the intersection of cultures (eg. Latin, Slavic, Turkic), political processes (eg. EU and post-Soviet complex), economic models (eg. socialist utopia and modern capitalism). On a fairly compact territory, one can find reflections of many global processes and a specific cultural situation associated with the experience of existence in such a dense mosaic reality.
3. Art and cultural activism in the periphery / artistic practices in the periphery
What can the periphery teach us? Can the periphery, during a period of intense changes in the global world, and especially in its main actors, become an alternative model, which, due to circumstances, developed according to different laws and, in some organic way, developed its original tactics and strategies of existence?
To find answers to these questions at the level of a cultural worker, can be to overcome the unconditionality of the „Center – Periphery” paradigm. Or get out of it through communicative, artistic, and everyday practices. In contrast to transferring them to the context of the periphery from the conditional center, cultural workers can search for ways to create discourse within the peripheral environment, which is often not perceived as a creating environment, but rather a perceiving one. Thus, a change in the behavioural approach leads first to a change in point of view, and then to a change in the perception of roles and established relations.
On a pragmatic level, the cultural worker can start by asking what methods of work will help me to build a dialogue with space where institutions and cultural infrastructure are missing? Does this mean a revision of the main artistic and behavioural approaches? Where is the line between provocative intervention in the social landscape and other forms of interaction based on coexistence with it through the search for common practices, creating situations and platforms for meeting and dialogue?