Name Filtration System

Taking a plunge into habitation of a new world, a new culture, or a new space is to have ourselves filtered from the singular self therefore not having our identity filtered out but to be filtered into other possible modes

Deep Forest - Music Detected (2002), album cover

Introduction: Options within an Open World perspective.

This program is a result of research process conducted under the In Memory of A Name mini-symposium program with FX Harsono. My initial personal research revolved around investigating what do overseas Chinese Indonesian think of their identities having lived in another culture other than their own. In the beginning, the research was precisely designed to examine the interest of the participants towards cultural compatibility, and to some extent their nationality within a global contemporary world ripe with possibilities of living across borders of countries.

Enduring long years of discrimination, the Chinese Indonesian community is slowly recovering from the overshadowing unpleasant memory of the past. I still hear bitter stories passed down by older generations to the successor resulting in influence that may affect their perspective of Indonesian citizenship as well as subjectively as a person. As a Chinese Indonesian, I too have had my share of such influence. However, growing up in a slightly different childhood atmosphere compared to other Chinese Indonesians I absorbed less and considered more closely  my idea of self, grouping, and sense of belonging. Thus began my inspiration to seek out what “similar others” may think of my (our) identity. Therefore, this research is a personal quest in search for a sense of belonging in groups and circles rather than being a purely investigative outsider observing and interrogating for academic purpose. To my surprise, I discovered something else entirely different from my expectation that led to the formation of this program.

The result of this research process was that the participants in the project, those interested in changing their names, preferred to express their personal identity as unique, rather than connected to a group. Each of the participants mentioned variable influences such as history, local culture absorption, and family tradition, which illustrate the deconstruction that refuses the ignorant and over-generalised labels of identification.

A more detailed post on the research process, the development of idea, and comments on the project can be found on my previous blog post It’s Difficult To Hurt Someone When You Know Them

The Other Selves: Othering and Deconstruction

In this program, I wante to simulate a bridge – a connection to other notions of selg, a self that emerges under Pierre Bordieu’s idea of habitation / Habitus[i]. Habitation comes into operation whenever someone or something enters an area non devoid of culture. This means that it is a process of productive re-negotiation of self and identity by accepting the local way of life.

During the program, I used the example of using local titles of ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ when travelling. You land in Italy and instantly become ‘Signore’ or ‘Signora’; arrive in Indonesia and you are ‘Tuan’ or ‘Nyonya’. These cultural and linguistic labels act as a two-way street. Firstly, to bear and accept such a label is a starting point for a kind of habitation, performed by the ‘tourist’ or the individual entering into the new local culture; and secondly for the locals who name a person in this particular way, to try and welcome or coerce. To incorporate this ‘tourist’ or ‘traveller’ into their new surrounding means to inject non-local identities into the mis, and in doing so it can trigger a sort of renegotiation of local identity. The notion of the local is constantly co-opted and reconfigured by, or for, the tourist.

The reason I mention this example is to highlight the relationship between different ‘modes’ of self, for example; an Australian self, Indonesian self, Italian self, etc. They are all formed, to some extent, due to either acculturation (habitation of a non-original space), acquired knowledge, or knowledge passed down within a family (which in this contemporary time had become increasingly possible due to cultural fusion/acculturation.

However, it also cannot be denied that the countless variants of groups and categories have expanded extensively can often spark sensations of alienation. This is part of a social survival mechanism commonly enacted due to the need to have a group to belong to. These sorts of mechanisms often naturally and accidentally create a rift, polarising individuals between the ‘majority’ and ‘minority’, ‘local’ and ‘tourist’. Little do people realise that minority and majority are merely labels assigned upon grouping. In fact, the idea is so forgiving that it overlooked variable details such as ancestry and absorption of localities. These details can be considered as signifier, a constitutive of infinite and minute personal details, while representations bestowed upon groups such as nationality and the labels of ‘majority’ or ‘minority’ can be called the signified (the extensive denotation or representation) in the Derridien concept of différance[ii]. It is Gilles Deleuze’s idea of internal difference[iii], through its extensive listing of signifiers, that actually sets groupings apart from the creation of repetitive and mechanical reproduction of representation. To elaborate, this means that rather than stopping at Derrida’s breakdown of différance into signifier and signified we set out to look at our identity variable in further detail to find a more concrete sense of belonging, or better, being versatile and understanding towards difference.

Conclusion: Bagian Diri ku yang Lain (The Other Part of My Self)

I would like to remind all that this program was not made to break up or challenge the idea of grouping and belonging. Rather, I wanted to highlight, simulate, and if possible, stimulate our capability to be flexible, critical, tolerant, and open minded when it comes to living in a multicultural society or a new cultural environment. In the end, it is considerably difficult to be “perfectly” represented when much of our internal culture, histories, ancestries, and other variables are overlooked – this can only form a superficial representation.

In regards to the name translation, the creative process was done to produce a simulation of an Indonesian self that is manifested through a name – a name crafted by language – a language infused by centuries of rich cultural fusion and adoption. Thus, to assume an Indonesian self would also mean to make an attempt to understand the culture, the history, and to hold and behold the vibrant context, meaning, and cultural colour infused within your new name (a mode of self). Not to forget that at the same time this program allows me, the translator, the chance be acquainted with people from different background, ancestry, and culture thus re-enacting the sense of habitual renegotiation with the outside world. This is cultural exchange.


[i] Hillier, J and Rooksby, E. 2005. Habitus: A Sense of Place. London: Ashgate. (pp 44-47)

[ii] Derrida, Jacques. 1967. Writing and Difference. London: Routledge. (pp 225)

[iii] Delleuze, G. 2004. Difference and Repetition. Great Britain: Continuum

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