Tracing Invisible Routes: Mobility and Agency in Polak’s “Nomadic Milk”

1 hour
The contemporary world, Doreen Massey notes in “A Global Sense of Place,” is composed of connections and flows that have compelled a fundamental reconceptualization of the local and the global. In such a world, mobility is linked to power, which is achieved through access to economic and cultural capital and freedom to travel. Massey writes, “It is not simply a question of unequal distribution, that some people move more than others, and some have more control than others. It is that the mobility and control of some groups can actively weaken other people.” Speaking also of connections, flows, and control in The Exploit, Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker emphasize the need for a critique of networks, the primary modern structures that modulate the movement of people and goods; they wonder if, “as networks continue to propagate, there will remain any sense of an ‘outside,’ a non-connected locale from which we may view this phenomenon and ponder it critically.” Such apprehensions about the potential for individual autonomy and critical distance in our networked societies suggest that discussions of planetary consciousness, multi-cultural contact, or social justice need to consider the routes and paths by which people and goods travel.

Focusing on such flows of people and goods, Esther Polak’s project, “Nomadic Milk,” uses GPS technologies to trace the path of milk production and sale in Nigeria. Her project followed the different routes of nomadic herdsmen and PEAK milk (a major dairy brand in Nigeria) transporters as they delivered dairy to points of sale. This tracing of routes was supplemented by records of the walkers’ and the drivers’ narratives and accounts of their routes, as well as by Polak’s blog recording her own paths as artist. Polak’s project exemplifies how people and goods are subject to both the constraints and the opportunities of a network system. My paper considers how “Nomadic Milk” reveals mobility along established networks and attempts to make invisible routes visible. I argue that “Nomadic Milk” presents travel as a primary mechanism of planetary and local consciousness, and it provokes deliberation of the often consuming power of networks, as well as potential for intervening on their anonymizing, modulating authority. In looking closely at how Polak’s work traces paths and spaces of going, I am interested in exploring a poetics of mobility and the ways in which a reconsideration of ideas of place and path is fundamental to considering the potential for agency in global networks.
Case Western Reserve University

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