"Walking Birds: Boundaries of Identities" is a speculative design project that explores self-identity and ascription through the lens of being mixed-race. The project is inspired by the Norwegian anthropologist Fredrick Barth's book "Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference". The project aims to challenge the existing national classifications and norms of action that are sometimes difficult for people with multiple identities to respond to.
The Walking Bird is an open-source wearable device that allows individuals to migrate and become like birds, both in action and appearance, by following a pointer in front of them. The device allows people to create new actions thus forming new boundaries and groups. The device calculates vectors from the meeting point of two Walking Birds and takes the sum vector of both as the new direction to move forward together.
Through the concept of vector, the project aims to discuss the dynamic equilibrium between individuals and groups, where individuals contribute to the group with some of their characteristics but also lose some of their personalities for overall harmony. The project also explores the meaning of place for people and their emotions about spaces. The Walking Bird device is designed to be put on and taken off at any time, conveying the idea of mobile and changeable identity.
The project challenges the notion of fixed identities and offers an alternative perspective on identity. It suggests that identity is revealed through action and can be chosen freely without the influence of others. The project encourages individuals to become who they want to be through the choices and actions they make every day.
"I have the right not to justify my existence in this world… to identify myself differently in different situations…I have the right to change my identity over my lifetime–and more than once."- Maria P.P. Root (1997), Bill of Rights for People of Mixed Heritage
"It's hard to say you're French.", said my father, the one who made me French. He added, "All the culture and lifestyle you have, and the language you use are so different from what a French has. That's why." "Walking Birds: Boundaries of Identities" is a speculative design project about identity, nationality, and ascription, inspired by my own experience of being mixed-race (French and Taiwanese).
The project is based on the Norwegian anthropologist Fredrick Barth's book "Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Culture Difference", which states that the discussion of the classification of the ethnic group should begin with interaction because it is in the process of interaction with each other that people become aware of the differences in their behaviors and values; thus understand that they come from different ethnic groups. Interaction creates differences, and differences form boundaries from which we can differentiate ourselves from others.
In this project, action is also the focus of discussion. I believe that identity is revealed through action.
What can we do when existing national classifications can no longer provide a precise definition of who we are? Rather than using a single label like "plural" to place everyone in the same system, perhaps what we should do is create more labels and categories so that everyone can find their proper place. Existing nationalities come with specific social expectations and norms of action that are sometimes difficult for people with multiple identities to respond to. So why not try to find a new mode of interaction when acting as a human can no longer help us to know who we are and find companionship? People decide to learn from the way animals interact with others, thereby creating new actions and forming new boundaries and groups.
They learn from the behavior of migratory birds who migrate to find food and survive, to find companions through the migration of humans.
Therefore, the device "Walking Bird" was born to help us become migratory birds.
Walking Bird is a completely open-source device, its components, and programs are completely open, such a feature to convey that identity should be free, and be able to choose without the influence of others, as opposed to current nationalities which are often innate or difficult to obtain.
Enter the place you want to go on the device, turn it on and put it on, then you can follow the pointer in front of you to migrate and become like a bird, both in action and appearance. By the act of wearing and moving, people become largely different from others in society, and with such differences, they can try to find companions in the group. Through the appearance of the device and special rules of movement, we can find people with similar beliefs, thus forming groups.
When two Walking Birds meet, the device will calculate the vector from the meeting point to their respective endpoints, take the sum vector of both as the new direction and calculate a new endpoint, so that the two can move forward together. Through the concept of vector, we also want to discuss the dynamic equilibrium between individuals and groups. The individual contributes to the group with some of its characteristics but also loses some of their personalities for overall harmony.
Moreover, as more and more Walking Birds meet, their endpoints will keep changing. Through this setting, we are reminded that in the act of imitating the migratory behavior of migratory birds, the most important thing is not to become a migratory bird and reach the warm south to survive, but what people need is to meet others in the process.
This is another point that this work hopes to raise: the meaning of place for people and their emotions about spaces. At the moment of entering the endpoint, the question is asked for the first time what the place means to the migrant, what does it mean if one chooses not to enter any place (which will be zero vector), and what does the place mean to the group of Walking Birds if they eventually reach an unpredictable endpoint.
Walking Bird is a wearable device that can be put on and taken off at any time, and through this feature, the identity is conveyed to be mobile and changeable. If you want to be a bird, just put it on and go out to move, and if you want to give up halfway, you can take it off and become a person again at any time. The freedom to switch between identities, to cross the boundaries of different identities, just as migratory birds can fly across borders with their wings, we humans can cross the boundaries that define us slowly but surely with our feet.
By asking "if migratory birds (or any animal) can become the identity and nationality we can choose, what does it take for us to become one?" Then, what does it mean to be a group of people (or even a person)? Through this project hope to offer an alternative perspective on identity: not to define what identity itself represents, but to consider when and why it is practiced.
In the choices and actions that we make every day, we become who we want to be.