Elsewhere is not the same as nowhere. It is not everywhere, nor somewhere, nor here. Elsewhere is the place where you are not. It might be a place that you long for, or a place where you store things out of sight and mind. The past is elsewhere. The future is elsewhere. Elsewhere is in the present; over there, or here in the moment of your longing.
In Australia, where I come from, culture is elsewhere, the world is elsewhere, and the blame is laid elsewhere. It is a nation defined by a foundational elsewhere, the colonial elsewhere of out of sight, mind and territory and, for the forcibly displaced convicts, the elsewhere of home. The waves of post-war immigrants and regular tide of refugees and international students draw the foundational elsewhere of home into the present tense. Because home is elsewhere, the responsibility for history also lies elsewhere. The indigenous population are largely elsewhere anyway and the outback is a mythic elsewhere that most Australians have never seen. A pilgrimage to experience culture elsewhere is a middle class rite of passage and success in any cultural field is only real if you achieved it elsewhere, or you are able to make it happen elsewhere.
In the art world being from elsewhere can give you credibility. Because of its evacuated sense of cultural identity Australia is not a very interesting elsewhere to be from, but an elsewhere that is inaccessible to the West, that is ethnically exotic, or at war is particularly attractive. It also helps if that elsewhere is currently featuring in the international news, if it is an elsewhere to which many people are regularly directing their imagination. For example, being from Iran gives you top marks on the elsewhere credibility scale.
Being dead means that you are always elsewhere, can never be here, are a pure fantasy for the pleasure of the market.
Elsewhere is a tantalising counterpoint to the everywhere of globalised non-places, a marketing oasis. At the same time this creeping sameness of the no-place-every-place is in fact created by the imaginary evacuation to elsewhere. Airports – characteristic non-places and physical evacuation portals – are full of advertisements for elsewhere. An always longing for being elsewhere, happening elsewhere, feeling elsewhere means that you are never here. And when you are there you are sold nostalgia for the elsewhere that you never were.
Elsewhere is a colonising imaginary and it is also a material repository of all that we would rather not see. When we buy something new it arrives from elsewhere and we send our waste to an elsewhere that does not feature on bilboards. ‘That kind of thing doesn’t happen here.’ That kind of thing happens to someone elsewhere.