Occupation - Flooding emptiness

by Monica Hirano, 2019

The verb TO OCCUPY is ever-present in our lives. Most aspects of one’s existence have to – by necessity – be filled up. The concept of occupation connects to various meanings and can be expressed through multiple examples. The act of occupying can be defined as possessing, such as by invading, transforming, overpowering, replacing and residing; or, it can be abstract in the more subjective senses of filling, engaging, focusing, working.

Occupation of nations and in society

The interactions of humans in the nomad eras were guided by a simple structure. They would utilize nature according to their immediate needs for safety and survival, and the idea of occupying one consistent space was not a reality. During those times, such a life allowed for full immersion in nature and its cycles, yet it did not foster any notion of controlling the laws of nature. Their minds and bodies were guided only by the cardinal aspects of life: sustenance and procreation.

In more recent history, humans began establishing stable societies based on agriculture and industry. At the same time, concepts such as society, power, and property began to appear. Consequently, the desire to expand territory sprouted, as did the necessity to occupy - to invade. This transformed into a period of colonization, symbolizing an almost desperate need to occupy, invade, possess, all in the name of power and control. However, during this time, different aspects of occupation were revealed. For example, miscegenation, or the mixing of different racial groups through marriage, cohabitation, procreation, led to the expansion of diversity. People had to learn how to live in communities that were increasingly less homogenized.

Even more recently on the spectrum, we have been facing a new paradigm of occupation, where we see overpopulated cities and a simultaneous effort to find solutions to share the limited resources and insufficient living spaces combined with the perpetual human ability to adapt. Rural areas become dis-occupied and the unused space that is left behind becomes subject to the crescent phenomenon of plantation and agriculture. And, on the other hand, we find acts that aim to mitigate, rethink and rearrange occupation, such as squatting: occupying an abandoned space. Movements like Occupy Wall Street come to the forefront of widespread public attention, where protestors are given a chance to utilize the public space according to their needs, for the sake of expression.

Contemporary paradigms of occupation and belonging in society

Neocolonialism kicks in with a new policy for the occupied nations that create dependency. The undeveloped countries believe they are part of a developed world, when they are really only serving from the bottom steps of the vertical power structure. This phenomenon is fueled by the necessity to occupy subjective spaces in society. Such a feeling is introduced by the controlling few into the minds of the controlled masses, creating motivations for career, and perceived success and status, all leading to increased disparity.

Along with that, we can debate the space that the individual occupies, and observe closely and critically if there is enough room for everyone in an equal way. The list of marginalized bodies is extensive and they constantly live in the conflict of having limited spaces to transit, the lack of freedom of movement makes them belong to their homes or small circles. One example that is very clear in the history of humanity is the Apartheid, when the black communities had specific and restricted places that could be occupied.

Another subsequent effect of neocolonialism that we can observe the phenomenon of the refugee movement. Where citizens of a nation in crisis or internal war decide to leave behind their lives in search of an opportunity to survive. In this moment, we can see the reverse end of colonization, where the colonized, without choice, search "safety" in the nations that once occupied them. In between the phases of occupying a physical space, the refugees find themselves place-less. They no longer belong to what once was considered home, nor the place were they just landed.

Personal instances of occupying

On an individual level, one finds the necessity to fill up gaps and emptiness both internally and in the immediately external environments. For instance, vacant walls of a house are inhabited by bookshelves, paintings and portraits; a cupboard floods with kitchen utilities and clothes. The space of the mind and internal voids are treated similarly. Loneliness is fed by relations and interactions; anxiety is stuffed with pleasures such as food, material goods, experiences; insecurities are overcharged with diplomas, external validations and false identities. Many other such subconscious holes permeate each individual being and are similarly manipulated, painted over, and/or ignored completely.

Another occurring description of occupation is the need to fill up available time. When one reflects about time, there is a realization that it has to be permanently occupied, whether with work, exercise, scrolling down on social media, education, planned leisure or anything else. Inevitably, we overcrowd our time, just as we do our space, with activities. However, such a tendency to constantly engage can lead to an abundance of creativity, allowing for development in society and increased awareness and self-reflection.