When we reflect on winter, futures, and events; listenings, readings, and learnings; and the possibility for connections amidst the pandemic
Dear lovely people, wherever and whenever you are,
It’s been a blur of a month, both in the world and personally. This has meant taking some time off of social media and larger communications—a welcome change. The cold season seems like a perfect opportunity for both burrowing inward and reconnecting at smaller scales.
This doesn’t mean there haven’t been things happening, both reflection and action. Over the past several days, I’ve had the privilege to play a role in the Jan van Eyck’s second Urgency Intensive, a multi-day event starting with the establishment of a fictional Intergovernmental Panel on Art and Climate Change (IPACC). This ambitious event uses the Japanese civic planning method of Future Design and the Indigenous “seventh generation” principle to urge current generation of humans to live and work towards the benefit of those 140 years into the future. As moderator for an inspiring panel consisting of Ama Josephine Budge, Julieta Aranda, and Pauliina Feodoroff, we argued from the year 2161 for different ways of knowing, being, and communing needed in 2021. Recordings of the past days’ programs are already online. Today at 2pm CET is the final Assembly, where Present and Future panels meet—please register to take part in the discussion, from any time zone!
Back in 2021, there are also some incredible real-time events taking place right now: for example, Printed Matter’s inaugural Virtual Art Book Fair, which closes on Sunday, 28 February. The fair is usually one of my favorite gatherings of the year, where friends and colleagues from across the world come together to share books, ideas, and a sense of camaraderie. Kudos to the PM team and all of the exhibitors who bring this joyous energy online—who knew books on a website could be this fun?! Printed Matter invited me, Ebony L. Haynes, and Hamza Walker to record curator tours of the fair; in my video, I get excited about titles by Domain, Occasional Papers, Other Forms, Paper Monument, Press Press, Wendy’s Subway, and many, many others. I encourage you to check out PMVABF before it closes (and definitely don’t miss the Arcade section)!
The ways in which communities form online amidst the uncertainty, isolation, and tremendous losses of the pandemic has been an ongoing topic of concern for me. At the start of February, artist Kalaija Mallery joined me to co-organize a special episode of Present! called “A Gathering of Gatherings”, where we reflected on possibilities for online “third places”—spaces between home and work where people from different walks of life intersect. The conversation left me with a lot to think about; it also signaled a moment to press pause on Present!, as we take time to evaluate what’s needed next in organizing communities online. In the meantime, a recording of the event and our generative discussions is available here.
Amidst the winter chill, I’ve also been listening, reading, and learning. One of my favorite new platforms is Prentis Hemphill’s powerful podcast, Finding Our Way. It connects somatics, embodiment, and healing with activism, art, and social justice. The incredible guests in season 1 have included adrienne maree brown, Mia Birdsong, Sonya Renee Taylor, and others. Each episode has taught me new things and created a sense of grounding, so I’m so thrilled to hear through Patreon that public support has helped them to start production on season 2. Something to “listen forward” to soon!
Other books I’ve been thinking about this month include Walter Ong’s classic Orality and Literacy, which explores how the introduction of writing and printing into cultures deforms older modes of storytelling, memory, and cognition. It makes a great companion to Tyson Yunkaporta’s mind-altering Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World, which both explains and performs ways of knowing that are essential to addressing complex, interconnected contemporary problems. In another register, Kim Stanley Robinson’s most recent speculative novel, Ministry for the Future (which arrived on the recommendation of Liz Jensen and Sam Thorne), proposes a near-future intergovernmental agency tasked with representing the rights of future generations. It uses the space of fiction to produce a polyphonic, multi-scalar, politically-essential, and thoroughly engaging thought-experiment: a playbook of prototypes for concrete steps to work against climate catastrophe now.
Yet the book I read this month that has probably made the greatest impression upon me is artist Cassie Thornton’s The Hologram. It’s a speculative and practical proposal for small-scale yet virally-distributed feminist social health-care, based on the mutual aid models of Greek Solidarity Clinics. I had the pleasure of encountering Thornton’s larger project while serving on the advisory board of Eyebeam’s Rapid Response for a Better Digital Future grants last Spring. Like all great books, The Hologram tweaks your ways of thinking and being. One example: in her online workshops at the start of the pandemic, Thornton asked participants to phase out the singular personal pronoun “I” and instead use only “we”. It’s a small yet pointed way to emphasize the interdependencies, interrelations, and entanglements between us all.
Yesterday, we decided to test this out while moderating the Jan van Eyck Urgency Intensive panel set in 2161; it turned out to be a useful way to decenter an assumed, individualistic perspective. We might continue playing with this practice for a while.
P.S. Last month’s experiment with “weak ties” was useful for connecting with both new and old friends. If you’d like to have a quick chat next month, feel free to use this Calendly calendar to find a time!