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Happy Birthday, Marsha!

This is a transcription of ‘Happy Birthday, Marsha!’, a panel discussion with adrienne maree brown, Tourmaline and Evan Ifekoya of Black Obsidian Sound System with Lola Olufemi as the chair. The event, held on the 24th August 2020, was the fourth in Revolution is Not a One Time Event, a programme organised by Che Gossett, Lola Olufemi and Sarah Shin in collaboration with Arika and hosted by Silver Press.

Listen to the audio at NTS.

Lola:

Hello, everyone. thank you for joining us. We want to welcome everyone to the final event in the Revolution Is Not A One Time Event series, grounded in the work of Audre Lorde and organised by myself, Che Gossett and Sarah Shin in collaboration with Arika.

I’m Lola Olufemi, I am a Black feminist writer and researcher from London, and the chair of this event so I'll also be doing the housekeeping. We're going to have the screening [of Tourmaline’s film] first, and then we're going to have a reading from adrienne, and then we're going to have a sound intervention from Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.), and then we'll have a bit of a conversation between all of us. And then we'll have some audience questions at the end which will take about 10 minutes. We’re hoping that this event will run for maybe an hour and 15 minutes.

I just want to say, to kind of open up and begin our discussion, that abolition means the end of the world: an end to prisons, policing, and an end to ideas of criminality and legality. But it is, as Ruth Wilson Gilmore reminds us, about presence and not absence. We already possess the necessary components of the world that we seek to build, and this becomes apparent when we ask questions like how do we keep each other safe? When we strive to keep other safe without involving the police, or the prison system, or any other kind of oppressive forms of social organisation. So it makes sense to start with this idea: what is present? What resources, bonds, spells, what physical and speculative practices have helped us imagine beyond the prison house of the present moment. 

It’s not a coincidence that we gather to ask these questions on the birthday of queer revolutionary, Marsha P. Johnson. In the film Happy Birthday, Marsha!, archival footage shows Marsha telling the story of choosing her own name. She says: “They started calling me Marsha and I liked it so much. I said that’s who I’m going to be.” Queer acts of reclamation like this one, the audacity to make one's self by claiming a name, and much more, remind us that it is also our duty to make this world anew, quickly and playfully, entirely on a whim; abolition is a practice of naming what we want and taking it.

Here to help us think through how we might do this are three incredible speakers:  Tourmaline is an artist and filmmaker whose work includes Mary of Ill Fame, Atlantic Is A Sea of Bones (2017), The Personal Things Lost in the Music (2017), Salacia (2019) and Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2018). She is also an editor of Trap Door (2017), an anthology on trans cultural production published by the New Museum and MIT Press.

adrienne maree brown is the author of Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good (2019), Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (2017) and the co-editor of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements (2015). She is also the co-host of ‘How To Survive The End of the World’ and ‘Octavia’s Parables’ podcast. adrienne is rooted in Detroit. 

The Black Obsidian Sound System (B.O.S.S.) is a London based QTIBIPOC sound system formed in 2018, bringing together 15 individuals who work in radical sound, art and activism. They build upon the rich legacy of sound system culture both locally and across the African diaspora, while making a mark in what has been overwhelmingly a straight, cis male-dominated space. Their work includes renting the system to the community at subsidised rates or for free, technical workshops, live performance events, club nights, art installations, and various creative commissions, including a short film called Collective Hum (2019) for LUX & the ICO. Their primary aim is to provide amplification of the collective struggles within our communities and beyond. So, first of all, we are going to have the screening of Happy Birthday, Marsha! by writer and director Tourmaline. 

[Screening of Happy Birthday, Marsha!]

Lola:

Now, I’m going to hand over to adrienne maree brown, who is going to introduce her work.

adrienne:

How we learned or how we are learning transformative justice:

“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” That’s from Audre Lorde. Finally, we became tired of the slaughter, tired of the taste of each other’s shame. It made us sick, you know. First you hunger for the taste of a stranger, then your enemy, then anyone called a leader, then any small difference will do. Your hands become sharp, and your words become sharp, and the only move available even with beloveds is bloodletting.

What we called justice back then was the death throes of a world view: of divine monarchy, manifest destiny, supremacy. It is dying still, but now we have contained the death within ourselves. Inside in the gardens where we grow our souls, in that soil we are composting the final strains of this disease. When we define ourselves, the result is complexity. We are none of us one thing, neither good nor bad. We are complex surviving organisms. We do appalling things to each other, rooted in trauma. We survive, we learn, we have agency about our next steps. We rise to great kindness, great bravery rooted in lineage and dream.

“If you don’t trust the people, they become untrustworthy” - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching.

We went through the untrustworthy age. It was hundreds and hundreds of years. Not trusting creates good soil for fear, terror. We were terrified of everyone and everything different than us. Our distrust was contagious, palpable. It seemed like everyone died. It seemed like we wept every day. Then we remembered ourselves, remembered that trust is not earned – it’s how we begin. It’s the first thing we do. Learning to trust is returning to beginner’s mind. Returning to our nature. We are meant to need each other.

“We honour our ancestors by thriving” - Dallas Goldtooth.

We realised we didn’t know what we were doing, even the experts. We turned to our personal relationships – our families, our lovers, our closest friend, and we said to each other: “I want justice between us.” We put down our masks and projections, we began speaking to each other only truth. We found a centre within ourselves and began to listen there. We cultivated curiosity. Enough of us were in practice to be able to say the word “community” and mean it, not aesthetically, not based in shared oppression but in our visionary practices of justice rooted in love, in connection. We began to question our own actions: our participation in systems designed around our subjugation. We relinquished judgment rooted in superiority. We shook off individual righteousness as a symptom of supremacy thinking. We were not better than each other, we worked together to generate ways forward. We outgrew the survival technology of politeness in the face of injustice, which had gotten us as far as it could get us – the presidency of nations. It could not get us to liberation, so we adapted. Not all of us could be in one place so we made room for many ways of being. We learned to place our attention where we wanted it. When someone acted against community, instead of flooding them with our attention, we pulled our collective attention away from them while a healer would move in and give attention to that someone’s root system, supporting their wholeness. We learned what forgiveness lets us release, and how to use that time to heal that which feels too painful to forgive. We turned to look back at our traumas, and understand how they shaped us. We created more room for the traumas of other people, for the weight of ancestral trauma. We practised deep patience with each other. We created boundaries around our joy, around our love, around our children. Only offers of love could be felt, seen, heard, inhaled and tasted. We accepted more and more pathways to change as not only legitimate but necessary. “You’re nobody until you’re somebody to a bunch of other somebodies.” – Jimmy Boggs. We surrendered to how deeply we need each other. All of us matter to ourselves, and to each other.

Next, I will be reading an abolition spell I wrote a couple of years ago. If you’re into spell-casting, if you do any kind of witchcraft, you can close your eyes and extend your attention:

All that is light, break bars between teeth, grind bricks down to dust, explode a sun scale life force in each direction until the cages shed like dead skin. Brief steamy night slip through the cracks like rain. Nourish the soil, the parents who cannot hear their children tonight and in the dreams of the babies, let them be held so they know to keep growing. Sun, sun, sun, let them grow up strong, one tree, two trees, forests that break the foundations of slave culture, burst the seams of prison walls, find home beyond the trauma of this night. All that is light, beam in the hearts of partners who would ever let a child – any child – scream in terror where they came for safety. Find the crack in the spirit and fill it with gold. All that is darkness: abolish ICE, abolish slavery, abolish prisons, abolish borders, abolish colonialism. Abolish our addiction to punishing everyone who needs healing. Solstice come, solstice go, solstice come, solstice go.

Next, I’m going to read a radical gratitude spell, because I think gratitude is at the foundation of care and this is a spell that you can cast upon meeting a stranger, a comrade, or a friend working for social or environmental justice and liberation: 

you are a miracle walking
i greet you with wonder
in a world which seeks to own
your joy and your imagination
you have chosen to be free,
every day, as a practice.
i can never know
the struggles you went through to get here,
but i know you have swum upstream
and at times it has been lonely

i want you to know
i honor the choices you made in solitude
and i honor the work you have done to belong
i honor your commitment to that which is larger than yourself
and your journey
to love the particular container of life
that is you

you are enough
your work is enough
you are needed
your work is sacred
you are here
and i am grateful

With my last one, I’m going to offer one from a Black August haiku practice. We do these Black August haikus in solidarity with those who are behind bars on our political behalf. Here’s a poem:

 

Laying in the dark
counting heroes and saviours
praying up farmers

pray up prisoners
who fight fires when healthy
but caught the virus.

Pray up the teachers
forced to watch their dear students
for symptoms and signs.

 

Pray up the nurses
and doctors who toil, tired,
no respite in sight.

 

Pray up the parents
meditating through kid-screams
loving through danger.

Pray up the artists
creating for us, laughter,
dreams, threading forward.

Bless organisers
beaming light and direction
from here to justice.

This is how I sleep
counting gratitude and hearts
beating, surviving.

Aren’t we a wonder
harnessing a tomorrow?
We won’t surrender.

And the last one, another haiku poem: 

Black rest is sacred
time reclaimed, time indulged, time
that is mine alone. 

We need time to cry.
To hold ourselves, each other
in this too-much world.

Laid down in the dark
of your own sweet mystery
and wander, amazed.

Particles of star
waiting to whisper pathways
beam into your black.

Fill up your glass jar,
press down the red dirt, water
and seed your garden.

Dreams may beckon you
smelling of vetiver, sage,
visions live in sleep

humble into deep
slumber like a soul at peace,
let the night hold you.

That’s it. 

Lola:

Thank you so much for such a beautiful reading, adrienne. Now I’m going to pass over to Evan, who has kindly joined us as a representative of the Black Obsidian Sound System, and they’re going to contextualise the sonic intervention that the group has made.

Evan:

So this piece is a collaboration between myself, Evan Ifekoya, and Mellowdramatics, who is also part of Black Obsidian Sound System. We think of this work as a meditative elemental soundscape, and I would add that it draws on the key codes of our name, so Black Obsidian Sound System, and also our process.That’s what I’m going to say. 

[soundscape plays]

Lola:

I really want to say thank you so much Evan and Mellowdramatics for that incredible and meditative piece.

I want to start with this idea that I mentioned at the beginning, when I was introducing all of you, this idea of when we talk about abolition, and when we think about abolition, our eyes are often trained to say, okay, what are our alternatives? If policing doesn’t exist, if prisons don’t exist, what do we do? How do we put away “criminals”? How do we “care for one another”? I want to begin with this idea that we have all the resources we need, or perhaps we have all the resources we need in order to enact these abolitionist futures, and one of those resources, key to those resources, is care. So I wanted to ask all three of you how do you understand radical care as part of the abolitionist project, as a way we might keep each other safe, as a way we might deal with and think through harm, especially in instances of transformative justice, and what is the potential contained in radical approaches to care and community for all of you?

Tourmaline:

I think that your question is the perfect question and it speaks to so much of the beauty of abolitionist history and legacy, which is centring care, care that we could never rely on the state for providing, right? Non-carceral care – carceral care that’s never been care. I think, to me, are the kind of legacies we watched with Happy Birthday, Marsha! – and today is Marsha’s birthday – and Marsha was a service worker and a care worker. She was a service worker, a care worker and a sex worker, and those things weren’t separate. One of the things I want to think about is the care work of the bail fund as part of a history of mutual aid, and Marsha was really instrumental in setting up bails funds for trans, nonbinary, gender non-conforming people of colour here in New York where I’m zooming in from. I’m also thinking about the care work of housing, the care work like STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) House who also had a bail fund. There’s so much involved in Marsha’s care work, and part of it was walking down naked on Christopher Street, like acts of care to really push us to remember who we really are, and remember what it means to take up space as care work. STAR started first in a trailer home, a mobile home on the back of a pick-up truck, and that was part of the legacy of STARs making home really anywhere. Like to bring a Cancer and a Virgo [Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson] together, it’s like a home anywhere and care anywhere. I think about the bail fund and I think about care everywhere, just that richness of care work as part of the abolitionist legacy.

Lola:

Thank you so much for that. Would you like to follow up, adrienne?

adrienne:

I really appreciate, Tourmaline, what you said. To me it is that same thing, like this is the essence of what abolition is longing for, what it is fighting for, is we want to move the carceral system out of the way, the policing out of the way, the tendency towards imprisonment out of the way, so that we can resource ourselves to care for each other. That when those moments happen, when we are causing harm to each other, when those moments happen, we are considered to be having a mental health breakdown, or something like that. Right now, that is something that the police jump into the middle of, and so often instead of receiving care we receive punishment. We are isolated away from community instead of embraced and surrounded by community.

Right now, in the US, you know, this call is for defunding the police, folks are like, “What?” The idea of it is actually so brilliant, because it acknowledges that we have had a huge time to invest in carceral state, and it is not working. We’re not safe, we’re not taking care of each other, we don’t have the abundance of resources and time liberated towards being able to attend to each other. So many of the alternatives are literally you want to be able to move this money over so that we have people who can mediate, and we have people who can come in when someone’s having a breakdown. So that we can have a redistribution of funds so we don’t have such a huge gap between those who have and those who don’t have, which that tension alone creates so much of the harm, and care shouldn’t be a commodity. So all of that framework, all of the conversation about abolition to me is about anti-capitalism, and reclaiming care from the realm of commodity where you’re paying someone to care for you, you’re paying systems to care for you, you pay systems to care for your parent. 

Lola:

Evan, would you like to respond?

Evan:

So much has been covered already, in response to that big question. I think fundamentally the essence for me is what does care look like? I think it has to pivot between the individual and the collective, and I’m thinking what is it that can be offered around that term? I think about care as also being, because I think we talk about care in relation to the redistribution of resources, mutual aid, you know? Our bodies, and our beings and relating to each other in the world, but not so much our spiritual bodies in a way. If I think about the work that we, B.O.S.S., just presented, part of that was trying to tap into our spiritual bodies, and how can the project of care also be one of care and attending to our spiritual bodies? I think in all the works that have come up so far, I think there have been kind of hints towards that, you know? How we do attend to that body, but for me, it’s definitely something I want to zoom in and focus in, and unpack a bit more, because I also think the abolition project is a spiritual project as well. I think it also has to happen on that, or within that realm. That’s all I can add there, really. 

Lola:

Thanks so much for that, Evan. I’m thinking in relation to what everyone has said about a line that really struck me in what adrienne read, which is: “We’re meant to need each other.” I think that that speaks to what the impulse around care is attempting to do in terms of the abolitionist project. I really want to ask two questions, and in thinking through and rethinking care and kinship, I want to ask all of you in the work that you do, and in your various collectives, in the collectives that you’re part of, how can creative practice help us build new forms of kinship outside of this idea of the rigid nuclear family? So outside of this idea that we only belong to a singular kind of compartmentalised unit? And how has working collaboratively shown you that actually kinship can be far greater and much more expansive, and can actually offer us much more when we begin to think about each other as owing one another something, if that makes sense? If we take seriously what we owe to one another, how does that help us think about kinship? adrienne, do you want to start?

adrienne:

So, a few things leap to my mind. Some of you may have known this from me before, but I believe that all the organising we’re doing is actually science fictional behaviour, imaginative behaviour, and I think it is in community that we begin to imagine something other than what we are currently existing in. If we don’t imagine it, we get caught inside of just fighting for what we are told is politically possible right now, today, which is of course not our liberation, because the systems that exist now do not benefit from our liberation. They benefit from us staying inside of them. So, for me, I’m very excited about the relationships I’m in that are creative relationships, and co-creating relationships, where we are in acts of radical imagination on purpose together.

I think that when we think about care, often, we think about our bodies, and I’ve been really bringing it to our minds and imaginations as well, that I think part of my responsibility when I love someone is to make sure that their imagination is intact, to make sure that they can still dream a future for themselves. When I’m working with people who are, or have been incarcerated, are, or have been cancelled, are or have been punished in some way, my job is to help them reconnect to the part that can imagine beyond this moment to what they want to be, what they want to become.

I will also say I think that, in our current world, we are oriented around haves and have-nots, and that goes also along the lines of celebrity. I’ve been thinking about this a lot, the collaboration is the cure for celebrity. So that, as an artist, when you go to create, even if you are moving in a solitary way, that community, moving in community, being accountable to community, co-creating, and co-ambitioning worlds together is one of the ways that you don’t end up isolated and disconnected from the world, which is one of the things that capitalism does to art, is that you’re struggling to succeed, struggling to succeed, and suddenly when you do you’re out of touch, like Kanye!

I don’t know what Kanye’s collective form would look like, but I know for me it helps to create and then be in the Black Organizing for Leadership and Dignity (B.O.L.D.) crew where we are all sharing our haikus of abolition together. It helps to create and then be part of the Emergent Strategy Ideation Institute where we are envisioning how do we practise transformative justice in our communities in real time, and continuously caring for ourselves inside of that. Our bodies, ourselves, our spirits have to be intact, so that we can be in right relationship with each other, that we can’t treat each other or ourselves like trash, and expect to lead anybody else to freedom. So there is a lot that is that connecting, caring for myself, caring for relationship, caring for the space that I co-create with others, and caring for my creativity and our creativity itself. 

Lola:

Thank you so much for that, adrienne. Evan?

Evan:

I mean, well, Black Obsidian Sound System is a material and physical example of that. Its life began as part of an exhibition that I conceived of, and yes, it was something that I had been thinking, imagining, dreaming for a few years prior, and I was in a position where I had access to a set of resources, monetary resources, and I simultaneously saw a need within my community. So yes, as a result of that, you know, as being an artist who works in sound, I’m like, well, why using an existing sound system when actually this could be an opportunity to create one? So the exhibition that was amplified through this sound system that was built with members of the community, and it’s not a work that is exhibited now, so actually it doesn’t really exist as an artwork anymore. It actually now exists as a community resource, and we do exist in multiple spaces, but the thinking was always around de-centring art as an object, and thinking how can art be something that lives with and is for and sustains people?

That project was also one of accountability. For me, as somebody who had an awareness of where I was as an individual artist, and wanting that success, however you want to frame it, being something that actually could support and benefit beyond myself. Also, like adrienne was saying, a desire to de-centre myself as an individual artist, and, yes, also, what it is to be in community, in collaboration, in partnership, and, you know, all the joys and difficulties and challenges that come with that and to be a living, breathing, and existing thing in the world.

I think previously I’ve really identified with the word ‘speculative’, but I now think of my work as “prophetic”, because this project is one that is prophetic. I like to think about that word – words are very important to me – but I think with that word, there is something about taking the dreaming, the thinking, the desire, and actually kind of imbuing it with a power that this will come to be, this will manifest and exist, and, that I have, and we have, the power to will that into being, and that is also really part of the abundance project as well for me. But I’m going to leave that there. 

Lola:

Thank you so much for that, and when you were speaking I was really thinking about something that Gail Lewis said in one of the earlier sessions we had about how sound systems, and sonic reverberations have always been a kind of contested space, and they’ve always been a space where Black people especially have attempted to claim and remake their own experiences, if that makes sense? She was talking about pirate radio, illegal radio, and the history of Black sound in that way.

I am also thinking about how you summed up collectivity so beautifully in terms of this idea of the myth of the singular artist, right? Trying to get to this idea that nothing is made in isolation, and I think that that is really inherently tied to our idea of kinship, or our idea of sharing, or our idea of being, as adrienne said, in the right community with one another. I wanted to also ask you both a question about the imagination. I think of the imagination as an impulse that brings that which does not exist into being, and I think, in both of your work, it is so clear that these futures that we move towards are not only imagined futures, but they’re futures that we begin to usher in by making commands, be they verbal, be they sonic. I wondered if both of you could really expand and attempt to pick apart the relationship between abolition and imagined futures, or imagining, with the imagination? Do you want to start, adrienne?

Adrienne:

Yes, for me, for the lineage that I’m a part of, when I think about where the abolition struggle was necessary, it was in response to slavery. When I think about what slavery wanted me to know, wanted my people to know, wanted my lineage to know, was that we  should be silent and live inside of someone else’s imagination, an imagination where white people were supreme, and men were supreme, and the project of America should be built from the labour of Black bodies. So to me, every single day that I enact my act of imagination, I’m in a radical act of resistance that time travels back, and time travels forward. I think we have to get very good at dis-imagining. I’ve said before that I think imagination can be seen as one of the spoils of colonisation, that there was one imagination that was supposed to outsource and cover the entire world and everything was meant to be the same based on that imagination.

The counter idea is that actually, we are the freest when we are fully in touch with that part of ourselves which knows the world is not done, and that we get to co-create it. I look at the world that I’m a part of on a daily basis and I look at what are my practices that align with my imagination? Octavia Butler, who is my patron saint guide, one of her quotes is: “Belief initiates and guides action or it does nothing.” I think about that all the time, that it’s not enough, especially right now, to say we are abolitionist if it doesn’t actually guide us to be abolitionist with each other. Abolitionists in our relationships, and that means turning that energy, turning that spotlight inward at the same time we turn it outward.

Another one of my mentors Grace Lee Boggs said that we have to transform ourselves to transform the world. And so every time I’m criticising the police, and the cops, the carceral system, criticising that act of imprisonment and isolation, and tearing apart communities in the name of safety, I also look within myself: am I policing others? Am I disregarding their freedom, or am I trying to control or contain, or shrink their freedom in order to make my life somehow more possible and more viable? What does it look like to share space? I don’t know about you all, during the pandemic, it’s been an amazing practice ground because I’m in a contained environment with my partner and my parents who have very different ways that they want to be, and even at this microlevel, am I policing what they want to do in the space versus what I want to do in the space? How do I handle conflict when it arises between us? Am I punishing them with my behaviour, with my energy? Am I punishing them with my words? Am I gossiping? All of those small ways we can start to catch ourselves, and say how do I want to be? Again, not towards perfection, but towards loving kindness, towards care, towards being in an interdependent relationship with each other.

I recognise how much it makes a difference if my energy is right, and if my energy is actually a liberation energy. If I bring that into this space, we all have more room to co-exist, and I think that’s what we are meant to be doing on this planet, is tearing down the bars, tearing down the broken parts, beginning to believe that liberation energy can serve all of us, not just some of us – every single person. And if someone is totally out of align with that, then who are the healers? And how do we activate and multiply the healing energy in the world to meet the amount of trauma that has built up over the centuries of the human experiment? So, yes.

Lola:

Thank you so much for that, adrienne. I want to bring in Tourmaline here, because we have her back. We were just talking about the link between imagination and the abolitionist project, the imagination and the work that you do, and whether you could maybe just talk about for you what radical imagining means, and what it is, and how it informs your kind of practice? I also wanted to ask you about queerness, and the role of queer life in that abolitionist project, because I think when we think about, when we look to examples of communities of care, or infrastructures of care, where the state – of dispossessed people that the state has kind of abandoned, queer life is always that model, in my opinion, because queer people have never relied, or had the luxury of state protection, so they’ve always kept each other alive. Often, I think that is kind of not explored enough or picked up on enough. I would love if you could elaborate on both those points. That was a long preamble. I hope you remember what I said!

Tourmaline:

So, the first part was about imagination, and to me, that has really been central to my practice, and my practice as not separate from my, like, entangled community’s practice, which is to look at a landscape that leaves us asking for more of something, and then imagine what that more could be.

I think a lot about the story of Seneca Village and I made some work about that. Seneca Village for people who don’t know is this place in New York City that was a pretty Black community, that was one of the only places that Black people at a time when slavery was still legal in New York, and throughout the US, could own land, which also meant that some people in that community could vote, and it was a moment in New York City when Black people were regularly kidnapped and sold south. Seneca Village operated and existed as a kind of maroon, or like sanctuary refuge space. To me, for a long time, I used to think about that. Seneca Village was then destroyed by New York City to make way for Central Park which at the time was a park where, like, wealthy white people could go and drive their horse and carriage, and show off their wealth. Later, it became like a nice little cruising spot for some of us!

I used to really just be focused on the part of the story that was about what happened to the loss, the real loss of a space that was so important to Black people at the time, right? A space for imagining freedom. So I would talk a lot about how the city and the state kind of came in and destroyed it, but then I started to think about well, the other side of that wave is that there were people like the person Tiffany, the person William, and the African Society for Mutual Relief. There were people coming together who looked at the landscape that didn’t allow for Black people to have land, and then, in small ways, shifted their beliefs about what was possible. Imagined something that at the time everyone was saying was impossible. And, then aligned with that new imagination, and really let their power go from there.

To me, I think that’s the kind of legacy that I am so deeply indebted to, which is a kind of imagination of looking at a landscape, and allowing us to imagine more, and then moving in the direction of that more. And that more could be like the more story of Marsha and Sylvia [Rivera], the more care that’s not carceral, the more cruising, the more, like, wonderful DMs, the more, like, thirsty photos, the more food, the more our fundraisers are filled. All of it is more, and part of it is the imagination. So, yes, I think to me that is where I’m at with that question.

Lola:

Thank you so much. Evan, do you want to come in on that, and kind of build on what has been said in terms of the imagination? I really like this idea of the prophetic as an extension of the speculative. Maybe you could continue with that one? 

Evan:

What to add, when so much has been brought up? You know, I’m actually thinking, so when I was watching Tourmaline’s film, I wrote down there was a point where some archival footage comes up, and Marsha says: “My computer gets all tangled up.” She’s talking about her mind, and it makes me think about how part of this project is also one of kind of acknowledging that we ourselves are technologies that have been programmed, culturally, socially, ancestrally. So part of our work is one of deprogramming, and deconditioning, to allow a spaciousness to get to that space of manifesting, imagining, prophesising in a way that maybe gets beyond some of the stuff that can kind of get in the way of that. You know, in our traumas, and things like that.

I’m interested in how we do the work of deprogramming and depatterning, and what kind of opens up, and what kind of spaciousness can open up as a result of that? Because, you know, ultimately, what exists in the collective exists in the individual. Anything that we are seeing externally also exists within us internally. I try to take things that show up as an opportunity to think yes, where and how does this exist within me? Yes, so it is a kind of a riffing between the collective and the individual at all times for me.

I just want to come back to the name, and also kind of what was some of the elements of the sound when thinking about Black Obsidian, which is a volcanic material. I’m thinking about what it would mean to be like the volcano. The volcano is something that I think of humans as trying to control, we want to manage, we want to understand, we want to know when it’s going to erupt, but it’s actually kind of near impossible to get precisely the information, but a volcano always knows when it is going to erupt. It has absolute certainty about when that is going to take place, and so, yes, I guess I’m thinking, what would it also mean to this about that as a position? To be like, to embody that energy, that kind of way of working? That kind of internal restoring of balance.

Lola:

Thank you, that was really lovely. I think what connects what all three of you have said is this idea of more, right? This idea of kind of like overflowing, the audacity to claim what it is that you want, or to bring it into being through language, through sounds, through any materials that are available to us, and I think that that is something that is so crucial about the impulse, or tending to the impulse of the imaginative, right? It is what keeps us alive in many ways. It is what keeps us in community with one another, it’s where care comes from also. I think it’s such a shame that unfortunately we don’t have time for audience questions. I feel like this conversation could go on for much longer.

I want to thank each of our incredible, incredible guests for their contributions, and to say that, for me, they were incredibly generative, and I loved listening to them, I loved watching them. Thank you Evan so much, thank you Tourmaline, thank you, adrienne, and hopefully the audience is able to kind of reflect on the things that have been said, especially this impetus for more, especially the impetus for imagining, and not letting our imaginative impulses be deadened by the world we live in. 

I will hand it back over to Che and Sarah who will lead us out, and thank so much, even from me who has been part of the series co-programming, it’s been an honour, and thank you for giving up your time and space to be here with us.

Sarah:

Thank you, Lola, thank you, Evan, thank you, adrienne, thank you, Tourmaline. That was just the most beautiful way that we could close the series. Of course, thank you to everyone, each and every one of you for attending these events, and finally, I just want to say a huge thank you to Lola and Che for being so wonderful to work with, and to collaborate with. It’s been a pleasure, and an honour to create the space with you. 

Che:

Thanks so much, adrienne, Evan, Tourmaline, and Lola. This has been magical. It’s been an honour to collaborate with everybody, and just to echo Sarah, I can’t imagine a better finale to this series. So thanks, everybody.

Transcript Editor: Kitya Mark, September 2020.


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