What I am Reading Now…
I was looking forward to springtime this year. Its arrival came after back-to-back projects, at which point I was close to exhaustive collapse and needed a good wash. There’s a certain kind of madness in spending every waking and dreaming hour totally devoted to and obsessed with something only you believe in/know of; dedicating your life to its life. But I think it keeps me sane in a society that is mad. In these labour-intensive periods of solitude – whilst my body and hands dry out and crack – I soothe my brain with audiobooks. Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings was a favourite from last year. Earthlings glitters with darkness… its weirdness pushes at the extremes and horrors of the human condition to the point of creating monsters. Madness begets madness.
Spring brought on that scrub, as well as a slowing down to be cushioned by a big pile of books that have been waiting patiently for me. Right now, I feel like I’m in a moment of unraveling and absorption – thirsty for knowledge, possibilities, futures, and continuously questioning how I want to exist.
In our world of inhospitalities and slippery truths, I find solace, honesty, and alternative ways of being in science fiction, science and ecology. adrienne maree brown’s Emergent Strategy grows from these roots too, entwining them with personal/collective/collaborative thinking, to offer tools for interdependence and to empower ourselves to adapt to a future in flux. A book packed with all sorts – quotes, diaristic notes, interviews, brief science lessons, lists, poems, chatty footnotes, journals to fill out,- it’s like 100+ tabs on her browser have been set to print. Embracing this loose structure, I regularly revisit and dip in and out of it. As I swim around, I always find things that challenge and invigorate my current swirls of thought…
Over the last two years I’ve been thinking deeply about my relationship to art institutions, care, and the nurturing/sustaining of a more ethical practice. This was urged by Black Lives Matter, the pandemic, and the increasing costs and precarity of living/surviving as an artist. Texts by Teresa Cisneros like Document 0, and participating in several workshops hosted by her, have been the backbone to this way of critically thinking, imagining and actioning the ways I want to practice.
“‘how do I as a person of colour navigate a system that is not designed to include me?’ Or better yet ‘how do I break open these institutions that we pay for and that belong to all of us?’”
Document 0 is a sharp tool, one that has helped me carve out and share my own working document. It details how I would like to work with others/institutions to begin a healthy and honest relationship, as well as continuously asking questions to hold myself – and the people and institutions I work with – to account.
“What do you care for and about?”
“What are you doing about white supremacy?”
Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings pierces a nerve. A memoir laid bare in order for Hong to dissect her own internalised anger, questions, humour, contradictions, dark thoughts, and hyper awareness around identity, race, society and class. Focusing on her specific life experiences, Hong explores how society’s perception of Asian American identity shapes the experience of being an Asian American. Although these differ from my own experiences, it feels like I’m listening to a sister. This book finally exists and I’m hungry for more.
Hong also reintroduced me to Dictee by Theresa Hak kyung Cha. I don’t know what Dictee is meant to be, but I think that’s a good thing. I think of it as Cha’s jotter; a codex; an extremely personal document that has been published… yet it firmly holds onto its privateness. Codes are recorded in black words, characters, images, symbols and silences. Large blank spaces float throughout because sometimes there is no language. No explanation. No expression is enough. There is nothing for you to see. My grey pencil scrawlings puncture these voids – my own notes addressing Cha’s silence/my own silence/ancestral silence. Why is there so much noise in silence?
Rae-Yen Song is an artist based in Glasgow. Working expansively through drawing, sculpture, installation, costume, video, sound, performance, family collaboration and any other medium that becomes appropriate, Song’s practice is a long-term exercise in self-mythology as survival tactic. It explores the position of Other within our tangled reality, speaking broadly through fantasy about foreignness, animism, identity, interdependency, and what it means to belong – or not.
Earthlings, Sayaka Murata, narrated by Nancy Wu (Blackstone Publishing, Audible.com release date 2020)
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, adrienne maree brown (AK Press, 2017)
Document 0, Teresa Cisneros (andpublishing.org, 2018)
Document 0 is available to order direct from the author: http://www.agencyforagency.com/
Minor Feelings: A Reckoning on Race and the Asian Condition, Cathy Park Hong (Profile Books, 2020)
Dictee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (University of California Press, 2009)