Rethink Environment Leditor Part II
The triangle: a queer frame whose sacred geometry has been used to convey feminist, gay, and anarchic politics for decades. It is a shape outside the box; A theoretical construction. The pagan representation of the holy trinity of mind, body, and spirit. When considering how to frame a RECAPS Happening in February 2014, it was the first image that came to mind—a mapping of the connections between art, activism, and academic thought. But Rethink Environment Part 1 was a multi-dimensional platform, and thus its framing device cannot be contained to the plane of the representational.
Throughout the course of the Rethink Environment weekend, there was a gravitational pull towards Kathy Garcia’s copper pyramid. It became the shifting center. A structure without walls, it was the site for performance, workshops, and a portal to relaxation amidst the buzz of activity that characterized our time at Human Resources. RECAPS, it bears restating, espouses repetition as a political tactic. We re-read critiques of capitalism rehearsed for generations, dig archives, dust-off forgotten agit-prop. Not surprisingly, the pink triangle keeps being repurposed in our political graphics. But we have never reached as far back into the ancient past as we did with the pyramid. It served as a gentle reminder of deep time for our event to orbit around. It became the physical, spiritual, and conceptual anchoring point.
In aligning the pyramid with the cardinal directions, we evoked a useful metaphor drawn from their symbolic connotations. The cardinal directions have been ascribed a range of geographically and culturally specific meanings. For the purposes of this framework, we will align them with the suites of the Tarot. The East aligns with the elements of swords, channeling the mind and the motion of air, together harnessing the power of intellect to manifest change. The South conjures the energy of wands, the element of fire fueling creative endeavors that makes magic out the material world. The West corresponds with cups, channeling water and the emotional body—the depths of the subconscious. The North, symbolizing the practicality of pentacles, conjures the earth, the physical self, the environments we inhabit.
The programming was motivated by a desire to account for all of these elements and aspects of embodiment. Rethinking the environment cannot be reduced to cerebral practices. Statistics don’t vibrate on the physical and spiritual planes that make thought move. In accounting for these elements, they quickly became non-discrete and queered in ways that highlighted the interconnectedness of the problems and possibilities posed by our current environmental circumstances. For example, the kick-off event about the allocation of water in Israel and the Occupied Territories brought historical and political conflicts home by asking us to engage our bodies through questions about our water consumption. Thinking of not showering or washing dishes was easier for most in the audience than imagining going between checkpoints. The body pulled us out of abstraction.
Just on the first night alone: Maya Gurantz used alchemy and ritual to extract gold from a discarded laptop, the Poppy Collective served homemade sage beer, Christy Berkowitz brought the house to silent awe with her performance of the body in pain, Amy Von Harrington told fortunes in a campsite adorned with Twinkie pillows and a sleeping bag filled with beans, Kathy Garcia led a healing meditation, and Emily Reo played her gorgeous psychedelic synth-pop accompanied by projections of micro-focused representations of nature drawn out to a decelerated trippy tempo.
Academic conferences, exhibitions, and political rallies can easily forget to address the bodies that make up our collective strength. Sitting and passively receiving information, denying the need for nourishment (broadly defined and distinct from comfort), or facing elements without adequate provisions, all have the potential to weaken resolve and foster internal conflict. Based on our experiences in these spheres it became a central part of the programming each day to account for food, space to repose, and embodied practices. Lisa Tucker taught us how to make guerilla yogurt that used corporately patented bacteria to tastily subvert the food industrial complex. We made DIY lip balm. Strangers shared a constant flow of snacks covered by donations at the door. Partygoers ate candy from an ear piñata that asked us to consider the new materiality of the body with its glittery surface marked “lab grown.”
In attending to the body, we opened up new corporal space for resistance. Movement became a tactic for movement making. Brianne Skellie and Nick Duran each led practices that used touch to reconsider the barriers of the body. Both practioners highlighted autonomy and agency in the workshops they led with the aim of re-experiencing our physical porousness. Touch allowed for a re-consideration of self/other. Echoing this sentiment of unexpected yet thoughtful contact, a plaque reading “PLEASE TOUCH / be gentle plants are alive” rested on the pedestals of Adrienne Adar’s Sonic Succulents. Interacting with plants, animals, art objects, and each other through tactile connection was a recurring theme throughout the weekend. This type of physical contact, which institutions constantly police, happened through establishing a shared sense of responsibility for the space and each other.
Teach-ins throughout the weekend that appealed to logic also incorporated the body, and sometimes even the metaphysical. In doing so, it imbued us with more agency to enact transformation. For example, LA Critical Resistance led a workshop on the prison industrial complex in California. Hardly as sweet to swallow as Orange Is the New Black, the statistics and stark illustrations of inhumane treatment cast a palpable feeling of helplessness over the room. After the PowerPoint, the lights went on and there was a mumbling of creaking bodies and depressive banter. Then, collective member Ken Erlich got up and said, “Wait, there is one more component.” He went on to lead a workshop in the style of Theatre of the Oppressed about problem solving without police intervention, recharging the mood in the room to one of play and possibility.
On Sunday, Hillary Mushkin and Flora Kao talked about understanding the militarized landscape through the act of drawing. New aesthetics of landscape emerged, creating alternative routes to move through space as those outlined by surveillance technology. Xiaowei Wang led us outdoors to re-experience Los Angeles through radical cartography. Matias Vieneger asked us to re-think the drone, a seemingly impenetrable technology, through a guided meditation. We were asked to consider how the drone related to our own logic, use of technology, and embodied experience as he flew one around from his iPhone that projected pictures of us onto the back wall. In seeing ourselves in the problem, possibilities for resistance proliferated.
The space we developed provided the architecture for the creativity that emerged throughout the weekend: a pyramid lined with cushions and filled with a rotating collection of crystals, a campsite made with marshmallows, a human-scale paper shopping bag, a tree to meditate upon, a magic mountain, and a well-stocked bar. We collectively addressed the physical, intellectual, and emotional facets of ecology. And it all led us to a need for magic. Magic that is material, produced with the elements of earth and our collective focus. Magic that is not about wishful thinking but about recognizing the alive-ness of what is around us and harnessing that strength for necessary transformation. To borrow Judith Butler’s refrain from her Occupy Wall Street speech, “We demand the impossible.” Occupy the Occult. We demand magic.
This sentiment struck a cord far beyond the spacial and temporal limitations of the weekend, evidenced on a micro-scale by the fact that RECAPS’ most shared article to date is Why Queers Love Astrology by Christopher J. Lee. Lee’s corresponding teach-in at the Happening sparked such a dynamic conversation about identity, knowledge, and discourse that it merited a follow-up piece in this issue. Marty Windhal, or as I like to think of her, The High Priestess of Silver Lake, offers us a response from the perspective of a practitioner. The interview in this issue with Be Here Nowish co-creators provides another point of entry into the zeitgeist of queer spirituality.
In this spirit, #WhyQueersLoveAstrology, it seems necessary to highlight a few cosmic coincidences. The weekend of our Happening was symbolically and astrologically charged, corresponding with a planetary formation known as the Cardinal Cross. And Sunday was 4/20 (which Nikki Darling paid homage to her in spooky-sexy-stoned reading of Pink Trumpet and Purple Prose and Kathy Garcia fueled with her crystal and herbal infused magic chocolate pyramids). And it was Easter. #Rebirth.
It also seems cosmic that Human Resources hosted the Happening. The name reclaims an idea that has been flattened to fit within capitalist paradigms of production. The term is a corporate alibi. In its conception, the Happening aimed to create an environment for art that acknowledged an embodied experience of culture more complex than what institutions have reduced it to. To re-frame it as a human resource.
Connecting the RECAPS community in a physical space was a profoundly generative experience. The environments we often find ourselves congregating in create stale banter in the service of professional, rather than political, networking (as is often the case in the “art world”). Or high school cafeteria drama (“queer” social space), passive listening to “expert” voices (“public” intellectuals), or the rehearsal of the same disembodied critiques that still have the stench of patriarchy (the “new” “left”). To take these spheres outside the realm of the quotational is to insist upon making them multi-dimensional. To make ourselves present in all our complexity as a way to feel pleasure, acknowledge discomfort, and create sustainable change.
So my sweet comrades, until the stars align for us to gather again, an offering: may water fall off the poppy seed bombs we made, may practices evolve based on the skills we shared, and may the self work we facilitated take us to deeper connections with one another and expand exponentially outward.
-Martabel Wasserman, July 2014
Gratitude shout-outs: the RECAPS team, Shoghig, Maura, Leah, Caitlin, Kellie, Vincent, Alexandra, Joey, Kathy, Sarvia , Isabel, Benjy, Tina, Patches, Wassy, Kate and every other single soul who participated.