Archive for June, 2018

Lois Keidan and Cecilia Wee invited me to participate in this past weekends CAPP final conference (after three years of enquiry, cocreating, meetings, and organisational ‘play’) in Dublin. I had never been, know some people from there, now I know why I like them. This is (mostly) what I said on a panel with Barby and Sarah, chaired by Cecilia (thanks all!).

Privilege is a structure of power that affects radical collaborative art in all its processes. For the past three years I have been working with Lada to engage in action research around the role of privilege in Live art practices; more recently, I have also become involved in a project around ‘Managing’ Radical Artistic Labor that will form Lada’s next RRR. Through collectively exploring questions of privilege and labor, race and emancipation, and bodies queering within and against neoliberalism, with artists and communities, Lada has created new forms of commoning research.

In what follows, I want to ask: In what sense is privilege a question of actual (and potential) organisation? And what does a certain Right to Performance do to privilege, rights, and organisation? To privilege the oppressed, as the Boff brothers in Latin America’s liberation theology movement suggested, is merely to take consistently a preferential option for the poor, the subaltern, the marginal, the refugee, or the neurodiverse. In some contexts, this kind of privilege is bestowed by those in relative power themselves, a kind of sympathy as control or civic integration. It is a controlled redistribution of privilege by those with enough of it to shed.

 

Now, what of this power itself? Is there a right that exerts itself before the power of privilege? Privilege always comes to norm the democratic intuition of resistance, as when certain rights are granted to sans papier, migrants, and refugees. This is the synthetic domain of the excentric circular flow of capital. The question of power in what the Impossible Glossary has called the ‘new aesthetic’ is indissoluble from two twinned realities: the memory and emergence of autonomous commons (and so power as psychic and collective capacity); and, second, the neoliberal measure of the world (thus power as abstract diagram of control). (While the IG only momentarily touches on this, being much more central to CAPP’s recent Learning in Public I think—we can see how race might be relevant to a conversation linking autonomous commons to neoliberal measure.)

 

Within and against capital, as the Italian autonomist Mario Tronti once put it, within and against neoliberal control, radical forms of collective enunciation and machinic assemblages have become strategic foci of contemporary radical art practice. My sense is that these resistant collective formations, prior to neoliberal control and its regimes of rights, are constructing what I am calling a Right to Performance. Is there a Right to Performance that precedes everyday life? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. In the sense that I mean it, a Right to Performance would engage the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political.

 

This Right to Performance is an important part of what LADA affirms through its collaborative practices: a right to refuse, express, or mark the multiplicity of force relations, identities, or desiring production constituting our lives. This Right to Performance will have been actualized in singular events throughout an always already queer world, in intuited, stylised, spontaneous or habituated actions of actual and potential bodies.

First, is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and recognized rights such as the Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The common resources that LADA co-creates with artists and communities are mechanisms of such a critical synthesis. Second, can we believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through different pornographies of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates (and inherited from colonial and imperialist formations of white supremacy); that these acts of authenticating pain become ideological justification for violent imperialist interventions the world over is something we have seen again and again.

 

So we should avoid a naive spontaneism in any cry of ‘Right to Performance Now!’ As I noted at the start, if we can say that radical collaborative art practice happens always within and against capital today, we should recognize that to be within capital is already quite a lot. Over the past thirty years what we have seen is the emergence of an increasingly securitized technological regime of measure that has completely transformed (but differentially!) work and spacetime all over the world; the work of creative production or value added is now increasingly seen as central to all types of neoliberal labor. The corporate fetish for ‘Disruptive Innovation’ is nothing other than this: the capture, or what Massumi calls, the gridding of creativity as entrepreneurial disruption. The contemporary rights regime has emerged within this global system. So in this context the performance of collective enunciations has come to mean ever accelerating Twitter or Facebook feeds and that machinic assemblages can be composed in an App store. [I of course don’t mean to suggest that technology is the central problem to be overcome in this dismal history of control societies—nor do I think it is merely about how humans use technology.

 

Rather, following Gilbert Simondon and Muriel Combes, I would suggest we think of the co-evolution of technology and human labor.] In this world of glowing boxes and neuromarketing, the question of privilege in radical art practice today returns us to the types of power that give access, or grant privilege. In other words, who has access to a Right to Performance? In the Black radical tradition critically affirmed in Fred Moten’s varied work, perform is what the Black body was violently made to do under different necroplantation and media economies. So whiteness has always authorised a certain ‘command performance’. Race in this framework would be a key element in the archealogy of privilege in radical arts practices the world over, an archealogy that would bring various intersections of thought and practice together in a new synthesis of an emancipatory aesthetics of solidarity. More, we see how the concept of social capital—this can be anything from one’s cultural heritage to the schools your family attended (first systematically studied by Pierre Bourdieu)–has come to enter into the policy prescriptions of the creative industries (it’s central to the arts and cultural strategy in UK HEIs, for instance).

 

Who has social capital in the creative industries, and can this question be the basis of a new ethics of anti-privilege in art organisations? First, we see that before the question of rights is ethics: what ethical practice within arts organisations and between soletraders would create ‘resilient’ cultures of anti-privilege? Privilege is brought to crisis through such ethics of organisation. Second, how does one common social capital? Or is social capital uncommonable? We would have to say that there are gradients of social capital in relationship to contemporary radical collaborative art practice: there is the gradient, for instance, of radicality itself—the more radical the practice in certain contexts the more social capital; there is the gradient of time—collaborative art that is very now and impactful, to live art that has consistently been ten years ahead of its time, and so rendering its impact immeasurable; and then there is the gradient of connectivity—networked connectivity as an accumulation of social capital has increasingly become central to contemporary creative industries over the past ten years. In sum, privilege is connected to gradients of power within different assemblages and ecologies.

 

So the question of privilege in this context is still the old question of access and gatekeepers: who has access to a certain Right to Performance? (see: https://mediaecologiesresonate.wordpress.com/2018/06/14/a-right-to-performance-an-open-enquiry/) Possibly this question can allow another construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of and to struggle. If contemporary performance studies (see Foucault and Agamben, Butler, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough) has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are experienced in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of durational processes.

 

The social turn in art referenced often this past weekend at CAPP’s final event in Dublin this past weekend (see here). has created practical solidarities with institutional misfits, the neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, but still within and against neoliberal austerity–this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this cliched image of resistance by deterritorialising the system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

Who has access to Rights?

Who decides?

Does collaborative live art expand the autonomous range of art itself so that autonomy and emancipation become parts of a contagion of resistance through different communities of co-producers, co-performers—within and against the neoliberal regime of rights?

Isn’t this where the question of privilege and rights becomes fully ontological, or fully processual? That the production of art is about the re-production of its labor (the embodied minds of artists), and social reproduction is about care, rights regimes, and logistics, and so what it means to co-produce radical art in collaborative and live art contexts must engage the capacities and social capital of care networks, cutting across public and private enclosures, and digital and analogue activism across the globe (see Learning in Public: TransEuropean Collaborations in Socialy Engaged Art, 46 onward). Of course, as the brilliant entries in the Impossible Glossary (see: http://www.hablarenarte.com/en/proyecto/id/capp-impossible-glossary) highlight consistently, what remains, indeed returns, to haunt and challenge radical art practice is precisely the radical tradition of the Right to the commons not only in Europe but throughout the world.

 

What Sarah’s work further shows I think is that these informal networks of care emerging under conditions of extreme neoliberal austerity can be strategically integrated into the processes and performances of collaborative radical art. This strikes me as one of the profound propositions of her practice. Barby Asante’s long history in Black collaborative arts practice and education poses another question: what does radical emancipation do to the problem of privilege?

 

To digress slightly: I have recently returned from five months in India where the strong historical links and the conversation between Dalit emancipatory politics and the Black Radical Tradition has taken on a renewed urgency in different parts of the country. So the question of caste and racial privilege as it has historically been related and divergent is very important to me right now. Barby’s brilliant analysis of diasporic African cultural dynamics attends to the privilege attached to different discourses of abolition and slavery, and within the notion of postblackness in the British art world. In linking it to contemporary practices of the biopolitical control of migrants and refugees, Asante creates conditions where different kinds of solidarity can emerge.

Barby has for some time been co-creating socially engaged projects collaborating for instance with young people living in Nottingham as coresearchers of an interactive online map. Developing a collective vision of the city’s hidden connections, and unconventional centres of local knowledge about art and culture, Barby integrates action research into her collaborative practice. In Barby and Sarah’s practices emancipation becomes an active problem throughout all the organisational processes of radical collborative art. More, something happens to embodiment and habit in and through the processes and events of collaborative radical art, such as Live Art, that allows us to broaden our notion of emancipation beyond the neoliberal regime of rights. Emancipation becomes a kind of contagion in these socially engaged practices.

 

In Sarah’s work on the neoliberal edufactory in which we find ourselves precarious, through a becoming octopus she suggests ways in which an exit from the regimes of measure and control is a profoundly molecular and political project at once; and Report to an Academy’s workshop and film articulated, shared and re-imagined “bodily experiences of work within institutions of knowledge production” (http://www.sarahbrowne.info/news/report-to-an-academy-at-marabouparken/) bringing to the fore questions of embodied habit (crucial for training neoliberal labor) that I have been suggesting needs more attention, specific consideration. Sarah’s art touches on our very embodied habituations: the ecologies of sensation, affect, and care with and against neoliberal art education. In much of the work collected together in the Impossible Glossary this sense of the dire straights for resistance and radical practices to resonate, to become contagious, is echoed.

 

There is a deep pessimism here, I think, and one that I share. The conditions of solidarity are weaker today throughout Europe, North America, and South Asia—to limit it to contexts I know—than they were thirty years ago, as pernicious forms of precarity and fascist populisms eat away at our collective capacities and imaginaries for commoning what has been stolen, while our ability to communicate effectively, radically, and together is captured as marketing data. Oddly, as private universities proliferate throughout India, students are finding that there are less and less places to study… Privilege reposes the question of power from the prism of transnnational intersectionality or positionality within a broad framework of cultural and historical and nonrepresentational materialism. Sarah’s collaborative workshops as part of the Report and Barby’s co-archiving Black music on vinyl with young people in Peckham seem very different forms of collaborative practice. How does the question of difference and privilege cut across both practices? Returning to the question of commoning, both live artists work through processes that develop their situated practice, developing networks of young people or creatives, commoning resources and developing communities of conviviality.

As a refusal of neoliberal measure, Sarah’s work poses an allied question to Barby’s practice, a practice through which Barby uncovers both the fissures and historical continuities in Blackness and everyday life. These practices proceed through this affirmation of making common, and making in common.

 

Responding to the Prompts: How does your practice respond to the ways that we advocate for, contextualize, and problematize human rights today?

My practice is focused on collaborative research into ecological action. This means that the question of rights is secondary to the question of ecologies of solidarity; usually as I noted here (https://mediaecologiesresonate.wordpress.com/2018/06/14/a-right-to-performance-an-open-enquiry/) rights have mystified the relations of force of the capitalist state the world over. We need only point to the stark example of places that deny certain classes, sexualities, castes, races of the very right to rights. But again as with neoliberalism we are within and against rights-based practices. The point is not only to expand rights, but to change the regime of law and legitimacy that gives the nation-state specific political economic values. In that regard, rights are merely a tactic in broader organisational strategies ultimately legitimized by the nation-state. If a lot of what radical art practice is doing is questioning the limitations of human ecologies, calling for a radical departure from the andocentrism and Eurocentrism of Western rationalism, my question is can there be a non-human-centric right to performance today? Why would this be an important question? My intuition here is that such questions could usefully shape how collaborative performance can have material and long-term effect in relation to the lived and built environments of its co-creators.

 

How has your work as individual artists/cultural thinkers been effected by institutional approaches to representation?

I have been involved in diversity initiatives at all the universities I have taught at since 1995. The enclosure of multiculturalism is based on notions of ‘representative’ or authentic identity that precisely try to suture the fissures that Barby’s work puts into conversation, and that Sarah’s practice makes visible as well. In that sense, we should pose the prior question: where did these institutional approaches to ‘diverse’ representation come from? They came from the resistance of social movements, sometimes limited to campuses of HEIs, sometimes tied directly to a broader formal civil rights movement, and lived in the everyday violence of societies structured in dominance. So that history is what is being institutionalised, i.e. captured in these organisational strategies of managing diversity by administering art, or administering diversity and managing art. What types of challenges and changes need to take place within the arts, thinking of the objects, subjects and locations of representation? Today, identity matters in a way that highlights several things at once: we live in a technologized ecology in which public and private can no longer be contained within stable borders; identity is immediately tied to power, without mediation, but susceptible to its controls; ecologies of identity are always also nonhuman, and so co-evolving with their relations. Rights discourses must come to terms with the anthropocene in a more radical way. But then maybe we need something other than rights?

What needs to happen to the arts in the face of this management of diversity through the administration of the arts—the on-going revolution of self-organisation in radical art, one that LADA is part of and has taken a prominent role in, needs to be affirmed from organisational practices (supervision, management, innovation, marketing communications, programming, etc) through to Board of Trustee approved risk assessments. So what I’ve learned at LADA and my time at Phakama is that the question of social impact, diversity, and self-evaluation must be part of on-going collaborations that sustain the resilience of the ecologies of the organising forces. Key here is to think intensively and strategically of the capacities involved in these organisational processes both in each person and of the ecologies mobilized in each collaboration. Psychic and collective transindividuation, or revolutionary becoming is still a really good idea. It is a common notion: a notion common to two or more multiplicities.

 

From your experiences, how are dynamics of power held between participants?

Especially given different types of knowledge and experience?

This is one of the important lessons I learned in reading the Impossible Glossary, that participation and collaboration are ontologically, that is qualitatively different processes. But of course there are dynamics of power in both participatory and collaborative practices.

 

This can be handled in better or worse ways, and this depends on several factors: 1. An ethical acknowledgement of unequal power relations and their entwined histories within and beyond the organisation/creative assemblage; 2. The politics of attention on the Board of Trustee; 3. The democratic and transparent actualisation of the (ethical) mission of the organisation; 4. The de-fetishisation of ‘expert regimes’ and the binary between intellectual and manual labor. Here the Right to Performance becomes a kind of critical tool in which management, organisational behavior and artistic labor are understood in their performative dimensions, so that they are denaturalised and defetishised in the affirmation of everyone’s equal access to a Right of Performance. This can subvert bullying in the workplace. Finally, I would say that these four areas of practice and organisational behaviour—ethics/power; activist board; mission/organisation; and expert regimes—all these overlapping areas would need to be worked on simultaneously for the question of privilege and power dynamics to be an opportunity rather than a threat to radical arts practice.

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The Library of Performing Rights expresses a radical politics in both space and method. The physical space of the Study Room within which an unprecedented archive of performance and live art has bodied forth different collective assemblages, different kinds of expression of the performance of rights (the right to rights, the right to expression, the right to solidarity, the right to art…the Right to Performance?)

In terms of method, as a concept or approach to research and practice, rather than a distinct collection, the Library of Performing Rights is nothing less than an affective experimentation in practices of archiving live art, and an organisational ethics of becoming collective. “It is available as a place of action, a place of knowledge exchange, a repository of experience, and a context that others can use to support and advance their own work both at LADA and elsewhere.” This method, in other words, repeats with innumerable differences the practice of ‘performance’ and the practice of ‘human rights.’

Is there a Right to Performance? As much as there is a certain performance of rights in everyday life, in law, and in society, all rights must be performed to be actual. But a right to Performance would find another vector in the body’s capacity to affect politics and to sense the political. This Right to Performance would constitute a kind of parallel project of the LofPR: a right to mark, through the intuited, stylised or spontaneous or habituated actions of the bod, a certain right to resist. Is the Right to Performance a timeless right? A universal human right? Certainly, this in some sense ‘new’ Right to Performance and the older Right to Movement enshrined in Article 21 of the UDHR would need a rigorous and critical synthesis in order for a new articulation or assemblage between rights, art, and the habituated body to substantively emerge. The resources of the study room are the proper conditions for such a critical synthesis.

But can we even believe in Rights anymore today, after Trump, after Wilders (Netherlands), After Modi (India), Netanyahu (Israel), and the rest of today’s Populist Thieves of the Commons. These masculinised politics proceed through different kinds of performance; one of the most important is the performance of a Rule of Sympathy through the pornography of pain that contemporary universal human rights discourse authorises and authenticates; that these acts of authenticating pain are precursors for violent imperialist interventions the world over is also something we now know all too painfully.

Is there something (un)Timely in the Library of Performing Rights? Something that is necessary just now, just in this way, in this expression of an urgent Yes! And an insistent, No! …but something that runs counter to our time, against it, and in solidarity with, for the benefit of a time to come? A vector of an indiscernible becoming In the performance of any right whatsoever, and in the right to performance first and foremost? Rather, what Aram’s moving piece “The Work of a Mother” shows is that the will to the Universal, which is what Rights discourse is always based in, is at best a heuristic, a stepping stone, toward another practice. This Other practice would work at the intersections of solidarities as her ethical and aesthetic practice suggests.

The Library of Performing Rights then would perhaps be another way into the construction of a new discourse and embodied affect of human rights today, a practice situated in relations of struggle. If contemporary performance studies after Foucault and Agamben, Moten and Harney, Butler, Spivak, Spillers, Puar, Davis, Povinelli, Halberstam, and Clough, has shifted the notion of human rights from mere social constructs to how they are lived in the psyches, ecologies, assemblages, and bodies (these are not ‘separate’ things) of those who find themselves misfits, neuro-diverse, ‘minoritized’, post-de-humanized detritus, subaltern hackers, fugitive and unreclaimed, this other discourse and affect would refuse the romantic humanism in this image of resistance, and so then diagram the ethical system of complicity relating capital and the nation-state to the performance of any right whatsoever, and specifically to the performance of Human Rights today.

This explicit marking of systems of complicity, turning the tools of domination into the conditions of a repurposed emancipation, seems to my mind missing from a lot of contemporary identity work in the arts. This is an important place to begin a conversation. I have done fieldwork in a place called Chor Bazaar, where Dalit men expose their unprotected hands to harsh chemicals in the process of “stressing” jeans down to a murderous chic–all to be exported to the Global north. Thus, part of the system of complicity (as is noted in Aram’s Work of a Mother), running through the practices of the garment industry in California, Chicago and Mumbai links race, gender, and labour exploitation to an international supply chain of disposable clothing the world over.

So how does the The Official Unofficial Voting Station that Aram Han Sifuentes has created relate to what I have been constructing in terms of the Right to Performance, and the Performance of Rights?

The installation is itself a performance of a Right desired and denied–the right to vote and/or the right to (self)representation. In its performative repetition of the tragedy of contemporary Fortress Europe/Trumpeted (un)democracy, the Official Unofficial Voting Station stages in a kind of farcical and critical way the paradoxical and agonistic relation of organisations of resistance (e.g. LADA, independent arts practices, radical activist assemblages) to institutions that would grant access to or deny a Right to Performance. As I suggested above, for me what remains ethically crucial in performance practices that take rights as method and target is that the relations of complicity be explicitly marked; the correlation, even syllogism among rights, performance, and the individualised property-owning citizen of the capitalist nation-state. Thus, when we appeal to the language of rights especially in radical contexts such as LADA, the paradox of the ground, or guarantor of rights becomes legible: is it the commons or the bourgeois nation-state that grounds a radical assertion of rights, eg the Right to the City, to the World or even to Performance? In heterogeneous live art practices, such as the Official Unofficial Voting Station, the role of the white capitalist state becomes (re)markable in ecologies of both universal rights and singular performances.

The recent refugee “crisis” affecting nation-states across Europe has a history rooted in Imperialism + UN Human Rights + Racism + Islamophobia + neoliberalism. Rights discourse, in this regard, is part of the problem, but not necessarily part of its solution. In resonance, Nevins shifts the contemporary conversations on rights and justice by arguing for a “Right to the World” (2017) which would expand rights both as entitlements and sites of struggle: “the right to the world is particularly concerned with freedom of mobility across global space and with a just, sustainable share of the planet’s resources for all” (2017: 1351). While acknowledging that many heroic acts of solidarity and mercy have been performed across Europe daily by white Europeans, Nevins also insists that “the thousands of migrant deaths on Europe’s periphery in recent years—among other manifestations of violence—suggest that there is a crisis of a different nature that is paramount: not what Europe is experiencing, but, among other things, what the migrants have had to endure in trying to reach and pass through the continent. As reports, news articles and media images have made clear, the upsurge in irregular migration both manifests and has resulted in great amounts of human suffering among those fleeing their homelands…the dominant response on the part of the European Union, national elites, and the West and prosperous countries broadly, has defaulted to the bounded, exclusionary logic of nation-states via a strengthening of the boundary and immigration policing apparatus….Regardless, migrants continue to move and to challenge the putative right of nation-states to regulate their boundaries and the human content (in terms of non-citizens or “foreigners”) of the territories they claim. And in a world of growing inequality, persistent violence (of multiple sorts), and increasing ecological instability, there is little doubt that migration by those living on the global margins of stability and wellbeing will continue to attempt to move, climate and environmental refugees being one example” (Joseph Nevins, (2017) The Right to the World, Antipode Vol. 49 No. 5 2017 ISSN 0066-4812, pp. 1349–1367, 1350)

For Nevins, and many others, there is something fundamentally wrong if one embraces human rights. “After all, given high levels of physical, direct violence, environmental depri- vation, and profound socio-economic insecurity that plague many countries (violence, deprivation and instability in which the world’s most powerful nation- states are often implicated), the realization of human rights often requires the ability to go to spaces where the necessary resources are located. These sorts of inequal- ities and restrictions likely compelled Hannah Arendt to speak of the “right to have rights”. If having human rights is part of being human, denying people freedom of movement and residence—and thus the effective ability to access a host of other rights—is to essentially deny their humanity…” Similar arguments have been made from the perspective of postcolonial struggles and queer homonormativity. This right to have rights is reflected in the multiplicity of causes presented to Aram when she would ask her parents why they emigrated from Korea to the United States:

Their ambivalent answers, tinged with both sadness and hope, suggest to me the many ways in which human rights have become a set of predominantly nation-centric practices and discourses that work to “discipline human bodies in ways that contain them within national territories” (Nevins, 2017: 1353-1354).

Aram’s work links specific struggles through a practice of transnational, intersectional, and artistic solidarity. Her work explicitly politicises by relating sites that would otherwise remain mere monads, economic anamolies for a post liberal capitalism that can write these subaltern and postcolonial sites of struggle off as fodder for corporate social responsibility initiatives and neoliberalism’s externalities. Her work speaks to those who have not yet arrived, to those who are outside, those who may need or would like the right to move to “the city of Universal Rights”. In other words, her work allows us to understand the politics of mobility between place through a notion of place as processual, heterogeneous, and unbounded in that a place acts upon, and is acted upon by, other places (Levins, 2017: 1356).

In,

The Official Unofficial Voting Station: Voting for All Who Legally Can’t

Aram notes that there are “91 million people in the United States and its territories who cannot legally vote. This includes: youth under 18, non-citizens, incarcerated, ex-felons, residents of US territories, and people without state IDs. This means that 1 in every 3 people cannot legally vote. 1 in 10 people 18 years old and over cannot legally vote.” This is important from the perspective of the Right to Performance that I argued for above: even prior to the right to vote, political expression is itself and must itself be performed.

As Aram’s Official Unofficial Voting Stations make clear, this performance of the right to vote is especially ironic from the perspective of the undocumented, the discontented and the disenfranchised. No easy Universalism here: “Each station is different. They range from taking ballots into prisons to museum installations to performative events.”

In a Mother’s Work, Aram writes movingly, “My mother and I both sew as a profession but our worlds are vastly different. I constantly question our differences: What is the difference from an artist who sews to reference immigrant labor versus an immigrant laborer who sews as work? I think a lot about our differences in relation to time, economy, access, agency, and the value of our work and labor…Grace Kwungwon Hong in her book The Ruptures of American Capital: Women of Color Feminism and The Culture of Immigrant Labor, breaks down the episteme of domestic space and women’s work as privileged white spaces that are exclusionary spaces, particularly for immigrant women of color. She starts the conversation with the question of who has access to privatized domesticity and who are these possessive individuals? How can we broadly apply concepts of this fantasized domesticity when women of color historically do not have access to private property and have been dispossessed? Or when women like my mother, are absent from the home because she is working twelve plus hour days, and when she is home, she’s sewing other people’s clothing? How does the notion of women’s work apply to my mother when domestic space is built upon it being a private space outside of the surveillance of capitalism, when work for capital and industry enters, contaminates, and infects the home? When the entire family that lives in this supposedly private space has to also participate in sewing other people’s clothing to make money?” In “A Mother’s Work” Aram touches upon what I take to be one of the central projects of both feminism and Marxism: the critique and practical overthrow of contemporary regimes of social reproduction in vastly different but directly or indirectly linked contexts; she shows that the twined circuits of capitalist logistics and ideologies of white supremacy necessitated that women of color literally and creatively develop ‘hacking ecologies’ of social reproduction that were by and large outside of capitalist social relations. There is a lot to say about this, and many many feminist and postcolonial scholars have unpacked the politics and the experimented with the method of this praxis of a postcapitalist social reproduction. I will instead leave you with an ambivalent but insistent image:

“We’d sit in the living room after dinner and watch TV as my mom would work on her alterations. Spending time with my mother meant sitting and sewing with her, so we would all contribute by ripping seams, ripping out bad zippers, sewing on buttons, and mending rips and holes of other people’s clothes. This is where I learned to sew. And it is here, from the beginning, where sewing became political for me and linked to my identity. And I will always see sewing from this place, inside this living room, sewing with my family to make a living as immigrants in this country.”

What Right is being Performed even in its denial? What performance would actualise this right?