Editorial: on Emergencies

This is an emergency.

This life, this daily life, is a matter of emergency.

And so is the language we use to navigate it.

But the emergencies felt in life and the emergencies felt in language don’t always have the same cause or effect, and neither do they unfold over time in the same way. Sometimes life is manipulated into a crisis of words. At others, the sense of emergency conflates real and false.

For its Third Chapter, Something Other has gathered a series of works responding to the language of emergency, crisis, battle and threat that hang, heavy as storm clouds, over the political and social fabric. This language is as present in the breathless publicity of the art world as it is in the endless churn of 24-hour news; it has real, deep roots in history and the exaggerated air of fantasy. What it obscures is the difference and similarity of this state of emergency from what has come before – and what might, with work, without panic, emerge to take its place.

Writers and artists who contributed to this chapter were invited to reflect on possibility and disaster, experiences on the cusp of arriving and collapsing, memories that fold the future into the present and weave the past into now. We wanted to flex the language of emergencies, to talk about provocations and potential as much as power. This feels like a chapter that moves and contorts around the subject.

Diana Damian Martin’s A Forensics of Emergencies is a chant of definitions and anti-definitions, which tease at the knotty role of language to bind meaning and let it escape into new forms. Neil Bennun explores the disintegration of language and logic through the descent and decay of the Chinese Weather Satellite Fengyun 1-C. While Karen Christopher uses the language of the links and mouse hovers to reveal a labyrinth of possible meanings beneath apparently simple phrases.

If these writers look at the potential of words to crack open new worlds, Eirini Kartsaki addresses the ways that language limits experience in Good Enough. And Wm. Green’s Ser-ies conjures with the writing of the Futurist Manifesto, noting in particular its antiquated antipathy to women.

Lizzie Lloyd writes the experience of conversation, including all that is gained and all that is lost in translation, and Mary Paterson presents a video-poem on the impossibility of speech. Lucy Cash, meanwhile, describes the role of the public artist to find languages of representation in her reflection on a recent residency at the Nine Elms housing estate in South London.

As well as publishing this work online, we invited all the contributors to perform at our live event Reading the Internet on 27 June 2017, at Peckham Pelican in London, again collecting donations for a charity related to the theme. In this instance we raised money for Arts Emergency, an organisation that supports young people who cannot afford higher education fees to study art (in its widest sense). As part of the performance, Maddy Costa read an address to the future, inspired by the genuine and appalling state of emergency still being experienced by residents of Grenfell Tower, and written as part of an ongoing set of letters to the future published as part of our collective sister project, The Department of Feminist Conversations.

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