Our call out for this chapter began with a quote from Gertrude Stein: ‘There is singularly nothing that makes a difference a difference in beginning and in the middle and in ending, except that each generation has something different at which they are all looking.’ Those words, from Composition as Explanation, were published in 1926: a time not yet understood as between two wars, the curve of repetition already looming but visible only in retrospect.
Since that call-out, the COVID-19 pandemic has settled into our lives through experiences of disruption, loss, mismanagement and crisis. After months of physical distancing there is still no sense of how to navigate this situation collectively. “We live in times of rupture and dispossession,” we wrote, before we knew what was coming, “where shifts feel like precarious acts of improvisation.” Those words continue to weigh.
And yet, true to the affirmation that within the word emergency is an invitation to emergence, this time has afforded us a chance to improvise and experiment. Unable to meet in person to present our work as a live event, we also didn’t feel capable of hosting a live event online. Instead, the contributors to this chapter recorded their texts for a listening event, available on Soundcloud (via the Live Art Development Agency) for a week, but with an invitation to artists and audiences to listen together if we could, acknowledging how difficult and different that might be.
This collective listening-in brought its own sense of poignancy, as well as a new avenue of creative thinking, opening up our ears and our minds, as Something Other (and its partner collective, the Department of Feminist Conversations), to search for possible relationships between written and audio texts.
So, here we are, months later, the world turning into a new season of the pandemic. We present audio recordings alongside written texts, and hope these relationships prove searching for you, too.
Caridad Svich’s Memory Tape is a haunting and beautiful monologue that hovers on the edge of the senses, memories of distant touch coiling like a snake through present meditations. Similarly, from Wingman day one and beyond by Karen Christopher plunges the reader/ listener into a whirl of images, encounters, scents, dream-like yet insistent. Christina Lovey’s memories move in a circle along a straight line, recalling the many buildings she’s inhabited along the A10, an old Roman road that slices through London north from the Thames.
Alexandra Baybutt’s Nemejna/ Not to let go remembers conversations that took place – figuratively, and literally – in the former Yuogoslav space. She writes about the social circles we move in, and how our actions and beliefs encircle those we live with. Sabrina Fuller looks back over decades of feminism, recalling groups, desires and actions that surged together and scattered apart; her recording was made over long-distance with family and friends, creating connection even in absence.
Diana Damian Martin writes with and through the bureaucracy of immigration during Covid-19, revealing the circular thinking of institutions and ideologies, with lasting and repeating effects on the lives of individuals. My Fecund Father by Eirini Kartsaki traverses similar cultural and personal territories, exploring the author’s relationship with her father in the context of her own feelings towards ageing, intimacy, and social reproduction. Marianne Habeshaw’s poem Refusing Tea has an acutely personal lens, observing the gestures of independence possible, or not possible, in intimate relationships of care.
Libby Scarlett’s soundpiece New Words is taken from Whatsapp messages that she sent to someone she was in love with. The messages are read backwards and thus transformed, as if time has had a material effect on their potential for meaning. In On Circularity, Mary Paterson lets the objects of the everyday repeat themselves, until they take on new forms. Ben Kulvichit and Nat Norland present a looping conversation over the phone for one voice in Midnight Mass, in which identity trails on unstable ground. And Laurel Jay Carpenter’s Circular Magic: John Court in York explores the experience of a performer witnessing a durational action.
Chris and Xavi Cleverly perform a poem that sinks into the natural order of the world, the cycle of death in springtime. And finally, in SPIRALS, CIRCLES, GALAXIES, Barbara Bridger, Georgia Kalogeropoulou, Hari Marini and Noelia Diaz Vicedo (collaborating as PartSuspended) reflect on six stills from Spirals, a video-poem collaboration filmed in leftover spaces in London, Broadstairs, Barcelona, Belgrade, Coventry and Athens: a work that is as much a reflection on collaboration, the openings up that it brings.