Written for becoming together freedom school, a publication and ongoing project by Sonia Louise Davis.

Improvisation

Public discourse on racial groups and their relative status generates a field of racial positions [a particular ‘racial geometry’] in a given time and place [...] although the most powerful have the most to say in defining it, this field is continuously negotiated and contested within and among racial groups, both at the elite level and at the level of popular culture and everyday life. — Claire Jean Kim, 106-107.

How do you become you with the people around you? How does the world shape you and how, in turn, do you shape the world? — Toni Hellmann, in conversation, March 20, 2018.

As a child and an immigrant, I remember complex feelings of indignation and shame at my family’s unfamiliarity with the “proper way” to be American. We seemed to never quite look, speak, smell, or act “right”. Years later, I am slowly recognizing that what I have long conceived of as a fundamental lack on my part, a gap or absence, has become a space for imagination and invention. My own creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving skills are rooted in my family’s ability to improvise, to build the bridge as one crosses it. My understanding of how to be an artist and how to be in the world is shaped by this shifting choreography of necessity and uncertainty, observation and action, discomfort and pleasure.

My work is fueled by curiosity, self-reflection, and an ever-present tension between how things are and how they could be — an obsessive, inconsistent, and open-ended project. In my studio practice, I use the language of the provisional, the model, the prototype, and the proposal. My work is primarily concerned with relationships and their dialectical connection to the conditions in which they exist. I seek to understand how capitalism, racism, and sexism inform our encounters at the individual level, and how interpersonal relationships can avoid replicating these oppressive dynamics.

The ways that we relate to each other can constitute processes for producing alternative futures. This does not supplant collective action, activism, and systemic change. However, individual social relations and larger social, economic, and political structures are linked. They affect and contradict each other. It is within those contradictions that different models may arise.

Relationships are improvised. Within our every-day negotiations, we can articulate how we want to live, acknowledge our current limitations, and enact these alternate modes of sharing time, space, and resources. These individual encounters can be exercises to build up competency and muscle-memory, the skills to circumvent (even briefly) the logic of competition, scarcity, and isolation.

Readings:

Ahmed, Sara. Cultural Politics of Emotion. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013. 204-229. Federici, Silvia. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body, and Primitive Accumulation. New York: Autonomedia, 2004.
Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984. 145-179.
Kim, Claire Jean. “The Racial Triangulation of Asian Americans,” Politics and Society 27, no. 1 (1999): 105-138.
Stephen A. Mitchell: Relationality: From Attachment to Intersubjectivity. New York: Psychology Press, 2014.

Watch:
Winograd, Basia (Director/Producer). (2014). Black Psychoanalysts Speak (Documentary). United States.