BLOG << Let's Gift Our Labour to Each Other. Ein Gastbeitrag von Chloe Turner.

April 26, 2021

This is a brief summary of a recent lecture "Feel Tank as Method: Why We Can’t Wait Any Longer" given by Chloe Turner at the Centre for Feminist Research, Goldsmiths College UoL on 5 November 2020. Full audio recording of the lecture and extended open-access citation list can be found under this link. Click on Feel Tank: Feminist Burnout for more information about Chloe's workshop at the festival.

"Feel Tanks" (a spin of "think tank") take their name from one cell of a larger group known as the Public Feelings Project which operated from the conviction that "understanding affective investment can be the a starting point for theoretical insight into the workings of capitalism, racism and sexism within power structures" (Cvetkovich, 2012).

Since 2018 I have designed and led fifteen workshops, seminars and lectures that use Feel Tanks as both intellectual enquiry and call-to-arms to ask what it means to live under capitalism in the current moment. In the continuing struggles against global anti- Black, queer/transphobic conservative governance, the ableist political underpinning of government communication and media reporting alike and pandemic "new normal" living, nurturing spaces of care and connection have never felt more pressing. These "Feel Tanks" spaces seek to explicitly link grassroots organising in the feminist, queer/transgender, disabled, Black, POC and GRT communities that have most acutely been affected by recent overlapping emergencies to our present uncertainty.

In these discussion-led workshops I'm interested in holding space for questions such as: How do we reckon with our own increased precarity and its relationship to the precarity of art, activism and academia, and its further spiraling out to the wider global conservative governance, #BlackLivesMatter movement and increasing violence against transgender/ GNC bodies? How do we think about these entangled feelings through a lens of feminist, queer, anti-racist and anti-ableist politics where so much "good" scholarship and activism emerges from sites of negativity and fraught experiences? In what ways could a radical sensibility enable us to both tackle the work that needs to be done and to co-build the pleasures that hold us? How could our communities imagine care structures and strategies to share and redistribute bad feelings and/or re-appropriate them as resistance? How, by engaging in these workshops, expending institutional resources, refusing to invest this time in ‘credited’ research, are we already gesturing to a radical elsewhere?

As everyone in government love to remind us - the past year has been "unprecedented". ...Well no not quite.

As trans* legal theorist Dean Spade states in the first line of his latest book – "the contemporary political moment is defined by emergency" – amidst an already troubling social, political and ecological landscape, 2020 has brought into sharper focus the acute crises of COVID 19 and anti-Black violence. The same conservative governments calling the pandemic the "great equaliser" of society are not only masking the effects being most acutely felt by minority communities (Black, Brown, working class, disabled, queer/trans*/GNC fox) but are utilising means to revoke rights and legal sanctions that were barely protecting these communities prior to this. As Sarah McBride is appointed as the first openly transgender senator in the United States, simultaneously there are worldwide assaults on the legal recognition of transgender individuals, on the right to equal healthcare amidst a pandemic and restrictions of HRT provision for transgender youth. In April 2020 NY Times reported scientists trialling hormone therapies of estrogen and progesterone as possible treatments for cisgender male COVID patients whose death rate is greater than that of cisgender women. Through the unfolding pandemic panic, hormone medication pivots from an "irreversible danger" (Conservative MP Liz Truss, Great Britain) to a potential COVID saviour at breakneck speed. Whereby acting as a startling example of the complex social death of transgender individuals that is enacted by a biopolitical governance which no longer seeks "to foster life or disallow it" but "to foster life by disallowing it" (de Giorgi, xi-xii).

A disallowed reality that is ever present for disabled individuals but has been particularly exacerbated recently. Even though it has been 30 years since the American with Disabilities Act, a 2017 report said that between 60-80 percent of polling places were still considered physically inaccessible. A white ableist reality that is only worsening in the wake of the disposability of vulnerable lives where 60% of COVID deaths have been disabled individuals and the appointment of US Supreme Justice Amy Coney Barrett who has only thinly veiled her opposition to the Affordable Care Act, abortion access and LGBTQIA+ rights.

Its similarly reflected in the economic elitism of politicians asking people globally to socially distance, and the scolding commentary on the predominantly Black and Brown, poor and working classes on crowded buses and tubes because they don’t have the means to "work from home", who perhaps have caring duties for elderly blood or chosen family members across town, who don’t have the financial means to stock up on food for two weeks or the space to store it if they could.

To understand how these violences are stacked against people who occupy multiple margins, as White scholars in particular, we must grasp the interrelations of white supremacy, colonialism and capitalist structuring - all systems built upon exclusion and profit margins. We have watched in 2020, how information slips between and across social, cultural, political and medical narratives with contagious relationality. I could quote Micheal Hardt and Antonio Negri’s work on contagion and viral connectivity here but I don’t want to. Its much more beautifully felt in Saidiya Hartman’s 2019 piece for the Feminist Art Coalition: "the plot of her undoing begins with a hedge fund, a red line, a portfolio, with a monopoly on public resources, with the flows of global capital." If as Alexis Pauline Gumbs remarks "that the prison is an accurate name for our contemporary culture, and prison as culture presumes a certain set of problems and reinforces a dominant reaction in our imaginaries" how do we seek to co-create an otherwise with decarceration logics at its centre? Decarceration here used broadly to centre reducing or eliminating reliance on systems and logics that act to contain or box experience. Or as Jackie Wang so beautifully asks "What counter spell is powerful enough to break the prison’s stranglehold on our imaginations?"

Feel Tanks should centre discussions of unpacking individual and collective exhaustion exacerbated by relentless racist institutions, or the impending brain fog that occurs at immobilising feelings of being stuck in a place you feel no belonging to, how community activist burnout is real and a thing and rife within social organising, why our irritation at academia still doesn’t quite make us walk away because despite being sad, broke and overworked, doing far too much for far too little pay our working class pride chooses to call our sticking power "grit" rather than exploitation. Despite years of calling for broadening access to digital work culture it takes a pandemic for employers and educators to see online working as viable and yet even then it is positioned as less than to in-person forms, how University staff and students breezily speak of "Zoom fatigue" without recognising the inherent privilege of this discomfort. To hold space for all of this entangled stickiness and recognise how these fulcrums of oppression shift depending on every institutional and interpersonal interaction is complex but holds the potential for solidarity buildings structures that are so desperately needed. If as Tourmaline reminds us in the foreword to The Faggots and Their Friends Between Revolutions, that in times of scarcity and need "our best defence is to respond with abundance" (viii), then lets revel in the overspill. Feel Tanks should happen while wearing pyjamas or eating ice cream or cackling with laughter over glitched video screens. If our power is in our excess then I dare you to let it all spill out; the exhaustion, joy, rage, discomfort, disenchantment, jealousy...

Somewhere in the middle of this collapsing of feelings, theory, art and politics into discussions of radical care, institutional failings and queer futures we realise we have gifted our labour and time to each other as we co-created the elsewhere we had all been searching for. Exactly because we can’t wait any longer, we created a form of pleasure in the present that can sustain us another day, another week, another year in academic, artistic or activist spaces that are underfunded and over policed. And so, amidst this care emergency and climate of political, economic and social alienation, we co-design the community we want to heal in. We do it now and we keep doing it, with and for each other, similar to how Avery Gordon – thinking with Toni Cade Bambara - says, "individuals will have to be healed – it can’t wait until later, it can’t be done in a minute, and most importantly, it can’t be done alone."