Eight months ago, I landed in this city of beehives brimming with lupine beings that laugh with all teeth showing and eyes glittering, gobbling voraciously as they go. I wasn’t sure if I could make this my home. More importantly, I didn’t understand what kind of artist I could be if the very texture of my environment felt like an assault every time I stepped out the door. I was afraid that what came out of my mouth and my hands would taste bitter and salty-metallic with fear. I was afraid I had settled in a place where my words would forever feel small, and my grasping forever desperate.
I write this today looking out of a sunshine flooded window, onto someone’s back lawn, where they have planted cheerful pots of flowers. I can hear birds calling, and the wind playing strings on branches of trees. I cry from joy, as I smell the summer—that sweet, toothsome flavor of a heat-basted burgeoning of life. I am still in the city, yes, but I have replanted myself to a neighborhood that is more suited to me. In the past few weeks, as the weather finally took a turn for the better, I have carved out time for myself to listen to my body, and take care of it. This un-cramping of body and mind is what guides me now as I look to future art making. Over time, I seek to cultivate expansiveness.
At the heart of the ecological discontent we are experiencing in the world, there is a violent disruption of relation. From birth, we are systematically taught to not only alienate ourselves from knowing our relationship to the larger web of life, but to mold the natural within ourselves to fit into an artificial standard. My relationship with my body has been largely punishing, viewing it alternately as an obstacle and a resource to make unlimited demands upon. This is mirrored in our relationships to the rest of our species and the rest of our ecosystem. We are at critical capacity for environmental degradation. We have already irreversibly altered the environment and condemned ourselves to the ecological changes that have and will bring trauma and loss to populations all over the world. At this point, we need massive restructuring, and we need resilience.
I heard a story about the Cuban healthcare system, and within it was an argument for universal healthcare unlike any I’d ever heard. There was no talk of responsibility to citizens, or even justice, or rights. Instead, the governing body felt a need to take care of its people, because they could not afford to lose one individual and the plentitude of gifts they bring to the community. To allow a person to die prematurely, or to diminish their vitality, would be a tragic loss to the whole. There. That deep awareness of connectivity—we need more of that.
So, I seek expansiveness. I seek to shift my consciousness to include all the multitudes of life on earth, to repair my relation to the ecosystem outside my body and the one within. I want to create space for others to do the same by sharing stories, asking questions, and practicing empathy. It is my desire that my work will galvanize those with tools I do not have, those who work in fields where constructing reality is the primary focus, to use their creativity to create structural change. By doing so, I hope that we will collectively move toward systems that better serve those living within them, to lives conducive to life. I do believe, as much as you can believe in all-encompassing ideas, that art is evolution. It is a platform through which we can not only envision future worlds, but also actively build them through our practice.
All this is easy and pretty to say, but exceedingly difficult to practice. Every day, I find infuriating limitations to my capabilities as an individual that momentarily defeat my hope. I attended an event recently, hosted by The Foundry, in a series of dialogues on art and climate change. Aurora Levins Morales, a Puerto Rican Jewish writer and poet, shared a line that heartens me. I can’t recapture her eloquence perfectly, but here is the gist: In our work, we must steer by the stars, while our feet are in the mud. Yes! Most days, the mud is up to our knees, and the realities of work combined with all the things that pull us away from our ideals and our goals are overwhelming. As we muck though, we must turn our gaze up to the stars. We must live in our struggles and daily failures while embracing our ideals. You cannot build what you cannot imagine. To get to where we need to go, we must trudge on, building guides for ourselves out of ideas that transcend current possibility: visions of worlds that do not yet exist.