Free Care

#16: Feeling is some of the most dangerous work that we can do

© John Keon

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Ein Gespräch mit ALOK, Autor*in und Performance Künstler*in aus New York, über Transdisziplinarität, das kreative Potential von Schmerz und Verlust und die Stories, die Mode erzählt. .
 Als genderfluide*r Mixed-Media-Artist arbeitet ALOK mit Literatur, Comedy, Performance, Sound Art, Modedesign und Selbstporträts zur Erforschung von Themen wie Gender, Rassismus, Trauma, Zugehörigkeit und menschlicher Existenz.

Am 06.04.2020 um 7:46 Uhr schrieb Jörg Albrecht:
Dear Alok, you are one of the artists of our times with the most playful aesthetics, crossing disciplinary borders by working with text/speech, visual art, fashion, online projects ... How is this transdisciplinary practice related to thematic core of your work, to topics of transnationality, intersubjectivity and transgender?

Am 07.04.2020 um 04:44 Uhr schrieb ALOK:
It was through reading – getting lost/found in books – that I learned that reality is not a fixed pre-discursive system, it is a political aesthetic that gets naturalized and standardized by people with power. Literature taught me both that words create worlds and that many worlds are possible. The dominant world order is not the only one, it is one of infinite possibilities. I was denied power, autonomy, and control in the normative world, so I built my own reality that worked for me. My creative practice was how I felt alive, the rest of the time I was just there. It was more about the energy than the form. I felt – and I needed somewhere to put the feeling. In that way it didn’t matter if I was making music, making visual art, writing poems, putting together an outfit – I didn’t differentiate. They were just extensions of me.
I suppose that there’s something here about my gender. Because I am gender non-conforming and was/am denied access – to the public, to the establishment, to structures of love, kinship, security – I had to do something different with my life. I found ontological security not in subscribing to the mythology of fixedness, but rather surrendering to the chaos of being, its eternal and continual transformations. Not to diminish the struggle that I and other people like me endure (because here – in this space – we can hold simultaneity), but this is one of the joys of being gender non-conforming -- this disarticulation from the body politic afforded me a kind of flexibility to experiment with methods, cross-pollinate among institutions and economies, spread wide across arts, activism, academia, mainstream culture, counterculture, the URL, the IRL. Not having precedent can give one permission to adopt an alternate paradigm.

It strikes me that the boundaries that draw between disciplines have more to do with power than poetry. When I listen to music I see images, when I design clothes I am writing stories, when I take a photo of myself I am speaking. Is it synthesia or is it just, being an artist? If we lead with feeling and are less tethered to form, we create so much more interesting work.

Am 07.04.2020 um 14:12 Uhr schrieb Fiona Dummann:
This is one of the many reasons why I am so attracted to your work: That you're so fearlessly open with and aware of your feelings and their power, their contradictions, their change, thus creating such a strong connection between people. You also speak very openly about the hatred and discrimination you experience and how you deal with it. That you stay so open and vulnerable, despite all of this hate and negativity that is thrown at you, is so incredible and powerful to me.
Is this radical openness with feelings something that becomes easier or harder for you over time (and also as you grow in popularity)?

Am 08.04.20 um 05:39 Uhr schrieb ALOK:
Feeling is some of the most dangerous work that we can do in this world that rewards us for desensitizing ourselves to our pain and the pain of other people. At every level we are encouraged to be autonomous, to be empowered, to be proud, to be sure, to be right. I find that boring and unambitious. These ways of being require enclosure and reinscribe loneliness. If we are right then we don’t need anyone, do we? I’d rather be wrong, broken, confused – because these places lead me to other people, they allow me to receive care.

These times should teach us that the modern individual subject is disintegrating. If we don’t embrace porousness ourselves, it will be thrust upon us. We fear openness, we fear exposing our perforations because we fear pain. When we are porous it’s not a question of if we will be hurt, it’s a question of when and how we will be hurt. But what I have learned is that pain is a fundamental part of life. Pain edifies, pain invites, pain solicits, pain propels. The problem is not the pain, the problem is that we don’t have a world set up where we can actually process the pain.

I had to learn to live with constant pain, constant betrayal, constant loss. Rather than trying to avoid it, I am learning to surrender to it. To sit with it and experience what it’s trying to say. Certainly it can be miserable, but I allow myself to feel it. And write and perform and scream about it. And then – it weighs me down less. In the past I’ve written about this »emotional alchemy« being able to recycle the vitriol and turn it into something beautiful. That »pivot,« of turning crisis into creativity is how I – and so many of the people I admire – are still alive. It is how we have begun to do the work of building care and interdependence with one another. When we are honest about our pain we can help one another. Coalitions can be made.

Yes. As my platform grows it is difficult to be as forthright with my feelings because I have more to lose. That’s why people repress things, right? Because they are afraid of losing something. But I try to bite my tongue and remind myself that some things are worth losing. I’d rather live while dying than die while trying to live. I’d rather be ruthlessly indigestible than palatable. I’d rather have rough edges, dwell in the realm of contradiction, live a life of questions than annihilate my dignity in the pursuit of likability.

Am 08.04.2020 um 09:30 Uhr schrieb Jörg Albrecht:
To me, literature is actually so powerful, as it is able to condense ambivalence – sometimes in one sentence or just one short line of poetry – and thus mirror how ambivalent our lives are. In other words, literature was and is always about creating new myths, legends, narratives, and they are intertwined with the ones we encounter in our so-called reality. In a poem about your Granddad (which deeply touched me and made me dream about my Grandma at night – although, of course, your Granddad and my Grandma, your experience and mine are not connected at all – but through your lines, in a way, they are) you write: »that at the end of his life / i became that which he was for me: / flesh that finally felt as real as fiction«. So here, it all comes together, right?

Am 09.04.2020 um 05:16 Uhr schrieb ALOK:
As I plunge myself back into my poetic practice this national poetry month, I have been reflecting on what it is about literature that keeps drawing me back. Certainly by the logics of the world writ large it’s utterly impractical: I can spend ten hours and only come out with one line. But I’m not that invested in those logics, my art practice compels me to gravitate to another way of interfacing with the world – one informed by abundance, not scarcity. It’s actually in so much of what’s deemed impractical, superfluous, non-essential in these times that I find magic. The magic of literature for me right now is that it is re-teaching me ambivalence (as you astutely observe), also: hesitation, messiness, simultaneity, experimentation, and becoming. These are all affects, modes of engagement, ways of being that are increasingly scarce in the era of algorithms which require us to be absolute, definite, all-knowing in every position, identity, argument, exchange otherwise risk being demolished. It’s exhausting! And in poetry there is rest and recalibration for me, an appreciation of so much of what gets lost when we require smooth edges. I suppose there’s something there, too, about poetry allowing me to relax sovereignty over myself. That at least, for a second, I can submit, be overwhelmed by something greater than me. Yes, writing is a spiritual practice for me. It permits me to surrender.    

© Abhinav Anguria

Am 09.04.2020 um 19:04 schrieb Fiona Dummann:
When looking at your fashion collections and your outfits one can’t deny the artistry of it but I reckon some people might be quick to assume »Oh, it’s so colourful, it’s just so fun« (and of course they are!) and not look any further. As you said in the beginning »When I design clothes I am writing stories« so I would like to know if there spiritual parts or stories of surrendering in your art of fashion as well and if the stories you tell with fashion are different from the ones you write?

Am 10.04.2020 um 04:19 schrieb ALOK:
We’re so inundated with visual culture that few people really take the time to sit with images, to listen to them, to regard what they have to say. I am very intentional with what I design and how I photograph them. Each one of my collections has a theoretical concept behind them, and each piece tells a story. It’s not that the theory dictates the design, it’s more of a dialectical relationship. The design also informs and generates the theory. It’s unfortunate that masculinism dictates that we regard as real and material and fashion is so often not seen as a legitimate mode of political, social, theoretical, and aesthetic engagement – even though it is wearable art that goes wherever we go.

For my first collection I designed clothes that I would want to wear if I wasn’t afraid of being bashed. So many see gender neutral fashion as stripping away something, but I actually see it as liberating fashion. I wanted that first collection to show the delight and the dynamism of dressing beyond the binary. For my second collection I was critical of how my creativity had still been defined in response to violence. Aware of how easy it is to be reactionary, rather than proactive. I wanted to be proactive: experiment more with prints, silhouettes, abstraction. I think so often women and trans people are denied abstraction – we are required to be literal, and explain our existence all of the time. The second collection was about a refusal to explain – an embrace of the peculiar. For the third I wanted to challenge the sexist binary of artifice and authenticity and how it dictates what is seen as »natural« and what is seen as »contrived.« I named each of the pieces after a word that is being used to police trans existence: »biological« »natural« »essential«. I wanted these pieces to be extravagant, my wigs and hair to be completely done up, as an aesthetic argument that this expression is natural. Because people have the ability to define what is natural to them.

Fashion has been one of the most thrilling modes of engagement for me because it’s a quotidian practice of creative resistance. It’s a vehicle that reaches people in a way text cannot. When I walk down the street in five inch heels and a mini skirt, I am saying something without speaking. I am teaching people about gender, race, belonging, trauma, affect, all of it. I wish that was recognized more. I wish that we could appreciate micropolitics more.

Am 15.04.2020 um 11:33 Uhr schrieb Jörg Albrecht:
»You contain multitudes«, you write at one point. So I also regard your work as the struggle of how to deal with these multitudes in a public context. In other words: Your work is about shifting between publicness and intimacy. Yet, this can, of course, be hurtful when people react with hatred. Do you think that there could be something that could make you »retire« from a life in public and a life involved in publishing and retreat to mere privacy?

Am 16.04.2020 um 05:02 Uhr schrieb ALOK:
There have been so many times in my career where I feel defeated, overwhelmed, and want to quit. Usually what eventually bounces me back is I remember that this is exactly what the forces that be want – for me to be extinguished. I come from a long legacy of people who were forcibly put in the margins, shrouded in the shadows. There’s something really important to me about remaining visible and persisting, in light of my community history.
But now that I’ve had more downtime in quarantine to think I’ve realized that my relationship with retreating is so mediated by oppression, and that I should also have my own relationship with it. What I mean is – if I ever choose to live a more quiet, un-visible life it doesn’t have to be about cisheteropatriarchy winning, it can just be about me…choosing to do it. As you can see – my feelings on this (and well, everything) are still a work in progress.

I have to admit part of me is skeptical that privacy is even possible for those of us who are gender non-conforming. We are already visible because the gender binary makes us stand out. So even when I’m just…going to the super market or gardening outside, people are already pointing and staring. In this way I feel like I’ve never really been able to have »privacy« as a static state of being, it’s always punctuated by people infringing on my space because they feel like they own it. I think we’re a long way away from gender non-conforming people being able to integrate into the quiet, right now we are still so spectacularized. 

Der Beitrag wurde ermöglicht durch eine Förderung des Ministeriums für Kultur und Wissenschaft des Landes NRW.