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IF WE STOP: Introduction

Updated: Aug 25, 2020

An Introduction: I’m delighted to introduce you to Zahra Dalilah, Katrina Niebergal and Julie Tomlin, the three correspondents I have invited to report and respond, as part of Call Centre.

We met online last week and I’ve transcribed the bulk of this conversation below. This was an opportunity for each of the correspondents to introduce themselves whilst discussing initial thoughts, actions and concerns regarding the project.

Katrina Niebergal

I’m Katrina, I’m a visual artist, I’m Canadian and I live in the Netherlands. I’m trying to stay here and I’m currently in the middle of a permanent residency application. I work mostly in installation, sculpture, video, writing and I’ve made a couple of books. I’ve been involved in artist run initiatives and now run a space, The Pole, out of my home in Den Haag.

How I met Andrew?

I guess it was in the early spring last year when Andrew and I met when he was passing through town. A friend of his runs this space in Rotterdam and I went as a few friends of mine were performing. I was finishing up my master’s degree thesis at the time and Andrew and I had a very quick chat about it. Afterwards Andrew got in touch and we ended up having an email correspondence, discussing and passing all sorts of things back and forth. We’ve remained in contact and around quarantine we started to have phone calls, then the invitation for this project came.

Julie Tomlin

In terms of what I do, I write, and I also work for an organisation called SHED, but I spend a lot of my time trying to get away from the computer. During lockdown I’ve been fortunate to have access to a garden and a few acres, so I’ve been experimenting with things I haven’t done before like straw bale building and permaculture. I don’t really know where it is all going but I’m just having experiences. I’ve been studying herbalism, and just trying to find different ways of being.

How I met Andrew?

I remember sitting in my friend’s office in Silverdale. I remember because it was over Skype and everyone thought I had a really big book collection as I was sat in front of their library.

We were going to Eroles in the hills of southern Spain, to stay in this quirky little house. There was one session where we were all asked to spend 24hours in isolation out in the open air, in silence, and then return to tell our experiences. I nearly triggered the search operation because I came back late. Andrew had gone out with a sort of a confident manner about his ability and then told one of the funniest stories about his experience. I’d had the most enchanted, at-one-with-nature evenings, whilst Andrew had experienced the complete opposite. It was very funny.

Zahra Dalilah

What do I do? I write a bit. I have a background in arts and culture journalism, but I’ve parted ways with that for a while, maybe a year or two ago. Recently I’ve been doing more creative writing, and I’ve recently finished a theatre writing course. So, I’m hitting an exploratory phase of writing at the moment, especially in lockdown where I’ve permitted myself more time and energy for exploring than I have before. I’ve had a transformational time these past four months, which is why I think this project particularly spoke to me.

I’ve also discovered that I really like plants and making candles. Those are my lockdown revelations.

How I met Andrew?

I met Andrew quite recently actually, towards the end of last year. I used to work at the same organisation that Julie works at called SHED, we had breakfast together in Newcastle. We’d had lovely chats, the vibe worked really well, and I was interested and excited by a lot of the work that he’d been doing.



Thursday 30th July, 2020

KATRINA: I understand that you, Zahra and Julie, have been cooking on something already, with some writing starting to take form, and I’m curious to hear what.

JULIE: Yeah, perhaps a bit further back from cooking. Maybe we’ve seen a recipe? We’ve had a conversation and we have come up with a prompt:

If we stop? thriving, nourishment and lockdown

ZAHRA: When we stop; what are the possibilities worth exploring? We’ve been talking about going back to work, after a period of not working, when the motivation to endure capitalism isn’t there anymore.

JULIE: Also, physically. I feel that work for a lot of people, physically making their bodies work, is the thing we are talking about. The system that’s driven us for so long, then somebody starts paying people to not work, and a few hundred years of motivation is thrown out of the window.

People talk of motivation levels, or energy levels, as a different kind of stress. Our bodies keep the score and in this sense. I know some people didn’t stop working, but for those who did it was like a deep rest and we are now pushing ourselves back again into productivity. It’s almost like we’ve got to re-enact the violence that was always there. Perhaps we should be asking why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

So, we’ve been talking about flourishing and nourishing in that context. As if we were almost getting a glimpse of what life could be like.

ZAHRA: Having a background in activism and social justice I do a lot of work, I know it’s important and I believe in it, but (sigh), I’m also fine with not doing work. What could it mean, if we were no longer committed to being productive, to working?

I’ve been thinking a lot about the adrenal gland. Have you had acupuncture? A friend of mine had her adrenal gland drained and her acupuncturist said that they’d been running on pure adrenalin for years. I’ve noticed since I’ve started going back to work, post lockdown, that so much of the energy I put into work is adrenalin. You know, like the difference between sugar energy and porridge energy. I think when you stop you can start to access porridge energy.

JULIE: As Andrew mentioned trust, I’ve also been thinking about the phrase ‘trust your gut’. I’ve been reading about cultural somatics and the whole connection of the gut to the West. The fact that our western, white, colonial, mindset is primarily of the head but also the heart, ignoring much of the lower body like the gut. I’ve also read that within Covid-19 cases, gut health is essential. Perhaps the way we’ve constructed our bodily humanity, is shaped so dominantly by work that in a period where work has been disrupted something else starts leaking through. I think that’s all quite interesting.

ZAHRA: So, we came up with the prompt, and the idea was to exchange writings in response, and then perhaps pull out another prompt. Developing a process where we take it as it goes.

KATRINA: And where are you guys in that?

ZAHRA: A little bit behind (laughs).

JULIE: I wrote some bits and pieces, but then I looked back at it and was unsure. There is something different to the writing process when writing to a prompt. I think I can show it to Zahra, and go, okay what comes from this? But it's writing that comes from a different place.

KATRINA: Yeah, I feel like I’ve had that experience before, when I’ve asked friends to spark something for me, to have something to bounce off or react to.

JULIE: It feels like we are a few steps back. In a sense we are just beginning the process.

ZAHRA: I think we just need to embrace the freestyle stuff. I think because we said we’d go away and do some writing it felt like maybe we need to develop something first.

ANDREW: The few bits of writing that I’ve been posting onto the blog, I’m trying to not see those as finished works, but rather as an excuse to experiment with some thoughts. Maybe they might feed something more substantial later, maybe not. That said, I’m also very aware that as soon as something goes up people will likely view it as a finished thing.

JULIE: Yeah, when I looked at the stuff I was writing, it was alright when I was writing it, but then I thought what if anyone thought that was a finished piece! It’s not even pride, it’s just not coherent.

KATRINA: There is something about the medium of the blog though, that has a relationship to journaling, with a certain speed behind it, an ‘off the cuff’ urgency.

ANDREW: Well, what about you then Katrina?

KATRINA: I think I’ve had a pretty different lockdown experience to other people. I think the Netherlands has been different to the UK, but also where I was personally, and what I was doing when I happened to fall into this. For me, this has been a super amazing opening. I’d just got a studio, after not having had one for many months, and I had just received these two grants. I had all of this time and space to just flow. So, for me, lockdown was the studio.

For 12 hours a day. Which is of course my work. But I didn’t have to be bothered with somebody else’s work, and it was really productive.

Now I’m back working for an artist, a ceramicist, for two days a week, and it’s amazing to see the difference it makes in the landscape of my mind.

ANDREW: Something I’m interested in is how this project may provide an opportunity for us to knit or weave our thoughts and experiences together. As you say Katrina this is something we’d been doing anyway. But something else we’ve spoken of is what ‘form’ this could take when it becomes part of something which may involve many others, be it within a dialogue or in terms of an audience, reading a blog or something else.

ZAHRA: It sounds like there is something in perhaps criss-crossing within our conversations, towards a process between the four of us perhaps?

KATRINA: I’m thinking about what my contribution could be. I think I was getting too bogged down in the pragmatics or the pressures, even though we were talking about maybe not producing something, and the conversations being the thing. I think I was getting stuck on asking what is the form? I was like, hang on, remember, we were already doing this.

ANDREW: Yeah, and that idea of the blog as you articulated, as something looser, which can be more experimental.

KATRINA: Yeah, like horse before cart, rather than cart before horse.


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