The Fourth of July is a holiday in the United States, and for Summer Sessions as well. This week, in lieu of scheduled programming, writers connected to the program share their thoughts on the nature of dependency, either at a personal or political level. Because, in any kind of commonwealth, we cannot truly celebrate independence without, at the same time, celebrating dependence.
Mel Chen writes in their beautiful book Animacies that the fiction of independence and inviolability is one that only a few bodies can sustain. By this they mean that independence and inviolability can only be achieved through the practices of barricading: through wealth, power, through an abiding refusal to acknowledge the interdependencies of mammalian life, through a willful denial of the ways in which we are always indebted to others, to the workers who build and maintain infrastructures, to our loves and to our nonhuman kin, to the bacteria who compose most of our bodies, to the air that moves in and out of our lungs, to water that sustains us, to the earth. We are the product of multiple generational unfoldings across human and other-than-human worlds. We are composed of all these others, as through our metabolisms we take them in, just as we rely upon endless expressions and talents of the other humans with whom we share the world.
Individualism, as Jacob Wren has aptly noted, is a mistake. It is a philosophical mistake. And this mistake has had so many ripple effects outwards, from the belief that toxicities pumped into the environment will stay in one place, to the mass extinction events that we are now witnessing, to the demoralizing and debilitating ideas that we are in this alone. Embracing our dependence opens up paths for recognizing that we are always in relation, that we need to learn how to cultivate good relations with each other and other-than-human kin. We need to do this hard work of reparations, of reconciliation, of reconstituting our enmeshment within the rest of the world.
As part of an ongoing lexicon of imaginary idioms my contribution to the prompt “Declaration of Dependence” offers a newly amalgamated term that nevertheless riffs off of the more familiar concept of commonwealth, or common weal: a traditional English term for a political community founded for the common good.¹
The unCommon Weal (modified noun + Old English | wēl | Wela’wealth) gracelessly patches together reference to an excessive jumble of sundry underassets—agonistic communities, interstitial spaces, trans-species alliances, indigenized tellurian holdings, dark matter operatives, shadow archives, informal gift economies, undercommons, and overlooked and undervalued forms of reproductive labor—all of which appear, if they appear at all, to be liabilities for capitalist modes of production and privatized wealth accumulation. As anthropologist Marisol de la Cadena explains with regard to something so commonplace as water: after a group of Peruvian activists established themselves as the “guardians of the lagoon” in opposition to a copper mine set on draining local waterways, it was everyday H2O, so she asserts, that took on an unCommon politicized presence: “The water from these lagoons emerges as it emplaces entities and makes itself uncommon nature, or nature already occupied by local bodies and therefore unavailable for transformation into the state or the corporation’s interest if they do not coincide with those of their bodies.”² In other words, once defended and politicized, colorless, ubiquitous water reawakens within the shared space of the unCommon Weal as a liberated species “elusive to the kind of either/ or analyses that require ontological agreement about what is.”³
At the same time, such acts of resistance, or unCommoning, expose two fundamental paradoxes inherent to contemporary collectivism:
1.) No population can be dispossessed of its collective value, wealth, or subjectivity when these very same resources have already been stripped away from them, any more than;
2.) the affliction of the common folk—the multitude, prols, plebes, lumpen, and what have you— is such that they can not possibly declare their collective sovereignty without first embracing the very state of interchangeable commonality and prosaic redundancy whose abstract ontological condition defines them within the cold, cyclopean gaze of capital. Which is why, in light of current, globally-expanding, post-democratic circumstances, the UnCommon Weal materializes as a spectral presence, one whose swelling ectoplasmic tendrils and pseudopodia distend and expand with utter disregard towards institutional norms, fixed identities, and gentrifying enclosures.
By way of remedy we perform a tender act of negation that escorts our hoped-for communal unBecoming onwards into the unCommon Weal’s viscid bosom, a non-space in which the near-total hegemony of 21st century ultra-financialization does not so much wither away (if only!), as it is deliriously (though provisionally) ransacked. Ergo, (in)Dependence declares itself by way of dizzying excess.
1. Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commonwealth
2. Marisol de la Cadena, “Uncommoning Nature: Stories From the Anthropo-not-Seen,” a 2009 paper accessible online at: http://www.lasisummerschool.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Uncommoning-Nature-Anthropos-and-the-Material-July-5th.pdf
I woke up this morning to discover a friend and artist with whom I worked had unexpectedly passed away. Instinctually, the first decision I made was to cancel my day and stay at home. The last 12 months have been a rollercoaster of unexpected tragedies and monumental life shifts. As these swells have come in, I’ve simultaneously been accumulating books, art, friends, plants, a cat, and a partner in my apartment. This space is my physical holding but also so much more—loving relationships, ideas, creative impulses, and companionship.
Growing up I moved a lot—Nashville to London, back to Nashville, and again back to London. I never thought a physical space was essential to my grounding but, as I get older, I realize the valuable role my home plays in my independence. Isn’t that a funny thing? My independence is reliant upon my dependence on this space. I have filled my domain with art created by people I have worked with and admired. I have filled bookcases with the ideas and words of people who push me forward but also can offer me an escape. My creative projects have been born at this table I write from now. And I share my space with my partner, my friends, and my family, who all fill it with memories—good and bad—that become an accumulation of my own history. All of these things charge and propel me out into the world, as a thinking, moving, loving, acting citizen.
Today, I’ll plant the seeds of a desert holly given to me by the friend who passed. He will now become a part of my accumulation—my dependence.
1] This declaration is a civic charter.
2] The city is a micro-region. Micro-regions do not create false divisions between downtown, suburb, and countryside. Micro-regions are constellations.
3] Micro-regional territories are flexible. The movements and desires of citizens produce geography. Geographic evolution is necessary over time.
4] The micro-region is a site of common struggle among all citizens. Each becomes many when I surrender to US.
5] The law of the chimera: Mine must contribute to ours. Citizens are a collective and collegial body. Progress is a right of citizenship that accrues mutual benefits. The collective is both one and many—a superorganism.
6] A genuinely independent society forms through laws and practices of spatial solidarity.
7] Land resources will be cultivated and secured by collective stewardship. Ownership is secondary and temporary. Quality holds more value than quantity. Land speculation and zoning are prohibited. No more dividing into parts. We need wholes.
8] Nature is an inescapable myth of human creation which can neither be conquered nor destroyed.
9] Two centuries of urban planning have failed because urbanism is not a problem to be solved. This charter rejects all reductionist practices, ideologies, and systems based on solutions. The complexity of urban reality is irreducible. Uncertainty is inevitable because change is constant. Therefore we renounce control and commence negotiation. Transformation is a horizon.
10] This journey forward is also a renewal of the American space, time, and territory. In this new country, movements will be unpredictable, ambitions unlimited, and futures undetermined.
What do you do if the grocery stores close? This question was posed to me by an African American farmer more than 15 years ago. It haunted me then and haunts me now. Food security, i.e. the ability to feed oneself, family and community has been my Sisyphus boulder since.
The system of white supremacy has created clear disparities among who has power and who does not. A result of that intentionally-created disparity results in a dependency by communities of color on white people for everything from housing to healthcare to utilities to food. Each time people of African ancestry have developed systems that attempted to usurp that dependence, white people have used violence to reinstitute that dependence. From Rosewood to Tulsa to Jackson Ward, we see example after example of black people building resiliency in spite of adversity, yet the system of white supremacy negating those efforts through assasination, destruction, and racist policies that reinforce a false hierarchy of human value, with white people on the top and black people on the bottom. The system remains unchecked in our relationship to food.
In the early 1900s, African Americans owned more 200,000 acres of land. Today we own less than 14,000 acres. This reduction is a result of racist policies, racial terror, and theft. Land justice is the reconciliation of white people taking the land and putting it back into the hands of the people. The colonization of the Americas, particularly Virginia, serves as the foundation for exploitation of both the earth and of its indigenous people. This subjugation of nature and human served as the basis of independence of white settlers from Europe, but at horrific costs. We live on today; shackled to a legacy of injustice, and to right this historical wrong means to destabilize the power dynamics imposed by white supremacy.
What does it mean for black people to be independent? I am reminded of the question asked of me by that farmer. Black people, living in communities scarred by redlining, marred by discrimination and racist urban renewal policies, are challenged to develop systems of resilience that call for the end of white supremacy and domination. The linkages of ecological degradation and human exploitation are clear and demarcated by the scars left on the built environment, through climate change, and through the disparities that exist across all sectors of human behavior. The future of humanity is dependent upon whether white people determine that this arc of history, built by their ancestors and perpetuated in the present, is the path on which they wish to continue.
Culture is dependent on the rules we have to express it. These rules, called policies, create and govern the ways in which we can or cannot move freely in our environments. Take for instance a bustling old city park filled with tall trees and flower beds surrounding the entrance. There’s a big fountain with coins collected in the bottom and people sitting along the tables and benches that border it. Every weekday a drum circle forms in the late afternoon after food vendors have worked the lunchtime rush. Small children play after school on the jungle gym dome while their parents sit and watch, conversing with one another. The older kids erupt in cheers after the skins win the basketball tournament.
This is culture, and this culture is dependent on a set of policies that allow it to merely exist as well as govern the ways in which people can engage in a park. The culture is dependent on the policies and rules that manufacture the ordinances, permits, and infrastructure of the park.
How? A group of people known as policy writers wrote the rules that govern this park culture.
And what shapes the policy writer? Culture does. We are all shaped in a multitude of ways by what surrounds us; the natural environment, the people, rituals, and the infrastructure we create. In a large way, our vision for our cultures also are dependent on the support that our cultures receive. So, when our policy writers come from a well-supported culture, our policies then reflect the support of culture.
Culture is dependent on policy. Policy is dependent on culture. This relationship is important to understand for anyone interested in change and sustainability.
1] That all artworks are dependent on currency—political, social, intellectual, or actual capital—and these forms of capital are directly tied to power.
2] That all artists, curators, and other cultural workers are dependent on systems including influence, production, and dissemination.
3] That the meanings found within artworks are dependent on language and other forms of shared social frameworks.
4] That dependency rejects the fiction of autonomy. Even though some have argued that autonomy from politics preserves the agency of the individual, this agency is most often a political privilege.
5] That dependency must still allow for the agency of the subject so that the individual is not subsumed by groupthink and the possibility for dissent is preserved.
6] That publics and counterpublics are interdependent.
7] That collaboration, participation, community, and other forms of commoning are necessary to produce both culture and politics.
8] That working together is still work and, as such, sometimes involves more labor than usually required to complete a task. Because it requires labor to resist the systems that support individualism.
9] That collaboration involves negotiating the space between individual subjectivities, producing a very particular kind of outcome that no individual alone could produce.
10] That working together includes both a collection of individual contributions and their attendant authorship as well as a collective authorship.
11] That working together is haunted by the specters of Marx, Marxism, Communism, Socialism, and the totalitarian state.
12 ] That working together is haunted by the machine of Fordist capitalism and its post-Fordist reincarnations—co-working spaces, Google docs, and flash mobs.
13 ] That collaboration is based on discourse, conversation, and the myriad of ways in which ideas are conveyed, listened to, negotiated, accepted, and performed.
Declaration of Plural Body
Body. Body has limited power. Body seeks another Body to create a larger Body. Bodies listen to each other’s lived experiences as one Body does not experience the same oppressions and privileges as another Body. As long as one Body faces oppression all Bodies cannot be free. Solidarities arise. Conflicts arise. Body negotiates conflicts. Body fights for freedom for all Bodies. Body is one, Body is two. Body has limited power. Body seeks another Body to create a larger Body. Body Grows. Body develops smaller Bodies. Bodies listen to each other’s lived experiences as one Body does not experience the same oppressions and privileges as another Body. As long as one Body faces oppression all Bodies cannot be free. Solidarities arise. Conflicts arise. Body negotiates conflicts. Body fights for freedom for all Bodies. Body is one, Body is two, Body is three. Body has limited power. Body seeks another Body to create a larger Body. Body Grows. Body develops smaller Bodies. Bodies listen to each other’s lived experiences as one Body does not experience the same oppressions and privileges as another Body. As long as one Body faces oppression all Bodies cannot be free. Solidarities arise. Conflicts arise. Body negotiates conflicts. Body fights for freedom for all Bodies. Body is one, Body is two, Body is three, Body is four. Body has limited power. Body seeks another Body to create a larger Body. Body Grows. Body develops smaller Bodies. Bodies listen to each other’s lived experiences as one Body does not experience the same oppressions and privileges as another Body. As long as one Body faces oppression all Bodies cannot be free. Solidarities arise. Conflicts arise. Body negotiates conflicts. Body fights for freedom for all Bodies. Body is one, Body is two, Body is three, Body is four, Body is five. Body has limited power. Body seeks another Body to create a larger Body…
Dominic Asmall Willsdon
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one each and every people to dissolve redesign the political bonds which have and must always connected them with one another, and to assume among the powers of the earth that the planet may allow, the separate and equal and mutually dependent station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God
entitle them promise for all humanity, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind conditions of public dialogue requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation this design work.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men human beings are created to be equal (*the status of post-humans is to be discussed), that they are should be endowed by their Creator each other with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, equality and solidarity. and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness common well-being. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind human beings are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards, and a new design, for their future health and security. […]
Declarations of independence enact separation. They assert boundaries between one entity and
another, dividing nations, communities, and people.
Declarations of dependence embrace connection. We are inextricably bound to each other: politically, socially, spatially, economically, and emotionally. Differentially felt, these bonds are partial, always shaped by power. Some are stronger or weaker, desired or resisted, more or less visible. With that in mind, this declaration names those who most directly contributed to Summer Sessions: Commonwealth. Others might map this differently, for networks of dependence shift according to our own position within a project, an institution, a city, a commonwealth.
This project depends on the collaboration and care of Noah Simblist and our closest partners in
conceptualizing and planning the project: Duron Chavis * Rebecca Keel * Enjoli Moon * David Riley * Dominic Willsdon.
And also: the designers, Session leaders, Field Research participants, students in the spring 2019 VCUarts course Commonwealth, and ICA colleagues: Andrew Alli * Chaz Antoine * Payton Baril * Malia Bates * Janine Bell * Samantha Best * Laurie Brown * Marshall Brown * Lesley Bruno * Meighan Cahoon * Meredith Carrington * Carolina Caycedo * Andy Clifford * Matt Conrad * Lillian Cook * Tamoria Corpening * Nick Crider * Berkley Cutlip * Anthony D’Angelo * Griffin Davis * Heather Davis * DJ Ease * Free Egunfemi * Alyssa Evangelista * Nick Fagan * Grant Foster * Sofia Gallisá Muriente * Traci Garland * Kyla Garland * Cora Georg * Andrew Gabbins * Pablo Guardiola * Madison Hall * Alex Haller * Erin Hanas * Laketch Haile * Erika Hastings * Michelle Hawkins * Grace Hoffman * Madeline Honig * Brittany Horner * Chioke I’Anson * Chelsea Higgs Wise * Becky Hudson * D’Anna Johnson * Warren Jones * Patton Hindle * Grace Hoffman * Ice Cream Social * Michelle Koppl * Kevin LaMarr Jones and CLAVES UNIDOS * Dylan Languell * Wansu Kang * Michael Lease * Caroline Legros * Margo Lentz- Meyer * Michael Linares * Jonathan Knopf * Madeline Maier * Bill Martin * Giancarlo Mazzanti * Lais Myrrha * Katherine McDonald * Daniel McGarvey * Carlos Medellín * Chelsea Neal * Dan Nemer * DJ Nobe * Tawnya Pettiford-Wates * Nicole Pollard * Gus Rasich * Stephanie Rhoades * Quilian Riano * Ryan Rinn * Sharita Roberts * Devonte Robertson * Liliana Robinson * LaRissa Rogers * Paul Rucker * Ricardo Vincente Jose Ruiz * Julea Seliavski * Gregory Sholette * Kate Sicchio * Jonas Staal * Brent Tarter * Sarmistha Talukda * Brooke Taylor * Erica Taylor * Emerson Tedder * Nato Thompson * Ell Trees * Clayton Turner * Luis Vasquez * Tanesha White * Melissa Vaughn * WRIR * Jackie Washington * Darick White * Whitney Whiting * Ed Williams * Sandy Williams IV * Tyler Wiseman * Scarly Zhao * and others.
And also: the many activists, artists, designers, scholars, texts, colleagues, collaborators, and prior projects that offer direct and indirect inspiration.
And also: all those who collaborate through their presence and participation, including the many visitors who attend the Sessions; who share, ideas, and critical questions; gather in the space; who add comments to the walls; and who follow online. We hope you will stay with us and with these issues of common wealth and common debt over time.