Cindy Baker portrait

Crip Times Episode 4: The Cindy Baker Episode

This week, Yousef and Kristina are joined by Cindy Baker, a contemporary artist whose work engages with queer, gender, race, disability, fat, and art discourses. We recorded this episode in the summer, but we think you’ll find it really speaks to the end-of-2020 burnout that many of us are collectively experiencing. 

“The piece is an opportunity for me to let the public see an artist who is working hard at resisting the impulse to work hard.”

Cindy describes herself as feeling ‘wobbly’—how relatable. She tells us about her work “Crash Pad,” how she resists the notion of productivity, and how the pandemic has brought to light some things that disabled folks have been advocating for years. The conversation ends with a reminder that self-indulgence is something that can only ever be positive. 

As a content warning, the episode contains a brief mention of Cindy being abducted as a child from minute 38:00 to 41:00.

CRIP TIME’S FAVOURITE QUOTES: 

“I feel like I have better skills for dealing with this kind of thing—the pandemic—and what it does to our brains and our bodies, because of the fact that, as disabled people, we deal with these kinds of pressures all the time.”

“These are things that Crip folks, disabled folks, have been advocating for a really long time. Things like remote work, things like captioning and digital meetings etc. so forth, and now they are being seen as essential because also disabled and non-disabled need them. And it’s kind of just interesting that this pandemic has shifted the way uh, we view needs in terms of serving folks in isolated spaces which there had been a lot of disabled folks who were then isolated due to ableism in our society long before this pandemic started.”

“The piece is also an opportunity for me to let the public see an artist who is working hard at resisting the impulse to work hard.”

“I think I push against the notion of productivity very hard in my work. And I really think that our neoliberal society expects a certain kind of productivity out of us. Their definition of productivity really has to do with making the capitalist machine run. And so notions of self-care are not actually about taking care of ourselves, but are about ensuring that we continue to be productive cogs in the machine. So in my work a lot I do push against the idea that we shouldn’t be cogs in the machine at all. And I ask people to question what productivity is, why there is an imperative to be productive, and how that’s actually damaging for our bodies. And not just damaging, but in fact because we sort of not only have this neoliberal imperative to be productive, but that there’s a moral imperative as well that has become a moral imperative in our society and that means that um, to be productive is to be good. To be healthy is to be good. Is to be um, is to be a good person and a person who is not just healthy, whatever you know, however you want to define ‘healthy’ and ‘abled.’ But also beautiful, because beauty is equated to health and productivity in our society.”

“So everyone who fails at being a perfect standard of beauty but perfectly abled person in all of the ways that that’s defined is actually seen as lesser than, less productive, less valued in our society.”

“I just want to start really quietly and say This is me resisting, you’re witnessing me resisting and it’s valuable. You can see, at least on one little level it’s valuable.”

“And I want to make do but I also don’t wanna have to make do. I want to make. Um, and I want to continue making and I don’t want for us to equate, especially as disabled artists, I don’t want us to equate the way people are cobbling together provisional exhibitions with the way that we should be working as disabled artists. Like, Oh this is easier for us, we can stay home or stay in bed and we can program virtually through Zoom. I don’t want that to be the default, like … it feels like second best, and I don’t want the way we work to be considered sort of equated with that sort of second-best way of programming.”

“I feel like this work is very selfish and self-indulgent, but I never use those words in ways that are less than, uh, absolutely positive things. I think as artists we should be self-indulgent, and we should be selfish and we should be making work that is absolutely, uh, interesting and fascinating to ourselves. We should be making work that’s relevant to ourselves and our communities.”

“So, I’m indulging myself especially through the pandemic in doing work that’s uh, interesting primarily to me. And I think what I’ve learned through my practice over the past couple of decades is that if it’s something that uh, is compelling to me that I make well, it will be compelling to other people.”

“Like what if this is for me, what if I am talking to people that are important to me, what if I’m talking to people that are also resisting. Um, what if we stop looking at ourselves as uh, people that need to contribute and start looking at ourselves as people that um, that need to uh … I don’t know, that need to be there for each other and that need to be there for ourselves and that self-care doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being productive for anyone else besides ourselves.”

Full Transcript

Narrator: You’re listening to a Wheels on the Ground Production

[Jazz music playing].

Yousef Kadoura [YK]: Hello, and welcome to the fourth episode of Crip Times.

Kayla Besse [KB]: Today on Crip Times, we are joined by Cindy Baker, an interdisciplinary contemporary artist with your hosts, Yousef and Kristina. 

Kristina McMullin [KM]: Cindy, thank you so much for being with us today and being a part of this podcast project that we’ve been working on. We’re so excited to be able to share you and share your practice with our listeners and our community. So for folks who might not be familiar with you and your practice,  if you could just introduce yourself and talk a little bit about your practice that would be amazing.

Cindy Baker [CB]: Great, thanks Kristina! I’m a contemporary interdisciplinary and performance artist. Which basically, the shorthand version of that, is I make things, and I do stuff. I, the slightly longer more involved version is that I have a research-based practice that covers a variety of mediums and uh, genres so I circle between arts, humanities, and social sciences. And I work with all different kinds of materials and techniques um, from low craft to digital fabrication to performance. Um, and sort of think of my ideas as the primary medium or the concepts. So I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a conceptual artist because my work is very material, but, but focusing very much on ideas and concepts.

Kr: Amazing. And obviously we are in the midst of a global pandemic that is kind of impacting Crip folks, Crip body-minds in ways that it isn’t impacting, uh, non-disabled folks. I guess the question I want to ask you is about you and how are you today? How is your body-mind today, and how are you dealing uh, with this pandemic that we find ourselves in?

CB: Yeah. Um … my mind is a bit wobbly which has uh, come to be my new normal, at least for now. Um, although wobbly is kind of a state that I wobble in and out of normally. Um, it’s summer which is a little more difficult for me too because the heat isn’t so great for my brain. Um, so today is one of those days that, that um … I’m a bit uh, off kilter.

[00:03:05] Um, I find though, and you may agree with me or not, we’ll see, but it’s an interesting conversation to have that I feel like I have better skills for dealing with this kind of thing, the pandemic and what it does to our brains and our bodies um, because of the fact that we deal with um – as disabled people – we deal with these kinds of pressures all the time.

Kr: This is the conversation that’s being had in a lot of Crip community. Not only do we have better skills in how to navigate things like isolation, but also that these are needs – in our society, these are things that Crip folks, disabled folks, have been advocating for for a really long time. Things like remote work, things like captioning and digital meetings etc. so forth, and now they are being seen as essential because also disabled and non-disabled need them. And it’s kind of just interesting that this pandemic has shifted the way uh, we view needs in terms of serving folks in isolated spaces which there had been a lot of disabled folks who were then isolated due to ableism in our society long before this pandemic started.

CB: Yep. Absolutely. 

YK: So you spoke a little bit about, or well, you used the term um, ‘wobbly’ to describe like, kind of a place that the heat’s put your brain in and like also uh, well – I guess you’ve spoken a little bit about the environment and like what’s happening and the way in which our bodies are reacting to the pandemic and things like that. I find that really interesting, because I’ve seen that reflected in your art practice or what I’ve seen of your art practice. Um, thinking back to the piece that you had at Tangled, I think, in 2017 or 2018? 

KM: End of 2017. Yeah.

YK: Yes. Yes. I was wondering if you might be able to share a little bit with our listeners about what that piece was, to give a little bit more insight into your creative practice.

CB: Sure. So the project that I did at Tangled is called Crash Pad. And physically the work that you would see in the gallery is a large bed that’s shaped like a pill packet. It’s about 8 feet across, so if you can imagine a little blister packet with a pill in it. It’s kind of that plastic foil with a little bump in the middle that the pill rests in and a piece of foil that you either peel back or push the pill up through.

And for me, it was kind of a portrait of my favourite pill. 

[00:06:04] In the middle of it instead of a pill there is a mattress that’s shaped like a pill. So this bed becomes a prop for me to have a relationship with this uh, pill that I sort of, for the purpose of this performance, consider a lover. So it’s both the lover and the bed. And I use it um, to be able to interact with it and to allow the audience to see me and my relationship to my bed and my relationship to my medication and how I interact with it. 

The piece is also an opportunity for me to let the public see an artist who is working hard at resisting the impulse to work hard. 

KM: Amazing. Um, so Tangled, as a lot of people do know, um, is a Disability arts gallery. In your own words can you describe what you believe Disability arts is?

CB: Um, sure. To me, Disability art is, at its most basic, any art made by people with disabilities of all kinds. I don’t think it necessarily used to be that simple of a definition, but I think where we’re at with it is that anybody who makes art that uh, is disabled can claim themselves as a Disability artist, whether or not the subject matter they’re using actually approaches it in a really direct way. Um, and I think that’s, for me, exactly because of the fact that everything that we do as disabled artists comes from the lens of you know, seeing things through our experience as people who are affected by disabilities.

KM: And what would you say is the importance of Disability arts within the broader arts sector within Canada and within the global society? 

CB: I think uh, disabled people need to see their experiences reflected in the culture. Um, and they need to see those experiences um, as, as made by people um – who are affected – uh, not represented by uh, people on the outside. And I think all marginalized peoples are going through the same um, sort of revolution right now. You know, we want our representation to be by us and for us, and we want people to see our experiences, and hear them through our own voices.

[00:09:00] YK: What do you think of the notion, or rather how does your art come up against the notion of a good body being a productive body? 

CB: Yeah. Um … I think I push against um, the notion of productivity very hard in my work. Um, 

and really think that our neoliberal society expects a certain kind of productivity out of us. Their definition of productivity really has to do with making the capitalist machine run. And so things like um, notions of self-care are not actually about taking care of ourselves, but are about ensuring that we continue to be productive cogs in the machine. So in my work a lot I do push against the idea that we shouldn’t be cogs in the machine at all. And I ask people to question what productivity is, why there is an imperative to be productive, and how that’s actually damaging for our bodies. And not just damaging, but in fact because we sort of not only have this neoliberal imperative to be productive, but that there’s a moral imperative as well that has become a moral imperative in our society and that means that um, to be productive is to be good. To be healthy is to be good. Is to be um, is to be a good person and a person who is not just healthy, whatever you know, however you want to define ‘healthy’ and ‘abled.’ But also beautiful, because beauty is equated to health and to productivity in our society.

So everyone who fails at being a perfect, um, standard of beauty and a perfectly abled person in all of the ways that that’s defined is actually seen as lesser than, less productive, less valued in our society. 

YK: I, I agree with you wholeheartedly. It also brings up though I think, um, there’s also though the ableist notion of um, “Good art comes from Mad, from suffering, or from disabled people’s suffering.” So what is your response then, and juxtaposition to that as well as the, you know, [imitating chanting] Self-care! Self-care! crowds? What’s, where … yeah?

CB: Yeah, not only does good art supposedly come from suffering, um, but that the best artists are pushing themselves constantly, right? So there’s good art coming from suffering is sort of a mental, uh, an idea of mentally what we’re supposed to be going through as artists. This sort of anguish and uh, and sort of mental instability possibly. Putting ourselves emotionally in a place that’s very damaging. 

And then on top of that, pushing our bodies and struggling in a way that um, that pushes our bodies to the limit in ways that uh, impact disabled artists more than they would impact artists without disabilities, or more able-bodied artists, however you define that. Especially as a performance artist, I see performance art, the ‘better’ the art in theory, the more somebody is really having art that takes a toll on their body. They’re struggling, they’re bleeding, they’re sweating, they’re um, holding up massive weights or putting themselves through trials and tribulations that um, that sort of quote “normal bodies” would have a difficult time withstanding. So disabled artists, obviously we’re coming from a place where maybe we can’t withstand, or aren’t able to do some of those things at all to begin with. So what does that mean about me as an artist? Am I a failure as an artist before I even begin?

KM: What are some ways you build this resistance into your practice? Not only the like, making of art but also the performance of your work? Like what are some of those ways in which resistance is integral – er, what are some of the ways that resistance is brought in on like the grounding effort? 

CB: Um, wow that’s a good question. Um, I think I try to build my art to be accessible on many different levels for the audience. One of the most basic levels is that people can understand what they see, like on a really basic level. Um, so with Crash Pad for instance, people see me in a very vulnerable place even when I’m just sleeping in the gallery, what they’re seeing is something that they absolutely can’t deny is impactful or vulnerable or, or beautiful, however you might define that.

And so right away, people say ok, maybe this is good art or maybe this is something worth looking at. Um, and at the same time I recognize that what’s happening is not productive in ways that I’ve been led to believe uh, productivity should act.

[00:14:58] So there’s a question right away at the beginning, right? I don’t necessarily have answers, I don’t necessarily have a big statement that I’m trying to make with each work. I’m hoping that those statements build and that if you’re following my practice, or if you’re following Disability arts, or if you’re following people with the same ideas, that it starts to build. That your idea of this resistance really starts to build.

But for one, I just want to start really quietly and say This is me resisting, you’re witnessing me resisting and it’s valuable. You can see, at least on one little level it’s valuable.

KM: Are there any times – and this might be a little bit of a vulnerable question, so we can move on if you don’t want to answer it – but are there any times that you’ve had to surveil your own thoughts and your own practices that maybe you are, um, judging yourself in a capitalist or a productive way? Are there times in which even with the best of intentions you still see yourself falling into a capitalist notion of productivity?

CB: Oh absolutely. All the time! All the time. Because as much as I sort of feel like I’m looking through the world with a critical lens I also recognize that all we can do as people is look at the world through the lens that has been given to us by society, right? I’m looking at the world through a lens of someone that is critical of what my abilities are, that is you know, everything that I’m criticizing is a part of the lens that I’m viewing culture through. 

When I perform Crash Pad, when I perform any of these works that are meant to be a way for me to resist productivity or resist uh, capitalism, all these things, I still have the impulse to perform and to be a good body and every time I make a new performance I think oh this is very thoughtful and it’s very intellectual and uh, it’s very smart. And then I do the work and I’m like Oh my God, it’s very physical. First of all, I forget that it’s physical until I make the work, until I do the work. 

And then I find myself trying to like, because I recognize that it’s physical I’m like Ok, let’s lean into the physicality and let’s figure out how to make this work given that it’s physical and you’re constantly fighting against that urge to perform, capital P with quotes around it, “Perform.”

KM: Um, so we talked a lot about how your work is influenced by anti-capitalism. I was hoping that you could expand upon how anti-capitalism works in tangent with other anti-capitalist uh, politics, much like a Crip politic, a Queer politic, and a Fat politic.

[00:18:03] CB: Sure. I think as an intellectual I have a grounding in Queer theory and Disability theory and Fat Theory as well. So, so a lot of my um, a lot of my language, a lot of my politics come straight at a very theoretical and uh, political lens. Um, and I think all of those theories are by nature anti-capitalist and anti-corporate and anti-neoliberalist. Um, I mean … to, maybe this is a bit of a blunt weapon, but I think that intellectualism and academia in general are very anti-capitalist and that it’s very difficult to be an academic or an intellectual and still toe the line of a capitalist society. Which is I think why um, intellectualism is so dangerous to capitalism. 

Uh, I’m not sure how to talk about those things specifically and how they intersect, um, except to say that um, that as I was talking about before of cogs in the machine, Disabled people, Queer people, Fat people, we don’t fit the moulds of the cogs that are needed to make the machine run. Any time that we try we trouble the machine in any way, it’s running less efficiently, and so capitalism is constantly trying to smooth out the edges and anybody in the margins just doesn’t fit and either you become moulded to fit and you start um, living a life that tries to shoehorn your body into that machine or you find yourself on the outside of it.

YK: Yeah. Um, and speaking about like the cogs of capitalism, it seems they have been gummed up a little bit recently um, by the you know, current pandemic that we are collectively living in. How has the pandemic and sort of what’s happening in the world, um, impacted your art process and what you’re creating and doing with yourself now? In, in you know, these times. These weird items that we find ourselves in.

CB: Yeah. Um, I think like we talked about earlier in the interview, because my brain, because my mental processes have been affected that has had one of the biggest impacts on my artistic process.

[00:20:58] And that’s been really difficult for me because I rely on my brain to do the bulk of the work of my practice. Um, I think I’m impacted in the same way a lot of artists are, both inside and outside of Disability arts, which is that there are fewer opportunities for me just because everyone has slowed down and had to reassess what it means to program, what it means to exhibit art. So there are a few small opportunities that have come up that are performances that happen virtually or performances that happen off-site in all these little ways that people are trying to make do, but it does feel in a lot of ways like currently making do.

And I want to make do but I also don’t wanna have to make do. I want to make. Um, and I want to continue making and I don’t want for us to equate, especially as disabled artists, I don’t want us to equate the way people are cobbling together provisional exhibitions with the way that we should be working as disabled artists. Like, Oh this is easier for us, we can stay home or we can stay in bed and we can program virtually through Zoom. I don’t want that to be the default, like … it feels like second best, and I don’t want the way we work to be considered – sort of equated with that sort of second-best way of programming.

KM: So then, I’ll go back to a word that’s come up a lot in this conversation, resistance. How do you resist that notion, that this work would be second-best?

CB: Um, that’s a good question! Um, I have been saying yes to opportunities as they arrive because opportunities are opportunities and so that doesn’t feel much like resistance, but I think the ways in which I do engage, um, I continue … I guess I’m refusing to make work that compromises the way that I make work. And so if I’m offered an opportunity to program off-site or online, uh, or any sort of virtual way of programing, I insist on doing what I need to do. So I’m doing a performance, um, that involves me um, basically kind of ignoring the audience while I do what it is that I do. And I’m refusing to mediate that in a way that makes it easier for people to digest because of the fact that it’s mediated a little bit, um, like, I just … I can’t allow the art world to claw back the ground that I’ve gained as a disabled artist in, in some of those resistance forms, those ways of refusing productivity.

[00:24:08] So I just, I’m staking my ground. I’m staking it out and uh, digging in. 

KM: Amazing. And then in earlier conversation that you and I have had you spoke about a project that is related to your dreams and sleeping, is that still something that you’re working on?

CB: I am! So, a little publishing company called Option Sector Press just put out a little book, which is my ten-year journal of dreams. And I’ve been making work about my dreams for the past couple of years, and I plan to continue making work about my dreams into the foreseeable future. Um, one of those projects … I mean, I make a lot of work about dreaming, about beds, about sleeping and they never, they weren’t tied together in any conceptual way when I first started making them, but I think through the dream work I’m trying to tie them together a little bit more. Um, I feel like this work is very selfish and self-indulgent, but I never use those words in ways that are less than, uh, absolutely positive things. I think as artists we should be self-indulgent, and we should be selfish and we should be making work that is absolutely, uh, interesting and fascinating to ourselves. We should be making work that’s relevant to ourselves and our communities. 

So, I’m indulging myself especially through the pandemic in doing work that’s uh, interesting primarily to me. And I think what I’ve learned through my practice over the past couple of decades is that if it’s something that uh, is compelling to me that I make well, it will be compelling to other people.

KM: That’s amazing, yeah. I think the idea that being selfish and self-indulgent is a bad thing is a really flawed notion. Because I think that when we are creating work whether that’s in our jobs or in our families or in our communities that is rooted in serving ourselves, that can overflow into a service to our communities and also remind people that they can also be selfish and self-indulgent in a really positive way. I think it’s a really good point that when you create work that you want, like, that’s going to have value.

[00:26:55] CB: Yeah.

KM: Inherently.

CB: Yeah. And I think it’s another mode of resistance to not constantly be saying like, How is this work, contributing to society, how is this work selfless and what am I giving to the world and how am I uh, being productive for this machine that we keep talking about. This capitalist or neoliberal machine that I’m meant to be a part of. Like what if this is for me, what if I am talking to people that are important to me, what if I’m talking to people that are also resisting. Um, what if we stop looking at ourselves as uh, people that need to contribute and start looking at ourselves as people that um, that need to uh … I don’t know, that need to be there for each other and that need to be there for ourselves and that self-care doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with being productive for anyone else besides ourselves.

YK: I was going to ask you what advice you would have for um, emerging artists who find themselves in similar, who, who, who are also finding themselves you know, in that place of you know, people who are just out of school or things like that. Or coming from academic institutions going into the art world who are coming up against all these things that you’re speaking about. But I kind of feel like you just answered it for me with that, so.

CB: I mean, I like to tell, when young artists ask me about my practice and about how to be um … how to make work that is uh, a little bit more open-ended or work that is resistant … um, but without knowing what the answers are, like none of us have answers. I don’t have answers, that’s when I tell them I don’t have answers. I don’t know the way we should live, I don’t know how to resist. I think that um, I think people should be making art that asks questions. Not that make statements.

I think all the best art is by artists who go out into the world and say, I have a question and I’m curious to know the answer. And I’m going to try to find out the answer and I hope that you’ re curious enough to come with me on this journey.

KM: And then kind of on a similar vein, when you look at the Canadian art sector, what is your dream for it to evolve into? Moving forward, like in your wildest dream, what does the Canadian art sector look like? What does it feel like, how does it operate?

[00:29:55] CB: Wow. I mean right off the bat in my wildest dreams, Canadian institutions are a lot more diverse. And that’s … diverse in all respects. Um, in terms of who they employ and the kind of art that they exhibit. The kind of artists that are invited to have a seat at the table. I mean, that’s in institutions, galleries, funding agencies, schools, from the institutions that are creating artists and that are telling people what art is. And making art visible and making it viable. Um, I think all the whole, uh, sector needs a massive shaking up and I would love to see it start with diversity. Um, beyond that I, my dream is for artists to be able to um, make a living doing what they’re doing. Or at least to be able to make a life doing what they’re doing. And even if not all of us can make a living in the arts we should all be able to uh, have a life that centres our practices while we do the other things that we need to do to make a living. 

KM: So Cindy one thing that we’ve talked a lot about in this conversation, um, is the resistance of productivity, of bodies… especially the resistance that disabled bodies needs to take against the cogs of the wheels of productivity. How would you say that disabled bodies, um, are different and/or similar to the concept of a ‘failing’ body?

CB: Um … yeah, so I curated an exhibition uh, a performance evening a couple of years ago called Earthly Tents. In Edmonton, and it was from a quote … from I think, uh, Corinthians about these earthly tents, in other words our bodies, uh, being shrugged off in order to make our way to heaven. And I liked uh, I sort of liked the idea of bodies as tents. And I was trying to uh, I was trying to think of ways um, that I could start as a disabled artist talking about bodies’ failure, um, that wasn’t equated with disabled. That there’s ways that bodies can fail on able-bodied people that don’t necessarily um, put them in the realm of the disabled. So I’ve seen a lot of people taking on the word “disabled” because they have a body that’s starting to break down.

[00:33:00] And I guess I push against that a little bit; at the same time I don’t want to gatekeep the world of disability. But basically I was asked to curate an exhibition for a dance company and as a disabled artist I wanted to make work about disability and at the same time, I kept thinking about who it is that I wanted to involve, and all these people were suggested to me. You should work with this dancer; she’s getting a little bit older and her body is falling apart. And I bristled a bit at the idea that I would have to invite all of these people in that wanted to be a part of this discussion because of the fact that like “Oh, I’ve been dancing so long that I’ve developed these foot problems, or I’ve developed these knee problems.” That’s great, but that’s not the conversation I want to have. I want to talk about people with Disabilities.

So I’m going to take the idea of Disability and split it off from the idea of a failing body and talk about what it means when people who are disabled um, want to talk about their bodies as things. So we can allow ourselves to have people with um, with bodies that are considered ‘othered’ and with bodies that are considered less able, that don’t want to talk about their bodies as failing. 

And so I involved people with all different kinds of physical and mental disabilities in this project that did want to say, this is where my body is failing, and this is what I want to say about it. And it was really, and the project was really beautiful because of the fact that um, that it was uh, it was disabled people talking about their vulnerabilities and talking about the ways in which um, they didn’t have to try and pretend to have good bodies for these able-bodied audiences. They didn’t have to prove themselves as, um, as worthy of being uh, watched. And they didn’t have to prove themselves as, like, I’m good enough to perform to you. Look at me transcending my Disability for you. Um, they said Look at me and my body and what it’s capable of. And I’m going to tell you exactly what I, what I’m upset about. Or what isn’t working for me and, and I want to talk to you about the things that maybe I’m afraid of and that you’re definitely afraid of about my body. And it was a space for people to be really vulnerable in front of the people that are probably the most scary to be vulnerable in front of, which is not just able-bodied audiences but dance audiences! [laughter]

[00:36:00] KM: So when you spoke about earthly tents, you spoke about this idea of bodies as tents and for me I was kind of thinking about, what else happens when our bodies are completely, uh, at rest. When we’re sleeping, when we are sleeping and then what happens that is productive when we are sleeping, not only are we resting, but we’re dreaming. And dreams and sleep have come up a lot in your work. Um, could you talk about some of the other projects, exhibitions, curations, performances that you’ve done related to dreams and sleep? 

CB: Yeah. So I think where the dream work started for me is that I’ve been keeping these journal dreams for the past ten years. And I basically write down the dreams and then I never look back at them, it’s sort of the journal that just goes forward and generally doesn’t go backwards. I didn’t think of it as an art project when I started keeping track of my dreams, although I thought there might be something generative about it. And after about 7 or 8 years, um, I decided to read back on some of the dreams and as I read them, um, and realized that I didn’t recognise them at first. So I read a dream, I would experience it as though for the very first time as though it was somebody else’s dream and I had never read it before.

And then slowly it would wash over me the idea that this is something that I know very well, and I know well enough that it might in fact be a memory of something that really happened. I can smell the smells and see the sights and hear all of the audio of the dream and I really um, it was really affective. It was really, made an impression on me.

And so at the same time I was going through a series of, I was remembering a trauma that happened as a child. I mean, I remember the story leading up to the trauma, I didn’t remember the trauma itself. So, I was a child and I was actually abducted.

So in this trauma that happened to me um, basically I’m three years old, riding a big wheel tricycle and these two older boys start taunting me. It was, it was a very powerful event that I remember very clearly. And I didn’t realize until my mom recounted the story to me that the memory actually stopped there. And her retelling of the story starts much later than that. She remembers the point when she realized that I was missing, she went looking for me and couldn’t find me.

[00:38:55] Eventually, found someone who saw these boys leading me in a certain direction, she went looking for me and I don’t know who all was involved in finding me but eventually they found me and her, the important part of the story for her, is that the parents said, Oh, our boys would never do this but in fact they did. So for her it was a cautionary tale about parents not believing their children could do any harm.

But for me, I realized like oh, there’s a whole chunk of my life that’s missing that I never realized. And I grew up thinking that I could not be the kind of person that ever had that kind of trauma happen to them and realizing that it had, it suddenly gave me a whole new, um, a whole new conception of how my brain works. As someone with disabilities that affect the brain, I realized that I have a lot more thinking to do about my brain and how my brain works. 

And so I decided to take this catalogue of dreams and see if I could use it as a way to try and pull up memories from the past that have long been forgotten, by pulling these dreams out to the surface. Pulling out memories and trying to revisit traumas and see how I might be affected. How I might be changed, how my world might be changed by bringing these things back that have been long buried. 

KM: Wow. That’s beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this personal part of your life. Are you working on dream work right now? Or is it kind of an evolving practice?

CB: It is. I don’t know, I just made this sort of arbitrary decision because I had a journal that spanned ten years, that I was going to spend the next ten years making dream work. And for me, it felt like a way of removing some of the pressure of art-making if I, if I had sort of an outline of what I was going to be working on, then my brain wouldn’t have to spend too much time worrying about where the next project was going to come form or worrying about how my work fits together, and what’s going to be next and how people are going to conceptualize my practice as having these throughlines. I’m going to make this work about dreams, and I’m not going to worry too much about how it fits together. I’m just going to focus on this and really it’s about how can I be changed and how can the world around me change by revisiting these things that … I don’t know, that seem to have no value to the rest of the world, that seem to have no value even in my world.

[00:42:00] You know, we think of dreams as frivolous things that might signify something, but in fact it seems like a good way to continue my practice of resisting productivity and being anti-capitalist, by focusing on something that some people would think of as so frivolous. So I think the projects that I’m doing these days, um, really capitalize on that continued desire to resist productivity by uh, looking at a dream that I had, asking people who were in the dream to help recreate it with me and then having these really quite moments that um, an audience is welcome to participate in. But maybe they don’t have a way in in the same way that that one person does. Um, a lot of my performances I build at least one or two levels for people to engage with that um, that not everybody can. That’s maybe not for them. And that’s I think one of the ways that my Queer politic and my uh, Disability politic and my Fat politic comes into my work, is that I speak to people um, using a language that maybe the rest of the audience doesn’t necessarily have. Sometimes I’m speaking specifically to Queer people or specifically to Fat people or specifically to disabled people, and we’re sharing a moment. We’re sharing an experience that the rest of the world doesn’t have.

And the whole project doesn’t have to be about everybody, it doesn’t have to be for everybody. So I had someone approach me once and say, I get it that this work is really Queer, for example. This work is really Queer. But don’t you think you should make it accessible to me in some ways? I’m not Queer so I don’t understand this work.

And I’m like, honey, this work is not for you. 

[Laughter]

This work just isn’t for you. And I think a lot of my dream work is going to be like that, and it’s not specifically for Queer people or Disabled … maybe it’s just one person. Maybe this work is just for one person very quietly, um, and I think that in itself is uh, a form of resistance.

KM: So Cindy we’re coming to the end of this conversation, and again a massive thank you for joining us today. I know that the folks who are listening to this episode or who are going to be reading the transcript from this episode are going to garner a lot of knowledge and a lot of questions that they can ask themselves about their practice. So for anyone who is listening, who wants to get in touch with you, get in touch with your work, how can we find you, how can we get in touch with you and follow your work and your practice?

[00:45:00] CB: Yeah, my social media handle, Instagram and Twitter are @CindeBee, that’s C-I-N-D-E-B-E-E. My Facebook, where I spend a lot of my time these days is Love Cindy Baker. And my website is cindy-baker.ca.

KM: And the last question on all of our Crip Times episodes, is what has been bringing you joy recently?

CB: Water. Water has been bringing me joy because I’ve spent a lot of the summer in water. I have, I’ve been in Ontario for the summer, which is uh, not where I usually find myself as a Prairie-based artist and I have access to a swimming pool that I use almost every day and I’ve been swimming in lakes almost every day. And I can’t even begin to tell you how much joy I get being in.

[Jazz music]

KB: Crip Times is presented as part of the Wheels on the Ground podcast network. This podcast is produced by us, supported by Tangled Art + Disability and Bodies in Translation.

If you enjoyed this interview we release new episodes every Monday wherever good podcasts can be found.

[Jazz music fades out]

[Ends 00:46:49]