On this episode, Kayla and Kristina are joined by Jenna Reid for a conversation that feels like a bolt of energy to our weary pandemic souls. Jenna speaks about Mad Movements, their histories, their teachings, and how embracing Madness can support the goal of abolition. We discuss the role of Madness in bringing an ethic of care to academia, the (in)accessibility of online activism, and the politics of working from bed.
“We needed art that provoked change in the world, not that provoked change in us.”
Jenna speaks about her art practice, emphasizing the need to embrace slowness into not just our society, but also our own lives – what might a rejection of productivity bring to our activism and community building?
We end the conversation speaking about how to honour our rage, and how to find joy and love in the face of social injustice.
CRIP TIME’S FAVOURITE QUOTES:
“I also am deeply aware that this idea of online activism actually isn’t inherently accessible to all. So there are many, many folks within the Mad community and beyond that don’t have access to adequate devices to be organizing online.”
“I think it’s not just about the online or the in the bed but that our lives are kind of full and our activism is happening in really rich and diverse ways.”
“When the pandemic started to unfold around us and we started to have more information around how deeply it was going to impact our lives and our communities, the first things I was thinking about is how are we going to show up for each other? How are we going to hold space for each other? And what types of things do we need?”
“How do we adapt and adjust our already reciprocal and set in place care networks, um, and love for one another in a way that’s uh … that adapted to what was happening in our lives at the time.”
“How have I brought that humanness into my teaching and it was, I was mentored in that way. I was mentored to treat people with um, with that ethics of care.”
“Everything I have always done has always started from what I’ve learned from the survivor community.”
“Movements are not ever completely separate, because we all have you know, intersecting identities that have us take up space in multiple movements.”
“Is that in fact I don’t value um, kind of critical theory academic knowledge in the way that other academics do.”
“I approach all the work. I start from the point of kind of in who’s interest and determined by who and why, and to what impact.”
“I’m so um, in awe and inspired by artists right now in particular, artists who are critically engaging in where we’re at in this time and moment of conversations of abolition becoming central within all spaces.”
“Just the very nature of being white um, being a woman, coming from a middle class family, all of these things meant that both my Madness was read very differently, the level of threat was read very differently, and my ability to kind of um, develop my own kind of care circle was possible in different ways.”
“I think over the years what the psych survivor community does and has taught us is that we’ve learned that we have to build our formal and informal kind of networks of care differently.
“We have always known, even with privilege, that medicalized or institutionalized intervention always is uh, reduces our agency and autonomy, has varying degrees of violence and when you are um, kind of more privileged there’s less violence but there still is threat and possibility of violence. And the violence is uh, is often lethal depending on your position in the world.”
“I’ve learned from organizing but also from personal experiences is that what we need in this world, not just to survive but to flourish, is things like housing. We need things that are peer-led.”
“We need to be together. And so it’s like we needed peer-led staff, we needed jobs, we needed to be part of community, we needed art and we needed art and cultural things that were not therapeutic.”
“We needed art that provoked change in the world, not that provoked change in us.”
“Things haven’t changed based on requests for reform. Or requests for giving more resources to institutions like police.”
“Defunding, disarming, dismantling, and abolishing the police is a thing that is very clearly the next step.”
“I think that what we learn from the movement is that we haven’t come to this time of abolition quickly. We haven’t come to this time of abolition with no practical or theoretical knowledge. And we have come to this time of abolition distinctly because it’s a matter of life and death.”
“I think art practices help us to think creatively about what type of change we want, how we want change and how we get there.”
“All of this activism matters and the art I make kind of engages with pulling that together and seeing it as being in conversation and not in conflict with one another.”
“Our movements require us to be in relation with one another. Our movements require us to be constantly in this both reflective and also active state. And that action requires that we are doing things but that doesn’t require a particular pace of doing things.”
“It’s about repositioning or rethinking our understanding of what it means to be involved, engaged, and active.”
“Involved, engaged, and active means that in fact, we need to be working towards change. But we don’t have to think about work as being this productive, neo-liberal thing.”
“It’s not entirely my space to be at the centre of dreaming of what a new future looks like.”
“I have deeply learned over the years is that decentralizing, kind of my visions for the future is an important thing to think through because I hold a lot of power in this world. And people who my ancestors, people who have existed in the world with the, with the power that I do, have not, have not built up futures that are viable. Have not built up times that are viable.”
“What I think that I dream for is this really valuing of reciprocal, sustainable communities.”
“I want to see a future where we are, where we are ready for the change now. But that we’re willing to be humble enough to know where our place in that change is, and how we might be a part of bringing about that change.”
“I have spent a great deal of my life being very kind of filled with rage at injustice.”
“It was understood that our anger at injustice can provoke a movement. But, a place that I’ve come to after kind of making sense of knowing that it is ok to be full of rage at injustice is that my joy is coming from knowing that where I really want to be is in a space of love.”
“In a space of community, in a space that is about continually having a reciprocal process of showing up for each other, in very meaningful ways.”
“But it’s also a beautiful thing to learn how to receive love. And to learn how to really try to honour the rage but not … but not stay in that rage really try to centralize the space for love and for moving forth with that love.”
“I’ve always loved this kind of uh, ability to feel that kind of movement of, uh, through anger. But I’m, I’m really present to wanting to build and to receive and to also centre love.
Cause it feels joyful! And I think we need that in these times. We really, really need that.”
Narrator: You’re listening to a Wheels on the Ground Production.
[Jazz music playing]
Kristina McMullin [KM]: Hi all, welcome to the ninth episode of Crip Times.
Yousef Kadoura [YK]: Today on Crip Times we will be listening to Jenna Reid. An artist, activist, and reluctant academic. With your hosts, Kayla and Kristina.
KM: So, hi Jenna, thank you so much for joining us today on the Crip Times podcast. Um, when I, when we were planning out this podcast there are certain people I really wanted to be able to have a conversation with for my own interest, but then also that I wanted uh, to be able to share uh, folks with the larger community and Jenna you’re a person that I wanted to talk to for my own interest and also really wanted to shine a light on the work that you’re doing and the human that you are.
So, for folks who don’t know you and aren’t familiar with your work, are you able to introduce yourself?
JR: Yeah, sure. So I’ve come into a practice that when I introduce myself I often reference the late psychiatric survivor Diana Capone in saying that I am a woman who wears many hats. And the roles that I typically bring into my conversations is that I am an artist and I am an activist, and I tend to refer to myself as a reluctant academic. Um, so I’m going to tell you a little bit about how I came to those spaces. So, I came to Toronto somewhere around 2004, or 2005. And was almost immediately introduced to the psychiatric survivor movement. At that time what we know now as Mad studies was really only starting to develop in the academy. And so while my experiences of discrimination in post-secondary education is what led me to connect with people in the movement, and it was a central part of the organizing that I do and that I did, academia and academics didn’t have such a central or prevalent place in the larger movement as it does now.
[00:03:00] Um, yeah. So I think that um, because of that the more that uh, what we see happening is more and more people are starting to get introduced to critical ideas of Madness and the organization of the Mad movement through academia, and this drastic impact on the ways in which we’re coming to understand what’s happening in our movement. Um, but I think for me, I am always present to what it meant to come into the movement at a time when it was not super popular in academia. If not to say that it really didn’t exist much at all.
For me, uh, coming into the movement was always about relationships. So, those relationships were multi-generational and cross-movement and they occurred in complex places and spaces. So, sometimes it did mean knocking on someone’s door to start a conversation, having a cup of tea with someone, spending time together physically, but also a lot of our connecting happened online. Some of my most long-lasting relationships within the community started on a listserv. Which, which is really interesting. We often think of Toronto as a hub for organizing of all sorts, but for decades the internet has been central in how Mad people come together across space and place, which included for me at all hours of the night or the morning. It meant it often happened in my bed, a lot of my activism has been tied to the site of my bed which I think is a really beautiful thing.
But yeah. Apart from that I think that the work that I’ve done is connected to community, um, spanning these practices of being an activist and an academic and an artist. So none of these roles really exist separate from one another and the issues that I’ve tended to organize around are less about identity politics, which is kind of a really central focus in what’s happening in academia, and instead they’ve been focussed around issues of inter-institutional violence and experiences of discrimination.
So, this is always meant that the issues span across and between overlapping and disparate communities. So that’s a little bit, I guess – or a lot of a bit – about me, a lot of how I entered into the space of the work that I do. And the ways in which they don’t, it’s impossible to tease apart those various roles that I take up.
[00:06:00] Kayla Besse [KB]: Wow, that was a stunning intro. Um, and it’s … you know, I think you’re an expert especially in this moment where everybody has had to move their organizing online in some capacity during the pandemic. The broader public has a lot to learn from Mad folks and Disabled folks who are like ‘yeah, I’ve been working from my bed for like ever, so join the club!’
JR: Yeah for sure, and I think that there’s layers to that as well because also within the spaces I’ve been welcomed into in my organizing, um, I also am deeply aware that this idea of online activism actually isn’t inherently accessible to all. So there are many, many folks within the Mad community and beyond that don’t have access to adequate devices to be organizing online, that don’t have access – that are more used to using for instance the internet in public places. Uh, which is not possible in a pandemic, or not in the same ways.
So there’s complexities, right, organizing online is deeply rooted within our movement and yet also … the, the inability – or not inability – the lack of resources to have access to online spaces is real, right? There’s other ways that folks have organized that are also not in person. So and you could look at that in terms of like the, the … using the phone or using you know, calling after hours when 9-5 services weren’t available. I think it’s not just about the online or the in the bed but that our lives are kind of full and our activism is happening in really rich and diverse ways.
KB: Hm. That’s so important, yeah.
KM: So – in your, like, life, what has um, activism and community looked like in a period of COVID-19, this pandemic and quarantine and isolation?
JR: Yeah so when the pandemic started to unfold around us and we started to have more information around how deeply it was going to impact our lives and our communities, uh, the first things I was thinking about is how are we going to show up for each other? How are we going to hold space for each other? And what types of things do we need?
And that meant um, holding emotional space with colleagues, with friends, with loved ones, that meant offering skillsets.
[00:09:08] So whether it was within say my academic practices, making sure that my students new that I was there as a human first, that I was um, able and willing to be flexible and understanding that a pandemic is going to impact every aspect of your body and your life, knowing that your ability to focus is going to be impacted. That you’re all of a sudden going to be um, in close proximity with those your live with all the times. That’s gonna impact you and thinking about how do you show up to support people through that? It also meant making sure that my colleagues didn’t feel over-burdened with what were new work expectations and instead try and think about how we offer each other generosity in the tasks that were required of us. It meant reaching out not just to uh, like to chosen family. Right? I’m queer, and this notion of having complex intimate units within my life meant that I was thinking about who is going to be having uh, needs in terms of getting food? Who uh, is going to need checking in on late at night? What do I need from the people around me? So it was about how do we adapt and adjust our already reciprocal and set in place care networks, um, and love for one another in a way that’s uh … that adapted to what was happening in our lives at the time.
KB: That’s gorgeous, yeah. And it’s, it’s … the way, like, the way we survive especially as Mad and Crip and Disabled folks. Like, I agree, chosen family has showed up for me and saved me in this time and supported me too. Yeah.
KM: Yeah, and I think listening to you speak, the way you talk about your academic practices, being about the human, and being about care, not only for yourself but colleagues, how have you been able to navigate the academic world with this human and care focus?
JR: Ha! [Laughs] I mean, there’s no easy answer to that. I don’t know if I have figured out how to navigate it. I think one thing that I’m deeply grateful for is that my first introduction into being a professional within academic spaces was one that I entered into also in relationship with my activist community.
[00:12:09] And so I was brought in in a way where I was from the very beginning treated as if I mattered and I had something valuable to contribute but also that it was a community effort. And that it was not responsible to the academy and the academic institution that everything we did was responsible to each other, but also more broadly back out and into the community.
So my first teaching job was at Ryerson in Disability studies but I think particular it needs to be noted that it was in a course that was team taught. And that was history of Madness and some of the central reasons for developing the course in this way was so that you kind of worked with your team um, to support each other, to highlight each other’s strengths, to uh … really be there with one another in uh, not in competition which is unusual for academia, but instead as, uh, really as a team. And even just the other week, cause the team changes over the years. I’ve taught in that course I think for 8 years now, and the team always changes because it’s precarious labour and so people are kind of moving in and on and through these jobs for various reasons.
And I met with, in the last two weeks I’ve met with two different iterations of the team. One uh, set of colleagues who no longer work with me and one who do currently work with me, and it’s just so um, I’m always so in awe of how much care is centralized within that classroom practice. And I have seen that in other spaces cultivated, uh, in which people are really working hard to do academia differently. Um, to not be following um, kind of expectations of what the institution wants of us. And instead, to really in genuine ways bring our ethics of organizing um, into the institution which is a way to kind of disrupt and unsettle things. And it becomes very clear that it’s disruptive and unsettling, particularly because I’ve always worked in academic spaces that are progressive departments.
[00:15:00] I’m in Disability studies, I have worked in other departments that are progressive and I don’t experience these levels of kind of, um, justice oriented uh, approaches to work, or care oriented approaches in those progressive spaces. It actually isn’t happening uh, as much as you would hope or think. And so yeah. I’m not sure if that answers the question, I can’t even remember exactly what the question is but I think it was around like, how have I brought that humanness into my teaching and it was, I was mentored in that way. I was mentored to treat people with um, with that ethics of care. But also um, with the uh, the values that I take up within the organizing and activist work that I do. And I wouldn’t be, I won’t stay in the academic institution if I can’t continue that. Which is like, that’s a scary thing to say when I’m still a person who’s in a precarious labour situation. Like I’m, I’m kind of back and forth. I’m always on contract. So I just finished what’s known as a limited term faculty which is the least precarious I’ve been because it was one year of full-time employment at a salary that I’ve never seen before in my life. But that was only one year. And based on kind of the difficulty of finding work in general in this time, but also the pandemic and also the competitive nature of finding academic work, I’m back to not even fulltime work. You know?
So it’s a scary thing to um, to … to speak to these experiences and those values out loud when I’m still precarious, when I’m still worrying and wondering how I’m going to pay my bills. Or if I’m going to get a contract next semester or … or how that kind of all, all, all plays out.
KB: I think it’s, I think it’s … the word brave is like, can be overdrawn but I think it sounds to me like you’re drawing from that mentorship that’s been given to you and you’re really like, um, putting your critical theory and your material practice, you’re walking the talk it sounds like. That’s probably so, so valuable for your students and your colleagues. Maybe you want to talk about more specifically about how you do marry your critical theory and your material practice? And those parts of your worlds?
[00:18:05] JR: Um .. sure, I mean I don’t know if I was prepared to be thinking how that, how … how that happens and questions like those sometimes can be hard for me to answer in that my practice often is like um, sometimes seemingly so disparate in that it feels often as if I’m pulling together areas um, or types of practice that not everybody understands as fitting together. So I’m always having to explain my practice before I can even talk about how my practice takes shape or how I might marry that critical theory with the practice.
But again, I think the way it happens, whether we’re thinking about the way that kind of my artistic practice happens or um, if I’m teaching in the classroom or if I am writing academic papers or if I’m organizing uh, within movement action, is that everything I have always done has always started from what I’ve learned from this like survivor community. So I really materialized, and branching out from that, I think it’s important to talk about like the psych survivor community and/or movement knowledge necessarily has to bridge to movement knowledge, other movements and other things that I’m learning as I work alongside. Um, uh, and you know, various intersecting movements. Movements are not every completely separate, because we all have you know, intersecting identities that have us take up space in multiple movements. But then they also have distinct histories, so how do I materialize my critical theory into practice? Is that in fact I don’t value um, kind of critical theory academic knowledge in the way that other academics do. I am not … I am, I am just not – that’s why I think, that’s why I refer to myself as a reluctant academic because I remember preparing for my comprehensive exams and, which is a, which is a thing that happens with most PhD’s. And sometimes you get the ability to set your own reading list and one of my comprehensive exams was on critical theory. And I kept asking like, like – how do you know where to set these parameters on what I’m, when I’m reading? Like what is necessary to go on here and how do I determine that?
[00:21:00] And one of my um, uh … not committee members, faculty within my department said, well, you just know. You have to start with the canon, you have to make sure you incorporate the canon and then you then develop. And then their answer got more fulsome from there, but in my head I was always like but who sets the canon? Like who determines the parameters around a canon is what’s understood as who is central, uh, to that theory, that, the people or the writing or the pieces that you can’t ignore? And I just couldn’t take that answer. I didn’t understand how we could agree in any sense that there even is a canon to start from.
But I was very fortunate in my PhD that my supervisor Rachel Gorman very much celebrated, supported and again mentored this type of thinking in which the Canon is socially constructed, and highly problematic and I both think that um, being uh … that reading theory, that being engaged in critical thought, that knowing the histories, even knowing the histories of canon can be helpful to know why and how they get set as canons. Knowing who’s referencing what. That all matters, but also we can ask why is this critical theory and why can’t I pull in other stuff.
So I think I’ve often approached me, I approach all the work. I start from the point of kind of in who’s interest and determined by who and why, and to what impact.
KB: Whos’ work right now, academic or not at all, is inspiring you or …?
JR: Oh damn. I hate this question. [Laughter] I will, I’ll answer it but I hate this question. Because I’m, I’m very much um … I don’t hold knowledge in a way where I rhyme off things that are … like I’m constantly moving. And so I don’t hold onto things in that it’s like, this is … I don’t like to pick favorites, I don’t like to make these decisions.
KB: You don’t have to!
JR: I do very much want to say that I think that I’m so um, in awe and inspired by artists right now in particular, artists who are critically engaging in where we’re at in this time and moment of conversations of abolition becoming central within all spaces.
[00:24:12] Like in really accessible spaces, meaning when I say accessible I mean um, I’m using that very loosely. I mean, in popular culture, in places where folks who are not in academia can take it up. In places where folks who don’t consider themselves as political which is not a thing, we’re all political, but um, I’m very inspired by artists, I’m inspired by activists and organizers who have been doing this work, um, forever. And who are getting um, the, who are kind of continuing these dialogues in full force. That’s what’s inspiring me right now and that’s who’s inspiring me.
So I’m thinking of organizers within Black Lives Matter. I’m thinking of the conversations that are happening between um, uh … organizers within, uh, Black Liberation movements and Indigenous resurgence and sovereignty movements and communities. I’m thinking about what is happening kind of … yeah … but I’m, I’m most inspired right now by creative folks.
KM: And what’s happening right now in the social movements were seeing, especially in abolition movements calls to defund the police, BLM becoming prevalent and visible in every aspect of society. Um, what can those of us who maybe don’t have a huge knowledge of Mad people’s histories and Mad movements, what can we learn from the histories of Mad Movements that have been doing this work to ensure this work we’re doing now becomes sustainable?
JR: Yeah, so I was thinking about this the other day. And I was thinking about how the first time that I had conversations about for instance, alternatives to police intervention in Mad people’s lives, happened almost within – I could almost say for certain within the first couple of months of me engaging with the psych survivor community in that I was in a time in my life where i was experiencing significant and prolonged crisis and distress in which the way that I was kind of experiencing the world and the way the world was experiencing me, was that I was constantly seen as um, in a state of perhaps danger.
[00:27:02] That I might be a danger to myself or people didn’t know what to do with what’s going on with me. And once of the – or I’m sure multiple folks in the community – had very clear and distinct conversations with me about how to pre-plan to avoid police involvement. But we want to think broader than that, it was also about how to avoid hospital stays. So how to avoid being formed and being held in the hospital against, um, against um, my kind of wishes. It was about how to avoid social work involvement. Um, and it – just kind of like the medicalized responses to Madness.
And so developing very clearly and distinct alternatives was central in the organizing that we were doing because it was around thinking about kind of the movements’ deep knowledge around what happens when there is um, uh, medicalized intervention and/or institutionalized intervention in Mad people’s lives. But when I was thinking about this conversation that I had with various community members I was also deeply aware of what made it possible for me to put that in place. So what type of privileges I had in my life where people trusted me in times to say, when I go into crisis, when I start to become detached from reality or I start to appear more agitated or more violent or any of these concerning type behaviours that people ascribe to Mad people, here’s what I want you to do and I had folks around me who would trust that that was um, a reasonable alternative. That had the privilege to be able to show up and support me, so they had time and resources to be there. That I wasn’t in situations where my crisis and distress was being kind of responded to by, by kind of larger public um, and just the very nature of being white um, being a woman, coming from a middle class family, all of these things meant that both my Madness was read very differently, the level of threat was read very differently, and my ability to kind of um, develop my own kind of care circle was possible in different ways.
So, I think over the years what the psych survivor community does and has taught us is that we’ve learned that we have to build our formal and informal kind of networks of care differently.
[00:30:10] We have always known, even with privilege, that medicalized or institutionalized intervention always is uh, reduces our agency and autonomy, has varying degrees of violence and when you are um, kind of more privileged there’s less violence but there still is threat and possibility of violence. And the violence is uh, is often lethal depending on your position in the world. So if you are Black and Indigenous, it’s well known that there is a high-likeliness that the violence can turn lethal. So it’s, so things that we’ve learned and things that I’ve learned from organizing but also from personal experiences is that what we need in this world, not just to survive but to flourish, is things like housing. We need things that are peer-led and I think it’s really important to mention that peer-led initiatives are not the stuff that we know now. The stuff we know now is actually neo-liberal, it appropriated within the systems, exploitative of labour and gives no power to Mad folks or Mad community. The peer led stuff that’s started decades ago, um, and you can read the work of Jijian Voronka to look at some of these histories, is it was political.
It was about um, peer-responses was about creating these alternatives when mental health workers thought that it was dangerous for us to even have community with each other. They didn’t want us to talk to each other outside of our day programs or our hospitalized programs and Mad people were like fuck this shit. Like, our lives – we need each other. We need to be together. And so it’s like we needed peer-led staff, we needed jobs, we needed to be part of community, we needed art and we needed art and cultural things that were not therapeutic. Like, we needed art that was about creating, uh, like we needed art that provoked change in the world, not that provoked change in us.
JR: Like largely we have learned over time that what we want is non-medicalized responses. And there are places that you can see this happening specifically as shaped through Mad movements organizing, but again we have to be connecting this more broadly to how this interacts with and/or hasn’t been responsive to cross-movement organizing.
[00:33:22] Which you could look to places like Working for Change which is a social enterprise and has things like Parkdale Green Thumb, Out of this World Café, Raging Spoon, Voices from the Street. We have the examples of the Gorstein Centre. We have Sound Times. Uh, there’s historical example of Mental Patients Association, we could also think about the role of the empowerment council and what it has offered us or cultural things like Asylum Magazine or the Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto.
And there’s things cultural things, like Friendly Spike Theatre that existed. And then there have been over the years so many um, incredible working groups that have addressed issues that were talking about now, and, and the Mad community has been organizing for decades. So working group that I was a part of a little bit was the psychiatric uh, disability anti-violence coalition. Um, and uh, they did a lot of great work. The work that I was involved with was kind of um, looking at this experience of lethal violence, um, and in particular looking at coroners’ inquests at the time of the death of Edmond Yu to 2013 which was when uh, the death of Sammy Yatim happened. And I think that it’s so important to be aware of these distinct, um, examples and moments within psych survivor or Mad movement, like history and organizing because uh, I was reading over some of my, my research notes the other night in prep for our conversation. And the, the, the themes or the … uh, issues … or the policy suggestions or the ideas for reforming police that were present within the coroner’s inquests, man … it was. It was so uh, disheartening to read because it, like … it just, it reminded me that things haven’t changed based on requests for reform.
[00:36:07] Or requests for giving more resources to institutions like police. And so what it does teach me is that the Mad movement along with um, along with and alongside other movement organizing, specifically centering Black and Indigenous um, and Trans movement organizing is that defunding uh, disarming, dismantling and abolishing the police is a thing that uh, is very clearly the next step. Resourcing our communities, this um … this very intentional move to resource communities, to provide people with things not just basic living but things that we need to flourish in society.
These are things that we have known, we have needed. Like you can re- you can read it in policy documents, you can read it in suggestions from inquests. You can read it um, in the various initiatives that have taken place in our communities. And so, I think that’s what we learn from the movement is that we haven’t come to this time of abolition quickly. We haven’t come to this time of abolition with no um, practical or theoretical knowledge. And we have come to this time of abolition um, very … uh … distinctly because it’s a matter of life and death.
KB: That’s right.
Um, one thing that I did want to talk to you a little bit about today is your art practice, and specifically kind of like your role as a community artist and how kind of that work is contributing to change in our society, uh, that you mentioned, I’m going to quote you form what you just said of needing art to promote change in society, not art that changes us.
So could you talk a little bit about your art practice and how it promotes needed changes in society?
JR: Yeah, for sure. So I think my art practice takes shape in multiple ways. There are types of art, all of my art is textile based or fibre based. So I work with like cloth and I work with um, but I work in, in different styles and I work for different purposes. So some of my work is, um, what I refer to is kind of activist aesthetics or related within movement organizing. And I see that as the work that I do like with the large installations of banners for various activations, um, in movements or the creation of bandannas.
[00:39:12] Or exploring making patches, the types of things … the things that we have seen within movements or in um, in our actions forever. Right? Um, but that is art. And I also do art that is uh, deeply – that’s very public art – but I also do art that’s deeply tied to what I understand as a sight of organizing that often gets overlooked which are those private spaces, um, that Mad and Disabled folks often take up.
So, I do a lot of quilting, um, and I work in a very slow process to um, in which I work with natural dyes. So I dye fabrics using, um, natural resources, or materials and um, it’s … it’s this thing in which those practices seem as if they are in contradiction with one another, or that they juxtapose against each other as opposites. But I see them as being married together. I think art practices help us to think creatively about what type of change we want, how we want change and how we get there. And so for me, um, thinking through private and public, large scale and not very um, fast and intense and hyper-productive practices versus very slow, very slow and, and not super um … like, uh, like hyper-productive. What I see in that is that it helps us to learn about kind of like the sustainability of movement organizing and the ways that we need all of us.
So the ways that we need all of our skillsets and all of our ways of existing in the world, because the, the art that is very public and very quick um, with its impact is generally the type of activism that we value more. Because it’s, because we see it more. we see it, we can kind of name and spot the impact of it. And then we overlook the ways in which those of us who are showing up in our bed, those of us who are spending hours writing letters, doing research, pulling together resources, reading, writing critical pieces, um … making sure that food is made for people. Making sure that somebody has, that people within the community have emotional support.
[00:42:14] All of this activism matters and the art I make kind of engages with pulling that together and seeing it as being in conversation and not in conflict with one another.
KB: Hm. Yeah. How do you think we might culturally invite some space or move that needle a little bit for folks who are less familiar with this slow way of working and creating? Um, to begin to value that more?
JR: Yeah so I think that an important thing to um, consider as we’re thinking through how do we um, uh, make sustainable movements but also how do we um, uh … effect change, is that we keep in mind, um, that uh … that our movements require us to be in relation with one another. That our movements require us to be constantly in this both reflective and also active state. And that action um, requires that we are doing things but that doesn’t require a particular pace of doing things. So I think there is this idea that um, because I am a person who um spends a lot of time in bed. And there are moments in which I can hyper-produce. For instance the public banners that I make, uh, they often will happen – I will get a request for a banner – and within three to five days I will have made these massive scale banners that will take me like almost, sometimes, 20 hour days. Like I’m working at this intensive state.
But then I might spend weeks in bed after that. And it’s very, um, because our society in general is very passive in how we engage in things, I think that we are led … we’re not invited to believe that if we are slow, slow meaning uh, like I’m referring to myself as slow, like being in bed, working at slow paces. Um, processing slowly, thinking slowly, needing space and time. Um, I think because society though is passive, that then has us off on our own, not developing kind of the community relations that could pull us into work even in those slow spaces.
[00:45:10] And not thinking about how we get involved. So, if you are slow, how do you think about what you can do in your slowness? If you need to be alone when you are doing your activism, what then can you contribute? If you have kind of um, like I think that it is about not … it’s about repositioning or rethinking our understanding of what it means to be involved, engaged, and active. Involved, engaged, and active means that in fact, we need to be working towards change. But we don’t have to think about work as being this productive, neo-liberal thing. And, and I think that’s an important piece is that uh, all of our skillsets really are necessary but that can’t put us in a place where we are being passive and inactive.
KM: Amazing. We are getting towards the end of our conversation, so I kind of want to ask, like the final two questions that we like to kind of wrap up our episodes with that can allow our listeners, our transcript readers to dream alongside of us and have vision alongside of us, you talked about how getting involved, engaged and active are what we need to do to work towards change.
What is your dream, or your vision, for the world? What are the changes that you desire to be seen for future?
JR: Yeah! You know, I think that … I kind of have a dual answer to that in that it’s not entirely my space to be at the centre of dreaming of what a new future looks like. That I have, um, deeply learned over the years is that de-centralizing, kind of my visions for the future is an important thing to think through, um, because I hold a lot of power in this world. And people who uh, my ancestors, people who have existed in the world with the, with the power that I do, have not, have not built up futures that are viable. Have not built up times that are viable.
What I think that I dream for is this um, really valuing of, um, reciprocal um, sustainable communities.
[00:48:12] That we are really dismantling systems and institutions that are, uh, only serving the powerful elite. Uh, I want to see a future where we are um, where we are ready for the change now. But that we’re willing to be humble enough to know where our place in that change is, and how we might be a part of um bringing about that change.
KB: Yeah. And, in that process of bringing about that change and of course, that can involve you know, struggle and giving up power and passing the mic in various ways, but we – we are wondering, and we’ve been asking our guests, what Crip, disability, mad joy looks like for you. Especially when we embrace the messiness and slowness that you’ve been talking about here.
JR: Yeah. I guess for me that joy looks uh, I have spent a great deal of my life being um, very kind of filled with rage at injustice. And for a long time, I was really uh, punished for that rage. I was punished by psychiatrists, I was punished by just kind of societal expectations. I was um, uh … rage was not an acceptable um, way of being. And then, I came into a time where that rage was accepted. And in a way where it was understood that our anger at injustice can provoke a movement. But, a place that I’ve come to after kind of making sense of knowing that it is ok to be full of rage at injustice is that my joy is coming from knowing that where I really want to be is in a space of love. In a space of community, in a space that is um, about continually having a reciprocal process of showing up for each other, in very meaningful ways. And I have witnessed this and been able to uh, hopefully provide this for those around me
[00:51:07] But it’s also a beautiful thing to learn how to receive love. And to learn how to really try to honour the rage but not … but not stay in that rage really try to centralize um, the, the … the space for love and for moving forth with that love.
Which is it’s weird, it’s a very – I think it’s a huge turning point for me, I often like to talk about my Grandma who raised, she was the one person who did raise me to honour my fiery side. She is a very fiery person herself, and I’ve always loved this kind of uh, ability to feel that kind of movement of, uh, through anger. But I’m, I’m really present to wanting to build and to receive and to also centre love.
Cause it feels joyful! And I think we need that in these times. We really, really need that.
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.