Attempting to address each item in the Craftivist Collective's Manifesto (1), this week I will reflect on number three, "Solidarity not Sympathy", which is clarified as "preserving the dignity of others by showing solidarity with them in your craft. Understand their struggles and you will understand their solutions. Activism is not about charity."
This particular item in the manifesto continues to create personal moments of frustration and confusion as I have never considered myself as someone who has the money, time or agency to take action against the multiple injustices interwoven into day to day life. Somewhere along the way I bought into phrases like "time is money", "complaining never gets anyone anywhere" and "your hard work will pay off". What I didn't realize is that these mantras, tightly stitched into my psyche, are designed to keep us islands in a sea of citizenship.
Another thing I am beginning to understand, is that in thinking about global injustices or "hyper-objects" (2) alone, it keeps us feeling hopeless and tirelessly working in solitary to exhaustion. I have also held a very limited understanding of what activism is. Assuming that it needs to be a highly public thing where people gather to march, sit-in, blockade and walk out in protest, my limited scope of activism keeps me feeling like I don't do enough.
As someone who has had so few struggles in life, I have also questioned whether my presence or demonstration of solidarity for others would be considered an empty gesture or an act to try and erase privileged, white, settler guilt. Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang poignantly point to examples of these hollow gestures and self-proclaimed absolvement by settlers in their text Decolonization is not a Metaphor. (3) Astutely aware that my increased consciousness only makes me more complicit in upholding the patriarchal, colonial, capitalist regimes that sustain me and my privilege, I have come to the conclusion that "solidarity" does not concern itself with my wellbeing or comfort, but rather makes it my responsibility to put the well being of others ahead of my own desires, feelings, ego, security and insecurities. It actually demands I relinquish agency and RE-craft or unlearn my understanding of achievement and success so that showing up, offering a hand, listening and supporting the innovations and leadership of others, helps me come in relation with a broader understanding of how all things are in relation with everything else.
To take a closer look at relationalism, Relationalism, within Western Culture, is a philosophy that can be traced back to William Pirie ( 1804 - 1885). This philosophy proposes "an entity cannot be considered independently of its relations to other entities, and that these relations have a real existence in themselves; specifically the doctrine that space and time are not entities but relations between entities." (4) Although often phrased in other ways, this concept is discussed through many other non-Western theories, faiths and practices. Within the art world, Amanda Boetzkes' book, The Ethics of Earth Art, outlines how early earth and land artists such as Robert Smithson, Ana Mendieta, and Olafur Eliasson, despite their work sometimes furthering ecological disruption, worked to draw attention to how we are all part of the same material cycle, so that that which affects the elemental, will surely impact animal and human.(5)
Wanting to move beyond descriptive art practice and environmental hypocrisy no longer remedied by the phrase "good intentions", how do I as an artist / maker come in relation with other "beings" and "objects" in a meaningful way to model the change I want to see? Could we consider making changes a creative act or is simply coming in relation with other human and non-human things the "act of making" we need to strive for? And how long will it take for changes at street level to work their way into the political and economic realms? Do we all need to be "Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish student and activist" who has stood up against all other societal expectations to demand immediate action in "fighting global warming" or can we lead the way by simply answering 'calls to action' ? Is the need to always arrive at the "new" or "invent" the latest innovation a capitalist construction that undermines ecological solidarity that would see environmental strategies implemented world wide?
If I think about "relationalism" as being in "solidarity" with all other things, how could this help me become a more informed and responsible producer, consumer or disposer of material culture? Although everyone will have their own approach, I have begun to embrace cradle to cradle thinking as clarified for me through the writing of architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. To think and move through this design model it involves asking, "Do I know where this object was made, how it was made or who made it?" and "Can I be assured that the production of this object was made under humane and equitable work conditions where the health and safety of the makers and their extended ecosystems were put before profits?" (6) By changing my personal practices to reflect "cradle to cradle" thinking I am helping to ensure I am producing and consuming what Sara Ahmed might refer to as "happy objects" ; for "if happiness creates its objects, then such objects are passed around, accumulating positive affective value as social goods." (7)
Often thinking about those who are grossly underpaid and overworked in less regulated areas of the world, one of the most enlightening phrases I have read this term was in Saidiya Hartman's novel Lose Your Mother, where she explains how during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade it was never their sisters or brothers that were sold, but always the stranger that became the slave. (8) By not knowing who is at the forefront of our material wealth we are at risk of being complicit in or even contributing to the enslavement and traumatization of humans, animals and ecological systems in foreign spaces. What we need to be even more aware of is that these atrocities are happening inside Canadian borders. #KeystonePipeline, #MontrealSweatshops, #CanadianHumanTrafficking
Luckily, if you need to buy something new, there are already many designers, researchers and consumers who embrace CRADLE to CRADLE as their mantra. These people are helping to provide us with guides and lists to assist individuals, businesses and governments put their "money where their mouth is". I have posted a few amazing links below to help us come more in relation with the material content of our purchases and investments.
(2) Morton, T. (2014). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and ecology after the end of the world.
(3) Eve Tuck, & K. Wayne Yang. (2012). Decolonization is not a metaphor. Journal Publishing Services
(4) Oxford Online Dictionary
(5) BOETZKES, A. (2010). The Ethics of Earth Art. University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.cttttt24
(6) McDonough, W., & Braungart, M. (2002). Cradle to cradle: Remaking the way we make things
(7) Sara Ahmed, (2010). "Happy Objects", The Affect Theory Reader, Melissa Gregg, Gregory J. Seigworth
(8) Hartman, S. V. (2007). Lose your mother: A journey along the Atlantic slave route. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux