21-23 October 2016
Tramway & the Art School, Glasgow
Just over a fortnight before the doomy confirmation of President Trump, Seattle activist and lawyer Dean Spade is on stage at Tramway, talking on a panel about his feelings of “cumulative grief” and a shared “loss of optimism”. The antidote to such bleak times, he suggests, must be getting organised in a joyful way. Connecting with friends, fleeing prisons of race, class and gender on a daily basis, constantly learning, practising healing – and he points out he’s not talking in the “rich white yoga lady” sense of the word either – are necessary resistance tactics. It’s a theme central to Arika’s Episode 8, three days of performances, screenings and discussions under the banner, Refuse Powers’ Grasp.
Audre Lorde’s 1980s notion of self-care as an act of political warfare still reverberates – from defiant life advice dished out by the mischievous and militant Miss Major, a Stonewall activist and trans icon now in her 70s, to discussions of sex workers’ safety with Anastacia Ryan from Scottish charity, SCOT-PEP. Edinburgh-based arts pioneers, Arika have gone to plenty trouble to embed radical care deep in their right-on programme – events are BSL-interpreted and captioned, toilets are gender-neutral and wheelchair accessible, and in keeping with their pragmatic, warm take on revolution, bus fares home and drinks tokens are supplied for anyone in the asylum system who is strapped for cash.
The weekend is bookended by a Friday club night at Glasgow School of Art and a Sunday multimedia performance – both overlorded by the queer New York DJ, artist and face of Kenzo x H&M, Juliana Huxtable. Her trappy, R&B set chops up Livin’ Joy and Britney Spears with jerking bangers from the likes of Gangsta Boo and La Chat over live drums. A histrionic, mesmerising blast of Japanese butoh from performance artist boychild beforehand sees her writhing and lip-syncing to distorted Beyoncé and Kelela tracks, covered in gold bodypaint, teeth clamped tensely around a strobe light.
A Saturday highlight comes from the whipsmart New Jersey video artist, Sondra Perry (pictured above), whose site-specific piece Resident Evil draws out colonial themes from her beloved Alien films and wraps it sinisterly around US news footage and karaoke versions of Steely Dan’s ‘Peg’ and Nina Simone’s ‘I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free’. As disturbing as it is sweetly affecting, even when Perry loses the link on her live Periscope feed, it seems to segue in weirdly well with her themes of surveillance and technology.
Over a dense and intense three days, problem topics of biological essentialism, carceral feminism, prison abolition and state-supported pinkwashing are unpacked and cross-examined through workshops and round-table chats, but the organisers haven’t forgotten to counterbalance the political theory with lighter moments, including a screening of the excellent Criminal Queers, San Francisco filmmaker Eric Stanley’s camp, lo-fi, lo-budget, John Waters-y take on the radical trans struggle against the prison industrial complex.
Enjoyably heavy on the American performers and speakers, Episode 8’s programme also included local activists and campaigners, with money made at the club night going to Glasgow migrant support group, We Will Rise, and New Orleans community group, Gallery of the Streets collaborating with Glasgow Open Dance School for a black queer retelling of Marge Piercy’s feminist utopian novel, Woman on the Edge of Time.
Arika have been doing an excellent job of staging nourishing and entertaining Episodes for years, but there’s something about the current creep and not so subtle rise of bigotry and barriers that makes this most recent update seem all the more vital.
This review appeared in the January issue of The Wire.