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The team behind C*ntemporary launch Ecofutures Festival - Queer, Feminist and Decolonial Responses to Ecological & Environmental Changes

Since 2012, CUNTemporary has been curating for and from the margins with loving and revolutionary disregard for the mainstream, the respectable and the profitable. Grounded in de-colonial and queer strategies, this labour of love and radical care connects with audiences and artists who welcome a reorientation away from the centrality of whiteness, patriarchy and the logic of exploitation.

EcoFutures Festival (1-19 April) will bring together a range of artists, thinkers and practices, confronting the climate crisis and the toxic constructs of identity and economy that bring us to this urgent existential moment. The programme of performance, film, workshops and other radical interventions opens space to challenge our existing ideas of ourselves, our planet and how we relate to each other. Channelling the radical politics of the carnival and the bawdy, disrespectful, audacious, messy carnivalesque, we are called to imagine a loving, liveable, cool future.

EcoFutures asks us to look to the margins. That’s where the future is happening now, where the consequences and dividends of the past aren’t always pictured as a thin line of progress or decline. Look to the trash, the trashy, the trashed, the oozing discards and the dried-up husks, the over-loud laughs and the antisocial acts of refusing a social that renders us refuse. This is where we find all the things so common and terrifying and extraordinary that open the space for us to question, realign, disrupt and celebrate. From here, maybe we can imagine differently, give up what we’ve been given and create from a different set of relations. In a queer, feminist, de-colonial space with creativity and consent at its heart, maybe we can make the future that we really, actively, enthusiastically choose for ourselves.

In the run-up to the opening of EcoFutures, CUNTemporary' Co-Director Giulia Casalini tells Run-Riot about ecology and queer culture, love and resistance, survival and celebration.

Season Butler: Generally, how did the Festival come about?
Giulia Casalini: EcoFutures was the result of both artistic and personal/political perspectives.

We have been using open calls to reach out to world-wide artistic communities and we noticed an increasing number of works tackling the themes of ecology and the environment specifically from feminist, queer and de-colonial positions. There have been numerous exhibitions, conferences and festivals (especially in the last year) exploring these topics in a ‘universal/humanistic/neutral’ way, but as an organisation specifically interested in approaching any subject area from the margins, with EcoFutures we wanted to create a platform in order to explore these specific intersections. Also, we noticed that in Europe there is less curatorial and theoretical work on these specific topics, in comparison to the US, so we were interested in cultivating a transnational dialogue that really tried to take into account a global perspective. Considering that globalisation is key to the effects of ecological violence as well as activism.

Curating EcoFutures has also been a very personal experience. We started to pay attention when our health started to suffer from the pollution of London and when we started to recognise how bound we have become to technological mediation in our everyday social, political and working conditions. Our personal lives, our affective relations, and the way we experience our bodies within these political, activist, sexual and creative relations are an integral part of both our work and life, which is all one part of a larger synergetic relation with a global ecology.

Season: What drew you to the festival format for EcoFutures?
Giulia: For EcoFutures we wanted to try a new, complex, multi-layered format that would provide more time and space for reflection around the proposed themes: queer, feminist and decolonial approaches to the ecological and environmental crisis. We wanted audiences to consider slower processes, such as committing to a 5-day workshop on bio-hacking and identity deconstruction run by Quimera Rosa or making the space and providing the funds for an artistic residency for Xavier de Sousa & Andre Neely that runs for 3 days. We were also interested in trying out different formats by keeping a centralised “laboratory” with the 2-week exhibition ‘Staring at the Sun’ in The Art Pavilion - perfectly located in Mile End Park. Inspired by the location and investing 6-months of research into this project, we felt it was necessary to infiltrate other spaces with ecological concerns and to maintain a broad and intersectional and international perspective while trying to guarantee that there will be open and free activities for the local community, dedicated spaces for Black and Brown participants, as well as theoretical reflections through a day-long international conference.

The format for EcoFutures has definitely been a curatorial and conceptual challenge to the usual way that we organise our events. As a small organisation, run completely on a voluntary basis (like many others in the arts), we have usually opted for ‘safer’ formats, mainly consisting of one-off and often ticketed events, such as symposia, screenings or the now well-known “Deep Trash” club night that we produce twice a year at the Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club. The one-off event ticketed format is mainly due to the lack of available spaces and funds for experimentation in London and, at the same time, finding suitable venues that are comfortable with showing uncensored and challenging work.

Season: How do the themes and values of EcoFutures carry on from Cuntemporary? How will EcoFutures and Cuntemporary cross-pollinate? To put it another way, are there any approaches or values which arose from EcoFutures which you'll hold onto in your future work?
Giulia: Selecting a “theme” for our projects is rarely the outcome of superficial reflection or trend. What we decide to approach as a queer-feminist arts organisation, in most cases, departs from an urgency to take up a matter that we believe requires more visibility and engagement, especially in relation to artistic practices that are contributing to an aesthetic and simultaneously political landscape.

EcoFutures is definitely the project that affected our lives and curatorial practice more than any other. After the 6 month research period there is also the production part, which will mean that about a year of our lives, love and labour has been invested in understanding new research questions and connections for what we do as a collective in CUNTemporary. We recognise that it is not by chance that EcoFutures has pulled together 10 partner organisations, 7 venues and 70 artists. It’s the way we work as CUNTemporary as it is an open collective, always interested in creating new alliances, publics, collaborators and even intimate friendships. CUNTemporary has always been in some ways an organic theoretical and artistic ecology.

This organic process has definitely been precarious, not always sustainable and open to as much change as well as resilience. In this respect, EcoFutures has taught us that we need to slow down and work counter to the speed of capitalism if we are to create situations that will have a more long-term effect for us and for the planet. We would love to carry on working within these methods in the future, and be able to create more viable economic ways for us and the artists we work with to pursue a sustainable practice.

Season: One of the ecological issues EcoFutures will cover is "extinction". It's a big word, and an idea which strikes me as, in some ways, the most radical potential outcome of, or intervention in, our current predicament, while in another way it feels like the most conservative or assimilationist.  What are your thoughts on this?
Giulia: In this festival we are exploring the theme of extinction through various works, but I will cite two in particular: the TimeBomb Theatre intervention in the Mile End park during our “open day” Local Dialogues - Global Movements on Saturday 6 April will pay a choreographed homage to the last white male rhino who died last year, and artist Helena Hunter will present for the first time her research conducted at the Horniman Museum where she resurfaces extinct bird species that are present in their collections through affective/poetic engagements. You can see these works at the Art Pavilion, Mile End, during the exhibition Staring at the Sun (4-14 April).

Season: Why is a distinctly queer, feminist, de-colonial response appropriate to such a "universally" "human" issue?
Giulia: I think it is dangerous to fall into generalisations and ‘neutralise’ categories of thought as well as political actions, because it risks overwriting (as language does) all other categories that are non-male, white, able, Christian and straight. This is a lesson from our feminist legacy: a ‘universal’ matter means something different for specific subjects. For example, most of us are aware that climate change is happening to everyone, but rarely do people connect the effects of colonialism to industrialisation and how this has disproportionally affected the Majority World and especially women, who are usually less able to escape natural disasters because they are the care providers for their communities.

Queer and feminist perspectives can also contribute to a better understanding of our ecological concerns. We can rethink sexual practices by taking into account sustainable factors and notions of care in relation to what we desire. For example, Ecosexuality, and its pioneers Beth Stephens & Annie Sprinkle, consider Nature not as a ‘mother’, but as a ‘lover’ – therefore challenging the idea that Nature will always be there to serve us unconditionally: we should in fact fight for our relationship with Nature on a daily basis and defend it against abuses. On the topic of ecosexuality I recommend checking out the film Water Makes Us Wet by Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle that we will screen at Genesis Cinema on 11 April, and check out performances by artists Niya B and the group intimate animals at Eco Trash on 19 April.

Another example would be that of female ejaculation that has been eclipsed after centuries of patriarchal oppression that has led to a progressive disconnection with our ‘internal ecology.’ When a female body ejaculates it makes a statement about its own agency and bio-power which is not restricted to its reproductive capacity. Caring for it – rediscovering its potential and value – is also fundamental to the way we relate to the environment. I totally recommend experiencing the performance by Arise Amazons at Eco Trash, who will bring a “CUNTsauna” for vaginal steaming & herbal rituals directly from Sweden!

Season: What can ecological movements learn from queer culture?
Giulia: The environmentalist movement needs to consider both queer and feminist practices and theories in order to think about embodied, practical solutions to the ecological crisis. Queer theory allows us to think about Nature in non-hierarchical ways that are not based on the centrality of the Human position as a universal position. This also opens up the potential for speculative scenarios based on the ideas of co-existence with non-human identities. Queer and feminist theories, literature and art has been able to project post-apocalyptic visions of the future of humanity by pushing the damages produced by heteronormative, patriarchal, colonial and capitalist violence on the environment towards its most extreme conception.

Also, queer communities need to incorporate considerations about ecology and the environment for many reasons. One of the most sentient reasons, is that we cannot produce discourses around sexuality and at the same time dismiss considerations about our own wellbeing and health. As queer-feminist theory deconstructs the idea of fixed identities, by incorporating ecological frameworks into their analysis, we can push essentialist identity boundaries centred on human privilege, and analyse how the human intersects with (and is formed and informed by) non-human entities in order to empathise and relate to – for example – geological, climate, plant and animal perspectives. The bio-hacking workshop of Quimera Rosa aims to do just that!

Season: Within the field of necessary political, economic, technological and infrastructural changes necessary in the context of the climate crisis, why are artistic responses important?
Giulia: In the specific context of London I believe that we will need more than the usual approaches to this very urgent crisis that we are facing. If art cannot change the world, at least it can (hopefully) change people’s experiences and the ways they relate to the others and their own environment through more imaginative, creative, collaborative and also fun ways. I believe all actions are significant and can be equally informative and that they too join the critical mass that aims to transform our ecologies for the better. Even if they do so on a micro-political scale.

Season: What are you most excited about for the festival?
Giulia: The most exciting part of the festival is always the making of it. For this one in particular, I am excited about the diversity of backgrounds, disciplines and geographic areas that will be coming together in different situations to explore how new synergies will be created among old and new queer/feminist/decolonial allies.

With EcoFutures we wanted to give the artists and the participants more time to explore their artistic/political/personal practices: Raisa Kabir is leading a workshop Weaving Local Voices in 4 parts with a local group of Bangladeshi women (with the organisation Stitches in Time) to focus on processes of labour exploitation in the textile industry; artists Ivy Monteiro and Javier Stell-Frésquez, coming from Brazil/Switzerland and the USA, will also be conducting a workshop in 2 parts (7 April) derived from the performance ‘Mother the Verb’ (5 April, Chisenhale Dance Space) which will draw on their indigenous/Black lived experiences to reflect on the concept of motherhood and ecology.

I’m also really looking forward to the installation of the international group show Staring at the Sun but of course, I also cannot wait for Deep Trash: Eco Trash (19 April) our bi-annual performance-cum-club night tradition, which will conclude the festival in the best way possible: the rhythm of techno music and over 40 artists in one night.

 

EcoFutures Festival
1-19 April 2019
Various venues, London

cuntemporary.org | EcoFutures Festival  | #EcoFutures | @CUNTemporaryLdn