Green Thing: Solidarity
Dialogue between: GRACE HIGGINS BROWN &
Green Thing: Solidarity
“Green thing,” a work which accumulated daily over the span of one week, is a negotiated, creative exchange between two artists, who are also daughter and father; actively engaging in a dialogue about Green Things. Through the exchange, both Higgins’ explore ”Greeness” in relation to how it manifests and develops symbolically, physically, historically, and its presentation within their own creative practices.
Green Thing was created while in residence at 2/42 Studios, in the Pipe Factory, Glasgow as part of their Remote Series. Solidarity is a sample of a longer work, which can be found here.
It could be argued that Solidarity is a tool for reducing inequality and social injustice in the world. To listen and be heard, as Levinas would have it, is not easy and as we see today it's absolutely clear this isn’t easy.
Dictionary definitions talk of two aspects of solidarity: the uniting of a group of people with a common purpose, and mutual-dependency (or interdependency) of people.
Is it the same as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another - empathy? As George Bernard Shaw pointed out:
“Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.”
I’ve always had a suspicion about the word ‘curiosity’ in this context, it’s a confusion between an active and passive inquiry, who is able or not, to be curious, is it an equal meeting point? So I can be curious about something, without the ‘something’ ever knowing or wanting to be made a curious something - says who?
Of course this is one of the ethical questions in green spaces, I think again of our conversation we had earlier about - object subject relationships - of Green space (we don’t mean green grass), as a potential site physically and conceptually for political - radical - possibilities - without being didactic.
If we assume the need to challenge prejudices and discover commonalities, on whose and what terms are the commonalities and who is in the driving seat?
Also my first encounter with the word ‘solidarity’ was in reference to Poland. Solidarity was founded on 31 August 1980, in Gdańsk, Poland, and gave rise to a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement that, at its height, claimed some 9.4 million members. It is considered to have contributed greatly to the fall of communism.
(Aha, thats a nice red)
When we started our dialogue, if I’m right, it was with the word generosity we were going to use, in terms of what can be shared and how a green space could be where this can take place? Again thinking of this both physically and conceptually - without being didactic. I like solidarity now.
So I feel a strong solidarity with you Grace, are we now Green Higgins Brown.
In relation to these thoughts and ideas I have a really strong connection with this place (image below), and the gap I’m working in now, its past and future. For 17 years I’ve been working with this image. It made me think today when I read Katharine Viner: There is a great quote in one of your (Naomi Klein) recent essays from a tech CEO, who says: “Humans are biohazards, machines are not.”, of how during the Soviet period humans could easily have been described and reduced to biohazards, it gave the word both a past and future meaning. How humans can be a biological substance that poses a threat to the health of living organisms, primarily humans. Today it's COV-19.
The original image was sourced courtesy of the Oleg Valov, The Solovky State Museum Reserve, Russia.
We now have in relation to COV-19 what Naomi Klein calls in a recent article, “touchless technology”, and how “the pre-existing agenda before Covid that imagined replacing so many of our personal bodily experiences by inserting technology in the middle of them.
So for the few spaces where tech is not already mediating our relationships, there was a plan – to replace in-person teaching with virtual learning, for instance, and in-person medicine with telehealth and in-person delivery with robots. All of this has been rebranded, post-Covid, as a touchless technology, as a way of replacing what has been diagnosed as the problem, which is the problem of touch. And yet, on a personal level, what we miss most is touch”.
Solidarity feels very haptic and the ideas we have been exploring together suggest the word solidarity was more an idea of people standing in things together and related very strongly to the green thoughts and work we have been making.
In relation to this Klein talks about the Green New Deal proposed by the Democrats in the US: “How do we slow down? This is what I am thinking a lot about. It feels like every time we slam our foot on the accelerator marked “business as usual” or “back to normal”, the virus surges back and says: “Slow down.” She then goes on to say: “I have a few ideas. One has to do with the softness that the pandemic has introduced into our culture. When you slow down, you can feel things; when you’re in that constant rat race, it doesn’t leave much time for empathy. From its very beginning, the virus has forced us to think about interdependencies and relationships. The first thing you are thinking about is: everything I touch, what has somebody else touched? The food I am eating, the package that was just delivered, the food on the shelves. These are connections that capitalism teaches us not to think about”.
This feels like a call for individual and collective solidarity as we are roaming in the gloaming*a kind of hazy, uncertain and to be, moment.
*Gloaming dates back to the 12th century, which is pretty old for a word still used and understood today. It has Middle English, Scots, and Old English roots in words such as glom and gloming which mean twilight and glowan which means to glow.
Haptic emotionally political green.
Solidarity means standing in things together, feeling things together, not flattening difference, green space allows this to happen more readily. Symbolically, I talk about standing in bodily fluids together because this is something that in one way or another, connects us all - corporeal, visceral empathy (it’s uncomfortable and it’s useful!).
The new generosity is generous in sharing infection, ‘bad’ things. People keep saying ‘the new normal’, familiarity is strangely mutable and quick to evolve, but feels like a big ask.
You touch me and I’ll touch you; reciprocity is extended as a gesture of threat; members, limbs, extremities. The extremity of extremities inched over the mark of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’, what leads to a new kind of mortality and dissociation, self-loathing.
Familiarity is cyclical and repetitious - it is green and productive in the ability to redo but it isn’t necessarily helpful. Sometimes liminality should be abandoned. Spring always makes me feel sad - in line with this thought pattern maybe it’s a kind of grief. But this moment is carried by the overarching weight of starting again. Newness that is at once familiar and alien. Desirability - familiarity is reciprocal - I see these things in myself and it reflects back onto the object of whatever affection it is thrust upon. But there is desirability in the Other - perhaps this is in the jouissance felt in discovering something new but I also feel there is pleasure in redefining the other as something that can be understood, conquered, familiarised. To find the familiar in the alien and overcome that overwhelming sensation of unknown that causes so much fear and excitement.
Searching for familiarity can result in empathy, generosity, but it can also result in destructive assimilation. Colonialism rests partly on a kind of genocidal ‘familiarisation’ - the desire to assimilate the scary ‘Other’ that threatens your sense of secure identity - or to destroy it in the face of defiance. It is a balance of colonial ego. Greeness recognises a naive generosity towards one another in seeking the familiarity in the masses, those who inhabit those green public spaces that belong to us all (they don’t, they should, that’s the point) but harnesses the power of the other. It’s not about acting as one it’s about solidarity in difference. Intersectional politics isn’t about assimilation after all - a celebration of Otherness is necessary for political empowerment and just as green symbolises the essence of life force it is also the new colour of revolution. This is how we harness the abjection held within green for political gain.
Is it utterly naive to praise jollity amongst horror? Or is greeness the thing that is necessary to empower and disempower effectively and for productive social ends? (Here I’m trying to distinguish a stance against oppressive, dogmatic, hegemonic seriousness). You can laugh at the evils in the world and this is disempowering but sometimes there is good to be had in stopping for a somber moment. Power shouldn’t be trivialised although power itself can be found in acknowledging the ambivalence of continuation.
I don’t want the positive reversal of abjection as something weaponised against marginalised groups to something to arm oneself with to be included in society at large, to merely be enveloped in the sludge. (Look I love sludge and I know it’s maybe confusing because there seems to be this distinction of it either being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ abjection, but I don’t think abjection or grotesquerie is moral, merely weaponised as such by society, and here we try to fight back as double-agents, throwing up replicated-but-reversed tactics back at them). Green is not inclusion in a corrupt society it is generous push against this - generous in its upholding of solidarity between those who require it. Generosity can be extended by those who have greater privilege within capitalist consumerist systems by harnessing this as opportunity to enhance those without such access - this is where, as artists, we can play double-agent.
It’s true that the coexistence of laughter and tears is so near and the states are so similar.
Well, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry, eh!But I do think that laughter can become authoritarian. Distraction isn’t always the way. Maybe the freedom of laughter was never fully suspended? Clowning wisely is important to consider when undertaking anything to such effect.
We talked about Green being infectedshitbilepussviruspuke - it’s pointedly denied by our subconscious, “Othered” by us, because apparently we don’t want to associate with things which lead to the corpse, to death. They cross the boundary of living comfort. The female, the feminine is placed as the Other, with a big O by Lacan because the norm, the standard, the “control” human is male - so the female is then differentiated, it is alien and it is Other. So then interestingly it shares this realm with the abject. Perhaps the abject is exacerbated by the idea, the ideal, of “female” because the abject is female. So this would predicate that the moral idea of purity and cleanliness is enforced upon womankind not just for the standard arguments of male ownership and control (obvious) but because subconsciously, we fear the reconciliation of the female as innately abject. With the powers of life, death, bodily functions most harnessed by women, with men only relatively recently invited into the rituals of childbirth and so on, women have always had access to the power of renewal held the abject - death is natural after all, birth and death one and the same - but it has been subjugated as disgusting. Because they do not know, and this is threatening. Because it is always
We share this kind of talk, experience, amongst ourselves (womxn) but it feels taboo to extend this sharing to males. To be honest, it feels taboo until that boundary is initially crossed - that is why strangely it feels like a politicised statement every time a woman chooses to “overshare” (as it is often said), but I think this is “sharing just enough” because when we don’t share these things we die.
Well, I was born green because I shat myself on the way out, and to be honest I’ve always been proud of that.
So if jouissance is demarcated as ‘Other’ also - by Lacan, somewhat more empoweringly by Kristeva, then let’s claim that and utilise it for radical gain.
This all underlines a distinction of the abject being present on parallel planes - just as we addressed the importance of symbolic and practical distinguishing - linguistic abjection, and abject experience. Linguistic abjection follows abject experience in its reflection of taboo - popularly it enshrines a kind of superstitious negativity in its aim to hide the true abjection of lived experience. Whereas abject experience just happens at a consistent level, fluctuated by health, circumstance, and choice, but it is there. So in this there is the ability to flip the negativity, harnessing the power of abject experience as something to be utilised, funnelled into our language as helpful, useful taboo. This is one way in which we can connect, as humans.
And then how do we reconcile this with the image of the father, the mother, and the growth of a human away from these polyphonic identities? (we’ve already talked about Lacan, so I don’t really want to dwell to be honest). Familiarity - family - is comfort for me where it is not for others; we are generous with family, we share, but many don’t stand in solidarity, that comes with a different understanding of the familial. There’s discomfort to be had in all of this too - for example this text. Are we crossing a boundary, a taboo? Because I’m going to write the word semen and my Dad is going to read it and I’m going to tell you that when we sat down for lunch to start talking about this work, about Green, one of the first things my Dad said to me is
Green smells like semen
And we laughed, we still laugh. Maybe you have synesthesia, Pah.
Duncan: Grace, It's called odor-color synesthesia, duh.
Follow Grace:Instagram: @50ml_oh_de_toilet
2/42 Studios: twofortytwostudios.com
Follow Duncan:Instagram: @downonthefarmdh
Grace and Duncan are both artists from Sheffield (UK), and Grace is now based in Glasgow (UK). They have known each other for approx. 25 years because they are father and daughter. They have been working collaboratively for probably more like 12 years.