“It’s a heart smash but the fragments will rally”
Arundhati Roy *

Welcome to the second issue of performingborders annual e-journal.

Started in 2021, the e-journal is a space to reflect on borders, live art, community, and resistance. Centering embodied knowledge and artists’ imagination as a space of knowledge production, the e-journal is a site to reclaim our collective capacity to build and share, to nourish and connect working practices, thinking, and lived experiences.

Last year’s e-journal gathered fragments of reflections to rebuild our collective futures after two years of the pandemic and failed institutional promises of equality and social justice in a white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society (bell hooks). This year we invited contributions from artists, makers, organisers, and thinkers that have been practicing those futures in their day-to-day work, step by step, fight by fight, constantly rallying to transform imaginary possibilities into realities.

The theme of this year stems from this process of rallying together, of commoning and communing, for the creation of something better and the maintenance of other ways of being. It is a movement away from disembodied discourse towards actions, gestures, and gatherings that (even for a moment) let us consider what we can do when we harness our resources, time, bodies, and care, to collectivize them.

In part, this e-journal also came from thinking about the ease with which the struggle of resistance and collective work is co-opted and tokenized and what this has meant for the cultural sector, which so easily shape-shifts into what might seem ‘radical’ or ‘progressive’ but is in fact the same oppressive structure dressed in new clothes. In this shifting landscape, every promise of care is absurd and warped in a hall of mirrors to leave you feeling more vulnerable than before. It is a discourse that insists that we acknowledge the structures of power at play, speaking of inequalities and social justice, quoting Audre Lorde and Stuart Hall, and yet upholding the structures all the same. This is not new and in fact, follows in the footsteps of neoliberalism’s best tool: the ability to turn everything against itself for profit. Whether it is liberal feminism or ‘radical progressive’ cultural institutions, it feels that all our best efforts are turned into tote bags with catchy slogans and never into change to our material conditions.

It feels like right now existing, let alone working, feels hard, but this doesn’t quite capture the suffocating intersection that artists, organisers and cultural workers find themselves in – caught between a post-covid ‘recovery’, the crumbling arts sector, cost of living crises, the oppressive state and the hostile environment (and that’s all on top the war(s), the global rise of rightwing leaders, the climate catastrophe and all the other disasters waging war on our bodies, territories, and minds). Far from being discursive or theoretical pressures, the structures we’re caught against are actively sapping energy from workers in our sector (and everywhere), and slowly we’re realizing that despite our best efforts to offer alternative working models, support, and financial means to make work, the state of the world means that things are becoming impossible for artists and cultural workers. The result of this is manifold but has a clear impact on folks’ abilities to make time for their personal lives, contribute to smaller projects, and make work, amongst all the other demands.

For this reason, and almost ironically, putting ‘rallying the commons’ together felt more than hard because as it turns out, the commons are exhausted. And so, Arundhati Roy’s words ring even more true. Even when we have been smashed to pieces, we must find a way to build back, to reverberate and rally, first slowly perhaps, but always remembering Angela Davis’s exhortation: freedom is a constant struggle. And we want to allow space for those underlying, ongoing struggles that shape our present through collaborations, clashes, strength, fatigue and renewed energies.

So, rather than give up or start selling tote bags, it felt right to focus on the kind of work that is ongoing, the work that is rallying despite being left in fragments. It is work that is quietly and loudly building new structures.

With care and in solidarity,

* Author and political activist Arundhati Roy’s quote was mentioned at her Stuart Hall Foundation’s Annual Autumn keynote, 30 September 2022, London.