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this archive feels like a hug – reflections | mother tongues

14th June 2023

This text is by mother tongues, digital residents at performingborders at the time of publishing this article. This ongoing residency is supported by performingborders in partnership with Iniva (Institute for International Visual Arts, London) whose Stuart Hall Library’s archive and staff are available for mother tongues to consult throughout the residency. 

Over the last couple of months, we have been participating in a digital residency at performingborders sitting with their online archive and resources, exploring the various threads of dialogue between our practices and those of their archive contributors. Below are some of our reflections that have emerged from these digital encounters.

Collage of images of books and documents from the iniva collections, Vania’s books, Anahi’s books. Images taken by Vania and/or Kaya.

Creating Pathways: SPIRALS Open Archive by PartSuspended

PartSuspended’s SPIRALS Open Archive project is an exciting invocation of an experimental, participatory, multimodal archive. While reading through this article, we drew so many connections between this project and our waves & rituals radio series / sonic archive. Both projects emerged during the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic when we were all experiencing global lockdowns and trying to establish new ways of working and collaborating during a time of isolation and uncertainty. waves & rituals had a similar approach of inviting artists to share poetry, experimental soundscapes, playlists and other acoustic expressions that explored the practice of ritual in all its forms.

Both projects speak to a do it together ethos, a way of working that resists an individualistic impulse, that is ‘multivocal’ as PartSuspended put it. This multivocality comes in the form of different artistic practices and mediums, different locations and positionalities, as well as through different mother tongues and languages. These projects illustrate forms of spatial-archival practice that utilise creativity, cross-border dialogue and difference to enact and perform new geographic relationalities.

On migration, kinship and (be)longings: Three meditations with cards | Daniella Valz Gen

Daniella Valz Gen’s exploration of migration, kinship and (be)longings in conversation with Meenadchi is a beautiful and thought-provoking insight into how intuition, speculative thought and practice are essential and necessary tools for knowledge production and reflexivity. 

Frustrated by the hegemonic and imposing notions of what constitutes truth, fact and evidence within the Archive and how this has serious implications for what possibilities, knowledges and subjectivities are able to be recognised and realised, we came to speculation and divination as tools of disruption that can open up fissures and moments of reconfiguration in the archival grain. Our project Archival Divination is a gesture for thinking through how we might envision an embodied feminist archive through a futurist lens. We experimented with the format of tarot reading by creating our own tarot cards using archival ephemera from The Feminist Library. We created three spreads – futural, translation and knowledge. Along with each spread were questions that encouraged a reflexive criticality from the participant asking us to examine our relationships to pleasure and desire, coloniality and power, language, meaning and knowledge. The questions ask us how we embody the above and how we might create space within and around us to embody them differently.

Photo by Vania Gonzalvez Rodriguez

Inspired by the conversation between Daniella and Meenadchi, Vania rushed to get her tarot deck and encouraged us to work through some of the blockages we’ve been encountering as we try to navigate working on mother tongues whilst maintaining demanding full-time day jobs and looming job insecurity. She asked me (Kaya) to think of a yes or no question, and immediately what came to mind was a question on time or the ever-increasing lack of time:

Will the next year offer us the opportunity to have more time and headspace to work on mother tongues?

[Vania draws the Hermit]

In a yes or no reading, the Hermit can be read as a no and an encouragement for pause. We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about care and how we ensure that we are caring for ourselves and one another when juggling so many things. The Hermit feels like a call to a slower way of living, creating and pursuing creativity. A resistance to the constant call to productivity and a finished product at the end.

I then encourage her to ask another question:

Will we continue to create community and new threads of creative connection over the coming year?

[Vania draws the Wheel of Fortune]

In a yes or no reading, the Wheel of Fortune can be read as a yes, often associated with luck, intuition and reinvigoration. When looking at this card, we were called to the circularity of it and the sense of another life cycle having been completed for mother tongues. We were able to reflect on the wonderful relationships we’ve created and some of the difficult realities we’ve had to face, with more opportunities coming our way and having to find the time to commit to them without heading into burnout and resentment. We’re still figuring out what this looks like but are reminding ourselves to plant seeds of rest along the way to enable us to continue creating fulfilling community in the future.

mother tongues

Kaya Birch-Skerritt & Vania Gonzalvez Rodriguez

mother tongues is a transdisciplinary research-led project applying decolonial, feminist, and queer pedagogies to explore language and archival collections. Their practice responds to language’s impact on personal and collective empowerment through experimental archival research.

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