Episode Notes
This first episode of the Climate Imaginaries podcast was recorded in early 2023. It took place at the invitation of Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca, as she explains in the episode introduction (see transcript below). Laura invited Rajni Shah to host a conversation between Joy Mariama Smith and Michaela Harrison. All three artists had taken part in the launch of the Climate Imaginaries project in September 2022 but since both Joy and Michaela participated remotely, the three artists had not met prior to this conversation. There are some variations in sound qualities since the recording happened over zoom and was held by fluctuating internet connections. Nevertheless, we hope you will enjoy the many stories and wisdoms that come through.

Acknowledgments and credits
The waves you hear in this episode are recordings of the waters of Gichi-aazhoogami-gichigami (Lake Huron), recorded at Singing Sands on the west of the Saugeen Peninsula (Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario). These are the traditional lands and waters of the Anishinaabeg, and specifically the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, and the Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaty No. 72.

The river sounds in this episode come from the O:se Kenhionhata:tie (Grand river) and were made at the Elora Gorge Conservation Area (Ontario, Canada), located on the on the traditional lands of the Attawandaron (Neutral Nation), Haudenosaunee, and the Mississaugas of the Credit, and on the present day lands of the Six Nations of the Grand River covered in the 1784 Haldimand Treaty.

All recordings were made by Fili 周 Gibbons with care and respect for the lands, waters, winds, trees, and creatures being recorded.

This podcast is part of the project Climate Imaginaries led by Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca, Sabine Niederer, and Patricia de Vries. With thank to Andy Dockett for web and technical assistance. Climate Imaginaries is part of the Art Route NWA-project ‘Bit by bit, or not at all’ financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and an Imagination Laboratory within the SPRONG project Imagination in Transitions. It is also made possible with the support of Centre of Expertise for Creative Innovation (CoECI) in Amsterdam.

Editing, mixing, sound design, and cello by Fili 周 Gibbons and Studio Apothicaire
Contributors: Michaela Harrison and Joy Mariama Smith
Conversations hosted by Rajni Shah, and edited by Rajni Shah and Fili 周 Gibbons


Brief biographies

Fili 周 Gibbons (we/them/us) are a musician, sound designer, and audiovisual recordist working across a range of community and professional contexts to support plural voices, expressions, and sonic experiences. As well as leading community workshops they frequently work with other sound and video artists, drawing on listening, memory and intuition as guiding forces in collaborative making practices.
https://studio-apothicaire.com 

Joy Mariama Smith is native Philadelphian and currently based in Amsterdam. An ongoing question in their work is: What is the interplay between the body and its physical environment? Smith has a strong improvisational practice spanning twenty years and has been active as a performance/installation/movement artist, activist, facilitator, curator and architectural designer.
https://joy-mariama-smith.tumblr.com/

Michaela Harrison is an international vocalist and healer whose career is rooted in relaying the elevating, transformational power of music through song and supporting others in accessing the fountain of healing energy available in nature through ritual and creative practices. Harrison has facilitated and participated in numerous workshops and retreats and is currently engaged in a project called “Whale Whispering,” a musical collaboration on water, healing and ancestry with humpback whales based in Bahia.
https://www.michaelaharrison.org

Rajni Shah (they/them) is an artist whose practice is focused on listening and gathering as creative and political acts. Recent publications include the book and zines, Experiments in Listening, and the podcast series how to think (also made in collaboration with Laura and Fili). They are a researcher at the Academy for Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam.
https://www.rajnishah.com/ (archive) 



TRANSCRIPT:

Laura [introduction]

Layered plucked and bowed cello sounds play under the introduction.

Welcome to the Climate Imaginaries podcast.

I’m Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca – Lector of the Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam – and together with Sabine Niederer from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Patricia de Vries from the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, we lead the research program Climate Imaginaries, which aims to envision alternative, just, and inclusive climate futures by challenging persisting binaries between nature and culture, water and land, humans and animals. In these podcasts, artists and other researchers from the Climate Imaginaries studios engage in dialogue about the themes of the projects, foregrounding perspectives often marginalized in mainstream debate.

The first two episodes of this podcast come from the studio hosted by the Academy of Theatre and Dance in Amsterdam. I invited Rajni Shah to host these conversations as an artist and researcher who brings special attention to the act of listening.

In this first episode, Rajni hosts a conversation between two artists engaged in thinking with water: Joy Mariama Smith and Michaela Harrison. Both artists participated in our event Performing Oceanic Solidarities in September 2022 which explored how the arts respond to climate emergency and rising sea levels, with an explicit awareness that these themes cannot be addressed separately from racism, coloniality, and speciesism. During that event, Michaela shared the project Whale Whispering, in which she collaborates through song with whales in Bahia, Brazil. And Joy shared an immersive ritual performance installation called dissolution/ dis solution, in which they work with dissolution as a healing practice for minoritarian bodies.

The conversation was recorded over zoom in March 2023.

Rajni
So, I wanted to begin moving into the conversation by inviting each of us to take some clean space – maybe five minutes, whatever feels good to you, and speak into it, each of us in turn, to just have that time to kind of arrive ourselves through speaking – which can also involve being quiet – but just to speak anything that might need to be spoken to, I guess, bring us present with each other.

It would be great to hear a little bit about where you’re recording from, internally and externally. And, who is with you? Who are the beings who are with you or beings who you might want to invite alongside you during this conversation? Beings in the most expansive sense, including stones, weathers, waters, lineages. 

Michaela
I am joining this conversation from Praia do Forte, Bahia, Brazil. I’m certainly present with the waters here. The ocean. There’s a river nearby that I bathed in the day before yesterday, Sapiranga. I’m present with the plants and the animal life and definitely the ancestors of this land, and my lineages. Um… and listening to the ecosystem here. And the spirits of the space call out for recovery of this land which has been recolonised and overdeveloped. And which is facing relatively rapid sea level rise that no one seems to be – I’m not going to say no one – there’s not a collective conversation about it locally. And as far as I can see, no plans being made on how to adjust based on the environmental changes that are happening and particularly the sea level rise. So that’s on my mind a lot, moving into this conversation, and a meeting that I’m going to have tomorrow to work to begin to agitate and activate some folks around what’s happening with the waters here specifically.

Um…

I bring bird song. And whale song, always, although the whales are not present right now. They will be showing back up in a few months, but they’re always energetically present. Um, yeah, I think that’s… that’s it for me.

Rajni
Thank you. And Joy?

Joy
Would you mind going? I need more time to drop into my body.

Rajni
Absolutely, yeah. Thanks for asking.

Rajni
Yeah. I need more time to drop into my body [laughs] that’s kind of where I’m at. Definitely.

I’m… I’m in Amsterdam. And I don’t really know what that means yet. I moved here almost a year ago now, from Gadigal lands in so-called Australia. And learnt a lot during the time that I was there about myself and also about relationship with place and other beings – and other beings that were just so vibrant and present. And… I’m still figuring out how to attune here or what it, who I’m with, and what it means to be close to so much water that feels so confined, or has this very – there’s a very strange relationship, I think, between humans and water in this place. And, yeah, I think… Maybe the one thing that I can say is that there’s a large maple tree outside the window that I can see right now that I have greeted every day in the um, in the morning, usually in the darkness, or as the morning’s coming up. And that tree is is close by right now.

And… yeah. I’m really, I’m really glad to be in this conversation with you both. And it’s – I guess I’ve had the pleasure of spending a bit of time reading about your works and listening and engaging today, and that felt like a real, a real gift. Um. Yeah, yeah. So I hope I can, um, hold adequately for for you both to be present in this conversation.

Joy
Um. Alright! I have to say, I don’t think I retained any of the prompts, so I’m just going to speak freely. I’m in London, in a neighbourhood called Bethnal Green. And I came from trying to find an imaginary pair of boots that I think doesn’t exist. So I went, like, searching and, you know, it’s London, so while I’m getting a lot of relief by finally being in a country where the language is the language that I speak so I can understand  – and understand is in air quotes, because I’m in no way from the UK, so sometimes even though we’re speaking the same language it’s quite some diverse accents. But it gives me a certain type of mental rest on the one hand, but also exhaustion on the other hand. Because I live in the Netherlands and I don’t speak Dutch yet, so it’s really great to sort of on one hand be free from not understanding what people are saying if you don’t want to, and then on the other hand, like, I don’t have to work to read anything or figure out where I’m going. So that’s, that’s nice.

And then, um… yeah, I’m at my friend’s house who is, who’s a pretty heavy hitting philosopher and trans activist, which is exciting… There’s also lots of plants, like lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of plants. Which feels good. And I don’t think I drank enough water today. So I’m looking forward to continuing to hydrate and having a nice bath later. I tend to go on holidays in countries where bathtubs are really common, like you don’t need to be rich to have a bathtub, because in the Netherlands, it’s pretty rare. It’s not that you need to be rich to have a bathtub, but the design of Dutch houses and apartments usually exclude a bathtub. But like everybody I know in London has a bath, and everybody I know in Berlin has a bath. And while I cannot step into a body of water, I can step into a bath. And that feels really good. Um… that’s it.

Rajni
Beautiful, thank you. You happened to lead us towards exactly what I was, what I was going to invite as a first kind of prompt, which was to hear a little bit more from each of you about um… water, bodies, and bodies of water, which feature in different ways in your works – in the works that I’ve encountered that kind of brought you together and led to this podcast. So anything, anything that arises in response to that, and also just a reminder that we don’t have to fill the space, but just like let things come up as they come up.

[11.50]

Michaela
Well, as I said before, I’m very present with the ocean here and this river, Sapiranga, which I bathed in for the first time a few days ago and just got a lot of information from.      And just feeling, really feeling how the water here holds the stories of the land and – well it does everywhere, but there’s something about this place, the coast of Bahia North of Salvador is just a succession of rivers that run to the sea. And that’s one of my favourite things in life is the place where the ocean and the river come together. And so this, where I am, is situated… there’s two rivers that run to the sea in Praia do Forte… and so there’s a lot of energy here and a lot of um … lot of conversation, you know, a lot of conversation happening between the waters and within the waters and um … It’s far enough away from the big city that – and quiet enough, most of the time – that it’s very audible to me. Um. And just a strong, strong sense of urgency coming from the waters in particular around wanting the human people who are here to have different positioning around the way the natural environment is being dealt with.

It’s become a very popular tourist destination. So there’s a lot of water sports and different activities that take place on the water. And this is an environment that historically has been held as sacred. You know, the indigenous folks of the region, the Tupinambá, took great care with these waters and um … there’s a lot of rumbling. And I’m listening. And slowly now, almost five years into Whale Whispering being based here, I’m in a process of community building that is allowing me to better observe how the human people who are local to this place, who were born and raised here, are or are not engaging with the conversations that I’m hearing. And, and what – feeling into what my path is, what my role is, what my part is in serving as a bridge for those conversations, and movement stemming from those conversations, with regard to the waters in particular.

Gentle sounds of water flowing

[19.10]

And it’s funny, right before we got on the call, I was moving to silence my phone and accidentally swiped to the left where different sort of news announcements come up in the reel, and my eye fell on an announcement that there were tremors registered a few towns over from where I am right now. And I was like, okay, that felt significant coming into this conversation. Cos I definitely have been feeling and saying to people, particularly in Salvador, which just a gigantic sprawling city, there’s earthquakes coming, you know. And just looking at all the very tall buildings that are being built up on hills and just like feeling when I’m in the city, which is where I used to spend most of my time in Bahia, just a very strong sense of feeling overwhelmed and and like pressed down or not able to stay in the city for more than three or four days at a stretch. And, extending out from there, just this sense of the earth and the waters and the ecosystem speaking very loudly.

And I take everything as a warning. That’s so much of what the whales have been bringing, you know, in this past whale season. They were super active here. Like everybody was seeing whales. They were showing up at the beaches in the city, like places nobody ever sees the whales, the whales were showing up. Like, can we have your attention, please? 

Sounds of water come in again – fades out under first few sentences

… and I’ve been crying a lot and doing some releasing of tears into the bodies of water here, into the river and into the ocean. Um… intentionally, you know, like asking that my waters be received by the larger, stronger, more profound, more ancient bodies of water that are present here, to support my release, you know, of what I’m needing to let go of with the tears and the opening that is this breaking in my heart space. Um… So it all feels connected, you know? And coming back to the tremors I’m like, Oh, yeah, [laughs] I might have… I might have dropped something really heavy, or moved something really heavy through me. Because I feel clear that what’s moving through me is not just mine individually, you know, and feels very connected to everything that’s happening around me.

Sound of waves lapping

[23.45]

Joy
Thanks for sharing.

I think, like, as I was listening and reflecting, the first thing I want to say is: Come on, Pisces season! [laughter] Like, just all the water is flowing, it’s being… um… so I just wanted to say that. And as a Cancerian I’m deep into the like, let all the things flow, as a water sign. So somehow that feels really supportive and, um … my tarot card for this lunar cycle is the mentor of feathers. Which is from a deck called the Collective Tarot – it’s out of print, but feathers corresponds to air and mentor is like one of the higher – if you want to know what that is, you can find out, or maybe there can be some some links or something.

I don’t want to talk about that. But I do want to talk about what this means for me right now, which is to… to tell stories, to share information rather than – sort of as an educator and a facilitator and researcher and (and and) activist, I’m often in a position where I’m speaking, but I’m not telling stories. Er… so I’m going to tell one today where – and I think it’s because of the way that my mind is operating today, which is different than it was yesterday – I might be conflating, several things, but I feel like that’s fine… so it’s… there’s truths in there somewhere. Anyway, someone recently told me, and I can’t remember who, that they’ve been going swimming in a pool and – I remember who it is, actually, one of my students who is inhabiting a body of grief, which is necessary, but is grieving, is having heartbreak and grieving loss and grieving, is also, their family is in Turkey, so talking of earthquakes, is affected by that while also being present in the Netherlands. Um… So this person was talking about going swimming and sometimes swimming at the bottom of the pool, which is something I did all the time when I was a child. This person would swim on the bottom of the pool and sometimes, to release grief, would scream into the water. Like all, all of the everything, all of the anger, the grief, the despair, the frustration. But other people would be in the pool. And they were like, Oh, yeah, so I just I just release that into the pool.

And I’ve been researching, really I’ve been researching intimacy, but I’ve been, one of my consultants is a sort of vibrational consultant, and we talk about waves and frequency and vibration. And one of the things that I worked with in the piece that you saw with the hydrophone – to be able to pick up sound in water because water carries sound differently than air carries sounds. So I was thinking about the story of this person who’s screaming into the water and thinking of the like innocent elderly folk that are just doing their aqua aerobics or whatever, and how this emotion or this history is being carried through the waves and what happens to them, and what that means. What are the implications of that? Um… If we are communicating through water, it doesn’t mean that it’s not being transmitted, that it’s not transmitting to somewhere or something.     

Sounds of lapping waves fade in and then out

But I was also thinking about ways of listening. Sort of again on this… vibrational waves, frequency. And how I was trying to explain to a bunch of White people – and I’m saying this because the three of us that are having this conversation are not White – I was trying to speak through a projection that was being overlaid on me of, of not emoting or, sometimes there’s a projection of being an angry Black woman, and there’s lots of things. And I started using this analogy of: one, the cultural difference of like living in Europe and seeing how White European people, what is available and what’s not available in terms of expressing emotions, or also the link between emotional intelligence and somatic intelligence, or just being sensitive to different registers of information from human, non-human, etc. but also being able to communicate on different levels. And being confronted with, um, yeah, how I feel things deeply, but the expression is quite different versus… maybe some of the people I encounter, and this is broad strokes, of White European folks, will not be feeling things deeply and will not actually process emotions in the same way. And then will project something – I mean, this is part of White Supremacy – will project all kinds of things that sort of remove them from being accountable or responsible for whatever is happening.

So I started having to explain myself and using an analogy of how human beings lost the sense of, of sort of pre… or what’s happening with the whales. So… there used to be a time when humans and animals sensed earthquakes and natural disturbances at the same time, and we would act accordingly and prepare accordingly. And now most humans have forgotten how to listen to changes in the environment, tremors in the earth, etc. And I was explaining that there’s a correlation between how animals sense an earthquake and how I, how I feel my emotions. I’m in no way equating my body with the earth! But, um… but if there’s a sort of disturbance, I will feel it very deeply and I will take all the time and I will let it pass through my body, and by the time it gets to the surface – especially with things like anger or frustration – by the time it gets to the surface, I don’t need to really be loud or boisterous, but I can really articulate quite clearly through words how I’m feeling and what the cause of those feelings are. Which I guess is shocking, like to be able to talk about my emotional state to some people that I’m around! But because I don’t visibly scream or yell or turn red in the face or something that people think that I, some people think that I’m not feeling. But I also think that’s the way that I was raised, coming from a Black matriarchal family in the south part of the US. And also like my Indigenous heritage as well. There’s a certain coolness, like there’s a depth that leads to a calm. So like in the house, if anyone was in trouble, if it’s quiet [laughs] if it’s quiet, it’s like, Oh shit! Um. You know something is really, you know you really did something. If it’s, if it’s like on the surface, and people are like, bla bla bla bla…it’s not a big deal. But if it’s this quiet sort of disturbance where it’s like hmmm something, something is happening, or going to happen. Um… I think that’s the end of the thought that I had! That was just from listening to what you were saying before.

Sounds of waves lapping

Michaela
Wow, I so appreciate you um shouting out the Pisceans! [laughs] I am a quintuple Pisces. And I don’t know why I did that to myself this time around. [laughter] Seriously. Like, what was I thinking with my spirit mind incarnating in this situation? Sometimes I’m like, really though. [laughter] It’s too too much. Um… Which is also why I’m like, Did I … have something to do with that tremor? Like, seriously, You know what I’m saying? [laughter] Not even, like, can, you know. Not self-aggrandisement or anything like that, but like that level of hypersensitivity and hyper connectivity. Um… so I appreciate that. And yeah, that you were having a conversation about specifically that, like, you know, the connection between earthquakes and um what we move through us… that’s, that’s, that’s so amazing.

And that makes me think about just all the possibilities that exist for how – when we do it with intention and consciousness of how it’s reverberating out and what the potential impacts on others are – like, the power that’s there, you know, the power that’s there and… I mean, like, that’s one of the things I’m – like your friend, this person who told the story talking about screaming underwater – you know, that was immediately what I thought: Okay, well, who else was in the water? And how did that impact them? And how, you know, the creative, artistic, inspirational shaping of those kinds of releases into collective shared intention just can be so powerful in shaping the kinds of transformations that our environments are begging for in this time.      

And… I mean, it’s not new. You know, it’s very much what rituals and various kinds of Indigenous practices are based on. And for me, finding the ways to… you know, stretch across whatever the distinctions of the backgrounds of people – human people and people who are other than human – are coming from to collectively and creatively birth these healing solutions and responses. You know, um… it’s like, how do we set up, like, create these vortices where we are tuned in and cared for enough to be able to respond with relative spontaneity to what is being required in the moment?

And it feels so big and it feels like so much. And it’s also like, you know, each one of us that comes on board with that dedication and that intention and that focus and that commitment to that journey, you know, expands those possibilities. And I often think about hearing Angela Davis, when I was in my early twenties, talk about critical mass. And, you know, just really emphasising like it does not require everybody. It’s not going to be everybody and it doesn’t take everybody to effect these massive shifts. It’s that critical mass. whether it be 9% or 16%, whatever it is, or 3%, you know, super dedicated, super focused, super on the job to… to bring about the shifts, you know. And for me more and more … um… it’s like the human people are… definitely less of the majority of my focus for that type of collaboration. Like, they’re there, but I feel like it’s moving more toward like 50% the human people 50% the nonhuman people, you know, and really tapping into what those collaborations can look like. And it’s always been present with me. It’s always been part of how I roll. But now, like, consciously thinking about activism and ritual and spirit work that is not just human centred. You know…

Sounds of waves lapping

And I feel like I’m talking a lot. But I will, one other thing that I will say is that this place nearby where the river is, Sapiranga, has been speaking to me a lot and drawing me in, and I’m slowly connecting more deeply with it. There’s a lot happening there. And I’ve known since I started coming to this part of Bahia, which is six or seven years ago, that there were jaguars here. Um… Something that every single person that I talk to about it until two days ago has been like, Nope, we don’t have those. [laughs] There’s a smaller cat that has been spotted occasionally that’s probably about the size of like a bobcat. But people are like, no, yeah, jaguars… other parts of Bahia maybe, maybe not. Or, you know, years ago, centuries ago, whatever. And I just kept being like, Okay! And the other night I came from a gathering and got a ride and was dropping off some folks who live in Sapiranga and we stopped at the entrance to the reserve to drop them off and the jaguars were like:

Hey, it’s time for you to definitively know that we are here because we’re going to be working with you.

And it just was such a strong like [makes sound of receiving a signal], you know? And I was like, okay, received. And then the next day I went back to Sapiranga to visit one of the people I dropped off, an elder in the community, who’s a poet and just this sublime character, poeta. And he’s got… somebody gave him a little boat that he’s hooking up to try to like use to put on the river to, you know, take people on tours of the river to make some extra money. And so the person he has working with him is a young brother who is from Sapiranga, born and raised there, and also works with the whale industry here in Praia do Forte. So I know him loosely, like we’ve been out on the boat together, he’s witnessed Whale Whispering and is just a lovely being. And so he was like: Go out with him, you know, go down the river and see what this place is, you know, explore some…

And so he took me on the boat and the motor was so rickety. And so when we started off, I was like, I’m not… this is, this is not going to work as a long term activity! You know? I can’t co-sign! This motor is super loud, it’s using a huge amount of oil, it’s, you know, I mean, beyond the fact that it’s broke down. So we were having that conversation. He was like, I know, I’ve been trying to tell him, you know. And so we get down, we go down like maybe a kilometre from where the dock is downriver, this beautiful spot, there’s no other human people around. And we dock and get in the water, and are swimming and talking. And I have a whole communion with the birds flying overhead who come down and circle over us. I’m singing to the waters. And it’s just a really beautiful, beautiful sharing. So we stay for about maybe like an hour and 15 minutes before we get back on the boat. Okay. It’s getting later in the afternoon, time to head back, and the motor will not start for nothing. [laughs] It will not start! That boat was not moving from that spot. He took the thing apart and, like, just did everything that you could possibly do and the motor was not going anywhere.

And he was so, like, I could see him, like, really getting upset because I’m on the boat and he can’t get me back, you know. And I was like, Listen, I’m sure that I have a lot to do with why this is happening and I’m in surrender to that, so don’t feel no kind of way, you know? We’re going to be walking back, you know. And that meant a barefoot journey through the jungle, it was about an hour and 15 minute walk back on these little teeny trails that only the local people would know, you know. Um… and as soon as we set off on foot – both of us barefoot, me in my bikini [laughs] – fortunately I had a canga in my bag that I could wrap around me so I wasn’t all the way naked moving through the jungle – but he immediately started talking about the jaguars! And he was like, Oh, you know, there’s jaguars here. And I was like, Say that! I know! Talk to me! Because everybody’s been trying to act like I’m crazy, but they’ve been talking to me. I know that they’re here.

And he was like, Yeah, I, you know, I have seen them before when I was younger growing up here. And, you know, his grandfather was like this wise person and would talk to them about why it was important to respect the jaguars and never to hunt or kill them, that they had a certain part to play both spiritually and, you know, ecologically. And he was like, yeah, people will deny it, people will tell you that it’s a myth, but there are jaguars here. There was somebody who was in the forest last week who saw one. And you know, they’re animals who don’t, like you only see them if they want you to see them. So the fact that last week a jaguar presented themselves to a human person, is very, very, very, very, very significant, you know?

And so, as we were walking on, you know, he’s talking about the different animals that are in the forest and that ‘tatu apara’, the armadillos, is one of the main inhabitants of the forest. And he was showing me some of the dwellings that they create underground, the holes that go in and areas that are covered up, and, you know, different animals’ nests. And one of them we passed by and he was pointing it out to me and he was like, Oh, look. And it was a jaguar paw print in the earth on top of this nest that we were passing.

So… I have always known that I was going to be working with Jaguars, you know, at some point… and it appears that that time is approaching as the earth is beginning to rumble here.

Sounds of waves lapping

[51.00]

Rajni
Mmm. So good to be with these stories that are emerging. Um… I have a curiosity that I’m just going to going to place here in case there are any responses, which is around this      particular, or these particular kinds of listening, what I would call listening, that you’ve both been speaking about – which is a kind of… what I would call listening in and listening out at once – or, that somehow, like, that differentiation doesn’t need to be made. And it’s a kind of listening that, you know, I think we all know at some level, even if it’s very buried, that we’re capable of. But that is quite hidden, that can be quite hidden and quite difficult to access. And, I guess I’m curious about whether that’s something that – or your version of that – is something that’s always been present, or whether that’s something that has come over time. Whether there are practices that have been quite intentional around cultivating that. Or happenings that feel significant in, um … nurturing – nurturing you or your way of listening.

Joy
Do you, do you also have, or want to… like, does this curiosity also apply to yourself? Because I’m curious about that. If anything’s popping up. Because you’ve been listening to us for a bit.

Rajni
Yeah, I’m. I’m um maybe not thinking about … or I haven’t been kind of in my own journey so much. I’ve just been kind of listening to and being with you both.

There are a lot of moments for me, of, of… it’s always about, um, doing less or giving stuff up for me. And realising again and again that it’s, that the wisdom is there in me. And the kind of courage it takes to be with that or to trust that. And really kind of working my way through the the structures that prevent me from doing that.

I’m very with the question right now of place. And why it is that in this lifetime I’ve moved around a lot. And sometimes that wasn’t my choice, but sometimes it was my choice. And recently I’ve moved a lot between continents in the past five or six years. And I’ve become more and more aware of um Indigenous and First Nations wisdoms, knowledges. And I’m … I’ve always known that my role was to be between: between places, between genders, between many different things. And right now I think I’m also very sensitive to the fact that at this point in my life, I know that I will never be somebody who has lived in a place for a long time and has that kind of relationship to the place that they’re in. And so it’s a. it’s a question. It’s a question I carry with me and that I think I’ll always carry with me, but maybe contributes to this sense that I’m… I understand my role as a guest wherever I am and whoever I’m with. And there are… I think there are things that can, that can be dangerous around that in terms of who I allow myself to be, but there are also gifts that come with that. And maybe that’s where some of my own relationship with listening work has come from.

And then the other thing that came to my mind when… when you were speaking, Michaela, about, well, bodies of water, rivers and oceans, was a walk that I got to take part in right before I left so-called Australia. And it was a walk that followed a river from its beginning to the sea. And we walked as a group of people together. And there were three people who were kind of leading it, one of whom was an Aboriginal elder. And it was super simple, you know, that was it. The… the invitation was to walk with the water and to walk at the pace of the water. And that’s what we did. Kind of as a group, but kind of dispersed, at slightly different speeds. And we met at the ocean and we, we had a moment of simple ritual there. And it was so profound, and I learnt so much, and I just kind of went: Oh, this is always available! You know, wherever I am, whatever my life looks like: This is always available. And yet, you know, what does it take to clear, to clear that space?

Sounds of waters flowing

Joy
I mean, I have something that’s pretty forward and again, like, it’s just where I am right now because I just wrote a description for Consent Lab, and I’m working on, like: how does consent work in collectivity? Like, how do we, how do we practice it? How do we understand it? Do we understand it? And before that I was thinking about a phenomenon that I have just recently got partial language to describe which, um, oh man… I’m just going to give highlights. So first highlight is that I, when I had COVID, which I guess technically was long COVID, I lost my sense of taste, which was depressing. And I’m not a person that lives with or is friends with or moves through depressive states. But as soon as I couldn’t taste anything, I really got depressed. Plus, I was locked in my room for a couple of weeks. So I started watching a bunch of cooking shows. And one of the recommendations was to practise smelling stuff, so to like do smell exercises until I got my taste back. And then I learned through that, similar to taste, that how we smell, there’s different parts, like we know there’s different parts of the tongue and the palate that correspond to how we perceive different parts of taste, like bitter and sour and sweet and salty and umami etc.. But that also is the case with smell.

And the second highlight is I finally got my taste back and it was like multi-dimensional! And I was like, woah. Like, I felt like I needed to listen more to my homies that live with  synaesthesia to open up how I perceive things. So having like a multidimensional – by losing my sense of taste, when it came back, I was, I was like, Whoa, like, taste is… somehow it was a completely different sensual experience, and not in the sexy way but in in a way where all of my senses were engaged through the lens of taste. But that’s actually how I experience hearing. I mean, as a DJ that works with having Indigenous and African diasporic backgrounds, I’m really busy with polyrhythm and layered rhythm and, and how even now like the way that rhythm moves through the body and everything has a rhythm, even things that are arhythmic, that’s a rhythm… and that’s a whole thing. But when I’m sort of mixing stuff, the way that I hear stuff is like… sort of like a tesseract? And I came to that language… I watch a lot of sci fi and, you know, Afro futurist miaow miaow or fill-in-the-blank futurisms… But starting to understand like, oh, my hearing is actually multidimensional! This is how I experience listening. Yes, I am also deeply influenced by Pauline Oliveros. Like, just as like a queer that was like going all the way in and all the way out in terms of listening practices and, you know, my ancestors in terms of listening to beings, as a Witch, also, how I communicate with, when I’m harvesting medicinal plants, how I am in dialogue and listening to that, how I listen to cycles… um… how I listen to things that are on the edge of my own human perception, dream work. Like, I feel like I’m sort of coming into a different phase of my life where I’m like: Aha! Like this, this is it. Like, I don’t need to be ashamed of the fact that I am perceiving things in sort of multidimensionals – because I think there’s also, this part of the colonial project is to dampen or like tamper or close off that we actually have access to these different perceptions.

And so, I mean, it’s a very roundabout way of saying like, I’m here for it. And when I started accepting that all of my senses can sort of bloom into this multidimensional situation, it just made my ways of perceiving that more exciting. And when I work with something like consent – which my starting point is, is sensing together, like how do we practice sensing together? – it really helps me to create space for many, many, many different types of listening and seeing and feeling and smelling and tasting. And, plus. Um. So that’s something that’s really exciting to me, so… that’s what I wanted to say right now.

Michaela
I love that, um, you know, listening across sensory receptive capacities, um…

For me, I’m clear that, in terms of my specific relationship with this interaction with nature and listening and hearing, communicating, it has a lot to do with growing up as an only child and spending a lot of time by myself in nature as a kid. And finding – well spending a lot of time by myself, period, growing up. And even when I was with other kids, always finding a way to kind of duck off and take some time to be alone and quiet in nature felt necessary. And also like there were definitely many days when there were no other kids around. And, you know, the beings and nature were my company. So I had, like, a tree that was one of my best friends, you know, where I met a squirrel that ended up being one of my best friends, So… Again, something about that like a lesser volume of human people making way for that access, from the beginning of my journey, you know, has been marked and significant. And now it’s a thing that I cultivate, like I just I need it, you know, I have to have… I have to have solitary time in nature in order to function. It’s how I operate and, as I said, it’s gotten to the point where when I’m in an environment where there’s too much volume or suppression of the voices of nature, I feel constricted and a lot of discomfort and have a hard time sleeping, um, all of that. So… I feel very privileged, on the one hand, like I am aware of the degree of privilege that I have to have the space and the time to engage in this way. And I also have prioritised having that space and time over other things, you know, it hasn’t been without sacrifices involved. And I’m, I feel… I know that it’s something that is a capacity that is wired into the majority of human forms. No, we’re not separate. We’re not apart from it. We just have it trained out of us, most of us, you know. Um…

Oh, I know what I was going to say! [laughs] My favourite spiritual kind of sums it all up for me.

[sings]

Over my head, I hear music in the air.
Over my head, I hear music in the air.
Over my head, I hear music in the air.
There must be a god somewhere.

Joy
I know that song. [laughter]

Um. I want to, I wanted to… I mean, I can still feel your, feel/see/hear your voice. So. But I also have something urgent that wanted to pop out … because I can have space for both. Which is… just a, just a counterpoint, because… Okay, the first thing I would say was, Come on, only child! As an only child [delighted laughter] spent so much time alone. But I’m from a large city. And the the listening skills that I cultivated was the city scape. And I was raised in, in sort of several large cities, so… I have a, I have a dear friend who is actually visiting the place that I was born right now, and they send me voice recordings and it, it just… just to hear the background noise, which is like in my DNA, it is such a gift. But I remember when I moved to the Netherlands. Um. No, no, when I moved to Amsterdam specifically… I have a very specific relationship with quiet, like if things are too quiet I actually am agitated. And I don’t, I don’t – and I think this is like different types of nature, like, I also view technology as part of nature, so I’m quite expensive in that regard. But I also remember at a different point in the pandemic when there was a curfew or this ‘avondklok’ where I would fucking go outside and listen to the quietness of this city. Because I had never heard it so quiet. And I would just, I would just listen. Because it’s never really quiet.

So I think when, as a child when I would be – I mean, I think silence played a particular role in my life as a child, which is why, um, noise is really soothing. I mean, you know, also being born in the seventies. So when I was alone a lot of times my parent, like – TV was the – like I had noise. Noise was comforting to me. And if there was quiet, it was, something was, I was aware that something was missing or something somehow. So having multiple sounds, really layered sounds, feeling suspicious if it’s too quiet, like if I’m in a city and it’s like dead quiet after a certain time, I’m like, This ain’t a real, this ain’t a real city. Different than the layer of hearing animals and birds and dogs and chickens and babies and things. But there is like a… yeah there’s a certain texture that I really like to hear that really – yeah – is, is delightful. Whereas how you describe, Michaela, like being a child and walking and having solitude in nature? I would be doing the same thing in probably like the busiest, loudest cacophony of, like, urban – like multiple musics from different cultures. Like cabs, buses, er… This is like – it makes me – I don’t, I don’t yeah, I don’t think I have any words for it, actually, but I just wanted to offer that as another aspect of the role of listening and sound.

And I think like only later in life, how I became comfortable with silence is I had a lover who was a professional DJ and and she was like, it’s never quiet. Like if you actually listen, it’s never, ever quiet… which I wish someone had told me when I was a kid. [laughs] But it’s fine cos I know now and it’s the practice of of listening between sounds is sort of how I, like when I’m doing one of my meditations to ground myself but also connect to the infinite, I imagine when I have the ability to see the stars, that I just keep looking towards the dark, like I look in-between the stars, and then more stars emerge. And then I look in-between to follow the darkness. This is also how I, how I practice listening between things. Like, okay, I hear washing machine and cab, but there’s something behind, in-between that. And that is just like wherever, whatever context and environment you’re in, you know, gets to the good, gets to the good stuff.

Sound of waves fades in over Joy’s last few words, and then fades out again.

Rajni
Wow. Thank you both. I’m, I’m aware that we’re er, we’re out of the, the… this particular flavour of time. Um. Yeah. And so many threads, for me, that are kind of carrying forward, that will come through from this. Um. I do want to invite anything that wants to be said, to be said as a… as a closing or as a seed or a thread from the conversation. Um, if there’s anything that you feel…

Michaela
For me just thank you.

Joy
Yeah. Also thanks.

Michaela
Yeah, it was, it was, it was a joy.

Sounds of waves lapping over these thank yous, stays for a few minutes, and then slowly fades out.

Layered sounds of cello bowing and plucking overLaura’s voice:

Laura (outro)
Climate Imaginaries is part of the Art Route NWA-project ‘Bit by bit, or not at all’ financed by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) and an Imagination Laboratory within the SPRONG project Imagination in Transitions. It is also made possible with the support of Centre of Expertise for Creative Innovation (CoECI) in Amsterdam. Sound design, editing, and cello by Fili 周 Gibbons of Studio Apothicaire. For full credits, biographies, and transcripts please visit https://climateimaginariesatsea.org. Thanks for listening.