Urgency Lab

Urgency Lab1 — A semester-long2series of workshops and experiments that juxtaposes radical acts of generosity with alternative ways of making work in relation to power, including collective action, disruption, and refusal. Following is a conversation, in the form of reflective statements and comments, created April 22, 2019.

An incredible energy that got us out of the classroom to Pawtucket again, away from the institution.3 The need to make in one of the most collaborative ways I’ve ever experienced. Understanding the failure4 of what we’ve made — its limits — not necessarily “publishable.” What to share? The experience of this space that’s been created. By documenting it, we can provide a view. “This happened.”

— we started at the museum, visiting Nancy Prophet
— the failure5 of the ”where are we” workshop (MP left)6
— at Prov Wash with Nora, where she shared Wild Ass Beyond and we discussed the undercommons (AB and RB left)7
— sharing gifts (bread, candy, oranges, tears)8
— the workshop in the commons where we brainstormed about “urgency”
— Autumn Knight
— banana bread
— snacks from good fortune
— getting to work9
— the workgroups (AJ and SW and MG left)10
— the archive, “WE DEMAND”12
— the zine on the photocopy machine in Sue’s14office
— leaving the institution, heading north15
— the risograph16
— the wall in Pawtucket
— the urgency map on the wall (failure)17

Can we create a recipe for collaboration, a recipe for collective care.

A mosaic of sharing, imagined futures, making and collective care is louder than separated acts of making that float apart with time,18place and focus on the self.
Collaboration has been the magnet that makes our work whole.

[NL ]
I just really enjoy the atmosphere of this class. There’s a general sense of curiosity, like everyone’s coming together each week with new pieces of the puzzle and we spend the day figuring out how they fit together19...Except there’s no wrong way to solve the puzzle?20 It’s paradoxical, the desire to speak to the institution while simultaneously wishing to divorce ourselves from its influence.21 But I don’t mind the confusion, because there’s no pressure to like...find the perfect solution to the world’s problems.22 I just enjoy talking with everyone and trying out new strategies23 ... and the general experience of sharing.24

Urgency implies a state of duress. Something is coming. Something is pressing — something of import, something of impact. It cannot be prevented without significant redress.

How does one address the urgent if it feels as if the urgent matter has already arrived. I think about how difficult it has been to capture the essence of this class and to pin down practical strategies or work that has come out of it.25 Part of the difficulty may be that it becomes increasingly difficult to address the urgent, the impending, when it feels like it has already arrived.26 It becomes even more difficult, when the urgent encompasses a multitude of matters, each overlapping in duration, with different beginning and end points.27

I think back to “A Wild Ass Beyond” -- is imagining the post-apocalyptic a utopian exercise? In the post-apocalyptic future, we are liberated from the current reality.28 The apocalypse collapses the urgent into a single event -- contained and discrete. The urgency of the past is definitely behind us, and a new set of urgent matters arise and the only thing that matters is that they are different than the ones we are currently experiencing. In longing for the post- apocalyptic wilds,29 we long for a new set of conditions under which we can demonstrate care for one another. The challenge of this class has been imagining care that feels meaningful as we live in the urgent present. How do we move past triage?30

On urgent community: I’ve been thinking a lot about the tension between urgency and the slow, intentional care necessary for building trust and relationships. How do we appreciate what’s worked while still engaging in self-critique and ask ourselves to do better?31 We can’t have our pluses without our deltas. How do we avoid embracing failure as a frame through which we can absolve ourselves of the ways we perpetuate oppressive behavior?32

Together, we’ve urgently witnessed and sculpted potentialities. We’ve made, laughed, cried?33(adam’s piece, at least, left me secretly sniffling)34, together. We came together with a thirst for connection and a commitment to sharing our dreams, fears, and annoyances with one another. We fumbled;35 we didn’t always say the right things; we didn’t always facilitate with care; we didn’t always acknowledge our differences in goals, experiences, and desires.

But within the space and time we urgently carved out for one another, we have bee slowly working towards knowing and trusting one another. We’ve been vulnerable, we’ve apologized, we’ve been off guard, resting. We’ve crafted care in the spontaneous interstitial space of breaks from class – stretches by the river,36 car ride karaoke, sneaking out37 for takeout from the strip mall. Community-making is a slow and messy process,38but we came here looking to experiment and build something together. Framed by urgent generosity,39 we were primed to share and accept vulnerability.40 41

productive (failure !)

I have so much I want to say to this reflection that it’ll be worth taking time to sit down with outside of this exercise. Thank you for this frame!

I haven’t made a lot of work42 this semester,43 44 in this class or others, and I know at a place like RISD that’s downright sacrilegious.45 But, during this semester, and in this class in particular, I have been able to reflect, question, and find community—all of which have led me powerfully in the direction of a thesis for next year. I guess that’s a self-conscious and reflexive attempt to justify this experience46, even though my classmates have reminded me47that I don’t need to justify, or even summarize, my existence here. What I do know is that I have contributed work to this class that I haven’t felt the space48 for in others. It has made me think deeply about how the people around me impact my practice, a reminder that it’s worth the time and effort to be intentional about creating space for the people with whom I want and need to do this work.49 Sometimes I forget what I need,50 and it isn’t until I experience
it again after a long absence that I finally feel the huge gaping hole where that missing piece should be.51

I come from a school, like many others, of problem solving. As I registered for this class I was ready to “change the world” with my superiority-hero complex52 53rooted in privileged education and power-colonizing groups like Catholic missions. This class changed my perspective completely on what urgency means and how to address it. It forced me to look at myself, where I stand and what my privileges are before even starting to want to solve other problems.54 It forced me to listen before acting, and understand the power of discussion55 and community building as actions themselves.56 In the capitalist, product-oriented society we live in that demands big actions, great marketing and “world changing”, our small, generous community building became a radical way of problem-solving.57

Urgent: to me means uninhibited—raw.58 To write and say what we need to, without too much worrying about professional or scholarly relevance. Reality is always relevant.59Not to completely undermine the institution, but to stop...60 and contemplate on all the issues rendering it irrelevant and potentially dangerous today. It’s about reminding ourselves why we do what we do, which is most probably not for the institution.61

A class can be a group of people, coming together by shared interest and luck,62 63 each with their own experiences/knowledge. A classmate can be a person, partner to treasure/ challenge/eat with.

Today looked like needing to leave the assigned room64 to even begin to remember to think about anything. Remnants of last week’s something still on the wall. The semester started with gift giving sharing radical care and gratitude for presence with a window into polished work—today we write fast and messy and slap it on the wall. A language forming of words that need our definitions—words defined by other words and by experiences and by conversations that extend beyond the classroom because you couldn’t leave them behind even if you wanted to.65Trust is required to make something messy and unfinished and collaborative.66

Building trust67through sharing and making space
Building trust through openness and acceptance and listening Building trust through disagreement and discussion and drawing68

This class has asked for my presence on a level I’m not accustomed to. It has requested knowledge that I usually chose to safekeep69 like a lost tooth tucked under my pillow. Locked to the ground by my illness, I am forced to be my own community, along with the loves of my life, who I bring with me everywhere, and when I tell them what’s hurting they never say “same.”70

Disability is so quiet, so personal. It doesn’t require a community that empathizes, in fact, empathy often feels exploitative. An observer gets to feel transformed by my syrupy story, while I’m left treading water.71 I require a community that admits ignorance.72 That admits urgency is a muted word73 to those whose day to day feels life-threatening.

Being present, fully, urgently, is staring directly into its eyes. I’ve had no choice but to hold its gaze, waiting for it or me to blink. I always blink first. My tear ducts are sensitive but getting stronger.74 Who is this healing?

1 [PS 4/22/19 2:09pm] https://soulellis.com/teaching/urgencylab/index.html

[PS 4:20pm] Adam Chuong Ana Cristina Espinosa Pérez Maria Gerdyman Olive Godlee Natalie Linn Mo Nassem Bobby Joe Smith III Tongyi Zhang Eleanor Meshnick Caroline Smith Noa Machover Xingyang Cai Paul Soulellis

[MG 4:29pm ]Tongyi & Eleanor & Caroline & Xingyang not in class today, but still so present in these conversations. Breaks, sick days, rain checks encouraged.

2  [NM 2:00pm] Is it really just one semester?

3  [AC 2:01pm] where are the bounds of the institution

[AC 2:06pm] using institutional time --- working within the bounds of institutional time, the institution brought us together in a way, and yet how do we resist its pull?

4  [OBG 2:04pm] failure bc not publishable meaning not accessible to an audience yet somewhat of a success in redirecting us/changing how we’re thinking about our audience or lack of one or self as audience ?

[PS 2:04pm] Failure as a tool

[OBG 2:05pm] failure as success !!!!

[AE 2:05pm] <3

[AC 2:07pm] failure as (queer) art!

5  [NM 2:01pm] do we need to define/ understand failure as a term (and terms generally) before we begin using them

[AC 2:08pm] failure in whose eyes? how do we position ourselves?

6  [OBG 2:01pm] call! him! out!

7 [AC 2:11pm] Who is Urgency Lab? Is Nora part of it? Are the people who leave it a part of it? Are the authors of the readings a part of it? --- rhetorical in that I would say yes to all of these questions

[AC 2:12pm] Does it also extend beyond -- with the folks outside of the classroom with whom each of us individually processed the going ons of the class?

8  [OBG 2:02pm] soft poem

9 [OBG 2:06pm] as in starting work? when did work start or did it ever ? have we yet to Get To Work or did we get to work when we registered for this class // showed up
[MG 2:12pm] acknowledging emotional labor, care as labor, effort, queer work?

10  [AC 2:03pm] when one leaves, what remains?

[MG 2:04pm] reminds me of autumn knight’s reaction to audience member leaving

[MN 2:10pm] Can AJ answer this? I miss her!

11  [AE 2:03pm] metaphor?

[PS 4:03pm] https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1020090-spinach-and-cilantro-soup-with-tahini-and-lemon

12  [OBG 2:04pm] cite what this is exactly

[PS 2:07] The 1970 publication by RISD students that was circulated at the opening of the Andy Warhol “Raid the Icebox” show at the RISD museum

[OBG 2:09pm] <3

[PS 2:09pm] https://digitalcommons.risd.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1051&context=studentnewspapers

13  [NM 2:04pm] did we publish?

[PS 4:06pm] we are going to

14  [OBG 2:05pm] thank u Sue

15  [BJS 2:04pm] Best!

16  [NM 2:10pm] bless

17  [CS 2:58pm] Experimentation, both formally and by just contributing in a new teaching/classroom experience, has been a hugely important aspect of Urgency Lab for me.

18  [OBG 2:12pm] lose contextualization/where the work is placed within other work

19  [CS 3:04pm] In this way, our experience has been as ongoing puzzle, perhaps without a solution. It’s hard to let go of “finishing” products or projects at RISD sometimes. The unknown has become a natural part of urgency lab.

20  [OBG 2:14pm] or no One Perfect Way to solve it maybe—or if we solve it wrong it’s still

21 [AC 2:13pm] best not to acknowledge the institution

22 [AC 2:14pm] it does feel like there is so much pressure to think about our communication beyond this classroom --- how do we share has become such a big question -- how do we responsibly and accurately capture the work, while navigating our relationship to our audience

23 [BJS 2:14pm] Made better with shared, homemade bread and soup..

[MG 2:13 pm] Trying !!!!!

24 [AE 2:13 pm] This is what this class is about

25 [OBG 2:23pm] Importance of slow making ! taking time for oneself and each other and to do things with patience and care (bread is slow making, repair is slow making)

[MG 2:23pm] providing time and space to go at one’s own pace

26 [MG 2:16pm] has always been there, maybe suppressed, internalized

[AC 2:18pm] Intentionality paralysis

27 [OBG 2:18pm] the multitude of different urgencies—and how to balance them and reflect on them—becomes urgent in a whole new way. How do we hold a space of calm, patience, reflection within urgency in order to be able to actually act or create rather than being too overwhelmed by the urgency !

[NL 2:20pm] Compassion fatigue is becoming more common in this way, with people becoming traumatized by the constant wave of urgencies. It used to only affect people like EMTs... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compassion_fatigue

28 [MG 2:18pm] maybe escapism is important to our mental health

[AC 2:20pm] definitely agree!

[OBG 2:20pm] yes! disassociation! but also how that relates to withdrawal and illegibility potentially? withdrawal and illegibility as more considered tools of removal, while escapism/disassociation is potentially knee jerk reaction

[NL 2:25pm] Love this. I consider withdrawal and dissociation tools of recovery. Fantasy becomes (at least to me) a place to regather one’s strength—to find comfort or courage which we can then bring back into the ailing world.

29 [NL 2:18pm] There’s relief for me in the collapse of civilization because it feels like we’ve been teetering on the edge for so long, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or maybe we’re already there, and we’re just waiting for validation. I agree that it’s really hard to maintain a sense of urgency when everything feels urgent all the time.

30 [PS 2:20pm] this is it

31 [NM 2:24pm] ugh virgo energy -______- comin thru

[OBG 2:24pm] lmao

[AC 2:25pm] honestly earth sign energy, aside from Taureans <_< >_>

32 [NL 2:26pm] This feels so important!

33 [OBG 2:25pm] pisces energy

34 [AC 2:31pm] <3<3

35 [OBG 2:24pm] favorite word :’) Feels like Productive failure, rolling in the mud !

36 [AC 2:32pm] more embodied care pls

[MG 2:33pm] mmmmm !

37 [NM 2:32pm] I guess it wasn’t sneaking.... paul knew

38 [AE 2:24pm] I feel like this is our final product, a community

39 [AC 2:24pm] :-D

40 [PS 2:24pm] this becomes, among so many others on the page, another definition of urgency lab

41 [BJS 2:37pm] Be intentional, fail fast, recooperate, reconsider, reengage, grow, do better...[NM 2:38pm] <3 <3 <3 <3 :’)

42 [AC 2:32pm] what is the work? What work goes recognized?[OBG 2:33pm] Thinking about the imbalance of value between physical and mental/ emotional—physical work vs emotional work, physical labor vs emotional labor, physical health vs mental/emotional health..... [NM 2:35pm] and between work (productive) and labor (reproductive) and differential valuation

43 [OBG 2:31pm] relate relate relate pretty much always

[NM 2:31pm] ugh yeah same

[MN 2:32pm] me af

[PS 2:33pm] making work vs doing the work...the immaterial work that we do just by showing up, engaging, participating, building something that can’t be added to a portfolio

44 [NL 2:31pm] I bet you made work—it just wasn’t physical!

[NM 2:31pm] yes true

[AE 2:32pm] !!!!!

45 [AE 2:33pm] How toxic is the RISD community in regards of productivity?? Are we worth what we make?? Productivity =/ value

[NL 2:35pm] If you’d ask me, I’d say students are pressured to produce tangible work on a constant basis. Rest is taboo, or rebellion. To me it brings a new light to the term ‘radical self care.’

[AE 2:38pm] !!!!!

46 [MN 2:39pm] As sad as it is, I definitely relate to this. In addition, I’m taking anotherelective that allows me to be making, so I don’t feel as bad. Why does this need to be extra labor? Why does it need its own class rather than being integrated into pedagogy?

47 [NM 2:36pm] so hard to embody though, but it’s true!!!

48 [MG 2:39pm] the power of the people and atmosphere around you moving aways from making work for the institution-space that we are currently in and instead making space itself, of collective care, that enables a different kind of work to be made

49 [AC 2:35pm] yes! I think RISD has always felt like an isolating experience for many -- few people get to find their communities and I think structurally RISD often prevents community from manifesting

[AE 2:35pm] the struggle

[NL 2:37pm] This is so unfortunate, since community is vital to survival (as per the reading)

50 [AC 2:37pm] yes - I’ve been thinking a lot about how difficult it is to recognize needsor perhaps make space for needs --- esp for marginalized identities --- another factorimpacting how things feel reactive, and not active?

51 [OBG 2:45pm] what work did we all do before coming to this space/before this class to be actively interested in and prioritizing the discussions we have here?

52 [OBG 2:51pm] “Success” of any kind (including activist work) is taught to us as an individualist venture, with a single hero at the end—white savior, white male rags to riches, there are endless tropes. I don’t think any kind of success (however we define that for ourselves) can be achieved alone, but also so much “success” has roots in systematic hierarchies (the rich get richer)

[NM 2:52pm] have been thinking a lot about success/failure of campaigns (and abolitionist ones, specifically) recently... and how there may be material “failures,” (i.e. a new prison is still built, despite resistance) but campaigns can still work to do important coalition building and common sense-shifting... just some ramblings, but things i’ve been mulling over!

53 [PS 2:47pm] RISD’s reputation is based on cultivating this, unfortunately

[MG 2:48pm] @ industrial design

[AE 2:49pm] “Problem solving elite”

[NM 2:49pm] “excellence, problem-solving, we are the best, we will come solve your problems... people go far with that reputation, but not everyone does. people get left out from that definition. and at what cost do we cultivate that reputation?” - ps

[AC 2:50pm] yes @ID solutionism

[NL 2:51pm] This is making me re-evaluate my goals as an artist. When does a mission statement as a creator become domineering, or an extension of a superiority complex?

54 [AC 2:48pm] one thing that has been a really useful quote that i think back to is “who are you performing for?” --- to always be self critical of how actions can be performative and for whom one might be performing

55 [NL 2:47pm] “Discussion as action” LOVE IT!

56 [NM 2:46pm] hell yeah!!!!

57 [BJS 2:53pm] Before capitalism and before colonization, this was how my communities got anything done. This is how they made dents in their world. Only now, when juxtaposed with current systems of power and world-making, is it considered radical.

[OBJ 2:57pm] woaa yes— thinking about how norms are created,,,, before a college education was expected, it wasn’t non-normative/”radical” to proceed without one—— Patterns of exclusive and inaccessible languages becoming the expected norm and therefore rendering low theory or colloquial language inferior/less powerful ?

[AE 3:00pm] reminds me of this: https://twitter.com/viru5detected/status/1117361752939945984

58 [BJS 2:55pm] I’ve been really excited about this approach in your work and writing

59 [NM 2:56pm] mm, that’s beautiful <3

60 [AE 2:57pm] love the emphasis on stop. When do we take time to stop? Taking a pause asa form of selfcare.

61 [AC 2:57pm] the remembering and context are so important.
[NM 3:01pm] <3 <3 <3

62 [NL 2:57pm] Love this. What are the chances we’d get to come together like this, with thisparticular assemblage of people.

63 [CS 3:08pm] I see a connection to Mo’s passage above! Without such a heavy emphasis onthe institution a class can be a collaborative moment of growth and can happen anywhere as long as we’re open to the people around us.

[MG 3:47pm] shaking off atmospheres that are implicit from the institution, society -->allowing time for building new ones together

64 [NM 2:58pm] I like this symbolic

65 [AC 2:58pm] Urgency Lab is boundless because the urgent matters exist beyond theinstitution

66 [BJS 3:02pm] Rarely is this addressed, even though RISD is positioned as a place to innovate, fail, push/redefine boundaries.

67 [AE 3:01pm] trust as a key ingredient of this class

[NM 3:02pm] foundational

68 [OBG 3:08pm] “trust that we’ll know what to do when we all get together” --paul

69 [NM 5:30pm] I was really jolted by the level of vulnerability that was required of me toshare and be present in. I definitely found myself visiting some places that I didn’t feel quite ready to, and in depths and intensities that were painful, maybe dangerous. I had to put up some boundaries and practices of leaving to get through – made me think about my relationship to work and pain/mental unwellness, something I wanted to practice rejecting, but we still carry these habits

70 [OBG 5:26pm] When sympathy rather than empathy is required: not “I know how you feel,” because no one can truly know, but listening, showing care

[AC 5:30pm] Acknowledging difference in identity and experience as means of building community -- rather than blindly “empathizing” for the sake of validation and superficial commonalities

71 [AC 5:29pm] Powerful to think about the exploitation of the narratives of individuals and communities and for whom those stories really benefit.

[MG 5:31pm] how quickly narratives become consumed

[NM 5:33pm] and how much can we reject this consumption ! :o :o :o ?

72 [NL 5:28pm] This is a difficult thing for many people (including myself ) but it is so vital. We have to be able to admit that we don’t know what it’s like to live as someone else. Otherwise we can’t really be there for people who are different from us.

73 [NM 5:42pm] so important – reminds me of our conversation of apocalypse with Nora Khan & the importance of not assuming that apocalypse is universally experienced/ understood

74 [NM&MG 5:59pm] honestly and viscerally feeling that this classroom cannot be and is not a healing space. time and time again we have had to leave the room to cry.

[NM&MG] maybe some things cannot be facilitated away, especially not on campus. trying still, not fully having the skills yet, not knowing how to hold space for healing but opening up to learn. is hugging after class enough?

[NM&MG] @failure?? but also failure hurts and can cause harm. are we expecting those that we harm to stay in the room?

[NM&MG] how do we heal when our failures are actively causing harm? is “queer failure” compatible with “healing justice”?

   v.1’s Art Writing Capsule - issues on campus now!   v.1’s Art Writing Capsule - issues on campus now!   v.1’s Art Writing Capsule - issues on campus now!   v.1’s Art Writing Capsule - issues on campus now!