Cherelle and I met when we both took part in The Colour Green Lab – a 4-part digital programme, led by Farah Ahmed for Julie’s Bicycle (as part of the Arts Council England environmental sustainability programme) between January and March. The Colour Green Lab was a knowledge and skills programme, to support and empower Black and POC artists (and cultural practitioners) to lead environmental action and connect climate change to wider themes in our creative work.
We covered a lot in the four sessions, including: a thorough introduction to climate and environmental science, justice and policy; a talk through circular and regenerative systems; and a presentation on artistic practice exploring climate justice from Farah Ahmed, Salome Wagaine (Seasons for Change) and the actor/playwright Fehinti Balogun. There was also a great talk from Nonhlanhla Makuyana from Decolonising Economics in one session, where she referenced the quote from Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan – “to decolonise is to contextualise” – which keeps popping up in my head ever since.
Another quote that stuck with me in that last session, was this one that somebody shared from Toni Cade Bambara:
“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.”
This quote was one of things we chatted about in the breakout room on the last session – when I was put in a group with Cherelle, along with Melody Walker from East Street Arts. We wondered – what was the toll on the artist when creating this irresistible revolution? We connected well in our little group, and Cherelle told Melody and I about an idea she had – to create some sort of sonic journey that would use Audre Lorde’s The Uses Of The Erotic as a starting point to explore black and brown bodies as a place for pleasure, healing and connection. Even though I hadn’t yet read the essay, I was immediately interested in the idea.
Cherelle is a visual artist and collagist, as well as a healing sound practitioner, based in Ramsgate. She also works at Autograph, London, and does weekly online soundbaths for Mind Walk Yoga (I’d also come across her here, when I was participating). For this new idea, she was keen to collaborate with a writer – needing a spacious script that could go alongside her healing sounds to create a meditative journey.
We linked up over email, and Cherelle scanned in the essay for me to read. I printed it off and also found the audio online so I could listen along to Audre Lorde saying it in her own voice. Over a few weeks, I listened several times – highlighting phrases I particularly liked and making notes with anything else that resonated or came up for me in some way.
In our first video meeting in April, we compared favourite parts of Uses of The Erotic and chatted about how the themes of healing and connection linked into climate justice – reflecting back on things we’d discussed in Colour Green.
A few favourite quotes from Uses of the Erotic:
“The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire. For having experienced the fullness of this depth of feeling and recognising its power, in honour and self-respect we can require no less of ourselves.”
“Another important way in which the erotic connection functions is the open and fearless underlining of my capacity for joy. In the way my body stretches to music and opens into response, hearkening to its deepest rhythms, so every level upon which I sense also opens to the erotically satisfying experience, whether it is dancing, building a bookcase, writing a poem, examining an idea.’
“The considered phrase ‘It feels right to me’ acknowledges the strength of the erotic into a true knowledge, for what that means is the first and most powerful guiding light towards any understanding.”
We also spoke about breath – having space to breathe, feeling safe to breathe – and the multi-layered struggles, as well as the disproportionate air pollution in areas with large populations of black and brown people and the heartbreaking and avoidable death of Ella Kissi-Debrah.
After our first meeting, we made a shared folder that we could both keep adding to with related thoughts/research/ideas. It was interesting and nourishing to keep up with Cherelle’s list of inspirations, and to add to mine – we shared all sorts, inc. podcasts, books, films, poems, songs and radio shows – and each delved further into the ones that resonated. We found out we both really enjoyed the work of The Last Poets and Sons of Kemet, and we both independently referenced the mighty Sun Ra in our notes. At some point, I watched the Sun Ra documentary ‘A Joyful Noise’ and was particularly struck by this quote:
“They say that ‘history repeats itself’. But history is only his story. You haven’t heard my story yet. My story is different from ‘his story.’ My story is not part of history, because history repeats itself, but my story is endless. It never repeats itself. Why should it? A sunset does not repeat itself. Neither does the sunrise. Nature never repeats itself. Why should I repeat myself?”
Cherelle also introduced me to the short film Queering Di Teknolojik (2019) which I really enjoyed and was moved by. A hopeful film made by black & brown queer activists? Needed! The film uses some made-up language which I really enjoyed, like ‘history-yet-to-kum’ instead of ‘future’ and ‘temporality’ instead of ‘time’.
In one of our early chats, Cherelle told me that she’d shared her initial idea with a friend who had said “it sounds like you’re trying to brainwash people!”. We found this funny, and chatted about how we could kind of reclaim / give different meaning to the word ‘brainwash’ – afterall, washing anything else was generally considered a good thing. Maybe our brains need a good wash every now and again?! We affectionately called the project ‘Brainwashing’ from then on.
We came up with a couple of starting points from which to start experimenting – me with words, and Cherelle with sound:
1 – this quote from Lorde’s Uses of the Erotic:
“Recognising the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama.”
2 – Sun Ra and how he owned his alien identity – we wanted to explore the freedom and agency that comes from fully inhabiting your own body.
We carried on adding to our shared folder, and had a couple more meetings throughout May and June. We spoke about what it would mean to leave the body and focus on the infinite, about departure points, about where Sun Ra was coming from, about bridges and portals, about endlessness and unwinding… about how this journey we were creating could end up at a place where climate justice was inevitable.
I found myself returning to the see/feel/ask beginning ritual that I picked up on the Tenebrae project – finding it a really helpful way to ground myself in the project each time I came to work on it. Later, I collected all of these see/feel/asks and did audio-recordings of some to potentially be used in a version of the final piece. At some point, I wrote a short piece of writing (from the Sun Ra starting point) and shared it with Cherelle over zoom.
We were both able to see Es Morgan’s film ‘feel something tipping, under and towards you’ whilst it was showing online via The Place. It was such a great viewing and I was gutted I didn’t watch it with enough time to tell everybody about it! The film explored trans embodiment, visibility and being with others and alone. Sensual movement combined with intimate, textured poetry to create a spellbinding, breath-like, cyclical experience.
Another source of inspiration for both of us was the podcast series Forest 404 – a BBC Radio immersive sci-fi thriller, set in the 24th century in a world where forests have been erased from history. Alongside the 9 episodes, there’s also 9 talks (that look at some of the issues and questions around the themes) and 9 soundscapes (such as the Sumatran rainforest, a chorus of frogs, and our favourite – the hauntingly beautiful sounds of Baka Pygmy women singing whilst gathering mushrooms)
As I mentioned, Cherelle is a collagist. I also enjoy working with collage – having experimented with it when studying art back at college & uni – and got back into it a bit last year, as I find the method to be a therapeutic way of creating. We ended up approaching this project in a collage-esque way – first collecting lots of bits and pieces before we started slotting stuff together.
Finally, it was time for us to meet up in person! After all our dreamy talking of connecting to nature and the magic of trees etc, it felt right to meet up in a woodland. So, the first weekend of July, we met up at Marden Park – an ancient woodland that sits high on the North Downs of East Surrey. Neither of us had been there before but it was about half way between where we were based and it sounded beautiful – and it was!
It was so great to meet in person after months of chatting over the email, phone and video calls. We walked through the woods, breathing in the space and fresh air, we recorded some sounds of the woods and some snippets of us reading quotes/ideas to each other, and continued chatting through our thinking about the project.
That phrase that Audre Lorde spoke about, that acknowledgment of the erotic – ‘it feels right to me’ – kept coming up more and more in our conversations. So simple, but so empowering to recognise that we all do have that deep sense of inner knowing – even if tapping into it can sometimes be difficult.
We shared stories with each other of times we’d felt a deep sense of connection with trees, we spoke about what we would be if we weren’t human, imagined the world from the perspective of the natural world, about possible futures, the paradox of feelings we can feel at any one time. We shared and compared our lived experiences in our black, feminine bodies and the freedom of breath and walking in the woods.
We also discussed different ways this project could be presented / accessed – we spoke about it appearing unexpectedly in the middle of a radio show; as an ongoing installation at a festival that people could walk in and out of; as a live performance that changes each time; as a youtube series with a visual element; as a podcast series or an album…
After we met up, I wrote some more. Sometimes I free-wrote, sometimes I started by listening along to recordings Cherelle had sent me of her making sounds with a gong – creating an audio feeling of entering a cave, sometimes I used one of my ‘see/feel/ask’ notes as a starting point, or a quote from Sun Ra or Forest 404. I ended up with a few different short abstract pieces, some that linked together, with working titles such as: Caving In, Saved By The, Jazzed, Stretched, Infinite, Zero & See/Feel/Ask.
Meanwhile, Cherelle was busy cutting up samples and experimenting with different instruments and combinations. As I began to upload voice recordings to our shared folder, she started creating different drafts/versions. With CDJs set up, she was mixing the different audio live whilst also creating live sounds at the same time. In a live setting, the audio of my voice could be pre-recorded and mixed this way or I could be part of the live performance.
Although the name ‘Brainwash’ had been making us chuckle, it was time to think of a different name for the project. We didn’t have to think too hard, as it was the simple phrase that Audre Lorde spoke about that also kept coming up for us – Does It Feel Right To You?
We’d also spoken a lot about music, so I made a playlist of songs I’ve been listening to over these months we’ve been working together/ that related to the project in some way for me.
This project is unfinished/ongoing and it’s been such a great experience working with Cherelle.
When it feels right, we’ll be sharing it with people too… watch this space!