Earlier this month, we had a chat with our current artist-in-residence and joint Jarman Award 2020 winner Andrea Luka Zimmerman: artist, filmmaker and cultural activist. Her work explores the common themes of respect for people, place and ecology, forming a perspective on the working class experience and people living on the margins of society, that are seldom seen or discussed. We asked Andrea what we’d find on her bookshelf and her responses gave us a lot of food for thought!
Latife Tekin, Berji Kristin, Tales from the Garbage Hills
I read this when I started working on Taskafa, Stories of the Street. Initially I was thinking of making a fiction hybrid and was drawn to this story of people who are needing to make a life in a world of refuse and garbage. The world she describes shows how myth in the hands of power can turn dangerous substances into ritual. How what may kill you becomes to be seen as special, because of a sense of belonging, or being ‘in’ or ‘part of’…
John Berger, King
This book led me to approach John for Taskafa. He chronicles the lives of people who have made a home in a city of homeless people, being displaced by the forces of capital. Most strikingly, the narrator of the story is a dog. When the bulldozers arrive, the dog leads the exodus all the way to the sea, in his mind the hero of the story. When he turns to take a breath, he is alone, no one came, or was able to come, with him. He dreamt this escape, a fight from oppression and devastation, and it was a dream that was not meant to be shared. The most beautiful passage, which is also read by John in Taskafa, to me is this where King (the dog) says: ‘We are their mistake, King, never forget that’.
Watch John Berger’s statement on why he shared his Booker prize win with the British Black Panthers.
Augusto Boal, Theatre of the Oppressed
I read this when I was in college as a mature student and it shaped the way I see stories. He explored theatre not as a bourgeois pursuit, but a radical and rightful way for everyone to share stories, and to find solidarity and what have in common with each other in striving towards lives without oppression. Boal’s ideas of Forum theatre in particular are important to how I approach story-telling and collaboration. In Forum a story is told by actors and the audience can intervene and offer suggestions or corrections (as in ‘I don’t recognise myself in this I would do it like this’, etc). He tried to find a different aesthetics of storytelling, and I am very much drawn to a clumsy way of telling, the imperfect way (if we see mainstream or mediated ways of storytelling as ‘smooth’, ‘coherent’, etc…) where a sense of incoherence and ambiguity is part of our experience not something to be erased and plastered over.
Audre Lorde, Your Silence Will Not Protect You (Silverpress, 2017)
In the book in particular two essays, The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House and An Open Letter to Mary Daly. This book is so astute on the erasures that occur through non consideration. How do we consider the lives of others, truthfully? She explores how we might continuously dismantle hierarchies, internalised modes of intuiting, and work towards a place where we can see, and be, together, in ways that are not assimilating, or producing secondary erasures. What languages need to be used to un-speak the violence, including the ones produced by the way in which knowledge is claimed and asserted. Walter Benjamin wrote about how history is always told through the eyes of the victor, and Lorde is asking for a rigorous (self)examination of those that aim to make counter histories too.
So Mayer, A Nazi Word for a Nazi Thing
I have basically no happy childhood memories, was raised on an edge land relief city council estate by a violent bi-polar single alcoholic mother, and don’t have any connection to a biological family since I came to the UK (I have no desire to). My first escape at 13 was with queer folks and especially my lesbian caretaker, who showed me a world that I never returned from. I learnt to distrust normatives from the start, and to make new alliances, to perform, to play, to show up for each other and to hustle. At that time there were no cures for AIDS and the grief of loss of those close to me is still with me. The disruption of lives lived regardless of what society or power wants you to mould in, or fix as, means that multiple erasures happened, and continue to happen. This book traces connections, celebrates them, shows them up, brings love, and reaffirms Nicola Griffith’s and Kelly Eskridge’s QUILTBAG (queer, intersex, lesbian, trans, bisexual, asexual and gay). This book made me so happy, I just read it, and so it’s not an analysis, more a feeling.
Nikki Giovanni, The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni 1968-1998
I was introduced to this poet by Evan Ifekoya, whom I had asked to give a book to my London Open exhibition in 2018. Evan read from Giovanni’s book during an event as part of this show I organised for Nocturnal Nights, and which also included So Mayer, Aysen Denis, Liberty Anthony Sadler and Daniella Schreier. There is a refusal to be a victim of conditions that deny one to be who one could. To show such beauty and love alongside a refusal to be visible on the terms laid out by dominant forces is what I draw a lot from.
See the full conversation with James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni in London 1971.
Colin Dayan, With Dogs at the Edge of Life
I first knew about Colin Dayan from her book The Law is a White God (it’s a must read, so let’s add that too to here) and then was almost falling off my chair when I found that she wrote about Taskafa in With Dogs at the Edge of Life. It is a formidable study on class through how dog breeds and ownership and state control. How certain breeds are mythologised in order to erase them and their being forever. It is brilliant. I basically love her writing, it is inhabited, embodied, haunted, fierce.
Sabrina Mahfouz, Smashing It: Working Class Artists on Life, Art and Making it
I first came across this book through one of my students. It is a go to instruction manual for those of us that left school way too early to know how the system of application works (and all others who find it hard). It reminded me when I was going to an access course as a mature student my teachers there had to show me what an essay was (I left school informally probably at 13, and formally at 16). It’s much simpler than we think it is, and she demystifies the entire process. I found her step-by-step guidelines of how to apply to the arts council etc. super helpful and she is an incredibly generous person.
Developed as part of our artist residency, Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s performance lecture ‘Art Class’ is available to watch on our website until 18 December. The work plays on and explores the perennial tension between the two key words in its title.
Image credit: A still from ‘Art Class’ by Andrea Luka Zimmerman