For the first four months of the year we'll be sharing the opening talks from each of the four conversations that took place at 2021's Voluminous Arts Halloquium; A Trans and Queer led conference on nightlife. Each member of the curation committee, composed of Aveda Adara, Axmed Maxamed, Gavilán Rayna Russom and Ting Ding, introduced one of the conversations with a brief but in depth talk about the theme that formed its topic. To begin the second day of conversations, focussed on the theme "The Revolutionary Potential of Nightlife", writer and HECHA / 做 co-founder Ting Ding uses their perspective as a former statistical analyst to illuminate many of the reasons why building community networks in the wake of the closures brought on by the Covid 19 global pandemic is critical.
I’m Ting Ding 丁汀 - my pronouns are she/hers - they/them and I’ll be the moderator for today’s talk. I’m also part of Halloquium’s curatorial team, and co-founder of gender-flexible, sustainable line HECHA / 做.
I wanted to take some time to reflect on some of the themes discussed yesterday, about how nightlife is not inherently revolutionary , especially in its present format where much of it has been co-opted by institutions or corporations. The marketing promise of a “queer utopia” through the fetishistic use of marginalized images as content as well as the idea of ‘diversity’ in order to be ‘inclusive’ are all part of the standardization and flattening of all that is possible. It’s clear that a top down approach of a “scene” and its politics as a marketable concept is flawed when dealing with nightlife, which often serves as an alternative economy that operates in gray zone areas and subject to run-ins with laws (for example in the US) we have the RAVE Act (Reducing Americans Vulnerability to Ecstasy) authored by then Senator now President Joe Biden in 2001 - followed by the Illicit Drugs Anti-Proliferations Act in 2003 . The consensus reached by yesterday’s group was that nightlife should be political, much like how the personal is political - and that all organizers need to be creating ecosystems of intent when holding space.
For today’s conversation where we want to start to explore the ‘revolutionary’ potential of nightlife - where we start to shift away from discourse and start asking ourselves, what are the actionable steps needed to create sustainable infrastructures?
“Our problems flow from solutions which were created in response to problems in the past, solutions which served to resolve those problems…In resolving or negating the problems, however, those solutions created new contradictions, many of which now serve as strong dehumanizing factors in our society.”
James and Grace Lee Boggs, Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century (1974)
Nightlife communities and clubs have often been spaces for trans, queer and other marginalized communities to connect and find solace. With the Covid-19 global pandemic, everything came to a grinding halt. We are forced to stand still and hold this moment to debrief our mindset and routine relationship to a work/life dichotomy.
Coronavirus more than being a biological pandemic represents a deconstruction of labor and production as we’re all finding ourselves asking questions about personal freedom, payment, and value. What is the benefit of being present in a society without the rapid exchange of labor and compensation?
Considering a change in work ethic can advance us beyond our present disaster; this healing work will take time, and can only be done through a self-determinism towards a bottom-up change––starting with industrial capitalism’s foundation: us, the workers and consumers.
One of the offered ‘solutions’ to COVID-19 in order to return to ‘normalcy’ was to replace IRL work, social life and leisures spaces with online spaces (Zoom sessions, online events/parties/streaming/workshops etc) and for people to spend more time on social media to stay in touch/connected with their communities. This increased screen time has also led to a deterioration in mental health and well being.
To give a little context about my personal background, I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life as a statistical analyst working for various start-ups. My title was technically a slightly nicer title to cover up the fact that I was an online marketer who would spend millions in advertising budgets; gathering “data” - watching you on the internet- , analyzing “trends” (hypothesizing about your internet usage), and “creating” demographic groups to target (categorizing & following you around the internet). I’ve watched Big-Tech siphon more and more user data only to sell to the highest bidder (which was usually me) at a premium with guarantee of more “accurate targeting”. Sleepwalking our way towards the promised Matrix reality, with Bezos sponsoring the sustenance soylent and Zuckerberg producing the Meta sleep pods. But I digress. We are at a point now where it is obvious that the internet is extractive and unsustainable in nature - both on a planetary level and on an individual basis.
In order to have a conversation about sustainable infrastructure we need to look at what is available and plausible. If much of the work we do as organizers requires both online and offline components, from tapping into the local communities to reaching out to our online ‘extended’ communities -
how can we own the means of our own production and start to strike a balance between the two - especially when IRL nightlife and counter cultural spaces are becoming scarce and facing pressure by the professional corporate sector - with a push towards the online? How do we create support systems outside of clubs and nightlife spaces? What could hybrid structures look like, especially focused on maintaining care networks when IRL spaces become unavailable?
The demand to move from discourse to actionable steps may seem daunting, but the scope of this shift may be as small or large as imaginable (and imagine we must!). I think it’s important to acknowledge the different localities present here today and what it means to organize a community from our individual “standpoint epistemology” - because knowledge is socially situated and we all have our unique life experiences and context. A ‘universal’/’global’ model certainly won’t work here and the goal is to use Halloquium as a starting point for all participants to extend and build networks past and beyond today’s singular instance.