Arika Episode 10: Experimental Science, Radical Politics

Cutting-edge maths and physics is paralleled with experiences of Black, POC, Queer, Trans and Indigenous communities in Arika's latest programme in Glasgow

Feature by Katie Dibb | 11 Nov 2019
  • Arika

Arika is co-directed by Bryony McIntyre and Barry Esson. It started in 2001 originally as experimental music and moving image festivals; forming as a company in 2006 it has now become so much more. Now, roughly every year, for several days in Tramway in Glasgow, Arika launches a new Episode: a programme of talks, performances, workshops and exhibitions by radical and progressive artists, thinkers and community organisers. The organisers describe it “more like an open research project than a festival or biennale.” This month, their upcoming episode is themed around the potential for maths and physics to contribute meaningfully to making new ways of thinking about social, political and personal relationships.

How and why do maths and physics come into all of this? 

Barry Esson: "We have been in this research group called the Institute of Physical Sociality, so a made-up thing, a geeky space where we all get to geek out. It’s not an institute, it’s a way of us instituting our getting together. We’ve been to CERN, the Large Hadron Collider. 

"But underneath it there is a critique that Western colonial logic has been used around classical ideas of maths and physics. Classical physics thinks of the world as made up of physical objects with essential characteristics that act on each other through laws of force and the Western colonial logic imposes a similar idea on to society; that we are individuals who have essential characteristics of race, gender, ability and that we can be mediated by these immutable laws of force and it gets that authority through classical physics. 

"Well actually that’s not what physics says anymore. The world isn’t made up of fixed objects with essential characteristics, actual objects are the transition between something virtual into actual for a set of possibilities. Things aren’t separated from each other but can be entangled and when you act on one you can affect the other. Or they can happen across distances that can unpick cause and effect. 

"Fred Moten and Denise Ferreira da Silva are saying that physics now actually thinks of the world in a completely different way, but maybe that's more in keeping with how Black, POC, Queer, Trans, Indigenous communities imagine the world and have always been imagining the world." 

Bryony McIntyre: "Because shit is complicated at the moment and if maths can help then why not try?"

What would you say to readers that are perhaps intimidated by the scientific vocabulary used in the programme? 

BE: "There are lots of different ways into it. No one has to do any sums. All of the performances are supposed to embody the ideas that are in those study sessions so you can come to the performances or the exhibition!"

BM: "The thing about maths and science is that because of how we were all schooled and the relationship we have with schooling, that can be quite a space of trauma."

BE: "Fernando Zalamea has definitely said we have all been taught completely wrongly. One of Fernando's things is that all deep and important maths should be able to be understood through hand gestures.

"We also shouldn’t apologise that they are going to deal with important ideas because it's a fucked up time at the moment and things are very complex and we need to have complex ways of understanding what's going on."

Could you also talk about some of the other work that you do? 

BE: "We also do something called Local Organising, a practice of trying to act in solidarity with particular groups that we have come quite close with. So that is predominately people in the Sex Worker Struggle, Anti-Poverty Organisers and the Migrant Struggle, both in Glasgow. 

"It doesn’t always go on our website because sometimes it’s not for the public, sometimes it’s just for those groups. 

"We were in the Whitney Biennale in 2012. Since then we have done a project in New York most years. The last one we did was with the disability community or Crip Community in New York at Performance Space. That was a 4/5 day festival full of disability aesthetics and justice. It was set up with a steering group of people from the community and they basically made all the decisions but we raised the money, we set up the venue relationships, we managed the programme, the production, we did all the behind the scenes work."

BM: "That is something to say about how we approach the programming, we want to be in longer-term, slower, deeper conversations with people. A desire to just respect the relationship."

On the conversation of allyship [being an ally to people with whom you might not share characteristics like race, gender, sexuality, class] what are the practical ways that you do this? 

BM: "We have been thinking about this for a long time; what is our relationship to our own lived experiences, how do we analyse our privileges and how to be in a relationship with other people from different situations?"

BE: "To start an important thing that we thought was to centre the voices of people who have a lived experience of those struggles. So the Episodes started having more POC, Trans, Sex Worker, Disability Activists, from various different lived experiences."

BM: "For a temporal context, the first episode was 2012. So at that time there was still a dearth of work by diverse folks even just being seen on the stage or represented in programmes."

BE: "Then we thought, maybe that’s not enough. This pamphlet [Accomplices not Allies by an Indigenous Perspective] is really great in that it doesn’t want people in privileged access to resources to give up those positions. It’s recognising that at present the access to resources and privileges that we have and actually doing something with them."

BE: "Our relationship with The Sex Workers Organisation was built over roughly 5 years, so the first time we did stuff with them we asked would you like to come to some of our events and you don’t have to do anything, just come and we will cover your bus fare and you will get fed and everything. And then one of them is like 'Oh actually I want to say something.'"

BM: "We were speaking to the Tramway for a few years about changing their toilet designation and so that managed to tip over into being gender neutral for the last Episode."

BE: "...and maybe they had gender neutral toilets from 2018, so it took 3 or 4 years. But that’s not just from us. Harry Josephine Giles has written some amazing stuff around access not being for everybody. There’s this idea in the right-wing press or society in large that people have an entitlement to go to everything, whereas I don’t want to be in a space with a fascist! People with trans experience maybe want to just be in a space with trans people. So if I don’t have that experience then I can’t be in that space."

Are there any final things you would like to say? 

BM: "If there is anything we can do to make it easier for you to attend than please get in touch and we mean it. Some people have been like 'actually I really need a high backed chair'."

BE: "...something to put my feet on..." 

BM: "It can be small, it can be big, but that offer is there."

Arika Episode 10: A Means Without An End takes place at Tramway, Glasgow from 20-24 Nov