An Interlude: Hello and Happy (Gregorian) New Year from Johannesburg, South Africa!
eighteen years with south africa; i like to watch; soft chaos; quantization; process work; stop playing
Bismillah. We begin everything with the name of Allah. We say Bismillah to initiate an act to acknowledge the intention and the ethics we carry with all that follows Bismillah.
I am just popping in to say hello before the full newsletter run begins this month. I took an unexpected break in December; thank you for supporting this newsletter.
2022 is over, and she and I have some things to discuss!
I began to write this newsletter in Brooklyn in the middle of processing this year which somehow felt longer than 2020 and 2021 combined. Then, after lots of flight delays and cancellations, I attempted to write again during an unexpected 18-hour layover in London, then again within the first few days of being back home in Johannesburg, South Africa. During the first few days here, I laid in this bed and just slept. This is the second year that I have come to Johannesburg to make work and celebrate the end of the year. What is now a tradition includes a group of us leaving the city to go somewhere quiet and isolated so we can braai, talk loudly, and literally dance into the new year. We were tucked away outside the city in Walkerville, making music. I was on the theremin! Each engagement with the instrument requires recalibration and complete surrender to its temperament as well as the known and unknown proximity of other conductive materials. It also requires surrendering to a bit of luck. I decided to do the robot as a theremin playing methodology.
I first came to South Africa as an exchange student in 2005. I was fresh off a graduate African politics course I managed to get into as an undergrad. I was ready to be a student at the University of Cape Town, where I spent a semester studying Arabic, criminology, and sociology. By 2006, I was returning as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Witwatersrand. Since leaving in 2007, I have returned almost every year to visit the people who quickly became my family. Eighteen years later, I have returned to paint, sleep, and research.
This newsletter took a moment to get to because I felt pressure to do an end-of-year wrap-up. TBH, summarizing and gathering makes me anxious, usually because I do not feel I have accomplished enough to have a meaningful wrap-up. There is a bit of self-loathing there, but I also know that year-end reflections for artists are expected to be about art world wins. I had shows and got awards, but I struggled with self-perception. I struggled with admitting that teaching and facilitating are just as important in my practice (my life practice; I do not separate life and art) as making traditional art objects. This was hard because when I noticed my resistance to making objects, I fought instead of following the feeling.
I also learned that my resistance to making objects was about a certain fatigue with my process. I desired a more tactile process and began with a painting process. I now spend hours on my living room/studio floor playing with chemicals, pigments, and reactive papers. I needed more play. I needed my body to touch the substrate. I needed to touch. I needed to be covered in pigment. I needed to watch a chemical process occur. And I think that is sort of where 2022 ends. Not with specific accomplishments but with a bit more self-honesty.
I often think about Beverly Buchanan. I wish we could have had tea.
I like witnessing. When I teach or facilitate, I want to witness reactions between personalities, epistemologies, attitudes, speech patterns, etc. When I make art objects, I want to witness the chemical and biological processes and reactions.
—————— I want to make something still buffering, buzzing, and coming into itself when the audience interacts with it.
It is something about the fuzzy edge between completion and non-completion. That the thing in front of you shifts not as a terse performance of livingness but because it has no choice but to respond to the grazing of the sun or the subtle weight of gravity. That in the moment of viewing the object, we try to merge two realities — the continuing moment of creation and the anticipation for the moment of resolution. I am reminded of Elvia Wilk’s essay Ask Before You Bite, which explores LARP culture, reality, and the politics of recognition.
This isn’t casual voyeurism; I want to witness chemical, biological, and social processes because, since a young age, I found pleasure in the process, not the product. It did not matter much to me what the final essay said; I wanted to talk to you about how I got to the thesis. The process is the chaos, and surprisingly, this OCD-babe is advocating for a bit of chaos. I want to spend this year figuring out how to turn that chaos inside out, or maybe a better way to say this — figure out how the chaos of my process becomes more visible. The work can quiet the chaos by it needing to meet certain forms to live inside an institution — preservation and portability. And I am thinking a lot about Emily Dickinson because I think I am saying that I have tamed the chaos a bit, but like Ms.Dickinson, I can’t continue like this because “when I try to organize, my little force explodes and leave me bare and charred.”
And I do not think the chaos is just in the object itself; there is also a spirit of soft chaos in the way we talk about our work and share our work. Maybe the soft chaos is about a certain break from linear time and expected rhythms. On Monday night, I sent an email to a possible collaborator. Below is an edited version:
It's been a strange time. I am thinking about the relationships between quantization in music—closed orbits—tidal locking and linear expectations of artistic output…like snapping discordant notes into a proper template or reducing the excess energy needed just barely to escape the orbit of the art world. J Dilla - a dear inspiration for his refusal to quantize his beats — to make human time sacred. I am feeling out of sorts and "unsuccessful" because I am often out of time (not a scarcity of time, but outside a particular obedience to time enforced by exhibition cycles and publication processes or even the expectation of the coplanar: I made something and at the moment of creation, I have the language to articulate what I have created).
—————— I desire an unquantized life. I then spoke to my musician homie Thando who was like, welllllll…J Dilla didn’t use the quantization function on the drum machine, but he had a system, his internal system. So the issue is not really with quantization as much as externally enforced quantization — the sense that someone else is dictating the rhythm and what to do with that excess. So it is not that I want an unquantized life; I want to make sense of my systems and processes. So not the unquantized life or uncertainty as an aesthetic commitment or as a performance of radicality — I think it is also about a level of awareness of what systems and structures allow for the fullness of self and not just the selves that are most assimilable, legible, or extractable, but our emerging understanding of who we are. We swell.
I happened to catch a fellow artist sharing an excerpt from Lauryn Hill’s 2021 Rolling Stone interview. I sat to read the whole interview. Several parts caught my attention, but I was most drawn to the except below.
When Lauryn Hill says, “I have always had to custom build what I’ve needed in order to get things done,” I was reminded of how the existing systems did not work for me and this caused conflict across the board. I thought I was resisting a particular person, but it was in resistance to an entire epistemology and set of expectations. I have spent most of my life building shadow systems under which I could swell and then abandoning these systems to fit properly into institutions and other relationships. While I did well in school, I did not enjoy the structure. Since I was in elementary school, I found it restricting and oversimplified. I did not understand why if we were learning about birds, why I could not get up and greet the birds outside. I did not understand why we were taught different subjects at separate times instead of merging them. I did not understand a lot but I was good at not questioning things and stealing away time to design the tiny worlds I wanted that made more sense that seemed more integrated.
As I got older, I found this compartmentalization to be very difficult. Whereas before, I could easily just snap into the mode I was expected to be in, I now wanted these shadow worlds to be prominent. And this caused a lot of conflicts because people and institutions had recognized me in a particular way. That version of me had become so ingrained that any movement to the right or left of that ingrained image caused anxiety and annoyance. The realities couldn’t merge. Kameelah was changing — she is resistant. And I wanted to say, “she’s always been here!” I *had* friends who were so familiar with a version of me that allowed them to exploit my financial kindness or to talk incessantly about themselves without space for me that when I asserted the need for another relationality, it caused resentment and, fortunately, the end of our friendship. I want to bring Elvia Wilk back for second.
I like this notion of love that does not rest on mutual recognition as much as a desire to actually unknow and unrecognize — that possibly the height of love is not freezing people into a clear image but accepting that that person swells beyond the compositional field you have created for them.
In late 2022, I recommitted to therapy in a new way. I began process work, also known as process-oriented psychology, because of a friend’s recommendation when I shared that my current therapeutic relationship cycle — venting and affirmation, was not effective. Process work is often described as “a transdisciplinary approach that integrates principles from Jungian psychology, physics, and information theory.” Of course, I’d be drawn to this approach! But what has been most guiding has been the focus on the "edge,” or “our growing point, guarded by conscious and unconscious belief systems and contributing to misunderstandings and conflicts on all levels.” What felt different about this type of therapy process work was the focus on self-awareness. How do we grow more aware of who we are in ways that can improve our relationship with ourselves and others?
When reading this Lauryn Hill excerpt, I am reminded that my big decision points this year were rooted in greater awareness and what she says — “When no one takes the time to understand, but only takes the time to count the money the fruit of this process produces, things can easily turn bad. Mistreatment, abuse, and neglect happen.” I ended personal and professional relationships in the last two years because of a certain self-awareness about what was causing me sadness — a sense that my only value to institutions and individuals was what I produced and not the beautiful processes that got me there; an awareness of extraction; an awareness that if I spoke up about a dynamic, that I would be punished; and awareness that I desired to be part of institutions and relationships where all of me was embraced (and by all, I mean the parts that are current and the parts that are to come), not just the part that created a product.
This awareness was jarring because it meant two things:
If I continued these relationships with individuals and institutions, I was actively *choosing* mistreatment and settling
If I ended these relationships with individuals and institutions, I would need to bet on myself in ways I’d never imagined.
I decided to bet on myself because I am my mother’s child. Because quite frankly, I am capable of many things, the most important of which is indulging deeply in learning — learning oneself. I decided to bet on myself because at the big age of 37, how could I talk to Allah, and come to him with the same complaints when the power was in my hands? I was a victim of my lack of self-awareness — a lack of self-awareness certainly perpetuated by capitalism and the flow of work which makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to slow down and access what hurts. I ended 2022 with the future projects and consulting work that brings me the greatest pleasure. I ended 2022 with the relationships I wanted rather than the ones I defaulted into because I didn’t dare to end them.
So again, this isn’t a traditional year-end wrap-up. If you came for awards or shows, hit the website or hit the Googles. Trying to find other ways to access my value beyond external validation — exploring what it means to establish my metrics while balancing that with existing metrics. Trying to figure out how to really value me — not the public projection, not the familiar version, but *ME*.
I certainly have 2023 goals — the most important of which is to not play in my own face 😊.
How to cite this newsletter: Rasheed, K. (Year, Month Day). Newsletter Title. I Will (?) Figure This All Out Later. URL
Thank you for reading,