Contemplating the literary development of a dramatic work incorporating key themes—climate crisis, genderqueerness and disability—I ask myself, what does patriarchy, gender, sexuality and ableism have to do with saving forests?
Bodymind theory in disability studies emerges out of the Queer of Colour community and Disability Justice movement to influence queer disability discourse more broadly (not dissimilarly to how intersectionality theory emerges from Black Lesbian feminism). Leading voices in bodymind theory, such as Sami Schalk and Shyda Kafai, advocate for a holistic approach. 14 & 15 This generous sharing of hard earned Disabled, Queer of Colour knowledge resonates for me/us in my/our collectivist, eco-centric development of Terrania as an eco-gothic microdrama. Kafai describes bodyminds with unmitigated love as a multiplicity of non-normative and non-able, deeply rooted in community and collective action, observing that disability arts would not exist without disability politics. Schalk cites the genius of Octavia Butler as a formative example of how Black women’s speculative fiction creates alternative possibilities and meanings of bodyminds in the interstices of (dis)ability, race, and gender. The way in which Butler’s visionary speculative fiction merges bodymind concepts with eco-centric concepts is a powerful influence for me as a writer and storyteller.
Budget and time constraints for Terrania pre-determine its narrative form as microdrama, restricting the number of characters to two (dual protagonists). One protagonist is trapped in a small, restrictive, and non-organic urban space while the other(s), a multiple entity, is/are located at the site of an historical forest blockade to protect the last remaining forest in a world (not necessarily Earth) devastated by climate and industrial disaster. Engaging with bodymind theory, Terrania recognises the direct action tactic of the forest blockade as inextricably intertwined with the notion of the bodymind as a cohesive tool of action, and envisions this paradigm as a striking narrative device. Forest blockades, out of strategic necessity, are creatively formed from the landscape in which they are constructed. Forest activists, often ingeniously, utilise the natural lay of the land, and whatever local materials are available, to construct blockade structures (tripods, "dragons", cables, pipes, etc.), and incorporate diversionary tactics such as "black wallaby", strategically across key access points and within logging coupes to maximise the efficiency of the blockade. These structures literally incorporate human bodies as a tool of action in every conceivable way to obstruct habitat destruction. Activists intentionally lay their individual bodies and lives on the line, not only to protect the holistic / whole of our ecosystem, but also as a practical means towards sociopolitical systemic change through the repertoire of civil disobedience. 16 Furthermore, expanding on the notion of a planetary devastation and renewal sequence in which the "dominant" species is either marginalised, transformed beyond recognition or notably absent, the fallacious "border" between humans and nature is necessarily unmasked. Cognisance of this liminality partly determines our choice to preserve the "human" sound quality inherent in the raw vocal recordings of Terrania's ostensibly beyond-human characters. Aside from our aesthetic and practical aversion for audio effects that sound hackneyed and grate on the ear, we also strive to maintain, within the vocal soundtrack, an intimation of fragile (albeit uncanny) "humanity" as it encounters, merges with, and is transformed by the more-than-human forest / blockade assemblage. Höglund (2022), drawing on Donna Haraway’s gothic materialist “Chthulucene” (incidentally sans Lovecraft, and yet not unproblematic), in which ontological versions of human and beyond-human coexist as inextricably linked assemblages, writes:
Thus, the forest blockade, initially located within the logging coupe, as a literal site of contention in the embodied form of direct action against the systemic violence of extractive industries (capitalism), is likewise informed by the multiplicity of transgressive and fluid queer forms that automatically infuse gothic genres in much the same way that speculative fiction, more generally, lends itself to the subversive imaginary. Terrania promotes a kindred liminality in these spaces that imbues a Deleuzian-style deterritorialisation / reterritorialisation. A nebulous becoming-other refusing homonormativity and beyond. Invigorating deeply rooted systemic change in the form of a holistic, ever-expanding inclusivity without barriers or borders. Likewise, the (ongoing) Australian “feral” forest activist subculture, which first developed in the mid to late 1990’s through the notable participation of subversive creatives such eco-conscious crusty punks and ravers, later extended beyond the forest into other spheres of protest, subsequently feeding back into wider artistic and musical scenes.18 For decades, this activist/artivist subculture has also aligned and overlapped with Indigenous land rights movements in colonial Australia, imperfectly, but probably more successfully than most.19 Parenthetically, while conceptualising Terrania as non-Indigenous artists, it is not our place to speak directly to Indigenous land rights. However, the narrative of Terrania (set outside of—but not oblivious to—the colonial Australian settler context) speaks to the colourful, vibrant and battleworn spheres of forest activist / artivist subcultures, formed through a multiplicity of coalitions, holistically reimagining the forest blockade itself as a collective bodymind. A heaving, seething mutual entity. A genderqueer “We”, forever growing back into a fluid forest becoming, instinctively reshaping itself around an ever-expanding collective, and holding the line at the utmost, molecular level. A symbolic insistence that ableist, cis-heteronormative, homonormative and anthropocentric notions of existence can be deeply subverted in the pursuit of systemic resistance.
History shows us that the campaigns and social movements that win are the ones that embrace a full spectrum of resistive tactics. Collectivism with an aim to challenging systemic power is what builds cultures of resistance. Not just with big flashy public actions, but with little everyday lowkey actions. Some with immediately tangible results, and others with longer, slower, less perceptible strategic aims and outcomes. Searching and trying, sometimes successful, often failing. 20 My/our position is that community is what grounds us, partly by making us accountable for our words and actions. As a writer and as a media activist/artivist, every time I make something I must consider and ask myself: ‘Is this work going to be okay by all of my community networks?’ And by community networks, I mean my broadcast communities, activist communities, and other marginalised communities that I belong to, and have connections with, and responsibilities to. That keep me accountable. And grounded in these various grassroots movements for survival.
For marginalised people, even mundane acts, such as standing on the street or walking have always been political. The occupation of space by those who are not privileged to it has always been a political act. 21 I/we collaborating and collectivising, as artivists and researchers, exploring topic X for platform Y, while intersectionally (respect to Queer Black feminism) oppressed, is a political act.
A cautionary note to researchers who want to quantify or limit what constitutes artivism is that this path may be too narrowly constrained. It risks privileged readings that exclude, marginalise or erase othered practitioners and other perspectives. For some creatives who are maintaining a practice with additional intersectional barriers such as illness and/or disability, racial, gender and/or sexuality oppressions, low income, homelessness etc—simply surviving is a form of resistance.
For all of us involved with this research project, practice-led inquiry is just one way to reimagine our social and environmental accountabilities. It’s just a different way in. A different means to an end. Maintaining a holistic creative practice that values community and ecosystems before profits is inherently resistive. And if it is resistive, then it is activism. And you can add further layers to that, or not.
When I/we look at how these communities that I’m/we’re connected with are negotiating extractivism and neo-colonialism, that process of negotiation is most often survival centered. Correspondingly, my/our own practice is often focussed on the themes of surviving extractivism and unpacking my/our settler privilege on stolen land. With a focus on how poor, Disabled, culturally oppressed and/or genderqueer people and communities are navigating that frontline space.
And what a just transition to a better world might look like.
And this research is grounded along those long, slow, and arduous lines of enquiry.
Searching, trying, and often failing.
Often quiet—occasionally full volume—resistance.
And slower-than-snails change.