Eliza Chandler & Elwood Jimmy – Canada
A push for a different relationship with time.
In December 2020, Elwood Jimmy and Eliza Chandler discussed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their experience of arts and culture.
Eliza Chandler: I wonder if you could reflect on the dynamics we negotiate as Indigenous and disabled people working in the art world, and how it relates to this contemporary moment of the COVID-19 pandemic and increased public awareness of state-sanctioned violence against Indigenous, Black, and racialized people.
Elwood Jimmy: I think modernity interrupts our responsibility and our obligations to one another. I think about this a lot in relation to my own practice: how do we find ways to be different, to move differently, and to relate to one another differently, especially to bodies that have been historically marginalized and experienced the burden of colonial violence? This burden became crystal clear within the pandemic, with Black Lives Matter, and also within disability activism. Even thinking about what was happening here very locally in the province of Ontario. For example, the income disparity between people who were losing their jobs and getting the CERB [Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit] payments of $2,000 versus people on ODSP [Ontario Disability Support Program] who receive a monthly living stipend of much less than that. And people still just take it as a given that some bodies are more valuable than others. One of the key tenets of modernity is separability. In these conditions, how do we interact?
I ask this question in my practice everyday. There’s always this misalignment between Indigenous and colonial sensibilities, and in order for us to move towards some sort of alignment where different sensibilities can respectfully coexist, I think about our own individual pursuits and desires that make us complicit within this work of moving differently, moving together, and moving collectively and horizontally. What are the blockages? What are the barriers that are causing us to be constantly misaligned?
In many conversations, no matter what community, I always hear an emphasis on “movement”, but the movement is always about progress and moving forward. I think about these kinds of historical violence against bodies within the Indigenous community or disability community, and we haven’t really sat with that. We haven’t been able to actually look at the historical violence and historical harms that have been done to particular communities, including Black communities. We always want to gloss over or brush those aside so that we can move forward, but I think we need to actually develop stamina and the muscles to actually sit with this violence. I think sometimes people don’t think ‘sitting with’ is as powerful or as evident as moving forward. But I think ‘sitting with’ is actually, in these times, the more powerful, more generative, and more compassionate move rather than constantly trying to move forward.
Eliza Chandler: Speaking from my perspective, I absolutely agree. I think many disabled people have experienced the pandemic differently than most. Many of us – when we are able to – shelter in place, fearful of how ICU-genics might play out if we contract the virus and end up in an overloaded hospital for treatment. At the same time, we have witnessed crip perspectives seep into broader social consciousness as the impact of austerity measures on care homes’ abilities to care are exposed, working from home becomes not only possible but lauded for its efficiency, and artists broadcast performances live from their bedrooms. And, as you say, we can no longer deny that late capitalism requires many of us to suffer so that some of us can thrive. As capitalism crumbles while socialism once again tries to save the day – all the while trying to beat off capitalism’s phoenix rising – many are resisting a desire for the ‘return to normalcy’. In these ‘early days’, on July 4th, essayist and former poet laureate for the City of Toronto Dionne Brand wrote an editorial to the Toronto Star, in which she questions these desires, asking us if homelessness, gender-based violence, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous state violence (2020, July 4) are the normal to which we desire to return.
One of the things I have been struck by throughout the pandemic is, as my friend Loree Erickon has pointed out, the need for interdependency on a massive collective scale. Interdependent relations of care change the power dynamic embedded in traditional care relations by recognizing that care can be and often is reciprocal. We are all being asked to engage in interdependent relations of care: I have to wear a mask to protect you and you have to wear one to protect me. Strangers engage in dances on the street so they can pass each other from a safe distance. We ask taxi drivers about their families and our personal support workers ask us about ours. We are caring for each other as though our lives depend on it, which they do!
EJ: I use the word ‘sensibility’ a lot in the work that I do as a curator, a programmer and an artist. There are layers of knowing and layers of being, but I would frame that as a sensibility – like an Indigenous sensibility or non-Indigenous sensibility within a Canadian context. How do those two different sensibilities encounter one another in real world situations? In a workplace, in the contemporary art world that both you and I are part of, or in various artistic and educational and even political organizations that we’re all engaged with.
The word ‘acces(sen)sibility’ came from my involvement and my own lived experience of working within access, disability arts and disability justice, contemporary art, and Indigenous art, and these many layers that are embodied within my body and my own practice, my own life ways, my own ways of navigating the world. I think this word gestures to something larger than us all, related to accountability. Many layers of accountability, not just to each other, but then also to the nonhuman and the beyond human, and the unknown. The world that we live in is very structured and contained, and within this human-constructed framework that we’re all kind of conditioned to live in, some benefit more than others. It doesn’t work for all of us in different, very disparate and marginalized communities. I am thinking about the language of ‘acces(sen)sibility’ and ways of knowing and of being that can move and shift, allowing different bodies to live nourishing, meaningful, and non-marginalized lives.
EC: My understanding of the term ‘acces(sen)sibility’ is that it’s asking us to think about access relationally rather than, as you say, as a tick box, as something we should be congratulated for. And one of those relationalities is between knowing and being. The way the term ‘acces(sen)sibility’ refracts a particular way of being is a different orientation for so many of us. And I think if we are to obligate ourselves to this interdependent way of enacting accessibility as a relation, part of that is to really think about the relations between what we say and what we do. That’s what I’ve learned so clearly. It’s not just about doing access, it’s about thinking and making sure that, as much as we can, the way we think about access and the commitments that it holds us to are translated into the practice of access.
I’m interested in your notion of ‘unrestricted autonomy’. It’s difficult to be unrestrictedly autonomous during a pandemic, although capitalism does persist. I do wonder about how much of a break in culture this pandemic has affected.
EJ: Yeah, it’s hard to say. Being an Indigenous person here in Canada, you see these waves of energy to embody care and to sit with complex and historically violent relationships. I find the broader community will often relapse back into these kinds of harmful habits and ways of being after whatever it was that allured them to wanting to, say, be a part of a reconciliation process. The pandemic interrupted our own global – when I say ‘our own’ you say ‘everybody’ – unrestricted autonomy. It will be interesting to see how the world unfolds over the next year or two to see if there is a more embodied demonstration of care, and if that’s sustainable. Time will tell.
The disability justice community has been advocating for many years and many decades for shifting and changing definitions of work and production value. And then, all of a sudden, it’s been implemented because of the pandemic. Not as individual bodies, but as a collective body – a kind of a collective metabolism, so to speak. Are we able to sustain this shift? The pandemic kind of twisted our arm and maybe pushed us to be different. These are muscles and capacities that modernity has exiled for decades and centuries. Do we have the stamina to keep those muscles moving?
I think within both Indigenous and disability communities, there has been a push for a different relationship to time and temporality. I feel I could say with some confidence within both of our communities, time has been weaponized and instrumentalized against us in terms of the pacing, of how we move, and how we work within communities.
Eliza Chandler is an Assistant Professor in the School of Disability Studies at Ryerson University where she teaches and researches in the areas of disability arts, critical access studies, social movements. She leads a research program focused on disability arts and crip cultural practices. Chandler is also a practicing curator.
Elwood Jimmy is originally from Thunderchild First Nation, a Nehiyaw community in the midwestern region of what is now called Canada. His favourite time invested is as a novice gardener and aquarist. He has worked in the arts in various capacities in Canada and abroad for over two decades.