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My work placement and reflections on Selina Thompson’s Immersion

Chloe and Engagement Producer, Siobhán, at a secondary school careers fair during Chloe’s placement.

My name is Chloe Cunliffe, and I am a final year Drama student at the University of Sussex, originally from Rossendale, in Lancashire. In February and March, I had the pleasure of having a work placement at Artsadmin.

In this placement, I was lucky enough to attend several performances with Artsadmin including Jamal Gerald’s Idol, Edythe Wooley’s Sensitive Plumbing, and Imran Perretta’s the destructors. I was also able to work on some projects, such as a work in progress by Martin Creed, Slow Sunday event by Steakhouse Live, and attend the first meeting for an upcoming project commissioned by Artsadmin’s engagement team for Season for Change, in which we discussed how the project would be made and what the end result would be. In this blog, I will share some reflections on this particular project as I am most interested in works that are socially engaged and interrogate class, race and inclusivity in their practice.

“When Boris Johnson prorogued Parliament earlier this year, 202 hours of Representative Democracy were lost.”

Selina Thompson, Oh God Not Another One 

For a long time now, amongst the public, there has been a bubbling feeling of discontent as we feel we are being ignored by politics, that politics no longer speaks for us. Instead, it began to feel like politicians were making decisions that were best for them (including giving themselves a pay rise despite them earning nearly 65% more than the average earner in the UK). This was all brought to a head in 2019 when Boris Johnson prorogued Parliament in September-October 2019 and stole 202 hours of Representative Democracy from the British public in one of the most unstable times in British political history. Selina Thompson is working to take them back…

Selina Thompson is an artist from Birmingham who makes work about her experience as a black woman; a person who grew up in a working-class home; and a fat woman. Her work encompasses a generation’s voice that is crying out to be listened to, to be cared for, to survive in an ableist, racist, patriarchal world. 

As part of Season for Change 2020 (led by Artsadmin and Julie’s Bicycle), Artsadmin is commissioning a piece of work by Selina Thompson in which she will gather an intergenerational group of women of colour from Tower Hamlets to explore intersectional approaches to climate justice, led by the principles of pleasure activism. This work, Immersion, will create a ‘Kitchen Table Council’ of women of colour aged over 60 and under 30 from the local surroundings. This group of women will be involved for two weeks: the first week they will be identifying a climate issue in their local community; in their second week, they will work to create tangible solutions that can help with one of the issues that they discovered. Ritual and pleasure will be suffused throughout the two weeks, the purpose of which is explained by Selina Thompson:

“For me it’s presence [the presence of rituals] is about thinking about how activism must always be connected to both creative expression and spiritual growth- so it’s trying to suffuse all three across the immersion.”

There will be 3 public moments during the Immersion, but mostly, the ‘Council’ will be able to be on their own, wholly immersed in the experience. These public moments will be an incredible opportunity to join in the ritual and the pleasure of the way they are working together.

Inspired by pleasure activist adrienne maree brown, Selina will be focusing on the pleasure of activism with this Council. In an interview with Man Repeller, adrienne characterises pleasure activism as: 

“making justice and liberation the most pleasurable experiences we can have. Learning that pleasure gets lost under the weight of oppression, and it is liberatory work to reclaim it.” 

Selina takes this practice of activism through pleasure to liberate herself, and those she is working with, from the oppressions and sadness of their everyday life. This oppression could be due to race, disability, gender, or class, all of which affect Selina in some way, which is what makes this work so important and relevant, and why it’s so vital that it takes place in Tower Hamlets.