C Magazine


Issue 139

Queering Intimacy Through Acts of Care: A Conversation with Kerri Flannigan and Megan K. Quigley
by Kerri Flannigan, Greta Hamilton, and Megan K. Quigley

“Caring is not abstract. The circle of ecological compassion we feel is enlarged by direct experience of the living world, and shrunken by its lack.”

— Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants

This conversation is a reflection on the possibilities of queerness as discussed through the collaborations, conversations and gestures of labour enacted throughout the ongoing project Feeling Measurements, facilitated by artists Kerri Flannigan and Megan K. Quigley, among many collaborators and co-conspirators located on Lekwungen, W_SÁNEĆ, T’Souke and Sc’ianew territories in Victoria, BC. The project has included pierogi-making, relational mapping, knot-tying, creating cordage from invasive species and making jam as gestures that ground and materialize the project’s theoretical negotiations of queerness. Each of these activities was selected organically during the process, based on the varying interests of the participating artists and collaborators. Feeling Measurements attempts to consider queerness not only as an orientation, but also as a framework for the ways in which we experience and enact care to each other, and to the places around us. The _Feeling Measurements _methodology hinges on the possibility that queerness can exist as a framework for intimacy, enacted through lateral collaboration and partnership, as well as through privileging embodied knowledge. Below, the artists discuss these methodologies through the metaphor of the “fathom,” a concept that reveals our sometimes complicated and contradictory relationships to queerness.

Greta Hamilton: To begin, can we discuss how queerness and queer intimacy have been approached throughout the Feeling Measurements project?

Megan K. Quigley: While working on Feeling Measurements, we were continuously negotiating our intent in enacting queerness, and naming queerness as a framework, to in- form the project’s methodology of collaboration and of partnership. This was rooted in a struggle to embrace and deploy queerness as a tangible and continuously moving series of frameworks, moments, methodologies and intimacies. I think what Kerri and I have been trying to explore is an expansive, but still material, queer methodology that simply asks: what are some spatial, emotional and embodied intersections of queerness in our experiences? Some of the ways this emerges is through the politics of accessibility and representation. In others, it is a commitment to slippery spaces between each other’s stories, histories and bodies. For me, a starting point to negotiating a queer methodology is: what are some languages of intimacy? What are the ways we enact care?

Kerri Flannigan: The intimacy present in this project came up through collective conversations around experiences of space. There’s a willingness to be vulnerable within these conversations in order to share not only the ways we have common experiences, but also the ways we diverge in our experiences within the queer communities we access. What is the distinction between trust that is inherent and trust that is built? We have held conversations focusing on the somatic knowledge of navigating and negotiating being in public or private spaces. We became curious about a sort of relational mapping, through stories and through actions like indexing conversations with the acts of making or doing.

GH: Can you speak to the methodologies developed around queerness? The idea of the “fathom” as a unit of measurement, as a gesture and as a metaphor generated a lot of conversation regarding embodied knowledge.

KF: The “fathom” is an early form of measurement that was based on a person’s body in relation to the land around them. A “fathom” is the distance between arms outstretched from fingertip to fingertip. A knot would be tied into a rope for every fathom measured against one’s body. The word derives from the Old English word to encircle or embrace.1 It speaks to what is graspable or imaginable. What is fathomable can be understood and embodied. Megan and I have had conversations about whether queerness is fathomable or not, and we migrated from it being fathomable to unfathomable. What then are the things that are imaginable or possible to understand in our bodies?

MKQ: One of the more complex and beautiful aspects of this project has been making sense of the implications of the fathom, as a measure of both intimacy and distance. It is difficult to put in context, because the project included such an expansive range of gestures, actions, skill shares and dialogues, but each of these pieces are anchored in the fathom. Whether through learning to make Kerri’s grandma’s pierogies together while sharing our own stories of dumplings, or gathering to make cordage from scotch broom, these seemingly disparate actions create points of connections and divergence. The act of gather- ing and sharing stories felt very much like an emotional gesture of fathoming, of stretching one’s arms from fingertip to fingertip, together.

The project deals a lot with ideas of distance – emotional, historical, geographical – and thinking through distance as intimate, allowing room to hold our colliding stories with care. I’m interested in considering more expansive alternatives to empathy that offer the capacity to encircle one another’s stories. Within this framework of the fathom, there’s a complicated liability in our proximity to each other, in our intimacies to each other, and in the possibilities of undefined space.

GH: Your work together has also centred the idea that embodied knowledge or physical gestures of intimacy have the capacity of being transgenerational, intergenerational and possibly beyond language.

KF: We’ve often opened up shared space with a prompt, like “What is your relationship to a specific plant?” or “When was the last time you cried in public?” I feel like this practice has really helped ground the space we have been holding in a kind of collective intimacy, and that these prompts tend to decentralize the authority of any particular narratives. I think storytelling like this opens up a space that can acknowledge the many ways we car- ry familial and cultural histories and knowledge in our bodies. Often while working with these prompts, we’ve provided everyone with something to do with their hands, such as making knots in rope.

MKQ: By listening to and privileging embodied knowledges, I think there is space to de-centre and also decolonize both theoretical and empirical approaches to personal and shared histories. Through sharing stories while using our hands, I think we can create intimacy with our bodies in transformative ways. More personally, as a mixed-race, migrant person, there are many barriers to accessing the language that my ancestors spoke, or the foods that my grandparents would have eaten. But I have faith that my body carries this knowledge and language over distance, and understanding that these histories live, sometimes unnamed, in my body, is liberating. I loved the prompt about relationships to cultural pocket foods, where stories of dumplings ranged from gyoza bought in the frozen food aisle to Kerri’s grandma’s recipe of dumplings made with Bisquick. Everyone had a unique experience, but we gathered to learn to make pierogis with our hands, together. In that way, thinking of the body as a transgenerational vessel feels very intimate. The unfathomable might not be discernable or measurable, but can still be tangible and physical.

GH: What other gestures have been shared? How has sharing influenced the methodology of friendship and collaboration throughout Feeling Measurements?

MKQ: Something moving about the project for me has been the fluidity of collaborative actions that dip in and out of actions of care, of feeding each other and of learning together. Each of these pieces is anchored in a particular sort of labour and reciprocity. This calls to mind Robin Wall Kimmerer’s writings around invasive plants, which collaborator Alexis Hogan introduced. Kimmerer talks about certain invasive, immigrant plants that participate in a sort of ecological reciprocity, making sense of their new contexts and learning how to be useful.2 I think that’s been part of the methodology of Feeling Measurements: complicating a singular narrative of his- tories and responsibilities. In some ways, I feel like the gestures over which we gathered in the project are always rooted in a tangible and physical care – whether that’s an action of nourishment like making food or jam, listening for urban birds, or an act of care for the land by extracting invasive species, or by learning the names, histories and uses of plants.

KF: I want to mention the word “conspiring.” My friend Kim Smith introduced it to me, using it as a way of thinking through collaboration. Kim uses the word conspire because it implicates the body in collective work. Etymologically, conspire means to breathe together, which I thought was such a beautiful way to think about collaboration and intimate collaborations between friends. Friendship has been a huge part of Feeling Measurements through the support and lateral learning that’s happened.

MKQ: I am excited about conspiring and collaborating through queer friendship as a way of enacting intimacy. One aspect of friendship I’ve been thinking about is pushing through the boundaries that are imposed on intimacies – not only in the spaces in which we are allowed to be intimate, but also in what sorts of relationships we can do so. I’ve begun to think of intimacy as a methodology instead of as an economy of desire, which is maybe more queer. I think about this a lot in relation to mentorship – envisioning mentorship not as mentoring or being mentored, but as multidirectional, generating radical and abundant growth, care and generosity.

GH: We’ve spoken previously about crying in public as a gesture of intimacy with the space around us. How does intimacy play out in public spaces? Can gestures of intimacy be expanded into systems of intimacy?

KF: I was doing a lot of public crying when I first moved to Victoria and would go on these ritual cry walks. Because of the way my day was structured, I allowed myself to feel things when I got off the 14 bus route and walked home. In the span of a month I was routinely walking down the same street and crying, always around a similar time of night. I imagined that there was someone living on this street noticing this person walking by crying every day. I was crying on these walks, crying at school and in front of my supervisor. I told my friend Kim about it, and she said, “Oh good.” At the time I was surprised by that reaction, but I think it was wrapped up in the value of bringing our whole messy selves into spaces that aren’t supposed to be intimate.

MKQ: I think there are architectures of intimacy. This emerged through the Feeling Measurements walk facilitated in collaboration with Laura Gildner, who talked about the history of malls as spaces that were originally conceived as gathering places, community centres and art spaces, a vision that has become distorted through commerce and development. We talked a lot about the collisions between emotional and physical space, and how particular spaces in certain contexts can facilitate or restrict access.

One of the things I found very stark when I moved from Istanbul to Victoria as a teenager was how the geographies of this place interfere with a sense of physical intimacy. In Istanbul, no matter what time of day, you were around people, always sharing space, messily. There are patterns of living life together in a city like that, whether it’s through public transit, eating on the street, through witnessing all celebrations and ceremonies in public from weddings to funerals. Before I moved here, that was the form of spatial intimacy that was familiar – the unfiltered collision of lives. But in learning how to be and move through this space, on Lekwungen Territories, I have also needed to listen to and learn in other ways. I am often amazed by how different my body feels now than when I arrived. Fathoming the distance between now and then is such a beautiful reminder of the role of place in our emotional and spiritual spaces.

This brings to mind a moment from the walk where we convened the group by walking back to the gallery each holding on to a rope, like a youth summer camp group might in public. As adults, and strangers, this gesture was practical but also so emotional in intervening in our visibility, pronouncing us as a group to our viewers and to each other, and creating a tether between ourselves. I am sure it looked ridiculous, but it remains a profoundly moving moment of the project for both of us. I wonder then, what other gestures can rupture or generate intimacy in public space? For some, it is maybe just having their body be visible. Maybe it is crying in public, or being angry in public. How can we develop that intimacy into the land, into our neighbourhoods, into our public spaces?

Feeling Measurements includes collaborations and conspiring by: Kerri Flannigan, Megan K. Quigley, Alexis Hogan, Laura Gildner, Estraven Lupino-Smith, Doug Jarvis and ARTSCAPE

With support and consultation from: Claire Lyke, Kim Smith, Dan M, Dana Levine, Breanna Fabbro, Helen Marzolf, Rebecca Singer, Jess MacCormack, Kelsey Lavoie, Miles Giesbrecht, Kegan McFadden, Peggy Cady and Bill Bartlett.

With stories from: My Name Is Scot, Kim Smith, Jamie Ross, Vendela Phutmoh, Libby King, Kara Stanton, Kendra Marks, Greta Hamilton, Dan Mack, Kerri Flannigan, Laura Gildner, Megan Quigley, Estraven Lupino-Smith, Alexis Hogan, Katie Sage, Leslie Robinson, S and Kelsey Lavoie.