Good Mourning

A performance that unmoors the site of imperial violence from its fixed location in time and space and transforms the grieving experience into a communal experience through foodmaking and foodsharing. Seven Chinese artists and organizers spent four days living, cooking, eating, and working together in Burns Piñon Reserve, during which they made ceramics of poems and texts that are censored in China. They also performed a ritual of ‘memory-funeral’ through smashing and burying their ceramic works. 

The performance works with the destruction and pain brought by silencing, censorship and erasure but does not limit itself to a reaction. In the process of seven bodies living and making art in proximity to each other, there is also joy, pleasure, and transformation through learning to take care of each other’s bodily and emotional needs, through (re)discovering the relationships between body and clay. Clay is a very textile, touch-based art; it is versatile and tenuous during the making but persists and resists erasure after it is fired. Through smashing ceramics to fragments, the project hopes to articulate the unseen and unrecognized trauma. We bury and mourn for our words to process the trauma and be with each other in healing and recovery.

The work sees the clay vessels we make together as placeholders for memories, feelings, fleeting words and looming silences. The pieces are built to hold and to be held, but they eventually fail, as life fails to hold all of our resurvivals and words. To look into this failure means accepting silence as quietude and rest, accepting our expansive interiorities as the starting place for freedom, and holding each other without expecting total comfort or safety.

Burns Piñon and its surrounding Joshua Tree National Park has been home to many Native American/Indigenous tribes, including the Serrano, Cahuilla, Chemehuevi, and Mojave tribes. As we recognize the violence this land has witnessed, we are also inspired by the resilience embodied in this physical landscape. The weathered boulder hills where ancient granitic bedrock has resurfaced embody the radical witnessing in our project. Erosion brings new possibilities for the erased and silenced bodies to “bite back.” How do repressed memories, knowledges, and feminist legacies resurface? How do we witness the breakage of memory objects and create fissures for new possibilities to emerge?

This multidisciplinary project expounds forms of transnational feminist resistance to the physical and cultural violence of censorship, occupation, cultural war, and patriarchy. We intend to create a space to channel our rage into art, and to explore collective mourning that is not just rooted in pain, but also humor and love. Through the breaking of clay/ceramic objects, we hope to shatter the confines that patriarchy, capitalism and racism placed on us. As we bury the shards, we will also bury parts of ourselves and our pasts that no longer serve us. We will adjust our plans, and reserve space for new ideas and possibilities that emerge from living and making art together.

January 2–5, 2023. @Burns Piñon Ridge Reserve, CA. Clay, food, word, text, voice, sound, language, community, ritual, performance.