When two people (friends) with a certain degree of mutual understanding, recognition, respect etc. sit down to have a conversation around the cold on a Sunday afternoon there is a lot that is left unsaid. Or rather, there are thoughts communicated without words, through gesture, knowing looks, posturing, affirmative grunts and other utterances. Eye rolls, laughter, squirms, giggles. A full bodied conversation.
Things are being thought, ideas formed, fought through, questioned. Knowledge is being produced (maybe¿): there are questions, answers, hesitancy and ambivalence. An embodied exchange that cannot easily be transformed into something for someone else, an audience, a reader. The otter.ai transcript that we use to document the zoom call can’t capture it—as illegible as we sometimes do intend to be—it can only hint at the contradictions.
The conversation that we had produced a transcript in excess of 10,000 words. We are sharing perhaps 10% of it here: a condensed record. If a picture is worth a thousand words (…?), how much experience is held in a moment’s laughter, in a shiver?
People, cold, absence, laughs, Hegel, laughter, scotland, climate, guess, blackness, point, hot, thinking, belonging, talking, living, organising, acclimatizing
Tako Taal, Camara Taylor
Camara: It’s late on a Sunday afternoon.
I saw your introduction to Dreaming Rivers. [A Glasgow Short Film Festival screening of Tako’s work and Martina Attille’s Dreaming Rivers (1988).] And I was like, cool. The cold! Like ok, this is like a legitimate area of inquiry or something, in the way I sometimes need to see other people thinking about some of the things I’m also thinking about, to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is a thing’.
C: …you also wrote something or read something, or wrote/read something that stuck out to me, which is something I had never thought of before:
’Cold doesn’t exist. I learnt that in a Physics class.
Cold is not a substance in itself. It is an absence or a loss. A loss of heat.
In language cold is a negative abstraction, a way of undoing an effect.
Cold is the feeling of loss, it is a pain, a kind of mourning.
Cold may not exist but it is felt. It is a condition affecting how you can move and work.
Sitting here now, I understand the pain, the shock, the disbelief.’
Tako: Yeah, it doesn’t exist essentially. It is not a state. Cold isn’t a state as it were.
C: The introduction I wrote [Introduction To The Cold] was meant to sit in poetics but during the research I got really stuck on ‘cold as weather’ and this aspect of climatic determinism, or the ways in which the cold and temperate climates are used as reasoning for certain people—Black people—to not be welcome or belonging in a place.
So, I’ve just been thinking about that and how one can be unintentionally, be like supporting or upholding this idea that the white supremacists came up with.
T: Yeah, I think I quite frequently say I’m not made for this weather.
C: I just like thinking about how all these not-real-things become really obviously not-real even as they are continuously reproduced… When it comes to ascribing particular peoples to particular climates, I guess particularly with Hegel* being like it’s too hard to think, nothing can happen here, people can only be like not people and only be like animals in this ‘tropical climate’. It’s sort of like… it’s quite counter to the past or present. Or being in the middle of an extractive economic system that requires exactly these people to work really fucking hard in ‘tropical’ climates. [laughter] keeping the cogs of, Empire, whatever turning.
T: None of this is logical. Yeah, it’s there to serve a purpose, to serve the economy, that is slavery—colonialism. Like, that’s what these arguments are doing, which is then the frustration and the point of disbelief is the fact that we’ve bought into it and, taken on these, these lies. [giggles**]
But I’m thinking… along the lines of what you’re saying. I guess it’s to do with the ways in which climate/s have been used as a weapon or a way of moving bodies.
I have to always remind myself when I’m looking at certain documents from the past that are now being presented as policy that they haven’t been based on any kind of logic.
This is a really basic thing. But it’s just something that I… I think I forget, sometimes.
…but maybe there is something in cold that is like a refusal of being read, there’s something about the obviousness [of Hegel]…it’s so stupid, being so literal.
I mean is this enlightenment? This is enlightenment.
T: you said lots of things… ummmmmm
T: …but I was reminded the other day in a talk about the fact that the union between Scotland and England, was really contingent on Scotland having access…
C: Derica Shields’ talk?***
T: Yeah! Scotland gaining access to the plantations, which I have read about because I was doing some research into linen a while ago. Anyway, in Derica’s talk, the way that Derica framed it as this point that even the idea of this United Kingdom is, again, contingent on black labour or the economy that is produced from black labour.
C: …you should look at this time period and be like, ‘okay, so like, what, like, are the conditions that necessitated that this group of people could have, essentially been leisurely and not work…
…I forgot what I was gonna say. But, yeah, it was something about the… just the different registers of gaps or absences that can be felt, like…when you’re in school and just being like, ‘what’s going on here with this articulation of art history?’. [laughing] To then smaller moments when you’re doing your artistic investigations, or historical investigations and are like, ‘something isn’t quite adding up here. Why is everybody thriving?’ [giggles].
It’s like as much as we’re looking at what’s there, you’re sort of like understanding what is not there. Oh, like… the gap is also a shape and has effects and affect… Umm yeah, a form that generates a feeling, or also spurs you on or works on you in particular ways…
T: I think in terms of absence, I think that’s why I became more interested in cold in terms of its poetic potential. Or maybe its strategic potential, like, I’m always interested in strategies and how can this be utilised, for/against certain ways of living.
It’s interesting to move from the idea of biological determinism, which was the point that I feel can always become so bogged down. So when I start thinking about, cold and whether I’m ‘designed’ for this climate and think about the biologic—or like, implications of vitamin D, and, how that affects your calcium uptake, and all these things, which do affect my body with my melanated skin more, but also, effect all the bodies in this region, too.
But yeah, then there’s just like this gross slipperiness that leads into racism, eugenics, all of this stuff and it just slides so quickly. And so it’s like, it’s like, interesting, but also I try to resist that line of thinking because it’s dangerous, and that’s why we are here…
…but also I think it’s really important, you know, it needs to be acknowledged!
…but… yeah, this idea of cold as absence or in terms of…if you’re thinking about the archive and histories, it’s maybe this idea of removal cold implies of what is being lost like yeah, if you think of cold as an absence of heat, and the way that heat works by transferal; things aren’t necessarily cold. It’s just that in relation to this other thing. It maybe says more also about resources as well, right? If we can think about it like that, that something isn’t—yes—that they are all interdependent essentially and [under this current order] one thing can only be or have leisure or have time or have money, because there is a removal happening. Or an extraction going on.
C: …Yeah…………….That was one of the things about being quite amused by the particular rabbit hole I went down with the introduction [to this series] because I had first been taken by the poetics, or the potential through a poetic engagement or—this is a diversion—but the past six months have re-inscribed how quickly things can go from like, these are things that affect this group of people to like, biological determinism! racial epigenetics! eugenics!
It’s like, the past six months—the pandemic—has really made all of that quite heightened and it becomes a flattened (racist) narrative like: black people are dying more, because black people die. [laughs]
T: So how do you hold that mark though?
There is this lack of care for life in the pursuit of expansion: economic, spatial… in thought.
T: Yeah, and I guess that’s what I was thinking, that’s more the point isn’t it? Like that is more the error in it, that we could all, we could all live quite comfortably. [laughing]
C: Like yeah if it wasn’t for x, y, z we could all be quite fine. [laughing]
[Redacted section, conversation continues]
T: … And find solidarities…fight for better insulation.
C: Insulation for all!
[Redacted section, conversation continues]
T: …Before as an aside, but also maybe an end to this, not end but I feel like it’s dwindling, in a good way.
C: Haha yeah [both laugh]
*Some of our conversation focused on Hegel’s The Philosophy of History, rather than give more time to him in our words he can speak for himself.
‘Africa proper, as far as History goes back, has remained — for all purposes of connection with the rest of the World — shut up… Its isolated character originates, not merely in its tropical nature, but essentially in its geographical condition….’
‘In the extreme zones man cannot come to free movement; cold and heat are here too powerful to allow Spirit to build up a world for itself… The true theatre of History is therefore the temperate zone; or, rather, its northern half, because the earth there presents itself in a continental form, and has a broad breast, as the Greeks say.’
**Note on laughter and giggles. This is not funny. These sounds are shocks, a way of comprehending something unfathomable.
*** Derica Shields, ‘Cleave to the Black: Transcript of a Lecture in Three Parts’, Talk at The ICA, 20 November 2020
“The union of Scotland and England was under negotiation for perhaps 100 years when in 1706 the Scottish agreed to dissolve their parliament, change their flag and join with the English who had oppressed them for centuries after just three days of talks. They agreed on the condition that the Scottish would have access to English plantations in the Americas and West Indies. The formation of modern Britain depended on the flesh and labour of the enslaved. In this context, the question of Black presence becomes the question of whether the united kingdom of Great Britain would exist without the people it made negroes. Blackness was politically determining for the formation of this country.”
Tako Taal is an artist, filmmaker and programmer living in Glasgow. takotaal.com
Camara Taylor an artist, writer and researcher. Their current projects focus on the excesses of dominant discourse, and lower frequencies of objection in the context of Black lives. Camara lives and works in Glasgow. camarataylor.com
This writing concludes a series of articles curated by Camara Taylor, looking at ‘the cold’ in its various registers and realities.
This commission has developed as a collaboration between the Scottish BAME Writers Network (SBWN) and MAP resident Reviews and Projects Co-editors Alison and Rosie. Special thanks to Jeda Pearl of SBWN.