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In Conversation with Ayesha Tan Jones

 

Despite living in close proximity, Ayesha and I were unable to meet due to Covid-19 restrictions. So, Ayesha took it upon themselves to build a fantastical alternative reality where we could rest, share ideas and learn more about their practice.

Below is a video compilation and full transcript of our conversation in which we discuss herbalism, singing, dragons and optimistic dystopian futures.

 

 

Ashley joined the chat

hello!

Ashley

Hey!

Ayesha

haha amazing wings!

you like this world?

Ashley

HAHA - I love that there are butterflies here too

Ayesha

its magiiiick!

kinda wanna live here

Ashley

Is this what you imagine when you think of optimistic dystopian futures?

Ayesha

mmm i think this deffo has a place in that future!! I really hope one day we can mess with our dna and splice ourselves with butterflies! that would be the ultimate transcendence!

The trees here do not judge us by the way we present, they just watch us with a knowing and understanding.

Ashley

It feels incredibly freeing. I wanted to come naked but there were odd restrictions (and gender binaries) to adhere to. So I decided to come as a cactus bodied butterfly who's going to the spa.

Ayesha

haha really no nudity? i guess they gotta keep it pg or something... okay wow yes thank u for clarifying the cactus skin. that is ultimate queer eco armour! Reminds me of in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Talents they used cacti as a defence wall in their community. Also all the queers deserve a spa day asap!

But yeah ur right it is super jarring that even coming into this virtual world where you are supposed to be able to create your reality, we still have only 2 options of gender and are restricted in our clothing because of it.

Ashley

Oddly, this doesn't feel like sci-fi? Aside from those binaries it feels like a liberating alternative to the real world.

Ayesha

I love that you can play with fantasy elements here, there are like subcultures within subcultures here… it does give you a sense of freedom, even if it's only encapsulated within a screen.... but ya kno, i would looove to be able to meditate in a garden with dragons, butterflies and pink trees. I can maybe see myself spending lots of time here.... growing more tentacles and weaving webs in the digital!! Having a nice meditation?

Ashley

Just chilling in my lotus flower

What have you been doing today? Any developments on your new home?

Ayesha

Boat is doing good! still floating 🙂 still need to make it feel fully my own, got a bunch of DIY jobs to do when i get the time. it’s a WIP. I enjoyed the IRL sun today! Had a very chilled morning, had therapy, went on a frosty walk, came to the studio, gonna do a late nighter here.

Ashley

your building IRL and digitally…

Ayesha

yes! i should probably focus on the IRL lol but it's good to come here for interior design ideas!

how about you? did you enjoy the sun today?

Ashley

I did get some sun today. I've got into a routine of waking before sunrise and going for a walk along the canal and through the marshes to catch first light. Similarly to this digital world, it's different every time.

Ayesha

oh my gosh. that is morning dreams! waking b4 the sun, must bring u so much fresh joy to welcome ur day

Ashley

It brings me a sense of clarity before starting my day. My mind is too chaotic when I wake. It's a nice way to ease in to the day, find simple joys to be grateful for early on in the day

Ayesha

ive tried to similarly start my day with serenity, only using my phone for meditation music as i arise, and trying to not open any apps, esp the news... i have found living on the water so tranquil, and i usually wake b4 my alarm with the ducks and seagulls squawking me out of my dreams

Ashley

I love that! It sounds like the way you live and work your making are intrinsically tied, but maybe thats a leap?

Ayesha

i do feel very blessed 2 b able to be so close to nature right now, and nature is a big driver for my art work.

A lot of my early work coming out of art school was made in response to the opposing narrative of the trash and concrete of the city, and the 'urban' nature that exists in between the cracks.

The area im currently moored up in Tottenham is where most of my first film inidigo zoom was filmed, which has been a big pivot for the rest of my practice

there's a waste disposal company who occupy a huge plot of land next to the river, with trash heaps the size of small hills, i have walked past it almost every day for 6 years

its in my lungs, and its deffo seeping out into my practice

now i wake up and i see little ducks and birds pick their way through the colourful plastic trash that gets washed up in the river. the rubbish collects by the sides of the boats and creates little islands out of weeds and plastic

its so heartbreaking

but then, you also see that the ducks are still thriving, mostly... and that sense of, literally just adapting to habitat, and still being the best duck u can be,  it gives me that joy and optimism

Ashley

These conversations are present in your projects, especially Fertile Souls. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Ayesha

so fertile souls began pre-pandemic times when we could actually gather in a room and breathe the same oxygen :'(

the idea was to create a collective survival manual... it was about kinda disrupting the concept of survival skills as macho, things like making fire from friction (tried it, failed) or making a shelter from leaves, even tho these are great skills

but for the community of people around me, primarily queer folks and qtibipoc, survival wasnt just about being in the wilderness, because the wilderness was at our front door

so skills such as herbalism were important for me to learn and share about bc there are weeds, plants that go unnoticed, growing in everyone's back garden, front garden, park, grassy verge, towpath, in between the pavement cracks. we also did skill share workshops in astrology, movement workshops, sound healing and more

its kinda been put on hold since the pandemic, but we are slowly re-emerging with lots of herbal care packages to send to people who may not be able to access higher priced herbal remedies, a zine and maybe... even... a community garden!! (shhh!)

my virgo asss learnt a huge lesson this past year and that is r e s t

i'm really happy to take projects slowly now, and to offer and give from a place of wholeness, honestly and from a well that is constantly replenished

Ashley

I'm always brought back to GenderFails piece "Radical Softness as a boundless form of resistance" and I sense you embody that energy

Ayesha

i feel like that is essential reading, and those gentle reminders to the self that to be soft and caring to ur self is radical, that rest is resistance! i feel like i say this a lot, but very rarely do i actually put it into action for myself

im a virgo! we feel guilty when we aren't constantly producing ( i say we, i mean me... im sure there are some excellently evolved virgos out there i should learn from!)

in a fertile souls workshop we did after the december 2019 general election distator, we ran a two day emergency weekend gathering called ' Resistance as ritual', and came together to grieve and collectively vision ways to heal / survive/ get by another 4 years of tory rule...

wanna take a walk to my dragon?

Ashley

I’d love to!

Is there a reason you chose a dragon?

Ayesha

haha yes! i feel super connected to the dragon mythology.. in both chinese and celtic lineages

my blood is welsh and chinese

Ashley

Can you tell me a little about dragon mythology?

Ayesha

Dragons in chinese culture are often the gods of the water, which is just amazing bc water is lifeeee.

for me i feel like dragons embody this power of mysticism.. no one can prove they existed, yet they are in almost all ancient cultures in some form

to me they embody all the elements, they are gods of the water, they’re often are depicted breathing fire, they fly in the air, and i guess they walk too so that's the earth element covered

Ashley

I'm enjoying them in relation to the butterflies. Is there much variation between how they're depicted in Chinese and Celtic mythology?

Ayesha

yeah they are visually different in the style they are drawn, but i also think in celtic culture there isn't much about them being water gods.... in chinese myths they guard over lakes, rivers, seas and other bodies of water.. its their domain

i guess in celtic culture we have legends such as the lochness monster.. which i would say if quite dragon like in its depictions

Ashley

There's an intimacy in the sharing of knowledge as you do with Fertile Souls, and in the way myths are created, told from one person to the next

Ayesha

mmm yes oral knowledge!!! that's why those gatherings we held back b4 pandemic feel really sacred to me

bc the only form of documentation is a few images, and peoples notebooks... now it is incredible the wealth and expansiveness of online workshops available but there is always a feeling of surveillance, even if its not being recorded

Ashley

that's true, I find myself more self conscious interacting with people online, especially now that we are having to do so for work too.

Ayesha

do u feel less self conscious online now that u are a cactus butterfly ready for the spa?

Ashley

I wish I could embody this sense of freedom every day.

I think the beautiful environment you've created has a lot to do with that

Ayesha

i wish i could be a neon green porus mycelial network every day

Ashley

How then, as we begin to imagine potentially re-entering the world to we achieve that do you think?

Ayesha

for me i think creating spaces that people feel they have belonging in. spaces where people can feel like they have a say in how things are created and run.... ive been learning about sociocracy which is a really sociocratic way of decision making

and altho it can seem admin heavy, ultimately it is striving for a system where every single person has a say, and no decision is made without the consensus of all

and another way 2 re-enter the world i think... is to re-enter with a revived sense of closeness to nature... bc nature is something that has seemed the only stable thing for me during these complex times

so inviting that into ur daily practice, routine , and life, into our spaces, into our care practices

in the midst of the pandemic

i wrote a piece and a phrase that came to me was "when we emerge from this chrysalis, the PPE known as our ego must shed"

and that was really something that i needed to hear myself.... so often we have a protective shield of ego, of performativity, of projection of our ideal self through the screen... i kinda had to let go of a lot of that ( i'm going through my Saturn return !!)

Ashley

I think it's also identifying the need for an alternative way of living. Early on in the pandemic I had lots of conversations with people who were so eager to go back to "normal". I wonder now, a year in, how many people gave themselves the space and time to question what their true needs/ priorities are?

Ayesha

yeah i envy the people who saw the pandemic looming and thought .. " okay, time to rest, pause, retreat" and actually practiced that

i was deff the other side of the spectrum, and overworked myself, feeling the need to meet impossible deadlines and goals that i was setting for myself....

a year in... now i am begining to truly align with my needs

Ashley

Shadow Sisters is such a vital programme, can you tell me more about it?

Ayesha

would be cool to have a shadow sistxrs class in this world

mmm yes well it began in 2017? basically i wanted to learn martial arts but felt kinda intimidated by all the london clubs that were v macho heavy and sports heavy... lots of people in my neighborhood community in the warehouses were getting worried walking home at night

so i invited a bunch of people over 2 make pepper spray in a ritualistic way, using protective herbs and natural elements, making talismans of protection

i then reached out for someone who has the skills, and my soulmate , Monique, was introduced to my via a facebook call out

the call out post read:

looking for a martial artist who can teach classes to women and queer folks, poc, bonus points if ur a witch

we instantly shared a vision, combining our spiritual practices with our self defence practice.

we ran weekly classes for 2 or 3 years, ssfc felt more like a coven than a gym class

we would meditate together, sing, make wands, use the wands as weapons, make potions, teas

its so vital for folks who may feel excluded from clubs to have a space to practice these survival skills

we welcome women, queer and trans folk

gyms and other martial arts clubs have not caught up with gender neutral signage / spaces, and it was something we found super lacking. plus the language around martial arts was often about strength and ability

in ssfc, all body sizes, shapes, genders and abilities are welcome. all moves can be adapted, weather you use a chair or a cane, or have other access needs... monique has a very special way of teaching, it just flows. 

shes had years of training since she was a kid, and it shows. shes a queer black sex worker, and also founded Sex and Rage, a collective resisting stigma and shame through sex education and she studies politics at Berkbeck. she's honestly one of the most inspiring people i've ever had the honor of collabing with.

Ashley

again, it feels like an intimate act with such huge impactful outreach. It also sounds like a far more holistic approach to safety/survival for the present and future. when you're talking about dystopian futures, how much of that is a reflection on the present?

Ayesha

i think futures is now....

the fact that we are already in a position that we know we have to prepare ourselves for the futures, shows that we have a knowing of the impending apocalypse (and know apocalypse is happening every day to different communities)

we always say dystopian future, but ur right, it's the dystopian here and now. visioning a future has to be done now, in the present moment, using the skills and care methodologies we know and are cultivating

its like we have to sow the seeds for the garden we wanna live in

the best time to plant a tree was ten years ago... the second best time is NOW

Ashley

You once recommended singing to plants, and now, whenever I'm belting out a song on my walk (admittedly when no one is around) I think of you

Ayesha

awwww!! i love this! the plants will deffo be so grateful

do u have a song of choice or just let the songs flow?

Ashley

It's such a simple act, and connects me to my surrounding and my breathing

Ayesha

i love that singing is just controlled air vibrating against our skin flaps in our throats

You performed Bow with Ashley

Ashley

haha its true!

Am I right in thinking you're organising a campaign around singing in partnership with Serpentine Galleries/?

Ayesha

yes, i plan to make a pilgrimage walking across a ley line in the UK, visiting sacred and non-sacred sites, and singing at them

Ashley

did you have any sites in mind?

Ayesha

theres a not-so well known (well known in the pagan communities) understanding that the land and the sacred lines that run beneath the earth respond to the vibrations of our voices.. many of the world's and especially the UK's sacred sites have been forgotten and have not been sung at often enough... they say that there should always be singing at the sacred sites to maintain the balance and harmony of the land

and now things like HS2 are desecrating through ancient woodlands and disturbing that harmony further so my campaign is a personal pilgrimage, but hoping it will ignite others to reconnect with their voice and with the land

well known places such as Avebury, Glastonbury and other ancient megaliths, contrasted with coal mines and factories, HS2 sites etc :(((

altho the hs2 workers will just think im another crusty hippie tryna save the trees

(which i am!)

wish i could hug this virutal tree

Ashley

Will you go alone? Will you document it? I guess looping back to what we spoke about earlier about ongoing surveillance...

Ayesha

i want to spend some of it alone, but also really interested in walking with others. my good friend Joya Berrow is a documentary filmmaker working in ecology, and wants to do a similar pilgrimage but visiting small scale farms and making a documentary,

so we will probably link up! and i wonder what it'll be like to walk with dancers, musicians, scientists, sound healers and how the relationship with the land, and the way we document, would change

initially i thought i would keep ppl updated on my walk via instagram.. but im starting to hate that idea.. it makes it feel like a performance and always taking myself out of the moment.. on the other hand it is a great way to connect and inspire

Ashley

Perhaps there are other ways to document it rather than the need for something digital

Ayesha

collecting rocks

leaving natrual sculptures

i have some ideas ;)!!

Ashley

Exactly. or perhaps marking where you go somehow so you aren't taking from the space

Ayesha

ur right, taking doesnt seem aligned

altho taking the trash does

Ashley

I feel like we should talk about your current exhibition

Ayesha

yes! tectonic incantations

currently in a leaky old disused gym and swimming pool

its an extension of my opera, parasites of pangu

many of the sculptures in the show are living, there are mushrooms with their own lives, just growing, decaying, and growing again

there's moss, algae and unruly water leaks

i feel quite out of control, like a bad mother, esp as the show is closed to public... but i love that too

Ashley

letting nature take its course without intervention

Ayesha

yes nature and bad architecture ( the pool's roof!)

Ashley

Victoria Sin has produced an incredible podcast in collaboration with Serpentine Galleries about Ecology. In the episode you take part in, Maracena Gomez Barris speaks about how when looking at dystopian apocalyptic futures, it's often depicted disorderly, and proposes it is in fact order that is the problem. Whereas wildness, anarchy and disorder and declassified knowledge represent the possibilities of living in other ecologies. Tectonic Incantations looks and feels like a visual embodiment of that, the possibility of living in other ecologies

heart eyes emoji

we look at a forest and the modern trained brain might see disorder, but the trees know EXXXACTLY what they're doing,.. the mycelium is just doing its thiiiing, the leaves r sucking up sunlight n the soil is just being cute and full of microbes

i feel like this coming back into our true selves, to rest, restore, and re-learn ancient skills, is surrendering to that disorder