Readying Above and Below: “revolutionary new moon in aquarius” at ISSUE Project Room

“So, we should talk about depression,” Stephanie says to me nearly an hour into our conversation.

Oh.

“Sure,” spurts out of me, ad infinitum.

“You have no fire in your chart,” she continues. “So, depression is a consideration here…” Something about how it may be harder for me to pull myself out of the “rough patches”…That I may stay in sadness longer than others….But, I can locate ways to move through this by…

Oh.

Stephanie George is an astrologer who Benedict Nguyen has invited to contribute to their curatorial proposition, revolutionary new moon in aquarius (rnma), positing astrology as a way to organize how we exist in performance space-and-time. It is the first constellation in a yearlong series of art-offerings, soft bodies in hard places, centered around planetary events and taking place at ISSUE Project Room.

At the time of this writing, Stephanie has given natal chart readings to two out of three participating artists and me. This is, in fact, my first reading. I didn’t know my rising sign, my sun, my moon, whatever else, until this point. In fact, I had an almost allergic reaction to this information before our meeting; an aversion that was rooted in some fraudulent narrative I self-mythologized. “Oh wow, you’re such a Pisces,” I’ve been told many times without much fanfare or, even, explanation. I accept it and move on without further prodding, every time.

I’ve made it nearly three decades without knowing the ins and outs of my own astrological standing, but, continually and subtly, have become well-acquainted with the details of others.

Astrology gives us a set of identifiers that pervade our About pages, online dating profiles, daily conversations, Instagram feeds. It’s everywhere, so why does it need me? It’s doing fine on its own.

But, prior subjectivities aside, it seemed like a good idea for this writing.

In order to participate, I asked my mom to text me a photo of my birth certificate. She asked me why and I explained that it is crucial to know my birth city, time, and date for the reading (Detroit, Michigan; 1pm EST; March _, 19__).

After a few hours, my mom sent me the photo with an accompanying text: “Ok good luck.”

Ambika Raina (foreground) and lily bo shapiro in revolutionary new moon in aquarius
Stills from video footage by Yuko Torihara, collage by Ambika Raina

What does it mean to be a soft body in a hard place?

We are a collective existence of membrane, bone, fluid, skin, and blood. We remain adaptable in the face of pressure and imminent danger; we can survive three weeks without food, three minutes without oxygen. We have emerged as homo sapiens inside of this blip in millions of years of existence, Darwinism begets capitalism again and again. Some (many) of us have remained soft by inheriting violence, supremacy, and colonialist membranes. Many more of us have remained soft by inheriting trauma, paralysis, and – perhaps – faith, in all its incarnations. Some stay soft by white-knuckling their freedom; others by relinquishing their hope. Softness lives in all of us but is not valued in most.

We are also a collective existence being coerced into the looming hegemony at every turn. Hard places have become soft where they weren’t before. We are engulfed by environments – natural and political –  that suffer debilitating, human-made damage by the hour. The rapid heating of the sea due to climate change make the Galápagos Islands – once a wonder amidst Darwin’s blueprint – irreversibly vulnerable to its many animal species. Down a different terrain and, as of this writing, 34 individuals or companies have been rendered guilty (by indictment or plea) in Mueller’s Russia investigation, an endless loop on a deceptive, crumbling (anti)democracy. The environment for holding these seeming contradictions holds cruelty at a close embrace, but it’s not a lost cause; hard bodies in soft places.

And, yet, we are here, re-fashioning community and remaining soft in a building of stone. The monuments are crumbling. We can take an ax to their base or let them dissolve to the dust of their origin story.

Ambika Raina (left) and Katrina Reid (right) in revolutionary new moon in aquarius
Stills from video footage by Yuko Torihara, collage by Ambika Raina

This performance has me thinking deeply about the ways systems are constantly in motion whether or not we perceive them to be. Whether or not we name them to be. Whether or not we want them to be.

rnma meets us at the intersection of artists Ambika Raina, lily bo shapiro, and Katrina Reid, who meet at the intersection of responsibility, revelation, gravity, firmness, and frequency. rnma also converges at the intersection of astrology and displacement. These are massive, interconnected systems that are faithfully running at all times. They present ways of organizing – geographically, psychologically, emotionally, temporally – where we are and why. If we understand it, we can move through it, astrology and displacement (and art and living) say. Moving through and toward, wittingly or not.

More about astrology and displacement: Benedict tells me that there are so many contradictions in both of these things, that maybe, just maybe, they present themselves as a way of understanding the “how.”

Don’t concern yourself with the “why,” Stephanie never says but seems to imply.

The “what” stems from Katrina (via lily bo via Ambika and so on, in circles), a questioning of the container of these musings as they collide in the stage space.

That stage space has its own set of contradictions. The current downtown Brooklyn building that calls itself ISSUE Project Room (Renaissance-revival! Beaux-Arts! Corinthian columns!) had prior lives as an Elks Club headquarters and, later, an NYC Board of Education headquarters (and, briefly, but less importantly, the HBO series Boardwalk Empire). These lives carry with it the rickety assemblages of patriarchal intensity. The Board of Ed, specifically, an emblem of its own “failed system,” which would be a beautiful, slippery notion if it were not supposed to be, you know, a place with at least a moderate degree of functionality.  As lily bo mentioned during one of our conversations: “None of the people working on this project would’ve been allowed in this building” in the last 60 years or so. It’s painful to know, in some respects, but also necessary. History has been weaponized against us time and again, and, in this process, the power of these artists has reminded me how not to distract from the stolen land we are called to stand on, to perform in. We move within the walls, making sense of how the new moon brings us together, how we summon space to contain our truths. We perform on Groundhog Day – in some ways, a weird Westernizing of the occult itself – amidst the New Moon shifts, moving toward the Lunar New Year. We show up to learn how to maneuver the sound board, adjust the lights, and reassemble the platforms for our performance. We don’t want to subscribe ourselves to the burnout industrial complex – we want to conduct the performance on our own terms. The “We” may not involve “You,” dear reader, but it involves a knowing many. We seek out the knowledge we know and can’t yet know. Knowledge is power but that power is (still) contained in the few – yet, in reality, it steeps in the many soft bodies in this faraway hardness.

Katrina Reid (left) and lily bo shapiro (right) in revolutionary new moon in aquarius
Stills from video footage by Yuko Torihara, collage by Ambika Raina

In our conversations, Ambika, Katrina, and lily bo all speak about the means to materializing this offering – built on a set of humbling compromises and seeding the roots of their practice deeper than before. The coming together in the live event is the result of months of emails, more emails, emails that became Google docs, and Google docs that made their way to Instagram, or to more emails, or to decisions on who else was to inhabit this space, to document it, to turn the lights on, to get a free ticket. We know enough to know that none of these things occur by coincidence but, if not cared for or attuned to, will be spun into the system and spat out in ways we’ve seen, we know: insidious, institutionalized, impartial.

I say this here not to harp on the administrative minutiae or imply that there is an all-too-easy “us” versus “them” mentality I am trying to sell you. Rather, all of the artists seem to come to this platform with a persistence in their work and a deep attentiveness to how it may or may not subscribe to the very systems constantly looming. So, collaboration looks more like a large bowl of flowers or a shiny scarf, less like a tax form. Collaboration, like astrology, like displacement, teaches us that positioning is key to our understanding. Where you are in relation to others, and in relation to what you care about, is also how you write said email, develop said performance. When we sit down for rnma, the moon is moving toward a new lunar cycle, and the pull for emotional freedom is strong. Systems still loom, continuous.

The new moon in Aquarius illustrates a particularly interesting moment, Katrina explains to me. Aquarius is ruled planetarily by Saturn and Uranus. It is a distinct positionality. Saturn represents a by-the-book attention to detail: the taskmaster. Uranus is hungry for the freedom that comes from change, an eye toward the excitement of new possibilities. In between that, we land here, in this space, at this time, the vast and multiplicitous middle ground between the discipline and the insurgency. In here, it doesn’t matter how you show up, just that you do.

In here, the revolution waits.

Katrina Reid by Yekaterina Gyadu
Ambika Raina and lily bo shapiro by Yekaterina Gyadu
Katrina Reid and lily bo shapiro by Yekaterina Gyadu

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