How far is kin?

An Editorial testimony

By Justine Maxelon

“It takes time, requires change and joy in discussing what works and what does not.”

When we embarked on this journey of making the almanac in 2021, there was a great enthusiasm in the SOTA team as it gave us the opportunity to move deeper into reflection and beyond the hands-on activist engagement which we had been primarily practicing since 2019; mainly in reaction to the current government but also in response to the inequalities that became so obvious during the COVID-19 pandemic. SOTA is currently in transition as a platform that exists of a core-group of art workers, a support vzw and many people that come in and out according to time and desires. This model hasn’t proven to be sustainable for quite a while, as a lot of volunteer work rests heavily on too few shoulders. The process of transformation started in 2022, it is slow and involves many discussions, but we hope that at the end SOTA as a body will be more durable and practicing fairer kin arts principles within their own functioning. We’ve made decisions to do a fair-check on our principles after every meeting, to work in tandem, so there is always possibility for one person to take a break, to incorporate joyful activities amongst practicalities, to have a duo of paid coordinators, etc. Some ideas are ready to be implemented and practiced and some take time, others again won’t proove practiceable for our functioning bodies. This is something that we learned during this process of the almanac as well: Working within ideas of fairer kinship practice takes time, requires change and joy in discussing what works and what does not.

A Process Of Change

Early on we made the decision to enlargen the group of core-editors and bring in knowledges and experiences that were not present enough within SOTA’s platform. While we originally wanted to print the almanac in July 2022, this decision to diversify meant we had to take more time. More time to get to know each other, but also to give people space to understand what their role and contribution to the process could be, as we didn’t want to prescribe a fixed set of rules and guidelines, but to let these evolve during the process. By then we were working with seven additional editors compared with the editorial team of the previous almanac. A total of twelve ‘month-editors’, each curating and editing a month. This further inspired the decision to have a diverse set of aesthetics and ideas present throughout the almanac. And again, this meant a delay in time. We postponed the publication date. Personally, I don’t believe in putting pressure on people, and as we wished to have diverse voices present, we had to learn to work within diverse rhythms, coming with those voices. It was a challenge and it posed difficulties in organisation and coordination, but I truely believe it made the outcome so much richer.

Let’s Talk Money

Additionaly, to core-editing and coordinating, I also had the task to watch over the budget. A task that taught me a lot, but also challenged me a lot. Fair kinship practice, as a responsibility to take care of each other by means of sharing resources, starts here, by re-thinking payment and budgeting habits, especially when inviting new people. Kobe and I had been working on this publication for two years by then. While we were lucky to receive funding and rely on a set of coproductions, the amount received was still insufficient to pay both of us and the broader team in a way that the work, input and time deserved. This almanac was made by many hours of unpaid labour by the many people involved. It’s important to point this out because it shows that implying more collectivity, trying to ‘decolonise’ and diversify our process while making the publication more accessible doesn’t come for free. Such an approach demands more time and has to find an impact on how budgets are made – a responsibility that needs to be evaluated by the funding commissions accordingly.

Within the limitations we faced, we tried to allow for asymmetrical pay for the contributions, but went for equal pay of the core-editing and month-editing team. I personally don’t think this is the kinest way possible, but at that moment we didn’t have the time and resources to embark on a journey of asymmetrical pay with such a big team. Maybe this is for next time… My knowledge of budgets and payment strategies evolved with the process and I can say that I now know more than in the beginning.

Bodies Be Bodies

We worked with a diverse group of bodies that function differently within their individual limitations and their needs. Sickness, disability and other differences in abilities were present and had to be present. We didn’t aim to shut those needs and limitations down, but instead allowed them to influence our way of working. Sometimes in the OSP offices, sometimes online. Sometimes we worked with half the group, sometimes at another more convenient place, sometimes while crying or taking a nap, sometimes with medications and sometimes simply not. A short break was needed. And the publication date was moved for the third and fourth time… The main questions were: “How do we work?”, “How do we communicate?” and “How do we lead?”. The following ones are personal but equally important: “How much help and support do I need?” or “What tools do I need?”. And everything comes with the possibility of rebelling against it. From then on, it’s touch and go. I’m extremely grateful for the care and openness of the core-editing team and the OSP team in all our lack of clarity and lack of structure, as well as dealing with different needs and desires. Thank you for the space we created together. For me, it still is a shared space of learning!

If this almanac further manages to inspire people to take the time to have complicated discussions, the main goal is achieved and I’ll be happy.