ON UTOPIA (and energy, and swimming) with BRIE KIMBLE: an interview assemblage
Settings: On google drive; on wetransfer & dropbox; over whatsapp voice call, over messages and voice notes and email. On a Microsoft Word document.
Colours: light pink, purple, pastel greens and blues and silvers.
brie: “I live in purple lighting.”
Our conversations are always a long time coming. brie and I, both Pisces placements, overflow with love, text each other effusively, with intentions to speak, but also always forget to reply, reschedule at the last minute, can’t make it for emotional reasons. It’s a rhythm at this stage. The phone calls that we do have stand out in my memory like brightly coloured bubbles. This one happens at 10pm on a Thursday, and it’s not till near the end of the call that we start to address what we came here to talk about. Firstly, brie has been doing some work for their day job outside of paid hours. Aiva and I berate them. “The thing is,” they say, “I can’t make good stuff in the time I’m paid for. It’s not enough.” We still give out. “Not an ounce of your labour beyond what you are paid for!” we shout. (We don’t shout.)
[20:44, 19/01/2022] brie: “I have so little time to actually do [creative] work at work… I’m full of screams about it, you know like, Ah! I’m full of em”
brie is a graphic artist. Their work is recognisably pastel shades of pink, lilac and teal, and has a distinctive ethereal, wavy and dreamlike quality. Their portraits cast their subjects speculatively as faeries, angels, beings with wings and pointed ears. They draw, they imagine, they make spaces very beautiful. We talk about clubs: Aiva and I in favour, Brie not so much. “I like to lounge more than I like to dance.” They did their MA dissertation on imagining what the future of LGBT spaces could look like as opposed to existing spaces, which are mostly limited to bars and clubs. In lockdown, as a sort of continuation of this project, they imagined their dream space and designed it in the Sims 4: a community centre where you can socialise, dance, lounge, swim, work, make art, make music or just exist.
“The logistics aren’t really worked out.”
London-based artist, abolitionist and activist Liv Wynter introduced me to the work of theatre-maker Sarah Kane, whose plays are grim enough to require paragraphs of content warnings, but include stage directions such as “A sunflower bursts through the floor and grows above their heads.” This is a beautiful illustration of a philosophy where we aim high and work out the logistics later – kind of like working backwards. It’s a pretty significant point in abolitionist thinking, and is a useful way to think about brie’s design, I think.
Variously over the call, voice notes, messages, and previous conversations, brie describes the space and the ways it works.
[20:45, 19/01/2022] brie: “So my dream spaces are definitely community centres. The one that I was imagining definitely has a pool. It has trans only swim nights. It would be so good – cause so many trans people haven’t been able to swim in so long, like… being in water is so healing, and fun, and beautiful and so good. So a pool is important.”
I ask whether the pool would be lit. “As dimly lit as possible without it being a health hazard.” We talk about how trans bodies in the world sometimes don’t have access to a swimming pool. The centre would hold art nights, project beautiful scenes on the walls and in the swimming pool. Lots of people work at this centre: they work a small amount of hours and are paid a fair living wage.
[20:49, 19/01/2022] brie: “Some other important features would be communal working areas; like computers, printers, the kind of stuff that a public library would have. And like a workshop with tools that you can go and use: woodworking area, communal art and music-making supplies because art and music supplies are expensive, and in an ideal world there would be a community centre in every neighbourhood, with things that people need to live life and also make art, accessible and within walking distance to every person – making it easy and accessible for everybody to live a happy fulfilling life.”
brie’s getting excited. We talk about waste. “People wouldn’t need so much room to store stuff – say you need a hammer. Now, probably everyone on a street has a hammer but it’s maybe only used every few months, if that. Imagine there was a communal tool shed on each road that people could borrow toolboxes from when they get their new Ikea furniture.” “What if you needed a couch?” Aiva is ever practical. We could all get together and make a couch. Call on the dykes with drills. But seriously.
“It shouldn’t be so easy to buy so much stuff…but it should be easy to access things,” brie says. This is the crucial point on which the community centre vision rests.
[20:50, 19/01/2022] brie: “I don’t think I’ve talked about gardens – communal gardens with herbs and food and flowers and whatever other useful things that people want to grow. The whole neighbourhood having input into what kind of things you grow that year – just being a space for everyone to utilise and have a say in what’s going on”
“Remember when we talked about our dream plants – well the plant that I described then, in a fantasy world that would be in the community centre.” The dream plant they mean is a callback to a conversation we had in lockdown one, where we described to each other the plants that we would like to exist. brie’s is classically ethereal: wavy strands of silvery seaweed float above the ground. It feeds off social energy and joy. There is no gravity within it, so people can float, too. (My plant, as far as I can remember, was a leafless, umbrella-like tree with a network of roots spreading water and nutrients to other plants that needed it.)
“I think it would be so nice to float around a pretty plant with your pals.”
We talk about these spaces as something that should be achievable. For every community. “You shouldn’t have to commute across a city to get to something that should be essential!” I think about all the people I know who grew up in rural areas. Miles from anywhere.
What are the practicalities that would get in the way? Aiva says, “People would just disagree. People won’t do this sort of thing. They are too argumentative.”
“That’s cause they don’t think there’s any other option.”
“Every area should have a community centre. But instead, we just spent 8 million on making Big Ben uglier.”
Aiva and I digest this. None of us are English, yet capital and news has become contextually stretched so that a ludicrous amount of money spent on gilding Big Ben can represent any number of things in the places we are from or currently live in. We don’t know our neighbours well enough to lend them a hammer, or borrow theirs. Although we can definitely start asking. Kirrin lends us their drill regularly, although recently they’ve stopped replying. I hope they’re okay.
[21:01, 19/01/2022] brie: i always hated the competitiveness of swim and also i’ve always been exhausted ever since i was like 9. i remember dreading swim b/c the thought of having to get into cold water and exert lots of energy was always so stressful
[21:01, 19/01/2022] brie: even though i loved the swimming
[21:01, 19/01/2022] brie: and the art of it and performing (which i didn’t realize i missed until recently!)
[20:56, 19/01/2022] brie: “Another dream I have that’s related – at the pool I would love to have, in this dream space, I’d love to teach synchronised swimming classes; have people submit music to listen to at the classes, where people can perform routines to them or just free swim; we used to do this at the beginning of the year – you’d have free swim times; the coach would just put on the song you would be using before you’d choreographed anything and you’d just go for it. I think we aren’t allowed to fully let go and create, often, in capitalism, and that makes letting go really really hard to do; you are told that if a skill you’re good at is not producing something, or if you’re not ‘good’ enough at it to be profitable, then you should not do it!”
[21:04, 19/01/2022] brie: “I keep trying to send voice messages and re-recording them, because it’s so hard to put thoughts into words – my thoughts are like, going so far ahead – of what I’m saying – and then…what I’m saying – I don’t even remember what I was thinking now – but typing is so great! You have time to process what you’re actually trying to communicate. I think that’s why I’ve always been on the internet so much. It’s always been hard to talk to people – I’ve always been awkward with piecing together words on the spot in person,, but having the time to figure out exactly the right words and symbols – emoticons and emojis – to convey my exact thoughts is a dream.”
Space to iron out your thoughts, or type them out, is valuable. Time to think, to let things settle. The conversation constantly circles back to things people actually need to live. Support; space; accessible tools; furniture. A living wage. Some fun. Swimming lessons, if you want them. This version of utopia concentrates on what we can do to make life not only liveable, but manageable for everyone. Not optimised, but liveable, and enjoyable.
There’s a lot of talk – on twitter, among certain political communities – about imagining otherwise recently. In the practical world, ‘if’ always manages to get in the way. What we could do if, if. If we had the energy, if we had the time, the space, the money. This conversation was about what we could do. We can worry about the if another time. We don’t have time, anyway. No worries. Love you, love you. Talk to you soon. Bye.
brie’s art can be found on Instagram at @soft_orb and on the web at softorb.space/
Deirbhile Brennan is an Irish writer, living in London. Currently researching queer spaces and migration, their work has previously been published in Nothing Substantial, Sonder, and The Globe and Scales anthology. Deirbhile’s favourite activity is speaking to, and spending time with, their friends.