Today we’re publishing our second Are.na Annual, which you can find here. As an intro to the book and the writings within, we’re running the editor’s letter below.
Before I left New York, one thing I already missed were the subway machines. Or not the machines exactly, but the way that, after the card ejects, no one waits around for the screen asking if you want a receipt. The next person in line presses “no” for you. In the sentimental state of proto-nostalgia that often accompanies moving, it felt like an act of tenderness. Here we all were, rejecting one anothers’ receipts, taking up a task neglected, assured that someone else would do the same for us, keeping the city commute apace. When I arrived in Berlin, I found something similar in the grocery store lines, where conveyor belt dividers are passed back like batons in a relay. These coordinated acts of kindness amass a kind of muscle memory on a municipal scale: the choreography of a city, a tending to place.
In March this year, the choreography was stopped. Streets, subways, and grocery stores all emptied out as we sheltered in place, and the thrum of the city petered out into an eerie quietude. Even when we emerged from our houses and things slowly started up again, it was a different dance, one marked out by tape and segregated by plexiglass. New rituals of care sprung up in place of the familiar ones, now predicated on space and distance and for some of us, slow, stretched out swaths of time. By July I had retreated into a massive spreadsheet entitled “Are.na Annual Too Planning Doc,” initialed, arranged, and color-coded into a language of its own. The month prior, we’d put out an open call for submissions to our second Are.na Annual, asking for a channel link and brief description of a potential piece of writing about it. The theme for this year’s Annual is “tend,” as in to care for or manage, to give your attention to, or to move in a particular direction, an inclination or “tendency.” The theme felt right for a time we all could have used some tending to, and were still working out our new ways of tending to others.
The above is my definition of tend, but Juliana Castro extends it even deeper in her essay that opens the book, on how language adds meanings across context. “The Latin tendere—to stretch, to tense—provides the root for the ways we say that we care, that we try, and that we are soft and easily injured,” she writes, adding that it’s also the origin word for “tenderness,” “intent,” and “attention.” Austin Wade Smith reminds us that adding the “at” in the latter gives the word the meaning of stretching toward something, and then takes us on a walk around their neighborhood to show how one might attend to the “arcs, seasons, gusts, accumulations, and flows that constitute an environment.” Meanwhile, Lucy Siyao Liu tended to an environment of her own making while in quarantine: two aquariums, one large and one small, that now sit near her desk. In her piece for the Annual, she explores a lineage of fish-tending on her paternal side, then stretches even further to examine a human desire to recreate controllable environments to fit within our own scales and bounds.
For my part, I sank within my spreadsheet as the cells divided and multiplied, first drafts and second drafts were logged and linked and then moved across the columns. Sometimes an attention to care does tend toward control, order, precision, especially when editing, but with this project I’d learn that an ecosystem has its own animacy. The pieces of writing that came in took unexpected directions, surprising form, and found inventive and engaging ways to interpret “tend.” In her essay “Measuring the Internet,” Lai Yi Ohlsen equated tending to measuring, which she thinks of not just as a quantitative tallying up, but also as a “gesture toward understanding.” Taking root in her channel “Who Cares?” Emma Rae Bruml Norton’s submission evolved into a love letter to her computer, as grounded in philosophical references as it is poetic; she wonders what a computer might be if it cared back, rather than merely being “in service of.” R.C. Clarke’s contribution took seed in a theory he calls “Southern Electronics,” then spiraled out into a rich history of and rumination on the tended spaces that allow for “both the imagination and the material necessary for the creation of Black art and music.”
As the pieces came in, they started to speak to each other and connect in unanticipated ways, and there were connections between the writers, too—all of them spread out across the U.S. and the world. Omar Mohammad, who conducted a string of interviews with those gathering research on the “self, culture, and community,” had proposed Rona Akbari and Weeda Azim as interviewees, but they were already working on a piece for the Annual on film representation of the Afghan diaspora (he ended up with fantastic interviews with Shiraz Gallab, Florence Fu, and Darin Buzon). Zainab Aliyu & American Artist wrote about their collaborative “people’s dictionary” created from their remote Dark Matter course at School for Poetic Computation, the same school from which Neta Bomani, Melanie Hoff, and Elizabeth Perez’s conversation on the cybernetics of reproduction arose. In many ways, we were building on an ecosystem that already existed. I’m deeply appreciative of all the emails, video calls, discussed ideas, line edits, and care that went into these pieces—small acts, over time and distance, amassed into a collective tending that eventually resulted in this book. Cab, Daniel and I are so excited to send you this second Are.na Annual, from New York to wherever you are.
Learn about how people use Are.na to do work and pursue personal projects through case studies, interviews, and highlights.