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Meet Non/Being, a cutting edge queer collective in Montreal

Written by

Leticia Trandafir
March 9th, 2020

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Diana Baescu, Simon Rock, and Heather Mitchell are the current core of Non/Being, a queer network built from the sentiments and moments shared in warehouse rave basements and late night chat rooms. Starting out as an events series called Vault—including an infamous tunnel rave—Non/Being has evolved into a platform for exploring ideas of community, queerness, transness and tansience through art, music, and world-building. I spoke to Diana and Heather about their upcoming fundraising compilation, their first big festival and what else they’re working on right now.

Who/what is Non/Being and who are its founding members?

Diana [aka D. Blavatsky] : Non/Being is the gulp of cold water you take from a bottle being shared and passed around by folks you have been dancing with for the past 6 hours.

Focusing on liminal processes of art, perception, and community organization- Non/Being is a research studio concerned with our states of being.

If reality is that one’s truest state cannot possibly be categorized, and our current medium for self perception stems from a complex codification of normatives, then queerness/transness, as a concept/movement/mode of being, situates ‘human existence’ as a (trans)ient experience, and eclipses the oppositional binaries that have been woven into the very fabric of our current realities.

Through disembodiment and our constant movement across different bodily forms, Non/Being looks at the ways bodies interact with themselves and one another within their various states and contexts.

I have just spent the past 45 minutes looking through old journals in order to locate the exact point in which Non/Being came into existence. Although the first time Non/Being was fully written out was on Wednesday October 31st, 2018—Non/Being as a concept has been an intimate aspect of my lived experiences as a dissociative non/binary individual. Struggling with socially lived realities and perceptions from a young age, I often grapple with intense feelings of isolation and loneliness as a result of my general detachment from self and others. A combination of a disconnect from both embodied and disembodied forms of interaction, Non/Being was created out of my personal desires to better understand myself and others—or to more broadly reflect on why those sentiments of understanding and connection were so important to the human experience in the first place.

Part fever dream, part curiosity, Non/Being in its current form organically developed as an extension of self and my personal journeys as a creative and community developer, to other peoples bodies of artistic practice, community organization, and healing.

Slowly becoming a central part of the rave series a friend of mine Maria [D-Grade] and I co-founded called Vault, Simon and I closely worked together on fleshing out Non/Being and how we should communicate it to a broader audience. Because Non/Being’s central themes are so closely intertwined with my personal experiences and memories, it’s general form as a collective can sometimes get lost in how intimately I interact with it. Being someone so deeply a part of Vault and other aspects of my creative/community practices, Simon’s involvement in Non/Being complexified its bounds as an expanding and (trans)ient research studio. I don’t really think there was one clear moment when Non/Being became Simon and I, or Simon, Heather, and I—it just sort of manifested as a response to our growing relationships in other parts of our lives. It’s difficult mapping out the origin stories of these sorts of dynamics. Very rarely in life are things created in isolated occurrences from other aspects of our personhood and social realities—nor is the identifiable beginning of something often as important as its continued development and growth, or present state.

Heather [ aka Remote Access] : I ended up becoming a part of Non/Being through my larger journey of community involvement in the after-hours scenes during and after moving to Montréal from San Francisco. The people who brought me into the scene were Diana and Maria Wang [D-GRADE of Australia] in the summer of 2018. I was struggling with life in San Francisco and decided to stay the summer in Montréal to be closer to home and spend time with friends, one of which was Malaika Astorga [of Also Cool mag] who introduced me to Maria and Diana on a back porch one late summers eve. I was covered in bedbug bites from a sublet situation gone wrong and they were in the midst of planning the third Vault, the queer rave series they had co-founded a few months prior. A few days later Maria asked me to do visuals for the next one–and although I had never done visuals for a rave before, I was excited to experiment with my artistic practice in this new context.

I was blown away by Vault and by the both of them as incredibly inspiring, creative, and driven people— who made me feel valued and at home in a community I had not known existed before. The femme-positivity, queerness, artistic power and kindness of the space they were making through Vault inspired me at a time I was feeling very depressed and dejected about the creative world and the world in general.
This Vault lead to a further collaboration in the next spin-off event they hosted, DATATRASH which I suggested I make an interactive website for to promote it and to name it off of the book I was reading at the time “Data Trash: The Theory of Virtual Class” by Arthur Kroker. After DATATRASH, I continued collaborating with both of them while I was back in San Francisco and have programmed a website and/or visual work for every Vault since, becoming more involved in organizing the events as well as time has gone on. My deeper involvement in Vault and Non/Being has also developed as a natural extension of my friendships with Diana, Maria, Simon, and Matt Sperdakos [of Cyberia– another central collaborator in Vault’s existence].

Last year when I was back in Montreal, Diana told me that they were in the process of starting a collective called Non/Being with Simon, as an expansion of the intentions of Vault, and they asked if I’d like to be a part of it. My answer was of course yes.

You ask a couple of important questions with Vault Unlocked and I wanted to get your personal answers:

What does community mean within your lived realities?

D: Being someone who grew up within a very strong wolf-pack like family dynamic, shared trust and support with those around me has always been something extremely important to my personhood. Envisioning community as the expansion of these said relationships of trust and support, community within my lived reality is the coming together of alternative networks intended to replace and replenish the broader social structures that continue to fail us within our day to day lives. Community is the safety I feel when I am surrounded by familiar faces and intentions on a dancefloor at 5am. It is the liberty I experience when I am able to experiment with myself and others—in ways and spaces that are otherwise not available to me. Community is a confidence I carry in how I move through the world, a type of security present in knowing that there are people I can reach out to who share and understand my perspectives and struggles. It is a comfort shared in being able to show up as myself—in ways that before moving to Montreal, I was never able to fully do. Whether it be that nod of solidarity shared when you are stoned and pass someone you know (who is also stoned) in the snack isle of the PA—or a late night Instagram DM to an elder in the scene you need advice from—community is a shared commitment to growing and supporting one another in a society that only tries to further alienate us.

Heather: Community for me has always been the relationships among people that make the world a little less hellish of a place. Relationships that make everyone involved feel a little less alone in the world, and supported in their fight for survival or happiness. In my lived reality, my first community was an online arts forum on conceptart.org when I was an incredibly lonely 11-year-old queer in the deep Ontario countryside. Users had their own “sketchbook” thread where they would post practice drawings, paintings, and give critique, encouragement and resources to each other. The people who nurtured my early art in those forums gave me a glimmer of hope that I could belong somewhere in this world, and that I should keep living in it. I’ve since realized it was a utopic vision in some ways–one of endless generosity and shared growth amongst strangers online. That early experience has shaped my ideas of community ever since, and is the ideal I look to when building community in my current life. Becoming a part of the after-hours and DJ community in Montreal has been the closest I have ever felt to what I experienced at that time, and I feel very blessed to have found this special community that I feel so nurtured and accepted by. I’m so thankful to be able to give and receive love with so many amazing artists.

How can we expand those special feelings we share during raves to other facets of our lives and social networks?

D: I am glad that we ended up being able to answer these questions after the Vault: Unlocked Festival took place. Although it only happened not long ago—its occurrence very clearly solidified both in myself, and within members of our broader rave communities, the ways in which we can expand the special feelings we share on the dancefloor to other aspects of our lives and social networks. COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION IS KEY. We need to talk to one another. Away from social media, and outside of rave/event contexts. Speaking face to face, holding space with one another, sharing time and energy—those are the things that will strengthen and enrich our lives as both individuals and communities of people. Mainstream social processes for accumulating capital and societal worth are based in isolatory methods of individuated success. Until we all actually meet and share our knowledge bases, experiences, and resources, we can’t begin to even scratch the surface of how profoundly these capitalist modes of being have been intertwined with how we socially interact and organize. The energy and feelings shared during raves are so special because we physically share time and space with one another in celebration and experimentation. In order to have those feelings grow beyond dancefloor contexts, we need to work together across emotional, physical, and educational lanes of collaboration. The Vault: Unlocked festival would not have been able to happen without the support and contribution of the 100+ people involved. And the more we work towards better understanding one another, the stronger our networks of support, resource sharing, and education will become.

“The energy and feelings shared during raves are so special because we physically share time and space with one another in celebration and experimentation. In order to have those feelings grow beyond dancefloor contexts, we need to work together across emotional, physical, and educational lanes of collaboration.”

Heather: I think often the most valuable lesson raving can give us is to provide an alternate reality in which we can experience what it’s like to feel comfortable and free in ourselves and at peace with our physical being, and thus to feel more connected to others. I think the more we all bring this into our day-to-day lives, the more far-reaching what we learn from raving can be. And when the collectivism and energy that raving fosters is applied to movements that positively change government policy, increase access to resources for those who need them, or provide emotional support to those who are struggling, it has much further reach than a good party.

Additionally I think raving teaches us not to take the law too seriously, and to have a healthy disrespect for structural authority. The systems of the world today are obviously not working in favour of our well-being… They need to be collectively and meaningfully rejected and remade. But it is so ingrained in us to follow rules and laws. It is an important lesson to feel what it is like to break rules and norms for the purposes of curiosity, self-expression, and collective joy.

You mention the importance of community knowledge and resource sharing. Can you tell us some of the knowledge(s) and resources that are most pressingly needed in the communities you are part of at the moment?

D: Unlike other cultural city hubs like New York and Berlin, Montreal nurtures a type of transience in how people interact with it that makes it difficult to establish long term creative/artistic infrastructure. Comprised mainly of students, and divided by the clear cultural and linguistic differences between the Francophone and Anglophone populations within Montreal, our communities rise and shift in response to the general feeling of impermanence many people have who live in this city. I have only been living here for three and a half years, and I am sure there are community members who can better speak to the broader needs of our various art/cultural scenes—but what seems most pressing for our current communities ability to grow and thrive, is the lack of established secure and sustainable spaces for us to gather and work in. Communities cannot exist without shared spaces, and as the housing market and city infrastructure of Montreal quickly changes, not only are we finding ourselves faced with issues of setting up venue spaces, but many of us are struggling to secure stable housing and studios.

By limiting our abilities to physically gather and engage with spaces that are important to our communities development, mainstream social structures maintain the power they have over our modes of resource sharing, educational network building, and entertainment- enforcing our continued dependency on, and monetary allegiance too, their established points of value. Secondary to spaces what I feel is most pressingly lacking from our networks of knowledge and resource sharing—would be the disconnect happening between organizer, DJ/performer, and rave attendee responsibility levels on broader community matters. There is a clear distribution of power that happens within artist communities based on what capacity you engage/contribute to the scene—but such capitalist value structures only further commodify our artistic and community based practices. Although time and increased engagement often display deeper levels individual dependability, in order to build strong and long term community structures, we need to share responsibility through balancing how people contribute to, and consume, various aspects of our scenes/bodies of work. Tying into my earlier point of communication and collaboration—we need to deconstruct clout signalling in order to establish more explicit avenues for community wide problem-solving.

What motivates the transition from more events/festival oriented activities with Vault, to a more podcast, mix, album, and journalistic orientation with Non/Being?

D: Every medium of expression and communication has its advantages and disadvantages. Although I deeply believe in the power of physical gatherings (whether it be raves, festivals, or community meetups), it is important to expand such occurrences in ways that offer future development and follow up. There have been so many spectacular conversations I have had at raves, or moments of community support and solidarity I have witnessed in different ways, but despite how much some of us wish we could—we cannot perpetually exist within those 5am dancefloor moments, and with that truth, comes the question of… what’s next?

Tell us about the compilation you are launching Certified Reality. What was the motivation behind it and how did you choose the artists?

D: Certified Reality has been in the making for the past 10 months. Intended to ground our future work in collective foundations of collaboration and social consciousness, this compilation brings together varying artists across the world with the intention of raising money for the organization Rainbow Railroad. Expanding the scope and connections made at the synthesis of Non/Being, these intentions will situate our initial coming together within the purpose of contributing to the increased well being of LGBTQIA2S+ individuals across the globe.

Curating pieces made by (25) sonic artists across Canada, the United States, and Europe, most of which identify with the LGBTQIA2S+ community, this compilation moves across/through various electronic genres and production styles. The ‘electronic’ genre within its broadest sense, Non/Being invites each artist to create a piece in reflection/response to Non/Beings broader experimentations around perception and reality construction. Placing process, transience, and resistance at the focal point of this project, ‘Certified Reality’ acts to diverge the flow of information communicated by institutions of power reporting on acts of violence towards LGBTQIA2S+ people through the bringing together of varying artistic practices and visions.

There wasn’t any sort of systematic way for us choosing the artists we reached out too. Taking place at different times across the past 10 months—we reached out to friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends—who we thought made cool work and who aligned with our collective intentions and aesthetics.

Heather: We all collectively made a huge list of artists we wanted to contact and ask if they would like to submit a track for the album, all centered around a shared vision of sound we had come to recognize in each other. We reached out, by email or social media, and those we heard back from and whose track fit the concept are now the 25 on the album.

Many of my suggestions were artists that I did not know personally at all, but whose work stood out in my music collection as powerful and special works which I wanted to foster or connect with in some way. A number of my suggestions came from artists I had found through Soulfeeder, an online platform which promotes emerging underground international artists through their Eaposting album series. All the albums are free downloads focused on experimental electronic-adjacent music and feature emerging talent fostered by their community of over 8000 users who share music and resources via a Facebook group. I was both very down with their model and ethos, and the artists on Eaposting were making some of the best stuff I’d heard.

Tell us about Rainbow Railroad, the organization that you are donating the funds from the compilation. Why did you pick this one in particular?

D: Established in 2006, Rainbow Railroad is a Canada and USA based organization that helps LGBTQI+ seek safe haven from state-enabled violence, murder, or persecution. In spirit of the Underground Railroad, Rainbow Railroad uses funds collected through donations to better support, provide accessible information to, and help arrange safe transportation for threatened LGBTQI+ individuals around the world.

Rainbow Railroad has helped over 500 people, with 206 completed cases in the year 2017 alone. Rapidly growing and a monumental contributor to global humanitarian efforts, Rainbow Railroad runs a completely transparent operative with accountability measures taken towards digitally available and public annual reports.

During the communist uprisings that happened in late 80’s Romania, my parents experienced types of loss and violence that deeply informed how I was raised as a first generation immigrant within Canada. Being people who were targeted for their political alignments, academic backgrounds, and journalistic practices—how state enabled violence impacts the flow of information has always been a dynamic intimately intertwined with my family’s history and perspectives… Although there are so many things happening as we speak within Canada, and so many grassroots projects in Montreal we could have donated the proceeds towards—I wanted to choose a more broadly scoped organization seeing as we would have contributions from artists all over the world.

Not only does Rainbow Railroad speak to my deeper experiences as a trans n/b queer person, but they also work towards offering safety to people in a way that my family has been directly impacted by. It’s difficult accumulating and directing the flow of money towards specific causes in a time when there feels like there are so many important political situations to devote oneself too—but as a starting point for the work we are doing not only as a collective in Montreal, but a larger digital resource network for creatives and communities around the world—Rainbow Railroad feels like a good first step.

“… the future of Non/Being is based in the hopes and goals of us learning how to thrive and flourish within a world that makes it all to difficult to envision a future in the first place.”

What are the hopes and dreams for the future of Non/Being?

D: Aha that’s a funny question—I think there are a lot of people in our day and age who greatly struggle in envisioning a future, or who have a difficult time setting dreams for themselves—I am not exactly sure where I stand amongst all of that, but the future of Non/Being is based in the hopes and goals of us learning how to thrive and flourish within a world that makes it all to difficult to envision a future in the first place.

I have never been the type to look too far ahead—I think that as long as we devote ourselves to projects and relationships that are important to us presently, community roots in themselves will grow. Our biggest goal for Non/Being in the next couple of years is to establish a sustainable community headquarters and studio space. I know a lot of really astonishing humans and community developers, and want to flesh out Non/Being in a way where we can redistribute money from the government through applying for grants and using those funds to pay members of our community. Yes we want to release some cool mixes, and continue to work on compilation albums—but more importantly the hopes and dreams of Non/Being is devoted to enriching the lives and realities of our friends and communities—through the creation of monetary, educational, and creative support networks.

Certified Reality is out March 8, 2020 on the Bandcamp page of Non/Being

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