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INTIMAL: Relational listening that unknowingly prepared us for the COVID-19 pandemic


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INTIMAL collective in Grån, Norway. Deep Listening® Intensive. Photo by Sharon Stewart.

* This article has been written by Dr Ximena Alarcón-Díaz, Dr Ana-María Alarcón-Jiménez, and Dr Liliana Rodriguez, from the INTIMAL collective. The article includes the input of all members of the INTIMAL collective.

1. Background


INTIMAL is a sound art-research project developed by Ximena Alarcón to listen to our migratory journeys. It uses Deep Listening® and telematic performance as key creative practices to expand our sense of place and presence, bringing together fragments of our migratory experience to be perceived, and played with, as a whole. Nine Colombian migrant women living in Oslo, Barcelona and London were invited to listen to both their experiences of migration to Europe and an oral archive of testimonies of other Colombian women in the diaspora so as to open creative paths for healing experiences of longing and loss. The project was funded by the Marie Skłodowska Curie Individual Fellowship (2017-2019) and hosted at the University of Oslo.


The INTIMAL (Interfaces for Relational Listening: Body, Memory, Migration, Telematics) project explored how the body becomes an interface that keeps memories of place, and it prototyped the INTIMAL system to improvise and transmit the experience of relational listening to our migrations using non-screen based interfaces. Using two main movements such as walking and breathing, and the oral archive, we tested the system in a final Telematic Sonic Performance between the three cities. 


In this article we will explain how this project gave birth to the INTIMAL collective and how we feel that this process prepared us for the COVID-19 pandemic. We start by explaining how the space of the collective was produced and constructed through listening practices and networking technologies. Next, we explore drawings and medicinal recipes as key moments of embodiments, and finally we show how these embodiments were essential for us to forge a new virtual territory that supports and resignifies collective memories. 


2. The social production and construction of space


According to anthropologist Setha Low, the social production of space refers to the historical, political, and economic processes through which a space or a place comes into existence. In contrast, the social construction of space includes the changes and resistencias that take place as people walk by, play, work, or inhabit social spaces which are ‘made into places, scenes, and actions that convey particular meanings’. 


In this logic, the social production of the INTIMAL collective space emerged from Ximena Alarcón's INTIMAL project. Being a Colombian and migrant herself, Ximena chose as a case study the experience of Colombian migrant women in Europe. This included an oral archive of Colombian women in exile collected by the organisation Diaspora Women in London and Barcelona. Thus women from these cities, as well as women based in Oslo, were invited to be part of this research. For the selection of nine participants, the project made emphasis on our interest in listening to our migrations and to the oral archive. The Google Hangouts networking platform as well as a WhatsApp group consolidated as the inner structure of the embodied space of our collective. 


The set of practices of Deep Listening® – including sonic meditations, improvisation, dreams and body awareness – invited us to listen to ourselves and others without judgment, and became our focal point of social interaction. This was foundational to 1) construct our social space, 2) communicate collective and individual meaning, and 3) implement a mode of plural and horizontal governance. In our view, this social construction of space opened up an unexpected possibility for branching out from the INTIMAL original project into the INTIMAL collective. Central to the development of this collective were issues such as our shared longing for a war-less Colombia, our common interest in the arts and our multilingualism.


Our biweekly online, and in-person (once in Norway) Deep Listening practice resulted in: collective sound and body movement improvisations; a stone that was tele-transported hand by hand, holding feelings and giving space to be heard; and making drawings that we used and evoked as meaningful symbols. In fact, far from using state flags or national anthems, our imagery consisted of shared dreams recounted by one and drawn by another member of the collective. We have called these ‘key moments of embodiment’, and, as we explain in the next section, we will highlight drawings, as a special embodied practice which started pre-pandemic, and the medicines that were created to cope with the pandemic.

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Figure 1. Drawing by Silvia Esperanza Villalba Martínez.


3. Key moments of embodiment


3.1 Drawings


During our sessions, some of us created drawings while listening to each others’ stories and dreams with the purpose of recording them (Table 1). These drawings were actions of graphic recording, which helped us learn from one another and reflect and make sense of our stories and their meanings. As a consequence of these actions, common knowledge emerged, thus materialising dreams and stories.

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Table 1. Self-theorizations of the INTIMAL collective process of drawing.


As the drawings were produced simultaneously by participants from different points of the world, several versions of the same dream appeared. These drawings were a Lab By-product, and some of them were published on the first edition of our collectively created Fanzine.


Like octopuses with hands having a mind of their own, we created images of each other which acted as holograms, made by fragments of dreams. We defined those spaces and actions clearly with our drawings, and there were no more shadows.

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Figure 2. Drawing by Liliana Rodríguez. Included in INTIMAL Fanzine.

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Figure 3. Drawing by Calu.

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Figure 4. Drawing by Anita Ramírez.


3.2 Medicinal recipes

Since September 2019, our online meetings have continued under the name of ‘INTIMAL Veins and Arteries’, including the INTIMAL collective but inviting more Latin American migrant women to partake in our migratory listening dynamics. Intuitively we knew that our rich sonic/movement/visual production was preparing us for something. And so in fact, in March 2020 when the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic imposed social distancing and remote encounters, the INTIMAL embodied system stood out with/in us and for us. Given our previous years of experience both meeting telematically, and producing/constructing our own virtual and meaning-full territory, our collective felt knit up together with a special strength. Thus, reflecting on the already experienced embodiments, and their vibrational healing properties, we called for a session in which we prepared our own medicinal recipes to heal us, protect us, and support us: Meditalín, Ajixsh, and Amansa Corona. These three recipes mixed dream fragments, body awareness, textures, herbal components, landscapes, and a sense of humour that depicted memories from traditional Latin American curanderia (Table 2).

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Figure 5. Drawing by Violeta Ospina.

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Table 2. COVID-19 recipes.


4. A new virtual territory

In the midst of the lockdown, Ximena offered an INTIMAL Lab with a free agenda, which ran for seven consecutive weeks. This improvisation space served to question, listen, reflect, and create actions to support and vent feelings brought by the new experiences in the collective, and the pandemic’s uncertainty. In a reconfiguration of the collective space, from our migratory perspective, we currently reflect on the meaning of a more established INTIMAL collective by Latin American migrant women in Europe. 

While Ximena’s original project continues evolving the INTIMAL system in the form of an INTIMAL App© to listen to migratory journeys, the social space of the INTIMAL collective has been consolidating as an internet-networked but embodied heterotopic Colombia: A virtual territory without borders that listens and resonates vital rhythms and sounds of our migrations, with technologies that surround the body as a sensitive interface to balance the memory of native places, and the present place that hosts; from a multiplicity of corporeities, transatlantic and feminine identities.

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Ximena Alarcón-Díaz

Ximena is a sound artist and Deep Listening® certified tutor, with a PhD in Music Technology and Innovation, and 13 years of postdoctoral creative research experience listening to hers and others’ migrations: through voice, language, body movement, underground transport systems, dreams and networking technologies. She creates telematic improvisations using Deep Listening, and interfaces for relational listening. She has received prestigious research awards such as The Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (2007-2009) and the Marie Skłodowska Curie Individual Fellowship (2017-2019), and Honorary artistic mentions such as IAWM New Genre Prize for ‘Sounding Underground’, and Pamela Z innovation award at NIME Conference 2019, for ‘INTIMAL’. She trusts the healing that improvising and sounding with others between distant locations can bring to feelings of geographical and cultural loss, as we interconnect sensing place and feeling presence.

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Ana-María Alarcón-Jiménez

AMAJ completed a PhD in Ethnomusicology at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa. Her dissertation dealt with the social construction and social production of the International Festival of the Celtic World of Ortigueira. She co-founded the Group of Ethnomusicology at the Catalan Institute of Anthropology (ICA). She is the treasurer and webmaster of the Society for Ethnomusicology Section on the Status of Women. On the creative side, she is interested in sound art, electroacoustic music, new and experimental music. She plays the bassoon and enjoys finding new techniques to play it and diversify its sound palette.

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Liliana Rodriguez

Liliana is a BMJ (British Medical Journal) Innovation award-winner Service Designer with a BA in Product Design, an MA in Interaction Design, and a PhD in digital services. She is currently working as a contractor for DHSC (Department of Health and Social Care) Test & Trace services for Equity & Inclusion. Liliana has worked on commercial, non-profit, and higher education environments, on design projects in health funded by Public Health of England (PHE), GOV.UK Digital Services (GDS), and innovation for SMEs. She is also an Associate Lecturer at the Open University for the modules of UX & Interaction Design and Design Thinking.

The INTIMAL collective

We are a co-creation collective of Latin American migrant women in Europe listening to our migrations that emerged from the research-art project INTIMAL: Interfaces for Relational Listening. Body, Memory, Migration, Telematics. We develop creative actions for individual agency and collective transformation in our host lands and native places. We regularly meet in the virtual space to listen to and perform dreams and migratory journeys, expanding notions of femininity, territory and care.

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This article is part of the issue ‘Empowering global diasporas in the digital era’, a collaboration between Routed Magazine and iDiaspora. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) or Routed Magazine.

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