Topical Cream is a New York-based arts organization supporting the work of women and gender non-conforming contemporary artists.
Topical Cream’s editor-in-residence Nora N. Khan focuses her editorial work on the themes of maintenance, experimentation, inventing models (in their absence), and cultivating intergenerational support. How to navigate the strife ahead? How we can support each other with our embodied, felt knowledge of the long-term costs of a creative practice?

Dear all, 

Hello! “I hope this finds you well.” It has been too long since we’ve last spoken—really, really spoken—but I think of you often. I think about what it is you might need to read, right now. What does one need to see, feel, most, in periods of collective grief and loss? 

The personal is the political, and so I can only try to answer that question from my own experience. When I’ve experienced great loss, I’ve most needed to read about how to go on. How to keep thinking, making, and writing? 

This year I’ve read voraciously about how others before me went on. From their stories, I have learned about how to keep getting up to the daily task of maintenance, even while the world is on fire. I turn to all the women, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people I am surrounded by through friendship and mentorship. I reach for the examples of the Black and Indigenous artists, the artists of color I know, and I read them, and I surround myself with their thinking, their words, on how to maintain the work of resistance. 

What I’ve learned: their maintenance in crisis seems both a matter of “grit”, as much as a matter of great invention. They alchemized ways to go on, in the absence of models, without a set path or script. But they – we – also have to maintain in order to create new models, and new paths.

Maintenance is the daily, unsexy work that’s needed for the radical to bloom. It is thinking-heavy work that doesn’t get labeled as intellectual. Maintenance allows for a practice of thinking with, and thinking through, to a way out even as we sustain, resist, and shield ourselves from daily violence, to get through the present moment. 

The rigor of maintenance has been and must continue to be deeply tied to an ongoing practice of novel thinking, to make for a necessary wildness that renews itself and helps create new worlds. The work of maintenance is foundational to create new spaces to protect that rare idea, that tender practice, that thread of a thought that can so easily be lost. I keep asking, how can others learn to do this labor, without models of their own?  

This year, at Topical Cream, we will be thinking with and alongside great women, GNC and non-binary writers, critics, artists, musicians, designers, and curators, who will help us clarify and put these questions into focus. We will explore, with them, how they understand and articulate the labor of maintaining an experimental practice. 

We will stress an intergenerational focus, talking to women, GNC, and non-binary artists who have maintained experimental practices for five years, for a decade, for twenty years, and for thirty years. We want to learn from how they trained themselves, mentally, emotionally, to be working right at the edge of the known. Drawing from their own positions in society, often under siege, they are familiar with the radical space of the Glitch. They sit in that space, of the break, of rupture, one which Legacy Russell describes so beautifully in Glitch Feminism. They’re very familiar with the ways one’s thinking has to become flexible, bendy, patchy, sometimes gnarly, illegible, and opaque to dominant power structures, in order to have their work breathe, survive, and remain. 

We are thinking of the work of Wendy Carlos, of Auriea Harvey, of Octavia Butler, of Audre Lorde, of Lillian Schwartz, of Chitra Ganesh, and of so many more pioneers, in each of their respective times. We acknowledge that for eons, minoritarian artists and thinkers have been showing us, daily, how to invent new models of thinking. They’re often the first ones thinking about how technology could be better designed, and redesigned; they’re often the first reimagining the use of tools and systems through their creative practice. They have articulated how we might think alongside an algorithm, hear unheard sounds, imagine futurities beyond the limited ones on offer. They have moved the conversation of invention away from that of genius and single masters, to an ethos of noisy collaboration across difference, arced towards justice.  

So, now in this moment of need, we once again look to them. How did they know how to move, and how did they teach themselves? 

This year, through features, interviews, and the RX Studio, we will explore these questions: 

How do women and non-binary and BIPOC artists, thinkers, writers, and critics continually invent new models? 

How does one maintain a practice of experimental thinking over time?

How does one invent models of production and practice without any models to mimic or learn from? Specifically, how do women and non-binary experimental artists both invent models and paths in the absence of precedents? 

How do they maintain, and learn to develop their practice and experimentation over time? 

How do they navigate the various spaces they are caught up within—with all their intersecting blocks and mind-games—toward a radical autonomy, and how can we all learn from their paths? 

This editorial year will focus, obliquely, on the need for more intergenerational sharing—passing down of knowledge from women and non-binary artists who have been experimenting for decades, those who’ve been “in the mix” for years, now, on to emerging artists and the public. Together, they will answer the question of How to Go On, by telling us how they have always found ways to go on, through crisis, through precarity. 

In this effort, we hope to open discussion around your own moments of transformation, break, and invention of new paths. We will archive, we will delineate, and we will map the paths and strategies of thinking that artists and thinkers have maintained.

Each month, we will have a long-form feature by an exceptional writer whose own practice exemplifies these themes. We’ll also be interviewing artists, in print, and live, with a focus on intergenerational sharing of strategies for experimental thinking. I hope you’ll join us in this sharing, thinking, and modeling anew.


Nora Khan, 2021 EIR