by Khaled Alqahtani
Reinnervation (noun): restoration, either spontaneously or by surgical grafting, of nerve supply to a part of the body from which it has been lost.
The ongoing pandemic has reshaped our understanding of collectivity. As governments and institutions continue to fail people around the globe, independently-run organizations, collectives, and publications have been at the frontier of mutual-aid efforts, community organizing, and the fight against widely-spread misinformation. One such platform advocating for collectivity as the only possible way for shared healing is Reinnervate, a community art platform and publication inspired by our bodies’ ability to reinnervate and heal.
Isabella Jamieson Morris, a third-year student studying molecular and cell biology with an emphasis on neurobiology, founded Reinnervate to create an experimental and multimedia space for creatives to explore the connections underlying anatomy, bodies, plurality, and community. She believes this exploration is an attempt for us as humans with a shared anatomy to reinnervate wounds caused by our shared struggles.
What ignited the idea behind Reinnervate?
From the beginning, Reinnervate was supposed to be an avenue, or rather a multitude of ways, for anyone to get involved in doing something [anything]. It was the summer of 2020, and I think more than anything it was the ultimate product of prolonged isolation and a disturbing confrontation with complacency. After having spent the first half of the year becoming acquainted with and embedded within the UC Berkeley community (one of the most diverse communities I have ever encountered with regard to intellectual interest, talent, experience and aspiration), the sudden social isolation brought on by the pandemic was a shock. An experience that I’m sure that any single one of us could attest to.
The following social upheaval, mass-mobilization and mass-reflection brought on by the poignant response of millions to the unjust treatment of George Floyd during the Black Lives Movement that summer proved an impetus for the creation of Reinnervate. Suddenly, in sharp contrast to the numbness that had characterized the preceding months, horror, empathy, and anguish surged. Restlessness came to a head. Reconceptualizing positionality, the question of what each of us could do to remedy the situation we all found ourselves implicated in together, became a super salient issue. I couldn’t find any way to deny any longer that I needed to do something [anything]. Though I knew that I couldn’t speak for anyone else, I saw what others were doing already: organizing, sharing information, starting their own mutual aid projects, collecting donations through the sale of their artwork. And I just thought, why not make it easier for anyone to take part in this? Why not try and create a space where all of these efforts are collected and built upon? Why not make it a website?
At the same time, this idea of the collective and the individual, unified in the notion of a “body” began to align itself in my head with this idea of numbness and feeling and connection. From there the extended analogy of reinnervation, which now centers our efforts as a student organization at UC Berkeley, began to develop. Over the past year, that idea has been restructured, refined and reconstituted due to the contributions of each and every one of our members, contributors and friends that have given their own feedback and effort to make Reinnervate into what it is now.
As you started creating this platform from scratch, what helped and inspired you to create in its current form?
Just as reinnervation biologically is a restitutive process, the process of creating a truly accessible and functional artistic platform to sponsor and repair social connectivity is restitutive and ongoing. The website itself has passed through many iterations before arriving at the form it now occupies. Similarly, we reviewed many different versions of the zine before we arrived at the final version that is now in print. The creation of the website began with many nights of experimentation, where it would just be me in bed, clicking into the wee hours of the morning: tweaking small details, deleting and recreating pages, and trying to formulate in my head what I wanted this website to look like and feel like.
I was obsessed! I tried to figure out how to make the site as accessible as possible, while still structuring it in a way that would allow it to serve the unique purpose I had envisioned for it. Finally, I arrived at a form I thought was structurally sound (for the most part) usable. From the start however I began to realize that the only way this entire idea would ever fully come to fruition was through the contributions that all those that used it would bring. I anticipated many changes to come, but I was happy that at least now it seemed ready to begin that process of adaptation. After initially sending that version of the site to my closest friends, we truly started on the path to creating Reinnervate. From the start, everyone was supportive and that really made me excited! After going through the process of establishing Reinnervate as a registered student organization at Berkeley and defining our goals for the year we were able to work together as a team, even as we were separated by the conditions created by the pandemic, to make the zine and to raise over $265 for a whole range of organizations operating locally and globally! Fundamentally, the driving force behind the Reinnervate (which has guided its passage through many iterative forms) is the solid team of people who have worked extremely hard to build it from the bottom up and make it what it is now.
What does Reinnervate offer to creatives both at UC Berkeley and beyond?
Reinnervate operates as an online platform and as a tangible and supportive collective of students. These two modes of organization allow us to offer creatives both exposure to the international online community on our website (in the form of our digitally published literary magazine and our online shop) and connection with other creatives through the events that we host and the community that we try our very best to cultivate.
We welcome submissions from creatives at other universities as well as within the local community. Our events are open to the entire university community as well. We are open-minded and excited to help creatives start their own long term projects to address pervasive social issues. Our goal is to make participation as easy and accessible as possible and to create a community of people that can support each other and feel engaged in things that they care about.
As a platform that exists on the intersection of biology and art, what distinguishes
Reinnervate from other art collectives?
A unique and central component to Reinnervate is the integration of the sciences and the humanities. As a neurobiology major, I have always felt that the mode of thinking and language offered by biological study is universally applicable. Networks are central to our current understanding of biology. The precision of language required to study them and to understand the exact mechanisms by which the millions of components that make up any organism or ecosystem are connected is necessarily rigorous. Yet, the language itself is also limiting and extremely inaccessible to those that don’t have a background in biology or the sciences so the fascinating connections that can be made between the arts and the sciences, I think, are often missed! As an organization, we try to integrate scientific and artistic influences in order to offer an environment where discussion about the intersections between the two fields of study and practice can help inform our understanding of our own individual roles in our communities. In this way we offer a space where those with a variety of backgrounds and interests can learn from each other, and the arts and the sciences each inform each other to the fullest extent possible (at least, this is the goal!) We believe that anyone with an interest in taking part has their own insights to offer and welcome everyone to contribute their own knowledge and perspective.
What is the importance of independent, student-run organizations?
Independent, student-run organizations have the unique opportunity to act within a rich matrix of social connectivity and intellectual engagement which can lead to any assortment of shared pursuits. At the intersection of academic and social life, they are backed by the resources that the university provides to all students, and yet are able to retain the autonomy necessary to maintain the integrity of their mission. We can create a fun and supportive environment for our fellow students, while we steadily work towards our goal to integrate ourselves more and more within our local and international community and thus maintain the integrity of our mission: reinnervation.
Besides being a publication, what other services does Reinnervate offer?
Reinnervate offers the opportunity to sell your artwork and raise money for any nonprofit organization of your choice. It also enables anyone to become involved in planning workshops for the UC Berkeley creative community and organizing volunteering events for students. In addition to all of that we aim to inform our members to the best of our ability of current artistic and scientific events and opportunities in the Bay Area.
What are some of the projects you are currently working on?
Submissions are now open for this semester's zine. We are just now starting the process of the Second Issue’s publication, and that is just one of our many ongoing projects. The online shop is a continuous project where we are fundraising for a host of different organizations, but we are also looking into the possibility of holding a creative fair where these efforts can be translated to the in-person environment. We would love for it to transform into an event where organizations campus-wide are invited to participate and sell artistic goods to raise funds for their respective organizations and projects. While we are still in the incipient stages of this project we are excited for it to develop further as the semester goes on. We will also be holding workshops this semester where we will provide materials and introductions to various artistic skills for creatives on campus that want to connect with others and make things together. Our first workshop will be a crochet workshop where we will be teaching the basics of crochet and starting what will hopefully be an ongoing project of the creation of a “walk-in brain” constituted of crochet neurons made by our members. We are in the midst of planning our three other workshops that will follow over the course of the next year. Overall, we are very excited for our first in-person semester and are optimistic for the future of each and every one of the projects we are taking on together!
Visit Reinnervate’s website and follow them on Instagram for further information regarding zine-submissions, social events, workshops, and more!