[*In the process of making Luv ’til it Hurts (starting with a two-year staged impersonation by its alter-ego, Luv Hurts), I began working with fellow artists, Paula Nishijima and Brad Walrond. Paula reviewed my organization of ideas & content from its 2018-20 archive (a.k.a. the red site) using her ‘swarm’ methodology to understand patterns, and ultimately to propose the project’s next online iteration.]
Game of Swarms will be thus a communication device as well as a register of the artistic research upon how dynamics of networks in nature can be used as a tool to understand new ways of relationality among humans and non-humans—based on the distribution of agency, rather than the centralisation of powers.
Collaboration is often considered a value, but not a standard behaviour in Western societies, as much of their thinking is rooted in the individualistic view of the subject—based on autonomy and self-determination. Game of Swarms is an artistic investigation and communication device that offers an alternative to that exceptional framework of the human, emphasising the collaborative behaviour of systems in nature.
GOS explores how living organisms work together without central control to adapt to changing conditions. Drawing on theories about self-organisation and swarm intelligence, the project materialises into a cooperative game, whose objective is to co-create its rules, the algorithms that will lead to the construction of a resilient network—and new methodologies to work together.
Through the collaboration with a team of ethologists, the project focuses on the collective behaviour of ants, bees and a slime mould, Physarum Polycephalum, which is a rhizomatic-form protist without brain but with great capacity of learning and complex problem-solving. These organisms exhibit efficient systems that survive through cooperation rather than competition, questioning the old saw of ‘survival of the fittest’.
The research then unfolds in three parts: a 3D audiovisual piece that elaborates on the aesthetics of life-forms based on connections, rather than individuals; performative work: a series of workshops with collaborators to reflect on the biological network model of swarms and play with a prototype of the game to create and experiment the rules; and the online version of the game (under construction) that will be incorporated into the website of Mutant Institute of Environmental Narratives.
Game of Swarms contributes to the discussion about how the world is tackling global problems, such as the environmental crisis, and how the actors involved will have agency and response-ability to adapt together to these transformations.
Image: ‘Hummingbirds’ (Installation of 6), 2016, by artist Eric Rhein
I wanted to elaborate more on the concept of ’transcendence’, mostly because I have some reservations about it. BUT, the fact that HIV is a disease that you live with took me to the place of transcendence. I departed from Eric’s work and paid especial attention to it. The aesthetics of the drawings helped to describe such transcendence in the LTIH project. (more about it later)
For me, the starting point for a reflection about HIV and stigma is to re-situate us in what it means to be ‘healthy’ and what it means to be ‘ill’. I’d talk in terms of health ’state’ rather than ’status’, meaning that state entails more than the exclusively physical condition of a body. ’Status’ objectifies, quantifies and causally determines the body—thus, allowing the commodification of it—, creating a sort of ‘snapshot’ of an organism. A body is certainly an organism and, as such, it is its dynamic properties that make our (changing) existence possible. I want to consider existence as ‘being-in-the-world’ in a joint project, so ‘being-in-the-world-with-others’.
I turned to a book called Existential Medicine (2018), which interrogates the current/dominant view on health and illness within medical thinking. I thought of what Todd told about the meds and how the impersonal and instrumental framework of the health system treats/control bodies reinforcing the stigma of certain diseases like HIV (I’m generalizing, but I do think that medical thinking reinforces stigma 90% of the time, including when it manipulates genes to design enhanced bodies like Lulu and Nana)…
In one of the texts, which uses HIV as example (I’ve attached the article), the authors argue that our current model of medicine/health system does not acknowledge the existential character of the human body, ie. the human body as expression of its intersubjectivities and the fact that a body is not only an organism, but also the means of one’s existence, in the sense that a body is the existence of an experiencing subject. This phenomenological approach goes together with the necessity of treating the ‘person’ and not only consider the reductive view of the body as detached from the context of mutual existence in the world.
After all of this, I tried to be more objective and start to write a ’statement’ by raising the questions:
What is Luv ‘Til It Hurts?
It is when virtual pasts and futures are erased from a lifetime and what remains is a thin stroke of obliterating gestures. This is the trail of a new existence. The thinnest part through which life can be recognized. It is the abbreviation of the normative and the construction of a spatiality dedicated to the encounter of stigma and love.
Why the body?
The body is forgotten in a state of health. When a disruption occurs in the body, it rapidly changes our awareness of it.
What is the duration of an epidemic? How does a never-ending-epidemic look like?
Epidemics draw on the concept of being ill. Every disease is a disruption in the balance of a body and, more importantly, this ill body disturbs the normative context of the other bodies and their shared functions in public life or in a society.
Despite the fact that HIV evolves from the inside, the narratives of sickness develop from the outside, although an environment comprises of both. LTIH addresses the comprehension of a body beyond its organic, ‘causally determined entity in the physical world’, but as an imbroglio of metabolic exchanges between inside phenomena and outside circumstances.
Proposition of a framework for transcendence
What is transcendence?
Transcending is the impossibility of living in one of the poles of dichotomies like life and death, health and illness.
Much of the stigma on HIV still resonates the death sentence that comes with the diagnosis—even if today we can speak about preventive methods and treatment and an undetectable viral load… living with HIV expresses more than being alive or dead.
Is transcending an escape? No, transcending is to open a breach in the stiff portion of soil underneath our feet. The middle is not something in between, but it is produced by the impossibility of living in one pole of a dichotomy. It is not to be an actual object or subject of something, but the very process of subjectification.
It is to transform memory into future-making and what comes next into one more thread to bind. It is to stay with the contour of things, instead of reinforcing the contrast of positive and negative sides (Eric’s work).
Am I proposing a sort of immanent transcendence? Maybe…
About fifteen years ago, my friend Dani called me to help her with the costume for a short film. She asked me for red clothes and accessories—specifically, an old brooch of fake ruby she knew I had. “Why red?” I asked. “Because this is a story about HIV,” she justified and quickly briefed me about the project, called Certas Coisas (Certain Things). Here is the synopsis: the protagonist, who just found out he was HIV+, dives into a feeling of loneliness and isolation. It was like his individual timeline had been drastically interrupted, and he couldn’t go forward or take the path back. Instead, he would have to forge his own way, apart from the others—or, the ‘other’ was now him. The frustration of the perspective of a solitary life takes him on a daydream in which, through the lens of special glasses, he can identify HIV+ people by a red mark on their faces.
This is my oldest memory of having contact with the subject of HIV and it is precisely the red color that has resonated with both ‘Luv ‘til it hurts’ and ‘Love Positive Women’ projects. Looking at the merged logos of these initiatives (a red heart with the command words ‘love positive women’) made me reassess that past episode and, more importantly, rethink my understanding of it. The cohabitation of stigma and love, two apparently discrete ‘states of mind’, in the same color wasn’t possible to me at that time. Perhaps that is why I didn’t completely understand the fictional plot of that short film or the context in which it was conceived. I could only see the red of stigma. But I have been making an effort to let the love part arise. I am convinced that it happens when the problem is not an individual problem anymore, but a collective one—meaning that lots of allies are required to it.
Certas Coisas was written by the director, and, although it was not officially disclosed, we knew it was his personal story and that another person in the cast was also living with HIV. I remember that this information made me feel slightly alienated from the topic. It was like not having the necessary empirical experience to understand ‘certain things’; or not having the specific knowledge required to sympathize with the character. I have recognized a similar feeling while I was writing this text and even earlier, when I started a conversation with Todd Lester to engage Think Twice with Luv ‘til It Hurts. How can I come on board of a project whose issues I don’t live with? This question not only echoed from myself in the past, but it was also repeated by my colleagues of TT in a different modulation: “we don’t know much about HIV, so wouldn’t it be better to look for someone who researches the topic?” We feel so comfortable with digging into our subjects—onto which we continue to project ourselves and reinforce identities—, that it’s hard to move out from this familiar place. We spent so much time trying to find people to get involved in the project that we forgot to think of the ways we could do this by ourselves. It is not that searching for ‘key figures’ to speak and deepen the discussion is not already a course of action, but what I want to point out here is that collaborative projects are not exclusively about representativeness within it. Allies do not have to represent the cause or the movement, but rather join, in the discussions, fight stigma and commit to going for love.
Working with collaborations or participatory practices is, in a way, also making my problem a problem for the others I’m working with. Luv ‘til It Hurts put me at the point of friction between stigma and love and I asked myself: which ‘red’ do you want to see? It made me remember that behind that short film’s narrative of a solitary HIV+ person, there were about fifteen people involved, all of them working with their own resources and trying to approach HIV in a poetic, comic and unconventional way. It has become symbolic that I kept this memory and that, today, my consciousness focuses not on what is explicit in that synopsis, but what was in the backstage: a collective production with people living with HIV and their allies.
Last week, Irene, who is part of Think Twice, texted me to say that she has started to read about Mexican artists who have or work with HIV themes. Something that is making her rethink a few things from when she lived in Mexico. “It is already ‘working’ in me,” she wrote. It’s almost magic, right? The gesture of bringing HIV to the table and talking about it is enough to spark curiosity and interest on the topic. Allies might not live with HIV, but this is not an excuse to not reflect on it.
I am not a woman living with HIV, but I want to be an ally. I want to commit to loving positive women. I want to see the red of luv.