Relatoría última sesión Luciérnagas – Last Luciérnagas Session Report

Image taken at Oct 25 (2019) Luciérnagas performance

Before the presentation we did some in situ rehearsals, although they were never enough, we did them. The Botanical Garden is a very bureaucratic institution and it was difficult to manage the space for more preparations. For these last sessions we got together Eudes Toncel, a Guajiro Colombian artist, writer, and anthropologist, with special interest in the themes of gender and afro cultures. Almost all of us arrived in time for the presentation. Laura Figueroan, a very good friend of mine, came over to help us with the details, and brought us ski masks, which were intervened upon with fancy black stones, which went really well with the costumes. We had been cooking up the LED lights in the last weeks, with the help of Duvan Puerto, who arrived in the project thanks to Juan Sebastián Jaramillo and the creativity and technology agency that they worked at. Megan Cross Star, a member of the laboratory, was one of the people who had the most interest in the process, and especially in her costume for this night. She brought jewelry, make up, and was truly very elegant. As it was the night at the Botanical Garden that is open and free, many people came. More than we expected. After 6 months of planning and speculation , the day had arrived. It rained a lot that week, but luckily this day was clear, and both the members of the lab, as well as the visitors, were all able to calmly visit the Botanical Garden.

The time for the performance arrived, and we were ready. Each one went to their specific spot, where they would do their work in the dark jungle. They started to do their movements, in slow, subtle dances, while the the little LED lights were like fireflies. My instruction to them was: you are the containers of the fireflies, roaming through the jungle. In anyway, we had never been there at night, so there were places that I had expected to be especially dark, but weren’t. This made it so that each one had to run to find his/her place of work, and to assure me that they were placed in the darkest possible point, as it was only there that we could notice the magic of the tiny lights floating in space. I also went over the speed of the movements for each one, and the way in which they produced the sounds. Camilo arrived at the garden late, although I had warned him about it. So I had to leave to take him to the dressing room at the entrance, and give him the immediate instructions so that he could join in with the rest. When we returned from the jungle we saw the center, where we had planned to end the action, where all of the bodies from the performance met each other. In pairs, we did a reflection exercise that we had learned in the session that was dedicated to the exploration of the body, conducted by Juan Manuel Mosquera, at this same location, some months ago. Now that we returned there, it turned out that the space was full of people, and the action was difficult to appreciate. I did not have another option but to ask the people to please open up some space, which I was later told interrupted a bit the mystique of the moment, but I had to do it. This third part of the action, that we call the partitura (score) – the apareamento (pairing up) – consisted of doing this subtle reflection dance in pairs, while the volume of the whistles intensified up to the point in which the sound would be cut, after my signal. Friends, family members, and partners came to see us. 

The weeks before the presentation, we had many gatherings, generally dedicated to the designing of the wardrobe, to sewing, and to connecting the LED lights though the conducting wires on the black hoodies. It was a complex process, we had to learn the positives and the negatives, LilyPad, LED, batteries with different durations and strengths. For me it was a great challenge, as technology has not been my forte. To get closer to these notions was a useful thing to learn. We met at my house almost always during the weekends, all of us cooking and talking until the late hours of the night.

Todd Lester came from São Paulo, and I hosted him at my house. Two days before we were printing publications with the information on his project Luv ’til It Hurts, about art and HIV. Todd’s enthusiasm has been defining in all of the project’s development, with the help of Paula Querido Van Erven, Brazilian, who translated the previous reports about the lab, and they published it on Luv ’til It Hurts’ online platform on art and HIV. Todd, during the days of the performance, organized an event at El Parche Artist Residency, where he presented his personal project as an artist, a table game that invites people to talk about, discuss, and express themselves openly on matters related to HIV/AIDS.

The sound element appeared in a magic way. We had already talked a lot about what could be the sound that accompanied the action, in the session dedicated to sound art, delivered by Mauricio Rivera. We had decided that the best would perhaps be to find forms of sounds emitted from the body, that are natural, or chants, simple instruments, something like that. But up until this point we had not succeeded in solidifying what it could be. Some weeks before the presentation, there was a tutoring session with the Mexican artist Tania Cadiani, following up from my 10-month residency in Flora ARS NATURA. Tania told me: “But have you listened to the chant of the fireflies when mating?” I told her that I hadn’t. I had consulted the literature on fireflies, seen videos and photos, illustrations, poems. But none of them had mentioned, that I recall, specifically the sound of the fireflies, perhaps because what was more evident was to think of the lights that they emit. At last, I was rewatching videos of fireflies while mating, and listening attentively to their chants, and it fit like a glove. The sound element, now under this guiding pole, would come to be an essential part of the performance. Some days afterwards, I went to buy artisanal whistles at the ‘Pasaje Rivas’ and I found one made out of clay in the shape of little chickens, that, when played in unison and in the dark, could sound just like the melodious screeches that the fireflies emit during nocturnal courting.

After the presentation, Mario Andrés González, a member of the lab and part of the board of the Kuir cinema festival in Bogotá, invited us over to his house, where we ordered some pizza and beers. We were almost all members of the lab, plus some friends and family. 
We were talking until extremely late, asking ourselves how we felt throughout the night. Some members of the lab had gone that night to shoot videos at the very dark parts of the forest in the Botanical Garden, and brought very interesting results and good ideas. We thought of how it would be to appear as a group with our LED light costumes in another space, for example.

Immediately after the presentation, I had in my head a question about the nature of the aesthetic and the action as a conclusion of the lab. Because, the lab, whether the performance succeeded or not, let’s say, was effective, worked, the ten sessions took place, all of the invitees came over, ties of affection were created between the members and participants, extremely important questions and ideas on the relationship that each one had with HIV came up, as well as of its relation with the current Venezuelan migration crisis. The question that kept surrounding me every once in a while, in an accelerated way, because it is possible that the performance may have been, aesthetically, a bit chaotic (it is also possible that it wasn’t, but let’s just say that some precisions escaped us, over which I would have liked to have had control), for example, there were a lot more people than we expected, the lights could not be seen as much as I would have liked because it was not dark enough for these to accurately have the imagined effect. But besides this, the action worked, the bodies spread out throughout the jungle, the LED lights were turned on, we emitted the sounds that alluded to the fireflies’ chants while mating. I have ended it by concluding that the important thing, as far as my interest as an artist, with regards to aesthetics, perhaps speaking specifically about this work, is more about the content, and that the aesthetic that prevails above the beauty or lack thereof in the performance, is the aesthetic of collaboration. It is an aesthetic that is beyond the visible, that can perhaps even be evidenced through reports, pictures, and videos of the process, but that it is only possible to prove by speaking to one of the members of the lab. What is even more difficult of proving, being myself a member of the lab, is that it is possible that the aesthetic only lives in ourselves, because it was our bodies that the lab transformed. Indeed, there were changes in our attitude and thinking after this process, and this is, in my opinion, the aesthetic dimension that matters in appreciating this project as an artistic work. 

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Previo a la presentación hicimos algunos ensayos in situ, nunca suficientes pero los hicimos. El Jardín Botánico es una institución muy burocrática y era difícil gestionar las preparaciones. Para estas últimas sesiones se sumó Eudes Toncel, artista, escritor y antropólogo con interés especial en temas de género y culturas afro. A la presentación llegamos casi todos a tiempo. Laura Figueroan vino a ayudarnos con detalles, nos trajo los pasamontañas intervenidos con piedras negras de fantasía. Las luces LED las habíamos estado cociendo en las últimas semanas con la ayuda de Duván Puerto que llegó al proyecto gracias a Juan S. Jaramillo y a la agencia de creatividad y tecnología donde trabajaban. Megan Cross Star, miembra del laboratorio fue una de quienes más le puso interés al proceso y especialmente a su traje para esa noche, trajo joyas y maquillaje.Cómo era noche abierta y gratuita en el Jardín Botánico vino más gente de las que esperábamos. Después de 6 meses de planeamiento y especulación el día había llegado. Llovió mucho esa semana, pero afortunados, ese día y noche estuvo despejado y eso ayudó a que tanto los miembros del laboratorio como los visitantes pudieran venir tranquilamente. 

Llegó la hora del performance y estábamos listes. Cada une se fue al lugar específico donde trabajaría en la selva nocturna. Empezaron a hacer sus movimientos, lentos, danzas sutiles, mientras los bombillitos LED hacían de luciérnagas. Mi recomendación era: son contenedores de luciérnagas deambulando por la selva. De todas formas nunca habíamos estado allí de noche así que había lugares que yo esperaba que estuvieran más oscuros. Eso hizo que debiera correr a buscar a cada uno a su sitio de trabajo y asegurarme de que se ubicaran en el punto más oscuro posible, pues solo ahí se podía percibir la magia de las lucecitas flotando en el espacio. También con cada une repasé su velocidad de movimiento y la forma en que estaba produciendo el sonido. Camilo llegó tarde aunque lo había advertido, debí ausentarme para llevarle el vestuario a la entrada y darle las instrucciones inmediatas para que incorporarse. Cuando regresamos a la selva vimos que en el centro, donde habíamos planeado el final de la acción, donde todos los cuerpos del performance se encontraban en parejas y hacían un ejercicio de reflejo que aprendimos en la sesión dedicada a explorar el cuerpo dirigida por Juan Mosquera allí mismo hacía un par de meses. Cuando regresamos el espacio estaba lleno de gente y la acción era difícil de apreciar. No tuve de otra que pedir a las personas el favor de abrir espacio y moverse un poco, lo cual después me dijeron, interrumpió la mística del momento, pero tenía que hacerlo. Esta tercera parte de la acción, que llamábamos en la partitura -apareamiento- consistía en hacer una danza ‘reflejo’ en parejas, mientras el volumen de los silbatos se intensificaba hasta el punto que había un pico y el sonido se cortaba al momento en que daba la señal. Entre el público estaban amigues y familiares. 

Las semanas anteriores a la presentación tuvimos varios encuentros, en general dedicados al diseño del vestuario y a cocer y hacer la conexión de los LEDS a través de hilos conductores sobre las sudaderas negras. Era un proceso complejo, tuvimos que aprender de positivos y negativos, lilypaths, LEDS, baterías con tiempos de vida y diferentes tipos de potencias. Para mi fue un reto grande pues la tecnología no ha sido mi fuerte. Acercarnos a las nociones fue un útil aprendizaje. Nos vimos en mi casa casi siempre en fines de semana, todes cociendo y charlando inclusive hasta altas horas de la noche.

Vino Todd Lester desde São Paulo, se alojó en casa. Dos días antes estuvimos imprimiendo publicaciones con la información de su fundación Luv ‘Til It Hurts sobre arte y VIH. El entusiasmo y apoyo de Todd ha sido definitivo en todo el desarrollo del proyecto, con la ayuda de Paula Querido Van Erven, brasilera, quien tradujo todas las anteriores relatorías del laboratorio y las publicaron en su plataforma WEB sobre arte y VIH. Todd, por los días del performance organizó un evento en El Parche Artist Residency donde se presentó su proyecto personal como artista, un juego de mesa donde se invita a hablar, discutir y expresarse abiertamente sobre cuestiones relacionadas al VIH/ SIDA. 

El elemento sonoro surgió de una manera mágica. Ya habíamos estado hablando mucho sobre cuál podía ser el sonido que acompañara la acción, esto en la sesión dedicada a arte sonora dictado por Mauricio Rivera. Habíamos concluido que lo mejor quizás era encontrar formas de sonidos emitidos desde el cuerpo, naturales, cantos, instrumentos simples, algo así, pero hasta ese momento no habíamos logrado concretar que podría ser. Unas semanas antes de la presentación tuve una tutoría con la artista mexicana Tania Candiani a raíz de mi residencia de diez meses en Flora ARS NATURA. Tania me dijo –pero y ¿has escuchado el canto de las luciérnagas al aparearse? No, le dije. Había consultado literatura sobre luciérnagas, había visto videos y fotografías, ilustraciones, poemas, pero no se nombraba, que yo recuerde, específicamente el sonido de las luciérnagas, quizás porque lo evidente es pensar en las luces que emiten y no en su sonido. Ahora estuve revisando videos de luciérnagas al aparearse y escuché con atención su canto al aparearse. Ese hecho me vino como anillo al dedo, pues el elemento sonoro ahora bajo esta batuta, vendría a ser parte esencial de la acción. Unas días después fui a buscar silbatos artesanales al pasaje Rivas y encontré unos de barro en forma de gallinitas, que sonando al unísono y en la oscuridad, bien podrían ser los chillidos melodiosos que emiten las luciérnagas en su cortejo. 

Después de la presentación Mario A Gonzalez, miembro del laboratorio nos invitó a su casa, donde pedimos pizzas y cervezas. Fuimos casi todos los miembros del laboratorio más algunos amigues y familiares. Estuvimos charlando hasta tardísimo, nos preguntamos cómo nos habíamos sentido durante la noche. Algunos miembros del laboratorio se habían ido a hacer videos en un bosque muy oscuro en el Jardín Botánico y trajeron más tarde unes resultados muy interesantes y buenas ideas. Pensamos cómo sería aparecer en grupo con nuestros trajes de LEDS en otros espacio, por ejemplo.

Inmediatamente después de la presentación en mi cabeza rondaba una pregunta sobre la naturaleza de lo estético. Porque el laboratorio, más allá del un éxito o no de la performance, digamos, fue efectivo, funcionó, se dieron las diez sesiones, vinieron les invitades, se crearon lazos de afectividad y trabajo entre les miembres y participantes, surgieron preguntas e ideas importantes sobre la relación de cada uno frente al VIH y este en relación a la actual crisis de migración Venezolana. La pregunta sobre lo estético me seguía rondando de manera acelerada, porque es posible que el performance hubiera sido un poco caótico (es posible que no, pero digamos que se escaparon algunas precisiones sobre las que yo hubiera preferido tener el control) por ejemplo vino mucha más gente de la que esperábamos, los LEDS no se veían tanto como yo hubiera querido pues no había la oscuridad necesaria para que estás surgieran fielmente el efecto imaginado. Pero más allá de eso, la acción funcionó, los cuerpos nos repartimos por la selva y nos encontramos para el momento del cortejo, los LEDS prendieron, emitimos los sonidos que hacían alusión al canto de las luciérnagas al aparearse. He terminado por ir concluyendo que lo importante en cuanto a mi interés como artista frente a lo estético quizás específicamente hablando de este trabajo, es más sobre el contenido. Y la estética que prevalece, por encima más allá de lo bello o no de la performance, es la estética de la colaboración. Es una estética que está más allá de lo visible, que quizás pueda llegar a evidenciarse en relatos, fotos y videos del proceso, pero que solo es posible comprobar al hablar con alguno de los miembros del laboratorio, o y más difícil aún de comprobar, siendo uno de los miembros del laboratorio. Es posible que la estética solo viva en nosotros, porque fue a nosotros a los cuerpos que el laboratorio transformó. Efectivamente hubo cambios de actitud y pensamiento después de este proceso, y ahí esta, según yo, la dimensión estética que importa para apreciar este proyecto como obra o trabajo artístico. 

Certain Things between stigma and love #LPW2020

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.

By Power Paola


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.

What I’m learning about participatory art; #LPW2020, pre-B & Elpenor method, #2

This year Love Positive Women is so big for us it constitutes an ACT … Act 1.5 to be exact. The acts are dramaturgically useful for steering Luv ’til it Hurts toward its endpoint in mid-2020, and in that way reveal various ‘assemblages’ (or intense clusters) along the two-year course. While the ‘business plan’ of ACT II is about to be revealed (around Feb 14) with a graphic poster by Brasilian illustrator, chef, Umbandista and cat lover, PogoLand (who says artists don’t make worlds?), the co-making of activities in São Paulo, Khartoum and NYC for Love Positive Women 2020 and sequencing 14 days of women-authored and -focused online content took on a life (or ‘act’ as it were) of its own. Working with Canadian artist, Jessica Whitbread and using her ‘open source’ model for the Love Positive Women fourteen-day holiday has been a labor of LUV. And as such, we’ve learned some things. When we first started talking about her work in 2018, Jessica sent me the 2018 Love Positive Women holiday implementation guide (please download and use). I have written before on the LUV site about making (or why making) an ‘open work’, which is a reference to Umberto Eco’s writing at length on the prospect. Whether duration is called out by name or not, an open or open source work must consider duration and endurance. And, I think, whether it is growing in the intended direction over time. I’ve made three durational, rights-themed, multi-stakeholder projects for 10, 5 and 2 years respectively. So, I am familiar with the vernacular and semantics–and a new phrase, ‘articulation curve’–involved in the creation of a long-term project, and in this case a new 14-day holiday to celebrate positive women. 

There has been a ‘turn’ within participatory art toward generosity. I imagine that generosity in terms of activism predates the art terms, so I won’t attempt to historicize the nuances of gesture, participation and generosity–e.g. giving away something at the museum and/or the less tangible offering of hospitality–at this point. Even if I find it extremely interesting. The other day at MASP, George and I picked up blank white posters with black trim from a Felix Gonzalez-Torres piece and we found ourselves talking about gestures and offerings. I was already working on LPW2020 at the time and I considered Gonzalez-Torres’ offerings to the public: a poster, candy, etc. The audience or public go away with something, and it’s supposed to create a reaction. It doesn’t quite tell one what to do though, or instruct (require) a return (reciprocal) gesture.

Love Positive Women is a more direct question or prompt: Will you consider poz women in these fourteen days running up to the North American Valentine’s Day (Feb 14). As a North American (gringo) living in Brasil, I realize that this big place doesn’t use the same date for romance; Dia dos Namorados is celebrated on June 12 because of its proximity to  Saint Anthony’s Day on June 13. It basically uses another catholic marker than North America and Europe, but thankfully the days, 1-14 February fall just before carnival, and there is nice warm weather and a festive atmosphere. 

Over the course of making Luv ’til it Hurts, I’ve been able to witness the works of other artists in different parts of the world. In Bogotá I got to be a part of the final act or performance for Luciérnagas, a project led by Daniel Santiago Salguero that includes a majority of poz folks who are not artists. In this and other contexts the introduction of art concepts can be lost. Like getting together in solidarity to raise awareness on HIV is central, and that it is an art project for one person takes a backseat. Art becomes a minor subject within a bigger deal. While through an art lens, Luciérnagas contains elements of visual/conceptual art, performance and theatre, it stands as a transferrable, flexible mode of community organizing that was created using art terms and art funding. Because I make interpretable (enter-able) projects, I understand the intentions of Love Positive Women (or rather actively synthesize what I learn from Jessica’s work into broader considerations on participatory art). Given that LUV works with poets and others for whom visual/conceptual art terms can be foreign, we ran into some confusion. For example it was not entirely clear to an HIV+ poet how one conceptual ‘group’ project (Luv ’til it Hurts) could participate in another conceptual ‘group’ project. In this instance (and as a man), it would have been more beneficial to put the two HIV+ women artists in direct contact. However, that was not something I had time to do before the implementation of LUV’s workplan for LPW2020. In this instance, I felt that part of the confusion was my gender (somehow). Like why would a male artist with another project be pushing a female’s art project that focuses on women? I felt that perhaps my own intention of generosity was not understood. In the end, a planned event with the poet was scrapped, but the conversations gave way to a new idea, which was a focus on spaces that anyone can use. We decided to ‘outfit’ (or style) a couple cultural spaces in São Paulo’s Center with language-appropriate materials and design on the Love Positive Women (Amem Mulheres Positivas) movement. This plan reaches the publics of the spaces during multiple events (in each) from February 1-14, 2020, and encourages women to use the spaces year-round for support groups and cultural activities. 

There were a few other ‘slow downs’ in our LPW2020 planning as well. For example, a trans woman asked me if I felt that she and I (poz folks) could make an event for poz women. Her question is great because it points to some issues (like vertical transmission) that had not affected either of us. But my answer is yes, I do. Still. In that conversation as well as another one just yesterday, the issue of payment came up. On one hand, I have a quick reaction that ‘no one is paying me’ but on the other–and in relation to how scarce cultural funding is today in Brasil–I understand. Funding is an issue that pervades HIV culture work. It is one that the LUV project is concentrated on. LUV plans for Amem Mulheres Positivas 2020 is all in place and with this moment to reflect, I think of a few other participatory projects I’ve had the chance to be a part of over the years–Human HotelHomeBase Project and Publication Studio–and how they might have clued me in to Jessica Whitbread’s work on Love Positive Women. 


Please, touch me (PT/EN)

[*Alberto Pereira Jr. first made ‘Please, touch me’ for a 2019 workshop in São Paulo. His production notes are the third in a series that also includes a project abstract #movingtarget and creative writing, ELE. xo, Todd]

PT

Instigado por um workshop realizado no instituto Itaú Cultural, sobre estigma e produção artística contemporânea em relação ao tema HIV/Aids, realizei a minha segunda saída do armário: vivendo há 10 anos com HIV, criei a performance “Por favor, toque-me”, revelando meu status positivo e convidando o público a ressignificar a imagem pré-concebida de um corpo positivo.

EN

Instigated by a workshop that was realized in the Itaú Cultural Institute, on stigma and the contemporary artistic production in relation to the theme of HIV/Aids, I realized my second coming out of the closet: living with HIV for over 10 years, I created the performance “Please, touch me,” revealing my positive status and inviting the public to resignify the preconceived image of a positive body.

PT

A performance-instalação “Por Favor, Toque-me” reelabora, no contato entre criador/performer e público, as possíveis imagens pré-concebidas a cerca de um corpo que vive com o HIV. Característica ou estigma, a soropositividade de Alberto Pereira Jr., é autodeclarada em seu vestuário, tornando-se física e passível de toque. Tocar para apreender, para expurgar, para reumanizar? Cabe ao público participante investigar suas novas ou antigas convicções. Integra a parte instalativa da performance, um tapete costurado tal qual uma colcha de retalhos, com peças de roupas de pessoas que vivem com HIV.

EN

1) Activity title: Please, touch me

a) Objectives: The performance/body work “Please, Touch Me” re-elaborates, in the contact between creator/performer and audience, the possible preconceived images about a human body living with HIV.

b) Description of activities: Characteristic or stigma, the seropositivity of artist and activist Alberto Pereira Jr. is self-declared in his clothing, becoming physical and susceptible to people’s touch. Touch to seize, to purge, to rehumanize? It is up to the participating public to investigate their new or old beliefs about human relations, about HIV and the prejudice that follows people
living under this stigma.

c) Material: There is an installation part of the performance, a rug sewn like a quilt, with garments of people living with HIV, inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

d) Format: The performer’s body will be touched and he will touch as well the people who touch him. The encounter between the audience and the artist will provoke a new narrative of infinities possibilities.

e) Expected Outcomes:Wherever the performance is performed, it generates empathy, listening and affection. A moment of resignification of preconceived ideas from the public and also of empowerment for the artist, who has been living with HIV for 10 years.

f) Experience/expertise: Alberto Pereira Jr. is a Brazilian social artist, who seeks intersection between theater, audiovisual, body work and literature for a dialogue and friction of contemporary themes such as blackness, homosexuality, HIV and affectivity. He created and directed “I now pronounce you…” (2012), documentary about LGBTQI + families in Brazil, awarded and funded by the São Paulo State Secretariat of Culture. Born and raised in the outskirts of São Paulo city, he is the founder of Domingo Ela Não Vai, one of the biggest street Carnival groups called blocos, part of the official line-up of the city. He also organizes various cultural events, such as Queermesse, a party that reunites LGBTQI + collectives. He created Subtle Lashes Festival of Margins Arts, sponsored by Levi’s. In its first edition, held in April 2019, the festival had a line-up with only black, trans and cis women, LGBTQI+ community protagonism, with music, talks and free workshops. As a journalist, he worked for six years at Grupo Folha Publishing Co., one of the biggest Brazilian media outlets. Currently, besides performing in theater, he has been working as a screenwriter and creative manager for TV and film projects, producing content for Discovery Channel, MTV, Fox and others.

considering attach-ability (#2)

hi guys,

So, I’ve had an idea for you both for around 6 months now and have regrettably failed to share it in a robust form. I would like to do so now. 

We may thank Brad Walrond for texting with me overnight (why he was awake, I do not know:).  Jonathan, Brad archives Pony’s work and/or that of his house.

Jonathan, remember when I mentioned I wanted to talk to you on insta the other day. Well, maybe we can do that in person on February 9th. I want to invite you to a performance at the home of Livia Alexander. It is rumored that Brad will perform there/then. Pony, you are most welcome also. 

Pony is the maker/father/legend of the House of Zion. Jonathan I presume you know a bit about the NYC and global ballroom/voguing houses. 

Pony, do you know Battery Dance?  BD is a lot of things. If I may: anchor dance/thought leader in downtown (for how long now, Jonathan?); key role in post 9/11 ‘being’ in downtown; cultural diplomacy/choreography/peacebuilding/dance … Well, they have a site where you can read all this:)

They use a tagline, ‘Dancing to Connect’, and I do feel that is an understatement!

Jonathan, Pony’s is a very special house. In 2015/16 I began researching types of exchange in ballroom thinking about local work I was seeing in São Paulo on HIV, public health access, and other right to the city concerns. Just before this period, I contracted HIV in São Paulo. So that also made the site of Lanchonete.org (a project on the right to the city) likely to consider HIV as one of its themes. We did this through Cidade Queer, a year-long series of encounters in 2016. I visited a site in Lecce, Italy to see Pony offering a workshop, and shortly after invited him to be a part of Cidade Queer and its culmination in late 2016. After a group production of the first ball (of its size) in São Paulo (called Ataque, September 2016)–something made by many people at once–Pony invited a Brazilian mother and father to take the reins of the new House of Zion-Brasil. 

In 2019, Pony returned to visit the house (along with Brad Walrond), and participated in the Ball: Vera Verão put on by Coletivo Amem and House of Zion-Brasil. I think perhaps Brad will perform the (not same:) 1986 piece on Feb. 9 that he did at this ball. 

In fact, Jonathan, I think I introduced you to the Coletivo Amem / House of Zion-Brasil guys on e-mail once. It was around the time that I first had this idea…the one that is coming. But also Pony was a part of the launch of my project Luv ’til it Hurts on HIV and stigma (back in October 2018), as was Brad. This collaboration led to their visit in January 2019.



I remember this email because I spoke of dancers and choreographers in the ballroom world ‘aging out’ … like that moment when the body won’t give the same as before. Of course this is different for each person, each dancer. 

These encounters–2015, 2016, 2018, 2019–allowed Pony and I the time to get to know each other. And, now I follow him on Insta:) Pony, am I right to say that VogueFitness is taking off? And, dude, you are looking buff!!

I remember what you told me of your idea. I luved it!! I hope I can ask you to share it here with Jonathan (and me again) … as I’m sure it’s changed / developed a bit since we last talked. 

Jonathan, it would not surprise me if you have also thought of concepts and solutions on this broad spectrum of wellness, professional transition support, public health issues, NYC, fitness … wellness. 

So, what I’m proposing is that you two guys might have things to talk about, ideas to make together. That is if you don’t already know each other. Uptown … Downtown.

Recently I was talking to a festival curator about a possible LUV ‘entry’ late this year. I don’t really have anything to offer. I have ideas, but some are limited by living far away in São Paulo. 

You know that place where ideas reside, usually early in the morning. An idea was there, and it recurred some times. If you two came up with a concept, perhaps LUV could present it to the or at the festival. Or vice versa. I don’t know. 

Would you guys have time to speak about this the first couple weeks in February and, please mark Sunday Feb 9 (LUV Iemanjá) on your calendars … if you are around?

luv

todd

hiv / art / establishment (#1)

[*The pink elephant image is borrowed from a Facebook intervention made by Niki Singleton and Todd Lanier Lester several years ago called Coming out of the Web 2.0 Closet.]

There is definitely an HIV art establishment. I have met it in a few forms over the first 3/4 of Luv ’til it Hurts, a two-year project that also aspires to elicit a few forms. In fact, I guess this broad ‘establishment’ may have factored into the form of LUV in the first place. I am an artist who works in organizational or immaterial form now for almost twenty-years. This can also be other things at the same time, like ‘site specific’ as was Lanchonete.org or a field-invading ‘sea change’ as I hoped freeDimensional would become. For the purposes of this field note, I would say that content or theme or issue inform the form(s) that are aimed for. LUV aspires to forge a philanthropic device (or mechanism) that can be taken and used freely at the end of the two-year process, which will be around July 2020 and when it is fully explained. I also think that style, affect and notions of gesture inform ‘forms’. In my own practice I understand that these styles, affects and attempts at gesture can be rehearsed over years and in different contexts. 

This explanation should pick up pace around February 14 2020. And, hopefully LUV will keep going in unimagined ways after its official ‘end date’ in July 2020. Here I want to talk about the philanthropic device (of things); however if you would like to see how LUV is also research, take a peek here in How LUV is research, in part (Part 1).

I was working for the blackberry foundation. It uses a clever name to suggest artist support, and indeed it does do things with artists. In Portuguese blackberries are a part of the broader group of ‘frutas vermelhas’ (or red fruits). So, yeah it’s a bit confusing to work for a social art, money-giving outfit that turns out to have a charred, atrophied heart. I read this great quote which I’ll cite when I find it again (it’s on a piece of paper I picked up at Bard a few years ago at T’s graduation) that goes something like, ‘it is the institutions of our life that hurt us.’ 

This idea of pain provision fits a de Certeau-esque mode of seeing organizations and institutions (from The Practices of Everyday Life). And for sure my response of making a ‘philanthropic device’ for two years while also mourning this particular ‘blackberry’ engagement does constitute form for me and (if I understand correctly) a ‘tactic’ in de Certeau-esque terms. The foundation ‘strategized’ upon me, and talking about it (writing about it) is my humble ‘tactic’ in response. I liken this tactic to a meeting in NYC in January this year when I broke down crying amidst a mild argument amongst colleagues from two different organizations. There were a few reasons to cry. It was for all of them, including the uncomfortable position I was being put in by my colleagues. One allowing the other to chide me while knowing that there were more details involved, and some of which were not on me. To call out these details would only make the argument more ‘hot’ and so I just let myself have a good cry. It resulted in a sorta prayer circle with my two colleagues, which, hey, worked for me.

However, the smaller actions (in fields of production, publishing, editing, grant-raising and re-distributing, curating, administrating, criticizing and so forth) that comprise the Luv ’til it Hurts project’s two-year calendar of milestones, well those are more related to the topic or theme of HIV and stigma and are meant to be performed for quality and mutual value. 

In fact in many ways what I knew how to do for the blackberry crew is what I know how to do for the LUV project. The Cidade Queer project is an example of a Lanchonete.org ‘episode’ and multiply-curated (as was the curatorial ‘bringing of’ Publication Studio to São Paulo) during the period of my foundation engagement. During this multi-year, contractual engagement, I was called a few things, such as Director of Partnerships. I have an immersive practice, which I term durational. This is most nuanced perhaps for Lanchonete.org, the five-year project on the right to the city from a lunch counter in São Paulo. So while immersed in (um) São Paulo and Lanchonete.org as a ‘container’ of produced ideas questioning the right to the city (in different ways through a collective approach) I was also in business with this blackberry foundation, and therefore sharing my immersive tendencies between two big projects that were choreographed to intersect at times. I also did things outside of Lanchonete.org yet in Brasil and many more things for the project internationally. I was helping them start an online publication thats about arts, everywhere (in the world). Having over 20 years experience making art, and producing that of others all over the world made me qualified to help such an artist-centered online publication, which would be the signature new project of the foundation. Its branding and brand awareness would grow to merge with that of the cleverly-named foundation. In true immersive fashion, I opened up channels of info and knowledge and connections to the already well-equipped foundation. I mean I doubt I was essential for this project, but in that I was invited to help as an internationally-networked artist to build such a concept. Well, things grew to be indelibly bound (up) quite quickly. While I do not claim that I was the lifeblood of the project, I do claim to have helped breath life–vital life–into the idea for publishing arts, everywhere. I recognize my signature on and inside the project to promote arts, everywhere.

The lawyer on the board of the outfit, the one who visited our multiply-curated projects in São Paulo and who has long worked on AIDS-related art she informed me. She did let me know to be careful in using the name of the foundation after I was let go. I do know that lawyers yield a certain power, so I will heed her warning. When I think of the blackberry foundation, I see red. So, you can imagine how the Portuguese translation imbibes me just a little. Frutas. Vermelhas. The LUV site is red, but I have failed to find a direct reference to anything except familiarity with organizational and institutional ‘seeing red’.

The other staffer allowed me to show him around Dakar, a city I’ve grown to know rather well since I went there the first time for Dak’Art 2006 with my ex-wife. I was performing some official duties for Res Artis on whose board I served. On the 2017 site visit to Dakar, the other staffer bemoaned the challenge of getting another $20 million transferred over from the donors to the foundation. He feared that the son would be a factor. I didn’t need much more context to understand his trials and tribulations. We were laying by the pool in a fairly plush hotel spread. Maybe I helped him buy gifts in the market. I enjoy bartering with the merchants and love to see the crafts and art work and old flea market finds out in the African capital street. I once bought someone’s stamp collection in the weekend market of Bangui out in front of the church, not so far from where the students burned tires on the day I flew back to Yaoundé. I had finished the condom commercial in both French and Sango in various media (TV spot, radio spot, photography potential for billboard usage). I had swooned over Lumumba (oops, I mean Eriq Ebouaney) in the hotel lobby. Bassek ba Kobhio let me tag along in similar ways as Eric Kabera and Imruh Bakari would later. I had a thing for African and Third Cinema and I suppose my curiosity was operational. Like picture white geek wanting to know something from black intellectual. My intentions were genuine and oft worked. Since there is really no other way to tell you that I once shared a taxi with Nicolas Cazalé in Ougadougou when Le Grand Voyage was premiering at FESPACO, I will do so here. My coming out was a long and arduous journey of star crushes. However, I only started starfucking in earnest when watching Hugh Dancy dance with a Tutsi woman at a backyard evening party during the filming of ‘Shooting Dogs’, and again more recently with LUV

My wife and I were living with Jay in the capital of Cameroon in this period, and I would travel for work in the region. Sometimes we would travel together as we did to East Legon (Accra) to help set up the Academy of Screen Arts. We worked at the first AIDS conference in Durban as volunteers and would later present a poster on our AIDS/HIV related work (in Cameroon) at the Barcelona AIDS conference a few years later. Sometimes she would travel first for work and I would tag along. This was the case in both Rwanda and Sudan. My hometown newspaper, the Cannon Courier said we were missionaries in an article after we first went to Cameroon for the Peace Corps. I can assure you we were not!

Cameroon is rather accessible in the center of São Paulo by way of a few African eateries that cater to frequent new waves of African / Diaspora arrivals to the city. The Burkinabe experience (and perhaps Abdoulaye’s) is a bit different than that of Nigerians, Senegalese, Haitians and Cameroonians. The rougher Cameroonian bar near Arouche, that’s where Edgar and I went the other night. Manu told me he was kicked out for kissing a guy there, which perversely excited me. However, Edgar and I would not be kissing. We sat with some female patrons. We chatted with others and along the way Edgar became a bit startled. As we walked away, we stopped at the next bar to discuss the mise-en-scène we’d just passed thru.

My wife and I were already back in NYC (and me at the New School) when Christopher called from Rwanda to tell us that Jay drowned off the coast of South Africa. I had caught Jay once at a house party when I saw his eyes roll back, signaling the onset of an epileptic fit. Once Thom’s boyfriend Ben got his finger caught in Jay’s mouth thinking that there was a risk of him swallowing his tongue. Jay told him after that this is physically impossible. Jay suffered a head injury once in Morocco when falling down a few steps in his apartment. I have a volcanic rock from Goma somewhere (I know I kept it) that Jay gave me when CRS sent him from Yaoundé to the DRC for volcano aid atop other years of humanitarian disaster. Our long-time friend, Brad who had met Jay in Cameroon heard from him when he was in S. Africa. Maybe I can share what he said in that final email here:

>> > Subject: long time…from Jason
>> > …..
>> > So now I_m in South Africa.  I_m going to finish
>> up
>> > some final reports this week and then head around
>> the
>> > country visiting some friends that I haven_t seen
>> for
>> > a while.  I_ll head to Mozambique from here.  All
>> in
>> > all, I_ve got about 6 weeks to play with, and
>> would
>> > like to spend a chunk of it on the beach.  I
>> figured
>> > that Malawi would be a bit sad to visit these days
>> > with the famine going on.  I_ll just have to make
>> it
>> > there next time.  In any case, I can learn to
>> Scuba
>> > dive in Mozambique the same as I can in Malawi, so
>> I
>> > am looking forward to it.  My sister also has a
>> couple
>> > of friends that I know living there.  So I_ll stop
>> by
>> > and visit them.  There is some hiking that I_ve
>> been
>> > meaning to do as well.  I_m starting to get really
>> > excited about this.  It_s been a while since I_ve
>> been
>> > backpacking or hiking.  I had hoped to start on
>> this a
>> > bit sooner, but even now I_m finishing up the
>> work, so
>> > there wasn_t too much chance of getting done
>> sooner.
>> > But 6 weeks will be better than 5, which certainly
>> is
>> > better than 4.

But back to the blackberry foundation and the HIV establishment. I helped conceive large program ideas that focused on different facets of HIV, such as but not limited to Cidade Queer in partnership with the blackberry foundation. I forgot my meds on a trip, one of eight I made with or for the foundation in 2017. When my ‘life breathing’ services contract was nearing its end (aligned w/ the 2017 year-end), I asked for an incidental raise to account for the growing workload and to cover travel insurance. In so doing I disclosed my HIV status to the organization. I was dismissed from the outfit (and my various titles such as Partnership Director) rather quickly after this point, sometime in September 2017. I had flown to Canada to attend the Creative Time Summit where Queer City had a book and film launch; something in the Maritimes; and Primary Colors, an indigenous artist and first nation leaders summit out in BC. I was invited to things like the Maritimes big art convening on my own artistic credentials and merit (I assert), but all such trips would want to have one of the various foundation titles co-branded alongside my name, and naturally so. I allowed this. This was a symbiosis that at times worked out well for me over the ten years of knowing the outfit. And in turn I gave my ‘all’ to the making of this new face or new phase of the outfit’s existence. I counted the other staffer as someone who would lay by the pool with me in Dakar (where I ran into this other Todd I know); someone who would host my husband when he passed through the guy’s city to meet me on a work trip; someone who wouldn’t get weird on me whenever I decided to disclose my HIV status. And, yet things got really weird for me. 

Somewhere along that rocky patch of understanding the foundation no longer needed me, and within close enough chronology to my disclosure that (and given no other justification) it stands to reason HIV was somehow involved. I make projects that I really care about. I mix things for different results. I would not have wanted so easily to be severed from the HIV-related projects I was helping or had come up with for the foundation. No, that would have hurt very bad. That these projects continue in some ways is not a bad thing. No, as I said some did not bear my ideation. For some I was to incorporate them into exchange and site-specific work from São Paulo. I wasn’t forced though, no it was collegial work that I was paid for, as an artist… from here, there and ‘everywhere’. Ok, I’ll give an example. An art space in Brasil is going to do a pedagogic /school year in Athens during a big art event. A series of writing is commissioned from its international cast of ‘participants’. It is arranged by me with the head of the art space, and implemented by another Brasilian friend who happens to be a participant of the intervention. I am glad those pieces exist.

I thought I was building a year or two more-future with the outfit. It was even discussed. But instead I was pushed out rather quickly. Let’s say it had nothing to do with HIV, or like the foundation just wanted to work on HIV but not have a poz staffer. Seems like the other staffer would have waited a bit to let me go. Seems like he wouldn’t have wanted to keep the other staffers I trained for him. I mean if something was wrong, all major decisions I made for the outfit would be called into question, right? Like what if they were infected by my style or what I consider to be signature. Signature style? Gosh, that’s high-concept, and–ya know–art is different, everywhere. 

So, like, maybe the establishment was right there .. in that morass. When I first opened the LUV project, a young artist told me that a curator wanted to know if I was poz. Since I assumed the young artist had told him I am, I just considered what a ‘pink elephant’ disclosure and the ‘hot stuff’ around it would become throughout the LUV project. I have more to say on this, so maybe I’ll write a book about the pink elephants of participatory art, in methodological terms (that would be pretty cool), or maybe I’ll pursue my new stickering career and fahgettaboudit. I’ll let you know.

Some tenets of Elpenor thought (part 2)

[* For the LUV site, this is part two of a set. Let’s call it the Elpenor Set. See part one, here.]

1) It never ceases to baffle and amaze me whenever an association between Elpenor – a decidedly minor character in Homer’s Odyssey – and an idea of methodology crops up in my presence. Akin to being caught midfall (pants down). It is a kinship that plunges me from a secure apex, a terrace (a spacing out) of experience into abstraction, the amplest of falls, towards the world. One thinks [during the fall]: what exactly is a methodology? What is it made of, what are its parameters? Solid and well-built as the Achaen ships, wouldn’t a methodology forcefully entail global applicability – or, better still, isn’t the efficaciousness of any given methodology ultimately tested in and by socially intricate contexts? Elpenor translated, carried over into a methodology. For me, it seems startingly easy to squash a methodology: one minor incoherence is enough, one dicey corner, one false move. It seems to me even easier to destruct a model. If, on the one hand, I am capable of recognizing Elpenor’s potential as a “conceptual character” such as the ones presented by Deleuze and Guattari in “What is Philosophy?”; if I am able to interpret him as a body of diligences and prescriptions – a sort of lens through which the world into which we are falling is simultaneously sought after, a world that grows more and more clear-cut as we approach the asphalt –, it is also my innermost guess that an identical link could be established between a certain postural inclination and the harmless Choreocampa elpenor caterpillar, one of the mimetic insects listed by Caillois in his Man, Play & Games. The caterpillar in question, if perceived to be threatened, operates in itself a physical mutation termed terrifying by the author; in taking upon itself the likeness of a serpent, it manages to fend off lizards and small birds. Through an act of camouflage, a momentary absence from “self”, the caterpillar postpones its death. The analogy doesn’t seem that far-fetched once we take into consideration that both beings have developed (evolved) strategies to go unnoticed – in the mythical world and in the natural world. Were it not the case, how else could we justify Elpenor’s survival through so many dangers – a character repeatedly referred to as inept at warfare and somewhat dumb? Both Elpenor and the caterpillar that echoes his name help compose a gallery of beings unfairly flattened into the singular episodes they are at the forefront of – in most cases, episodes taking place in other people’s lives – the predator’s, the hero’s – in a supposedly general circumstance that divorces the hero, the “true” virtuous hero, from all those who surround him; characters which seem to exist solely in relation to a stilled organizational nexus oft emblemed by a protagonist who is in some way exceptional. I think of counter- types such as Bartleby, the scrivener – the Incredible Shrinking Man – and finally Jepthe’s daughter, an anonymous character from the Hebrew Bible who seems to serve the single purpose of illustrating a most dubious idea of sacrifice. Characters about whom we know next to nothing; characters we know just enough about, however, so as to feel compelled to side with them, to defend their opacity.

2) Since moving to São Paulo, I have been supporting myself mostly by
ministering a workshop devised a few years ago called Exercises in the Other. Originally comprised of five sessions, but congenial to contractions and dilations according to my interlocutors’ agendas, it consists of a series of activities in the course of which I seek to send the enrollees back to the idea of a mythical, non-historical past as well as towards a notion of “deep futurity” which can be thought of almost as mythically as what we conventionally refer to as the “Homeric World”. I usually begin – and this is as good a time as any to explain that we are not talking about classes here in the strict sense; rather group dynamics, communal readings, outbursts of “savage hermeneutics” and guided discussions around which chaos seems to be constantly lurking – aiming at redacting a handful of notes that, once shared in a non-hostile environment amid equally interested interlocutors, might eventually resolve themselves into text – I usually begin by telling the story of Elpenor. The importance of orality here could hardly be minimized, but we do resort to texts throughout the sessions whenever the occasion calls for it. I tell them the story of Elpenor and ask them to tell that same story to someone else. With this is mind, we attempt to position ourselves individually in relation to concepts as virtually unsaturable as myth, epopee, heroism. The important thing is, in this inaugural moment, that people put forward their own version of the tale, their own perversion, that they relay and recirculate this particular “type”, trying to secure it some sort of afterlife, or at least a life beyond the one episode it is most commonly known for. A most striking correlate of the communal mindset we attempt to achieve is the respect and the sense of responsibility that seems to stem organically in relation to the texts, as though these poems commenced in a workshop context were indeed the only ones to survive a possible global catastrophe. I ask then, to put it shortly, for Elpenor to be displaced to the center of a foundational narrative, so we might try and come up with texts of consequence and political resonance not so much thematically, but political in the sense that these might eventually compose the mythological matrix of a polis yet to come. I invite all interlocutors to imagine what a sociality would be like if it were held together by unheroic myths. What worlds can spring from an Elpenor-foundation, as opposed to an Achilles or an Odysseus-foundation?

3) In “Notes on the Cinematographer”, a book by French filmmaker Robert Bresson, we come across a maxim that is extremely impressive, just, precise and, so to say, “true”: “To respect man’s nature without wishing it more palpable than it is”. No other filmmaker – save for Chantal Akerman – could ever have chanced an adaptation of Melville’s novella – in all cinematic adaptations I have had the occasion of watching, it is precisely Bartleby’s “impalpability” cinema shies away from in terror. It is a fun exercise for me, trying to envision what these two filmmakers might have done to Elpenor. Certainly his antiquity says something to us – its textual permanence cannot be entirely accidental after so many centuries of oral elaboration – surely it is not merely a lesson in temperance – and even though Kirk, in his famous “The Songs of Homer”, chalks the whole Elpenor episode up to a “structural anomaly” in the poem, placed there in order to distract us from the lack of any real motivation for Odysseus’ visit to Hades, this “anomaly” succeeds in bringing to the foreground the opaque ones, the species of the opaque, without having that particular trait taken away from them. A flash of something that absolutely does not flash. It only falls. In truth, the fact that Elpenor’s appearance is taken to be a structural anomaly by some scholars only makes him even more interesting in the broader scheme of things. In the general context of the poem, Elpenor cuts an emaciated figure – remembered by Odysseus at the court of the Phaeacians in the midst of his first-person account of the misadventures he had to endure after leaving Troy, Elpenor is at the head of an episode that conjoins the comic to the terrifying and instigates a certain specimen of reader to fill in the biographical blanks. It was precisely the idea of a biographical blank, repeated time and time again in workshop situations, which seems to have motivated R. the most – R. being a transsexual visual artist currently living in São Paulo. Elpenor, in R’s text, suffers an invasion in the Elpenor sign, being penetrated, shot through with the adjective “minor” and morphing into Elpeminor. R, however, refuses to carry over this “minor” sign to Elpenor’s physical build, which would have made for a facile solution. Instead, in the following line, also the last one, R. is quick to point out that he must have been over six feet tall. I distinctly remember the enthusiasm I felt while listening to this kind of counterstatement, as well as the strength of the scene that was playing out before the lot of us: R., who had absconded with her body from the commonplace of bodies in general, fiercely and rightly ridicules the Apollonian body, the heroic body, opting to make it barbarous by intruding upon its very name. Another interesting case that rechristens, perverts, continues and conditions this mythological continuity for Elpenor to a perversion in the realm of signs is the case of poet and translator C. A., who, in a classic Duchampian move, appropriated a poem titled “Elpenor” by contemporary Portuguese poet José Miguel Silva and limited herself to changing the name Elpenor to Elpenora.

4) Interesting cases are by and large the majority, but I would like to meditate briefly on two more, because of the reflections they might occasion regarding the malleability of myth, its processes of actualization and a few formal questions. For T., an American conceptual artist who also specializes in safety practices for artworkers facing political persecution around the world, Elpenor’s story was transmitted in purely oral fashion, since, at that particular moment, we did not have an English translation of the poem handy. I was especially interested in the results, since, with T., an ulterior moment of textual engagement would not be possible due to the language barrier. I wondered what components of the tale would stick, cleansed as they were to the max, and how he would rework them. The moment we began sharing our texts, T. presented a poem in which Elpenor did not figure nominally, none of the episode’s particulars were immediately identifiable, a purposefully gossipy tone predominated, and the proposed “I” sought, if not to order, at least to sequence in a vibrant manner circumstances of such an intimate nature that at times the text read slightly impenetrable. Slightly opaque. And then I thought: opaque. And then I thought: gossipy. During all of T’s exercises, I had the impression that the world he was putting before us was a world of voices. The “I” did not play protagonist – it dramatized itself, instead, as being bombarded by the most various recollections, associations, anecdotes. It was a world of voices and asides. An oscillating world of precise referents. A world the group knew nothing about, but that unfurled before us with utter clarity. In this first reading round, it was already possible to detect that T’s mode was precisely the elision of an axis – the “murder” of the hero become the murder of a traditionally dramaturgical conception of the poetic text or even of the Romanesque mode (of which the Odyssey can be deemed a precursor, at least according to Jaeger), which tends to run with a given theme until it fatally funnels into a denouement or climax. T’s text was perhaps the most radical interpretation, from a formal standpoint, of this forceful effacement of the hero-figure from the epic scheme in favour of a minor approach. Devoid of orthodox feats and bearing no sign of restitution, the poem gave rise to a most important discussion on a practice T. himself called “queering the text”. While T. expounded on this mode of writing, I could not help remembering poet Ana Cristina Cesar’s work and her constant “play” between intimacy and opaqueness, between delivery – from the point of view of signification but also of a physical surrender – and withdrawal. The experience of deviation, of a textual practice which places itself in opposition to patriarchal writing, is formally grafted onto the text by way of an illogicalness over which there never ceases to hover a certain aura of “scandal”. But this promise of a reveal is never to be fulfilled. One skates over the idea of intimacy, the waiting, one can only skate over personhood. But at no time are we entirely convinced of the text’s confessional nature or even of the possibility of a confessional text per se. It is this unfulfillment that makes T’s world vibrant and multiple. It is this bargaining, this irreducibility of the text to an unambiguous reality, that function as the lines of force of the text – translated stylistically into the intimate illogicalness Ana Cristina Cesar so rigorously practiced, along with her refusal of linearity and her disconcerting vulnerability to sudden memory (to voices) and the accumulation of not-quite-hierarchized events that seem to connect to memoir or diaries.

“I present to you the most discreet
Woman in the world: the one that has no secrets.”

5) In a different workshop-situation, before an interlocutor who seemed to be having some difficulty grasping what this first exercise was about, I thought it a good idea to list – both for him and the rest of the class – some particularly interesting results I had come across since the beginning of my activities as a professional instigator of sorts. I then proceeded to tell them about P.C., a singer-songwriter who composed a lyric poem espousing Elpenor’s voice addressing us from limbo. His version – in which Elpenor had always been secretly enamoured of Odysseus’ – was impressive not only because of the unexpected romantic overtones – the style, however, was epic –, but also because of the subtle mirroring P.C. created vis-à-vis Penelope. One awaits her husband’s return so the status quo and domestic bliss might be re-established – the other one awaits cremation in the hands of the man he has always loved secretly. While telling about P.C.’s take on the exercise, I was surprised to hear a remark from another interlocutor who was just outside my field of vision: “Better not to even try, then”. I had had more than one occasion to note that this particular interlocutor, whenever faced with interesting results that were not hers, would always contrive to find a way to manifest resentment. During our last group session, I grew impatient at this and told her that sort of environment was not propitious to competitiveness. Telling these stories, commemorating them, making visible and known examples of near artistic brilliance from relative newcomers who are typically extremely apologetic about their own work can only discourage those who have already been hopelessly poisoned by the inherited notions of heroism we are actively trying to combat in the atmosphere of a creative writing workshop. To think about Elpenor is to think about how he survived the siege of Troy and all the grotesque mishaps that he passed through anonymously until his arrival at Circe’s island. If Elpenor can lead us to a method, a mindset, a worldview, then they must take into the account the many and sundry opportunities for glorious death that were offered the seafarer in question during his ultimately incomplete nostos – opportunities for straying, for utter forgetfulness, for permanence amid unknown peoples, barbarians or otherwise – opportunities passed only so that he could die the most pathetic death conceivable. An Elpenor methodology must then celebrate chance, slapstick and a lack of favour from the Gods. It must not fall into the trap of setting up an anti-hero in relation to which burlesque figures of grandeur parade about. It is a question, I believe, of defending opacity and the fundamental, nearly holy loneliness of the unexceptional.

How LUV is research, in part (part 1)

[* For the LUV site, this is part one of a set. Let’s call it the Elpenor Set. See part two, here.]

The purpose of this ‘entry’ is to introduce Ismar Tirelli Neto. I’m writing a book right now. It’s called Variations in Worldmaking. I can’t wait until it’s finished because it might be driving me crazy. It’s like birthing a set of gremlins … or so it presently seems. The book covers the span of my three durational, multi-stakeholder, rights-focused works. freeDimensional was a ten-year focus on free expression, artist safety and shelter. Lanchonete.org was a site-specific (São Paulo) five-year focus on the right to the city. And, Luv ’til it Hurts is a two-year focus on HIV and stigma. I chose to begin the book in the same time period as the two years of LUV, July 2018-2020. I thought that one process might help the other. At least in my head. They are both (art) works. I am applying a methodology for durational, multi-stakeholder, rights-focused projects that has been developed over the course of freeDimensional, Lanchonete.org and in giving support to other projects, in the making of Luv ’til it Hurts. I think the same can be said for the making of Lanchonete.org drawing on lessons learned from freeDimensional, but I was not concurrently writing criticism in that instance. Ishmar is working with me on the book, and also features in the book. We started conjuring these relations during a poetry workshop he offered at São João Farm Residency in Rio State (Brasil), and now we meet weekly for a writing class. Below is Ishmar’s ‘opener’ from an excerpt of the book in which I describe its 20 characters. 

After reading his LUV intro, I hope you’ll check out Some tenets of Elpenor thought , a text I refer to in my research. When we met in July 2019 I was already thinking about the role of ‘hero’ as it pertains to the art world. And, after we set on working together, I noticed it coming up again in a Whatsapp discussion with egosumfrank (Part 1 and Part IV) and MetaMorphineFuriosaXXX, one of our esteemed ‘coalition’ members. Therefore I mention Ismar’s work in these as well as a previous LUV piece, Character Development à la Proust

***

I met Ismar Tirelli Neto at São João Farm Residency in Rio State. He offered a poetry / writing workshop on his ideas around Elpenor, the youngest of Odysseus’ co-patriots. He is building up a body of thought and writing around Elpenor and other anti-heroes. We spoke of a quest for methodological understanding, and too about levels of protectiveness of text. I am not protecting the text right now. I am letting it flow rather unbounded. The numbered characters are a parameter as are the set of ‘devices’ I’ll share next. The characters and devices intersect in a matrix. I am coming up with this approach and language while also asking Ismar about his approach and the literary form it takes. We are both attracted to the Elpenor character and able to discuss it in terms of contemporary politics and a natural tendency of the art market to both crave and manufacture heroes. We ask ourselves together how does one share observations, texts, gestures, forms and/or criticism under today’s societal and market-enforced conditions on expression. In making a durational project, the idea cannot be immediately revealed. The idea is becoming, but already imagined. There is no need to rush it. The timespan is tailored for it to have enough time to fructify. This holding back as conscious effort brings ones awareness to territorialisms, competition, ranking, showboating, acceleration, pedigree-toting tendencies that can result in hero-making by default. The market needs the heroes because they are brand names, and that sells in primary and secondary art markets as well as through affiliation. Power and money are traded along these lines. It is not often that these resources can be convened and deployed for a social urgency. The market cannot both destabilize and stabilize in perfect ways. If art wants to make a radical work or gesture, it must first pass muster with the relative patrons who hold the purse strings to the semio-capital that BIFO speaks of. The same resources may be enough to resolve social ills or convene urgent conversations. It would first need to be configured or sequenced in a way that these social priorities held priority over sales and relation to market. Let’s face it: such a set-up is very rare. So, what of the ‘art hero’ role, and can it be bypassed while still offering up big ideas for the future. And to a public.

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