Can a mestizo asshole speak?

A collection of essays, artistic contributions, and two inserted zines, Queer City, a reader was developed as part of an 18-month inquiry in São Paulo. Initiated by and ArtsEverywhere/Musagetes, the Queer City program was a broad collective inquiry into how can we understand the contemporary city through a queer, intersectional, non-normative lens. The program included a series of encounters, dinners, residencies, and performances, and Queer City, a reader reconfigures these moments into a new form, extending the inquiry trans-nationally. The Reader was edited by Júlia Ayerbe and designed by Laura Daviña of Edições Aurora/Publication Studio São Paulo. Order a copy in Portuguese or English online. The following essay is a complementary, web-only contribution by one of the authors in the Reader.

“I will no longer be made to feel ashamed of existing. I will have my voice. Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue—my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.”

—Gloria Anzaldúa[1]

In her essay “The Mask: Colonialism, Memory, Trauma and Decolonization,” Grada Kilomba seeks politically to retell a repeatedly reproduced childhood memory of hers regarding a mask used by enslaved Black people on order of their white owners so as to hinder them from eating cocoa and sugarcane in the plantations: “It was composed of a bit, placed inside the mouth of the Black subject, clamped between the tongue and the jaw, and fixed behind the head with two strings: one surrounding the chin and the second surrounding the nose and the forehead.”[2]

Yet, Kilomba continues, more than the control of a white owner over the cocoa or sugarcane plantations, the mask unveils a much more violent effect: that of muting the tongues of enslaved Black subjects, thus territorializing this organ as a place of torture. In this sense, it is rather a mask of speechlessness symbolizing the ever-brutal regime of silencing Black people in the context of colonial domination and, therefore, white colonization as a whole.

It is by territorializing the mouths of slaves as the place of speech taboo that the white colonizer ensures his control over the concept of enslavement. In other words, silencing Black subjects allows white colonial speech to consolidate itself as truth, without the interference of diverging speeches. The unfeasibility of Black speech is the condition through which the white subject reproduces itself. In such a way that, through racism, a white subject in becoming depends on the arbitrary production of a Black subject as a silenced “Other”, hence updating a wide range of binary formulas that ensue, including the white/black binomial, such as good/bad, right/wrong, human/inhuman, rational/wild, in which the Black subject does not cease to be represented as bad, wrong, inhuman, and wild. Therefore, the Black subject is never at stake, instead being replaced by the dominating images and narratives on him/herself from a colonial perspective.

In another essay, “Who Can Speak: Speaking at the Centre, Decolonizing Knowledge,” Kilomba links the speechlessness of enslaved Black people to academic knowledge-making regimes, which have historically produced an epistemological landmark in the humanities, engendering some sort of knowledge about African people without ever taking into account their own knowledge. Such landmark consists of a wide range of consolidated paradigms and methodologies aiming to define which knowledges are recognized as such and which are not; which ones compose the academic agenda; who can be recognized or not as a knowledge bearer; who can teach; and, ultimately, who can speak. Walter Mignolo states that “geo- and body-politics of knowledge have been hidden from the self-serving interests of Western epistemology,” and that the very concealing of political implications in this knowledge-making of Eurocentric traditions allows for the construction of a colonial knowledge, which “maps the world and its problems, classifies people and projects into what is good for them” from an allegedly neutral position.[3] Therefore, it consists of an operation directed at forging a subject from knowledge supposedly neither affected by the geopolitical dispositions of a world organized by colonial hierarchies nor by the effects of societies characterized by a body-politics, which privileges determined subjects to the detriment of others.

Regarding the presence of Africans in academia, Kilomba writes that: “Historically, it is a space where we have been voiceless and where white scholars have developed theoretical discourses that formally constructed us as the inferior ‘Other,’ placing Africans in absolute subordination to the white subject.”[4] In the wake of Kilomba, we must try critically to acknowledge the fact that science is not neutral and universal as claimed by modern Eurocentric projects, which conceal their partiality and local character so as to induce a certain truth regime that does not cease to de-realize alternative theories and knowledge-making forms, enrolling non-hegemonic subjects and their deviating ways of knowledge-making with subaltern effects.…the university reveals itself to be a space for violence and the propagation of domineering content, always taking certain voices as absent in order to echo its preferred ones…

As an intersectional approach of the academy as a space of violence, I here invoke the touching manifesto of American anthropologist Esther Newton, concerning her experience of academic lesbophobia throughout her career. From an account of the numerous situations in which her work was excluded from editorial projects and devalued by the departments she was part of, the author considers how institutional lesbophobia furtively manifests itself through a silent articulation, mobilizing jargons of the consolidated scientific speech in order to accomplish an exclusion that is more expressed by the unsaid than by what was actually said:

I was denied tenure on my first job. The rejection felled me like a dumb ox. The process was secret, but privately and as a favor, the woman department head told me some people had trouble with my ‘personality.’ There was also a question about my ‘commitment to anthropology.’ It was like the menacing encounter I’d had with the college dean: You’re doing something wrong and I won’t say what, but we know about it.[5]

From a decentralization that guides our position, to a spot until then produced as blind, the university reveals itself to be a space for violence and the propagation of domineering content, always taking certain voices as absent in order to echo its preferred ones, overcasting alternative ways of conceiving knowledge and its relation with the world to favor the consolidation of truth regimes in which subalternity can only come up as room for powerlessness—where knowledge and speech do not exist.

In order to place this approach in the Brazilian context, we must take into consideration the teaching environment as a space for normative, violent reiterations and, therefore, as a silencing of differences. Taking gender dissidence as a mark of difference, in her text “Na escola se aprende que a diferença faz a diferença” [“In school we learn that difference makes a difference”], from 2011, Berenice Bento coins the term “hetero-terrorism” to show how the politic regime of heterosexuality continuously releases bodies outside of this appraisal in a world of exclusion and violence—of which the school is one of the main spaces reproducing such behavior—producing two intelligible genders, at most:

The school, by presenting itself as an institution incapable of handling difference and plurality, works as one of the main institutions warding gender norms and producing heterosexuality. In cases when kids end up quitting school due to not standing such a hostile environment, it is limiting to talk about ‘evasion.’[6]

If we consider that, for trans* people, attending school oftentimes proves to be unfeasible due to the countless physical and symbolic violences they are subject to in their study spaces, which implies high school evasion rates (or rather “expulsion” rates) among subjects non-conforming to the binary gender ideal, how could we measure the absence of these people in academia?

Whether measurable or not, the absence of trans* voices in colleges is reiterated continually and actively reproduced by academic-political procedures. In a Facebook discussion where I suggested viviane v. read and comment on the previous paragraphs (regarding gender-dissident experiences in teaching environments), she showed her agreement to it, despite her reluctance towards the exclusive use of the prefix “hetero-” where she observes the presence of “cis-normativity” and “cis-terrorism,” since what is at stake in these circumstances is more related to gender performances than to sexuality. This way, v. demonstrates her option for an analytical category marginalized within the academic debates on transgenderism—as she observes in her essay “De uma renúncia e de resistências trans anticoloniais” [“On renouncing and resisting from a trans, anti-colonial approach”]:

There are trans* people making theory around the world, although here in Brazil, due to all exclusionary social conditionings we know, these presences are yet very sparse and have little decision-making power: yet, where are they in the bibliographical references when it comes to approaching trans* issues? On their turn, a few people brag about their abilities in colonial+imperialist languages, such as French and English: where are the translations of contents produced by trans* people all over the world? After all, where are the references I mention when translating Katherine Cross talking about transphobia in theory: Riki Wilchins, Susan Stryker, Sylvia Rivera, Julia Serano, Vivian Namaste, Dean Spade, Paisley Currah, Pat Califa, Stephen Whittle, Carol Riddell, Lou Sullivan, Jay Prosser, Tobi Hill Meyer, Emi Koyama, Joelle Ruby Ryan?

What about when we point to these shortcomings, and when we point to exotification of trans* and gender-insubordinate people in the most diverse surroundings (especially the academia, in my case), and when we seek to use cis-genderism as an analytical category to think about the normativity of gender identities (similarly to how we use heterosexuality), and when we complain about misused pronouns, our critics seem to be covered in some sort of ‘all or nothing,’ ‘too much aggression,’ ‘emotiveness,’ ‘picking the wrong enemies.’[7]

Taking viviane v.’s aforementioned essay as well as her Facebook comment, one can realize how this dispute around the use of concepts is one of the many spaces of stress in which, despite the increasing efforts in the opposite direction, the absence of trans* people in academia is produced repeatedly. After all, the conceptual option of a travesti[8] pursuing her master’s degree, articulated through an informal channel (talking about Facebook, but also about, a disqualified source, since it is not comprised in the official Brazilian rating Qualis), has no scientific value and, therefore, is unable to bring forth consistency by herself inside an academic debate, thus being incorporated in a subaltern effect within the very scope of research regarding trans* experiences.

Concerning the after effects of the racial quota system in the composition of the student body in Brazilian public universities, Sales Augusto dos Santos highlights an academic-political dispute around the control of knowledge production on the racial issue in Brazil implied by this public policy. The author seeks to demonstrate how “white intellectuals involved in research and studies about racial issues in Brazil have historically controlled the agenda on this matter,” thus latently imposing “to a minority of Black intellectuals (in this domain) what to research and how to disclose their related researches.”[9]

The emergence of a significant number of Black intellectuals in national universities, especially in the realms of social sciences, education, and history, allowed for different perspectives on the racial issue in Brazil. It has equally provided the emergence of new research comprising new themes, questionings, and interests, such as racism in schools. The monopoly of white people over the representation of the Black population in Brazil started to be questioned, which entailed a process of looking for the decolonization of Eurocentric knowledge, of intellectual autonomy, as well as the rupture of control or monopoly of studies and research regarding Black people from the standpoint of intellectuals of the ‘white world,’ to use the expression coined by Florestan Fernandes. Rephrasing the rap group Racionais MC’s, this was and still is ‘violently pacific,’ and has not only ‘sabotaged the rationality,’ but also ‘shaken the central nervous system’ of the academic knowledge-making regarding studies and research on racial issues in Brazil.[10]

At this point, it is possible to trace a path connecting both approaches, that of Sales Augusto dos Santos on the dispute between intellectuals of the “white world” and Black people around the production of knowledge involving racial issues in Brazil, as well as the theoretical venting of viviane v. regarding power devices that have frequently represented her speech as “intellectually despicable” and “politically short-sighted” in the intellectual debates she takes part in. In both cases, it is a matter of disputing control over a certain regime of knowledge-making implied in the real lives of real people, and in rendering subaltern the speeches pronounced from decentralized places of speech when compared to academic normativity.

What happens when the subaltern speaks?

It is consensual among the readers of Spivak[11] that, when the author responds negatively to the question “Can the subaltern speak?”, it is not an allusion to the physical ability of speaking nor to the intellectual ability of articulating a speech. The answer should not be taken literally. It is rather an allusion to the impossibility of forging an enunciation space from which a subaltern can express oneself and be heard as a subject. According to Santiago Giraldo:

Of course a subaltern ‘speaks’ physically; one’s ‘speech,’ however, does not acquire a dialogic status—in the sense proposed by Bakhtin—i.e. the subaltern is not a subject occupying a discursive position from which one can speak or respond.[12]

In order to illustrate her theory on the silence of the subaltern, Spivak takes as symbol the self-immolation ritual of Indian widows (sati or suttee), considering the effects of British colonial dominance over Hindi laws regulating such practice. Ironically, she uses the jargon “white men, seeking to save brown women from brown men”[13] to unveil the twofold subaltern situation of women between the Indian patriarchate and British imperialism, constantly invested of a consciousness fabricated from their silence.

Spivak’s text was of major importance to enrich debates regarding the difference, for it states the essential task of de-romanticizing the resistance to oppressive regimes, thus rendering more complex the approaches that seek to work from standpoints socially construed as subaltern. Nevertheless, once amidst this movement, we must be careful not to incur in the reproduction of narratives that find most of their power in the de-potentiation of such standpoints.

In this regard, I would like to recall one of Spivak’s crucial formulations to the development of a perspective that takes the subaltern silence more as the result of colonial non-listening rather than the subaltern unsaid: “The subaltern (…) cannot be heard or read.”[14]

This formulation appears in a moment of the text where Spivak alludes to the suicide of Bhuvaneswari Bhaduri, a young woman found dead in her father’s apartment in Calcutta, circa 1926. It was only ten years after her suicide when information surfaced that Bhuvaneswari was actually a participating activist of one of the several armed groups fighting for the independence of India, thus making her suicide probably the result of a feeling of incapacity regarding a mission assigned to her. Yet, what caught the attention was the fact that she had her period when she was found, as if she had expected this specific moment to accomplish her act. For Spivak, this element points to “a reversal of the interdict against a menstruating widow’s right to immolate herself,” even “an emphatic, ad hoc, subaltern rewriting of the social text of sati-suicide,”[15] which simply became invisible, considering that the participation of women in the Indian independence movement was documented heavily and transmitted by the speech of its male leaders.

It would be possible to find a wide range of political dimensions unregistered by hegemonic historiographic speeches around the world. It is a fact that such silencing of voices and gestures of the subaltern has been, to a great extent, responsible for the construction of transparent versions of historical facts associated to geographically, racially, and sexually non-hegemonic subjects. Which does not mean that these subjects did not want to mark their difference by their own means in the wefts of history. What actually happens seems to be rather what Spivak formulated: the subaltern cannot be heard or read.

As a coordinator of the Decoloniality Europe network, Julia Suarez-Krabbe wrote an article ironically titled “Can Europeans Be Rational?,”[16] starting from a few questions that have been crucial in numerous philosophical debates back in the 16th century, helping to set the grounds for international law and contemporary thought on human rights, such as: “Are the indigenous populations human?” and “Can non-Europeans think?” In this text, the author emphasizes that these questions cannot be formulated outside of a system of thought that considers the European subjects as superior beings; moreover, she states that, despite the answer, the fact of merely being formulated already configures these sentences into an act of violence.

While the inversion game present in the title of Krabbe’s essay might seem like a revenge act and unfitting to the “scientific spirit” for some, when taken from a decolonial regard it denotes an act of epistemological disobedience, relocating the target of such a critical interpellation. Instead of positively responding to the ethnocentric question about the ability of thought of non-European peoples, the author redirects the question, thus making noticeable for the subjects of this hegemonically-constituted knowledge the very epistemological violence underpinning their system of thought.Can a domineering knowledge listen to a subaltern speech when it comes up?

In what concerns the subaltern silence, I would like to propose a movement inspired by Krabbe. Instead of asking whether the subaltern can or cannot speak, I invoke another one: what happens when a subaltern speaks? This way, I intend to relocate a longstanding crisis that de-potentiates us, the subjects not comprised in knowledge-making grammars. Rather than questioning our ability of forging speeches and knowledges from our subaltern standpoint, I choose to interrogate the capacity these hegemonically consolidated landmarks have to acknowledge our differences. In such a manner that in the borders of my own question, another one hints: can a domineering knowledge listen to a subaltern speech when it comes up?

Decolonizing the listening: knowledge and noise

If we consider physics’ basic theory of sound, there is a “sound spectrum” comprising a set of frequencies that can be produced by different sources, of which the human ear can only perceive a small fraction, going precisely from 20 to 20,000 Hz. Elementary physics calls this fraction the “audible sounds.” Below 20 Hz there are the infrasounds, and above it, the ultrasounds. Inaudible, both infra- and ultrasounds cannot be sensed by the human ear, which makes us all somewhat deaf towards them. This doesn’t mean, in absolute terms, that they do not exist, do not manifest themselves, nor compose the world’s soundscape.[17]

In order to establish a metaphorical parallel with the issues developed throughout this essay, it is possible to say that subaltern speeches resonate for the domineering ears just like the infra- and ultrasounds do for the human ear: out of its audible reach. In this sense, to question the landmark of what can be heard in terms of the Euro-American, colonial, hetero-centered, and cis-normative domineering culture, sets itself as a political-theoretical gesture towards decolonization, a new mapping of the sound spectrum that takes into consideration the noise and the escape lines it cracks in the superimposed harmony.

Jacques Attali, in a chapter about listening in his book Noise: The Political Economy of Music, observes that “the organization of noise (…) constitutes the audible waveband of the vibrations and signs that make up society.”[18] This way, the author defends that “any theory of power today must include a theory of the localization of noise,”[19] thus evidencing how the noise control, by means of identification, localization, and banishment of subversive noise, is connected to the production of cohesion based on the indifferentiation of subjects. In this sense, Attali states:

Eavesdropping, censorship, recording, and surveillance are weapons of power. The technology of listening in on, ordering, transmitting, and recording noise is at the heart of this apparatus. (…) Who among us is free of the feeling that this process, taken to an extreme, is turning the modern State into a gigantic, monopolizing noise emitter, and at the same time, a generalized eavesdropping device. Eavesdropping on what? In order to silence whom?[20]

Therefore, the auditory perception materializing our listening is the result of investing a wide range of tonal constructs, from which we can access only a given and socially established sound organization that, by projecting a certain audibility regime, de-realizes a series of noises, thus representing them as inaudible. The superimposed harmony silences the uninscribed sounds, just like the domineering epistemologies operate towards subaltern knowledges. In both cases, it is a matter of controlling noise and producing a politically regulated listening. Despite the arbitrary harmony, noise manifests itself, and, by doing so, it can infect the audibility regime, then disorganizing the “sound spectrum” that conforms the listening. “Noise is not music,” as Fabiane Borges and Hilan Bensusan wrote, “it is rather a displacement out of the borders of the canons of music history; a shake, a step out of the shaft.”[21] Maybe the noise-knowledges, rendered subaltern by truth regimes established by the academic-scientific canons, are not readable as knowledge, yet, the displacements from which they ensue infectiously cross the shades of knowledge, thus causing disturbance to the canonic listening with its uninscribed stridencies.

In her essay “O terceiro som e a diáspora nos interstícios” [“The third sound and the interstitial diaspora”], Leandra Lambert seeks to excite the potentialities of “an imaginative and inter-sensorial listening,” an expanded listening that sprawls towards “uncolonized borders, no-man’s-lands;” spaces that power endeavors to “strike, influence, control, and conform,” yet they remain “uncertain, secretive, and unfathomable,” despite these attempts:

Carl Einstein, just as Georges Bataille, stated that, by transforming plastic forms, vision is transformed; and once vision is transformed, all coordinates of thought undergo the same transformation. To expand this reasoning towards other forms, directed at other senses, might be a means to broaden the scope of such transformation of the coordinates of thought. It is possible to think about an ‘expanded, multifocal, invasive’ approach of the sound phenomenon, and the potentially transformative possibilities of sonic reinvention towards standards of thought, perception, and feeling. By altering the sensations, modes, and movements of our intertwined senses, we can always alter the way we produce senses.[22]

A subaltern speech manifested through the asshole

In the sixth episode of a series of podcasts produced by [SSEX BBOX],[23] discussing the unfolding of the questions “Que significa ser queer? É queer nosso futuro?” [What does it mean to be queer? Is our future queer?], when approaching a Brazilian intellectualism, Pêdra Costa elicits “another thought,” mixing different forms of knowledge under a 40°C weather; an intellectualism that “has to pass through the hips” in order to develop itself. Such decentralization regarding hegemonic conceptions of knowledge becomes clear in both the artist’s work and academic path, marked by the inadequacy of disciplinary ruling and deviation of routes.

With Grada Kilomba, Esther Newton, and viviane v., we observed that, more than a neutral space for scientific knowledge-making, the academy must be understood as a space of violence and exclusion. Yet, it is not necessary to anchor their texts to talk about this issue, given that my very own academic experience is marked by excluding procedures, which account for the representation of my theoretical ideas and articulations as necessarily immature, inconsistent, and subtheoretical. Empathetically, yet not equally, Pêdra Costa also seems to inhabit a place where the speech is situated on the sidelines of academic-scientific speech, which does not hinder him/her from inventing new ways to express her thought and step into this sphere.

I will never become Judith Butler; yet, being closer to Nísia Floresta, I am content with the cultural translation I am capable of making regarding Butler and her theories, in a spirit of creative infidelity that surprises me and comes up with something new.[24]

But it turns out that knowledge, in order to obtain legitimacy as such, needs to give in to a series of normative investments that aim to rule every step of it, from the primal inquiry moving the researcher to the ways a text is organized and the tone of voice that must be used when reading it. In this knowledge-making regime, a nasal voice using the slang of pajubá[25] when speaking will certainly sound dissonant; just as an incarnate writing, moved by its own rhythm, and admittedly authorial, might seem unreadable. Despite these definitions, the very strength of such failed gestures towards the hegemonic knowledge-making and the breaches to which they address themselves tend to stress—at times molecularly, at others more like a boom—the political regime that establishes what can be heard and read. The nasal voices, the pajubá expressions, the incarnate and admittedly authorial writing claim their position in the construction of possibilities, and they do so not by following the traditional methods, but because they need to produce a major gash, allowing for degenerate thoughts (not necessarily written as an article, essay, or treatise, nor pronounced as a defense, communication, or lecture) to overcome the tradition of silence, just like the poetic endeavor of Gloria Anzaldúa’s How to Tame a Wild Tongue.

Verarschung[26] is a video piece that Pêdra Costa sent from Berlin to be a part of the event “Que pode o korpo?”, organized by myself at UFRN in April 2013. In this work, the artist articulates a web of apparently disconnected quotations that superimpose, for instance, lyrics of American rapper Azaelia Banks and the song “O Bandido” by Tetine, passing through Ludditas Sexxxuales, Audre Lorde, and João W. Nery, mingled with personal quotes and reflections to build a plural speech pronounced in several languages, and having as backdrop the image of her own asshole in rhythmic movements of contraction and expansion.

Still from Verarschung by Pêdra Costa

In the program of “Que pode o korpo?,” an event created to explore the possibilities of intervention of a bodily speech in the fields of knowledge-making and contemporary politics, this work was announced as “Verarschung: a video-lecture by Pêdra Costa,” which got people waiting for a regular videoconference, with her face in the forefront and the speech coming out of her mouth. Even if it was an independent activity, parallel to the academic canon, and counting with an audience fairly accustomed to such spaces, Verarschung caused astonishment and aroused all sorts of reactions, from “laid-back jokes” to blunt gestures of disapproval.

When resorting back to Grada Kilomba’s “The Mask,” in which the author builds an analysis of the interdict of the mouth as the interdict of speech, we start to envisage a possible connection. If, from her standpoint, the slavery regime produces the territorialization of the mouth as a place of torture and non-speechlessness, the compulsory heterosexual norm produced the asshole as the place of excretion and non-pleasure. In both cases, we observe an arbitrary territorialization of the body, seeking to reduce drastically the possibilities of experimenting with such organs.

Mouth and asshole, two ends of the same tube, when faced as interdict organs, reveal the bodily-political dimension of the construction of reality. Still in the wake of Kilomba, we can infer that, since the interdiction of the mouth of biologically designated Black bodies was linked to the constitution of a non-Black hegemonic speech in the context of slavery, the interdiction of the asshole in bodies suited to the hetero-cis-sexist norm makes it possible to maintain gender as the regulatory ideal attached to heterosexuality as a political regime.

In this politically regulated realm, the asshole is left aside of the calculation: the counter-genital that misinforms gender, for it passes through the binary sexual distinction. Using the words of Solange, tô aberta!, it is “the hole everyone has.” In the Countersexual Manifesto, Paul B. Preciado, elaborates a political fiction centered in the dissolution of genders as correspondences to the biological categories of male/female, forging a notion of masculine/feminine as “open records at the disposal of cuerpos parlantes [talking bodies],”[27] which are bodies free of the hetero-cis-sexist normalization. Faced with Pêdra Costa’s anal video-lecture, it is not safe to state that the subject of that speech is a man or a woman: the hetero-cis-sexual intelligibility matrix simply cannot classify such body. And when the matrix gets confused, the artist’s cuerpo parlante manifests hers as subaltern speech. Through the asshole.

In such a manner that the anal lecture ruptures not only with gender as the regulatory ideal, but also with a body-politics of knowledge that seeks to territorialize the bodily organs used to think (head), write (hands), or speak (mouth), and those unable of mobilizing any thought (the asshole itself, for instance). Even more: it seeks to territorialize the bodies themselves as organs, as biological designations attached to knowledges elaborated in accordance with the constitutive principles of the modern colonial sciences. Yet, when choosing to speak through the asshole, Pêdra places herself in a political space of counter-hegemonic enunciation, out of the domineering axe of scientific production, and for this very reason, not harmonized with such canonic principles so that, when speaking, s/he necessarily redefines, both locally and molecularly, the grammars ruling how and what to speak.As if this fat, mestizo, faggot, and revolting body, this cannibal asshole and its atrocious politics couldn’t find their place in the knowledge-making realm…

With regard to Guy Hocquenghem, Preciado writes that he became the first French intellectual to articulate publicly a political identity of “faggot,” unlike Foucault who, at the same time, seldom declared his homosexuality, stating a resistance to “instigation techniques to confess the truth of sex,” still without ever considering “a set of techniques to produce silence and preclude a subject of homosexual enunciation, producer of critical knowledge on oneself and the society, from articulating his or her position.”[28] This way, according to Preciado’s historical fiction, the emergence of Hocquenghem marks the moment when “the homosexual anus speaks and produces knowledge about itself for the very first time.”[29]

Just like Guy Hocquenghem, Pêdra Costa is part of a radical tradition of subject decentralization in the theoretical enunciation. Even if her work is not focused on “theory itself” (whatever this might mean!), it is undeniable that some of her works, and Verarschung above all, prove an intellectual investment around the making of an “anal knowledge” that instills the theoretical domain with a first-person knowledge, composed on the reverse of “scientific detachment;” a knowledge inevitably implied in political ruptures, moving in an expanded circuit, passing through the academy without letting itself be enclosed by its boundaries.

From my own academic experience as a guerrilla fag, I can talk about numerous situations in which my speech was devalued intellectually due to the political content of my remarks. In numerous situations, the summoning of strategic, clearly positioned, dynamic, and unruly knowledge, earned me advice on how to choose a scientific attitude apart from my political practice, touching the movements of my own life in between the lines. As if this fat, mestizo, faggot, and revolting body, this cannibal asshole and its atrocious politics couldn’t find their place in the knowledge-making realm; as if this bodily-political knowledge couldn’t acquire the status of knowledge, or, at most, a least truthful knowledge than the scientific, which is supposedly neutral in political terms.

In this sense, Pêdra Costa’s video-lecture smuggles into the academy the noises the academic-scientific rationality considers absent, thus contaminating the hegemonic enunciation space with her anal thinking. The diverse languages interpolated in her speech manage to manifest a thought whose movements perforate the borders, whether they are physical or symbolic ones. Pêdra writes: “I place no obstacle on myself when it comes to living exotic adventures with other limits of thought.”[30] And a limit of thought is something material, dense, it imposes a body. The grammar of a language is a limit of thought. That is why Pêdra exceeds it, rubbing one grammar against the other, wandering between languages with which s/he is somewhat familiar. I could compare that to the imposing self-representation of Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie, who states: “I live in several [western] metropolises” and “travel among three languages that I think of neither as mine nor as foreign to me.”[31] But it’s different. Pêdra is no transnational, academically well-succeeded citizen. S/he is, above all, a Brazilian immigrant in Germany.

In the text published on the Cena Queer blog, titled “O Corpo Nu, Aqui, É o Corpo Imigrante” [“Here, the Naked Body Is the Immigrant Body”], Pêdra narrates a situation in which the use of German language by immigrants, in the context of a political-artistic event held in Linz, Austria, was the target of racist comments by the local police. In the occasion, a group of artists “from the borders of the world,” upon invitation of Maiz Kultur, an organization that works with migrant women to fight racism and sexism, was participating in an action proposed by Maria Galindo and Danitza Luna (from the Bolivian collective Mujeres Creando) in the square where the event was taking place, outdoors. It consisted of writing “nuestra venganza es ser felices” [“our revenge is to be happy”] on the walls with washable paint. According to Pêdra, “a tall, blonde, white man started a series of verbal attacks,” which ended up in widespread confusion involving the Austrian police. Since the event was legally backed, the man who started the quarrel saw himself cornered and tried to apologize. Faced with that, the police tried to appease the spirits and “stated, in one of the conferences, that what caused the trouble was the fact that the women didn’t speak German well.”[32]

I remember a discussion we had over Facebook, when Pêdra was already living in Berlin for three years, and s/he talked about the satisfaction of defending herself from the accusations of a German man responding in fluent German for the very first time. Apparently, being resourceful in a language is the condition sine qua non for a migrant person to acquire the status of subject. However, if we consider the position of the Austrian police towards migrant women, we can easily realize how a hierarchy is constructed, based on representing the appropriation of a native language by a migrant person as necessarily precarious and subaltern. “Deslenguadas,” the migrant speeches manifest a “lengua huérfana,” devoid of country, borderer. Just like the chicano Spanish and the Tex-Mex of Gloria Anzaldúa. A variation of languages, a wild patois cheating on the languages it appropriates, thus engendering new grammars.

Yet, this cheating is not harmonic, because “to live in the borderlands means you… [are] burra” and speak a “bastard language.” Still on the tracks of Anzaldúa, this is how the mestiza needs to fight with her own skin, an internal war that makes the depreciation of one’s language one of the main vectors of disempowerment. We are then back to the mask about which Kilomba wrote, precisely in what concerns the silencing effect materialized by this object. Considering that the mask of non-speechlessness here means the representation of the migrant person’s language as incomprehensible, the linguistic miscegenation as degrading, and, to the limit, of the migrant body as unable to produce an audible voice.

In Verarschung, however, we are less faced with this disempowered subject than with an active speech, capable of mobilizing life powers towards the overcoming of this war of borders, thus making the linguistic miscegenation a weapon to fight its dissidence for the rationality of the nation-state. This way, Pêdra Costa’s asshole comes closer to Anzaldúa’s new mestiza. And her speech gives life to what the latter called the “mestiza consciousness,” to the extent it is placed in-between worlds, mixing apparently contradictory elements, and comprising the ambiguities of a “divergent thought” whose creative energy “keeps breaking down the unitary aspect of each new paradigm.”[33]

Once again, I’d like to suggest a displacement. The same one suggested previously, when I discussed Spivak’s “Can the subaltern speak?” If the author answers negatively to the title question in a more physical than political way, I choose to repeat the movement of sense, yet change the answer to it. Can a mestizo asshole speak? Yes. Maybe not physically (at least if we take the body’s current biopolitical setting), but yes, indeed, in a political sense—and Verarschung is undoubtedly one of the most plausible points to emanate this mestizo speech enunciated by the asshole.


This text was first published in 2014 and is available at Medium.

The references that have non-English sources were translated by us.

[1] Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books, 1999, p. 81.

[2] Grada Kilomba, “The Mask: Colonialism, Memory, Trauma and Decolonization,” in Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism, Münster: Unrast, 2010, p. 16.

[3] Walter Mignolo, Epistemic Disobedience, Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom, available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[4] Grada Kilomba, “Who Can Speak: Speaking at the Centre, Decolonizing Knowledge,” op. cit., p. 27.

[5] Esther Newton, “Too Queer for College: Notes on Homophobia 1987,” in Margaret Mead Made Me Gay: Personal Essays, Public Ideas, Durham: Duke University Press Books, 2000, p. 221.

[6] Berenice Bento, “Na escola se aprende que a diferença faz a diferença,” in Revista Estudos Feministas, Florianópolis, 19(2): 336, May-August 2011.

[7] viviane v., “De uma renúncia e de resistências trans anticoloniais,” available at <>, accessed on December 14,2016.

[8] Travesti is a trans-female gender identity politically claimed and widely used in Brazil.

[9] Sales Augusto dos Santos, “Universidades públicas, sistemas de cotas para negros e disputas acadêmico-políticas no Brasil contemporâneo,” in Política & Trabalho — Revista de Ciências Sociais, n. 33, October 2010, p. 65.

[10] Idem, pp. 66-7.

[11] Gayatri Chacravorty Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” in Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, London: Macmillan, 1988.

[12] Santiago Giraldo, foreword to Gayatri Chacravorty Spivak, “¿Puede hablar el subalterno?”, in Revista Colombiana de Antropologia, v. 39, January-December 2003, p. 298.

[13] Spivak, op. cit., p. 297.

[14] Idem, p. 308.

[15] Ibidem.

[16] Julia Suarez-Krabbe, “Can Europeans be rational?,” in Decolonial Thinking, available at <>, accessed on March 30, 2017.

[17] Information available on the website <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[18] Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, Minneapolis: University of Minessota Press, 1985, p. 4.

[19] Idem, p. 6.

[20] Idem, p. 7.

[21] Fabiane Borges and Hilan Bensusan, “Queer: política sexual do noise,” in Le monde diplomatique, 2008. Available at <>, accessed on March 30, 2017.

[22] Leandra Lambert, “O terceiro som e a diáspora nos interstícios,” in Seminário Vômito e Não –  Caderno de Comunicações, Rio de Janeiro: Azougue, 2012, p. 190.

[23] About [SSEX BBOX]: “The project consists of revealing some of the various sides of sexuality in our time, in different societies and cities like São Paulo, San Francisco, Berlin, and Barcelona.” Available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[24] Pêdra Costa, “Periferiacentroperiferia,” in Sub — O que há onde ninguém pode enxergar?, 2010, available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016. Regarding Judith Butler, see her Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 2006.

[25] Pajubá is a slang composed of words ensued from several African dialects mixed with Portuguese words, mostly used by trans* people and followers of Creole Afro-Brazilian religions, the povo de santo.

[26] Verarschung is a colloquial German expression equivalent to “piss-take, put-on, or spoof.”

[27] Beatriz Preciado, Manifiesto contrasexual, Madrid: Opera Prima, 2002.

[28] Beatriz Preciado, “Terror anal,” in Guy Hocquenghem, El deseo homossexual, Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Melusina, 2009, p. 152.

[29] Idem, p. 155.

[30] Pêdra Costa, op cit., 2010.

[31] Paul Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, New York: The Feminist Press at CUNY, p. 93.

[32] Pêdra Costa, “O Corpo Nu, aqui, é o Corpo Imigrante,” in Cena Queer, 2013. Available at <>, accessed on December 14, 2016.

[33] Gloria Anzaldúa, op. cit., p. 102.

Article published on ArtsEverywhere, on March 30th, 2017.


A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at.
– Oscar Wilde[1]

Words by Horacio N. Roque Ramírez (1969-2015); presented as part of the Deviant Quito Graphics Lab, Edições Aurora, 2017.

Since 2013, artists and activists have been invited to participate in an arts showcase as part of the cultural activities during the LGBTIQ+ Pride month in Quito, Ecuador. Last year, the show was entitled SOY PAISAJE and took place at Quito’s Center for Contemporary Art in July 2017. With this exhibition we sought to structure and represent the local, regional, or national memories and histories of the LGBTIQ+ community. This exhibition was a part of the “Queer City” gathering, where artists, activists, and curators explore the relationship between queer, cuyr, kuir, and life in the contemporary city. Queer City started as an organizing project in São Paulo, Brazil, (2015, 2016) and moved to the city of Quito for its second edition.

For the 2017 exhibition in Quito, we called on Ecuadorian and international artists to submit their proposals on how we inhabit our cities, what sustains the construction of our environments, and the architecture of our likings. The machinery of desire induces us to inhabit the city, to succumb to its forms. Living through desire is a political position that puts liberties on trial through affections.

As a result of this call for entries, 15 artists were selected: Amélie Cabocel (France), Darwin Fuentes (Ecuador), Víctor Hugo García (Ecuador), Juan Carlos Benítez (Ecuador), Johanna Villavicencio (Ecuador), Luis Alonso Rojas Herra (Costa Rica), Martina Valarezo (Ecuador), Edwin Mauricio Cruz (Ecuador), Wilber Hernán Solarte (Ecuador), Ernesto Salazar (Ecuador), Stephano Espinoza (Ecuador), Queer City, Raphael Daibert (Brazil), and Mavi Veloso (Brazil). Additionally, through a partnership between ArtsEverywhere/Musagetes,, and No Lugar, the Queer City Quito program invited a group of artists to produce artistic proposals for the residency: Anthony Amado (Ecuador), Felipe Rivas San Martín (Chile), Christian Proaño (Ecuador), Pato Hebert (United States), and Edições Aurora (Brazil). This curatorial format allowed artists and curators to freely experiment on the urban queer experience in Quito and Latin America.

José Esteban Muñoz begins his book, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (2009), with these words: “queer is an aspiration for the future.” Being queer is to imagine better futures, to evenly announce the utopia of a society without violence and without conflict. This is the premise from which we will discuss the exhibition, SOY PAISAJE.

The body simultaneously inhabits different spaces. In this exhibition we locate ourselves in the physical space and the virtual space of the city, a scenario where identities, desires, memories, affections, and encounters take place. The works in this exhibition are associated with the desire to inhabit, to be, to re-signify, and to de-construct possibilities of presence and permanence in the world. Thus, the art includes drawings, photographs, performances, fanzines, installations, painting, objects, sound, and videos, all of which demand a spectator’s sharpened gaze in order to recognize the use of artistic expressions as a strategy to alter the historical signs of LGBTIQ+ subject representations. This is achieved by de-constructing these signs as uses of violence and turning them into places of fondness and resistance—representing experiences, histories, subjectivities, bodies, desires, and experiences to put together landscapes, places, and an opportunity for these subjectivities to exist.

If queer is a desire to do things differently, a queer city is a place where things happen in a different way. What is the role of art in the transformation / representation of the city? Are cities as well as urban encounters an important source or reference for artistic work? Or, more broadly, can we discuss the role or right to the city[2] as an influence or basis for artistic and activist practice? The exhibition seeks to openly ask what a future queer city could look like, understanding queer as “that” which makes us feel this world is not enough, that in fact something is missing, as José Esteban Muñoz notes in Cruising UtopiaSOY PAISAJE is essentially the rejection of a here and now; it is an assertion of the possibility to build other cities, environments, and worlds.

This exhibition offers a way to approach the production of counter narratives and their formal manifestations facing the dominant ones: family, health, justice, history, architecture, urbanism, and even artistic creation. SOY PAISAJE is a profound reflection on desire, love, freedom, and self-determination, in relation to cities, urban centers, racialized and minority peoples, and the need for an emerging global imagery for the future.

The artworks in the exhibition SOY PAISAJE reveal that behind every look in the artworks of the selected artists, a relational practice of shared behaviors and joys sought and found is always built. Thus, the works acquire the character of a collective pronouncement, and therefore have the possibility of influencing society and being a sort of umbrella for the demands of sexual diversities, leading and protecting the struggles through artistic practice and militancy for as long as the need exists.

In this sense, why reflect on LGBTIQ+ identities through artistic production? Art encompasses the lived realities of human experience, contingencies, apparent trivialities, emotions, subjectivities, and the singularity of life in all its manifestations, while at the same time art discovers the epistemological dimension, gives meaning to the world, and builds knowledge.

In order to describe the exhibition, I propose some lines of flight that can be read, not as a linear discourse that concludes and pretends to articulate a truth, but as a series of “extra” notes to the imagination of the audience, that unbolt new questions and allow diverse interpretations. These are unfinished lines of flight that require the complicity of the reader to synthesize what is suggested with a significant association of his or her own.

Personal Archives: Memories, Images, and Cities

Installation view of room one of the exhibition SOY PAISAJE.

From 2013 to 2017 the annual LGBTIQ+ Pride Month exhibitions have generated an archive of approximately 80 images. For activists and researchers in LGBTIQ+ community and queer history, archives have become not only an important source of information but also a tool to theorize about the experience and possibilities of queerness. As Charles Morris writes, “queer archives show us how queer and LGBTIQ+ lives—past and present—are made up of voices that draw strength from our joys and our struggles against the annihilating silence of society.”[3] The first exhibition space gathers works that represent, document, and bring meaning to experiences lived by LGBTIQ+ people in the city. These artworks provide the viewer with a sense of what it is like to be LGBTIQ+ in particular moments and places. The works also suggest how a narrative of emerging and changing queer experience could be built over time. LGBTIQ+ experience archives as recovery projects, providing us with resources to construct narratives about past and often painful experiences of individual and cultural homophobia and trauma, and also of affections, of desires, of empowerment, and of joys. This set of works provides us with powerful opportunities to think critically about the systems of oppression and the mechanisms of interconnection between the personal and the political.

The photographs by Amélie Cabocel, Edwin Mauricio Cruz, Raphael Daibert and Mavi Veloso, Pato Hebert, and Wilber Hernán Solarte work as documents that register the gaze on LGBTIQ+ communities or subjects in specific places and times. In these works, photography operates as an iconographic image that is constituted by people and vital spaces. It is completely disconnected from artistic experimentation and is oriented towards representing the real: traveling through a city, documenting spaces that occupy our struggles, affections, and desires, records of the LGBTIQ+ Pride March, portraits of diverse families, and bodies that are diluted in the landscape and light.

In the work of Juan Carlos Benítez and the documentary video of Queer City São Paulo directed by Danila Bustamante, a daring experimentation by artists is evident, mixing gender roles with a spirit of rebellion that transmits energy and the presence of racialized bodies. The works of Martina Valarezo, Stephano Espinoza, and Edições Aurora immerse the audience in memories, architectures, and cities: an album of photographs tells the story of two lesbian grandmothers through text and drawing; graphic interventions that circulated during the LGBTIQ+ Pride March are exhibited as devices to name what we forget, what we sometimes forget to name or remember; a painting of a man who is vulnerable to his environment shows—through the architecture in the painting—the loneliness that a modern city can cause.

Cidade Queer (Ciudad Queer), directed by Danila Bustamante, digital video, 2016.

Contrafuerte, Stephano Espinoza Galarza, Acrylic on wood, 44 x 57 cm, 2017.

Entomopop, Juan Carlos Benítez Vargas, Photography, 2016.

Entomopop, Juan Carlos Benítez Vargas, Photography, 2016.

Technology, Geographies, and Meetings

Installation view of room two of the exhibition SOY PAISAJE.

The second exhibition room of SOY PAISAJE addresses the production of spaces through sexuality and technology. Technology and geography deal with sexuality through the regulation of bodies, along with the (re)establishment of lines of thought and experiences on the public and the private. Queer geographies critically examine experiences of desire and the construction of diverse subjectivities in the city. The works in this room also approach “cruising” [4] as a practice for the construction of spaces for the gay male sexual experiences in the public and virtual spheres, and from the personal, social, and urban encounters that cruising practices can provide in the physical and virtual space of cities.

The works gathered in SOY PAISAJE require the spectator to “crossover” the edges of the visual and not so visual fields. As Oscar Wilde’s famous quote states at the beginning of this text, “A map of the world that does not include Utopia is not even worth glancing at.” In this sense, SOY PAISAJE not only asks viewers to reconsider ideas such as hope and utopia, but also challenges them to feel hope and feel utopia, and sometimes fear. That is, it challenges them to look and feel beyond what they usually see and feel about the city and queerness. If cruising is a practice in which queer subjects seek to fulfill their desire, then perhaps to perform cruising in an exhibition is to approach the images with curiosity and not with biases. It is to believe that artworks may show something beyond what our collective unconsciousness allows us to see when confronted with the unknown. There are unexpected encounters that can change the way we see the world. Art can do the same.

The artworks of Anthony Amado, Felipe Rivas San Martín, Luis Herra, Victor Hugo Jaramillo and Christian Proaño address cruising as a research topic for their artistic production. Through different tools or strategies, artists produce cartographies, portraits, conversations, and sounds, which refer us to physical and virtual spaces of sexual encounters: chats, applications such as Grindr, saunas, parks; ways to meet the desire of the other reflected in ours, and also make clear a way to inhabit cities globally. These “ways of being” exist in San José, Quito, or Santiago.

Anthony Amado produces a collection of photographs from “dick pics”[5] that Grindr users sent to the artist from their nearby locations in the city of Quito. Christian Proaño presents a sound installation that reproduces the sounds of cruising spaces such as saunas or meeting booths. Felipe Rivas San Martín generates a cartography of spaces of cruising through his own experience and exhibits it in the room through a QR code made with condoms. Rubén Darío Díaz and Ernesto Salazar reflect on ways of relating to the spaces we inhabit, which produce in us the relationships we establish in them: a way of being and of looking at the world and ourselves.

Our identities and forms of self-determination are dominated by discourses of normative gender and heteronormative sexuality, which discipline how we articulate both the truth of our being and the values ​​in which we invest. The artworks in SOY PAISAJE insist on interrupting such normative understandings and creating a poetic (expository) space to address and potentially give voice to the excesses of normalization, to the excluded, to the subjects left behind in the processes that economize desire along the straight and narrow roads that our cities have built. They also offer a way to build cities from other places of intention through artistic practices, cities that allow us to display our affections, desires, curiosities, and liberties.

Foreground: Chatroom, Víctor Hugo García Mejía, Multimedia installation, 2017. Background: Post-SIDA: Crusing Quito, Felipe Rivas San Martín, condom QR code, 2017.

The Collector, Anthony Amado, photographic installation, 2017.

Tortigrafía Playo-Tica, Luis Alonso Rojas Herra, Cartografía sentimental, 2016.

With this theoretical background, the exhibition SOY PAISAJE brings together a constellation of artistic and discursive practices that arise at different times for different groups in order to articulate resistance to regimes of sexualized normalization. Such strategies seek to remedy the impoverishment of our imagination, our sexual and gender imagery, as well as to reintroduce in the public sphere the imagination of bodies that surpass the normalizations of the legal, political, and medical culture that “fixes” things. From the Center of Contemporary Art in Quito we maintain the need to trace that normalization in order to create a productive rhetorical space where alternative views, critical differences, and potential freedoms can be possible.

It is necessary to think more about the relationship between the struggle for a bearable life in the city and the aspirational hopes for a good life in the city. As Angela Jones mentions in her book, A Critical Inquiry into Queer Utopias (2013), “The point is that it is difficult to struggle without aspirations, and aspirations are difficult to have without giving them some sort of form. We can remember that the Latin root of the word ‘aspire’ means ‘to breathe.’ I believe that the struggle for a bearable life in the city is the struggle for queer subjects to have spaces to breathe … With breathing comes imagination. With breathing the possibilities arise. If queer politics is about freedom, it could simply mean the freedom to breathe.”

el sonido del viento me hace sentir que el suelo en el que estoy reposando se desvanece (the sound of the wind makes me feel that the ground on which I’m resting fades), Ernesto Salazar Rodríguez, video, glitch, 2015.

[1] Oscar Wilde, “The Soul of Man Under Socialism,” qtd. in Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity by José Esteban Muñoz.

[2] According to Wikipedia, the right to the city is an idea and a slogan that was first proposed by Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville. Lefebvre summarizes the idea as a “demand…[for] a transformed and renewed access to urban life.”

[3] Queer Archives / Archival Queers; Charles E. Morris III and K. J. Rawson.

[4] English term that defines sexual activity in public places, such as parks, beaches, or vacant lots, mainly referring to homosexual men.

[5] Photographs of the penis, refers to a selfie of sexual organs.

Article originally published on ArtsEverywhere, on April 27th, 2018.

Cruising Quito: Notes on Grindr, Queer Codes, and Post-AIDS

Cruising Quito was a project that I developed in the framework of Queer City Quito, from June 28 to July 8, 2017.

The project included a residency at No Lugar, along with an experiential research and reflection on the different spaces and technologies of gay cruising in the city of Quito, following the distinction that I have proposed between analog cruising and digital cruising, that is, between the cruising modalities that go from places like parks, public baths, or video venues, to computer technologies such as the Grindr or Hornet applications.

The objective was to evaluate and compare the continuities and mismatches between these different modalities of homosexual encounter. This project is part of a larger research where I have dealt with the “flows” that can be established or proposed between the physical/material and the virtual. This interest in the material-digital confrontation has had multiple and diverse routes, such as, for example, my series of Interface Paintings, my work about porn on the Internet, or my TAG3 series.

The resulting experiences of this residency in Quito were documented and are compartmentalized in a specially created website, where other materials such as texts, images, or schemes associated with the project are included. The proposal also included an instance of an object-based artwork that consisted of the assembly of a QR code, as in my Queer Code series, constructed of condoms painted in colors. This artwork was exhibited at the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) in Quito. When scanned with an electronic device, the condom code linked to the project website.

I. An Alter-Internet Biography

Although it may seem odd, I was never very much into computers. I spent my childhood and adolescent years closer to the rural world than to the urban one. My parents grew up between the countryside and a small village in the south of Chile, in a very rainy area called the Valdivian temperate forest,[1] which has a particular climate and vegetation. The area is named after the city of Valdivia, and it is the place where I was born and where I lived until I was four or five years old. My parents felt uncomfortable with the hectic rhythm of the city, the contamination, small spaces, and noise. That is why—when they moved to Santiago—they decided to live in the suburbs, in a country house away from the city with animals and plants. They didn’t like technology either. Maybe because my father was an engineer, he thought the digital world (computers, videogames, etc.) to be a waste of time and something negative. I came across videogames at my friends’ houses and the first personal computer I owned came as an inevitable and delayed necessity when I was finishing high school. For that reason, in the 1990s I experienced social massification of digital technologies from a distance. I felt a mixture of fascination, fear, curiosity, and desire towards that computing world. I believe that this distance—linked to desire—has significantly shaped my position regarding technologies and their artistic and political productivity, in being suspicious of apocalyptical positions, but mainly of those that are too integrated.

This distant condition has also determined the way in which I tend to keep away from digital resistance cultures, such as the hacker culture, free software, programming, cyber activism, and also the geek, nerd, and videogame cultures, which depend on having a thorough and deep understanding of technology and can sometimes manifest excessive eagerness or fanaticism. l keep the same distance regarding any kind of expertise on the web, since I have always defined my work (artistic and critical) as a result of my condition of being a user.[2]

This also explains my choice for developing a different perspective than the ones usually approached by new digital media artists (using software, programming, HTML,[3] Arduino,[4] etc.). I believe that the projects I exhibit are often carried out with rather conservative media, such as painting or drawing. My works parasitize existing mass platforms, producing not so much from the complexity of digital technical knowledge, but rather unfolding their textual reflections and their poetics of work on certain aspects of the network experience, an object materialization that emphasizes analog and craft technologies.

“Google,” Felipe Rivas San Martín. Oil on canvas, 300 x 170 cm, 2010.

“The Mon$ter,” Felipe Rivas San Martín. Oil on canvas, 180 x 100 cm, 2014.

II. Queer Codes

“Queer Code” is the general title of a series of works I began in 2011. In them, the QR code technology from advertising is brought into artistic works. I define the result as a deviation from the marketing economy: these are works in different techniques and material mediums (painting on canvas, drawing, bas-relief, objects, etc.), similar to the geometric abstractions, apparently neutral and harmless, but that have the ability to interact with mobile devices (smartphones or tablets). When the artworks are decoded, they link to different content both online and offline (video art, websites, poems, or performances—in many cases part of my own works). In most cases, the linked content in “Queer Codes” establishes formal, conceptual, or aesthetic relationships with the materiality of each piece, as well as with issues of sexual and gender post-identity, neoliberalism and the current society of control, technological precariousness, or political contingency in Chile and Latin America.

The Queer/Bizarre Code, Code Dissent

a. The series references queerness with its title “Queer Code.” It also plays with the QR code name and its English pronunciation (cuir, kiuar, cuiar), relating paintings and codes to the content they link to. Some of these codes are linked to performances or video-performances that reflect on generic-sexual identity, production technologies of contemporary subjectivity, their deviations, and insubordination vis-à-vis the heterosexual norm. The queer in “Queer Code” is also a reference to that which is visually bizarre or strange, the enigma of the sign, the not knowing what it is about, and which identity defines it.

We can also argue that once we overcome the initial festive moment, the “Queer Code” anticipates a problem concerning the processes of queer codification and its entry into a normative and exhaustive category of activist practices, artistic aesthetics, and academic bibliographical corpus. In the Anglo-Saxon contexts this has become already evident, and in non-English speaking countries it is accelerated by the literal transfer of the word “queer,” losing all the contestatory charge that the term could preserve from its performative context of initial enunciation. The word queer, when entering Latin America directly, without translation or divergence, does so as a glamorous new formula of knowledge exported from the United States. Unfortunately, the market in the “peripheral” countries of South America usually translates the name of the products into English, as an advertising formula to increase the symbolic status of the merchandise.

b. In Chile, at the end of 2011, the mobile phone company Claro made an advertising campaign where the face of Chilean actress Cecilia Bolocco appeared intervened by a QR code, with the slogan “I am Claro and I like it.” It was one of the first appearances of a QR code at a massive and popular scale in Chile. The campaign was quickly appropriated by photographer and activist HtmlvsCSS, who printed QR codes on sheets of paper to paste them on the advertising panels at bus stops. When you scanned HtmlvsCSS’s QR code, you were taken to the photo of the famous “Bolocazo,” hosted on HtmlvsCSS’s Tumblr account.

The artist stated in an interview with LaNació, that he had done this because he “hated the Claro company” for its bad service and that he also hated publicists, who simply replicated the fashions of the moment. That action was very important to me, since one can affirm that the QR code entered Chile being immediately subverted and transgressed. The news of this intervention gave visibility to the code as a technological tool, but also alerted companies about the vulnerability of that advertising resource at a time when the business world itself was incorporating and assimilating it. The fact that the QR code had appeared in Chile, displaying its own possibility of transgression, issued a very strong message: we can intervene into all codes and all codes can be reappropriated. The market norms—all norms—can be disobeyed, parodied. It responded to the classical formula: “where there is power, there is resistance.”

“La.bandera,” Felipe Rivas San Martín. Performance, video installation, flag intervention with QR code, 2010, 2013, 2014.

The project La Bandera consisted of an initial performance on June 7, 2010. In that performance, Rivas washed a Chilean flag with chlorine until it became discolored. While this was happening, an image of the “El huaso y la lavandera,” a painting from the 19th century was projected, a paradigmatic image of the post-colonial national identity. Subsequently, this project has been developed as a video installation and as a QR code work that links to the video record of the performance.

“Inscripción de Código / Metacuerpo,” tattoo, video, performance, 2015.

“Inscripción de Código / Metacuerpo” was made in a performance meeting of Arte UNIACC. It occurred across several stages. First, a QR code was generated and linked to a placeholder video on the Vimeo platform. Next the image of that QR code was tattooed onto the artist’s body. That process was recorded in video and edited. The video was later uploaded to Vimeo, replacing the original placeholder video that had served to create that image-code, retaining the same URL. Thus, it was possible for the tattooed QR code to link to the video of its own construction. During a January 8, 2015 performance at UNIACC, the public was invited to scan the QR with their smartphones. The project included the collaboration of the Canadian artist Jamie Ross.

“No Me Mires,” ​digital assembly, printing on paper, 89 x 150 cm, 2013.

“No Me Mires” was an intervention and digital mounting of the photograph, “Dos Mujeres Yamana,” which appeared in William Singer Barclay’s book, The Land of Magellan, published in 1926.

III. Geolocating Desire: On Digital Cruising Space

“Post-SIDA: Cruising Quito,” Felipe Rivas San Martín, condom QR code, 2017.

Homosexual male flirting or cruising[5] of spaces has been constituted as anti-normative and provisional. Cruising uses tactics of occupation, re-appropriation, and re-signification to occasionally transform urban spaces into territories of anonymous and illegal displays of desire. Even if a space becomes a regular place of cruising, this regularity is never completely assured. It seems to me that there is a structural continuity between what we will name analog cruising and digital cruising. This continuity is associated with temporality, space and desire. The analogical gay cruising belongs to a time of immediacy, and it is the immediacy that grants and makes possible the proximity of bodies in space. What these meeting technologies do is mediate the connection of nearby bodies, in an adjoining, contiguous space or territory. These are bodies that, from a heteronormative perspective, should not connect, that have neither a time nor a place to do so. Nevertheless, they still desire it and they succeed in doing so. Sometimes these counter-technologies transform the existing space or produce a new space. Often they function as a temporary occupation of a space, or they overlap or give a parallel use to the already existing space. That’s possible because you can build a space made up of codes, that only a few initiates will be able to decipher.

It is very likely that these same technologies function as a certain space in themselves. The notion of virtual space crosses all types of cruising, regardless of whether or not it’s done through the network, whether it’s physical or digital. This is because cruising virtualizes the space. It opens it to other possibilities, beyond those that are its own, pluralizing spaces. A park or public bath can be just a park and a public bath. A dimly lit corner might be just that. But they could also be spaces of sexual encounter. With cruising, another space becomes possible, virtually speaking.

Grindr could be seen as a kind of virtual sauna, or virtual public bath, that puts us all more or less together, but without needing to be together physically. It could be likened to carrying the cruising park in your pocket, and being at the park at the same time. Applications like Grindr work by geolocation, placing you in a geographical coordinate depending on the position of the device. It is true that there are ways to deceive Grindr. Applications that are really counter-applications allow us to intervene in the device, faking the appearance of a place and deceiving the GPS. In spite of this, one could affirm—in theory—that the geographic relation that the application establishes is trustworthy. There is a direct association between the physical placement of the device and the apparent location of the device. This allows me to attempt an idea: it may just be a game of words, but through geolocation, maybe both the disposition of the device and the appearance of the apparatus could coincide in the same spot.[6]

Grindr screenshot, location: Quito.

Digital cruising applications allow movement because they are installed on devices such as tablets and smartphones, which allow for movement during use (as opposed to a conventional telephone or computer). Grindr refers us to the positioning of the moving device, that is, in a path ratio that can be changeable, no longer static. But it should not be forgotten that the position of each of the users that appears on the Grindr’s screen, only informs us of the position of the device, not that of the user. While the application may tell us someone is only 20 meters away, it could be that the that person left his smartphone on at home, or that the guy we have a date with lost his cell phone in a taxi. And it could be that we walk around, block after block, chasing only a device or an avatar, that appears to be a user on the move.

Moving around the city is beneficial, at least from Grindr’s point of view. People in your neighborhood already know you, and it is only natural that new people will write to you when you change your environment. The universe of potential candidates expands if you travel. And you become a new possibility for a larger universe of users. Grindr’s maxim could be: move, change places, that way you’ll have potentially more sex. But at the same time Grindr keeps us in a certain fixed place. And it’s not just about what you gain when having a place to have sex. I say this because in a way Grindr is a virtual anteroom. What happens in that anteroom?

Those of us who use and frequent Grind participate in an experience common to other Grindr users. We should make clear that Grindr is not a true virtual space, in terms of what platforms like Second Life[7] promised, completely disconnected from the physical environment. Second Life was typical of an understanding of the Internet as a world parallel to the physical world. Grindr instead uses an Internet dynamic that is directly associated with or interacts with material space, which is informed and informs us of it. Therefore, it is closer to both the Internet of Things[8] and Augmented Reality.[9] Grindr informs us of certain aspects of the physical environment nearby: the existence of a limited number of subjects with whom we could have sex. And it puts us in touch with them. From that perspective, Grindr could be understood as a window through which to view the nearby environment. It would be a sort of cruising window, that would have its eyes set on all the boys desiring to have sex that very same moment. In an abstract sense, it could then be a way of understanding and managing the nearby space or landscape. We should not overlook the fact that Grindr’s experience as an Augmented Reality in a city as racially and economically segregated as Santiago[10] may be relevant in assessing how these differences are manifested or hidden in a possible journey through the city ​​segregated from Grindr’s perspective.

All these ideas are related to the physical space that the application is confronted with. But Grindr could also be thought of as a space in itself, a regulated space. From this point of view, we would have to perceive Grindr as a device that takes certain elements into account—in this case other users and their information and profiles—by ordering, configuring, and submitting them to certain standardized principles and protocols. This would be a computer and algorithmic normalization. It could be said, then, that one inhabits Grindr regardless of the physical place in which one is. It is important to understand this dimension in relation to the homosexual homogenization force that the app possesses as a standardization device. It is a kind of disciplinary effect, in which the codes to which a Grindr user is subjected are very similar in any part of the world, the logics are similar, the communication is similar. Those who have been able to travel and use the application in different countries, cities, or areas of the same city, experience how Grindr works as a virtual non-place for homosexuals in the contemporary world. In its non-place dimension, as an anteroom or space for transit and waiting, Grindr’s experience would not be very different in Santiago de Chile, Quito, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid, or New York. However, we commented on the example of Santiago de Chile, a city segregated by class and race, related to economic and material contexts. A user of Grindr faces the city, a plane of physical, material, economic, and racial reality on which they interact through the application. Here, this urban segregation is contrasted with the opposite force the device has to homogenize or homo-normalize. That same opposition of forces is experienced in other places.

IV. The Post-AIDS Condition

AIDS, understood as Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, is a virtual possibility of the condition of seropositivity. During the first years of the disease, being a carrier of HIV was synonymous and equivalent to having AIDS. Understood from a linear and evolutionary perspective, AIDS was conceived as the final and necessary stage after contracting HIV, a predictable and hyper-viralized spoiler, the chronicle of an announced death. In factual and epidemiological terms, this superposition was quite accurate, due to the initial absence of treatment. But the evolution of medicines has meant that this overlap is no longer necessarily true,[11] despite persisting in the cultural imaginary about HIV. A large part of the pedagogical agenda of AIDS activism and biopolitical administration carried out by the governmental public health areas has been precisely to insist on the difference or distinction that exists between HIV and AIDS. However, my approach to this issue is neither epidemiological nor biomedical, but rather techno-symbolic.

I will use provisionally the concept “Post-AIDS” as an interrogation. This notion of Post-AIDS is the most accurate title I could find for a set of short notes and questions that have been around for a long time and that I develop from my place of seropositivity and from my experiences with the practice of barebacking[12] (sex without a condom) as a user of Grindr. It is therefore an idea associated in a certain way to virtuality, and at the same time, to a dense, embodied materiality.[13] The vitalist rhetoric of care and prevention have long saturated the language of HIV and AIDS with negative symbolic burdens, and the virtuality and materiality of these ideas offers sex without a condom as a “legitimate” possibility.

When you create a profile in Grindr—that is, when you start to exist in the app—you must add information: a photo or profile image, a description, and details such as age, height, weight, ethnic origin, body complexion, or sexual role. Along with this data, Grindr has incorporated a category for “HIV status,” which includes several options, among them the usual “negative” or “positive.” In an instance where a user is “negative,” he can also indicate the date on which he made his last exam. But to the traditional arithmetic dichotomy of HIV that divided subjects between a “+” and a “-,” two more recent categories have now been added. These categories of Grindr are those of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP[14]) consumption and the condition of undetectability. These conditions can be specified as data by the users of the app. That is to say, they express a recent phenomenon of “datification” of HIV status in computer-digital contexts.

In the plane of the interactive screen of the smartphone, the Grindr interface allows me to declare one of the four variables that inform my sexual health status:

  • Negative
  • Negative, I take PrEP
  • Positive
  • Positive, not detectable

These four variables appear like this, flattened by the plane of the screen, with the same typography, color and font size, absolutely interchangeable with each other as data-possible, almost as if there was no hierarchy of value between them.[15] The datafication of HIV will undoubtedly have an operational use at the Big Data[16] level, probably administered by algorithms for commercial or epidemiological purposes. But I think that this datafication also configures a symbolic effect that alters the microeconomics of HIV and the affective practices of care. The data is measured by its usefulness; they are not good or bad, they do not have morals. According to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, the data is “a description of something that can be registered, analyzed and reorganized.”[17] And to turn data into a phenomenon is to translate it into a quantified format so that it can be tabulated and analyzed.[18] The datafication then implies a certain normalization, since the data—in the neoliberal context of the information networks—has a value in itself, independent of its content.

For these theorists of mass network data, the process of mapping requires not only adequate instruments to measure, but also the “desire to quantify and record.”[19] The desire to characterize configures the limits of the universe that can be defined:. There will be no data without desire for data: the desire for data produces the data, the data is an effect of desire. Today in Grindr we can know if someone uses PrEP or is undetectable, because the data enables us to know this information. But, as data theory tells us, today there is such data because we want it to exist. Why do we want this data? What will we do with that data?

Desire exerts a performative force on the data. But conversely, could it be that the existence of the data somehow produces a desire? It would be a desire configured as an effect of the data, in which the existence of the data as data-possible, activates a desire. Let’s put it clearly: if we apply data theory to the datafication of HIV, the reason that Grindr incorporates this data would be based on our desire—already existent—to fuck without a condom. But at the same time, it could be that this option in our Grindr profiles configure a possibility that did not exist before, or that was unclear, diffuse. The existence of these data would give coherence to the desire to bareback.

The Standardization of Barebacking

In Grindr’s networks, bareback sex seems to begin to be integrated into the practices of “responsible”[20] sex, as long as that body is subjected to PrEP or exists in a state of undetectability. Some users of the network effectively report using PrEP, that is, they consume a daily Truvada[21] pill as a chemical prevention to HIV transmission. To announce on Grindr that one uses PrEP means at least three things: firstly, it implies affirming that you are negative, secondly, that you do not get infected or that you are not going to infect anyone, and third, that—eventually—you could practice barebacking.[22] In Grindr’s networks and its particular homosexual imaginary, the practice of bareback sex could begin to be integrated into “responsible” sex practices, as long as that body is subjected to PrEP (i.e. to the use of Truvada) or as long as you are in a condition of undetectability. These conditions can be shown as data by the users of the app when creating a profile, that is, they occupy the same position and hold the same value as other data, such as age, height, weight, ethnic origin, body build, or sexual role.

The use of Truvada could be interpreted as a ritual in which pharmacological power produces a contradictory body. On the one hand a “hygienic” body is produced. The physical barrier of the condom is replaced by a pharmacological mediation, which has been defined as a chemical condom. A body subjected to daily PrEP use is deemed a “healthy,” “safe” body that can penetrate or be penetrated without a condom. But consumption of Truvada also implies the opposite: the performative production of a “sick” body. If you are a carrier of HIV, you should take medications, among which Truvada or similar ones could be found. If you are not, you should also take Truvada to prevent getting infected (and thus, supposedly not having to consume those same medications). As a performative loop of the pharmacological power associated with HIV, we can all be thought of as bodies in treatment, regardless of whether we are carriers or not. The Truvada pill is a deconstructive chemical that breaks the dichotomy between “healthy” and “sick,” to submit to a new regime of medicalized continuity.[23]

Another category of homosexual subjects associated with the digital normalization of barebacking is that of undetectability. Being undetectable means that viral load screening tests in an HIV-positive person are not able to measure their presence in the blood. In this context, the word “presence” is complex. The virus is present, but in such a low quantity that the measuring devices can not perceive it. Being directly associated with the measurement of a device, we will then talk about the “appearance” of the virus rather than its presence. The philosopher Jean Louis Déotte has described the function of devices from modernity, defining them as technologies of appearing. For him, the apparatuses of each epoch produce the regime of the appearances that govern us, what can appear, what does not, and how it appears.

Serological measurement techniques have made the subject carrying HIV (positive) and the subjest not carrying HIV (negative) appear up to now. The measuring device works under the dichotomized logic of + and -. Today, the drugs are making a new subject appear: that without being “negative,” seems as if it were. The non-appearance of HIV implies the absence of proof of its existence in the body, and also the material impossibility of contagion. A virus that disappears is a virus that does not reach to infect, because the contagion requires a certain minimum amount of viral load measurable by the devices. Hence the importance of the apparatus, since the regime of appearances is not “merely” superficial, it has concrete material effects. And strictly speaking, from the point of view of the device, negativity and undetectability mean the same thing. The only difference is that the undetectable has been previously declared as “positive”; it is a body already marked by the indelible sign of positivity. Here we have the second loop of pharmacological power: an undetectable seropositive body is a body subjected to biomedical, mannerist effect, with the same appearance of a negative body, but unable to return completely to that negative state.

These are two examples of the post-AIDS condition. But we must clarify that the post-AIDS condition is not a homogenous condition on a global level, nor is it a moment of overcoming the vital, political, and material effects, and also of AIDS metaphors. Post-AIDS is a differential condition in a differential world. A few weeks ago I received a message from a Venezuelan Facebook friend. He told me that his brother is a carrier of HIV and that the current political crisis in the country was also generating a crisis in access to medicines. The post-AIDS condition is an unstable condition that depends, among other factors, on delicate political-economic balances that the states of post-state neoliberalism must respect.

Grindr screenshot, location: Quito.

[1] The Valdivian temperate forests are an ecoregion on the west coast of southern South America, in Chile and extending into Argentina. “The Valdivian temperate rainforests are characterized by their dense understories of bamboos, ferns, and for being mostly dominated by evergreen angiosperm trees. They are the only temperate rain forests in South America and one of a small number of temperate rain forests in the world” (Wikipedia).

[2] A particular user could have technical knowledge not only to “use” a tool, but also to produce, modify, or program it. However, here I do not refer to a particular user, but I use the conceptual notion of “user condition” to differentiate it from the role of “programmer.” Both subject positions define a radically different relationship with the tool (and its interface).

[3] HTML, the acronym for Hypertext Markup Language, refers to the standard markup language for creating web pages and web applications. It defines a basic structure and a code (called HTML code) for defining content of a web page, such as text, images, videos, and games, among others.

[4] “Arduino” is an open source computer hardware and software company, project, and user community that designs and manufactures single-board microcontrollers and microcontroller kits for building digital devices and interactive objects that can sense and control objects in the physical world.

[5] Cruising is a term that refers to the practice of searching for casual sexual encounters in public places, parks, squares, beaches, etc. There are also specific places where you can do cruising, such as bars and sex venues.

[6] We are thinking here of the distinction that is made between the concepts of device in the way Foucault and Agamben understand it, versus the notion of apparatus, as proposed by Jean-Louis Déotte.

[7] According to Wikipedia: “Second Life […] is a metaverse […] which can be accessed free of charge from the Internet. Its users, known as “residents,” can access [Second Life] through the use of one of the multiple interface programs called viewers, which allow them to interact with each other through an avatar. Residents can thus explore the virtual world, interact with other residents, establish social relationships, participate in various activities both individually and in groups and create and trade virtual property and offer services to each other. SL is intended for people over 18 years of age.”

[8] The Internet of Things refers to the interconnection of everyday objects (not just communication devices or computers) with the Internet network.

[9] Augmented Reality (AR) describes the interaction of digital devices with physical environments, which intervene or add virtual information to existing physical information. The result is a combination of both, unlike virtual reality, in which the resulting environment is completely abstracted from the tangible physical world.

[10] This economic and racial segregation is strongly determined by the urban landmark of Plaza Italia, which divides the so-called “high-rises” of the city, associated with high-income communes, and neighborhoods.

[11] I say this in the context of countries with universal access to medicines and taking into account that people around the world continue to die every day from AIDS, even though they should not do so medically.

[12] The concept of barebacking emerged in American gay communities in the 1990s.

[13] I used the phrase “Post-AIDS” for the first time in 2013, to give title to a project that consisted of a QR code built with hundreds of condoms, part of the series “Queer Code.” That first version was digital. The code linked to a gay porn video from the barebacking category with Latino actors. The project materialized in 2017 as a work proposal in SOY PAISAJE, the exhibition of the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo CAC in Quito, Ecuador, within the framework of the residence “Queer City Quito” I made in No Lugar. In this new version, the QR code linked to a website that registered my experiences of cruising in the city.

[14] PrEP is the English acronym for pre-exposure prophylaxis, that is, the continuous administration of antiretrovirals in order to prevent the transmission of HIV. It is an optional procedure for HIV-negative people. Currently, the only drug recommended for pre-exposure prophylaxis of HIV is Truvada. The use of this medication for prophylactic purposes is approved by the FDA.

[15] I say “almost,” because the order of appearance of each one already marks a hierarchy, which overlaps the persistent social valuation.

[16] Big data or massive data, corresponds to the phenomenon of exponential increase in circulating information, associated with digitality and the Internet network.

[17] Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier, Big data: la revolución de los datos masivos (Turner Publications, 2013), p. 100.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid, p. 101.

[20] I use these words knowing their strong ideological connotation associated with sexuality, as they are the words and concepts that Grindr users constantly refer to and use. To indicate this use, I have placed these terms in quotation marks each time they appear.

[21] Truvada is the trade name of the association of emtricitabine and tenofovir, an antiretroviral drug used to treat HIV. In addition, Truvada is the medicine used in PrEP treatments.

[22] Unless you use PrEP as an annex to the condom. However, this case seems to be very minor.

[23] These ideas are strongly associated with the notion of “pharmacopornography” devised by Paul B. Preciado.

Article originally published on ArtsEverywhere, on May 2nd, 2018.


Institute 193, the innovative gallery and publisher, has announced the publication of Eric Rhein: Lifelines 

This is the first book from artist Eric Rhein: a unique monograph-memoir spanning three decades of his life and artwork. It features intimate photographs taken between 1989 and 2012—including self-portraits and images of friends and lovers from the period between Rhein’s HIV diagnosis, his near death, and the returning vitality that new medications would afford him. As a personal response to the AIDS crisis, these compelling portraits highlight tenderness and care as life-saving forces. 

Kinsmen (self-portrait, with Leaves (an AIDS memorial), the MacDowell Colony), 1996

The book also includes watercolors, delicate assemblages, and wire drawings—notably his ongoing project Leaves, an AIDS memorial honoring over 300 individuals whom Rhein knew. 

Eric’s work embodies love, touch, connection to nature, and to familial and regional history. The artist draws from his Kentucky roots and his family relationship with his uncle Lige Clarke—a gay rights pioneer of the 1960s and 70s. They are inspirations for his art and activism. Rhein mines collective and personal narratives, formulating pieces that are both poetic and documentary. 

Kissing Ken (self-portrait with Ken Davis), 1996

“. . . .Eric Rhein’s most recent book, is an emotional journey through intimate scenes where Eric, his friends, and his lovers share time and space during the AIDS crisis of the 90’s—a time of extreme duress and pain. “Feelings” is a word I often associate with Eric’s gentle artworks: longing, love, lust, life—and this page-turner of a book is ripe with outbursts of intimate emotions. In his photographs and sculptures, Eric memorializes lives lost to AIDS, but he also rightfully celebrates his own survival. I am happy Eric is still here with us and able to communicate what it feels like to have survived a past that informs the experience of living in the present.” 

                                           — Carlos Motta, artist, activist, and documentarian 

The book includes essays by National Book Award-winning poet Mark Doty; former Institute 193 Director Paul Michael Brown; and Rhein. Of Eric’s work, Doty writes, “These images affirm the desiring self at a moment when desire had become dangerous…”

Orchids, 2019
Wire and paper, 11 x 14 x 2 inches
Joe (Joe Piazza), 1993
Ted Mats Me (from Hospital Drawings, Saint Vincent’s Hospital), 1994
Marker on paper, 11 x 12 inches

About Eric Rhein:  Eric has exhibited widely in the United States and abroad, and his work has been reviewed in the New York Times, Huffington Post, ARTnews, Vanity Fair, and Art in America. New York Times critic Holland Cotter wrote of Rhein’s work: “…the combination of art and craft, delicacy and resiliency, feminine and masculine, is exquisitely wrought and is, as it should be, seductive but disturbing.” Eric Rhein is included in the Smithsonian Archives of American Art’s Visual Arts and the AIDS Epidemic: An Oral History Project

About the publisher:  Institute 193 collaborates with artists, musicians, and writers to produce exhibitions, publications, and projects that document the cultural landscape of the modern South. 

Release date:  November 10th, 2020

Distributed by:  ARTBOOK | Distributed Art Publishers


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Homage to a working group

Luv ’til it Hurts was at first a two-year project, and is now something much more. I admit that I don’t want to limit its future potential by saying what it is/isn’t or what it’s become. However, there are three ways to clearly ‘see it’. In a recent grant application, I described our group of three coordinators (Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima & myself) as a ‘working group’. Brad suggested ‘The Work Group’ instead, and the name seems to have stuck. A traveling group show called EXQUISITE CORPSE has been conceived by The Work Group. And, I continue to develop the LUV Fund, an apparatus to deliver faster resources to HIV-related cultural activism, as well as to acknowledge the role of the artist in public health & social movements pertaining to HIV/AIDS. With such a lofty title as The Work Group, it is incumbent on us to say what we do. Our new website is forthcoming, and that explains us rather well. In the meantime, I’ve taken ‘a stab’ at explaining who we are and what we do:


Luv ‘til it Hurts is a work group composed of Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima & Todd Lanier Lester. Its outputs are collectively authored. 

LUV ‘til it Hurts is action research, insomuch as a methodological discussion transpires amongst artists pertaining to curating, institutional critique, mutual aid and general peership. 

It’s a constituency inviting others working on HIV and health to join their issues in a new configuration. We use this mothership as omnibus for visiting other hurts and stigmas such as those newly afoot with COVID-19. However, ‘pandemics’ is not a theme we wish to be limited by in the future.

It is a gesture to art institutions desiring their socially-engaged exhibits to come from deep dialogues with frontline activists … and in this way, it is also a feedback loop.  


  • Understanding artist-led activism by examining its process (e.g. interviews, site visits, collaborative productions) in order that such intimacy is reflected in both the exhibition and archiving of works; 
  • Making EXQUISITE CORPSE, an exhibition of approximately 20 international artists working on HIV & Stigma. Envisioned as a traveling show for which each new encounter stimulates a ‘swarm-like’ evolution of the show and expansion of the archive, EXQUISITE CORPSE invites local artists and activists to help tailor the show’s public programme for their ‘home turf’;
  • Considering the financial and political economies of art exhibition, EXQUISITE CORPSE proposes a ‘venue network’ through which both expography costs and lessons learned may be shared; 
  • Applying techniques and tools from their individual practices, the WORK GROUP encourages rhizomatic offshoots from the overall EXQUISITE CORPSE process (e.g. R&D, online extension, archiving, co-authored texts, venue network, community engagement, public progarmme- & exhibition-making) whereby one set of interactions generates the next. Game of Swarms, Every Where Alien’s Poetics + Pandemics open mic series and The LUV Fund are all examples;
  • Using technology to sidestep / undo / backmask algorithms that mimic market desires and further entrench dominant cultural precepts.


  • A draft proposal that explains our work and can be tailored to host institutions (for EXQUISITE CORPSE) and/or foundations, which can support our ‘work’;
  • A suite of administrative documents to include, but not limited to a venue list, foundation list, and budget samples;
  • An online dashboard and filing system; this includes calendar, artist portfolios, collectively-authored texts, and design tools (such as LUV letterhead).


LUV Fund$

Image: PogoLand

As early as the 1st ‘About’ page: A discussion to be accountable to, the creation of a ‘philanthropic device’ was mentioned, and again in an interview with the Think Twice Collective. Most often over the course of LUV’s first two years, this idea of raising funds for artists and activists working on HIV related stigmas referred to an idea that (after its R&D phase) could be offered to the Elton John AIDS Foundation. And, while this is still the case (or can be), LUV has also been star-fucking around with a couple other artists who have do-good organizations in which a prefab philanthropic device might be nestled. Either way, the apparatus I speak of is conceived for ‘give away’. Recently I’ve begun referring to this ‘philanthropic device’ as the LUV Fund in order to differentiate it from other LUV byproducts, such as the LUV Game and/or EXQUISITE CORPSE, a traveling group show. These items, can of course, work in tandem. There’s a Work Group (composed of Brad Walrond, Paula Nishijima & Todd Lanier Lester) that meets weekly to plan future LUV work, and on several occasions I’ve explained that while energy was given early on to exhibiting the works of artists working on HIV (e.g. Luv Till It Hurts by Kairon Liu), I did not anticipate a traveling group show as what would come next. I luv it, but I didn’t see it coming! And, as for the ‘philanthropic device’, whatever LUV does, it has to do that too!!

Presently I have an idea for integration of the LUV Fund into the EXQUISITE CORPSE show … but not only. The ‘rad purple poster’ (above) is a first draft of the LUV Fund gameplan that I’m working on with Brasilian artist, PogoLand. I’m sure there will be ‘tweaks and tugs’ that change its course over the next few weeks, but wanted to share its tenets as I understand them (like how would it make money?), and also offer it to the LUV show as an artist-made broadsheet, which can carry other info on the traveling / evolving show by printing and using its backside. Here goes in no particular order:

(1) Expography for the traveling group show, EXQUISITE CORPSE has been designed by installation author, Jakub Szczęsny for scalability and cost-sharing across venues. Given potential savings by its ‘economy of scale’, each host institution may be asked to contribute to the LUV Fund;

(2) I’ve asked Jakub to design a special ‘LUV Fund$’ donation box along with the other containers that comprise the show’s expography;

(3) Some of the artists in the group show have works that can be merchandised broadly (online & gift shop);

(4) Other artists have works that can be packaged / offered as limited editions;

(5) Beside presenting works and processes of art in galleries and museums, LUV has a performer and speaker’s bureau, which brokers fair-pay fees for those involved (and modes of participation for artists and non-artists alike;

(6) After 20 years of asking foundations / philanthropy for money to make art projects, I realize that there are several ‘back doors’ that can be accessed IF an idea shifts ‘the paradigm’ … amongst grantmakers, power-brokering is rife, but this usually excludes potential grantees who sometimes sign or agree to ‘non-solicitation’ clauses when attending funder meetings, and for whom the experience is often hierarchical & upward-looking at that;

(7) Some of the ‘back doors to philanthropic power’ I mention above are on the small side, like asking a foundation executive to use his/her/their discretionary or expense fund to support an idea, but I prefer a bigger framework that includes ‘estate planning for the extremely wealthy’ … for example when Warren Buffet’s wife passed away and he decided to forego the eponymous foundation they’d been planning, he gifted and pre-bequeathed enormous sums of money to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;

(8) Some of the artist-activists that LUV has met in the past two years have large online followings (here I’m speaking mostly of Instagram for which having 10,000 followers opens up avenues of marketing and income generation) … LUV is learning from these folks so that one day its own brand may have these opportunities to ‘influence’ and reap $ benefit in so doing;

(9) When a gallery sells an artist’s work, the gallery takes 50% and the artist gets 50%. It is conceivable that either a blue chip artist (who cares about HIV) or her/his/their gallery would forego this amount on (say) one work a year for a predetermined number of years. While the artist may not be able to do this, they/she/he may influence the gallery to do so;

(10) There is also a ‘nuclear option’ … I’m just not gonna tell ya what it is yet!

Remember, all these ‘cogs’ and ‘spokes’ don’t need to work at the same time for the LUV Fund to flourish. And, all artists involved would be paid first and/or be ‘first in line’ recipients of the LUV Fund. Well, let’s see …


[*My first project, freeDimensional created the Creative Resistance Fund, and my second project helped start Fundo Imobiliário Comunitário para Aluguel (FICA), with participating artists offering performances and services to raise the fund’s first 10,000 Reais.]

LUV, a timeline

Image by Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria

In January 2018 and speaking on freeDimensional, I was invited to give a co-keynote address on day two of the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the Centre for Applied Human Rights @ York University [see download]. And while I now realize the ‘second day’ programme (of thinkers from the art camp vs. the human rights camp) is not included in the ‘one day’ online history of this two-day event, this was the first time I mentioned being HIV+ from any type of stage, podium, pulpit, soapbox and/or dais. This is indeed where I first met Professor Maggie O’Neill

On the same trip, I went to Berlin and stayed with friends Julia and Bakri. I told them about the first idea for Luv ’til it Hurts, an uncharted project that did not yet even have a name. And, boasted that if I knew someone who could get me to Sir Elton John, I would know what to do next. As the words came out of my mouth, I realized that I knew this person already, a philanthropy figure in NYC. I drafted an email to him on the flight home. It was meant as a ‘soft approach’ and so I didn’t ask for an intro to Elton (not yet). The philanthropy figure’s response included $50k USD for beginning my experiment. This is when I decided to ‘include’ Luv ’til it Hurts as the third project in a ‘series’ of multistakeholder, rights-focused, durational works that began with freeDimensional and

With these resources, Luv ’til it Hurts took shape, and in July launched ‘officially’ at the 2018 International AIDS Conference in partnership with Taiwanese artist Kairon Liu and his project Humans as Hosts. This date set the opening ‘bookend’ in mid-2018, and I personally decided to make the project for two years (at first), thereby ‘bookending’ the project’s uncharted phase at the end June 2020. COVID-19 offered a major ‘bump in the road’, and yet here we are rolling-to-a-stop–refueling–and not so far off the forecasted mark. 

Before its official launch, the nascent LUV project was invited as special guests to a community gathering on HIV in Philadelphia by the Amber Art & Design collective. The May 24th programme [see download] was originally slated for the Hatfield House in the Strawberry Mansion area in which the collective works. When we arrived in Philadelphia we were told that the venue had changed to Amber’s studio (which was great), and that we would take a tour/ hang out on the porch of Hatfield House later at the end of the day. We learned that the theme of HIV had been enough to get our original programme bumped from the historic venue by some cautious board members. One of the most memorable details from the May 24th event, is the ‘fish banquet’ that Leticia (a friend of Sidd Joag visiting from NYC) prepared for our lunchtime discussion (See featured photo).
In August 2018, LUV created a second annual exchange between Ballroom leaders from São Paulo and NYC, with House of Zion-Brasil and Coletivo Amem members attending NYC’s Black Pride and the HouseLivesMatter convening. Residency Unlimited, which was our fiscal sponsor for the Ford Foundation grant provided to us by Darren Walker, hosted a meeting of Brad Walrond, Flip Couto, Felix Pimenta, Kairon Liu, Malaya Mañacop, Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria and others on August 20th [see download]. Both the May 24th and August 20th meetings were introductions. At this point I had only given the project a theme (HIV + stigma), duration (approximately 2 years), and name (Luv ’til it Hurts). I wanted to ask peers: Is it necessary? What can it do? & Does a whimsical specificity for its timeframe and particular ‘end goal’ (of engaging the Elton John AIDS Foundation with a unique idea) detract from its potential to attract co-makers?

From this August 2018 meeting, a January 2019 visit to São Paulo by Brad Walrond and Pony Zion co-hosted by LUV, Coletivo Amem, House of Zion-Brasil, Esponja and HouseLivesMatter when both Brad and Pony participated in the 3rd annual Vera Verão ball.

In the meantime LUV collaborated with Coletivo Amem, VisualAIDS, Esponja and Coletivos Coletores on a December 1 2018 World AIDS Day event. And right after the visit of Iconic Legend Pony Zion (Father of the House of Zion-international) to São Paulo (Jan. 2019), LUV hosted Legend Monster LaBeija during Carnival (Feb. 2019), a residency we co-made with Esponja, Casa1, Casa do Povo, Casa Florescer, Coletivo Arouchianos, etc.

In February 2019, LUV partnered with Love Positive Women, a 14 day annual holiday made by artist Jessica Lynn Whitbread for poz women … and partnered again for a second time with Love Positive Women in February 2020. See online content from both years HERE. The February 9th Bobó for Yemanjá event in NYC with Thiago Correia Gonçalves (another ‘fish banquet’) is another favorite LUV memory!

A lot of things happened over the first couple years of LUV, and these are some details that haven’t yet been highlighted on the RED site

If I had a bit more time…

Image by Todd Lanier Lester 

In Why Make an ‘Open Work’? I begin to discuss DURATION, and why a project like LUV would have an initial, formal (albeit arbitrary) two-year timeframe. 

Lately, I’ve been sifting through scraps of paper, contacts and ideas for articles. Luv ’til it Hurts is in the process of transforming itself into a new (and perhaps more concrete) form that will be fully explained by its forthcoming new site. Before I tie a bow on the ‘red’ (or archive) site, I wanted to reference a few of the ideas and contacts that come to mind as I look back on the past two years concentrated on HIV & stigma. For example, I remembered two pieces by Gian Spina, On Pedagogical Turns and the Use of Time (with Nikos Doulas) and Waiting for the After-Effects of Documenta 14 in Athens (with Jota Mombaça) I wanted to include. Some others are:

The image featured here is one I took at the São Paulo AIDS Day Walk (December 1 2019) of a project by Leandro Tupan that represents HIV+ bodies in cloth works and banners.

During the Somos process, I met members of COLETIVO GLEBA DO PÊSSEGO and saw their awesome short film Bonde about “three young black friends from the Heliópolis slum set out to seek refuge among the LGBT+ nightlife of downtown São Paulo.” In fact, I went up to one of the stars at a dance party (in the ‘downtown’) to tell them how much I liked their work!

Similar to COLETIVO GLEBA DO PÊSSEGO, I had hoped to interview Mexican artist Manuel Solano and Brazilian artist Mavi Veloso for the ‘red’ site as well. I hope to get to talk to them soon, and there are some great texts with them both in Ted Kerr’s WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW ABOUT AIDS COULD FILL A MUSEUM Curatorial ethics and the ongoing epidemic in the 21st Century, Issue #42 of ON CURATING.
The HIV Justice Network is a global information and advocacy hub for individuals and organisations working to end the inappropriate use of the criminal law to regulate and punish people living with HIV. Their site is great, and the best idea I have to honor them is to make them an honorary member of the LUV coalition. If they want it, THEY GOT IT! Thanks for your work HIV Justice Network!!