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body politics, body poetics: part 1 – artivist statement

de la cuerpa1 objeto a la cuerpa sujeto
from the body object to the body subject

pamela varela
pavamere.la

“The Church says: The body is a sin.
Science says: The body is a machine.
Advertisement says: The body is a business.
The body says: I am a party.”

–Eduardo Galeano

I dedicate these words to my great-grandmother Cande. She–young, poor, and with Native Mexican roots–was taken by a rich, old, Spanish creole man (my great grandfather) just like the Spanish people took the Mexican lands. Both of them are my ancestors, and I would not exist without them, so the past better be accepted… but never forgotten. Presente, I am in the fight to create a better future.

*note: I use the term “woman” to include cis, trans, and femmes, recognizing that there is an ongoing debate as to whether terms like “womxn’” are trans-exclusive. To the extent that my analysis applies specifically to cis women, I will highlight this in the text. 

a body is a land  

I am a tECkhnO2 feminist artivist3, dancer, performer, researcher, and technician of Latin American origin who creates interactive works that address the oppression of the body-mind-spirit4. The goal of these words is to support my interdisciplinary, artistic practice within the contemporary, feminist context of creation. The present written work goes together with my performative work transcendence – trance ’n dance, which explores the power of dance as a tool of bodily reappropriation and radical self-expression. Both the text and the piece focus on the liberation journey of the Self from the physical and psychological confinement imposed by the politics of a colonialist, patriarchal, and capitalist society.

transcendence – trance ’n dance is a generative, performative piece, where I fight against the spirits of oppression and along the spirits of liberation. I draw inspiration from my background as a dancer, as well as from protests and trance-inductive practices. I use the format of street dance, where dancers encounter and challenge each other, to create an energicospatiotemporal setting where the boundaries pushed are not against another human but against the machine.5

During the performance, a narrational electronic-poetic piece plays in space. I listen; I respond—through dance. Since I am remotely connected to a set of automated drums via a vaginal6 muscle reader, which reacts to the movements of my core, the outcome is a sonic clash between the drums (primal, ancestral, rooted) and the electropoetry (digital, intellectual, futuristic). I am the activator and mediator of a chain system of feedback interactions that guides the narrative. Rhythm beats rhythmic pulses. 

I address technology as both medium and subject of critique, expressing its dualistic nature by showing its abusive face as representation of domination, as well as its supportive face by helping woman reclaim her power through corporeal and ancestral memory. The audience observes this interaction by being immersed in space, witnessing my movements converted into sensorial stimuli for them, offering a technologically-aided extension of my own experience as an invigorating translation for them.

The semiotic multiverse of the piece brings forward a narrative revolving the body, where sound, movement, anatomy, aesthetics, technology, and voices of the living and the dead create a subversive action where herstory will be told. The piece embodies dualistic binaries, and I battle to balance the forces, reclaiming my body as subject to stop it from being object, transcending from oppression to liberation.

“Afro-American religions depend heavily on rhythmic drumming and dancing to induce a trance state.
The metrical rhythms of poetry […] induces a trance of heightened sensitivity.
In [witch]Craft tradition, it was believed that certain rhythms could induce particular emotional states.
Drummers originally accompanied armies because their rhythms could make men fighting mad.
Rave music is also known to be trance inducing.
Rhythm, whether experienced in motion, song, drumming, chanting, or poetic meter, also induces a state of heightened awareness.”

–The Spiral Dance, Starhawk7

1El cuerpo is Spanish for the body. La cuerpa, written with an a, is an invented reference to the body in femenine.

 2tECkhnO references techno, without diminishing eco. The (mis)spelling introduces the idea of political activism, non-conformism, DISORDER. The k is inspired by the Spanish squatting movement OKUPA, as well as by MAGICK, differentiating itself from performance magic.

 3Artist and activist.

 4Inspired by spiritual artist Tabita Rezaire, who I will talk about later.

5Inspired more specifically by Chicago Footwork, a street dance style where the dancing is extremely fast and the music can go up to 170 bpm, so the dancer often challenges the speaker. Who can go faster?

6An anal muscle reader can be used as well, and it works similarly.

7Starhawk, ¨The Spiral Dance: A rebirth of the ancient religion of the great Goddess¨. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989. p.176