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15.07.2019

What is Writing, Then, When it Becomes Body?

Artists Isaac Olvera and Víctor del Moral talk with Diego del Valle Ríos about the potential for dislocating the certainties created by language. If the constructs of a system that denies the possibility of otherness reside in the word and the text, what is left for the body to subvert of the languages that organize it?

What is Writing, Then, When it Becomes Body?

We could say that through performance the whole body becomes a poem. In the field of language, poetry enables becomings that dislocate the limits and certainties of meaning around writing. In these fractures, it is possible for the world to reveal itself beyond the automatism of the words that define it and give it a body.

Through poetry, the work of Isaac Olvera and that of Víctor del Moral move through writing and orality. Though very different, their practices resort to performance as the place where the re-corporealization of language becomes possible through the overflowing of the limits that physically and formally organize it. In a quest to become familiar with borders, they explore the limits of the sculptural, an artistic language that is a contradiction in and of itself: an organless, yet organized body. Can performance be the tickle of what an aesthetically organized body can do/be?

Isaac calligraphs bodies through the construction of narratives that come from his transit through the borders of both public space and those of a spiritual dimension—narratives that he corporealizes from poetry to dislocate the certainty of language when it comes to representation. On the other hand, poetry allows Víctor to deform and dislocate the written word and its elements—letters, phonetics, grammatical rules, their sculptural transformation and linearity—and to embody it through orality, the edge of the organ that detaches from the body through voice, thus reinhabiting language from viscerality.

Diego del Valle Ríos: Embodied, writing is warm and pulsing. When made cold by hegemony and its control over meaning and sense—to substantiate the toxic economic, political, and social order—the word can condition the power of the body and limit it as the footprint of a mass of organized bodies that inhabit the word as dogma. In a game of reflections, that mass constructs space and time. How does your artistic exploration liberate you from that dominant reality? In other words, through performance, can writing (re)construct and disrupt your respective experiences of space, visuality, and time?
Isaac Olvera: One is crossed by people and that shapes the body, but it is much more perverse when writing links two or more subjects through the introspective. For example, the epistolary relationship that I had between 2016 and 2017 with a poet, whom I met while reciting poetry on public transportation in Mexico City, and with whom I reconnected through the muca-Roma museum and El Gráfico newspaper in the exhibition ¿Vendrás cuando leas que te busco, Edgar Poeta?, partially changed both of our lives: he decided to go easy on the cocaine and to stick to publishing, and I started to experience a novel life and to reanimate one of his muses, Natasha, the deceased daughter of an influential Mexican writer, for him.
What I write often seeps into my daily and professional life. However, when I think of the body before its meaning, I discover other ways of writing that are linked to the time and movement of sculpture. For example, as a result of lending my body through performance to the spirit of Natasha, and tracking it through wealthy and marginal areas, between yonkis and street poets, I synthesized a linguistic code based on the movement of hair [1]—figuratively, Natasha’s hair, self-destructive, a femme fatale. On the other hand, drag and dramaturgy have become technical resources for a shamanic exercise: they guide the intersection of art and life around my reanimations of Natasha as a counterweight to the history of foundational Mexican literature, of magical realism, and the organic intellectual.
In retrospect, I do not think that either the performative-spiritual act or the epistolary one will free me completely from the dominant reality. The work is part of channels that make it circular and that work because of economic, political, and social reasons. The system places the idea of freedom within art.

Víctor del Moral: To experience the word as dogma is one of the most dangerous things that a society can do. Even though there are etymologies that illuminate the origin of a concept, a community that does not renew its vocabulary and does not place their pillar words in crisis is destined to repeat its mistakes. In Cagadero del lenguaje, a long-term piece that I am currently working on, I write words I want to eliminate from my vocabulary on adult diapers, using shit and oil paint. Often times, I write those words in their Latin or Greek root in order to cut them short, like bad weeds—from the root. Toxic words that we expell through the OrTrO [2], el otro orto: the mouth, through which we also spew a lot of shit. [3]
Writing is a social fabric, an entity, a web that is much more complicated to understand and disarticulate. I am interested in the possibility of dis-locating it, which I explore, for example, through a recent work, paLíndro, a lecto-sculpture [4] composed of reflections, shadows, and copies of geometric shapes and letters that unfold as a habitable text that uses palindromes as metaphors for the reversibility of ideas. Palindromes synthesize, in a rhetorical figure, the idea with which I’ve been working for several years now: that extremes touch each other.[5] In this sense, the installation works as a cave that goes back to the origin of language where darkness, as support for writing, is light. It is about Plato’s cave talking to the nightclub. (mirrors, LEDs, appearances). paLíndro is a negotiation between two palindromes: Y O  S O Y and S O M O S [6], an intersection of individual and collective identity in a game of deconstructed and unfolded writing, which puts the relevance of linguistic communication before cryptic solipsistic codes in tension. And so, the writing of Y O  S O Y unfolded in a twisted staircase, almost like a linguistic DNA, and S O M O S was reflected, literally, as a set of cut out mirrors distributed in space. The installation served as a shelter for reciting palindromes, where the body acts as the gear of the sculpture through the oral power that it sculpts and inhabits in space. Language is a virus and the best antibody is the body itself.

IO: Burroughs also said that language is a virus. His cut-up technique reminds me of your breaks in enunciation, Víctor, during the reading where I first met you at the Jardín Borda, in 2014 [7]. I am struck by how your writing is filled with alliterations. Is it because of texture?
VDM: Laurie Anderson also deals with language as virus! Language is a very large thing, there are so many… In general, all language uses repetition to create code. Exaggerating this repetition creates texture and then we can get away from a singular meaning, allowing new perspectives in order to understand ourselves as other. Let’s say it helps me identify the shell, the mask.
DDVR: Language is virulent, it acts with autonomy: it stays, grows, and reproduces infecting gestures and pulsations from body to body. The living body—which is defined by a principle of cadence, of course—reacts, adapts, and memorizes. However, language is not immutable.
IO: Languages mutated like the gradients of a swirl of colors before nation states, which were responsible for the homogenization of language through several strategies, were formed. That is why we have the Royal Spanish Academy. Maybe now the emojis, memes, and slang of the informal economy are a new linguistic variant that is changing fiercely, as happened with those languages without an academy. Writing in performance cannot be compared to this, due to its limited dissemination in society. However, it has allowed me to measure the world with a human scale and ground acts of imagination.

The parameters for corporal editing—for example, breathing or the size of an arm—influence the act of writing, of constructing volume, of linking images, and of rethinking spatio-temporal relations with discourse.

In practice, I try to establish a crossroads between the body (biological, sculptural, and spatial) and the changes of rhythm between theater and performance art, inside and outside of the spaces we dedicate to exercising art, which for the moment I define as the “social stage”. [8] Performing turns you into a submarine, and that is how I’ve reached somewhat risky areas. [9] Is excess vital?
DDVR: I think that excess distances us from the surface of certainty. Uncertain space transfigures our perception, offering us new ways of seeing the world. Being vitalistic, excess allows for the construction of resources—taking obvious distance from capitalist logics. In the case of your performative practices of corporalization, achieved by the excess of embodying the word, one of the resources that are generated is the vulnerability of the body, a reminder of vitality: living art.

IO: Quoting an acquaintance from a dating app: “everything with excess!”
VDM: For me, per-forming has a lot to do with error. Inhabiting error is recognizing oneself as vulnerable. In presence there is ridicule, and in ridicule, the clumsiness of the living body and the injured word are revealed. I am very interested in the impossibility of communication. There are several pieces that I’ve done that work with this idea in order to take the act of reading into states of vulnerability, to put discourse at risk, to crash rhetoric. The first time, I tried to read identification documents in public while inhaling pepper; I was trying to induce a sneeze as a disruptive physical impulse. Later on, in Lectura higiénica, I tried to read texts while brushing my teeth for hours, in an effort to wash the truth and disinfect rhetoric, to rinse the lie! In Puro Rollo, an ad-infinitum piece, I read texts written on a roll of toilet paper from an elevated position. I am interested in everything that talks about “falling,” alluding to the gravity of paper and what was said in order to finally crack the linearity of the text as it fell. What is left was puro rollo, just the roll.
On the other hand, in A-rtifugio, I choreo-graph a series of movements with a letter “A” that is exactly the same size as me on a boat on the Lago de Chapultepec. The central point is that it is only when I split the “A” in half and use its parts as oars that I am able to navigate the lake. Breaking the symbol and turning it into a tool, going from sign to verb, turning artifice into contraption. The possibility of impossibility: communication as a means of transportation, a very austere one, like a boat with oars. I like to think of the engineering of letters as aqueducts of ideas, oars that allow us to navigate artificial lakes, such as “Spanish” or the Lago de Chapultepec. In the end, I lost an oar.

I am briefly describing these lecto-sculptures because they are attempts at vulnerable, almost failed, communication, which at the same time is already delineating something: there is image, body, and voice. The accident communicates. ¡Texto textarudo, eres sólo textura! (Strong headed text, you are just texture!)
IO: In my case, I take on vulnerability from the absurd and the intense. It comes naturally to me, to provoke, to be a jester-poet, coming from the fragile stability of life. What crosses and conforms us resurges in the vomit of words, and one is stained by ridicule. In Ojos de garganta, I tore up my diary and put it in cigarette packs that I had collected in the street for months.. With them, I built a social stage to share with and through the audience, among whom were people to whom I had alluded in the diary using pseudonyms. The embodied word constitutes one’s body, it is very weird to try to embody your writing through someone else’s body. It is similar to a person dressed in drag who does not hide their sex and thus exposes the toxicity of habits. Listening to the diary read through other mouths, one measures the depth of one’s anus, but also the formal dimensions of the images that it evokes. [10]
DDVR: The reason I invited you to talk is because your artistic practice personally puts me in a position of uncertainty and vulnerability, but also a space where I find the opportunity to resignify those two words and the bodily sensations they evoke. A sort of homonymity and paronymy. I suppose there lies the importance of the living body in performance. Your work opens up many questions regarding the relationship I have with my own body through linguistic construction.
VDM: I think it is urgent to philosophize again and from the living body, with the mouth, with the anus. The mouth is the support of all supports; however, poetry is oral and anal. We use the same muscle to kiss, suckle, and talk! I explore this in OrTrO, an invented palindrome which intermittently links the anus and the mouth; an inhabitable text that stems from the intestine as the governing cerebral organ. I think it is necessary to stop making so many language-brain connections and to think more about language-digestion ones. There we will find other ways of constructing and deconstructing senses and meanings.

IO: The mouth is also how we ingest substances. The anus would be another mouth. Who said that the ass talked? In a word game to synthesize my practice as narrator and performer, Humouth refers to the human-mouth; but since we’ve brought the anus into this discussion, we could think of it as Humass.
DDVR: How lucky that the humANO [11] is bilingual and came to talk to us, for their word, corroded and reduced to waste, is a reflection of an alteration of sense. We return to the excess that reveals subjectivity to be an illusion. Corporealizing is then dissolving the limits of one and the other, not in order to create a mass, but to enable communication outside of separate existences: the Natasha-Isaac-Edgar triad or the rhetorical figure of “extremes touch each other,” the boc-ano (mouth-anus). Language can be distanced from its meaning to acquire a new one.
IO: That’s it, human.
VDM: Or, hu-MANO. [12]
DDVR: It is precisely the hu-MANO [13] who has automatized the language resulting from digital technology and hyperacceleration. Bodies are constricted, distanced, de-erotized. In contrast, poetry is a point of harmony between senses and bodies. Do you find your performances to be a re-eroticization of the body? Do you believe the audience, when they see you, feels seduced?
IO: I don’t know. Eroticism is, to me, a fleeting moment, foreign to the control I may have over “doing something erotic.” I capture and problematize images that turn me on, and if we start from the idea that I share a general intellect with my social class, surely others in my group will feel implicated by similar events. The voice that appeals to a certain sense of duty within your group asks you to communicate with good principles, with the voice of activism, of social responsibility. The construction of my career has been constituted on the juxtaposition of the gaze and the voice of order, and I do not distinguish between the enthusiasm and eroticism of a political context. I am seduced by the world, and through the corporealization of language I do something similar to the act of cruising, the gaze that practices an impersonal intimacy with the duties that are mentioned. For example, I’ve filmed men I like at protests I attend. My body is militant with the cause, but the lens turns to desire. The common cause returns when I show these videos, because the audio filters the protest, under a particular desire. Naming constructs realities and I have tried to be conscious of how the work of art is altered through the word. By giving a title per hour to one of those short erotic videos, the span of a fleeting moment extends. The look in Natasha’s eyes, on the other hand, takes us to the surface of flesh, to what is sexy about a darker problem, more of an intellectual ghetto, and perhaps idiosyncratic? But also, in everyday life poetic language—even with its cynicism—can deal with the problem of the technological device that has become an end in itself. Or rather, the end in itself of the poetic applied to current conditions of technology can dislocate toxic and dehumanizing effects. On one occasion, I pretended to be Emmanuel Macron on a dating app, and in another, I talked to Marcel Proust’s dates. In both cases, I replaced the addiction to body contact with that of language and provocation, in favor of critical and fabulous complicities. I could say, perhaps, that I have not pretended to re-eroticize the body or become seductive, but rather to exercise the gaze with the full right of whoever militates.
VDM: Making art is another form of philosophizing, and there lies the recontextualization of eroticism on many levels. By corporealizing text, I think of the notion of a textacle, a mutant word that, as a metaphor, allows me to understand text as a flexible and invertebrate body. Flexible due to its capacity to integrate into other formats, and invertebrate due to the absence of a rigid structure to support it, like a tentacle.
I think in my case it is about an exercise of eroticizing words in relation to objects, of understanding the word as body. As I’ve said, one of the main tasks in my practice is transporting the text to its texture, this is what makes it sensorial and physical. In this sense, a question I constantly ask through my work is, how can one write in the slowest possible way? Many of my pieces, contrary to the rapid typing of Twitter or social media, aim to decelerate the act of writing. Taking time to write a letter in weeks, whether sculpting or drawing it. The word that is body and verb is alive. And if it lives, there is always desire.

Diego Del Valle Ríos is Editor-in-Chief of Terremoto and member of the Permanent Circle of Independent Studies (CIPEI, in its Spanish acronym) Menos Foucault Más Shakira.

Issac Olvera (Zacatlán MX, 1982) Visual artist and playwright. His artistic practice is based on the intersection between performance and sculpture through writing as social instrument. He graduated from Goldsmiths College (2011) and was a resident in Gasworks (2014).

Víctor del Moral (1987) Textual artist and choreographer of the word. His works explore identity as a constant negotiation between language and landscape. He has been twice the recipient of the Jóvenes Creadores FONCA program and was a resident at La Fabrique des Images in Aix, Provence, France (2014). He won the emergent artist distinction award, by the Cisneros Fontanal Foundation, CIFO (2018).

Notes

  1. TN: Here, the artist makes a play on words, combining the word for “other,” otro, and a slang term for “anus,” orto, into one word: “OrTrO,” the “other anus,” aka the mouth, the other entrance into our body.

  2. Lecto-sculptures are sculptures that integrate the act of reading/writing as a fundamental part of their structure; this is accomplished through performative mechanisms that use the word (written or spoken) as a vehicle that offers the spectator a physical and tangible relationship beyond the text. Here, the notion of conventional reading is blurred, and at the same time it displaces the “fixed” idea of a sculpture from its pedestal. The combination of the verb and subject resides in the same body as the word. It is a term that is always mutating, that auto-edits itself and moves. For this reason, it could be said that, more than a term, it is a beginning: a term that never ends.

  3. TN: “Yo soy” means “I am,” and “somos” means “we are” in Spanish.

  4. Participation in Vicente Razo’s Jornadas de poesía administrativa in Entre utopía y desencanto, curated by Sofía Olascoaga.

  5. The idea of a social stage is related to cultural cycles: after having become accustomed to a state of affairs, the asphyxiation of such a situation explodes into an event—to paraphrase Alain Badiou discussing the birth of revolutions. In this sense, a social stage is a project of a temporal and spatial character that begins with a theatrical moment in order to create the conditions that will allow the public to understand what happens, and to become accustom to the situation; and, as a result, so that certain rules or languages can be created that will subsequently break with the rhythm of the performance, into an event, which none of the above allows us to understand, but which gives it meaning. Under this form, the body of the audience and the performer acquire a major meaning as volume in space.

  6. As part of the reanimations of Natasha in dinners, bars, and museums, in one occasion we ended partying until dawn in the house of one of her friends, in a neighborhood that had a bad reputation. On another occasion, my body did not resist the weight of hers and my dolls fell asleep for several months.

  7. “Men of my age on dating apps look as though they’re somewhere between adults and teenagers, businessmen and office workers, mature travelers, parents, conservative subjects, who are more established than interested in change. The marginal philosophy—which nobody is interested in Cambridge or Oxford—cuts bits off the verb ‘to be.’ Neither I, nor am I. ‘Ah, a 36-year-old man with good vital signs…let me guess, he’s coming in for a venereal disease…’” (May 8, 2017).

    “After the performatic reading in the bookstore, Lhlhlhlh invited me to their house. Lhlhlhlh and Lhlhlhlh also came. Yes, Lhlhlhlh who went to the same high school where I studied, who came to show their work at the Lhlhlhlh museum. Their fingers, attitude, commentaries, and make-up (———————). In Spanish, as in any other language, you can guess where someone is from their accent. Too much perfection around me, made me want to leave.” (April 5, 2015).

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