#Mar. A Nomadic Lecture

During 2021, I worked with Margarita Molfino and Alina Marinelli, two movement artists and feminist activists from Argentina. I was invited to present the Spanish translation of my book Performance Constellations in the Buenos Aires Performance Biennial (BP21). The Buenos Aires Performance Biennial has taken place since 2015. Artists such as Marina Abramovic, Orlan, Sophie Calle, William Kentridge, Santiago Sierra, Tania Bruguera, and José Alejandro Restrepo have been featured alongside local artists such as Grupo Krapp, Amalia Pica, Grupo Etcétera, Gabo Ferro, Emilio García Wehbi, and others. Choreographer and dance scholar Susana Tambutti is in charge of organizing the academic branch of the biennial.

For the 2021 biennial, our goal was to present Activismos tecnopolíticos and thus include in the biennial programming performance theory and protest movements that employ aesthetic performance as a political tool. Molfino and Marinelli would create a segment responding to the ideas in my book drawing from their own work as feminist activists in collectives such as Escena Política and Actrices Argentinas. They will also contribute their own understanding of what the concept of performance constellations could offer artists, particularly in the context of the many media experimentations with liveness and (a)synchronous performance that have taken place in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of the developing pandemic, the Biennial, which have been initially scheduled for June, was launched in December. My own participation was put in doubt due to travelling restrictions. So, this turned our initial ideas about the possibility of doing a lecture performance to present my book into an investigation about the genre of delegated performance. What was somewhat certain was that I could count on Margarita and Alina to present the book in my stead. The rest, we had no idea how it would unfold. Thus, the process of creation itself (with distances and absences) was informed by the ideas offered in the book. And this turned into a reflection on transnational subjects (the focus of my ongoing solo performance Sujeto Transnacional).

My telling of the “trials” that immigrants have to go through during the many vetting processes that are part of applying for visas or Long Permanent Residency (Green Card) as well as re-entry interviews at airports. The additional materials from Sujeto Transnacional that I shared with them sparked an interest in approaching the performance assignment as a process of trial and error rather than a finished performance. The topic, the challenge, became the dramaturgy. This juxtaposition between geographic and identitarian displacement and pandemic remoteness is also where the notion of “nomadic lecture” that we coined comes from: as a transfer from subject to subject (delegated performance) and as a way of accounting for distance and isolation beyond our current circumstances.

The title, #Mar, furthers this investigation on voice, embodiment, individuality and collectivity, a blurring of subjective borders, an experiment in authorship and shared, dislocated, and disseminated selfhood. That is, #Mar is our own utopia, informed by the worldmaking practices and ideas currently at play in contemporary feminisms regarding agency, embodiment, and care.

In #Mar, the introduction of the performance plays linguistically with the fact of my absence. The voice-over uses the conditional tense (I would be…) as a space for inserting what would have been into the now of the audience’s experience. It introduces spectators to the core proposition of the performance: to inhabit difficulty and the present of the event as a sensorial entry point into the ideas of the book.

Then, the performers literally face the question that guides the piece: With what part of your body would you tell your story?

During the making process we realized that the research questions addressed in the book were not “performance material.” They lacked the force of something vivid that would honor the encounter between performers and the audience. The figure of the question, as something that inaugurates a vibrant “now”, as a tactic of “eventness,” needed a proper object, or rather, a genuine interest in a response. It was not about opening an inquiry to then answer it ourselves, as it happens in a regular lecture or TED talk. It was about opening a horizon where the audience might feel truly interpelated, invited to launch their own reckoning while continuing to hold space for what we had assembled. We turned the difficulty brought about by our particular quest (how to account for the book, how to expand it into new avenues beyond the archives explored, how to work with and through distance without relying on technology) into the material of the performance. We were interested not in creating a networked performance in the traditional sense but in an exploration of subject positions, voice, absence and presence. This also reflects the work of writing a book on protest and activism under the frame of performing constellations, aliveness, reactivations, and accumulation. The question of how writing itself might honor the once-againess and persistence of the activists’ work, that is, the very reason why activists rely on performance as an embodied practice and reverberating tactic in the first place.

#Mar: A nomadic lecture (excerpt)

You would arrive at the designated space.
You would find me there.You would locate your seat.
You would pick one,
maybe close but not so much,
in case this ended up being a participatory performance.

And suddenly,
my voice,
a few questions to explore,
three or four arguments for discussion.
the outome of years of observation,
of looking from afar,
of trying to understand from within.
Thoughts that are part of a round trip
where there is always one foot outside.
Even within this precise moment of dissertating a presumed knowledge.

This is where the performatic of this lecture performance comes from,
that is, from something that evokes a little machine,
that is,
a doing that is done
as part of a process that is not guaranteed.

You might be asking yourselves:
What’s this?
And now?
Now, we are left without the other
because we are are left without the streets,
Or that’s what we believe.
And at the same time,
enough with that!
We are still here!
What’s the plan?
Let’s use this now.

A lecture that turns into a live event,
|a set of trials, rehearsals.
Not mere reports of what happened
nor reflections about what is happening (to us)
but a flaming thread that runs through this,
the story, a book
and that.

Make space for something to happen.
A question, for example.

Video: Mariel Méndez
Photos: Celeste Alonso