The Temple Trilogy

The 1st International Convention of Nubölarîs was an immense, immersive artistic experience that took place on the 23rd, 26th and 29th of July 2017 in a post-industrial space consisting of an 80-minute display of visual art, sound rituals, multimedia installations, dynamic sculpture, fireworks and performance art, all wrapped up in a sort of microexodus guided by “human bees”. Art critic David Castillo referred to it as “sensory immersion made art”.

For the Convention, I chose to work on a relatively narrow space of about 20m2, where I would perform three different actions. From the very outset, I found that enclosure to be worthy of a quasi-metaphysical investment. To put it bluntly, it felt like a chapel, yet one without any trace of faith whatsoever.

I decided to elaborate on distinctive significations according to three different religious traditions. Coptic (Egyptian Christian) immediately stood out as my first option. I wanted to make a bold statement against the hideous attacks by terrorist Islamic State to a Christian minority in a country with a Muslim majority.

Digital invitation postcard. Coptic was supported by the International League Against Racism and Antisemitism (LICRA).

For this action, I installed 16 halogen lamps of 500W each, 8 on each side of “Icon”, a black monochrome painting on a white wall. A few seconds after the witnesses got in the premises, all the lamps were switched on, all of a sudden, causing a sense of flare. However, the light was kept until the action came to an end, with the halogens producing an additional thermic discomfort. I greeted every one of the 40 witnesses attending the first night with a “reciprocal gaze”. I was wearing a black apron over black underwear.

A moment of Coptic. I’ve looked at every witness in their eyes and then touched their shoulders briefly while trying to respond to their gaze. From right to left: Mercè Homs, Sílvia Arnau, Luz Trujillo, and myself. Photo: Mauri Naph.
Installation for Coptic: 16 500W halogen lamps, 8 on each side of my black monochrome “Icon”. The room was painted white. The lights were controlled from a distribution board in an adjacent room. Production: Nubôlaris. Photo: Mauri Naph.
View from the outside. Photo: Xavi Lloses.

Coptic was generally praised by the audience as a deeply emotional, transformative action. It was also the performance that relied the most on a contextual installation. To some extent, I was afraid it would end up as a site-specific update of the ‘reciprocal gaze’ device. I am sure, though, that Coptic would not have taken place at all outside the scope of Nubôlaris, nor would it have achieved such political transcendence without LICRA’s enthusiastic support.

Nevertheless, I must admit it gave me the boost I needed to convert the unusual temple in a much more recognizable cult locus, albeit with Satanic overtones. Back in 2016, I was having a strawberry mochi at Takeshi Ochiai with Isabel Chavarría, widow to Genís Cano, Barcelona-based counterculture poet and glamour icon deceased in February 2007. Besides the fact that we love strawberry mochis, we wanted to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his passing away in a way he might have enjoyed: cheerfully yet blatantly patriotic, and tastefully subversive.

Isabel kept sending me inspiring pictures of Arab faqirs and other fascinating gentlemen from an exhibition at the Louvre some years ago, like the one below.

Genital was a pagan, quasi-Satanic act in memory of counterculture poet Genís Cano, who passed away in 2007. I celebrated a non-confessional mourning service dedicated to his widow with elements from Christian and Rosicrucian rituals. Blood spilled from my forehead as I punctured my skin with four large needles, thus evoking Catalonia’s national flag.

Of course those were beyond inspiring. The objects used in the noir grieving were: his last poety book Taps de llum zenital, a Jean Louis Scherrer eau de parfum, a Medusa cup and a pillow blanket that belonged to Genís, black Empordà wine, three makeup cotton pads, and four extraction needles. The texts, treated as objects, were Cano’s untranslatable “quan satan s’atansa tant” and Apocalypse 2, 18-29 (to the angel of the church of Thyatira). Since representing Genís was out of question, I decided to wear his clothes and accessories, including a Konrad Muhr shirt and an Enrique Varón tie, J Lindberg jeans, and the unfailing Catalan alpergates.

Christian and Rosicrucian elements were easily syncretized into a Satanic masquerade of poetic blasphemy evolving into a declaration of the Independent Republic of Catalonia, something no one seemed to pay much attention to. Indeed, Genital was an in-your-face accusation of political inertia two months before the secessionist referendum. Puncturing my forehead with four large needles made me bleed in a way that evoked the Catalan quatribarrada (four-stripe) flag.

The third and last action was the least political yet the longest lasting, physically demanding, and also the most mindblowing for some witnesses. I wanted to facilitate the participation in a speculative approach to knowledge, following the previous action Palm Springs (2016) with Alex Pallí. Under the influence of The Cloud of Unknowing and the Brazilian Vegetable Church (Igreja do Vegetal), I told the witnesses I was going to give them my most treasured good: my consciousness. To do so, I made sure someone would stop me or calm me down after about 10 minutes so that the Convention would go on with or without me. Under the effect of a DMT blend, I answered spontaneous questions made by witnesses. The interaction felt relatively dull during the first act. However, during a second act, witnesses were invited one by one to the temple where they could ask the Oracle privately. The action lasted four more hours and it was one of the most directly rewarding I have done as a performance artist.

Eventually, my dearest fellow performance artist and poet Ester Xargay told me that Oracle was also the name of the last action Carles Hac Mor did (at Muga Caula festival) before he passed away last year. Perhaps the Temple Trilogy was first and foremost an experience on the nature of grief.

Oracle was a performance artwork in two moments: a suite to Palm Springs (2016) and a series of one-to-one actions. It completed the Temple Trilogy initiated with Coptic and followed by Genital.
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Push

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During her seminar on “Freud to Klein: Death Drive, Plesure, Ethics” at the Institute for Critical Social Inquiry (The New School), Judith Butler pointed to the fact that “push” might be a better translation of the German “Trieb”, a term largely elaborated by Sigmund Freud and deeply significant for Butler’s critical update to the theory of so-called drives.

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Postcard for the original action over a picture by Marcello Taglialatela.

I had planned to do Aaliyah at Union Square as a non-religious return to the Jewishness my family was denied by the Inquisition and that I am now denied by institutional Judaism. I wanted to convert historical cleansing in a declaration of spiritual queerness at the heart of diaspora New York has been since the late 19th century. However, after the Orlando mass killing of gay and trans people mainly from Puerto Rico, a crowd gathered in Union Square to mourn the victims and I felt like the action I had in mind should be postponed.

 

 

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Photography: Grayson Hunt. (Ann Matthew holding my hands; Anna-Esther Younes sitting by the window.) ICSI, The New School. Thanks to Charles McDonald and Valentina Ramia.

I knew, however, that I didn’t want to leave New York without doing something about returning or turning something back in non-violent ways, so I invited all the fellows at The New School seminars to join me in a collective performance called Push. I prompted them to do whatever action they wished on me without causing my death or permanent damage. Actions ranged from kissing and cheerful dancing to light spanking, from writing on my skin to throwing wine on me. As my objectification became more and more clear, a certain malaise could be felt in the air. Most witnesses were caught by surprise as I started returning the actions to the ones who had acted them on me, albeit in a non-violent way and through diverse interpretive operations. The poignancy it generated in an academic setting was probably the most notable strength of the action. A few days later, I got some email messages from witnesses ackowledging the impact it had had on them; and one of them even mentioned the way it made her recall her relatives’ stories of survival to the Shoah. In a certain way, Push had become something of a new Aaliyah for her.

 

Europe

As the forced massive migration of Syrians disrupted once again the European indulgent self-image of the cradle of civilization, a humanist wave came out promising to counteract the effects of border policies -violently enforced upon fleeing populations- with patronizing intentions of hospitality. Following the analogy between geopolitical and bodily boundaries, I invited a group of witnesses to enter my body by crossing the anal border with their hands.

Gloves, lubricant and nailclippers were available. I took all my clothes off as I gave the instructions. The setting suggested that the expected action was the one known as fisting or fistfucking, so I stressed the technical character of the action. The door of the room was shut in order to prevent people from joining out of mere curiosity.

Five people participated beyond witnessing. The first one introduced her fist in my ass. The second one introduced two fingers. The third one cut my foot fingernails then left the room. The fourth one cut her fingernails, put on a glove and introduced a part of her hand. The fifth one cut some hair below my lower lip. Some more people left the room in the meantime. When the action was over, I stood up again, put my clothes on and told the witnesses: “This is Europe. Thank you very much.” As was the case with previous actions, there was an ovation that could be understood as unwillingly mistaking the action for a show. Applauding after a performance allows the witness to take a certain distance and emotional disengagement from it, and it is arguably a subtle form of depoliticizing it.

The “Europa” series of pictures by Toni Payan accompanied the “velvet teaser”.

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MRTHGRHM

MRTHGRHM

“Every dance is a kind of fever chart, a graph of the heart.”
– Martha Graham

The choreographed mourning of Martha Graham on the 25th anniversary of her death was the first open-air performance I did in urban space (the first open-air being Transhumance). There were warned and naïve witnesses. One of them recorded the first seconds of the action for a deceased body.

Different linguistic approaches identify a material and a speculative reality in the linguistic sign. Upon Saussure’s distinction between signifier and signified, Lacan found that the subject can only signify for an other signifier: no one signifies oneself.

We may feel forever grateful to the other even if we think we have reasons to hate her. This is the symbolic debt that only death can cancel because death is the gift of dispossession.

Another linguist, Hjelmslev, made the distinction between expression and content, which seems to be a better fit when it comes to the body. Taken as a sign, we can say presence is the body’s expression while incontinence is its content. To be in the presence of the other, to find her in front of oneself –this is the continual accident of an originally misled separation.

The fight between containing or not containing oneself outlines each singular voice set aside pathologizing, positivist, ideological, or cultural speeches. Resisting the fight or fighting for the love of failure seem rather good options to rescue the utopian, negative, body of art.

This was the motive for MRTHGRHM.

Killing Lluís Companys

Actions can be repeated. Acts cannot. Act is an intended or unintended milestone, like the turn of the year, a revelation or a performance. It defines a shift and relates a beginning to an end. It crisscrosses continuity.

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Aspiration could not be repeated but some of its elements have gone through further reinterpretation: nudity and vulnerability, the national flag, ketchup and mustard as chromatic and pragmatic signifiers of Catalonia, Spain, and the execution by a firing squad. Quite obviously for a Catalan literate audience, the executed body is that of Lluís Companys, the only democratically elected president to be sentenced to death. His biography has been used in a variety of ways to justify a diversity of approaches to the political status of Catalonia. Taking on the kind of dystopia that framed Kristallnacht (October 2015) and those elements of Aspiration (December 2014), I urged two witnesses to mummify my body with plastic wrap (stand-up burial), then go to a luggage bag, grab all the ammunition (several bottles of ketchup and mustard) and shoot until over. Afterwards, they should wear vinyl gloves and remove the plastic wrap as a conclusion.

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Killing Lluís Companys was advertised as killlluis so that the “l” sequence would match the four red stripes on the Catalan flag and the logo of Institut Ramon Llull, the official institution of Catalan language and culture. The musician and filmmaker Jose Mas (Sonodrome, Suz-o-Suz Studio) composed a 7-minute dark ambient track thanks to which the sound of church bells and industrial noise reverberated during the rather ritualistic action. It has now become part of a wider, multitemporal act of sovereignty.

Photography: Alejandro Cano.
Soundscape: Jose Mas.
Video recording and edit: Jose Mas.

Transhumance

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Interview with national broadcast TVE at Torralba, Aragon.

Aragon was the first Spanish community to acknowledge transhumance as Immaterial Patrimony. Transhumants are a specific kind of migrants who move from winter to summer pastures and back. This is a peculiar practice in more than way. It names both the cattle and the human animal who guides; unlike the words emigrant and immigrant, it collapses both movements under the same singularity of the move. It may thus refer to the kind of reversible circularity, equivocal one-sidedness of the Moebius band that describes the openness of the signifier according to Lacan.

What is more, the signifier transhumance allows for a play on trans as in transgender, human and the -mancy suffix related to prediction. I could almost feel the word invoking me to perform the continuity of the signifier in those significations with the help of my former training on philology and psychoanalysis. Besides, I had started to claim my voice as a transgender person in order to embody the postgender in the era of social digitalization.

We may understand so-called social networks as corporately owned databases that codify and control social behavior by way of data collection and surveillance, and capitalize on that shared information. As opposed to that, I conceived Transhumance as a one-time, live and non-recordeable performance in the second most desertified area of Europe, in Aragon, in the presence of very few locals, during a residency. There is only one video recording of a rehearsal for the chants that were sung during the performance, after the sunset in the early winter, about the same time the sheeps would fall asleep.

 

As a consequence of performing transhumance in Aragon, I relocated to Torralba de Ribota a few months later.

Time is Honey

“Matter is not vain,
Matter is luminous.”

The headlines are taken from Portuguese writer Maria Gabriela Llansol’s (1931-2008) Burning Text, Joshua (Ardente Texto, Joshua) and they are meant to rescue the correlation between light and worthiness: not vain, luminous. After Kristallnacht, I wanted to delve deeper in a journey of self-knowledge through sound. Kristallnacht was punctuated by the ominous sound of shooting in Mondkopf’s Stars Are Falling and the anxiety of Jon Hopkins’ techno anthem Collider, whereas Time is Honey was entirely performed to acoustic translations of the subtle light I got from the staring faces of fifteen witnesses standing in a circle.

Time is Honey was performed at Espai Blanc after the last in a series of 4-hour work sessions or laboratories called Body Voice Action and guided by Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards’ disciple Pere Sais. The witnesses were invited to dip their right index finger in a bowl with honey, and then enter the performance space and stand in a circle. I looked at each one of them until some nonverbal communication could take place. Afterwards, I assigned a sound to each one of the witnesses, I started walking back and forth to reach out for the witnesses and compose a melody informed by the subtle sounds I had assigned. The action came to an end when the composition got complex enough, bringing about a sense of completeness.

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Photography: Mar C. Llop.

Kristallnacht

“Tonight is November 9, 1938. A few day after Dies after the withdrawal of the International Brigades of Barcelona, the Schutzstaffelor Protection Squad, better known as the SS, burned synagogues all over Germany and destroyed the factories and businesses of Jews, scapegoats of the economic crisis. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, some people glare incredulously at a performance set in a distant October 30, 2015. They do not know yet that history is repetition.”

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I hesitated a lot whether or not to consider Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass) a performance. From the very beginning, I felt like the action to be undertaken had to do primarily with myself. It was about being a Jew, about not having chosen to be a Jew, about loving techno and dancing. It was about not taking things too seriously in order to pursue serious achievements. Advertised as a dystopia, Kristallnacht was performed as part of the 10th edition of EnAct, the Catalonian performance art festival led by Primo Gabbiano and Maria Joao Floxo.

[1’01”-2’13”]

Photography, video recording and edit: Giacomo Tonoli.

The Age of Aquarius

My work as a psychoanalyst has often given me the opportunity to deal with bodies affected by an unstable environment and an uninterrupted, pathologic temporality. One of the symptoms of this temporality is consumption, the governing mode of relating to objects. While definite meaning continually escapes us, we can collect meaningfulness by purchasing, that is to say, representing objects as possessions.

In monetized societies, money is that which deprives us from the possibility of sharing. Money implies private property and exclusion, which are contrary to the recognition of the Continous Body, so insisting upon the ideas of privacy and exclusivity becomes necessary to sustain the delusion of capitalism. That delusion consists in believing the speculative value of money to be a material reality.

The Age of Aquarius is the era of waste and recognition.

We are invited to recognize money and ourselves as waste containers.

Madness and consumption were showcased and problematized through the relation between my naked body and a dead octopus that I bought the morning of that same day in the Barcelona central market of La Boqueria, part of an ever-growing speculative food and touristic business that is connected to the “Barcelona brand” yet disconnected from the causes of speculation and its environmental consequences.

The Age of Aquarius was advertised as a performance of indeterminate length, starting at 5pm, October 3rd, during Barcelona Gallery Weekend. It took place in TPK, L’Hospitalet, in the building of a renowned school of fine arts. I occupied a 4m2 dark grey carpet where I stayed for approximately six hours during which there was barely any interaction with the witnesses. The most noticeable consequence was the scent of the decomposing body of the octopus after several hours of intense manipulation. Several witnesses complained about the action being disgusting or incomprehensible.

 

Profile

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"Ibraim" by Paolo Portaluri (2015).
“Ibraim” by Paolo Portaluri (2015).

Profile was a fake spontaneous action during the vernissage of Quelic Berga and Paolo Portaluri’s exhibition at LGBT association Casal Lambda. I started shouting “Hello!” in several directions, addressing the people who were about to drink their glasses of wine. Then I began to repeat commonplace questions of dating applications while I prompted some witnesses to help me take off my clothes. I ended up undressing myself and yawning until I laid down on the floor.

Quelic Berga’s was photographic work based on the defacement of “real” profile pics taken from dating networks, whereas Paolo Portaluri’s was an installation of naïvely framed illustrations of profile pics mainly taken from Grindr.

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