Writing a dissertation on a historical case of Art and Porn in pandemic times
WRITING: POPULATED SOLITUDE
Writing-in-trance. Solitude has never been so inhabited and populated as in the last years. A picture of an anonymous street sign hangs on the wall. It says in Portuguese, “Some things only leave us [or can be expressed] through writing,” referring to the time it takes for bodily experiences to be turned into words. Writing is an exercise of giving, healing, justice, and sometimes a way to exorcise memories. For this reason, the solitude of writing also brought pleasure and momentary suffering. Writing must be an act of justice.
Fig. 1 — Coletivo Transverso – arte urbana e poesia, “Tem coisa que só sai da gente por escrito”, YouTube video, 1:26, posted by “Coletivo Transverso,” July 19, 2013, https://youtu.be/WZsKaBgCX4k
Long-term work (a lifetime project) is equivalent to working the soil. It demands checking how something planted is growing. It requires having the patience to fruit. As Lisl Ponger, Austrian artist and friend, once said, “Stay Calm, Be Brave, and Wait for the Signs!”
It took a while to embody the way we (Fer) wanted writing to happen. A sensation of delay was infected by an ideal conception of this practice. But a dissertation has the potential to be a space for experimentation, a place to compose a repertoire, a space for liberation through writing (bell hooks), and for sharing. We resolved to break with this sensation, this internalized (Eurocentric) ideal to meet certain standards of writing, that is responsible for continuing to invalidate creative works from the Souths, the peripheries, the borders. These hands started typing far-from-ideal writing, although some experiments revealed a new path. But taking a new course is challenging.
Two thoughts resonated in this kind of writing. The first is related to creative processes: “Poetry means risk,” stated the Brazilian poet Augusto de Campos. The second expresses a non-conforming question on the never-justifiable motives for violence against non-hegemonic bodies, and on a metaphorical level, symbolic killings. In the documentary Examined Life (2010), Judith Butler remarked, “How could it be that somebody’s style of walking could engender the desire to kill that person? To walk in a different way can be a dangerous thing.” The sensation of this walking-writing is similar to “coming out of the closet” (Eve K. Sedgwick). In both cases, there is a risk of being attacked by normopaths for being how we are.
RESEARCHING :: ESCAPING MODE
There is a point where bodily memories and learning a methodology in practice entangle.
Researching artistic archives to know…
to know what has been done…
what has been done to face repressive regimes
became a reason to visit different places and geographies. We (Fer) started following mail art network directories shared in the researched archives and documents. Those experiences were part of a fugitive plan (Fred Moten & Stefano Harney) to survive, to escape the preordained destiny of being (Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari), the normative fate, the pre-established familiar environment, the violence attached to it, and consequently, the absence of a feeling: feeling home. Carrying our world in our luggage turned out to be a profession. At a certain point it turned out to be a matter of persistence, endurance, and self-invention/renovation in a nomadic, precarious, and unstable way of life in an exile those vital researches mobilized.
… “the existential action.”
We (Fer) decided to prioritize, to turn our attention to artistic interventions connecting the body and critical discourse, those performative experimentations that challenge social norms, artistic and activist impulses that took back public space in the face of repressive political regimes and the oppressive order of bodies in the Brazilian 1980s. The occupation of public space when it was seized, the subversion of gender roles and their compulsory sexuality, and the confrontation of moralistic good manners in the arts were some of the fields of action the Gang and participants of the Brazilian Porn Art Movement (PAM) were shaping together. Their poetic and artistic scripts were operating a choreopolitics (André Lepecki) against the political repression of two regimes: the Brazilian military dictatorship (1964-1985), and its moralistic and conservative heteronormativity.
This case has the potential to contribute to undermining, to making cracks in canonic historical accounts and, at the same time, it represents a sort of affirmative politics in the historiography of the arts.
The dissertation comprised social and literary analysis, a coming-out/hardcore theory that involves autoethnography, episodes of sexism, sexual liberation, post/porn/terrorism, experimental poetry, and countless signs of coloniality in a Brazil-abyss.
We decide to write because something is not said. In our (Fer’s) case, this drive concerns a collective artistic and poetic formation, a piece of artistic and political memory that was lost. Research on the Brazilian Porn Art Movement and Latin American post/pornographies has been guided by affective connections, but also by the definite necessity of building a social and collective memory on the topic. Historiography then, meant the very attempt of re-constructing that temporality to contextualize, and to read the complexity of the time of action. Factual and contextual elements were essential in order to evaluate the potential of artistic practice. Therefore, we tried, by all means, to re-collect and recuperate crucial elements to activate those historical-artistic and activist practices.
We aimed to show all the steps of the research process, conditions implied, strategies, instabilities, insecurities, privileges, and vulnerabilities. It was essential to assume our standpoint speech (Djamila Ribeiro) or locus of enunciation (Walter Mignolo) in order to highlight invisible social links. If for Hélène Cixous, “writing is a feminist strategy,” drag writing gives way to other genres, to empathy, and to escaping the cold, pure-brain, distant and detached masculine and impersonal forms of writing that claim to be scientific.
In the age of performativity, literary transvestism affords the chance to be real in fiction, to anticipate that which is yet to come, to be that metamorphose ambulante [walking metamorphosis] of Raul Seixas’ song performed in the voice and body of the Brazilian singer Ney Matogrosso, and, as a reader, to be in the realm of interpretation and in.corpo.r.ação (action in the process of embodying fictions).
The documents and speeches related to the Porn Art Movement (1980-1984) required editing, curating, and healing. It was even necessary to overcome the rejection of our voice, to self-examine our skin, bones, flesh, and muscles, and return to the conversations in a battle to confront the coloniality in the gaze, the normative conditioned manner of looking, feeling, and acting in a capitalistic society marked by colonialism, slavery, genocides. We have to fight against the all-too-easy tendency to disincarnate our body, devoid of singular desire/tesão, deconstructing the naturalness built by the system (Paul B. Preciado).
In this experimental research and writing, we brought together the intellectual contribution of a performative poetry guerrilla and the performative literature to show how their production enquired into, appropriated, and created languages taken to the limit, to articulate ephemeral collective forces and words capable of transmuting the condition of being in that moment of political transition to democracy. In this case, it was an articulation of the expanded art field and pornography as an action of political and aesthetic activism.
The understanding of the PAM proposal of that moment was updated while it trespassed this militant-mestizo-peripheral-androgynous-activist-academic-subaltern body. But identification is insufficient. Definite and closed categories and identities produce invisibilities as well. They fail at mirroring the complexity of our being. Undoubtedly, choosing to be invisible and being rendered invisible are different, and in the same way, so are committing suicide and being suicided by society.
Writing proved to be a way of inhabiting this body-house, as the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark conceived it. It engendered a healing process, while recalling and rescuing memories of vulnerability—our scars. Our scars reflect this colonial land. We are beaten, and this society’s veil of common sense will try to convince us this happens through fault of our own. Complaining, persisting, struggling, or fighting for something different, will inevitably result in various forms of punishment.
Like a boomerang, unsolved her/stories and histories obey the law of eternal return. Each generation will probably have the opportunity to break the cycle of oppression, violence, dishonesty, and lack of ethics, at macro and micro-political levels. To the contrary, complicity-silence maintains the order of injustices and ingrains harmful patterns of behavior.
The Brazilian singer Maria Bethânia voices a sacred warning:
“[…] atente ao tempo
Não começa nem termina, é nunca, é sempre
[…] Fulmina o injusto, deixa nua a justiça”
[…] watch the time! // It does not start, or end, it is never, it is always // […]. It vanquishes the unjust, it exposes justice.
Difference has been subjected to forms of spanking; humiliation; subordination to a provider, the father figure, the preacher, a superior, the state; to show how vulnerable and fragile we can (be made to) be. But we learn to resist, to endure, to be stronger, to perform a situation analysis, to wait for the right time to act and, ultimately, to overcome repressive forces. Until then, our revenge is to be happy, dragging, and embodying the mask of joy that fascists hate, cultivating joyful affections, and exploring the potency of a constant state of enthusiasm, or even euphoria. “Happiness is a hot weapon,” sang the Brazilian singer and composer Belchior.
Fig. 2 — Gang (Cynthia Dorneles), Tesão Permanente [Permanent (Sexual) Desire/Arousal/Potency/Excitement; Permanent Horniness/Lust], 1982. In Eduardo Kac and Cairo Assis Trindade (ed.), Antolorgia. Arte Pornô [Antholorgy. Porn Art] (Rio de Janeiro: Codecri, 1984), 135.
Statements on sexuality or pornography are not expected from a body like ours in a patriarchal society, as our field research confirmed. So, writing has also been a tool with which to collectivize and reflect on conflicts, positionality, and standpoint speech.
Pandemic times have been a continuation, a time to stand still and keep the senses alert. It has been a moment for loosening and letting go, while re-tensioning to weave our histories. Solitude certainly holds the potential to be a weapon.
(1) Lisl Ponger quoted a common saying from the radio comedy show The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour, broadcasted by CBC Radio One from 1997 to 2000.
(2) bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom (London: Routledge, 2014).
(3) Augusto de Campos and Cid Campos, Poesia é risco, Sesc 2011, CD-book.
(4) Examined Life, directed by Astra Taylor, performed by Judith Butler with Sunaura Taylor (USA: Zeitgeist Films, 2010), YouTube video, 14:23, posted by “jcecchettiv,” May 4, 2016, https://youtu.be/wgJ9ErSGsXQ (Free transcription).
(5) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Epistemology of the Closet (University of California Press, 1990).
(6) Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (London: Minor Compositions, 2016).
(7) “O corpo pleno sem órgãos é produzido como Anti-produção, e só intervém como tal para recusar qualquer tentativa de triangulação que implique uma produção familiar. Como é que se pode pretender que ele seja produzido pelos pais se ele próprio testemunha a sua própria produção e o seu auto-engendramento?” In Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, O anti-Édipo (Lisboa: Assírio & Alvim, 1972) p. 20. “The full body without organs is produced as antiproduction, that is to say it intervenes within the process as such for the sole purpose of rejecting any attempt to impose on it any sort of triangulation implying that it was produced by parents. How could this body have been produced by parents, when by its very nature it is such eloquent witness of its own self-production, of its own engendering of itself?” In Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia  (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 15.
(8) Félix Guattari, Cartografías Esquizoanalíticas (Buenos Aires: Manantial, 2001) p. 185
(9) Just as there is an “order of discourse” (Michel Foucault), there is also a social order of bodies/subjects, a hierarchy of value that classifies them as important/relevant/hearable versus ignorable/irrelevant/disposable (necropolitics), closely connected to an epistemology of racism that supervened the onset of European colonization in the fifteenth century.
(10) André Lepecki, “Choreopolice and Choreopolitics: or, the task of the dancer.” TDR: The Drama Review 57, no. 4 (2013): 13-27. muse.jhu.edu/article/526055.
(11) Repression is different from oppression. “Oppression is when a group beholds privileges over the other.” Cf. Djamila Ribeiro, “Falar de racismo reverso é como acreditar em unicórnios,” In Quem tem medo do feminismo negro? [Who’s afraid of Black Feminism?] (Kindle), loc. 514.
(12) The artist Daniel Santiago has a piece called “O Brasil é o meu abismo” [Brazil is my abyss] (1982) in which he stands upside down with a robe hanging on one foot. This affirmation also recalls Boaventura de Sousa Santo’s theoretical proposal that remarks on the wide and profound difference, the barrier that characterizes colonial thought. He “defends that the dominant Western epistemology was built on the needs of colonial domination and rests on the idea of abyssal thinking. This thought operates by unilaterally defining the lines that divide experiences, knowledge, and social actors between those that are useful, intelligible and visible (those on this side of the line) and those that are useless and dangerous, unintelligible, objects of suppression or forgetting (those on the other side of the line). According to the author, abyssal thinking continues to be in force today, well beyond the end of political colonialism. To combat it, he proposes an epistemological initiative based on the ecology of knowledges and on intercultural translation.” | Ele “defende que a epistemologia ocidental dominante foi construída na base das necessidades de dominação colonial e assenta na ideia de um pensamento abissal. Este pensamento opera pela definição unilateral das linhas que dividem as experiências, os saberes e os atores sociais entre os que são úteis, inteligíveis e visíveis (os que ficam do lado de cá da linha) e os que são inúteis e perigosos, ininteligíveis, objetos de supressão ou esquecimento (os que ficam do lado de lá da linha). Segundo o autor, o pensamento abissal continua a vigorar hoje, muito além do fim do colonialismo político. Para o combater, propõe uma iniciativa epistemológica assente na ecologia dos saberes e na tradução intercultural.” Boaventura de Sousa Santos and Maria Paula Meneses, “Introdução”, In Epistemologias do Sul (Coimbra: Almedina, 2009), pp. 13-14. (Italics added. Free translation.)
Fernanda Nogueira (b. 1982, Sao Paulo) is a PhD candidate in cultural studies, art theory, and artistic practice in the PhD in Practice program at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. She received her master’s degree in literary theory and comparative literature at the Universidad de São Paulo, and in critical theory and museum studies from the Independent Studies Program at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. She has been a member of the Red Conceptualismos del Sur (Southern Conceptualisms Network) since 2008, with whom she has carried out the collective research project Redes Artísticas Alternativas: las ediciones de poesía visual y el arte correo (2010) and the exhibition Perder la Forma Humana: una imagen sísmica de los años 80 en América Latina (2012–14). She has also dedicated herself to curatorial projects that traverse research processes, such as Gastão de Magalhães: La Poética de la Interferencia (Document-Art Gallery, Buenos Aires 2012), Excitación Permanente: La Gang del Movimento de Arte Pornô en los años 80 brasileños (Lugar a Dudas, Cali 2012), and Videoactivismo Tropical: Ilegalidades transformadoras & Postporneando los géneros (Screen Festival of Loop Video-art Fair, Barcelona 2013; Austrian Association of Women Artists, Vienna 2015). Her articles and critical texts are available online.