by Silverio Orduña Cruz
Return to the body and unfurl it. This curatorial project highlights the interest in continuing to encourage reflection on the various possible materialities of the body on account of the current state of emergency caused by the risk of contagion, illness, and loss we are all still exposed to. The selection of artistic practices included in the proposal was made prior to the global pandemic that pervades us. However, the scope of the aesthetic possibilities of each artwork or process influences the present, embracing the opportunity to collectively inhabit seized spaces; to enjoy others’ company, play, and care; to reverberate in sounds, lines, and different temporalities; and to distance the aggressions the State has imposed on bodies through the modern ideals it invented, such as the colonial narrative of mestization and the homogenization of multiple cultural experiences.
For more or less the past couple of decades, the field of art has taken a close look at the knowledge originating in choreographic thought, returning to and exploring ideas experienced, produced, and safeguarded by agents of dance, performing arts, and performance. In this way, choreography is perceived as a capture mechanism, or a writing device that registers and visibilizes processes for the distribution, placement, and mobilization of corporalities in space and time. With a choreographic reading as a starting point, one can identify the body politics producing and sustaining contemporary subjectivities: problems involving the predominant system and its practices around gender, colonialism, and economic disparities, such recurrent themes in the critical actions of art today.
In addition to serving as a tool for analysis, choreography allows for practicing other ways of distributing sensibility. Although there are writings about and with the body that are power exercises imposed to rule, discipline, and monitor, there are also choreographic projects emerging aimed at diverting, breaking, and stopping artistic and political systems and institutions in order to encounter moments of freedom. Ambar Luna, Mariana Arteaga, Rolando Hernández, and Alberto Montes are artists who work with the body and its powers; their work provides this curatorial proposal with four central themes: body/tenderness, body/joy, body/medium, and body/nation. Together, their main objective is to extend an invitation to return to, and unfurl the body.
With the project Nocturna. Nighttime walks for women (2018), Ambar Luna raises a number of questions about how we transit through and inhabit public street spaces. For this dancer, choreographer, and performing arts researcher, the physical and social configuration of cities has shaped their inhabitants’ movements. There are urban spaces and times for meeting, exchange, work, acceleration, and for rest. And also for violence. Nocturna’s main concern is to rewrite the nighttime choreography imposed on women, which includes a fearful sensation and, regrettably, the fear of being the victim of violence, misogyny, and femicide. Ambar works on this task alongside groups of women, providing them with tools for mutual care using accompaniment, tenderness, and collective resistance. Their tactic is to caress the city corporeally with the participants’ sensitivity and restorative strength.
As a choreographic proposal, Nocturna consists of a mapping of the city’s streets, sending out a call to form a group of women, meeting in the physical space, preparing the body to sense confidence, and the action of women walking together through the night. Since 2018, this movement score has been carried out at different times and in various Mexican locations. It has happened in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, and in three cities in Jalisco state: San Juan de los Lagos, Lagos de Moreno, and Guadalajara. Ambar works by drawing on specific urban contexts, building their research on tours of the areas prior to the walks themselves, conversations with the inhabitants, and their own experience on the ground. Characteristics including field conditions, lighting, the narrowness or spaciousness of the streets, the flow and direction of people, all affect the strategies for each ‘staging’ of Nocturna.
It is important to mention that another of the factors that shapes each Nocturna—perhaps the most significant from a curatorial point of view—is the particularities of the collective body of women who participate in the walks: their willingness to share, their accumulated knowledge and experiences, the ways they approach one another, and their ties to the spaces. As a result, the piece has been included in the Dispositivo Liminal, or Liminal Device, via a memory stick containing the routes of the walks conducted to date and testimonials from some of the project participants. Although Nocturna is about the power of action, it also embodies the mark women’s presences have left on what is public, and stores their sensibilities so they can emerge in different temporalities and places, as in the case of this documentary format.
In another expression and memory exercise, artist and curator Mariana Arteaga proposes using choreography as a joyful meeting point. As choreography transforms itself into a vehicle for transporting experiences and for sharing knowledge, Mariana aims to provoke collective action by writing, organizing, and mediating the score of their project entitled Maravatío, a choreography carried out in various locations in Mexico and abroad since 2018. It was originally created to counterbalance the emergency situation in the aftermath of the 2017 earthquake that affected several Mexican states. Strangers began to exchange gestures of solidarity, empathy, and accompaniment as a way of solving immediate issues. Mariana returned to this phenomenon to question what motivates us to extend moments of care to others: Which everyday emergencies require affinity in order to bring us together?
On this device, Maravatío takes the form of an editorial project, but in reality it can start a fire. The booklet contains the information required to invoke and materialize the ‘beautiful place’ referenced by the artist in the work’s title. It provides step-by-step instructions for bringing strategies that enable us to sculpt a moment of joy and gathering into the realm of experience: the enjoyment of the company of other bodies and presences sheltered by the premises of play and collective care. Despite the continued presence of contagion, illness, and death, the opportunity to create Maravatío offers hope of finding a suitable time and space to embrace each other choreographically, where the corporal may reside in the substance and sensation of proximity, but also in intangibility and at a safe, trusted, peaceful distance.
Rolando Hernández’s artistic practice engages with sound and experimenting with various media (among them, the body) to reflect on the aesthetic of sound: the ways it is written and registered, its intangible and vibrational quality, and its ability to flow and reverberate. Since 2015, Rolando directs the Centro de Creación, Archivo y Difusión de Arte Sonoro en México (Center for the Creation, Archiving, and Distribution of Sound Art in Mexico, or CCADDASM), an institution founded with the aim of shaping an alternative historiography of sound practices in Mexico. Their work has centered on creating an archive and mediating it using performative interpretations, workshops, exhibitions, and the recovery of art projects that have either been forgotten or left on art history and academic sidelines. Their work as a performer has focused on the body’s power and resonance in musical contexts, hence why the framework of their production emanates from thinking of the body as a sound archive and of sound as a body.
Included on this Liminal Device is a series of Poemuras and Pintemas (these titles combine the Spanish words for ‘poems’ and ‘paintings’), a pictorial proposal that copies sections of the archive created by Rolando, imbuing the sound with a different materiality and diverting its document aesthetic. These plastic exercises interweave writing, historical research, and performance. They are based on records, objects, texts, characters, questions, bodily actions, and amassed knowledge. The aim of transforming them into paintings is to change the sound matter and discuss their transfer to art object from a traditional point of view. Straining the possibilities of sound as something ephemeral or that fades, proposing it as a sedimented performance. A choreography/score wrapped in its materiality and, at the same time, ripe for unfurling/interpretation.
In another critical revision of the body as archive, the Mexican folk dancer Alberto Montes participates in this curation with their work Ensayo Mexa (2021). Alberto’s choreographic research has focused on examining the modern ideals the Mexican state epitomized in its dance institutions, specifically in the Ballet Folklórico de México (Folkloric Ballet of Mexico) and the Escuela Nacional de Danza Folklórica (National School of Folk Dance). Said institutional efforts adopted an interest in studying, safeguarding, and disseminating the country’s regional multiculturalism, but with an emphasis on the construction and distribution of a national identity. This interest was upheld by the post revolutionary values of an appreciation of the indigenous past and of configuring a mestizo subjectivity brought on by colonization.
The teaching and mise-en-scène of Mexican folk dance structured pedagogical tools for propagating national identity through dance; one of the most significant feats was the incorporation of dance in primary and secondary education curriculums in the 20th century. This phenomenon lead to a large portion of the population having contact with the sounds and echoes bodies have left behind over several centuries, from pre-Hispanic dances to the ritual and festive movements of traditional and popular dance. Although its practice has been related to celebratory or fiesta situations, according to Alberto the state and institutions have assigned folk dance a disciplinary or even military aspect in order to position the ‘Mexican body’ (strong, creative, and masterful) before other corporal identities from foreign nations.
In Ensayo Mexa, Alberto records a three-count zapateado, or percussive footwork series, which according to their own research, is a summary for understanding Mexican folk dance movements: a choreographic strategy that contains and modernizes the different relationships that can be established between the body and its interaction with the ground—its weight, percussion, speed, and rhythm. In the piece, each imprint is the footprint of a three-count zapateado; its buildup on a semi-transparent medium highlights the strata of the stories that have survived over time. Moreover, the individuality of each sheet creates a play on that information and encourages organizing it in multiple ways so it continues to vibrate, unfolding and alive.
The role of the body in art history has centered on representation and its use as a medium; however, its complexity is immeasurable. Bodily experiences are not entirely fleeting and insignificant, rather they constitute a latticework of unfathomable knowledge transported by a multiplicity of routes, sometimes concrete and other times virtual or invisible. This curatorial proposal aims to develop questions that provoke a jolt, a pause, a dance. The interest lies in the body; let us return to the body and dance.
Curator, art historian, and journalist. Orduña holds a master’s degree in Art History in the field of Curatorial Studies from the School of Philosophy and Letters of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or UNAM. They hold an undergraduate degree in Communication Studies from the School of Political and Social Sciences of the UNAM, where they worked as a journalism professor from 2012 to 2018. Their lines of curatorial investigation focus on the problematization of the body in contemporary art and choreographic strategies within museum and gallery exhibition spaces. Orduña has also developed a line of study about the urban periphery and artistic practices happening on the margins of art circuits. They have published in the Revista Imágenes of the Institute of Aesthetic Research, La Tempestad, Revista Código, Time Out México, GASTV, among others. Alongside Alma Quintana, Orduña coordinates the diploma ¿Cómo encender un fósforo? Prácticas de Investigación. Coreografía, danza, performance (How to light a match? Investigative Practices. Choreography, dance, performance). They participated as a performer in the pieces Asamble, by Amalia Pica; Descargas_3, by Claudia Cisneros; and ISABEL, by Abdelaziz Zúñiga. They worked as exhibitions and educational activities coordinator at Local 21. Espacios Alternativos de Arte. Their work as a curator has been shown at the UNAM’s Tlatelolco University Cultural Center, the Tamaulipas Museum of Contemporary Art, MUCA Roma (UNAM), The Chopo University Museum (UNAM), among other spaces. Orduña was a member of the first generation of graduates from the Escuela de Crítica de Arte, or School of Art Criticism (La Tallera, 2014). They have taken Latin American art curation courses and workshops at the University Museum of Contemporary Art Expanded Campus (MUAC), the Guggenheim Museum (New York), and the Museo del Barrio (New York). Orduña currently works as a curator at the Proyecto Siqueiros: La Tallera. Their most recent exhibitions are Todos los siglos son un solo instante (2019), by Cynthia Gutiérrez; Autorreconstrucción: insistir, insistir, insistir (2019), by Abraham Cruzvillegas and Bárbara Foulkes; and the group exhibitions Pequeños gestos (2019), El humo de tantas cosas juntas (2020), and Yo era muy bueno tirando piedras 2 (2021).