The Sublime Is Us
is a Brooklyn-based choreographer from Uruguay who grew as an artist in close dialogue with the NY and Uruguayan contemporary dance communities. She has been making work in NYC and Uruguay independently and collaboratively since 1999. Her work is concerned with the post-colonial world, searching for an undoing of current power structures from the inside out. She is a two-time “Bessie” Award recipient, a Guggenheim Fellow, Creative Capital Grantee and a Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grantee, amongst other accolades. She received a 2016 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Choreography and a nomination for a BESSIE Award for Outstanding Production for her last full-evening length work An Epilogue for OTRO TEATRO: True Love, and most recently she received the 2017 Alpert Award for Dance and became a 2017-18 Brooklyn Arts Exchange Artist in Residence.
Lucia NaserWe start this dialogue on women’s day. A celebration that this year has taken worldwide revolutionary dimensions. Regarding this context and the relevance of this matter on your choreographic work, the first thing I’d like to ask you is: How is womanly experience configuring your artistic work? How your life as a woman relates to the fact of being a female artist who works with dance, the body and its (political, aesthetic, historical) frames of (re)presentation? How do you think of these as political?
LUCIANA ACHUGARI got excited for you asking me this question on this very special women's day because it grounded this conversation in a moment in time and that is what dance reminds us of always. If I remember correctly from some of the feminist theory that I've read, there is often a mention of how a woman's body - with it's monthly menstruation, its PMS-ing, growing womb belly, swollen feeding breasts, tears, high pitched voice or cackle, etc… - has a way of preventing us from being able to forget that we exist as a BODY, not as separate from it. Women’s bodies remind us more of our flesh, our hormonal changes, cycles of the moon, kids that need tending too, the cleaning of the poop, the throw up, the thick smelly blood of the menstruation... This inability and inevitability - or perhaps unwillingness and choice - to not escape the BODY in its full messy and complex nature, an inherent and all encompassing aspect of being, is no different than what dance as a practice and as a choice of life is for me. This feminist proposal of the possibility of liberating ourselves from an oppressive dualist-Cartesian-hierarchical way of being in the body, this way of being and perceiving the world, this way of valuing things, finds ground in the dancing body, standing in the ground. In my dancing female body…standing with my womb in my pelvis on my legs…with my feet feeling the ground as if being fed by it - not on top of it but growing from it… I feel the desire to find in this language (perhaps a more poetic relationship to it than a "pedestrian" interview?) more an approximation of my dances and my dancing body. Feminism to me is about changing the prevailing discourse. I begin from inside of my body, my perception, my embodiment, (perhaps the possibility of an embodied rebellion rather than a revolution?) As I was saying, to write on this day of women marching all over the world…I must be honest and confess that I haven't felt totally identified with some of the discourse coming out right now from the women's movement here in the USA. I have been feeling like a bit of an isolationist or dissenting from the larger feminist agenda here. I definitely wasn't feeling the "pussy hat" thing. I got the reference to Trump's hideous words, but I couldn't help but see a bunch of pink hats on people's heads looking like nothing other than white shaved vaginas. Strange how disturbing it felt to me, considering that I have been performing work naked for a while and make my work very much as a practice of ridding oneself of the shame that has been put upon the body in general and on women's bodies in particular. This pink hairless pussy felt incredibly facile, a simplification, an American appropriation for the liberals to take on comfortably, with no hair and no color and definitely no talk about the oppression and patriarchy inherent in Imperialism (aka Permanent WAR!!!). I know that some more radical feminists are calling out such hypocrisy and referring to it as white feminism, calling for an intersectional feminist movement, but I really hope this includes criticism of American Exceptionalism that I see as nothing other than another form of racism and colonialism.
And then…I remember that I chose to ask someone like you, a woman, an artist, a thinker, being in Montevideo, in Uruguay…I asked you, Lucía Naser, to ask me questions, perhaps because my work and "my" feminism are inseparably connected/connecting being in a female-identified dancing body and being from Uruguay; because my work is dealing with (practicing, doing) an embodied feminine empowered ideology from a third world country perspective that is highly aware of its postcolonial reality and it's disempowered relationship to the first world. Unfortunately, (or not), I didn't answer right away and I let time go by and got fearful as to how I would respond to such a complex and loaded question and find the words that could articulate the complex and somewhat abstract and, at times, esoteric relationship that my being in a woman's body, or rather identifying as female, has with my practice of making dances and how it is somewhat connected with feminism…!
Interestingly, after a day or two, I watched a clip from the march that happened in Montevideo in a plaza filled with what seem to be mostly women in concentric circles - not unlike a lot of what keeps recurring in my work - a very universal shape, I know - but nonetheless a profound and naturally occurring shape when there is a collective of bodies gathering, rhythmically jumping together as they chant "Somos las nietas de todas las brujas que nunca pudieron quemar!" (“We are the granddaughters of all the witches that they weren't able to burn!”). This circle chanting street protest in the context of the women’s march feels both like a ritual and a protest and the jumping has exactly the same rhythm as the pounding that we did in the theater in "OTRO TEATRO" (which you can probably remember well since you participated in both the NYC and Montevideo versions of it).
All of a sudden, in this 2-minute clip, I'm seeing my work in all of its political intention represented on the streets in the women's march! Ha! It made me feel both so overly obvious with what I've been trying to do and at the same time so thrilled that I feel such a strong connection to these young women doing this chant in a circle, jumping up and down right now in this historical moment that is calling for a true embodied rebellion! It occurs to me that it isn’t such a coincidence that the women’s movement is building such momentum again, and the fact that these young women refer to being the granddaughters of the witches that were spared being burnt makes me feel both incredibly hopeful, inspired and at the same time made me feel validated in terms of how relevant perhaps the work I’ve been doing has been after all.
The references to the Witch in my work have been recurring for a very long time. It began as if by chance, appearing almost on its own through my own improvisations and via working with a group of only women for a very long time. I didn't quite understand it in a conscious way at first because I never intended to bring in those references, they seemed too stereotypical to me…somewhat of a facile and perhaps even chauvinist obvious association to being a woman, being a witch...perhaps self hatred or shame of the strength in my body was leading me to this caricature of a strong woman's body as a witch, someone to be burned alive, shamed, disposed of?
But, as time went by, I realized that “the Witch” was within me, in the memory of my flesh; I realized that the deeper I went into my practice (of what I used to call simply performing desire, which later became "the practice of being in the pleasure of being in one's body," aka practice of pleasure or pleasure practice, or within our rehearsals simply "the Practice”) that it truly was both the repressed and suppressed side of me that only was able to come out with time, by going deeply into the body and letting go of assumptions of ways of being in one's body. Most importantly when I let go of my "identity," when I let go of being "luciana" and allowed what was deep in the felt part of myself, what I later began to call the “uncivilized,” then what emerged was a more primal, animal, sensual, sexually unashamed, grounded, powerful and at times even dark and witch-like Other self. But it was coming from the desire to be lost in the experience of being connected or more present, of being more aware and sensitive, being in the full and verging on the magical experience that is being a live body. Either a desire to be or a memory of having been a witch was lying dormant in my cells! A desire that is none other than the same desire to be more of a whole self and a holy self; a desire to unite the physical with the emotional and the spiritual, and to feel wholly empowered and unashamed of all of it; so as not to put one aspect or part of ourselves above another, but to be in a relational experience with all of it. And, to think of it in terms of “choreography,” to be in more of a circle or spiral relationship with everything than in a line.
Also, I very much identified with the footage of the protest because I've felt that in my work there always ends up being a kind of rage that comes out from deep within me, either in my own presence onstage or in the rhythm of the composition of the work I make; and most certainly in the works' persistent positioning of itself as something very self effacing, transparent, raw and able to unearth the shadow (as in Jungian psychology’s concept of the shadow); to face and come to terms with the shadow within the work itself and within each performer; and, in turn, also to make the audience face itself and its shadow, which to me is partly the voyeuristic and passive role that the audience collective plays by the mere act of attending a performance and agreeing to the contract of playing the part of the viewer - the voyeur (and which, as I experience it, always refers back to the objectifying male gaze).
Working only with women for many years brought about this same witch like feeling between us; it often felt like we were creating a coven by being together for hours, that turned into days, months, and then years of practicing being in our bodies, and ways to connect more deeply and to let go and to celebrate each other and the connection between us. Often we would end up organically gravitating to a circle, breathing together, making sounds often coming from our pelvises or guts and the energy of the space and what we were doing would build up so much that it felt like we were brewing some kind of magic potion! It seems comical perhaps when I say it but the experience of doing it and the energetic build up was super real and felt profound.
LUCIA NASERHey luciana! Great hearing about you and reading all this you’ve just sent. I think it is interesting the way you’re proposing to traffic logic, mingle logics, exchange, mix up composition from your artistic work to your writing. I wish you to go deeper on this in the next exchanges. I am convinced of the potentiality of language to give birth to new worlds when it is torn apart from the authorized structures of linguistic grammar. Apart from that, I thank you for resisting your fear of writing; that is nothing less that the fear the world inoculates in us, threatening us every time that we think of the possibility of not obeying the social requisites about how should we write, think, speak, move, fuck, and so on.
I recently discovered a video where Derrida - a philosopher I very much love - talks about fear and dreams. I think you may like it or at least it reminded me about your work (and your fear of writing about it) in some way. Derrida says:
“Each time I write something and it feels like I’m advancing into new territory, somewhere I haven’t been before, and this type of advance often demands certain gestures that can be taken as aggressive with regard to other thinkers or colleagues, I’m not someone who is by nature polemical but it’s true that deconstructive gestures appear to destabilize or cause anxiety or even hurt others so every time I make this type of gesture, there are moments of fear. This doesn’t happen at the moments when I’m writing. Actually, when I write, there is a feeling of necessity, of something that is stronger than myself...”
Many things called my attention in the powerful images you bring up in your answer and recalled me of necessity as the engine of artistic creation.
There’s something very inspiring in the way you connect your work with the manifestations, protests, demonstrations that took place on March 8th.
This idea that "we are the daughters of the witches that they could never kill" and the sisterhood rituals that you mention, which bring up these female multitudes gathering and supporting each other, the woman bleeding and excretions, the problems you identify with what you referred to as “white feminism or non-intersectional feminism” and, at the same time, the way you felt touched, the way in which the distance from Uruguay affects the ways in which you feel about your place of origin and your self, and my self. It really got me excited and emocionada (moved).
I perceive that your experience of politics (personal and collective) is inhabited by all these tensions and contradictions. It makes me think of your artistic work as something like the creation of performative devices that create the circumstances for something to transform, to erupt like a protest, to evolve into, to become and becoming, to die and to be born. I love and admire your hospitality to doubts and crisis, your disposition to interrogate yourself, the ambiguous presence of the sacred in your pieces as something that can be felt but not completely viewed.
In connection with this I think your research and choreography deals with transformation, body transformation and self-transformation, the changes and mutations you seek to provoke in the spectators, and even the transformation of the theatre from space of spectacle to an ambience of ritual and the sacred.
So, after this long and a bit too emotional introduction, here’s my question: What would you say is the role of transformation in your work? How have your own thoughts and experiences of transformation mutated along your personal history as artist and woman?
Also as Uruguayan, as mother or as...?
LUCIANA ACHUGARYes! Yes, to all that you are saying here! Before I delve into your question regarding transformation, I have to refer to what you mentioned before. I love how you're saying that there's an "ambiguous presence of the sacred...as something that can be felt but not completely viewed." This ambiguous presence of the sacred emerged also almost on its own - meaning not as a conscious decision, or at least not at first - and is directly related and comes from experiencing the repetitive action of being a collective of women engaged together in a deeply embodied practice of exploration, inquiry and transformation.
In 2008, when we were performing “The Sublime is Us” upstairs in the studios at Dance Theater Workshop (now New York Live Arts) in NYC, there was this sense of a sacred presence. I had gotten a commission to present work in the theater but had chosen to invite the audience into the studios (the space where the work had been made) instead. The studio had a whole wall made of glass, so that when the performance would start there would still be light coming in through that back wall and as the show progressed the night came down upon us and became part of the lighting and overall feeling and influenced the way the audience experienced the whole thing. One night - which also happened to be Halloween night, by the way.. ha! - there was a storm and, needless to say, the sounds and lightning of the storm became part of the performance as well. To our and the audiences delight (even a superstitious delight for some!), in the climatic moment in which we'd get in a circle and start drawing our arms up and over our heads and drawing them from behind us around, up and in front of us into the center of the circle with our whole bodies as if we were harnessing the energy of the whole room, and everything that had happened up until that point. Right at that moment we were containing it and turning into a shared energy center point right in front of our collective pelvises a lightning strike followed by super loud thunder broke! It was an amazing moment of synchronicity. It felt as if we had been connecting to the night and the weather through our bodies and our semi-ritualized performance and that we had achieved such a symbiosis with the present moment and with our environment that we had brought on the lightning and the thunder ourselves!
Although I truly believe that it was purely coincidental that it happened at the same time, there was still something magical about that performance for the audience; it felt that what we were doing was magical, beyond the artifice of the theater; or perhaps that this work was interested in the relationship and question of the role of theater in our society, and, in turn, its role in how theater connects or disconnects us with nature. From that night on I realized that, as utopian and fantastical as it might be, I was interested in continuing to make work from a place of faith in the transformational potential of bodies coming together and making change, making change first in ourselves, in our own bodies, then as a collective, as a coven of witches making magic and affecting change in the space and in the people present, and ultimately to ripple out of the walls of the theater and into the world and through this metaphoric moment even believing that we could change the weather with the healing powers of our pelvises, our wombs, our pussies!
Two things about this work, “The Sublime is Us,” are worth mentioning: the fact that I chose to invite the audience into the studio, our workspace, as opposed to the usual path of taking the studio work into the theater to share or "present" it to the audience. I chose to do that partly as a way to resist relating to the work as a product, to resist the notion that we work in the studio to "manufacture" a piece and then transport it to the theater space where we "package" and "serve" or “sell” it to the audience as consumer. In the process we were working less in a creating-a-piece mode and more as a searching for a way to allow the work to grow more organically. We would improvise, talk a lot and search for ways to achieve what I called "performing desire" or embodying our own desire. During that process we would allow the form and composition of the piece to "grow" almost on its own. My relationship to the work was more like tending a garden then designing a piece. Also, in the middle of this process, I became pregnant with my son. I was experiencing a really odd parallel between my own transformation, growing another body in my own womb, and noticing that the studio and the way we were working was functioning more as a womb than a factory or a place of work. The studio felt like the womb for the piece; we even started using that language during the process, treating the walls of the studio as membranes, and walls of the placenta, and the space and the air as nurturing and transforming and growing our bodies. So when I invited the audience into the studio I invited them into the womb.
The second aspect that feels worth mentioning was the fact that I placed the audience in front of the studio mirrors, so they had to experience the piece through the mirror and see themselves watching, becoming participants, or having to choose to turn around when they wanted to see something without seeing it through its image. My original intention was to make the audience more obviously conscious of their role as voyeur and to make it practically impossible for them to forget their own presence and their part in the performance. This desire to make them hyper conscious of their role as audience has been a huge part of my work and continues to inform the content and the different forms that the work takes.
What most inspired and intrigued me during this process, and what became very much the content of that work, was the relationship between our three dimensional, living, breathing, organ, fluid filled bodies, the felt experience and its energetic field, and the image of ourselves in the mirror. We made the piece almost always looking at our own image in the mirror, having to constantly be in the space between the experiential awareness of being and the awareness of our images. This continues to be a fascinating issue for me not only in our daily experience and relationship with our self-image but in terms of what dance is as a form. Dance is both super visual - we, as viewers, take it in first through our eyes - and profoundly felt, experiential and energetic, even potentially alchemical. With this work I was intending to bring this dual nature to light, in an attempt to give the audience a more extreme experience of both of these aspects almost like a chemical experiment where one separates the elements of the substance that one is dealing with. But my desire is to celebrate and integrate the relationship between the two factors, to resist the simplified view of dance as only visual and spatial design, and to kneel down in awe of the mystery of the energetic and unknown within and between our bodies.
I believe that it was partly through this investigation of the relationship-contradiction-dichotomy between the image and the experiential and the energetic aspect of dance as a form and of being live bodies that the sacred and the ritual emerged. Once again I feel paralyzed by a fear of over simplifying the history of the process and the depth (if I may say so myself) of what the work is doing by trying to write it down. I think that it was perhaps in the investigation of what is the labor of dance, the labor in making a dance and the labor of the dancer without relegating them to a secondary action that has its sole purpose in the creation of a production of a dance as product. In desiring to question where value lies and thus placing value in the labor itself transforms it from an experience of labor, effort, doing as work or a means to an end as an effort exerted to make a product to the exaltation of the being in the experience of the laboring itself. In other words, dance emerges necessarily as a celebratory ritual of experiencing the lived body and within this ritual that emerges, just like the circles and the repetitive and mirroring forms emerged, the sacred appears because we are unknowingly paying homage to the esoteric nature of being in the bodily forms that we are in and that reminds us of our evolutionary past and of our connection to nature and the planets and the stars and our inseparability from one another...This is where I feel like dance gets super hippie and spiritual. I used to feel almost ashamed of it but I have finally learned to be unapologetic about it and embrace it, as I have come to realize that all of these processes and dances and dancing with each other have taught me and continue to teach me more and more about the illusion of separation and the illusion of the self as separate from the other; to dance together and at times with an audience is a practice of empathy.
But I digress. Another important relationship to the sacred in my work, always a very conscious decision, is to treat the moment when the work is presented to an audience as sacred, treating this exchange or moment of making contact with total and complete solemnity. It is a moment to be cherished and celebrated in all its symbolic potential and not to be taken lightly. This is what makes theater theater: this moment. I am not making work as a way to engage in a market or in a monetary exchange but rather to push dance, in the context of theater, closer to a something much more mystical, magical, connected to the gods and the universe than the more simplified market driven bourgeois mode of presentation.
Going back to your question regarding the role of transformation in my work, it would be easiest to take this last piece, “The Sublime is Us,” as a point of departure or bridge to a way of making work where transformation and healing were key elements, consciously sought and part of the original intention. One could say that I had started to experience a transformation as a maker from identifying with a notion of the artist as master or a designer to shifting towards identifying myself more and more as a shaman or healer. Writing this I feel almost embarrassed to admit this artist-as-healer or shaman identification because it seems slightly delusional or like I am very full of myself. However, when I ask myself “why make art?” and, particularly, “why make dances?” my honest, somewhat naive answer is that I want to heal myself, the performers and the audience from the maladies of our time, particularly the malady of Cartesian thought - "I think therefore I am" - which I believe continues to plague us because we carry this in our perception of ourselves and the world we experience ourselves in. I suspect that it has taken me this long to let go of my fear and embarrassment, to fully step into my 'power,’ most likely because I was raised as a woman to feel not so entitled and that to think so highly of myself was pure ego and selfishness. It has been a really long road of letting my body, my practice and my own personal 'embodied rebellion,' as I like to call it, offer me enough freedom from shame and self criticism to be able to now unapologetically feel strong and bold enough to say that I am making theater as a space of utopia, a space for the possibility of transformation and healing. As I mentioned before, the healing is from Cartesian dualist thought; and thus from the burdens of being in Western civilization, ruled by European colonialist thinking. This is why I have been calling what I do less “making pieces” and more a transformational practice, a practice of becoming uncivilized and decolonized.
The role of transformation in my work probably started early when I was making the series of pieces with the same group of female dancers, all wearing the same navy blue uniforms. I wanted us to have the same costumes because I wanted to resist what felt like pressure from the way our careers as choreographers are modeled by grant funding cycles and presenting organizations, etc. to create a whole new work with a whole new idea or proposition and new music design, lighting and costumes to complement or literally "dress" the work. This felt too much like ‘product.’ I felt like I needed to make choices about the lighting, music and costumes that would not separate them from the work but rather feel like necessary and inextricable parts of the totality of the work. The choice of the worker's uniforms comes out of this way of working with costumes and also the use of them in every new piece, the refusal to use a new set of costumes is a way to put forth more clearly that each new work is not separate from the previous one and that my interest is not in making a perfect new piece. Rather it is calling attention to the dancers themselves and their transformation from piece to piece; to say that it is about the dancers themselves, about their labor, the labor of their bodies, the labor of dance, the labor of love.
After “The Sublime is Us” I no longer worked with those uniforms and with the same group of dancers. That work felt like the bridge from making work still in a representational mode to shifting towards a more rigorous search for the actual method and the work itself be the ideas rather than just representing them. This also coincided with my son's birth; my own body and life had been forever changed.
The role of transformation in my work is connected to the key question that comes up for me with each new creative process I engage in: "why make art?" and "why make dance now?” Through the years I've come to realize that my fascination with making dances also is deeply connected with the question "why dance in the context of theater?" In my very non scholarly way I go back to the very beginning of Western theater and how it appears, as far as I understand, simultaneously at the time when the democratic societal model begins, coinciding with the beginning of what we consider Western civilization and thought. Without doing the scholarly research that maybe one day I'll have time to get into and do, I "work that question out" in my processes.
There are different valid 'raisons d'être' that art may take on. I have come to realize that my approach to making theater is coming from the place of the theater as a space of possibility, both of liberation of that imposed "order" currently prevalent in society and from the realization that the theater can be a space for practicing utopia, a playground of ideas and possibilities, where perhaps we discover that indeed another world is possible.
This led me to working with the dancers in a completely different way, especially in my latest work, “An Epilogue for OTRO TEATRO: True Love.” I decided to further resist making dances as products. Instead I tried to shift the model to one where the work and the process itself had to "serve" the dancers; we made the work as a way to experience individual transformational healing for each one of us and for the group as a collective so the work was for us to be in our practice and not to create something. The performance was a ritual of transformation shared with the audience with the hope imbedded within it that, in sharing the space with us and possibly joining in if they so desired, they too could become healed and liberated. The piece became the sharing of the memory of our process, the sharing of our practice and our transformation.
LUCIA NASERFrom a foreign city and after reading all this here's my last question:What is the focus of your research nowadays? How do you think that your previous works have transformed you and how these changes are embedded in the development of your present/future work? What compels you to go on with artistic creation?
LUCIANA ACHUGARI would say the focus of my research is to find a way to make my whole practice, including teaching and my own embodiment part of my artwork. I am interested in taking the path of transformation and self healing - what I call growing myself a new body, a utopian body - to its end, or at least to where it leads me. I consider my body as the venue and the frame, not the proscenium stage. I am not sure yet what that means in terms of how that will develop into a performance, but I am interested in experimenting further with the possibility of performance as a ritual of becoming; in this case at a cellular level. Perhaps this will mean doing an even longer performance - last two works have been 2-3 hours long - so that I can experiment in ways to actually transform in the presence of an audience. I am still grappling with the question of how to empower or inspire them to be transformed themselves without confronting them and demanding that they “participate” in the way that we often expect participatory theater to engage audiences, where they feel put on the spot. I am more interested in enabling a deeper -also cellular - kind of transformation that begins from an empathetic experiencing of the performance event.
I feel that the whole history of all of the creative processes that I’ve engaged with have transformed me mostly into an artist less interested in achieving a sense of mastery or excellence of design into an artist ever more interested in how what I make may affect change in our perception of ourselves and the world. I feel that the act of making work and the nature of the kind of explorations that I’ve engaged with, always in a very collaborative setting, has made me both more humble and less attached to the needs for recognition and adulation that my ego craved for in the beginning. At the same time I feel more confident and unapologetic, as well as more courageous and willing to take risks.
The most tangible change in the way I make and think about making work came from the development of what I call “the practice of being in pleasure.” This method of working was a result of all the previous years of working but was specifically born during the process of creation for OTRO TEATRO, which premiered at the Walker Art Center in February 2014. It came out of a desire to further commit to the idea of being a choreographer more as a teacher, as someone who gives and inspires a way of being in the body that might result in a way of moving, rather than as a designer who imposes her way of moving as a style, moving bodies around in space. I found a method to inspire a kind of embodiment without imposing a particular specific movement. This practice of being in the pleasure of being in one’s body, through time allows one to become liberated from a white European standard of beauty and order in the body that I had been trying to liberate myself and my dancers from. It is a practice that allows one to give a voice to the body, the flesh, the instinctual, the repressed, the primal and animal in us, and it allows us to let go of shame and repression. It is a very healing practice although it can be very challenging and painful at times, because whatever is present in the body at that moment, either in ones own body or in the room between the bodies, comes to the surface and necessarily has to be dealt with.
Having found that method of working – the Practice - felt almost like a revelation, like it was a culmination of all the years of previous research! It felt like it hit the crux of what my work was about ideologically, aesthetically, and the relationship between the two. It felt like it was both undoing that capitalist model of production and hierarchical structure of making by giving the dances complete agency. At the same time I was able to put forth my vision as an artist and author simply by the process of becoming uncivilized, shifting knowledge from the naming, defining, separating brain to other possible experiential ways of knowing that are possible by being a live sensing body.
I became so fascinated by this practice and its layers of complication and possibility, and began “The Pleasure Project” together with the core group of performers I had been working with when making OTRO TEATRO. This ongoing project takes “the Practice” outside of the rehearsal studio and outside of the theater into public space, in what I call a kind of procession or ‘preaching outside of the choir,’ investigating the role of a body in public space; what is allowed and not allowed, and bringing to light how practicing the pleasure of simply being in our bodies is an act of resisting a system where value is placed only in production and consumption. This project completely collapses the process and the product since when we do it we are both rehearsing, performing and also simply ‘doing the practice.’ It feels like activism and protest but via alchemy, literally practicing what we preach, rather than simply preaching.
I say simply preaching because now with the world in such a dire situation, when it feels like there is so much work to do with direct action: aiding refugees, resisting fascism, engaging in social justice actions, etc, etc… Making art seems like a potentially frivolous practice. However, I have been battling with these same questions regarding the function or the potential for art to change the world. I came to realize that the only hope for change is a deeply internal one that comes from within each of us. I like to call it an “embodied rebellion” rather than a revolution. I believe that the role of art is to make change at a very abstract, energetic, vibrational, perceptual level. By abstract I mean not literal or representational, not as direct action, but changing our mindset or perception and consciousness in ways in which at first are only experienced in a subconscious and unknowable way, just like hearing music or viewing abstract visual art changes us. And I feel compelled to make theater because it is a space for utopia, to practice new ways of being, to practice empathy, to practice loving, to practice letting go of the illusion of separation, to build - or to grow as I prefer to term it - another kind of theater, OTRO TEATRO, that can perhaps let us peek into another possible non-patriarchal, white supremacist colonialist, dualist, violent world.
Lucía Naser is an artist and researcher based in Uruguay, interested in living, dancing, experimenting, researching, transforming and writing with others. She is a sociologist with a PhD in Romance Languages and Literatures from the University of Michigan and a Master in Performing Arts from Universidad Federal de Bahia.
This email conversation between Luciana Achugar, in New York, and Lucía Naser, in Uruguay, began on March 8, 2017 and continued through April.
* First published by The Herb Alpert Award in the Arts and reproduced on Entkunstung Journal by courtesy of the artist and the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts.