At the time of the great conquests, modern cartographic science was developed. Felipe II, overwhelmed by the vastness of his territories, commissioned to the best geographer of the time to map the world. So, he could take complete control at a glance, and even maybe dreaming of being a Salvator Mundi with the orb in one hand and blessing with the other.
The title of this first modern atlas, Theater of the World (Theatrum Orbis Terrarum), reveals its scenographic intention. On the cover, four semi-nude women are allegories of the continents. They guard the entrance of a classical temple, a threshold to the world as a representation of those who hold power.
The Greek myth of a young Phoenician named “Europa” and raptured by Zeus, gave rise in our collective imaginary to the symbolic assimilation of the conquered territory with the submissive female body, not only expressed in colonial maps but in the systematic use of rape as a weapon of war.
The exhibition Territories that matter (in CDAN) deals with bodies that matter, paraphrasing Judith Butler. We will see how gender cartographies replace geopolitical maps, and geography moves towards sensorial orographies.
In one of the photomontages included in “Interior Cartographies” series, a world map grows from the navel of the Mexican artist Tatiana Parcero naked body. Fragments of pre-Columbian codices and Western calligraphy (Mayan drawings and colonial texts) simulate tattoos on the skin, a palimpsest of collective memory that starts from the individual.
In Cristina Lucas‘ Female Europe, Male Europe (2007), instead of the names of each country we see the expressions used in each place to refer to the sexual organs of each gender. The slang reveals the play on words and ellipsis that display the sexual taboo, as globalized as the economy.
Now we can go from the map to the territory. We can meet at the Casa de Campo subway stop in Madrid and look for a man with a pink umbrella, Andrés Senra. He will take us on a guided tour to a cruising area, on the outskirts. In this performance, the artist combines the didactic tone of a tour guide with philosophical reflection and artistic parody. During the walk, he gives us some clues to understand the communication codes that are established in these places of fortuitous encounters, while making more or less veiled references to Land Art (comparing “A line made by walking” by Richard Long with the lines made by desire among the bushes) or Situationist dérive (emotional flow and other psychogeographic effects can be felt here).
Senra defines this queer territory as heterotopic (Other space, in Foucault’s terms), in this case, what is left out of heterosexual politics, outside the physical and mental limits of heteronormative urban space.
Another type of “drift” is the one that since the 90s the duo of Canadian artists Shawna Dempsey and Lorri Millan have undertaken, “patrolling” as queery rangers the national parks to “feminize” them. In the series of videos entitled Lesbian National Parks and Services, they parody educational programs about nature. Interrogating tourists about accepted notions of what is or is not “natural” they visualize the contradictions underlying the idea of a natural park. Created to preserve the “wild”, it sacrifices the territory and the indigenous culture to “park it”.
Nature versus counter-nature, whether the “natural” as a gender identity, sexual identity or behavioral pattern, responds only to “naturalized” or “denaturalized” concepts from positions of power. So, Spanish missionaries considered homoeroticism “unnatural” and they eradicated it from the pre-Hispanic peoples by calling it “shamanic perversion”, condemning it as a heinous sin, explains the Indian rower in Nefandus, a video by Carlos Motta. Voices in Kogui and Castilian alternate while they navigate the Don Diego River, in Colombia. Conquerors discourses were an “absolute farce disguised as truth”; however, against this farce even today is difficult to deal with, because every corner of this jungle apparently “wild” bears the mark of colonization.
In another river delta, the Orinoco (Venezuela), live the Warao Indians. Photographer Álvaro Laiz reveals the spiritual status of transgender people (called tida wena) in these native communities. The Warao are among the few Amerindian peoples who have survived the process of acculturation but nowadays are in danger of disappearing. This feeling of cultural decline is reflected in the choice of a photographic technique, the ambrotype, with which Laiz evokes nineteenth-century ethnographic studies on pre-Columbian rites and traditions.
The box with 10 ambrotypes (Wonderland 2013) acquires the spectral texture of a document whose object of study is already a phantom.
Indeed, fiction is sometimes necessary to speak of certain realities. Pilar Albarracín also practices fictional anthropology in her 300 lies about the history of Spain. No. 5 (2009) shows a peasant overburdened with sacks, pointing to multitasking (home, farm …) that has traditionally weighed on women in rural areas.
What does not respond to fiction is the image of shellfisherwomen collecting fuel instead of mollusks. Juan Lesta and Belén Montero (DSK) overlap their inclined bodies to those of the Millet’s “glaneuses“. The title of the video (1848-2002) fixes two dates, the so-called Springtime of the Peoples and the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker: the bourgeois revolutions did not improve the situation of the poorest classes, independently of the “aesthetic” commitment of Millet to ennoble them. After 200 years there is no way to ennoble that same gesture, with which shellfisher women pay the faults of others.
In the seventies, women artists from different countries focused their work towards the concept of Mother Earth. They were nourished by ancient matriarchal cults that took the mother goddess as a primal force. Some performed ephemeral acts to “feminize” the territory (Judy Chicago “softened” the harsh landscape with “purple fume”), others performed rituals (Mary Beth Edelson and her photomontages of arcane deities holding Jungian symbolism), or merged themselves with the natural element (Fina Miralles blending herself with the straw or becoming a woman-tree, Ana Mendieta‘s “silhouettes”)…
Ecofeminism was born in those years, appealing to the urgency of replacing the patriarchal policies of domination over nature and women with more horizontal relationships, taking primitive matriarchies as a model. In the 80’s and 90’s the approach to nature becomes more complex. Women no longer identify with the essentialist values of their predecessors on sexuality and gender matters. The self-affirmation of femininity through naïve communions with nature is no longer feasible.
Among the current ecofeminist poetics highlights the work of Lucia Loren. In 2008, within the event El busto es mío, carved on rock salt women’s breasts and half-buried them in a grazing area. The animals were slowly licking the breasts, so that they ended up reintegrating to the earth, transforming themselves into organic matter, thus establishing a beautiful metaphor for the nutrient-mother earth.
When the territory is flooded in blood, when it keeps layers and layers of atrocities, State violence, murders and rapes of indigenous women …, relationship with the natural environment requires a process of atonement. The Colombian artist María Evelia Marmolejo, in 1982, dug a triangle form on the banks of the Cauca River, placing herself in it wrapped with placentas of women who had given birth the same day she was doing this action. “Anonimo 4” was a healing and painful ritual, almost a prayer to demand that the next generations would not suffer the vexations that the domestic and political machismo was inflicting on her congeners.
Regina José Galindo also speaks of paramilitary forces threatening indigenous communities. Her action Mazorca (2014) pays tribute to the indigenous resistance, former before the policy of devastation of cornfields during the Guatemalan civil war, and later when they succeeded in repealing the Monsanto law. In this performance, several men cut maize with machetes until they discover the naked and immobile body of Regina, that was hidden among the plants.
Corn, the staple food of Mesoamerican peoples but also imbued with mythical values, the substance with which the first men and women were made, according to the Popol Vuh, gives to Regina’s action crossed references between the precarious contemporary condition and the cosmogonic origins of a civilization.
There are territories that still continue to pay the consequences of greedy partitions on the map without taking into account the peoples, the imperialist avarice and its false promises. Israeli artist Sigalit Landau spins a hula-hoop made of barbed wire around and around her naked belly (Barbed Hula, video 2005). The injuries that are inflicted on the skin (with references to the stigmas of the Passion of Christ) function as a metaphor for the wounds that mark the shattered territory after the construction of the West Bank Wall.
The Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour finds in science fiction the solution to the conflict. That is, as could not be otherwise, a solution steeped in existential absurdity. Given the lack of space and the difficulty to move freely within their own territory, she imagines a vertical nation in a high-tech skyscraper. To go from one Palestinian city to another you just have to press the button inside an elegant elevator (Nation State, 2012).
Afghanistan also is experiencing a post-apocalyptic reality. Lida Abdul also uses an aesthetics of the absurd, but in the ruinous scenarios that she shows us, there is no possibility of a future (even if it is dystopian like Sansour’s). In the video White House, Kabul (2005) she is dressed in Afghan clothing and paints white the rubble of a shelled house. Her gesture is that of an automaton; she even paints a man’s back. But the trauma reverts in rebellion, denouncing the American invasion and the “whitewashing” of the history from imperialist narratives.
After seeing so much ravished territory we would do well to end up in calmer waters. Eulàlia Valldosera traveled to Campania, and once there she traveled again but through the centuries, until reaching a time when the forces of the underworld were manifested in the upper world. The vapors of Hades oozed in the solfatara of Naples; the sibyls bathed in the lake of hell (Lago d’Averno) and their omens reverberated among the rocks. In the Greek settlement of Cumas lived a Sibyl whose mediumistic knowledge Eulàlia captures. In the video Plastic Mantra, the sibylline voice tool possession of the artist and travels along the Tyrannic coast, once sacred, to heal the damage caused by the untrammeled capitalism.
Territorios que importan: género, arte y ecología
in CDAN, Centro de Arte y Naturaleza, Huesca
curated by Juan Guardiola
until 20th January 2019