TQW Magazin
Maurício Ianês über S_P_I_T_ Tag 3

Can a utopian experience survive within institutional constraints?


Can a utopian experience survive within institutional constraints?

To name the infinity of bodies we are, the infinity of bodies we lost, to name the unnamed desires, movements, and possibilities for which these bodies fight and fought, is at the same time an act of celebration, respect, reconnection, remembrance, continuation in time and space, but also limitation. Queer lives beg at once for recognition, representation, naming, and for undefinition and de-identification. By remaining undefined and de-identified, queer lives merge, intersect, flow, glitch, and draw an escape route from the impositions and instrumentalizations – or better: oppressions and exploitations – of a capitalist, racialised, gendered, patriarchal, class society. Queer lives break the limits of individualisation and atomisation by participating in each other through care, desire, movement, and politics, nevertheless conserving difference, and uniqueness.

The performances presented on the last evening of S_P_I_T_ Festival seemed to deal with these questions imaginatively, and all artists made efforts, in different manners, to invite the audience to participate in their acts of mourning, de-programming, joy, rhythm, and care. They all tried to envision, within the institutional constraints of the festival, a different future in the present. As artist Hyo Lee, who mediated the artists‘ talk on the previous evening, said: “we are fairies from the future living in the present to present possibilities of living differently. May we, the fairies, present ourselves with strong ammunition.”

One comment on this text: I have been insisting and will continue to insist here on the use of the noun “we” because the performances proposed a sense of collectivity, community, participation, and shared experiences. This is not a universal “we”, but a communal one.

Participation has been a regular strategy in performance art mostly since the 1960s, being revisited today as a form to break the separation of artist, art, and spectator, to open space to a form of collective creativity that breaks the boundaries of the professionalisation of the artist and author in a world of radical division and expropriation of labour. Participation has become a canon, especially in left-oriented political-aesthetic practices. Participation has also become a form of expropriation of labour in capitalism. But how can these attempts to break the rules of separation in our society be efficient when presented in a protected, ephemeral, institutional environment? And how can they happen when spectators and artists are separated in the space, delimited by the traditional configuration of the audience-stage? Cibelle Cavalli Bastos stated during the artist talk that fixation on the form is a patriarchal, white, Eurocentric aesthetic mode of living. But then aren’t we reproducing established forms of artmaking in the queer community within the limits of the institution? I would say “yes”, but the material experience itself, the invitation to participate, even when sometimes awkward due to the special configuration of Tanzquartier, might also invite us to imagine a different world, a different economy of life, a different politics. After all, the role of art, whatever this means, is to work with our imagination. It has transformative potentialities, it carries political propositions and messages, and it offers an opening to imagine how this crumbling world could be, but in the end, it is not transformation itself, especially when configured within the four walls of a theatre-like room (or museum, art gallery, Kunsthalle, etc).

Anthropophagic Sweat.

Artists Imani Rameses, Veza Fernández, and creation partners presented SWEAT CHILLS SPIT, a performative-aesthetic-therapeutic-action resulting from an open workshop. We, the audience, and soon-to-be participants, entered the room and were asked to sit also around the stage or in the traditional place for the audience, facing the stage. When entering, every person was given a wool thread. Performers were already on stage, sitting in a circle, talking, singing, massaging the plastic floor, and each other with what seemed to be oil or lubricant. This view was already soothing. There was a feeling of connection that was light and joyful. We were welcomed with an introduction by Veza Fernández and Imani Rameses. The performance echoes the therapeutic propositions of Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, especially her Baba Antropofágica (Anthropophagic Drool) and Melani Bonajo’s video When the body says Yes, presented at the Dutch Pavillion of the Venice Biennale this year. It echoes, with joy and sensuousness, the politics of care and touch that have been recently present in many queer artistic propositions. Bodily connection, care, acceptance of and love for the body, and togetherness must always be reinforced in opposition to capitalist separation and competition. We must be connected, we must care for each other and the selves we are, for outside is war and struggle. Sometimes – many times – also inside.

It was a welcoming experience, yet the stage-audience-situation imposed limitations on the development of the piece. In the end, Rameses told us: “Take your time to be an individual again. Whatever that means.” This short statement had important political implications. It was clear that their notion of individuality was other than the atomised, white bourgeois one, and it is always a relief to imagine and feel these barriers of automated individuality, whatever that means, being broken, even if for a short time.

The names, the unnameable.

“No nacimos para guerra” (we weren’t born for war), said a banner on the stage of Paula Chaves Bonilla’s performance House of Desaparecidxs. But war is at the core of the lives of the oppressed and exploited. Histories of torture, occupation, fight and resistance by communist guerrillas in Colombia, indigenous peoples, women, Black and queer people were narrated, intertwined with personal histories of the artist. Chaves Bonilla was wearing a black balaclava that had “ACAB” (an acronym for All Cops Are Bastards) embroidered. The performer lights candles and says names of fighters lost, but always present, in the war against capital. The glow-in-the-dark stage, the T-shirt, and the headpiece that were worn by Chaves Bonilla gave at once an image of a nightclub or rave (at least for someone like me, who grew in the club culture of the 90s), and also a magical ambience, born from the ritual-like performance of mourning. The work overflowed the limits of queerness, or the limits that grew around queerness, towards telling and paying homage to the armed fighters, workers, peasants, peoples, and organisations that resisted a genocidal system, and brings organised anti-capitalism as a necessary form of activism for the emancipation of not only queer people but for all those who are oppressed. If we think about how “queer” has developed in capitalism into a bourgeois identity frame, Chaves Bonilla’s performance remains a strong statement in the festival.

As I am also a South American artist, the fact that this piece dealt with mourning brought to me a different perspective, closer to the skin, closer to the body, closer to my memories of the struggles continuously happening in the region. As much of what I’ve seen lately in the Viennese queer art scene seems to be trying to build a place of comfort and celebration. This is of course understandable, necessary, and desirable, but sometimes it distances itself from the reality of the struggle that occurs in other places and communities, and also here in Austria. Distancing oneself from reality or renaming it doesn’t erase it. The struggle of women, indigenous peoples, workers, peasants, and racialised peoples goes together with queer struggle and should not be forgotten. We carry these names, queer or not, which are more than paradigms and other than mere symbols.[1]

 “What is a body without a name? An error.”

The quotation above, extracted from Legacy Russel’s manifesto Glitch Feminism, was projected on the wall during the first solo project by Markus Pires Mata. Here again, the dialectics of name and unnameable came to play, intersected with illegibility and opacity, and in this clash resided a possibility of rewriting the relations of language and gender within a queer context. Pires Mata presented a dense, multi-layered performance in which language, materiality, sound, rhythm, and virtual reality intersected, creating a sometimes contradictory discourse and a dark atmosphere. The use of contradiction to raise awareness, aesthetic or political, is an important tool for dismantling the claustrophobic behavioural codes that are naturalised in the society in which we live. Pires Mata’s use of participation was successful in the sense that it considered the audience situation: we were asked to scan a projected QR code with our phones, opening a link to a soundfile that should be synchronised­, collectively synchronised, with the rhythm that was played live. At the same time it was overlapping with the distorted drone produced by the melting of a wax block dripping on the strings of a guitar. Like the melting wax, everything was unstable, everything melted, fused, and flowed in a darker, harsher version of Brazilian poet Décio Pignatari’s geleia geral (general jam) concept. Glitch, goo, and drone.

I couldn’t avoid thinking, though, about how this performance could have developed if it weren’t limited by the short time in which it occurred, and in a different spatial configuration. A long durational version could increase the immersive aspect of the work, both for the artist and spectators-participants.

Gender abstractions.

Do we have to imagine and abstract ourselves as geometric cubes, as Cibelle Cavalli Bastos suggested to us in their lecture-workshop-performance Debinarise, to bulldoze the restraints imposed by gendered, patriarchal structures? Abstraction can be a powerful imaginative tool to unbind those limitations that are not quite imposed by the body, but on the body, on the skin, on the movements of the bodies and their relationships. Idealist abstraction is not enough though to soothe the materiality of the body and its needs, but again it can fuel the imagination toward different modes of acting in the world. Cavalli Bastos proposed that we moved different parts of the body following gender-binary modes of action (so-called masculine movements, so-called feminine movements). If at first glance this proposition can seem to be pointlessly reinforcing gender stereotypes, contrary to the intentions of Cavalli Bastos (to debinarise), once I started to think of what could be a so-called feminine or a so-called masculine movement of my feet, for example, I went blank. Whatever I tried seemed cliché, stupid, and mannerist. The result of my discomfort made me stop and realise how these categories that seem so natural in this patriarchal, sexist society, are a fraud. I can’t say how this will affect my daily life, but for sure it collaborated to continue to develop an awareness of how the abstractions of gender regulate and limit the bodies we are and generate oppression.

Once more the stage separation limited the development of active participation of the audience, leaving sometimes a feeling of awkwardness in the room.

Finally, to rewrite the question that opened and pervaded this text: “Can a utopia, a queer, horizontal utopia to be more specific, be realised and experienced within institutional constraints?” I would say that, to begin with, utopia aren’t the most transformative (non)places of activism. Transformation demands programmed, organised, material, collective action in the present. In specific, real places, but without imagination. There’s no base for transformation. But most of all, to be effective, it should overflow and demolish the institutional walls of the system that they reinforce.


Maurício Ianês (Santos, Brazil, 1973), lives and works in Vienna. Ianês is a political activist, researcher and artist working in different media, with a focus on participatory actions, institutional critique, contextual practices and the politics of language. Ianês has shown in international institutions such as Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo (2019); Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2014); KIT – Kunst im Tunnel, Düsseldorf (2013); PAC Milano, Milan (2018); and the 28th and 29th International São Paulo Biennials (2008 and 2010). Currently Ianês teaches at the Transmediale Kunst department of the Universität für Angewandte Kunst Wien.


[1] Jewish Algerian philosopher Jacques Derrida ends the opening text of the French edition of his book Spectres de Marx (Spectres of Marx) with the following sentence: “The life of a man [sic], as much singular as his [sic] death, will always be more than a paradigm and something else than a symbol. And that’s always precisely what a proper noun should name.” (Free translation made by Ianês).