TQW Magazin
Maurício Ianês über S_P_I_T_, Day 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 for both recognition, representation, naming, and for undefinition and de-identification at the same time. By remaining undefined and de-identified, queer lives merge, intersect, flow, glitch, and draw an escape route from the impositions and instrumentalisations – or rather: 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’s lives through care, desire, movement, and politics, while at the same time conserving difference, and uniqueness.

The performances presented on the last evening of S_P_I_T_ Festival seemed to deal with these questions imaginatively, inviting the audience to participate in the various artists’ acts of mourning, deprogramming, 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 hosted the artist talk 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.”

A note on this text: I have insisted and will continue to insist on the use of the pronoun ‘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 common strategy in performance art particularly since the 1960s. It is revisited today as a way to remove the separation between artist, art, and spectator, to open up a space of collective creativity that breaks the boundaries of professionalisation of the artist and author in a world of radical division and expropriation of labour. Participation has become 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 physically separated by the traditional audience/stage configuration? In the artist talk, Cibelle Cavalli Bastos stated that fixating on the form means adhering to a patriarchal, white, Eurocentric aesthetic mode of living. But, then again, 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 if 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 that means) is to work with our imagination. It has transformative potentialities, it carries political propositions and messages, and it offers an opening to imagine what this crumbling world could be like. In the end, however, it is not itself transformation, especially when confined within the four walls of a theatre-like room (or museum, art gallery, etc).

Anthropophagic Sweat.

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

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 the group’s notion of individuality was different from 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 nascimos 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 wore a black balaclava that had ‘ACAB’ (acronym for All Cops Are Bastards) embroidered on it. The performer lit candles and said the names of fighters lost, but always present, in the war against capital. The glow-in-the-dark stage, the T-shirt, and the headpiece worn by Chaves Bonilla evoked both an image of a nightclub or rave (at least for someone who, like me, grew up in the 1990s) and a magical ambience at the same time, born from the ritual-like performance of mourning. The work went beyond the limits of queerness, or the limits that have grown around queerness, towards paying homage to the armed fighters, workers, peasants, peoples, and organisations that have resisted a genocidal system, and proposed organised anti-capitalism as a form of activism needed for the emancipation of not only queer people but all those who are oppressed. Considering how ‘queer’ has developed in capitalism into a bourgeois frame of identity, Chaves Bonilla’s performance was a powerful statement.

As I am a South American artist myself, the fact that this piece dealt with mourning opened up a different perspective for me, closer to the skin, closer to the body, closer to my memories of the unceasing struggles in the region. Much of what I’ve seen lately in the Viennese queer art scene is 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 from Legacy Russell’s Glitch Feminism manifesto was projected onto the wall during Markus Pires Mata’s first solo project. Here again, the dialectics of name and unnameable came into play, overlapping 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 overlapped, 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 we live in. 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 sound file to be collectively synchronised with the rhythm that was played live, overlapping with the distorted drone produced by a melting block of wax 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 help wondering, though, what this performance might have developed into, if it hadn’t been limited by the spatial configuration and the short time frame in which it occurred. 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 ourselves as abstract geometric cubes, as Cibelle Cavalli Bastos suggested in their lecture-workshop-performance Debinarize, 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 prompt the imagination to come up with different modes of acting in the world. Cavalli Bastos asked us to move different parts of the body in a gender-binary fashion (so-called masculine movements, so-called feminine movements). At first glance, this exercise seemed to pointlessly reinforce gender stereotypes, running contrary to Cavalli Bastos’ intention of debinarisation, but once I started to consider what a so-called feminine or a so-called masculine movement of my feet might be, I went blank. Everything I tried seemed cliché, stupid, and mannerist. My discomfort made me stop and realise that these categories that seem so natural in this patriarchal, sexist society are a sham. I cannot say how this will affect my daily life, but it definitely increased my awareness of how the abstractions of gender regulate and limit the bodies that we are, and generate oppression.

Once more, the separation between stage and auditorium put a curb on active audience participation, which produced a feeling of awkwardness in the room at times.

To return to the opening question of this text: ‘Can a utopia – a queer, horizontal utopia, to be more precise – be realised and experienced within institutional constraints?’ First of all, I don’t consider utopias the most transformative (non)places of activism. Transformation demands programmatic, organised, material, collective action in the present. In specific, real places, but without imagination. But most of all, to be effective, it should demolish the institutional walls of the system that they reinforce.


[1] Jacques Derrida ends the opening text of the French edition of his book Spectres de Marx (Spectres of Marx) with the following sentence: A man’s life, as unique as his death, will always be more than a paradigm and something other than a symbol. And this is precisely what a proper name should always name. (Routledge, New York 1994)


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 presented their works 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 at the 28th and 29th International São Paulo Biennials (2008 and 2010). Ianês currently teaches at the Department of Transmedia Art at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.