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The Hemispheric Institute’s XI Encuentro, “The World Inside Out: Humor, Noise, and Performance” (Mexico City, June 9-15, 2019)

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Trejo, Didanwy Kent. “The Hemispheric Institute’s XI Encuentro, ‘The World Inside Out: Humor, Noise, and Performance.'” Global Performance Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 2019, https://doi.org/10.33303/gpsv3n1a6

Didanwy Kent Trejo

Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM)

The Ciudad Universitaria (University City) and the Centro Histórico (Historic Downtown) were the primary stages for an intense program of activities enjoyed by more than 700 participants from twenty-three countries. Since its inception in 1998, the Hemispheric Institute (also known as “the Hemi”) has built bridges between the north and south of the American continent. Its gatherings — previously held in Brazil, the United States, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, and Peru — seek, in the words of associate director Marcial Godoy-Anativia, “to provide a horizontal space between academics and artists, all of whom work to produce knowledge and action.”

Two years ago, the Mexican organizational team — Jorge David García, Tito Rivas, Benjamín Arditi, and me, Didanwy Kent — began an intensive collaboration with the Hemispheric Institute staff to coordinate the Encuentro. Among other reasons, Diana Taylor (founder of the Hemi) wanted to hold the Encuentro in Mexico, headquartered at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM), in order to close a chapter at her alma mater.[1] As she announced in the Encuentro’s inaugural speech, this will be her last year as Hemi director. Although this was the second time that the Encuentro took place in Mexico (it was held in Monterrey in 2001), Taylor had long dreamed of holding the event in Mexico City; some years prior, a thwarted attempt had left her with a sense of unfinished business. The Hemi Encuentros have gained recognition as spaces in which relationships are forged between artists, academics, and activists interested in art and performance studies. In Mexico, art action and performance studies have been practiced for years; in many senses, though, they remain marginalized with respect to other areas of academic and artistic life. For this reason, the Encuentro’s organizational team in Mexico wanted to create a space devoted to problematization and critique, within our institutions, in terms of this field of study and its practice across the Encuentro’s eighteen different locations.[2] The title of the Encuentro — “The World Inside Out: Humor, Performance, and Noise” — sought to encourage critical reflection on satire, laughter, music, cabaret-style mockery, boisterous protest, and aural joy. This decision responded to several concrete premises: a complex global reality afflicted by a crisis of meaning, a series of unprecedentedly urgent environmental emergencies, relentless inequality, and widespread situations of everyday violence. In recognizing that we exist amid forced disappearances, femicides, hate crimes, xenophobia, and racism, we proposed this overarching topic so that we might face, together, both horror and hope. We believe that laughter is a subversive force, a phenomenon capable of disassociating and dislocating the solemnity of the given. In this way, we feel that laughter is a vehicle for discovering other possible worlds, other ways of perceiving the reality around us. More than anything else, humor and noise are images of humanity, evidence of life, spaces in which social, collective, and popular imagination is anchored. In the community of bodies gathering together in this Encuentro, our laughter and our noise joined forces and engaged in a shared life: a life lived in opposition to the horrors of the world. As Henri Bergson once said, “Our laughter is always the laughter of a group”: it needs an echo to resonate. And in the words of Umberto Eco, “Laughter is a weapon against the wardens of thought.”

The keynote speeches, which were of great interest both to the Encuentro’s participants and to the general public in attendance, were: “The Mutant Sponge from Estridentópolis,” delivered by Antonio Prieto, the Mexican researcher and performance studies expert; “The Enigma of the 4T: Humor Against Hate,” by Jesusa Rodríguez, the controversial artist and current senator; “Despair & Disgust vs. Integrity & Wisdom: An Endgame in 7 Acts,” by Richard Schechner, a pillar of performance studies; and “Out of Breath: Laughing, Crying at the Body’s Limit,” by renowned philosopher Judith Butler.

All round-table discussions were comprised by acclaimed and experienced figures in their areas of academic and artistic work: “The Political Lives of Humor”; “The World Inside Out: Rupture, Inversion, and Play”; “Sono(dys)topias: What Do Abjection, Subversion, and Social Transgressions Sound Like?”; and “Performance in Mexico: Approaches and Strategies.” The prominent activist Donna Kaz, a member of the Guerrilla Girlz, led the workshop “Turn Your Attitude to Action: Creating Street Theatre,” as well as the talk “How Many Feminists Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?: On Creating Feminist Comedy in the 21st Century.”

Various contemporary challenges were discussed by the twenty-three working groups that met every morning in the postgraduate classrooms of the Department of Political and Social Sciences; the groups had the opportunity to exchange opinions in the Transversal Presentations held on the last day of the Encuentro. These issues were also addressed in forums such as “Animating the End of Prohibition: Artists Confronting the Challenges of Marihuana Regularization in Mexico”; the Teach-Ins titled “Laughtivism with the Yes Men” and “Practices of Liberation in the Era of Mass Deportation”; and in the Imaginaries titled “Necromachines” and “Public Space, Laughter, Activism.”

The Encuentro also included theatre in the form of the plays One Melon…!! Your Melon…!!, by El Ciervo Encantado; La Prietty Guoman, by César Enríquez; The Wretched, by Las Reinas Chulas; and Made in Mexico, by Astrid Hadad.

The three street routes, carried out in the first quadrant of Mexico City, were especially powerful. The streets of the historic downtown area were permeated by performative bodies inhabiting the spaces through diverse enunciations. The three routes were: (Micro) Sound Cartography, curated by Jorge David García and Tito Rivas, with ten performances about sound; Roaming Cabaret: Re-ass-essing Public Space, curated by Tareke Ortiz, in which nine artists and collectives explored the concept of cabaret in public space; and What Remains After 50 Years?, curated by Rubén Ortiz and Rosa María Landabur, in which twelve collectives and artists used their bodies to question the echoes and latencies of ’68 in profoundly moving ways.

It would be impossible to give a full account of the Encuentro’s rich program, which included more than seventy performances: both traveling performances, some designed for specific locations in both open and closed spaces, and the late-night performances at El Vicio Theater-Bar. But we are left with images imprinted on our bodies: the painful but necessary questions posed to us by Lukas Avendaño’s expectant hand, waiting by the water mirror for his missing brother to return, in his performance Where Is Bruno?; the questions asked with urgency in Mexico Exhumed, by Lechedevirgen Trimegistro, and in REQUIEM#3: Body Graves, by Violeta Luna; the complex utterance of Un-global Diaspora, by GRUPO D3 CHOK3, as they traced migration routes with bloody feet; the phosphorescent image of The Two Fridas and Not One Woman Less, by Las Pussy Queers; and the metro ticket marked with the name of a missing woman, delivered by Hebzoariba Hernández and Rita Canto in Mapping Silence, Liberating Public Space. The performances left other indelible marks: the love and tenderness offered up near a fountain in Don’t Clip My Wings, by Lía García (La Novia Sirena); the romantic speech in the form of a snack in Love Is Crap, by the extraordinary Pancho López; the caress-turned-song of La Bruja de Texcoco, crooning Violeta Parra’s “To Be 17 Again,” into our ears; and the fragile but powerful body of Anadel Lynton in Soft Light. We experienced, too, the irreverent and hilarious images of La Pocha Nostra, Los 2boys.tv, the songs Kegels for Hegel, the bodies releasing Miguel Braceli’s book-trigger, Xandra Ibarra in Nude Laughing, Erika Bülle in No One Likes Fat Girls, the public female orgasm of Roberta Nascimento’s In Times of War, ENJOY!, and a long et cetera. The celebration of performance, the nights of dancing at the Pasagüero bar, our physical exhaustion, our shared glances: these were the constants at the Hemi’s XI Encuentro. What’s left of it all? Where does all this energy go, once the world is no longer inside out, no longer suspended in this voluntary parenthesis that a group of people from many different countries took on as a week-long adventure together?

The work ahead of us, it seems to me, starts with deep reflection on everything that happened. What’s left is the continuity of the bonds forged, which will hopefully continue to bear fruit in small communities as they break ideological and geographical boundaries and engage in collective thinking — perhaps in less massive gatherings, but in spaces where potent actions nonetheless take root. The certainty that, despite language barriers and different ways of thinking and feeling across diverse cultures, we can make space for dissent, for problematizing together. True to the times, detailed accounts of the Encuentro will be accessible within a few months on the website of the Hemispheric Institute. And like the records offered by Action/Trace: Video Exhibition of Performance Art 1993-2001, the exhibition inaugurated on the last day of the Encuentro in Ex Teresa, this experience will resonate in the sustained if arduous task of making a single instant endure in time.

Endnotes

[1] Diana Taylor studied Latin American Literature at the UNAM and went on to teach there.

[2] At the UNAM: the Pablo González Casanova Auditorium and the Ricardo Flores Magón Auditorium in the Department of Political and Social Sciences; the José Luis Ibáñez Experimental Forum in the Department of Philosophy and Literature; the Juan Ruiz de Alarcón Theater; the University Theater Center; the University Contemporary Art Museum; the Nezahualcóyotl Hall; the Miguel Covarrubias Hall; the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Forum; and the University Cultural Center Dance Hall. In the Historic Downtown area: the Ex Teresa Contemporary Art Museum, the Simón Bolívar Auditorium in the Former College of San Ildefonso, and the “Esperanza Iris” City Theater. Additional activities took place in other spaces across the city, such as the Digital Culture Center, the Helénico Cultural Center, and El Vicio Theater-Bar.

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