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Pepe Espaliú, El nido, 1993. Cortesía Centro de Arte Pepe Espaliú.
Gently revealing, caring hard, all touching... Anarchivo Sida at Tabakalara

"Sida la flecha. Suma y sida. Sida del vaticano... quien va a Sevilla, perdió su sida..." is a fragment of the audio that tags along with me like a soundtrack on my walkthrough of Anarchivo Sida at Tabakalera. The performer-actioner Miguel Benlloch, together with Tomás Navarro and Rafael Villegas—aka Las Pekinesas—are the artists featured in a video of the SIDA DA performance (1985) held in the epicentre of counterculture in Granada in what is possibly the earliest artistic action documented in Spain on the issue of the AIDS. The video shows three masked people on a stage of Planta Baja passing the microphone from one to the other, punning on the word sida (the Spanish word for the illness) a term coined just three years before. [1] Like a discourse of distorting mirrors, this parodic exercise in wordplay from the underground anti-Franco resistance of the period serves as the starting point of my visit to the exhibition. [2] Curated by Equipo re (Aimar Arriola, Nancy Garín, Linda Valdés) the display shows material compiled over the last three years on a plethora of cultural, visual and performative engagements with the politics of HIV/AIDS from the global south, with a particular focus on cases studies from Spain and Chile.

The practice developed by artist, activist and cultural producer Miguel Benlloch, oversteps the boundaries of gender politics, engaging with issues that have more to do with the cultural traditions, definitions and codes of Andalusian and Spanish identity, in ways serving as a hinge that connects some of the positions from which the exhibition’s curatorial discourse is narrated. His piece Miguel de la O (2004) is a cutre reincarnation of the young gypsy woman María de la O. And I’m using "cutre" not in its officially sanctioned meaning which speaks of seediness and shabbiness, but as a knowing nod to Cutre Chou (1984-2004): a club for live shows, transvestites and irreverent political agitation that came into being against the backdrop of the activist coalitions in the eighties. In this case embodied by Miguel, the fake protagonist of María de la O—the song by Estrellita Castro—is presented beside a poster from the activist collective La Radical Gai which reads Operación mari-quita el 92: gais contra el 92 (1992). "Marica", "mariquita" and "mariquilla" are all diminutive forms of María, but they also designate an "effeminate man with little strength" ever since the still-accepted definition of marica was introduced in the dictionary in the eighteenth century. But it is not only the mariquitas, also the Spanish word for ladybirds, of La Radical Gai or Benlloch’s protest images of La Cerda (The Sow) that speak to an animal condition. The same can be said for the photos of the early actions by Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis (The Mares of the Apocalypse) in which the duo of artists formed by Pedro Lemebel and Francisco Casas are naked on horseback in the School of Arts and Humanities in Santiago de Chile during the student protests in 1988. Or also in the final performance in the early nineties by the multifaceted Pepe Espaliú El Nido (The Nest) in which the artist is on a platform built around a tree, fluttering about like a bird while taking off his clothes and letting them drop. [3]

The animal question within AIDS discourses has to do not only with the politics of representation of practices associated with the resistance of the body —which understand it as a critical potential to articulate other ways of narrating— but also with the medical narratives that related the origins of the epidemic with certain species of primates, mainly from Africa. [4] The man-animal binomial evokes the scientific and gender narratives that Donna Haraway revealed in the late eighties in her reading of the National Geographic on primates in which she used the figure of Koko the gorilla to advocate the abolition of the boundary qualities imbued in terms such as nature and culture, fostering an oblique and transversal focus in opposition to Western narratives. On the contrary, Jacques Derrida, despite not defining himself as a feminist “mammal” —as Haraway did in an endeavour to revoke the limits that reason bestowed on living organisms— [5] worked with the “animal question” from another optic. Derrida challenged the anthropocentric quality that defines philosophy as a discipline and from which the other is defined, based on difference. Xavier Antich argued that “from the introduction of animality as a philosophical problem in Gilles Deleuze until the consideration of non-human animals for the articulation of a theory of social justice, as proposed by Martha C. Nussbaum, thinking over the last four decades has put the debate on the nature of the animal at the centre of reflection on the human being." [6] In the West, this human-centrist position is what allows us to terminate the life of an animal, as it has no consciousness, by representing this otherness that separates it from thinking man. In this line, the video Temporada de caça (Hunting Season) by Rita Moreira from 1988 explores the theme of violence, collecting opinions from people in Sao Paulo on the murder of a theatre director who was killed as a result of homophobic violence a year earlier. These stories take on special relevance today, thirty years later, when unfortunately we see how polarity, extremes and hatred have been accentuated in societies that are falling back on fear as one of the core axes of their political and media discourses.

A different kind of violence permeates the work of Agueda Bañón, one of the few women artists engaged with this problematic since the appearance of AIDS in Spain. Her video El Tajo (The Slit), from 1996, is a long take in which a face partially out of the frame licks a self-inflicted wound. The blood flows from the body and re-enters it by means of the tongue in an intimate, anonymous circular exploration that seeks to reconcile itself with reality through the spectator’s gaze.

Information as the object of combat is unquestionably central to the exhibition narrative. Equally salient is precariousness as political constitution. According to Judith Butler, precariousness as an ontological condition is predicated on the fact of being mortal and therefore vulnerable by depending one on the other. But it also has to do with the idea of subsistence and fragility produced by the issue of class, censorship and fear. In this regard, the use of printed informative or educational material takes on special interest and accentuates the position of resistance from artistic appropriation. Posters like El virus que navega en el amor (The virus that navigates in love) (1991/2016) by Miguel Parra Urrutia, a selection of awareness-raising campaigns by ACT UP Barcelona and ACT UP Latino Caucus in the early nineties, the images of collective parties against the dictatorship at Teatro Esmeralda in Santiago de Chile and the publications by CEPSS, among many other documents, all help to contextualise the multiplicity of formats (re)presented in the exhibition.

Bodies instrumentalised from semiotics, from the politics of representation of life but also of death. Biopolitical bodies that, from ritualisation and resistance, flesh and text, also recall how the pharmaceutical industry contributes to the construction and capitalisation of contemporary sexuality. Health and illness are part of a binomial that serves to measure the body’s functional, productive and capital capacity and to this end they account for another section in the exhibition, together with death and the animal. Without going any further, the documentation of the installation Dinero=Poder=Muerte (Money=Power=Death) (1993) by the artist Pepe Miralles reveals the polarised consequences of the only drug for people with HIV that existed at the time (Retrovir), bringing into play financial speculation on health while at once reminding us of what Paul B. Preciado recently said about the announcement of clinical tests for Truvada with seronegative patients from high-risk groups: “In the last twenty years gay sexuality has changed from being a marginal subculture to being one of the spaces most highly coded, regimented and apprehended by the languages of neoliberal capitalism." [7]

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Aimar, Nancy and Linda decided to narrate the stories of the archive in another way, from a counter-archive optic that takes neoliberal malaise [8] as a framework for action and for resistance, only to then introduce velvet in Suaves se revelan, ásperas cuidan, todas se tocan… (Gently revealing, caring hard, all touching... ) from 2016, an invitation by Diego del Pozo Barriuso to imagine the possible subjectivities of the spaces located in the grey areas of the binomials man-animal, health-illness or life-death, touching on the exhibition’s three main blocks. In this sense, Anarchivo Sida positions itself on the side of proximity, of light—entering naturally through the windows of the hall, so rare in the white cube—but also, and especially, the sense of touch, to move away from the formal axis running through the display (the archive) and thus take one remove from the underhanded violence which is the very raison d’être behind the construction of grand narratives.

At a time of rereadings of the artistic manifestations that took place in the eighties and introduced postmodernism into Spain, the curatorial gesture advanced by Equipo re is particularly intriguing: it presents a twist that seeks to reactivate the memories of past combats over and above party militancy, while at once representing an early and paradigmatic example of resistance to the consolidation of neoliberalism in the frame of an increasingly globalised South. With the purpose of reinforcing this idea of affective proximity, the collective unfolds a dispositif conceived by the artist Carmen Nogueira which is made up of a chipboard support that underscores the relationships of the documentary recordings with the bodies of the visitors. The different structures proposed by Nogueira invite the spectator to keep changing position —sitting, bending down, touching?— as he/she advances along the walkthrough, disobeying the classic canons of institutional mediation while at once the archive also disobeys its conventional function of law and order, of collection, and turns the spotlight onto a system of networks that afford new modes of reinforced collectivity in the exhibition’s tie-in programme of activities that seeks to activate the intervening bodies.

As Aimar Pérez Galí, the dancer, performer and researcher and one of the agents in the events that overspill the exhibition hall, all combat must pass through the body and it is the body that is cut across by this chain of affects, experiences and memories. [9] In the same way, Anarchivo Sida understands that the responsibility for telling a recent story differently entails the creation of one of those chains of attachment and empathy. On this occasion, it is the counter-archive that is cut through and activated by the experiences of the visitors as if it were a living organism. The encounters with the documents, the processes generated by relationships with them, and the exchange of knowledge inside and outside the exhibition hall—in the form of the web, [10] of actions, and of responses like, for instance, this text—can help to place affect at the centre of the discourse and foster a dialogue that reminds us that, similarly to what happens with the thirty-plus years of AIDS, to assert a critical attitude to the world one has to learn to skirt around ingrained stories in order to turn them on their heads.



Notes:

[1The era of infection by HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) started in summer 1981 when the US institute CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) called a press conference to announce five cases of pneumonia for Pneumocystis carinii and cases of Kaposi’s Sarcoma. In 1982 the new disease was given the name Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) a name which, after discovering that the illness was not exclusive to the gay community, replaced other earlier and dodgier choices like Gay-related Immune Deficiency (GRID) and the 4-H Club (Haitians, haemophiliacs, homosexuals and heroin addicts). The first case of AIDS in Spain was recorded in October 1981.

[2BENLLOCH MIGUEL: ¡¡¡Larga vida al Cutre Chou!!!, in Dig me out. Discursos sobre música popular, el género y etnicidad by María José Belbel and Rosa Reitsamer, accessible online at: http://www.digmeout.org/de_neu/benlloch.htm

[3Part of the material of his mythic performance Carrying from 1992, destroyed in the floods at Arteleku in 2012, can be seen in the video Azken Bideoa by Iñaki Garmendia (2002) on view in the exhibition.

[4“About HIV/AIDS, The Virus”, World Health Organization, accessible online at: http://www.who.int/hiv/abouthiv/en/

[5See Who are Rosi Braidotti and Donna Haraway? Accessible online at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZYPDg16fvc

[6ANTICH, XAVIER: “La cuestión animal”, La Vanguardia, 27/10/2010. Accessible online at: http://www.lavanguardia.com/cultura/20101027/54059306310/la-cuestion-animal.html

[7PRECIADO, PAUL B. “Condones químicos”, El Estado Mental, 16 June 2015. Accessible online at: https://elestadomental.com/especiales/cambiar-de-voz/condones-quimicos

[8Todo el malestar que se puede soportar… (2016) is the title of one of the works by Diego del Pozo Barriuso, a drawing-diagram depicting a cartography of the main phenomena of neoliberal malaise.

[9PÉREZ GALÍ, AIMAR: The Touching Community. Proyecto de creación y escritura. Accessible online at: http://www.cce.org.uy/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/Dossier-TheTouchingCommunity.pdf. For more information on the programme of activities, see: https://www.tabakalera.eu/es/anarchivo-sida-exposicion-equipo-re

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