Barcelona, May 28, 2016
I do not know if this letter will reach you, even if Lacan believed that the letters always reach the recipient. But I lose nothing in trying. If you answer me or not, that's another story. For now, I'm satisfied that it comes to you in one way or another.
You see, a few days ago I attended The Museum is Closed, an activity of MACBA, where M. invited the Equipo re, a research team formed in the PEI before me, to talk about their work on AIDS policies in the Spanish and Latin American context, with a special focus on Chile (N. and L. are Chilean, like you). A little more than a month ago they inaugurated the exhibition Anarchivo sida in Tabakalera, San Sebastián, where they showed part of the materials they’d found in their research, and where they offered to show my process as part of the performative programme Cuerpos en la brecha (Bodies in the gap), in which Miguel Benlloch (of whom I will speak shortly) and many more also participated.
And I don’t know why but the whole time I was there listening to them I felt your presence. In their stories, their doing, the images they shared, there you were, present in your carnal absence.
As I was telling you, that afternoon at MACBA there was a lot of talk about Chile. But it wasn’t just because of that I felt you were close. There were many reasons that made me think of you constantly. N. and L. began to tell us about Miguel Benlloch. You probably met him, that wouldn’t surprise me at all. In my mind I imagine you as close friends. And as a friend, you will know that Miguel was part of the Andalusian Communist Movement (MC), like you, who was active in the Communist Party of Chile. What I don’t know is whether you knew that the MC is one of the first parties that introduced the homosexual struggle in its policies and endeavours within the Spanish State, where they begin to read and translate feminist texts and where critical discourse was produced in a context as conservative as the Andalucía of the ‘70s.
N. told us that a few years ago when they interviewed Miguel they asked him: What happened with the MC when the AIDS pandemic appeared? Nothing happened, he said, and that affected him a lot. What would you have answered? I wonder. I imagine that before such an answer is generated as an epiphany, it’s one of those moments in which you understand that you have had to get there and investigate. The same thing happened to me when, a few years ago, A., the third member of the Team that was not there that day at MACBA, sent me the question: What happened to dance when the AIDS epidemic happened? I could not answer him, but he laid the seed for the project in which I have been immersed for more than a year. Surely you know what I'm talking about. Surely you have had similar moments in which something happens and that something makes you unable to avoid getting there and digging, digging deep. I guess your manifesto is born from a moment like that, where you have to take responsibility and give yourself the voice to give visibility to a silenced reality. I do not know if you had a relationship with the world of dance, for now I have not found it in your writings, but you know what? The history of dance, like the history of AIDS, is written by people who do not dance and by people who did not have the virus. And it is written, always, from the North American and North-European perspective, as you can imagine, of course.
How is a story constructed? Well there we have it: it is always built from the privileged perspective. For others there is no story, perhaps for the better, because now we have to empower ourselves and start writing and building this story, in the first person, from our own experience, as you write. And that's why your books fascinate me, because they inspire me to write, to build another story. Your chronicles have allowed the stories of so many others not to be forgotten. I do not know if you know that Miguel was in Chile in 2012, invited by the Team as part of the body's Politics seminar that they organised in the Museum of Contemporary Art of Santiago with the Movement for Sexual Diversity, of which you were surely a part, or surely you were a member of the Homosexual Liberation Movement. You and Miguel have something of transoceanic twins ... as I go on writing this letter I see it more clearly. I have to talk to Miguel, I'll write to him this week.
Another thing that I wanted to tell you is that at a moment of the meeting at MACBA, talking about a seminar organised in Seville, L. showed us a symptom index of Neoliberal Upset according to Diego del Pozo. Symptom number one said: The HIV crisis established a new paradigm: the fear of contact. I quickly wrote it down in my notebook. The fear of contact was the first thing that came to mind when I began to investigate the relationship of AIDS with dance. And from there I went, by logic, to the practice of Contact Improvisation initiated by Steve Paxton, which more or less appears at the same time in which the first cases of the virus are recorded and which expands, almost virally, throughout the world, as a new paradigm of dance. If AIDS introduced the fear of contact, Contact Improvisation proposed the opposite. All the movements that were born at that time to demand government involvement and response understood that affection was a tool of struggle. And every fight goes through the body, you know it well. You affirm it in your manifesto:
My manhood I did not receive it from the party
Because they rejected me with giggles
My manhood I learned it by participating
In the harshness of those years
My manhood was to bite me teasing
To eat anger not to kill the whole world
My manhood is to accept me different
Server coward is much harder
I do not turn the other cheek
I offer the ass comrade
and that's my revenge
How strong you are ... and I say strong in all its senses and connotations. Since I read these last three lines of your manifesto, they have been recorded in my memory.
But let me continue telling you about the meeting in the museum. F., also Chilean, told us about his experience over one year in a hospital in Concepción, when he was diagnosed as having HIV in a very advanced state. F. was one of the founders of the Asociación Vivo Positivo. He told us about the struggles to get universal access to treatment. He also told us about the death lists, which included those who did not have the privilege of accessing treatment, about discrimination in the health area and about how they had to learn the medical and legal terms to empower themselves from the speeches and fight. The testimony of F. is important in understanding other struggles that took place, but that were not picked up by the media, like ACT UP in New York, San Francisco or Paris. Southern struggles that have not entered the hegemony of history. Struggles in which you and your loved ones participated.
And suddenly they talked about you ... I had been thinking for a while, but when I heard your name, a chill ran through me. They mentioned your books that I have read and your theory of the second colonisation, that which comes from the North, the gay colonisation and all its Yankee culture, devastating the local culture of the locals. In fact, I love how you defend your Mapuche culture against globalisation in your books. I think you never would have worn a Zara or H&M shirt. Other inconsistencies you would have, like everyone else, but not that one. They also talk about the Yeguas… , and how much homosexual terminology has to do with animality: mares, ladybirds, deer ...
What I will tell you now is another of the coincidences that this project is offering me. And I say another because it gives me the feeling that as I move forward the stars are lining up and I am enlightened by the bonds of this community that touches and is touched. In 1992, Pepe Espaliú, another Cordovan, developed a workshop in Arteleku, also in San Sebastian, where he developed his Carrying action and the collective The Carrying Society integrated by workshop participants. It is in this context where, at the hands of Gabriel Calparsoro, Pepe invited Jon Greenberg, member of ACT UP NY and brother of choreographer Neil Greenberg, to give a talk. Knowing my research, a few months ago A. sent me that conference transcribed, in English. He had obtained it through Gabriel, who kept an audio recording in the attic of his parents' house that A. had transcribed. When I read Jon's words, which speak with a positive perspective of his experience of living with AIDS, without victimising - like you do in your Loco eagerness - I understood the relationship with Contact Improvisation. Look how interesting: Jon says that what AIDS does is lower the barrier of immunity and therefore enter into community with the other, with the virus, and there was the job: learning to live with the other. Conceptually, Contact does the same - lowers the barrier of the solitary dancer's immunity to get in touch with another dancer and in that coexistence develop the dance.
At the end of the talk, with a few beers, we began to speak in smaller groups of the exhibition, of the issues that had appeared, and someone commented that a very beastly trend is being observed among refugees arriving in France, where there are two ways of getting papers for medical reasons: exhibiting schizophrenia or testing positive for HIV. Indeed, the boys are consciously infecting themselves in order to get asylum. And it leaves me perplexed because I'm just working on the issue of refugees for another project, and I would never have contemplated that possibility. My god, it killed me. And I cannot ignore my position as a privileged, queer European white, yes, but privileged after all.
Pedro, forgive that the first letter I sent you is so extensive, but I had so many things to tell you ... And I still have more, but maybe I'll wait to see if you answer. I do not want to say goodbye without thanking you for your sincere words, your critical, constructive, emotional and tender speech. By the way, speaking of tenderness, I remember that two years ago, being in Buenos Aires for the first time, I went to see Laurie Anderson in a talk given at the Performance Biennial. Laurie, at the end, told us that with her beloved Lou they made three maxims to live: Do not be afraid of anyone. Be a bullshit detective. Be very, very tender. I'm sure you would second that, one hundred percent, right?
Thank you for fighting tenderly.
I send you a very strong hug,