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Tuning for Resonance

My work is a search for relief from impotence. Impotence as a sense of powerlessness, helplessness. One of the most vivid memories I have when being a child is feeling overwhelmed by the mere passing of time. I remember the sensation of deeply craving for all of us (my parents, my sister, and me) to stay as we were, at that exact age. For time to keep its flow but not affect us in some way. I wanted to live but under my control, to change that particular rule. I felt everything was just too much to take in, and I yearned to hold time, as if that would help to decant– existence.

Driven by this longing, my work lies in this in-between space. In the in-betweenness of unconcluded desires. Between the current situation and another possible better one. I have been exploring this concept of in-betweenness, which I believe to be not only a space, or a phase but also a state. An ineffable sensation, a complex maze full of possibilities, and some contradictions. Far from an answer, my subject matter is the continuous search for meaning and understanding of this phenomenon. Through gestures, my work intends to portray different examples of this concept. Manifestations of this in-between state.

I started doing this with the tuning series: Un entre, 2017 and Tuning I and Tuning II, 2018. An ongoing series of work where I tune my cello in constant preparation for a performance that never takes place. I am stepping in and inhabiting these transitional spaces (an entrance, a hallway, an elevator) to perform this action which is in itself an act of liminality.

In the video series, Sweet Dreams (2018), Kneading (2018), Freezing Time (2019), and I’ll Stop the World (2019) I am repeatedly performing ridiculous tasks and filming these failed attempts: I am attempting to step inside a giant bubble, I am kneading a person’s elbow thoroughly, I am trying to physically stop the Earth that never stops spinning, I am trying to freeze time by placing an analog alarm clock in the freezer.

These videos intend to evoke the sensations one has when in that in-between state. Both futile and comical, they are manifestations of impossibilities. Moving portraits of longing, of a somewhat patient somewhat passive despair. A humoristic approach to the sense of hopelessness and nostalgia. A feeling of emptiness that seems never will be fulfilled is present in the work.

A sense of awkwardness runs through my work. As a puzzle that is not matching the place it belongs, my work acts as unresolved, weird-looking enigmas that one feels drawn into and that, I like to think, inspire speculation and a search for meaning. For me, awkwardness comes from a place of not understanding, from feeling something is wrong. We don’t like awkward moments, we try to avoid them, to escape from them. My intention is to transmit this unsettling, uncanny sensation which is inherent of the in-between state. To invite the viewer to inhabit that state, to bear with my work.

The unpolished look of my work and the invitation to physically engaged with it simultaneously enhances a sensation of uncomfortableness to the viewer while also providing familiarity and a safe atmosphere to interact with the work. While the precarious rawness of the aesthetics highlights the sensation of something unresolved, the informal quality also reveals a deliberately neglected aesthetic, which allows room to play as mistakes serve the overall aesthetics of the work. The intention is for the viewer to become, in a strange way, comfortable in the uncomfortable.

The in-between state was for me a place of struggle. I was blocked, trapped in this endless loop. Where everything was possible but nothing was yet. To escape from this state I felt the only way was to create a safe comfort-uncomfortable environment, not only for the audience but for myself to play. To allow the loop-knot to unfold. To inhabit impotence, doubt, and uncertainty in a different way. To shift from the videos that were filling in the container of in-betweenness, the formula of a loop, to a series of performances that act as manifestations of the unleashed loop.

Can you here me? is an online performance that took shape in November 2019 when I was invited to participate in Proyecto Casa Intervenida, a curatorial initiative of group exhibitions that take place on people’s houses in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I performed live from my studio in New York during the whole duration of the exhibition. The audience was provided with a tablet and a computer: the computer was sharing the screen of my computer and through the tablet, they were connected with me via a video call. This gesture was weirdly prescient to our current social isolation due to the outbreak of COVID-19, and was addressing themes of solitude, impotence, and impossibility of connection through curiosity and humor. The way I communicated with the audience was with what I call ‘visual improv’. Sharing notes, GIFs, and videos which were fueled by the interaction with them. However, I will be performing the whole time, when they were not looking I will start playing the solitaire online, for instance, when I was bored.

. A series of one-hour long performances in collaboration with the audience and hired improvisational comedians were my intention is to manifest some of the multiple possibilities that this in-between state holds and the multiple meanings that my work can have. The piece becomes about the unfolding of this in-between state, to trigger the full of potential but at the same time inert stage. I am interested in the process, of shifting from immobile time to lived time. From a picture to an event. The event is now the moving image. From a representation of a loop to an experience of the unloop.

The performance took place in my studio: an empty closed space with four white walls and a black floor, referencing a space on a checker’s board, implying a dimension and also a game. Ten chairs were provided for a small audience to sit on. Participants, both the performers and the audience, were asked to leave their belongings outside the studio and to take their shoes off before entering the space.

In regular improv comedy, the prompts to start the scenes are words. Words which may give a certain context to a scene (such as a location) or they may just be a random word which’s significance (or how it sounds like) would simply be triggering the improviser into an association and therefore an idea to occur; a scene to start.

For this series of performances, instead of words, I provide them first with objects, then with videos, and, lastly, with some personal reflections for them to use as prompts for their scenes. All prompts are recurrent symbols on my work. Leitmotifs, metaphors I always find myself going back to: an Earth looking stress relief ball, a joker card, bubbles, to name a few. In the videos, some excerpts of past work appear: Tuning II and Kneading for example. Reflections and stories in search of meaning around themes such as impotence, the uncanny, pointlessness, idleness, vulnerability, empathy, emptiness, and resonance, among others. In this section, while they were doing their scenes the screen of my computer would be projected on the back wall and I would be doing visual improv: I would be in the moment, activating the screen commenting on their scenes, as another participant of the improv team using only images, gifs, notes I will be writing at the moment too. A rabbit-hole of connections and associations is what’s going on in the scenes and also on my screen. There is certainly an aesthetic of overload. A lot is happening at the same time and it’s almost impossible to take all in. Relating again to this feeling of impotence and helplessness that for me relates to the in-between state.

I believe the gesture of sharing the screen of the desktop of your computer is a very intimate one. I agree with JODI’s statement, “you are very close to a person when you are on their desktop,” and that the computer “is a device to get into someone’s mind.” I was sharing in the projection my stream of consciousness in a way of visual frenzy while sitting on the floor between the audience and the performers.

The fourth and last section of the performance would be an open conversation with everyone involved. This space for conversation, feedback, comments, and questions to happen is an essential part of the piece. Using the first three sections as a prompt for this dialogue and reflection to occur, I wanted to generate dialogue and open a space to share experiences and thoughts. In general, in the visual arts, the experience is rather individualistic, and there is rarely a space for feedback. I wanted to generate a more collective experience and to give time for participants to decant what happened and space to share their experiences. As Scene intends to encourage reflection, dialogue, and a curious, nonjudgmental, empathetic attitude towards others.

The small scale of the piece- measured in the number of people- is crucial for generating an intimate safe environment. Due to its improvisational and collaborative quality, this piece is constantly changing and evolves with each iteration of it. It is in a way moment-specific: Scene is a play. There is inherently a uniqueness in the conditions. And, as a game where there are rules and participants, there will be a different outcome every time it's played.

The chairs played a major role in the piece. As the performance took place in my studio, the floor level was even, and the display of the chairs was the only sign of what was ‘audience’ and ‘stage.’ In improv comedy shows there are chairs in the stage provided for the improvisers to use for their scenes, these being the only objects that they can use. In Scene, there were chairs available only for the audience. The performers were indicated to address the participants individually, asking questions to involve the audience into the conversation, and asking for their chairs when needed for a scene. With these gestures, the illusion of the fourth wall will crumble, the division between ‘audience’ and ‘stage’ will start vanishing and merging. Simple gestures that suggested the piece consists of a composition that unfolds with time where the participants are active actors in the world building of the scenes, the functioning of the piece. The performance is a collaborative effort between everyone involved, defined and constituted by the participants.

There are always two stages in my works, they take place at different times and therefore occur for different audiences. The first moment is when a performance takes place. A second moment is usually another instance of presentation of the work, which takes form as a video installation. This being not a documentation of the performance but another piece on itself, a second stage related to the one before. For instance, the tuning series, performed for a candid audience, or the video series, where a performance takes place for the camera and then is presented as a video installation displayed in a way that invites the audience to physically engage with the work, including prompts that were used for the performances in the installation.

Conceived and staged as a work of electronic theater, the video installation acts as a surrogate for the performance series. Pairing the audio from selected scenes with their respective videos, the immersive installation becomes a new experience of the piece. The dialogue of the performances are present only as audio, making a tribute to the main aspect of storytelling: you listen to the narrative while imagining the characters, which were not physically represented by the improvisers anyway, as a man can be playing a grandmother, and an elder woman can be a young kid.

On a personal level, this work acts as a cathartic release from impotence. Through improvisation and interaction with others, the unbearable distance of in-betweenness shortens. The in-between that is left is now the instance between one thing and the next one. Rather than a paralyzed space, it acts as a link. From no motion to motion. From the loop to the unleashed triggered motion. The impossible and nothingness now becomes something concrete: a story occurs. Constituted by a myriad of pieces of stories fueled by the interpretation and contribution of the improvisers and of the audience. The work is then an orchestrated result of an interaction which seems absurd, yet fun, yet meaningful and that serves interconnectedness and imagination. It is a story about stories, about interpretation and how we function. And about the intrinsic importance and nuances of human relationships.

There is an inherent cloudiness that comes from impotence. A sense that something is wrong. A painful maze where one feels alone and helpless. I believe this sense of helplessness and lack of clarity are relevant to our times, since before this pandemia but evidently with excruciating weight right now. This work intends to inspire reflection on the many layers that this search for relief from impotence holds: a reflection about time, about our own ambitions, desires, struggles. A reflection about language, communication, our needs. About our times and about the power in camaraderie. About humor, pleasure, pointlessness, expectation, and meaning.