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The State of the Art _a performative essay, 2015

HD video, colour, sound, 18’ 30’’
Site-specific installation at the Spanish Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale

The State of the Art _a performative essay occupied two spaces at the Spanish Pavilion in the Giardini during the Venice Biennale 2015. It was purposely conceived for the exhibition The Subjects, curated by Martí Manen, and which used the institutionalized, polemic and misogynous figure of Salvador Dalí as a referent.
In a moment of historic reformulation of aesthetic and political practices for European democracies, The State of the Art inquires into the warped manners with which symbolic power encourages new forms of social exclusion. “The future lied to us, there long ago in the past”, says one of its characters, quoting Bao Ninh (The Sorrow of War). The future is being built on layers of lies that legitimise a recent past; being conscious of it helps us to understand the estrangement and paralysing bewilderment that dominates a society fed on falsehood and melancholy. Isolated in its egocentrism, Europe ignores the new political dissidences and persists in maintaining a split between public and private spheres. In this disconcerting context, the four characters in The State of the Art enquire verbal and visually, from a micro-political stance, while placed in the confluence between dissident sexualities and undercover marginalization. They happen to meet in an absurd space/time, a reflection of the absurd space/time where many dissidents live in the West, of a life slowed down by an endless wait in a commercialised society that takes us to levitate over pain.
The State of the Art _a performative essay was projected in one of the spaces of the Spanish pavilion, the screen placed over the pallet on which the dance in the penultimate scene of the film was performed. Its presentation consequently recovered some of the elements that conform the narrative space helping to share and somehow revive fictionalised situations in which we are in some way involved. A second annex space contained the footnotes that go with the essay: documents with the quotes and references used on the video, as well as four objects associated to the four characters and the unfolded banner with the motto “Drag is Political”, a concept around which the action is developed.
The video is set out as a fictional performative essay divided into five acts, and it takes place in the same space where it will be exhibited for the first time: the interior and immediate exterior limits of the Spanish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. It was shot during the interstitial period of abandon when a show is taken down and the space is being prepared for the next exhibition. The plot incorporates the space of the Pavilion as a signifier for Schengen territory and also as representative of a country depressed by an economic crisis that is a product of neo-liberal politics that has fired the wish of a young population to escape in the search of resources and future. Retaking feminist, queer and Brechtian aesthetic methodologies from experimental and in-drag B cinema, and incorporating a Tropicamp scent, sequences are structured, and through them amateur performers circulate in an unfolding of interpretive strategies brought from the real.
A migrant woman crosses the border surreptitiously traversing the fenced door that encloses the Spanish space of the pavilion. This first character carries her story with her and transports a painting that symbolises the nightmare of the border, a tempestuous sea. After an initial solitary night, she finds another three characters that wait in one of the halls in the pavilion (the same halls that will serve as exhibition space for the project). The waiting has as an objective the participation in a recruitment process, an audition which may take them to get an employment; a recurring situation for a good part of the population, currently aground in an accumulation on precarious mini-jobs, and for which it’s become frequent to be asked for abilities that are closer to the show business than to subsequent labour activity. The wait also marks the temporal space during which the action will occur, that limbo the four will inhabit in a story without end.
Each character owns an object that acts as a fetish/amulet and describes their ideological position in society. Two of them actively live political drag, activating what they call ‘proletarian glam’ in their own bodies; all of them actively live sexual dissidence. The narrative will start unfolding around the peripheral spaces of the pavilion until the four protagonists will ultimately assault the central hall, the location where the final tests of the selection process would be meant to take place, although this action will not meet a concrete outcome. The ending therefore produces in them that recognisable mix of celebratory joy and bitterness that frequently surrounds youthful dreams, in an essay to resist the persistent mediocrity around them.
The second space’s installation helped to support the projection of quotes and references that appear on the video screen. Direct allusions to different film scenes are made visible here: Un Chien Andalou (Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí), which is contested with a penis cut, and the recognisable dance scene in Jean-Luc Godard Bande à part that appears incorporated into the final choreography. Presences like Judith Butler, Bao Ninh, Franz Kafka or Carla Lonzi overfly a story that culminates in a political celebration orchestrated around the song I’m a Mistery, originally interpreted by Amanda Lear in 1986, when it was released sheltered on an LP B-side. Lear, a well known singer in the 70s and former official lover of Dalí, was identified by him as a transsexual woman (in spite of her reiterated denial). The song’s title makes a play on the word mystery, deliberately misspelled as mistery, resulting in the hidden statement "I’m a Mister" (y). The reinterpretation of the song’s lyrics by the four characters in The State of the Art recalls an array of possible dreams and realities in a performance that can be interpreted as a tribute to the mystery of vague and un-defined genders, and to the breaking of borders imposed on them.
It is through the music that gender dissidences have traditionally been performed, with the show business as a refuge for the monster and as ascertainment of otherness. So now, more than ever, drag is political.


The State of the Art _a performative essay, 2015
Site-specific installation at the Spanish Pavilion, 56th Venice Biennale
Installation views, Main space


The State of the Art _a performative essay, 2015
Installation view


Drag Is Political


The State of the Art _a performative essay, 2015
Installation view


The State of the Art (Resist)
Fetish Character 3


The State of the Art (Beauty)
Fetish Character 2


The State of the Art (Future, Past)
Fetish Character 4


The State of the Art (Border)
Fetish Character 1


The State of the Art _a performative essay, 2015
Installation view: table


The State of the Art _a performative essay, 2015


The State of the Art _a performative essay, 2015
Video stills

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