"New War New War": Jesusa Rodríguez on Politics, Pleasure and Performance
Interview by Maja Horn
The Annual Conference of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics took place for the third time, this year in Lima, Perú from July 5th-13th, 2002. And for the second time also the Mexican performer Jesusa Rodríguez participated and performed. This time she presented together with Lilliana Felipe and Regina Orozco, their piece "New War New War," a political cabaret that responds to some of the recent political developments after September 11th. The performance, addresses the difficult issue of how to do cabaret and work with humor during times of tragedy. This piece opens up for discussion some of the topics and issues that recently have been silenced not only in the political arena but also in the media in general. In the post-performance discussion the artist emphasized the importance of articulating political dissent, especially when other venues of public opinion such as the media become increasingly closed to differing views. Yet, at the same time Rodrguez underlined that any performance practice has to have certain ethical guidelines. This performance indicates some of the underlying and fundamental premises that characterize not only RodrÌguezís work but also the mission of the Hemispheric Institute: the central role that performance has as a practice of politics, the power of the live body in performance and the importance of the public space as a venue for creative expression and political action. Transcript: I am speaking with Jesusa Rodríguez, an actress, dramaturg, director and activist who runs her own cabaret bar and theatre in Mexico city.
Question I: You work in many different spaces, performance spaces such as your cabaret bar and different public spaces. How does space influence your strategy of representation, especially when you are trying to transmit a political message? Space is essential because I think, for example, that today, theatres have become impossible spaces. They no longer function. Institutional theatre has become a space for commercial projects; they have been taken over by different commercial enterprises. Consequently, the space of the theatre, the theatre scene, has become a scene dependent upon television. In the way that, what is most important for me are the spaces in which any person can be. For this one needs ingenuity in terms of sound so that one can be heard. I also have liked a lot the idea of working with unusual spaces, like caves, caverns, mines, places far away from the city. Also, archeological ruins interest me, or for example in the desert in Mexico, a vault of a mine which is fifty meters underneath the surface. To work in these unusual spaces is very interesting for me.
Question II: There is an increasing politicization of desire and pleasure in Mexico but also in other Latin American countries. What role does performance have in this process for you? What relation do you see between politics and pleasure? I think that anguish, pain and depression have reached such a degree, especially in Latin American countries, above all of course among those with limited economic resources, that to work for/with pleasure is indispensable because the pain is too much. Day by day as poverty is increasing, the pain is increasing. Because of this, pleasure becomes almost a natural response to the aggression that the north exerts over the countries of the south. Consequently, this search for pleasurable experiences in all its varieties/meanings is, I think, what one can observe in many political movements. Of course, there is also the underlying old principle that if you laugh at those in power they already begin to lose some of their power. But also, there is a necessity to protest and resist through pleasure, and I think there is nothing better than doing an act of resistance with pleasure, because if you do not do that you will get tired very fast and you will resist a lot less.
Question III: Diana Taylor has said that performances is like a live battle, in which the body is both stage and weapon. What function does the body have for you as a weapon in your work? Do you think that the perception of the "real" body is changing or affected by the proliferation of media? What role do you think do the media have in the Twenty-first Century especially in relation to performance and live practices? It is difficult for me to think of the body as a weapon. Because I think there is nothing more fragile in this world than the human body in all its expressions. It becomes a weapon when you put on a uniform and a pair of military boots. As a poet said, the only thing we have done is give to the fist weapons that are more and more sophisticated for killing, while the only thing one would have to do is not to close the fist. I think that the body is not a weapon but it is without doubt an instrument of great fragility whenever you use it as a weapon; if you use it as an instrument it perhaps becomes something very powerful. As a weapon the body is so fragile, because one body alone has no strength, maybe one body—maybe a thousand bodies can be powerful. One time it happened to me that I was alone in front of a demolition truck on its way to destroy an archeological ruin and I could not do anything. They took me away and the truck continued; we would have had to be more than five hundred people to hold up this truck. Thus, I think the body as weapon is unthinkable for me. The body is like words, words are not a weapon but they can be a bomb. A bomb that does not kill, but which reverberates and many times purifies or destroys or does other things. This could be called the explosive real/reality. About nudity—I think that in all of human history there has been nothing more fragile and powerful than the naked body. For some reasons, the body has motivated the strangest reactions of hypnosis, of beauty, of harmony and terror. The signifier and the body coincide, the representation of the body and the body itself. For example, the picture of the girl who runs naked in Vietnam after a Napalm attack is an image that is much more powerful than a soldier with the most sophisticated uniform or equipment like Robocop. I think that this girl changed our thinking, this girl running naked, I think, is the most important nudity that we have had.
Question IV: Do you think that nowadays with the media, especially television, that the perception of the body is changing? I know for example that you work a lot with video, what relation do you see? I think that television is a form of plot in which nothing happens that has anything to do with the human being, neither with the gaze nor with the body. If in cinema one can perhaps still capture the human gaze, in television - I watch television and try to see the eyes of the person - they are not there, there is no gaze. The television does not transmit the gaze and much less eroticism or anything corporeal. I have never seen anything on TV that made me have a real emotion. I am concerned with the virtual, the digital, the internet and all this because I feel that there is this enormous distance between what is and what I see. What I see is a reflection of what really is but it is not what it really is. In cinema I still suppose that one could transmit what really is. But in these other media, I think that the body is disappearing to give us only an image of the body, an abstract image vaguely similar to the human body, but really the human body has no function in these media. Because of this I am very removed/distant from television; it is something that does not move me.