Welcome

From the Director of the Hemispheric Institute Diana Taylor

When we started discussing possible themes for the Hemispheric Institute’s 11th Encuentro, everything around us seemed topsy-turvy.

Since our last Encuentro (Chile, July 2016), the political climate in the Americas, and beyond, has heated up almost as radically as the Earth’s surface. Many of us still feel we’re living in a spin cycle of constant threat, discrimination, hypocrisy, lying, and bullying. Up is down, down is up, good is bad, and bad is good. Logic, ethics, and common decency have been banished from the realm. Noisy saber-rattling in the form of mandates, invectives, threats, tweets, laws, and lawsuits tries to drown out those voices calling for justice and equality. Mass incarceration, deportations, forced disappearance, and locking children in cages and ice boxes (hieleras) have all become common practice. The world is inside/out. The tempo of this violence speeds up and slows down but never lets up. Would-be despots have been empowered around the world. Virulent authoritarianism enjoys a resurgence globally. This is not a laughing matter.

So, is humor an apt modality for addressing grievous and seemingly insurmountable wrongs? By invoking humor and noise, we wanted to invite alternative ways of looking at the alarming situations that concern us. Humor as attitude, as philosophy, and as practice, allows us to recognize the issues for what they are, while the off-center perspective makes space for critique and reimagining. Carnaval, fiesta, rituals, and other performances of joy, reversal, and inversion have long provided ways for people to suspend gravity and restage power relations. The joker, as wild card, can alter outcomes. Relajo, in Mexico, is an act of devalorization, or ‘desolidarization’ with dominant norms in order to create a different, joyously rebellious solidarity––that of the underdog.1 King Lear’s “all-licensed Fool” is the only character who can openly joke at the grotesque repercussions of the King’s folly. Even though it might kill him, he had resolved to die laughing. Humor can work across asymmetrical power relations, calling attention to the funny or crazy part of any situation, relieving tension, inviting us to make noise and howl or guffaw at things we know are not funny.

Humor has its pleasures and its costs. Humor and comedy are risky, not just because the threat of failure hovers around jokes and pranks, not just because their sudden reversals undermine our expectations and throw us off guard, but because they put comedians and audiences at risk of insult, injury, misunderstandings, and hostility. Certain kinds of humor, for example, strengthen stereotypes, making them palpable, normative. Humor, in fact, has long been used to reproduce and naturalize “racialized systems of domination."2 ‘Not funny,’ many insist, rejecting appeals to join in the laughter.

Humor establishes and tests the boundaries of who ‘we’ are and what ‘we’ deem acceptable, what ‘we’ deem funny. It functions by activating formations of inclusion and exclusion. Do ‘we’ get the joke? If not, you are not one of us. Maybe, those left out feel they are the ‘target,’ the butt of the joke. Cultural and linguistic differences become especially marked through humor. Certain expressions and attitudes cannot be translated or transferred from one context to another. Humor highlights zones of conflict, and laughter often serves to cover or “manage disruptive difference,” but it does not resolve the issues.3 Comedy and laughter draw “insecure boundaries” and help us “test or figure out what it means to say ‘us.’ Always crossing lines, [comedy] helps us figure out what lines we desire or can bear."4

Inevitably, then, humor and laughter raise ethical questions: Do we stay with the issues they raise and try to negotiate those boundaries? Or do we or walk away?

Hemi Encuentros, as performances of ‘encounter,’ seek specifically to test these boundaries, these zones of instability and untranslatability, and explore the issues (however painful) that connect and divide artists, scholars, and activists throughout the Americas. These curated events promise a great deal: they open spaces for conversation, creativity, and exchange among many kinds of ‘others’ beyond national, cultural, linguistic, and disciplinary divides; they literally stage a world in which many worlds are possible; they encourage a more relational sense of subjectivity developed by sharing and talking with others; they aspire to a deeper collective awareness of harm and repair, the hope that if ‘others’ really listened they might understand and care. Encuentros celebrate the joy of creativity and collaboration. They stage who ‘we’ are, and what brings people together to create together, to explore our common and disparate concerns and strategies. Can ‘we’ speak and listen to each other? Share work and negotiate our differences? Or do we walk away?

This political moment intensely tests our limits and our capacity to listen and care. It also asks that we celebrate transformative acts of justice and reparation, and that we build on spaces of hope. The World Inside Out: Humor, Noise, Performance invites us to make noise, have fun, and test our creative ways of exercising our imaginations toward better worlds.

[1] Jorge Portilla, La femomenología del relajo (Mexico: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1986): 19.
[2] Christina A. Sue and Tanya Golash-Boza, “‘It Was Only A Joke’: How Racial Humour Fuels Colour-Blind Ideologies in Mexico and Peru,” Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36, no. 10 (2013): 1582.
[3] Lauren Berlant and Sianne Ngai, “Comedy Has Issues,” Critical Inquiry 43 (Winter 2017): 233.
[4] Ibid., 235.

From the Organizing Committee of the Hemispheric Encuentro in MexicoDidanwy Kent, Francisco Javier Rivas Mesa, Jorge David García, Benjamín Arditi

Welcome to the XI Hemispheric Encuentro!

All historical epochs have their problems. Ours presents a complex global reality defined by a crisis of meaning that manifests itself in different domains: a series of environmental emergencies of unprecedented gravity; levels of social inequality that continue unabated, and acts of daily violence that are less explicable with each passing day. We are living under the sign of horror of forced disappearances, femicides, hate crimes, xenophobia, and racism, among many other indicators of fear and pain. In the face of such horror, why propose an Encuentro of The World Inside Out, which conjures humor, laughter, and performance as the detonators of our thinking and doing?

We do it to face both fear and hope together, using humor as our tool. Laughter is a subversive power, a means of disrupting and disarticulating what lies before us. It is a way of seeking out other possible worlds and new ways of understanding our present reality. Humor and noise are, above all, reflections of our humanity and evidentiary instantiations of life—spaces in which we may grasp a larger social, collective, and popular imagination. Our laughter and our noise gain strength from our collective presence in this Encuentro, with all of us exercising the complicities of a life in common, in opposition to the horrors of the world. "Our laughter,” in the words of Henri Bergson, “is always the laughter of a group," because it needs an echo in which to resonate. And Umberto Eco speaks of laughter as a weapon against the prison guards of thought.

We summon the power of humor and noise from the collective force of bodies gathered in this Encuentro, in order to deploy the complicity of our gaze. We want to recognize ourselves as co-participants in life through performance, an art of the present that underscores presence, open questions, and the search for other means of resistance and enunciation. Perhaps “turning the world inside out” names a collective space that may allow us to find, in the vocabularies that art enables, new, vital, emergent, and collective modes with which to confront the complexities of our time through the enactment of what Michel Foucault called a critical ontology of the present. This we will do through humor and the performance of our bodies. We are not the rulers of language, but we are responsible for its iteration and repetition, and the forms of agency we choose to denounce, make visible, fracture, and otherwise reveal our reality.

It is for these reasons that the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and the Ex Teresa Arte Actual have organized this XI° Encuentro together with New York University’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. The UNAM is a space of autonomy that is committed to the production of critical thinking and the free and plural exercise of ideas. Ex Teresa Arte Actual, one of the Encuentro’s central venues and a key institution in the field of performance in Mexico, participates in this same spirit. The Hemispheric Institute articulates these ideas at the intersection of art, politics, and scholarly research. We take this opportunity to thank all of the participating units of the UNAM for their valuable contributions to this event. Many, many thanks to Cultura UNAM, Teatro UNAM, Danza UNAM, Cátedra Bergman, MUAC, FFyL, FCPyS, CUT, Posgrado en Historia del Arte, Posgrado en Música, and Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, for taking on this challenge with a spirit of solidarity. Our thanks also go out to the team at Ex Teresa Arte Actual, as well as to the Centro de Cultura Digital and the Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México for their support of this project. Thanks also to the fantastic Hemispheric Institute team.

This Encuentro is an event that captures the flow of doing-thinking-doing, convening a large number of artists, scholars, and activists, and promoting critical reflection in order to think collectively about how we can strengthen networks of thought, action, and friendship between people from different latitudes. With this, we want to promote the practice of performance as well as the field of Performance Studies in our continent. We hope that this Encuentro will be a trigger and a driver of new and rich perspectives emerging from the vitality of artistic and scholarly formulations. We also hope that those who come to share their ideas and their work from so many different places find in this Encuentro a welcoming space for their practice. Many thanks to all of you, participants and collaborators of Hemi, for making this event possible!

At a time when we must seek other ways of living, thinking, and feeling, we believe that the power of humor, noise, and performance will help us explore other ways of being together.

May the resonances of this Encuentro be long and expansive in their vibrations!

Welcome, Hemi! Welcome everyone to this space of critical reflection and creation!

Organizing Committee of the Hemispheric Encuentro in Mexico
Didanwy Kent (UNAM)
Francisco Javier Rivas Mesa (Ex Teresa Arte Actual)
Jorge David García (UNAM)
Benjamín Arditi (UNAM)

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