(This is the transcription of a talk given at the Getty Center in the frame of Dialogues in the Present Tense: Latino and Latin American Art through the Lens of Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA. on 16th May 2016.) (Leer la versión en español)

First I would like to thank Joan Weinstein, Heather MacDonald and Selene Preciado for the invitation. They decided, together with José Luis Blondet, Rita González and Pilar Tompkins that I had something to say here today. And this is not evident for me, since my field of research is not the visual arts, but performing arts, literature and cinema, and I’m not a specialist in Latin American or Latino arts. I would like very much to say “I’m Latin American”, since I grew reading Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Clarice Lispector, Gabriel García Márquez, José Lezama Lima and Elena Poniatowska. When I was young, my dream was to become a Latin American writer. But I didn’t succeed. And I still have a European Passport. There is nothing to be proud about having a European Passport now, considering European authorities’ response to the financial crisis and the suffering caused to the people in Greece, Portugal and even Spain, but specially considering the response given to the refugees’ crisis, the indifference to the lives and dignity of thousands of men, women and children fleeing from wars in Syria and the middle East, of which “we” are responsible (being “we” our states and armies, with the complicity of our Israeli friends and some multimillionaire dictators in the region).

Once I considered the possibility of becoming stateless. I was younger, it was the time when Aznar government supported Bush administration for invading Irak. I made some research at the time, and discovered that it was even harder to become stateless than to abandon the catholic church. As Gerardo Mosquera said this morning, one must accept that we all are part of the disaster, but at the same time we can be part, not of the solution, but at least of a possible change, and there is no other way than engaging ourselves in the frameworks that we inherited and work from inside to change them.

Because we are nothing as individuals, but we are everything when we gather and work together. And this is my talk about, about collective work and collective agency, and how we can take advantage of the old ways theater and dance people followed to produce something together.

Sin título

Mapa Teatro. Variaciones sobre Los incontados: un tríptico. São Paulo Bienal, 2014.



I use here the term “device” as a synonym of “Apparatus”, which was used originally to translate the French term “dispositif” (dispositivo, in Spanish and Italian), as used by Foucault and recovered by G. Deleuze and later G. Agamben. And I use it because some times on the contemporary dance, theatre and performance, there is coincidence between the more literal meaning of device and this philosophical (and political) meaning.

We could describe many contemporary artistic proposals in the realm of performing arts as “devices”, instead of using other traditional terms as “scenography” or “set”, “mise en scene”, “action”, “choreography” and “dramaturgy”.

But “device” is not only a term to describe the result of a creative process, is also a concept that works as a tool for many contemporary artists in this field. And the use of this concept may have at least three different dimensions:

  1. A new approach of performing arts to visual arts. Sometimes it is difficult to describe a piece as a performance or as an installation.
  2. A different concept and self-conception of the author. He or she may see themselves as engineers, promoters, or, on the other side, as mere performers or even as assistants in the performance of others.
  3. A promising way of achieving a collective agency. And this can be effective in an aesthetic, political or poetic dimension. Aesthetic, if the objective is to create a show as result of collaborative process. Political, if the objective is to produce a model of coexistence or to organize a game or ritual where political issues are manifested or brought to discussion. Poetic, if the objective is to produce a collective destabilization and to make visible the unseen or inexistent.

Let’s follow this three lines:

A theatre without humans

This could be regarded as a revival of the baroque theater of machines, the enlightened theatre of automata or the avant-garde futurist and constructivist experiments. But whereas the negation of the human body was in the center of those projects, in contemporary theatre without humans, an affirmation of life, including the human life, is in the middle of them.

The emphasis in the life of the objects might be a way of attracting attention to a different understanding of the imminent ecological catastrophes. It is not about imagining a world without humans, in the same way the philosophers ascribed to speculative realism think about a world without humans, but it is about the decentering of the human language in the understanding of life. In other words, it is a way of getting rid of old humanism to elaborate a new idea of dignity, as fundament of rights, which is not exclusive of human beings, but recognized to all human beings without exception.


Cuqui Jerez. Dream Project. Ciudad de México, 2015.

On the other hand, a theatre without bodies is not necessarily a theater that denies human bodies (as it was avant-garde visual theater), but a theater that represent the absence of the bodies. It might be a theater of denounce, theater of rage or a theater of complicity with the dreams and fights of the past, which need to gain other bodies to persist as dreams and fights of the present.

A theatre of the bodies

The first step to overcome European humanism was to make visible the different bodies and claiming for the same rights and the recognition of different processes of subjectivation. The negation of the privileges of the white, heterosexual male is in continuity with the unsustainability of the traditional concept of director or choreographer as the one who rules and stablishes the canon that has to be followed by all the participants. Of course, this figure changed along twentieth century through many artists’ practice in the field of dance and theatre, but it is still strong and persists in the imaginary of theatre and dance professionals, where might be acceptable the figure of the artist as dictator. The concept of device in this field offers the artists a possibility of moving off and avoid that authoritarian figure in a very effective way.


Marcelo Evelin / Demolition Incorporada. Batucada. Salvador de Bahía, 2015. (c) Patricia Almeida.

Then, it is the multitude what becomes visible. “The multitude”, wrote Paolo Virno, “ is the mode of being of the many in the post-Fordist society characterized by indifference between work and non-work, by the involvement of the intellect at work, flexibility, etc. […]” The important thing here is that the multitude is an addition of singulars. It looks like many individuals rather than a collective essence. “The multitude consists of a network of individuals; the many are singulars. The decisive point is to consider these singulars as points of arrival, not as previous data or as starting points; individuals should be considered as the end result of a process of individuation, not as solipsistic atoms.”

In contrast to the modern projects, which in one way or another sought the annulment of the singularity, either in the way of exclusive individualism (liberal) or in the way the general collectivism (communist), new social projects are based on the articulation of singularities. The goal of a democratic society is to ensure the uniqueness of each individual without jeopardizing the sustainability of the structure that makes possible the very existence of the singular. It is a structure that sustains itself by the attraction of singularities, by the gravitational force of singularities.

Collective agency

a) Aesthetic agency

A dispositive can be imagined and built to produce a collective piece, in order to achieve a consistence between the collectiveness in acting and the collectiveness during the process of creating, without risking the aesthetic and discursive effect of this piece. In this sense, the device could be described as a framework that allows a multiplicity of people to recognize themselves as collective subject, “we”, and a set of rules that guarantee that any body can enter the device.

The aesthetic device shows in a sensitive way how a community can be realized on stage and how this community can produce a collective piece of art. This aesthetic community is regarded as a model of a social community, where co-operation becomes the key for social relations.


Lia Rodrigues. Pindorama. Rio de Janeiro, 2014. (c) Sammi Landweer.

This kind of device would actualize the idea of “minor Pedagogy” formulated by Bertolt Brecht at the end of the twenties, in contrast to the idea of “major Pedagogy”, since we are talking of communities that co-operate for the production of performances which require the presence of an audience, that observe, enjoy and admire the piece, and learn something looking from the outside.

b) Political agency.

The realization of the “Major Pedagogy” lead us to those devices that transform the stage or the place where the performance happens in a kind of social laboratory. It is a theatre without audience, where spectators become active as actors through a series of games or artificial situations generated according to specific theatrical or cerographical tools. Entering the device allows the participants to discuss political issues without engaging themselves individually in a complex process of joining an association, a trade union or a political party. Or in other cases, it allows them to experiment through movement and action the process of organizing a community or constituting a collective political subject.

In this framed situation, in terms of E. Goffman, a situation between brackets, the participants gain the capacity of speech that the dispositive offers, and the possibility of opening new processes of subjectivation.

Teatro Ojo

Teatro Ojo- Héctor Bourges. Atlas Electores 2012 / Lo que viene. MUAC. Ciudad de México

In some cases, the participants may be already social or political agents. In this case performance devices offers them a framework to expose themselves in a different way or use performance to experiment their ideas or transforming their speech.

In both cases we are talking about the profanation of pre-existing social rituals. They might be talk shows, TV series, parliamentary discussions. “To profane”, in terms of Agamben, is to restitute “to common use what was taken apart”. Profanation cannot be understood as an individual task. It requires co-operation to understand the mechanisms that produce separations, dispossessions and de-subjectivation and it requires collaboration to deactivate and subvert them.

c) Poetic agency

When artists engage themselves as engineers in the fabrication of political devices they conceive the artistic practice as subsidiary of a social or political agenda. But what happens when artists persist in a poetic objective. It is not about engaging the artistic capacities in building frames, generating situations and ensuring the capacity of speech of the others, but about engaging us as a multitude in a collective poetic work, where each singular will keep their own subjective, social or political concerns,. Suely Rolnik observed some years ago, while writing about the work of Lygia Clark, that poetry is not so far from activism. Both poetry and activism are concerned about destabilization.

Mapa Maiakovsky

Mapa Teatro. Los incontados: un tríptico. Bogotá, 2014 (Maiakovski’s dream)

I would like to finish with this quotation of Suely, an intellectual that actively positioned herself against the coup perpetrated by Brazilian oligarchies trough the corrupt Congress and Senate members, in an evident abuse of their representative rol. “Let the forces of storms affect us and let’s try to hold ourselves in the state of tension caused by that experience on the image of oneself and of the world until we find a place –that is what defines an ethics of work, of a thought that effectively moves away from the of anthropo-phallus-ego-logocentric perspective.” Many artists mobilized themselves against the coup, but they weren’t able to stop it. Even so, I still consider that “injecting poetry in the circuit” is also a political action. Therefore, the generation of poetic devices could be regarded as an objective in itself, and by itself a political action.

José A. Sánchez

Read also: Dispositivos poéticos I / Dispositivos poéticos II

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