The World, a Broken Jug

September 28, 2020

Kiyo Gutiérrez, Afloat, 2020, Performance. Photographs by Pistor Orendain


In the Meso-American worldview, Mother Earth is represented as a flowering surface covered by running rivers and seas like a clay vessel that overflows with water. But what happens when the jug has been struck over and over again? The loud sound of its cracking resounds daily. Its crevices grow deeper with violence, with disappearances, with femicides, and with the persistent and ferocious plundering of the planet.

In the midst of apocalyptic scenarios that seem to be drowning us in the waters of the seventh great extinction, today's world is full of uncertainty.


I

What can we do to remain afloat?

In order to shine a light on this question, we must explore the fissures. In Latin America, the history of colonization and plunder is deeply intertwined with the history of women’s oppression. It is no coincidence that, in the European fantasy of conquest and colonization, America was represented as a naked female paying reverence to the white foreigner; America the exuberant, the conquered, the indigenous, the mestiza, the pillaged, the whore, the raped, the murdered, the fucked.

/

Kiyo Gutiérrez, Afloat, 2020, Performance. Photographs by Pistor Orendain

Afloat arose from the invocation of imaginaries that could allow us different ways of living in the world. This project consists of a series of different in-situ performances that speculate on the possibility of dys/u-topian presents and futures (such as partially-submerged landscapes, amphibious humans, multi-species relationships in droughts and pollution). It's about exploring how our relationship with nature conditions the way we shape our bodies and everyday lives.

This work aims to investigate the notion of adaptability and resilience in the face of climate change. The idea of adaptation is a central concept for dealing with the changes our society is undergoing. Our capacity for adaptation reduces our sense of individual vulnerability and turns it into one that is collectively shared. Learning about the modifications and adaptations that natural systems undergo opens up our own possibilities for action; understanding the intersections among insects, the flow of human and non-human migrations, the establishment of agro-ecosystems, temperature change, and precipitation, soil usage and pollution, among others, can help raise our consciousness.

I recently performed this work in the part of the Pacific Ocean that borders Mexico, where waters are infested with plastic. After thoroughly cleaning the beach, I crafted a veil and a pair of gloves using the plastic I had collected. Dressed up in this way, I went into the ocean, allowing myself to be carried by the waves' coming and going.

Plastic impacts the environment as a living organism and devastates the marine ecosystem. [1] The plastic that suffocates our oceans and beaches is the remnant of a product derived from fossil fuel extraction only to be quickly discarded. However, plastic becomes much more active when it makes it to the sea. It can tangle and strangle animals. With the passage of time, the effects of the waves and the sun break it into tiny particles that work like magnets for toxic substances that are then ingested by all types of marine fauna. Plastic makes its way to our insides, since we eat the fish that fed on the plastic that we ourselves disposed of in the ocean.

Plastic is a part of who we are—due to both its origin and our diet, its existence is permanently intertwined with our own. Wearing the veil and gloves made of plastic residue makes me interpolate the passivity of the material. The performance tangles us up in responsibilities and suggests that, although dystopian it is already present. That way we can open up pathways alternative to the consumerist and extractivist practices whereby our relationship with matter, landscape, and other species can go beyond an inert, passive, and exploitable resource. In the midst of devastation, hope appears.


II

In my work, I explore the possibility of a history of alliances, and what anthropologist Anna Tsing (2015) refers to as “collaborative survival.” [2] I seek out relationships that may seem implausible at first glance, but which, in the face of environmental crisis, become necessary, vital, and imbued with novel meanings.

Over the past twenty years, the avocado and berry monocultures of the state of Jalisco have exponentially grown, all while ravaging the land and clear-cutting vegetation. The surviving honeybee population faces environmental changes and devastating fires, which are often intentionally ignited to open the way for these monocultures.

The honeybees have migrated from rural areas to urban centers because of pesticides. One of the hundreds of hives that found refuge in the city lives in a tree around the corner from my house in Guadalajara, where an enormous swarm of bees is tirelessly working away at all times.

In a performance that is still in development, I invite a queen bee to establish her colony in my home, her new home. This alliance will be sealed with a performance/ritual. As a symbol, the hive will be given a mask of my face (the face being a liminal site that interrelates the mind and the body; feeling and reason; the individual and the collective) made of paper, which the bees will transform into a sculpture using their wax and honey. Through an interspecies collaboration, the piece incarnates the body's porous and permeable boundaries, questioning the opposition between culture/nature, interior/exterior, human/animal, and self and other.

Assisting and taking care of the bees, observing their processes and practices, hearing them, and smelling them opens up an intimate space for multi-species presence and responsibility, bringing us to reflect on the interrelations that shape and sustain our world.

These works, conceived from an ecofeminist perspective, aim to make visible the profound ties between the destructive exploitation of nature and women’s oppression. [3] Ecofeminism offers critical alternatives to humans’ relationships with other living beings and ecosystems. To this, scholar and activist Vandana Shiva claims, “We must return to our connection with reality—with the Earth, its diversity, its living processes—and unleash the positive forces of a creative Anthropocene.” [4] In this way, appealing to the potency of the body and performance, creativity becomes a fertile terrain for the narration of other futures, distinct from the hetero-patriarchal present.

It is essential to place the body into the ruptures opened up by instability, precarity, and pollution. To put it there is to resist, but it is also to plant a seed with ideas powerful enough to rekindle debates, raise consciousness, and transform the collective imaginary. The portals activated by creativity in the here-and-now give way to forms of communication distinct from the intelligible Western, capitalist, and patriarchal narrative to which we have become accustomed. The body is a medium that goes beyond the word. It opens up the possibility of understanding and recognizing other bodies, building empathies and affects, and imagining other models in which the different and the multiple can conceive new futures.


III

Latin America is the region with the highest number of assassinations of defenders of human and environmental rights. Indigenous communities and environmental activists cannot be the only defenders of the land. According to the most recent report published by the Mexican Center for Environmental Rights (CEMDA), between 2012 and 2019 there were 83 killings of environmental defenders recorded in Mexico. [5] To this, we would have to add the treatment of intimidation, stigmatization and criminalization that these defenders face at the hands of the State, in particular against women. Women fighting against mining, illegal drilling and megaprojects, are the primary target of this attack by corporate power and organized crime, as well as by the police-state who is complicit.

Let us leave behind our silent reading and invoke the following names out loud:

María Guadalupe Campanur, Purépecha leader from Michoacán.

Estelina Gómez López, defender of the land from Chiapas.

Janeth González López, defender of the rights of the land and of the indigenous communities of Oaxaca.

Otilia Martínez Cruz, Rarámuri activist and defender of the forests of Chihuahua.

Eulodia Lilia Díaz Ortiz, indigenous defender from the State of Mexico.

María Cristina Vázquez Chavarría, activist, Mexico City.

Zenaida Pulido Lonbera, defender of human rights from Michoacán.

Nora López León, biologist and defender of macaws from Chiapas.

All of them were victims of extractionism. They died defending the water, the forests, and the land. This offers clear evidence of the restriction of rights and necro-politics on which neoliberal capitalism feeds.

If we are only ten years away from making the environmental crisis irreversible, how can we stay afloat[6] We will have to overcome the false promise of stability and cling to the raft of precarity and imbalance in order to imagine our present and future survival. From this raft, it is easier to make out the hope on the horizon. Imagining other futures and practicing the arts of living-with and dying-with in a wounded, but unfinished world, as Haraway (2016) would say, is essential. [7]

Under this new light, the world, our broken jug, is transformed into a kaleidoscope through which other worlds arise, opening up the possibility of multiple histories. The body, imagination, and resistance become a sort of amalgamation, like the nopal cactus' juices, which heal, nourish, and bind.


Kiyo Gutiérrez is a Mexican performance artist and historian. Her work explores the environmental, social and political injustices that impact contemporary society. Through her body, she seeks to explore performance art’s potentiality as a tool of resistance. In her performances, she frequently incorporates elements of the pre-Hispanic past, while also drawing on other mediums such as theatre, dance and poetry. With the hope of eroding preconceived notions of nature, culture, gender, identity, sexuality and art, Kiyo strives to dissolve cultural taboos that have been constructed under a patriarchal system and generate discussions about our complex social realities.


Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.


[1] Charles Moore and Cassandra Phillips, Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans (Penguin: New York, 2011), 253.

[2] Anna Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015), 188.

[3] María Mies and Shiva Vandana, Ecofeminism: Theory, Criticism and Perspectives (Barcelona, Icaria, 1997).

[4] Mies and Vandana, Ecofeminism: Theory, Criticism and Perspectives, 28.

[5] Alejandra Leyva Hernández, Cristina García Bravo and José Carlos Suárez Pérez, Status Report on Human and Environmental Rights Defenders (Mexico: Mexican Center for Environmental Rights (CEMDA), 2018).

[6] Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), 2019.

[7] Donna Haraway. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 98.