Interview conducted on May 3rd, 2020 | Utrecht- Papudo
“They [portals] are ways in which we can connect to the pulsating emotions that create this material world that we are part of, but that we have instrumentalized and categorized in a way that has locked everything on this planet down. We’ve made it objective; we’ve objectified it making it easy for us to manipulate it, to distance ourselves from that sources feeling. The fact that right now we are in a planetary crisis – one that makes us very, very aware of the fragility of our own lives, and one that also points to the fact that there are non/living entities that we share this planet with too – I take as an invitation to reconnect emotionally with portals that are open all the time. They’re full of vibrancy , we’ve just become sordos – deaf and… or numb in our hearts, or unable to smell… I think that the scent of a flower is a portal. Portals abound.”
[different bird sounds are part of the recording’s background]
MG: Hello, everyone. I’m Magdalena Górska. And welcome to our second interview, this time together with Camila Marambio. Camila is a director of Ensayos[*] – a nomadic research program that focuses on ecological issues in Tierra del Fuego through experimental interdisciplinary practices. She founded the program in 2010 in order to integrate artists and humanities scholars into existing scientific research teams in the region working in partnership with wildlife conservation societies Karukinka Natural Park. Camila also holds PhD in Curatorial Practice from Monash Art Design and Architecture in Australia. And she’s also very well known for her curatorial work and academic and activist work. So, thank you Camila for joining me and welcome to Breathable Futures Today project.
CM: Gracias. Thank you for having me.
MG: So, let’s just get started. So maybe let’s start from the general question of the Arundhati Roy’s portal because this is something, which we already talked about a little bit before we started this interview. And it’s also something which we both read and find very imaginative for our ways of being and thinking in the current moment, and in our research, and also in your curatorial practice in general. So, I wanted to ask you, in relation to your specific practice and in relation to your specific political commitments, how do you see the current situation? And what do you think about it being possibly a portal and possibly to what?
CM: I’ve been interested in portals for a long time. I live in Chile, near the Andes Mountains, which run from north to south, all the way from Colombia down to Tierra del Fuego. This mountain range is known for being a portal. This was documented orally by many of the cultures that revered and expressed their attention to these portals through very complex ceremonies in pre-Columbian times. Physical portals were usually found within the crevices of the high peaks. Sometimes they’re referred to as glaciers. Sometimes they’re referred to as volcanoes. But mostly these portals are understood as connectors or throughways to cosmic information. So, a glacier holds extra-terrestrial knowledge and it’s a deep-water reserve. The question of where water comes from is one that has mystified both scientists and lay people alike. Water is for me, the maximum portal. It is a force or a matter that is constantly changing. It is both finite, in that the water that’s on this planet is the water that has always been on this planet and it is infinite in that it is always changing forms. But unfortunately, as of late, it is being made quite ill because of the way that we are extracting and dumping into this portal.
In Tierra del Fuego, where I do most of my work, the Selk’nam people describe the origin of water as coming from the stars. But it is not the light that is emitted from the stars, rather it is the area around the stars – so, it is the black, the darkness – that drips and trickles to our planet and finds here vessels that begin to contain these, sort of, universal tears, as they call them. The fact that the one thing that characterizes our planet Earth is that we have water in comparison to other celestial bodies, and that this water is tears and tears usually come from some deep, deep emotion, from suffering, from love, from nostalgia, from frustration, from rage – it makes me think that all of our waters are these emotional portals. They are ways in which we can connect to the pulsating emotions that create this material world that we are part of, but that we have instrumentalized and categorized in a way that has locked everything on this planet down. We’ve made it objective; we’ve objectified it making it easy for us to manipulate it, to distance ourselves from that sources feeling. The fact that right now we are in a planetary crisis – one that makes us very, very aware of the fragility of our own lives, and one that also points to the fact that there are non/living entities that we share this planet with too – I take as an invitation to reconnect emotionally with portals that are open all the time. They’re full of vibrancy , we’ve just become sordos – deaf and… or numb in our hearts, or unable to smell… I think that the scent of a flower is a portal. Portals abound. So, what is unique about this moment now is that, I would say, there is a sort of a mega portal that has seeped through and over all the barriers that we’ve created, all of the numbness. And…. Yeah. But I guess what I want to point to is that this portal inhabits… it inhabits material. It inhabits things. It inhabits beings. And so, when Arundhati Roy or when I talk about portals, I believe that I share with her that it is not that the political crisis is a portal. It is pointing to the many, many portals that are always already there.
MG: I really appreciate that you say that and that you also bring the affective and the spiritual perspective into it. And the planetary perspective and the material perspective. And I think what is really interesting also about what you are saying – in relation to, you know, what I have been learning through all the different video conferences and video seminars I’ve been watching today – is that we are in a specific mega portal, as you said. But at the same time, we, I think, – or I don’t know who the we is at the moment, it’s me synthesizing what I’m learning right now – I noticed that also in my own thinking, I think about it as a… it is a special situation. And I’ve been, you know – in conversation with Nina [Lykke] and also in the introduction – I’ve been trying to point out that it is just like a microscope, which shows us now much more clearly what the structures were while for some people those structures have always been clear. But I think it becomes more mainstreamly recognized now how the social structures are unequipped for equal and socially just world for human, non-human and planetary being in general. So, on the one hand, I think this notion of the portal points to that.
But I think what you said about the temporality of the portal – that portals have always been there – allows us to also realize that we always had accountability, and we always will have accountability. That we cannot just say that now it’s the moment that we have to finally start fighting. Because, first of all, so many people have already been fighting and we cannot just minimize that; quite on the contrary, I think we need to keep on working with the tools we’ve been, and other people have been, developing. And we have to continue to be in conversation with each other and help each other to make ours situated local and somehow connected struggles. But at the same time, I think that aspect of accountability is important also to challenge the idea that change wasn’t possible before. Of course – and we talked with Nina about that – I think none of us would have thought that the global economy will shut down the way it shut down, that planes will stop flying and the CO2 emissions will lower down because of the economic crisis shutting down everything so quickly. So, I think nobody probably predicted that. On the other hand, this accountability towards trying to make change was there before. And it will be also long after this portal closes or however we want to think about it.
CM: Yeah. Right. I agree very deeply that what’s special about this portal is that it has revealed, like you said, the possibility of what was being narrated as an impossible – the supposed impossibility of halting the train of progress, of swerving the direction of capitalism. And it’s mind boggling to me how we all took that as a fact.
CM: Yhm. And it’s just a speculative statement that actually dumbs down all of our creativity and all of our desires. Because even though there are very many different, opposing political views around the world with regards to the future and how to manage it, I think that it’s being shown today that everyone on this planet is attached to life and enjoys life. Or at least on some basic level. Despite life for some being very, very, very difficult because of economic strife. A lot of lack of basic needs. But maybe just the warm sun on your face is enough to allow you to endure that hardship of, you know, imposed hierarchies and economic deficit. And so, that joy or that that excitement around life, that is something to be tapped into. And to be fully allowed to flow with all of its creative juices, with all of its delicious pleasures and pains. You very much know – we’ve talked about this before, also with Nina [Lykke] and Malin [Arnell] – about how painful it is to be alive. There’s so much grief and there’s so much fear to be felt. But it’s to be felt. And it’s the fact that we can feel it that makes us know that we are alive. And, yes, I’m aware now that that passions, that sensuality of the living is what was slowly being dismounted through a kind of automatization of the direction of life. Right?
So right now, I think, for me, the key concept to understand what this portal offers is a reorienting possibility. So, we’re talking about direction and orientation. It’s that we can bifurcate, we can all of a sudden jump into another dimension. And that is not a science fiction kind of a thing, or it can be, you know, if that excites you as a way of thinking. And I know it excites me. But what it means is just that there is an otherwise. And it was – like we were saying before – it was always already there. But now it is more present. It’s somehow being… like we’re being invited.
MG: Coming back to invitations we’ve been working on.
MG: And as you were saying that, I was also thinking how this invitation needed to be strongly articulated through this crisis. Because we’ve been invited – again it’s the temporality, right? We are invited all the time. And I think it kind of goes even in the direction of combat breathing of Franz Fanon, in the sense that: why do we not feel the strong appellation of the invitation? Why do we, in our everyday lives, don’t feel like we have a power to change? Why is it this moment, when there is so much suffering, when all these structures of the society are exposed even more bare than usually? Why do we need to go that far to be able to take a breath and to feel invited to think of the world otherwise? And Franz Fanon (1965) was talking about the way how occupied breathing is always a combat breathing. And of course, he talked about the specificity of colonization of Algeria so it’s not just easy to make a parallel. But this – exactly, literally, bodily and affectively – connects very well to what you are saying in relation to the portal and the stars and the water. That we literally got numb, as you said, and we literally couldn’t see this invitation.
Or we could see it [to some degree] … in my work I can see it, I can analyze it, but it almost feels like I’m constantly running out of breath in trying to understand that. Because there was not a moment of a respite where you could regenerate yourself; where you can, you know… I feel like one thing I’m learning from this society of quarantine – I am on my own, with my dog, in Utrecht, in my apartment, which is still, you know, very nice guaranteeing – but one thing I’m learning is that the passion, the affect, the body is so important and so wise. And I need to learn how to follow “it,” but not only on the individualized level. We really need to build politics around that. Because – as I also referred to when we were talking [before the interview started] about everything I’m learning right now from going into all those virtual seminars and all of that – it almost felt like I got out of breath again.
And so, I think sometimes it’s not necessarily that we need to have a balanced breath, but maybe we need a breath… I was actually writing about it in Breathing Matters (2016) and I completely forgot about it – we need politics, which are like puffing. That, you know, sometimes we just make a puff and sometimes we make a long exhalation. And we just breathe and then we puff again. And then, sometimes, we even hyperventilate. Of course, it’s not a pleasure, but fighting and changing things is not easy. It’s not pleasurable. I think it shouldn’t be idealized. So, this is where you get me thinking in relation to this question of invitation and why this portal feels like such a big invitation while we had so many invitations before. And also, invitation for whom? Because it’s kind of privileged invitation. So many people, you know… I can think of the water crisis in Flint, for example, or the indigenous communities fighting for their land and so on. They had to these portals already before, as urgent as it is now. So, it’s also, on the one hand, the global scale of it, but also the scale of, you know, the west feeling endangered, and the power feeling endangered. And maybe that’s something which is specific to where we are as well. The power being endangered and seeing how different countries respond to it differently.
CM: Yeah. This is where the notion of accountability, that you mentioned, becomes so important. Because in this flip of the west being threatened and in the fear of the collapse of their stronghold over power, it is communities that have been colonized or been oppressed for so long, that know how to navigate the discomforts that come with being powerless or being perceived as powerless, pitted in world history as the powerless. And this is where Gloria Anzaldúa’s concept of Nepantla is helpful again for us. Where she talks about that break that occurred in North America. She’s mostly referring to what is today modern-day Mexico and south, southern, southwest U.S. where she was raised. The world there ended, the world as it was known – just like our world as it was known today has ended some months ago; or like a disease that comes to rid your body of its power also makes a break with your notion of self and your understanding of where your power lies. But then if you happen to survive that disease or if you continue as an indigenous community to live despite the fact that you are no longer on top of that pyramid – like the Maya is or the Aztecs or the Incans – and you are on that downside of the power scale but alive and well in the sense that you still get to enjoy or feel or sense of the world. And you begin to covet that and transform your rituals and your habits so that you can maintain a connection with the affective realities of living that make living bearable. And, you know, slow breathing, I think, taking in the elemental is what sustained most of those communities. Because sometimes that’s the only thing they get, they get access to. And when those things get threatened, their elemental lives, like their waterways, that’s when you have to start puffing and huffing, and you actually put your life at risk for the future generations of your community and of the world. Right?
And so in this flip that’s happening now – and I think this was a flip that we are now experiencing as a kind of move, as a really fast jump, but we know that it’s been slowly building – there’s a lineage for how we got to where we got it. It didn’t come out of the blue, this virus. We’ve been degrading the immunity of our planet for so long that the fact that a virus can overrun that immunity isn’t of surprise to many people, especially to Indigenous peoples or peoples who have had that experience that I describe of seeing that life force overturned once, twice over and over again. And so… what I’m trying to get at is the fact that… again… the orientation is what seems to be… that’s where we’re at right now. A kind of a redirection in orientation.
And just like a fast-moving car that all of a sudden has to break to avoid crashing and being obliterated. That swerve is [deep inhalation], it can make you puke. It can make you want to cover your eyes. Some people who like roller coasters are actually really excited and, you know, have their arms up in the air. And I think that’s where we’re at right now. We’re all experiencing those emotions, some more than others, depending on where in the car we are seated. You know, a pilot maybe has the highest accountability, it is, let’s say, the governments that have been leading us in certain directions. But everybody in that car is a player and usually – I’m going to stick with this car crash metaphor, it’s odd, but… [laughing] – it’s the ones in the back seat that survive. So those governments, you know, they’re like [making a sound of a car swirling and breaking] trying to make the wheel go in the right direction, and the pilot or the co-pilot might fly out the front window… Maybe there’s an airbag – some governments have been good; they’ve set up airbags in their cars. The people in the back who weren’t the leaders, maybe it’s us, you know, who are who are back there, who have to now put all of our energy into whatever and wherever we end up in this swerving, and pick up the pieces and carefully craft a new order. And in that there are so many skilled observers of the world who can help do that, people who have been paying attention to the elemental, people who have been breathing carefully, who know that our skin is not just like a protective layer, but it’s porous.
I had the incredible experience of tapping into a group of people who on May 1st – so the day of work and labor – were supposed to meet here in Chile to work on water issues because this is what I’m concerned with. But we were not able to come so we met virtually as a way to recognize and continue to be accountable for what we were working on beforehand. But the meeting was going to be very different. Obviously, we are all now disempowered in a way, in the way that we could not be here, we cannot produce this document that we were looking to submit to the government as a legal proposal for how water might be deprivatized in Chile. And, yeah, so, you know, it’s quite painful not to be able to do it. But what emerged was a new form of continuing to be accountable. And we called it un pagamento. Un pagamento is a payment, like a due, an atonement ritual, at-one-meant – and this was something that Ignacio Valero pointed to. And so, we joined for an hour to pay homage and revere and respect and honor all of the people who in the past weeks have been killed because of the work that they do, the care work that they do, and not just on the health front, but also, you know, in Colombia, in Bolivia, and in many other Latin American countries where the atrocities against the environment continue uninterrupted by corona virus quarantines. The activists are being killed. And Carolina Caycedo, an artist from Colombia, read out 25 names of people who were killed last week just because they stand up for the elemental. So, I think that, you know, within this portal and all of the possibility that it provides for us to continue to breathe in the future, comes a tremendous, tremendous responsibility, a grounded responsibility. And this is also what you’re doing. You know, we’re all doing it in our mediums. This is what you’re doing here now with this interview, giving space to this.
MG: Thank you. I often feel very lacking in tools and lacking in ability to really do change. But I do think that we need conversations and we do need spaces for thinking together in order to be able to see what kind of changes we want and how we can do them. But for me this interview and the whole series is more about learning from all the people I’m talking with. And so, I was also wondering – in relation to your research and the relation to your work, and in relation also to the last meeting you just talked about – what do you think are the tools which are important for you now? What are the tools to keep you not only accountable – because accountability, I think, for activists should be a different term, maybe; – what do you need to feel like you can do the work that allows more breathable world?
MG: [Laughing] That’s exactly what also Nina [Lykke] was talking about as well. [Both laughing]
CM: Here you go [laughing]
So much poetry, shared poetry, reading poetry to others, being read poetry by those who write it – in a way, even if I am reading it, I can hear their voices, – using language differently. And we talked about how our senses have been numbed or trapped by the systematization of the function of our bodies. The same with language. Even for those of us, who have taken the road of academic work and have been working with language so actively, there are so many ways in which whatever language is – and I can’t claim to know what it is because it’s much larger and mysterious then I’m able to grasp – … but I feel like poetry is the portal to languaging more this new world. To imagining, to imaginings, to dreamings. And so, poetry is one of those things.
And another is – and I want to call it… what do I want to call it? – travel. But it has an adjective, and it’s on the tip of my tongue… it’s something like… interdimensional travel. The travel that we can do… not just with these tools like the one we’re using now where I and you have traveled [on Zoom] to be with each other. And so even though I’m sitting in a hammock in the backyard of my little house in Papudo and you’re in a room in your house in Utrecht, we’re somewhere else, too. Right? We’re in each other’s era, we’re in each other’s hearts. And we can do this even without these [online] tools. We can do this by holding each other dearly at other times of the day. And then we can do this actively by meeting in our dreams or being written into each other’s stories. So, this type of travel that replaces fossil fuel travel [we both laugh] has really sustained me. Because I was heartbroken the first weeks. Heartbroken first because of some of the trips, actual physical trips, that I was meant to be on, were canceled and I wasn’t able to take them. But then heartbroken by the fact that – or by the thought, I don’t know if it’s a fact – that I might not be able to hug a friend who lives in another country (another planet, I was going to say, it feels like it [both laughing]). And then I am feeling like this type of travel… we need to strengthen it because it might allow us to actually hug each other. And in queer intimacy and sensuality, in ways that are actually new. And, you know, I’m not advocating for giving up on texture in the way that we know it so far.
MG: Yeah. Let’s hope we don’t have to!
But again, I feel like through poetry and through this kind of travel – that I sometimes like to call, or have been calling before the Corona virus quarantine – metitations. So, meditation I think is definitely a form of travel. But what I like about metitation – it is m-e-t, which stands for mechanical electrical transduction… And then the play with metitation, which, of course is sort of under, at a kind of a frequency of the electromagnetic field created which is created by our pulsating heart… And so, if we tap into those mechanical electric forces and the types of transductions that they generate around our body, we can work with them and we can heighten them. Just like you and Malin [Arnell] did with breathing exercises [a performance piece we did as part of Malin Arnell’s 72 hour long performance Avhandling / Av_handling (Dissertation / Through_action) (2016)] and how you can actually push your breathing to a degree in which it generates a different force field around you. And in this force field, you somehow… leave your body or, mobilize whatever it is that your body is lightly in. Can we do this more? Can we do it harder? Can we do it for longer periods of time? So, can we travel further?
MG: Oh, this feels so breathable to me and so important in the sense that, you know, this situation, of course, creates so many structural… or rather shows so many structural problems. But I think another important problem is that – exactly going back to what you said at the beginning – we became numb. It’s kind of almost “funny” that one of the side effects of coronavirus – and this is what I experience – is a loss of smell and taste. So I lost about 80 percent of my smell and 80 percent of my taste – and I hope it comes back, that’s what my doctor said, but let’s see, it’s been like seven weeks now, so we’ll see about it; it frustrates me so much how much of dimension of the world I’m losing by not smelling and not tasting. And I think this shows – again, going back to the numbness – how many layers of reality we’ve been losing in the neoliberal rat race, so to speak, for example in relation to academia. Of course, different professions and different positions in the world have different forms of suffocation and numbness, which is connected to the conditions of all our differential living. But if I relate to my own personal way of living, I feel like I’ve been out of breath for so long. And you know that, we talked about it last summer. Right? So just the way how you were talking about, you know, synchronizing with our heartbeats and with the fields we create… it just feels like it could be also such a fantastic way of doing research differently, thinking differently, connecting with friends, family, important people in our lives differently. And that requires time. And it also requires energy, because, for example, one of the things I’ve been experiencing before corona crisis, is lack of energy because of being out of breath. And I wonder how can we take this moment as a moment of taking a breath? And also later on sustaining this breath, because – as we also talked shorty about before we started the interview – what happens when the portal closes. Right? What do you think about that?
CM: The time. Right? Time is such a tricky… such a trickster. So, on May 1st, at this atonement ritual meeting – un paramento – something really, really extraordinary happened. I was in this very garden using this very computer, not Zoom, but Google Hangouts, and then we were eleven people from different parts of the world. And out of nowhere, a white rabbit appeared in my garden. [Laughing. And a laud voice of a bird appears in the background] My shock, my surprise were evident to everyone. I eventually was able to take the rabbit in my hands and show it to people. And, you know, in my more infantile mind, the white rabbit comes from Alice in Wonderland. And it’s got that little watch and it’s running around like crazy, leading Alice through portals. But there’s a sense of urgency. He’s always “we got to get there.” [making funny noises]
And here was this white rabbit in my garden. Never before seen. And the two elders who were leading the ritual – Ignacio Valero and Cecilia Vicuña – both of them, at the close, said that the most spectacular thing that had emerged from the ritual was the white rabbit. And they later went on to tell us why. The white rabbit in Nahuatl, which is the same language Nepantla comes from, is a Totchli. Totchli is the scribe of universal forces. So Totchli is the mentor, or the god, of those who use language and write the forces that come from the moving universe into this planet. And those forces are constant. We know this from the moon, the sun – those energies are continual. They are what energizes and what the mobilizes this this world that we’re in. So…
What I’m referring to here is time, right? And so, if what we know and how we structure time is in a day, and then a bunch of days we call a month, and we call a bunch of months a year – all of these things are related to planetary movements. They’re not arbitrary. Though, sometimes they feel arbitrary because we’ve locked them down again and they’re related to things that we have to do before the end of September. And so, they become numbers in the linear calendar. And we absolutely dis-engage ourselves with the much larger movements that these aids are signaling. And so, again, it’s about… this rabbit… and it’s comical. You know, in the end, in Alice in Wonderland he’s almost an irony of how we deal with time. The fast pace, the “we must do this now, this portal is going to close.”
And how we started the conversation – the portals are always already there. And actually, it’s through rest and through patience and through quietness and through the narrowing of our senses… So, the fact that you’ve lost 80 percent of your smell means that you still got 20 percent. And that 20 percent now is everything. You’ve got to hone in on that 20 percent because it’s so valuable. It’s not nothing. It’s 20 percent! And so, you’re going to become an expert [we both laugh] because of that 20 percent. Because somebody who has 100, you know, doesn’t realize that they’re missed something.
So I think this is the thing about portals – they show you momentarily something either larger or smaller that you may have missed. And once it’s closed, you now have that knowledge that it’s there. And so, you continue to sort of recorrer – walk that boundary line and you’re looking for other crevices, other cracks that can lead you back.
MG: It’s like the roots of a plant which is growing in the rock or something…
CM: Yeah. Exactly.
MG: I really like how you also said that. Because I think, in my perspective, one thing I started to feel and what started to make me anxious – in relation to thinking about possibility of change in relation to the current situation – is I was like, “oh, my god, if the portal closes and we didn’t change anything, I will be so devastated, I will be so upset about the missed opportunity we have to change the world.” Those grand terms [laughing] are, of course, themselves problematic, but let’s just go with this… [laughing] And I think what you said is very important in a sense not only that the portals were already there, but also how you showed it with your body (because I get to see you on Zoom and it will be not so clear in the audio). You showed it like: you took your two hands and you put them together and in front of your chest, like as if you almost grasped a soul or a some kind of amorphous entity, which you then dispersed into yourself. And I think this is a beautiful way of thinking about it too. We can learn from that: even if the moment passes and we haven’t changed that much, it can still be with us, to energize us for the future struggles. Right? So, it’s not like: it’s now all or nothing. Although it feels a little bit like that because some impossible things happened which are possible all of a sudden. So, it’s kind of like this shock of the car crash where we now have to, as you said, pick up the pieces together and see what we keep and what we start working with in order to reassemble ourselves.
CM: Yeah, I think it fits. Thank you for showing me that gesture. It makes me think and feel that each of us becomes the portal. And not everyone will remain a portal. But those of us who are committed to continuing to be portals because like yourself, I… the annoyance, the anger and the fear that, you know, the planetary portal closes are a common, a shared experience. But I remember feeling it after September 11 when the Twin Towers fell. I thought: “yes, this is it. The US, it can become humble. It can bow down and realize that these towers that they raised to the capitalist god of money, you know, are worthless and they’re destroying the compassion and the commonality in our world.” And then, you know, that portal just collapsed in on itself.
MG: And produced a monster.
CM: And produced a monster. And, you know, this might, well, produce a monster as well. So, with that experience already behind us, what other alternatives are there? And these alternatives are these… It is multiple portals to be operating continuously and maybe under the radar but strengthening a kind of weave, an interconnected weave, which can care for, can guard, protect some of those elementals, which need protecting for forms of life to continue. And not just human lives.
MG: It reminds me of also what Arundhati Roy said, in the conversation she had with Imani Perry online (2020), which I watched I think two weeks ago, or how long it’s been already now… I don’t know… I have no clue about time right now … [laughing] But what she said – and here I’m not completely sure if I agree, but it’s a very good thing to think about – that asking for alternatives is almost like violence. Because our world is constructed on the basis of millions and millions and millions of decisions, which cannot be undone the way how you undo knitting. Right? So, I’m not sure about the “violence of alternative” because I think the alternative can be a way of slowly undoing. But also – and that’s what brings me to what you said – weaving [or knitting] a new infrastructure of the world. Right? This is kind of what you were talking about in relation to those different forms of, you know, interventions, activities… and kind of how you also showed it with your hands by bringing your fingers and intertwining them together and kind of making some kind of horizontal, underground almost, structure, a kind of rhizomatic structure, so to speak.
CM: Yeah. Because… going back to that alternative. Yeah. I think for a long time I invested in alternatives. And then I realized that the very thought about alternative was a violation even to me and to the communities, to the alternative, so-called alternative, communities. Because it meant that we’re still alter to the power. So, this is somehow this idea that the power is there, it’s doing its thing. What occurs despite the power, under the power, beside the power, even over the power, if we want to think about it… So, calling towards these more multi-dimensional ways of understanding our reality… I think it was before the interview that we were talking about Chile and the social uprisings and how during the first months I was on the street and I was with the masses. We were all provoking our government and provoking a rocking kind of “national security” even, to request a change. And after a month, what started to happen is that the street became more and more violent, more and more violent, more and more violent. And I decided to withdraw because I also became very, very, very, very depressed. I was constantly crying and in a state of shock, I would say, because of that violence and sustained violence. And I realized that my energy – just like you talked about energy and sustaining energy – I realized that my energy was being drained by the power. I was there confronting the power. And I thought, OK, I’m not going to confront the power. I’m just going to step to the side and work in a different orientation. There are very many dangers with that, of course, because power is power for certain reasons and it has these incredible operation teams. And so, it’s important that in that reorientation there are go-betweens. But what roles get played in the other dimension? You know, there’s a coordination there, too. And so: where each of us can position ourselves in that altered dimension; and how we still pay attention to the power in so that the monster doesn’t all of a sudden catch us from behind and eat us again is important.
So I think we have… We have poetry, we have dance. [Laughing]
MG: What you said reminded me of – and, again, your body language helps me think with you as I’m learning so much from you today -… also the way how spoke about… how you helped me to reconceptualize what’s the problem with the notion of alternatives… and the way how you started describing your experience of protests in Chile in the previous months. It’s almost… it already brings us back to water again. Water as a portal, right? The resistance as a floating water. If water faces too much power – for example, a huge resistance from a huge rock – it finds a way to go around. But through constant working it also slowly destroys the rock or polishes it. And it can build huge craters through the mountains – through the persistence. Right? So, this is also something which I find very hopeful. And I think it teaches me not to be as impatient as I am [laughing]. I think this is very important. But also, what it makes me wonder is – what about those who become the water who is polluted? So, you constantly do the work, but you are suffocating by the pollution in which you are living. Right?
CM: Yeah. Thank you for bringing that up. I think toxicity and the levels of toxicity that we’ve managed to generate in this past century is horrific. And it’s real. It’s measurable. And it’s determined. It’s been brought about through a series of decisions and informed decisions. It would be too naive to say that there isn’t evil in this world, and that there aren’t destructive forces that are really out for their own benefit. And so… I’m very interested in working as a medium or working as filter: understanding the ways in which we can cleanse water and we can restore its vitality and its health. So, if I have the opportunity to… in any way… access water – and this is both metaphoric, but also very material – that has a toxicity level that allows me to drink it – because you know, to talk about pure water today on the planet is almost an illusion – … but if there is water that is still somehow drinkable, then it is, for me, very important to understand that it is a not just mine. That it must be shared. That it must spill out and over. And so, you know, one of the things I practice here in this garden is that I water my garden. And this is controversial in areas in which watering… In this region of Chile we’re undergoing a desertification (it’s becoming desert-like), and that is a not just due to climate change but to certain causations of climate change, which is that water is privatized and so it’s owned by some individuals and corporations further upstream, and they are using the water at their own will to grow blueberries in a region in which blueberries should not grow because it’s just not the climate for them. Yeah. And so… because I pay for water here, I invest my money in watering my garden. For the bees, for the birds, for the plants, so that they can breathe, so that they can grow green, so that they can become shade for the little rodents that want to live here. And this, I understand this as filtering in a way. So, how do I become a medium through which a good water can flow in directions that generate more common good? So that insects can still be alive on the planet? And so, I think that it is important for all of us to identify those places. And this is what I call filtering – filtering in a sense of not just like trapping the bad, but allowing the goodness to overflow and to seep through. Where in my life can I share and shed abundance, if I have the conditions to? Especially to those that are in condition to make sure that it goes in those directions.
Little things that we’re doing here in my town is with a couple of neighbors – it’s a very quiet town – we talk about, just on the street like: “Hey, so how are you doing? Have your jobs fallen through? Yeah, mine have. What do you work in?” You know, I’m, mostly an immaterial worker – I work with ideas and writing. And as the institutions that I work with [that have previously canceled Camila’s events due to the pandemic] have now taken me up again in these past weeks in new ways. So, I’m like: “OK, I see that there’s a little bit more of a possibility of there being a flow in my bank account.” So I said to myself, OK, well then I’m going to go to a neighbor, who I know works with rocks, and say: “hey, would you bring some rocks over here because I need this part of the land not to fall over.” Yeah, again, like, you know… how do we allow abundance to keep flowing in these times of restriction and the sense that everything is going to be limited.
MG: Yeah. I really like how you’re talking about this filtering process and also the overflow of abundance and always seeing this space for sharing, even in the times when everything might feel limited. And of course, it’s a question who can share and so on. We all have different capacities which we share according to different ways how we are positioned in the world. So that’s, I think, important. It could be an important thread in the new weave or rhizomatic structure we could create in the grassroots, so to speak.
But I also was thinking because – I haven’t published the interview with Nina [Lykke] yet so I’m sorry that you didn’t get to hear it before our conversation – [Nina] mentioned the work you are doing together on cancer and how she talked about Octavia Butler’s (1987) thinking about cancer as a talent. Right? And what emerges for me in conversation with you is almost thinking about the virus – and all the portals we are in every minute of our every day – as a filter, which is yet another thing. Right? Because, for example, when we look at our different water filters – they’re often made out of inorganic materials, they are something which you maybe cannot ingest but it makes your water ingestible. So that could be something to also think about: how something which is right now killing so many people and created… or… it didn’t create it but it showed us how we created structures, which make so many lives very precarious right now, how this could be also a form of a solution. It [the virus] can be part of the filter.
CM: I’ve mentioned her already once, I mentioned her twice: Cecilia Vicuña – the poet and artist and dear friend and mentor of mine – who in the 70s already developed a theory and a practice of precarity called Lo Precario(Precio/Precariousness was published by Tanam Press in1983) and how is the precarious… Hmm, how do I sum it up? … The precarious is a meeting, it’s something that lightly touches and can dissolve, break apart, be washed away, float away, immediately, you know. The touch is a fleeting, it’s a fleetingness, we are fleeting. And we take ourselves very seriously but we are fleeting [laughing]. And so, the way in which we can touch each other’s lives, in a weave, even from a distance through travel – these things all need to be considered for that life on the other side of the portal, that reoriented life that we are talking about.
So, the white rabbit and its fleeting presence in my garden was also acknowledged by the other elder in the group as Kuan Jin. Kuan Jin is a Chinese goddess, they are neither a man nor a woman. Rather, they have 33 or sometimes 22 forms. [laughing] And one of their forms is a white rabbit. And this is the white rabbit of compassion. And compassion has been theorized and thought about in many different ways. But I’d like to refer to it as a fleeting touch in which you’re not grasping anything. So, to me it’s really love. And it’s a love that’s continuously flowing or filtering through, you know, seeping through, that doesn’t extract anything from the other. And it involves exchange, sure, but not this exchange that we are used to thinking of in monetary terms or in sort of just, equal, terms. I think those are also concepts that have somehow corroded us. In indigenous cultures, there are other ways of thinking about exchange, like the potlatch: give more than you actually have, burn it all. [laughing] That’s one way. But what if it was also something that was just very, very, very, very light? Significant and light. Heartfelt and so soft that it almost is suspended. It’s unnamable or nameable only through poetry.
MG: It reminds me of a little, gentle blow of your breath on someone’s face, for example.
CM: Exactly. And that’s just it. And it requires, I think, a whole new set of abilities to be satisfied with that. Because for many years we’ve become gluttons and we’ve become a needy of so much more than just that.
MG: Definitely. I love how your way of talking and metaphors – which are very material and physical and symbolic at the same time – how they really can become guides for really new vocabulary which, I agree with you, we need for all this rhizomatic structure building. I really like that.
CM: Thank you.
MG: I can see that it also changes something in me. Not only in the way I think. For example, when I came to start the interview, I had so much tension in my body. And just the talking with you makes me feel a little bit more… like my muscles are releasing the tension in my body, which is amazing!
CM: Yay. That’s incredible! See how far, how many thousands of kilometers separates us, and how amazing to know that I can touch you. I can touch your muscles.
MG: Yeah. It’s exactly what is the power of your words and the way how you think and the way how you talk here. Right? It’s exactly that.
CM: As you’re talking, I pulled out some things that I thought maybe we could use to even close [this interview conversation]. It’s called Float and it is a collection of 22 – oh, wow, twenty-two! Like the twenty-two forms – chapbooks, whose order is unfixed and whose topics are various. Reading can be free fall. The author is Ann Carson (2016). And I pulled out one, the only one that is color yellow, I now see, and it is just two pages folded over each other. And the title is “Performance Notes.” And maybe to close, I’ll read one at random.
MG: Yes, please.
CM: Wait. You choose! [laughing] It can be: “Stacks,” or “Wildly Constant,” or “Possessive Used as Drink Me.”
MG: Wildly Constant. I love that!
CM: Well: “Wildly Constant.” [silence] I’m reading it now to understand what exactly it is that I am reading.
MG: [laughing] I like the smile on your face, I wonder what it’s going on.
CM: OK. So, I’m just going to read four of the words in the paragraph that follows the title “Wildly Constant.” And it is this: The Library of water.
MG: OK. This is the best closing of an interview we could ever have.
CM: Thank you for massaging me.
MG: That was an extremely pleasurable interview, which also makes physical changes and affective changes across distance. Thank you.
CM: Gracias, Magda.
Arnell, Malin. 2016. Avhandling / Av_handling (Dissertation / Through_action). Perfomance. http://malinarnell.org/research-projec/dissertationthroughaction/.
Butler, Octavia. 1987. Dawn. Xenogenesis 1. London: Gollancz.
Carson, Anne. 2016. Float. New York: Knopf.
Fanon, Frantz. 1965. A Dying Colonialism. New York: Grove Press.
Górska, Magdalena. 2016. Breathing Matters: Feminist Intersectional Politics of Vulnerability. Linköping: Linköping University Press.
Roy, Arundhati. 2020. The Pandemic is A Portal: A conversation with Arundhati Roy Interview by Imani Perry. Heymarket Books Live event.
Vicuña, Cecilia. 1983. Precario/Precarious. New York: Tanam Press.
[*] Ensayos is a collective research practice initiated on the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego in 2010. Ensayos’ issue-based research methodologies arise from archipelagic delirium and are characterized by their sensuality and precariousness. Drawing on the existing conservation initiatives in Tierra del Fuego (WCS Parque Karukinka, Caleta Maria, and the Selk’nam Corporation Covadonga Ona), Ensayos insists on experimental practices that entangle artistic and social science methods with the environmental research efforts already underway. Though Ensayos first focused solely on the ecopolitical issues impacting the Fuegian archipelago and its inhabitants –past and present, human and nonhuman– now, other archipelagos have come into view (Northern Norway, Australia, New York, and Sri Lanka). Ensayos (inquiries or rehearsals in English) is a global exercise in emergent forms of bio-cultural ethics.