Mara Vujić: My Body - My Territory

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I’m changing the things I cannot accept.” Angela Davis

Writing the introductory text for this year’s festival with the theme My Body – My Territory coincided with events that simply cannot be ignored. Day after day we’re watching, discussing and facing the waves of refugees that either lost their lives or got stuck at the ice-cold technocratic and legalistic EU border. We can watch live different social and political experiences of corporeal embededness – not on stage but in real life! – in repression, torture and alienation; the bodies exposed to economic, political, social violence to/beyond the limits of human endurance. The bodies that are (ab)used for dissemination of radical political and social messages in the context of the struggle for political domination. The disappointment over the inability to manage this refugee disaster is increasing on a daily basis, while the lack of solidarity in Europe and worldwide increasingly aggravates the polarisation of public opinion, ‘justifies’ the use of repression, promotes xenophobia and intolerance and causes fear and panic in the face of the Others. It is more strikingly obvious than ever that the basic human rights and the values of equality of our so-called democratic society don’t apply for everyone, as is the fact that we fail to cope with the refugee disaster not only in a humanitarian but primarily in a political way. For this reason it is crucial at this point to mobilise the sense of social responsibility and act politically against the illegalisation of people and the closing of borders, to promote dealing with such crises on the principles of solidarity, acceptance and humanity, and strive for a radical change of the dominant political and economic system.

This year, we have also witnessed a number of worrying events on the other side of the “western(ish) democracy” which demonstrate the consolidation of the socially dominant hierarchy in relation to minority or non-normative (gender, race or class defined) bodies. In the USA we witnessed a chain of violence and even murders of black citizens by law enforcement officers, which originates from deeply rooted racism that the Black Lives Matter movement is now battling. We must remember that the discrimination against the black community in the USA cannot be fully understood without considering capitalist social relations - i.e. the question of class. Moreover, there has been an alarming increase in the number of murders of transgender women in the USA. Anja Koletnik says: “Same as usual, an extraordinarily high number of victims of discrimination, violence and murders are non-white transgender women. This is a result of transmisogyny which affects transgender women because of their position at the cross-section of identities/ discriminations as both women and transgender which is additionally aggravated by race/ethnicity.”

The reflection of a woman’s body – which has forever been one of the principal topics of feminist discussions and struggle – as a territory of constant fights by various dominant positions for dominance and power was encouraged by ongoing attempts of the society’s retraditionalisation, which, both locally as well as in a broader region, comes in waves. A glaring example comes from neighbouring Croatia. It is not only an attempt to limit the right to abortion but it’s a case of treating women’s bodies as property in the service of the country for the reproduction of a patriarchal system and its national interests. Asja Hrvatin reported: “In Croatia, there are currently at least six public hospitals (in Knin, Našice, Vinkovci, Požega, Zagreb and Split) where women can’t have an abortion because the doctors in said hospitals exercise their right of conscientious objection. Consequently, the women are forced to go to other places or – even worse – to private practices, their decisions in regard to their own bodies thus become illegal. The right to make decisions about your own body becomes a privilege that can only be afforded (literally because according to Jutarnji List, the abortions on the Croatian black market may cost up to a thousand euros) by higher class women. In this case, patriarchal oppression is paired with the question of class.” Also in our country, the God’s Children institute exerted pressure this February in front of the maternity hospital in Ljubljana by organising a protest wherein the volunteers (carrying the most telling of banners) prayed for all unborn children, the women who had or intend to have an abortion, and the health professionals who perform the abortions. Any comment is superfluous.

The constant need to control our bodies/selves involves many social constructs, norms and identifications ascribed or inscribed into the body actualising the interest in body as a territory at the intersection of social and art practice, with a special focus on body-oriented art practices. That is, the practices that literally invested their bodies in activism and mobilisation of new forms of discourses to undermine the previous meaning of their marginalisation and oppression. The aforesaid examples are only some forms of discrimination and control in relation to bodies defined by race, religion, class, gender and sexual orientation that broke out, flooded the media and found their place in the public discourse; many other existing forms of oppression and marginalisation remain invisible. The politicality and indirectly the ethics of art is to open a space of existence between binary oppositions in which the existing politics and ethics between bodies/ selves are questioned, to redefine and open the feasible future and simultaneously create a distance from the institutionalised hierarchical social relations. For this reason the festival talks about feminism based on refusing the essentialist understanding of identity and opens up a place to underline discourses that strive to transform social relations based on the subjugation of women and all non-normative identities. We draw attention to the forms of mutual cooperation and cooperation with the environment which aspires to conceive new models and ways of collective co-existence.

In terms of programming, we were interested in the idea of a free flow of a larger number of the individual’s identities and their legitimations, which means those art practices that address the body as a territory of social or political processes and reflections which allow the Others to weave social fabrics of a non-capitalist market - practices that provide a chance to freely imagine relationships not based on domination and strive to reform and break social norms. It is about body and gender as a result of a scientific, an individual, a collective process; the body emerging from thought, constructed by thought or by experience. A body with multiple extensions that can have multiple relations with spaces and other bodies, the de-essentialized and transposed subjectivities proving that the body is dispersed in a social space. We are interested in the story of the journey through these bodies and spaces challenging the notion of the individual identities that take the risk of otherness/ heterogeneity. We are interested in art practices focused on the body in order to explore multiplied, dispersed and non-normative subjectivities or intentionally staging the absence of body which is materialised in the trails of its dematerialisation. But we won’t be spared having to situate this (social) body in a given territory because this is also the story of territories and individuals crossed by flows, communities, colonies and politics of what is private and what public.

Let me conclude with the quote which sums up much of this year’s festival’s premises and at the same time let me invite you to join us. In her book Body Art/Performing the Subject, Amelia Jones cites Allucquére Rosanne “Sandy” Stone, a renowned American transgender theorist considered the founder of the transgender studies: “We make meaning by acts of reading. We read the body as a text; we attempt to render it legible, we develop elaborate location technologies to fix the body’s meaning within a precise system of cultural beliefs and expectations; but the most interesting bodies escape this attempt to locate them within a predefined meaning structure.” (Jones 1998, 226)

Anja Koletnik, komentar/transspolna-zivljenja-solegitimna, 1. september 2015.
Asja Hrvatin: Mati, domovina, lastnina: Pravica do splava na Hrvaškem,
Jones A. (1998), Body Art / Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. p. 226.