I felt like a fish who had finally found the water when I went to a week-long event of the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in Bogota in 2009. Here I was able to share ideas, discuss theory, learn, expand my reading lists, propose my own performative way of academic writing and delivering an academic paper with lucid professors and grounded artists from Canada, Brazil, Mexico, US; and perhaps the most important thing: with other colleagues who were doing this lonely work of theorizing, exploring and teaching the body in Colombia.
I have started exploring performance art – in theory, in the work of others and in my own practice– as a strategy for knowing more about the body. I am studying specific techniques of contemporary dance, singing and other arts in order to learn more about what it means to be a body. I am learning by practical experience my own relationship to fear, breath, stability, risk, emotional control, expression, and humor. I am fascinated by composition. I am looking for new ways of ordering and conceiving writing.
A big part of me is devoted to the construction of beauty and hope. One of the most beautiful things I have done in the past years is the organization of Cabaret Femme Fatale. I worked with 40 dancers, artists, singers, from 17 to 65 years old, some experienced and bursting with talent and others performing in public for the first time. This mix gave the cabaret something raw, something vulnerable, something very real. The philosophy of the Cabaret was taken from performance art; whatever we did there had to involve the exploration of our urgent questions, had to somehow expand us, complement us, make us wider. We had Edith Piaf, the panther woman, Janis Joplin, Billie Holiday, a female clown/striptease act, Patti Smith, a couple of tango dancers performing their own recent in-love-ness, a contemporary dance about desire, a woman magician, a woman just out of rehab center who was selling incense. . .Our cabaret lady, a 65-year-old leftist revolutionary nursing teacher called it “a space for becoming what we have always wanted to be. Everybody who comes in leaves transformed.”
Another vibrant unforgettable experience was a Human Still Life Museum based on the photographs of Dianne Arbus. I assigned my students to design still-lives with their bodies based on the work I judged they needed to do on themselves. The class glamour girls had to become sexy models and mannequins, there was a tattooed muscleman, a Guillermo Gomez Penha- style erotic fetish S/M set-up, a “little girl” holding a balloon and a hand grenade, a pregnant student posing like a model with her belly out and painted with henna- style arabesque figures, a pair of “identical twins” whispering naughty questions in English to the public; there was the sweetest transvestite couple, a tall man dressed as woman and a short woman dressed as man who danced together … and the one who stole my heart, the arm-less woman. She tied her arms beneath her dress and painted her partner’s chest holding the paintbrush with her foot. Then they got up, and with the most beautiful gaze into each other’s eyes, danced an arm-less tango. I think that those who saw and those who performed will never forget the experience.
So, costume. Glitter. Freaks. Divas. Ultimately tender humour. I have become a sort of traveling circus with the best work team I could hope for. These experiences are supremely joyous and at the same time extremely serious as research on the confrontation with ourselves and the construction of spaces for others to do so as well. They do not happen every day but they give meaning to our work and allow us a space for forgiveness and hope.
With my students I have embarked on the translation of theory related to embodiment, feminism and writing from the body and also on samples of fascinating writing from the body that I have been collecting over the years. We have published translations of authors from Goddard who have not been published as well as of English writers who simply do not exist in the Spanish-speaking world. I am dedicated to the translation of Carole Maso’s Aureole, a beautiful book of experimental writing about language and desire. For this I won a residency at the Banff International Literary Translation Centre in 2008, and at the rhythm of the caterpillar I have been progressively working on it throughout the years.
My classroom has become a laboratory for embodiment and the exploration of the bodies that we are. I still teach literature, politics, history but now I also provide embodiment theory, psychoanalysis, and techniques for reintegration of bodies. I do not teach literature for the analysis of literary works. I teach literature for the formation of persons. Literally.
And with this experience, with a team of two other teachers in at Universidad Pedagogica y Tecnologica de Colombia where I work, we have devised a Masters in Literature program that is very different from all the ones we know, the program of our dreams: one that focuses on creating a space for the exploration of the relationship between language and self. We have a seminar on language and body, we validate creative work as a form of research, and writing will be a permanent question for all our students. We are opening in August of this year, and it would be my greatest joy that someday we could have a research and academic cooperation program with Goddard College, for it has been the inspiration.
Read Part I of Juliana’s Goddard project, Autobiography of My Tongue and read more on Juliana’s work. You can also contact her directly at email@example.com