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An Experiment in Assembling the City's Sexual Memory
by Ana María Garzón Mantilla

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Performance, Colloquium


An Experiment in Assembling the City’s Sexual Memory

More than a workshop, El sexo (el arte) y la ciudad (Sex, Art and the City) was an experiment in participation and shared experiences facilitated by the artist Carlos Motta. Held in conjunction with an exhibition and a roundtable discussion, the event formed part of the activities organized by the Arte-Actual/Flacso gallery as part of the international symposium Queering Paradigms 5 (QP5), which took place at Flacso-Ecuador on February 20-22, 2014.

Queering Paradigms is an academic network that examines queer policies; the central topic of the edition held in Quito was to explore the links between queer studies and post- and decolonial theories, while placing emphasis on discussions that question the dominant models established by Western modernity. As of the early stages of organizing the symposium, Marcelo Aguirre, the director of the gallery, and María Amelia Viteri, who organized QP5 in Quito, proposed to create a meeting space between art and academia and extend the reflections stemming from the talks to the field of art. That was how I received an invitation to curate an exhibition to provide that link. The outcome was an exposition, El cuerpo queer, la construcción de la memoria, (The Body Queer: Constructing Memory), that brought together two individual proposals: Carlos Mottaís Nefandus, and Zanele Muholiís Faces and Phases. Despite their differences, the works of these two artists show a similar approach to dissidence and put the scripts handed down by history in dispute. Their pieces also question representation policies and prompt reflection on a subject's relationship with their body and that body in relation to others'. Muholiís show comprised 120 photos of lesbian and trans-masculine women from Afro communities. She started creating the series in 2006 and her portraits are an exercise in preventing oblivion and challenging the standard government procedure of converting people into statistics without individual faces or stories. For his part, in Nefandus –comprising three videos, photographs and sculptures–Motta creates a cartography of the history of sex in pre-Hispanic and colonial times. They bring to light narratives that the dominant Eurocentric and hetero-regulated history doomed to obscurity, by addressing the homoerotic traditions frowned upon by Christian morality.

The exhibition was held from February 19 to March 20 in Arte Actual, and the gallery's Project Room was the venue for Carlos Mottaís research and collective experimentation event, held on February 17-19. Coordinated by the artist Paulina León, Project Room is a platform for artists and researchers to present portfolios, roundtables, and workshops, among other things. Motta's activity featured 18 participants who were chosen by invitation so as to gather representatives of different disciplines to encourage dialogues and feedback between the members of the group, which included artists, a curator, academicians, cultural promoters, and art and film students.
The guiding premise, drafted by Motta with Emiliano Valdés (an independent curator, co-founder of Proyectos Ultravioleta, Guatemala City) for the first edition of the workshop proposed in Guatemala in mid-2013, is as follows:

"The city is full of spaces where we have had sexual experiences (parks, alleys, public toilets, etc.; the city has witnessed crimes of hate (murders, beatings and insults) on corners, streets and avenues; the city has given rise to the collective congregation of resistance movements (gay pride marches, protests, etc.); the city is all about our individual and collective experiences.

The moral and legal regulations governing sexual orientation and gender identity are reflected in the way urban public spaces are configured and experienced. Expressing homosexual affection on the street or transgressing gender norms can be risky and lead to insults or even attacks. "Abnormal" forms of sexuality have therefore had to be conducted secretly in cities. However, they have also acted as accomplices in shaping our lives and have given rise to moments, experiences and events in developing our sexual identities."

Following those lines, Motta, who was visiting Quito for the first time, proposed wandering through the city in search of spaces related to sexuality. He made it clear from the start that he was acting as a facilitator, not as a professor giving class, which, as he explained, allowed him to encourage the development of dialogues: "I wasn't following any particular methodology; I just had a series of ideas to put forward to the group so we could jointly develop processes. The methodology was defined in conjunction with the participants and I think that was the right thing to do, since I wasn't proposing a pedagogical approach, but a communal experience instead. I tried to gauge each participant's relationship with the subject-matter, to see what their perspective was and why they wanted to be there, since they were approaching it from completely different contexts. Starting from there, I tried to contextualize the workshop along the lines of Petite Mort and see how it would fit in with this workshop". Petite Mort: Recollections of a Queer Public (2011) was a project that Motta conducted with Joshua Lubin-Levy. The book takes the reader on a tour of New York, following a map showing places where public-sex encounters took place. It included contributions by sixty homosexual men, and contains both texts and drawings(1).

In the first session, after making lists of words and topics dealing with the idea of making a sexual map of the city, the participants split up into groups and decided what subjects they wanted to investigate on their tours of Quito, such as architectural spaces that invite sex or bodily contact. They also began discussing the formats (photos, drawings, maps, narratives...) they would use to create something to present at the conclusion of the workshop.

The first morning was devoted to tours of the city. One group of participants visited sex shops, asking about products, looking for curiosities and chatting with sales staff about their best-selling goods or how oils and vibrators worked... Another group looked for signs of the erotic in everyday life, thinking about body movements in the city and the interactions that take place on public transport, in the dynamics of the streets of Quito's historical center, taking dance movements as a basis for reflection. A third group visited Santo Domingo square to ask people about their sexual experiences and the way public architecture stirred their desires and tried to map the sexual fantasies projected on public spaces, so as to compare them with the real spaces where sexual encounters take place. A fourth group engaged in a symbolic occupation of the city's public spaces, which rather than a topic was a methodology, the idea being to occupy a real space –the public toilets of El Ejido Park–and a fictitious space –an artistic, porno feminist short film–which each group member visited on their own at different times of day and registered. One wrote about the experience, another left a mark, while another described the smells.

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