In Puebla this week there is a conference, hosted at Benemerito Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) on women, literature and art. By sheer coincidence a colleague, unlike myself, actually familiar with the city, is attending a different conference at BUAP this week. We, along with his Puebla family, arrived late after making our way through the different terminals of Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City, and driving through the seemingly unending edges of Ciudad de México. It is an eerie feeling, leaving D.F., the intense crash, clank, honks and whistles of activity die out suddenly and you are left with hills and varying air pressure (and altitude) the ghostly smattering of light a reminder of the megapolis being left behind. Puebla, on the other hand, at least the Centro Historico, has a more manicured and relaxed feel: kids, teens, adults and the elderly loiter around the Zócalo square, backpacks are left against columns of the surrounding plaza as workers repair some tiling on a balcony, and plants are held in pretty painted pots around the square as a fountain gurgles in the middle. People walk at a less frenetic pace, and there are several concentrations of pedestrian only zones, with two-lane only streets. In short the Centro Historico fosters intense sociality, has regions for encounter and rest, and is part of an urban ecology of architectural distinction, a high level of upkeep, and relative security.
One of the activities for the conference was the inauguration of some paintings, which circle around themes of femininity, masculinity, the erotic, and violence. Taking place in Casa Bovédes, a casa de cultura with classes and talleres, in its courtyard, a stone area surrounded by yellow and black columns and arches which blend into railings for the second floor balcony, paintings were placed around the recessed floor which had a fountain in the middle, allowing viewers to circulate around the paintings, and gather in the center. A band played on the stage on the north side of the building, and a food and wine station was set up on the south-west side. Conference attendees and youth at the center for other classes (a dance class had ended moments before) entered from a door on the south side of the building which opened up to the main street, Don Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, and bodies spilled into the courtyard in a triangular trajectory, around the paintings installed on the southwest and southeast sides. The paintings formed sticky visual surfaces which arrested the motion of the crowds arriving, like a fly in a web, and reoriented trajectories to talk about the work, reflection, posing with it in pictures, or, in the case of some, giggling about some of the overt sexuality. The installation was overtly temporary: on mobile easels the paintings had a fragile hold on the installation space, underscored when someone bumped into a stand that was adjacent to the food and drink table and knocked a painting off the scandalous crash followed by laughs and shrugs when glass was not broken. A live band played, stopping between songs to remind us about the conference, and to be proud of the women who helped put it together.
Within the jovial scene of networking, relaxation, inebriation, and food consumption the paintings and photographs occupied a slightly discordant, though productive place. Images of a male nude with his head chopped off, a woman in a white mask with a knife and three playing cards, a headless woman holding a monstrous visage, a photograph of a woman on a crucifix head turned away hair covering her face wearing only a loincloth, and nearby a woman in a small canoe, hair undone, staring down at her feet, almost invisible in the blue of the sea and the sky. The last work, "Destino al lugar del siempre," "Destined to go to the forever place," by Alexandra Deloya Vélèz 2012.
The woman standing in the boat is dominated by the surrounding environment, swallowed up by the blue of the ocean that meets the blue of the sky creating a zone of indeterminacy where the small canoe balances, holding the naked woman in her retiring stance. The upward curve of hte front of the canoe throws into relief her vulnerability, and the dangerous act of standing in a boat in an endless sea. hHer body is offered to our gaze but she is spatially put out of reach, esconced in an atmosphere of suspension. Destined to go somewhere...forever. Forever destined to go...to be in transit. Destined-to go...the rush of the waves against her boat accentuate different possible futures, non futures, trajectories without completion. Her head is hung down, making her voluminous brown hair encircles her shoulders almost reaching her breasts, hand hung limply at her sides, left hip jutting out and right knee slightly bent, a posture of resignation, exhaustion, or also holding herself in reserve. A gaze withdrawn saying you may look but your look will not be completed and the body that is the object of contemplation is far out to see, constantly receding.
The boat, "The Tomorrow," in "Children of Men," which is either the sign of a future or the sign of defeat recedes into the grey holding Kee and her child, Dylan, a promise at the very least of a short period of community within the boat. "Destino al lugar del siempre" holds no such promise: it with-holds the possibility of the female body being a conduit for social completion, pulls away and holds it in abeyance.
Now, within the space of the busy inauguration gathering the melancholic tones of the paintings strike a discordant note, but an important one: they highlight the ordinary affects that gendered subjects experience on a day to day basis. Desire, defeat, refusal. By refusing to offer us the straight on gaze of a demand, a plea, explicit communication, and instead presenting bowed heads, turned faces, masks, vaginas, and facelessness they demonstrate the incompletion of mere recognition, the day after of violence, what it means to live in a present that is structured by failed promises. And it is seductive. The woman in the boat pulls you out to sea into a space not structured by demands, sympathy, and senses of fulfillment, but a heady atmosphere of non futurity.