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Once again this year I am attending the ACCA symposium. Once again I am spending a sunny weekend closed in a dark room and swallowing hours of debate, listening to presentations and going to the workshops about criticism, asking as usual what the point of criticism actually is. It could seem like the worst possible plan for a weekend, but you end up having a good time.
For anyone who is not into going to symposia about criticism, just to say that the atmosphere is like a festival (Sonar, let’s say) but without the music and the drugs, or the people dancing, or the party feel. Alright! Let’s say it is the opposite of music festival but it has a similar function: to generate a feeling of community. But instead of getting off with people and seeing who is wearing the coolest outfit, you argue and see who can cite the most complicated authors.
Writing criticism consists in visiting exhibitions and them shutting yourself in at home to think about how you can fir the work you have seen into a story about contemporaneity. A pure exercise in fiction; writing; editing content; putting words to things.
Similar to how the positions, formats and times of criticism, the body of the critic has also changed. Critics are no longer bourgeois gentlemen strolling through the salons d’art, nor are they ponytailed types taking lines of coke in the gallery toilets (that last description belongs to how I imagine the critics of the 1980s). Critics today are rather more outsiders in the world of art who nobody wants to play with.
Recently, in meetings about criticism there has been a certain pleasure in defending the uselessness and precariousness of criticism. In the art world, as is well known, there is a certain joy to be found in failure, which is to be seen as opportunity. We really are that romantic.
As I am writing I realise that to talk about people who write criticism in Spanish I have to refer to the male critic (critico). Because if I use the feminine form (critica) the person writing will be confused with the practice: criticism. Anyway.
But what I wanted to say is that there is also a body writing. A body intersectionally crossed through by the context and by a series of privileges and disadvantages, the latter shared among race, nationality, gender, sexual identity, bank balance, level of education, etc. The strange thing is that this body and its properties are rarely present in a critical text.
It is as if the body that writes criticism never suffers, never desires. One imagines that the critics body is functional but empty, like a driving force without flesh or organs. I don’t know about you but I don’t write the same if I have had a bad time, or if I am ill, if I have argued with my partner or if the cat has died.
And neither can I write this text the same while during this night in the twenty-first century there is a knock on the door and all the shit pours in from years of violence, wars and barriers financed and encouraged by types who are drinking daiquiris on their private beach while the world goes to hell.
Aimar Perez Galí gave his presentation at ACCA using his body. Sweating out discourse gives a voice to the body of the dancer, the subordinate, the post-Ford factory embodied in the precarious worker of dance.
Giving a voice to that body, making its presence visible, bursting into the system and the teleological, alternating the hierarchy in which theory and academic type intellectual discourse displace what is personal, material and emotional.
Making the body talk breaks with symbolic authority and that is important. But how can bodies break with the economic hierarchy? Perhaps an additional gesture is needed, understanding the gesture as a sign which communicates through the body. A gesture which emancipates us a little bit, just a lit bit more from that headless master, because when all is said and done, the thing with no defined body is power.
And what we maybe really want, Diogenes-style, is just a few rays of warm sunshine on our bodies and time to enjoy things, with no plans to arrive anyway, show off our power or get rich with something that consists in writing from a permanent state of crisis.
"A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world" (John Le Carré)