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25 June 2018
This month's topic: New mysticism


The forces of language are lonely, heartbroken ladies who sing through my voice that I hear in the distance …

Alejandra Pizarnik

There are things we have never said, that we’ve found very hard to say. In fact, we’ve found them very hard to consider and when we eventually have considered them, when we have managed to formulate and elaborate them, in names and words we share with others, we have realised how long they had actually been there. There are so many things that we cannot say alone because they belong to us all. Last Sunday in the framework of the Women’s Film Festival I saw the film Tódalas mulheres que coñezco de Xiana do Teixeiro.[1] The film is a participative documentary that tries to undo the myth of gender equality starting from conversations where situations of systematic aggressions and fears come to the surface. The female friends chat about their fears, indignation and also their anger at having to unavoidably confront a society that hypocritically normalises the relationship between men and women. Like a mirror, the conversations that take place on the screen are reflected in so many situations that I myself – that we all – have experienced.

One of Xiana’s friends who had travelled alone to a small island was sitting quietly one evening at dusk in a beautiful spot when an unknown man approached her and, once beside her, attempted to kiss her and she tried to get away. Finding no allies or anyone else she could tell what had just happened to her, and afraid at having to spend a night alone in a tent at the campsite where she was staying, she thought up different strategies to defend herself in case the man should come back. Her strategy was to think she could pretend to be a witch, do strange things, shout, sing, pretend to be possessed, or about to cast a spell or a curse. Scare him.

I’m meeting Irina Mutt for lunch; I’d like to interview her because I’ve greatly enjoyed her exhibition in the large hall at La Capella, A Break Can Be What We Are Aiming For. Not only the show itself, what’s on display in the hall, but also how it was made. This text has been written in conversation with Irina, but also picking up on countless conversations I’ve had with women friends, professional colleagues, my sister, my mother, etc. Conversations that were unfortunately held only recently. I tell Irina about the film I saw on Sunday, to be precise the island scene, and we immediately start talking about things that have happened to us, or to friends of ours, some of them in the art context. The conversation comes and goes amidst the dishes from the menu, our personal lives and curatorial practice. At the end of the day, how can we separate certain things from others?

The vulnerability of curatorial practice is like that of someone who invites another to a place where they are not quite in control. I think that curating is a bit like hosting[2] the work of others in a context that is seldom our own, but rather an institution that imposes its limits beyond what our works and emotions suggest or can tolerate. Irina conceives curatorial work as a practice verging on writing, at the editing stage of discarding, arranging. This solitary process is also meaningful when we share it. What I like very much about her work is the fact that it always contains a reflection and a proposal regarding the actual act of writing or curating. She tells me about the female writers she admires and who speak, precisely, of the difficulty of writing: Gloria Anzaldúa, Maggie Nelson, Chris Kraus, Siri Hustvedt, Marguerite Duras. From the latter she quotes the idea that not having a theme for a book is the theme of a book.

From its very title, A Break Can Be What We Are Aiming For,[3] this ‘break’ and this ‘aiming’ — it is this opening that triggers the emergence of voices, bodies, invisible desires. From fragility, from the occult, from precariousness. The exhibition title is a quote from Sarah Ahmed. I like to think that, as Céline Condorelli says, the female authors we read and the texts we quote are also relationships we establish, ‘There is intimacy in our relations with people, and also in relation to issues, that I would call friendship.’[4] These are the support structures[5] we build to live and to work with.

Irina often speaks of difficulties, avoiding the cliché of the celebratory to defend work from the sphere of relationships that automatically imply the affections; of how spaces are opened and closed and like us, like curators, artists or whatever, move through them. I interpret her exhibition as a statement in which I feel questioned. Like a desire to take part in something that transcends her show to find a dialogue in which to articulate these possibilities, connections and the complexities of limits and fragile bodies.

The image of the girl pretending to be a witch springs to mind over and again, and serves as an explanation of the need to have a personal language to protect us from a patriarchal society that sets aside and dissolves other ways of being in the world, other forms of knowledge, certain voices and needs of our body. These invisible and fragile needs create a reality that shapes a way of living in a context where masculinised and capitalist desires prevail. For this reason, it is from the spheres of feminisms and covens, from ordinariness that we can invoke dominant oppressive rationales and transform them into other ways of living and understanding the world, making room for vulnerability, moods and emotions. Feminisms – the feminisms that interest us here – can convey this power of transforming structures that support a different way of existing, working, feeling and desiring. Our idea is to conceive curatorial work from these possible openings, gaps, fissures; collective, multiple work that is radically open to new discourses and voices, proposing new structures to support these invisible voices, desires and bodies.

On the afternoon of 8 June, ​​Laia Estruch – one of the artists taking part in A Break Can Be What We Are Aiming For –presented Moat, an experimental performance in which she exercises her voice and her body, using words and melody in a sort of rudimentary playground she herself has designed in iron. The structure is suspended in the air and she shakes it, making a noise, holding on tightly with hands and feet while her voice generates a tension articulated in the rawness of the performance — the voice alone, with no accompanying sound. Laia tells us that this risk was a last-minute decision, forced by the lack of technical resources. Without musical accompaniment, the voice – which is sometimes almost a shout, a song or a hypnotic ritual chant – fills the entire space that is, in itself, sacred. I now think of Moat as a rehearsal for her to become the sorceress that will protect us from within, like a spell to undo the curse of the oppressive patriarchate. But it’s much more — it’s power from fragility, from desire, from the instability and the strength of this opening.

Irina says that she is a cold person who struggles with emotions. I tell her I think she is very emotional. She insists on the fact that she isn’t at all affectionate, that she doesn’t kiss or embrace. She tells me in the words of Marina Garcés,[6] stating that vulnerability is a situation that should be shared, not overcome: ‘By assuming and being consistent (not coherent), I take responsibility for my acts and their consequences. The term coherent evokes a closed discourse that doesn’t interest me. The term consistent calls forth a sensation of the skin.’ This exhibition made me realise I wasn’t feeling too good at the time, but I had to complete the project, and in this way a problem can become a possibility. The problem, the difficulty and the possibility of erring are the project. And that’s scary.

We discuss our relationship with the artists in the exhibition and she describes the sense of vulnerability before the possibility of them declining to take part in the show. ‘To a certain extent, it’s as if you’d fallen in love with someone and suggested starting something.  After sending your first message, an e-mail saying “Look, this is what the show’s about”, some people take a week or two to respond, and that breaks my heart, as if it were a romantic date.’ There is a very material aspect to curatorial work: you, your body, your emotions, how you feel and from where you’re writing or curating. ‘It’s all the things you can’t control. You don’t write in the same way if your boyfriend has just dumped you, or your cat has died. You’re never completely happy: there’s always something that disrupts your own narrative. That’s why the proposal, rather than the possibility of contradicting itself, offers the possibility of discourse not being closed but creating discursivity.’ I return to one of the comments on the exhibition entitled Deshaciendo texto (Undoing Text) she organised at La Casa Encendida in Madrid last year, that I think is applicable here, for it reveals this constant relationship between what goes on inside and outside the gallery, a relationship woven through personal narratives: ‘The idea is not to consider an exhibition hall as a platform for underprivileged groups to express themselves, or to shed light on dissident practices. All this already takes place in its own spaces and systems, often on the margins of the institutional. But I do want the exhibition to be a space and a time in which we can bring other narratives into circulation, calling hegemony into question.’[7]

We discuss our relationship with the institutions that employ us, and she observes that they aren’t headless bodies, but places in which people work. At the end of the day, an exhibition consists in a set of relationships, which is why she speaks of trust as a radical gesture that makes us vulnerable. ‘But what are affections when it comes to working? Adding “hugs and kisses” to an e-mail? Taking some things into consideration more than others? How good is it for us to combine life and art to such a degree?’ I wonder why we produce exhibitions … I wonder whether an exhibition can be a way of continuing these relations, as if we could spend a long time together. Installing an exhibition has to do with this: beware of what you dream of, it may just come true.

It is precisely in this impasse between dream and reality, between what we project in our imagination and what lies before our eyes where we may compose a language that will enable us to recreate spaces or structures that contain or sustain a world we haven’t yet seen. As a result, invoking spirits, spells and things from the afterlife with tools we don’t control can be a way of approaching a different kind of world. Starting from vulnerability, losing control, contemplating the unknown, the things that scare us, or that remain occult. Neither Irina nor I are particularly mystical, but we have both attended group tarot sessions and have taken part in the interpretation of images that tell us things we would perhaps prefer not to hear. The experience of the world can be explained in many ways, through denial or inclusion. Including the thoughts, the knowledge we don’t understand and that furthermore destabilises our previous knowledge, as Irina would say, makes us vulnerable and makes us radically available to the world.

‘However, mysticism should be contemplated from the position of established knowledge, distancing ourselves from cultural appropriation. I’m not sure whether it would make much sense for us to practice Caribbean voodoo, for instance.’ Writing or curating could be exercises for considering the possibility of other languages, suggesting projects from intuition, from those hidden or subdued forms of wisdom. All that which doesn’t work with reason …  How can we get rid of the damned sadness we feel? With what language? What languages do we have? The language of chemistry, that of pharmaco-pornography, that of violence, that of Tinder love. What narratives do we have to restore this personal and collective narrative? How can I undo the spell of love?

‘And far away, in the black sand, lies a little girl filled with ancestral music. Where is true death? I wanted to enlighten myself in the light of my lack of light. The branches die in memory. The recumbent figure dwells in me wearing her wolf’s mask. The one who could take no more and implored for flames and we burnt.’

Alejandra Pizarnik, Fragmentos para dominar el silencio [Fragments to Dominate Silence] 1966

[1]  Trailer of the film: Interview with the director on occasion of the release at Documenta Madrid 2018:

[2] We’ve given a lot of thought to this idea of hosting from artistic practice or mediation with museum girls.

[3] BCN Producció 2018 Award for curatorship of the large hall, La Capella, Carrer Hospital. Artists: Mycket, Susanne M. Winterling, Girls Like Us, Merritt K., Alok Vaid-Menon, Marit Östberg, Laia Estruch and Adriana Minoliti. Until 1 July.

[4] Céline Condorelli, The Company She Keeps, Book Works, Chisenhale Gallery, London, and Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2014.

[5]  The concept of ‘support structures’ is also taken from Céline Condorelli, who used it as the title of one of her publications in 2009.


[7] J. M. Costa, ‘Inéditos 2016, entre el viaje, el texto y el activismo’,, 9 July 2016. Accessed 15 June 2018.


Caterina Almirall has only just been born into this world, but has lived in others, in similar parallel worlds, both liquid and solid. From each she has learnt something, and forgotten something else. Learning to unlearn. In all of these worlds she has been caught up in a web that interweaves everything, some call it ’art’…Entwining, unravelling, weaving and destroying this labyrinth has been her occupation in each one of these planets, and she fears that it will be the same in each of the ones to come.

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