Archipelagic Performance #1 (v.1)  

by Arnaldo Rodríguez Bagué

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Las playas son nuestras, 1989, Viveca Vázquez.

 

Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography,

none of us is completely free from

the struggle over geography.

That struggle is complex and interesting because 

it is not only about soldiers and cannons but also

about ideas, about forms, about images and imaginings.

— Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism (1993)

Islands around the world are increasingly becoming more environmentally vulnerable. This discourse on insular vulnerability, anchored in the global climate change debate in conjuction with capitalism and colonialism, is based on the imminent rise of sea levels, the erosion of coastlines around the world, the exacerbation of natural disasters, all of which are bringing forth a new era of coastal ruins. The coast’s erosion does not only mean the loss of a huge part of critical infrastructure, economy, and tourism, but also the loss of dry-land surface of the nations’ territories. But for some islands, due to their low topographical elevation, this means partial or total erasure. For this reason, the coast’s vulnerability has become a multi-sited global stage for one of the most contentious environmental, political, and human border zones of the 21st century. Having said this, it could be argued that climate change’s scientific and political-economic discourse renders islands’ futurity in terms of erasure from the world’s terrestrial surface. The island’s future belongs to the domain of the imminent oceanic futurity to come; the islands’ topography transforming into an underwater bathymetry.

 

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Coastal  ruins in Barceloneta, Puerto Rico. Image by @josie.minguela in Instagram.

 

By means of the Archipelagic Performance series, I will explore island representation in Puerto Rican artistic production from the intersections of geography and performance. I will approach island geographical representations from a selection of  Puerto Rican experimental dance and performance video art, experimental films, and alternative music videos from a archipelagic and colonial positionality. These different moving images practices were produced and performed in and in relation to the island’s coast, its surrounding sea, the passage of hurricanes, the horizon, and even snow. The curatorial selection gathers feminist, anti-military, and queer responses to environmental destruction, natural disasters, and colonialism in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. These responses counter-map the island’s futurity by going against the grain of Western environmental scientific discourses.

Archipelagic performance, as a concept, departs form Lisa Fletcher’s “performative geographies”. This concept comes from literary ecocriticism and focuses on the study of human encounters with islands’ geographies and their multiple environments as spaces of cultural production. Archipelagic performance proposes a submerged tracing of island-based contemporary art that departs from human performance in, with, and through island-spaces that conjure the possibility for the performance of the island’s space in its geographical, material, and more-than-human ways. The performance of islands is always articulated in relation to other islands, island’s performance is always in an archipelagic relation. Archipelagic performance is made through the interactions of heterogeneous bodies, a multi-species assemblage of human, (in)human, and non-human; terrestrial, oceanic, and terraqueous; climatic, geologic, and cosmic agencies. The Archipelagic performance essay series has a historical quality but does not pretend to be art history. It might be based on the environmental history of Puerto Rico but it is not environmental studies. The Caribbean lays outside of history. It is more of a performance-based nature writing after Hurricane María seen through Puerto Rican contemporary art. The archipelagic submerged tracing of political responses to environmental destruction is a continuous act of entanglement of the interconnecting but broken lines in-between the islands of the Puerto Rican archipelago and the rest of the Caribbean.

The Archipelagic Inflection of Pisotón’s Decontinentalization of Western Dance.

Asuntos Efímeros has been a performance platform produced by theater and performance artist Mickey Negrón. In 2016, Asuntos Efímeros curated Quiebre: Festival Internacional de Performance and presented more than 20 local and international performance artists in Río Piedras, Puerto Rico. Negrón invited me to curate an exhibition of Pisotón, a dance and theater group from the late 70’s whose experimentalism defined Puerto Rican contemporary dance, theater and performance. I called the curatorial project Pisotón: antes de todo género (Pisotón: before any genre). It was a retrospective exhibition-installation and documentary film of the group’s experimental dance practice. The group was compose by Cuban ballet dancer and choreographer Petra Bravo, dancer and painter Awilda Sterling, dancer and choreographer Viveca Vazquez, theater artist Maritza Pérez, improvisational dancer Gloria Llompart, dancer and musician Jorge Arce, and dancer Pepín Lugo; among many other artists from different artistic backgrounds.

 

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Poster for Pisotón: antes de todo género (Pisotón: before any genre) retrospective exhibition, 2016. Curated by Arnaldo Rodríguez Bagué.

 

To understand Pisotón’s impact on the Puerto Rican dance landscape, I’ll turn to Puerto Rican dance scholar and critic Susan Homar in Contemporary Dance in Puerto Rico, or How to Speak of These Times (2010). Homar says that before the 1960’s “classical and neoclassical ballets, classical Spanish dances, flamenco and Spanish-inspired pieces […] based on Puerto Rican stories, legends and topics […] reign on the island while modern dance has not taken hold. However, what did strike a chord in San Juan at the end of the ’70’s was postmodern or ‘experimental’ dance” (Homar, 2010; p. 212). She asked, questioning western historical approaches to Caribbean dance history, “how did dance in Puerto Rico evolve from ballet to experimental, without the modern dance transition? Is it, in any case, an obligatory stepping stone?” (Homar, 2010; p. 212). Homar argues that “a transition of sorts occurred, although it was not through modern dance itself” (Homar, 2010; p. 212). She describes Pisotón as “a dance and theater group grounded in postmodern aesthetics […] a new generation of dancers and choreographers” that “changed San Juan’s dance spectrum” (Homar, p. 213; 2010).

 

Pisotón: antes de todo género, 2016. Documentary film by Arnaldo Rodríguez Bagué. Quiebre: Festival Internacional de Performance, 2016.

 

In the documentary film, Pisotón’s members talk about their collective and individual dance practice.  They position themselves as an Antillean modern dance group. It can be argued that Pisotón’s positionality as an Antillean modern dance group, as opposed to Cuban Modern Dance, is not “the transition of sorts” from ballet to experimental dance in Puerto Rican dance history; it is the foundation of an experimental turn in dance and theater practices on the island (or at least in San Juan). Following Homar’s assertion that Pisotón is not “modern dance itself” but a reaction to Puerto Rican 1950’s and 1960’s classical, neoclassical ballets, and classical Spanish dance aesthetics; I’ll argue that Pisotón’s Antillean modern dance is not necessarily grounded on postmodern aesthetics but in the Caribbean contemporary aesthetics of the 60’s and 70’s in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, and Latin América. The ‘Antillean’ in Pisotón’s Antillean modern dance is not only a reaction but a delinking from Puerto Rican 1950’s and 1960’s colonial dance aesthetics. Following Brian Russell Roberts and Michelle Ann Stephens’s American Archipelagic Studies (2017), the group’s delinking from the colonial dance aesthetics can be read as a “decontinentalization” of Western dance by an opening up of the group’s dance practice to experimentation with the island’s colonial, historical, political, geographical, and environmental reality from the standpoint of the contemporary aesthetics and politics of their Caribbean island time-space.

In the making of Pisotón’s documentary, with the intention of understanding Pisotón’s Antillean modern dance, I re-articulated an interview made by a local reporter to two members of the group, Petra Bravo and Maritza Pérez:

Reporter asks: “Petra, I’m going to start with you. There is a concern. What is dance for you?”.

Petra Bravo answers: “Dance for me is a necessity. It is my engagement with my environment. It is a commitment to myself as a person, as a human being, as a woman”.

The reporter again asks: “Petra, I’m going to start with you. There is a concern. What is dance for you?”.

Maritza Pérez gets uncomfortable and interrupts Bravo to answer: “The Puerto Rican reality. Women’s realty in our society. The conceptualization of that reality in movement. I see the woman in the [dance] piece. I see women’s history in the [dance] piece. Life as seen from here”.

Petra Bravos’ and Martiza Pérez’s responses to the reporter places what dance is in equal relation to “being a woman engaged with her environment” (be it social, political, cultural and environmental). Pisotón’s dance practice is a feminist practice critically engaged with the Puerto Rican political, cultural and environmental context. I understand Pisotón’s experimental dance practice as an Antillean feminist critique to Western modern dance articulated thus in Puerto Rican dance colonial aesthetics. This critique was articulated by the singularity of the gendered, racial, colonial, and geographical difference of Caribbean women’s experiences, reality, and identity. These differences are enunciated from the Puerto Rican colonial perspective: an archipelago territory that belongs to, but, is not part of the imperial continental mainland. I argue that the foundation of the experimental turn in dance and theater practices on the island is also the beginning of an archipelagic inflection in dance and performance in Puerto Rico. This archipelagic inflection is what I’m developing in this essay through the films and videos made by contemporary Puerto Rican dancers, performers, musicians, filmmakers, and visual artist.

To understand Pisotón’s archipelagic inflection in the group’s feminist engagement to Puerto Rican environment through dance practice, I’ll point to Viveca Vázquez’s Bailo por Adolfina and Glorín Llompart’ s Tlatecoco dance performance in the group’s documentary film. To ground my argument about the group’s decontinentalization of western dance, I’ll turn to Sofía Gallisá’s Lluvia con nieve (2014).

Continental Performance and the Environmental Absurd: Sofía Gallisá Muriente’s Lluvia con nieve 

Sofía Gallisá’s Lluvia con nieve (2014) helps me historically, politically, and environmentally contextualize Pisotón’s decontinentalization in relation to the 1950’s and 1960’s colonial dance aesthetics in the island. Sofía Gallisá’s video is a disturbing flashback into the absurd of Puerto Rican colonial history that grounds what it means: “being a woman engaged with her environment”. Gallisá’s Lluvia con nieve is a two-screen video projection of the surviving footage of the news coverage from one of the four snow battles that occurred between 1952 and 1955 in Puerto Rico’s colonial tropics. The film was made by Paramount News in 1955 and broadcasted throughout the United States. It depicts the arrival of an airplane that transported a New Hampshire family, bringing two tons of snow to thousands of children in the Sixto Escobar Park in San Juan. The political spectacle of this ephemeral winter simulacrum occurred in a cojuntural moment in Puerto Rican 20th century colonial history. Being orchestrated by Eastern Airlines and San Juan Mayor, Felisa Rincón de Gautier, the event—following the artist’s historical contextualization of the video— happened only three weeks after the approval of Puerto Rico’s Estado Libre Asociado and the last one only months before the nationalist attack to United State’s Congress” (Gallisá’s website). The artist’s archival intervention sheds light to the ideological processes of Puerto Rico’s colonial history by zooming, stretching, and manipulating the film. Alongside the critique of the colonial spectacle that shapes Puerto Rican national identity, this video sheds light to the continental inflections of United States colonialism in relation to its island territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific; specially in terms of military occupation, weapons, medical experiments, and environments destruction.

 

Lluvia con nieve, 2015 (Mock-up) by Sofía Gallisá. Two-screen video projection.

 

San Juan Mayor’s colonial spectacle of bringing two tons of snow to Puerto Rico juxtaposes the continental tempered climate to the tropical nature of the colonial Caribbean archipelago. These snow battles can be read as an ephemeral act of colonial terraforming of the island’s environment and can be catalogued, in the context of this essay, as a continental performance. The colonial poetics of the snow battle’s ephemeral terraforming can also be read in relation to the experimentation and detonations of multiple atomic bombs in several archipelagos in the Pacific Oceans, such as Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1944-1945 and United Stated Pacific Proving Grounds in 1946 and 1962. This ephemeral act of colonial terraforming is a demonstration of the atomic tour de force of the United States’s 20th century military, science, and engineering might, capable of terraforming the whole island out of its tropical sickness, poverty, environment, hurricanes, and from the islanders themselves. The ability to transform the islands environment functions as a techno-scientific justification of United States’ colonization of Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands, Hawai’i, the Philippines, Guam, Northern Marian Islands, and many other islands in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

One of the main examples of the United States’ ability to transform the islands’ environment is its colonial approach to modernize of Puerto Rico. The island’s colonial modernization has pursued an agenda of terraforming the wetlands, the mangroves and the sand dunes that border and protect the islands from natural disasters. The agenda conceives turning wet-lands into dry-lands for further development and economic extraction. Like the tropics, mangroves and wetlands, were conceived as the source of diseases: the miasma that sickens the population, specially the European settlers in the Caribbean.

Felisa Rincón de Gautier’s snow battles performed continentality by offering Puerto Rican colonial subjects an engaged and embodied experience of the tempered climate from the newly rich imperial nation; a glimpse of the continental development, cosmopolitanism, and broad-minded lifestyle of its atomic future. The embodied experience of the snow battle’s continental performance was part of the island’s Estado Libre Asociado’s colonial spectacle that promoted islanders to migrate in masses to the United States; rendering the island’s futurity outside of the archipelago. Every Puerto Rican kid and adult in Sixto Escobar Park who participated in Felisa Rincón de Gautier’s snow battles got hit hard with a snowball for the very first time in their colonial Caribbean life. Next, I will start to deepen the archipelagic performance in question in relation to continental inflection of United States’  20th century military occupation, environmental destruction, and forced migration in-between islands in the Caribbean archipelago.

Drowning Bodies in the Archipelago’s Coasts #1  

Viveca Vázquez only participated in Pisotón’s first performance. After that, she moved to the cosmopolitan island of New York and was influenced by postmodern aesthetics. Her Caribbean postmodern aesthetics represent, as Pisotón’s once did, a ruptured the Puerto Rican dance landscape. Vázquez’s performances worked through questions concerning Puerto Rican identity, culture, history, diaspora, politics, and colonialism through the looking glass of gender, race, and sexuality. Pisotón’s Antillean feminist critique can be traced in Vázquez’s performance Vieques no es un pesca’o (1990), performance which included the 1989 short film Las playas son nuestras (1989). I’m going to approach Vázquez’s Las playas son nuestras, in relation to Vieques no es un pesca’o performance, from the geographical positionality of the archipelago’s coastlines to start articulating Vázquez’s archipelagic performance. Vázquez’s film was shot in Vieques, one of the islands that form the Puerto Rican archipelago. Vieques was occupied by a United States’ Navy military base from 1941 to 2003; a presence that is still felt to the present. For seven decades, Vieques was the site of frequent protests and political disobedience against the US Navy military presence, land grabs, military exercises, weapons testing, ammunition bombardments, and environmental destruction. Vieques was, and still is, a site for cultural production that thinks island positionality.

 

Las playas son nuestras, 1989, by Viveca Vázquez in collaboration with Pilar Álamo, David Ferri y Mari Martín. Film for performance Vieques no es un pesca’o, 1990.

 

Seven women in bathing suits in the beach start to get dressed in order to walk and submerge themselves, with their clothes on, into the sea. A trio of women standing with one foot underwater and one arm and one foot raised above the water’s sea level it is interrupted with a jump cut that takes us to an image of a US NAVY military ship floating in Vieques’ border waters. This image is followed by a group of drowned women’s bodies floating lifelessly on the coast’s waves. From being presented as already being drowned, the group of women suddenly appear jumping, kicking, and throwing themselves into the water. They start to pull each other’s corpses out of the water and dragging their bodies in the sand. All of this happens in silence. A rumba breaks this silence after the group of women are dragging each other to the sand. The video ends with a relatively long traveling shot of sand dunes, palm trees and the sea’s horizon. The music finishes with a paused image of a kiosk with a graffiti: Las playas son nuestras.

This film shows the island’s coastline as a contested site. The geographical liminal space where sea meets land becomes a militarily occupied landscape where these women come to protest against Vieques’s militarization and environmental destruction. The performance-based act of protesting is articulated by being exposed to, by floating in, being submerged under, and dragged into, and drowning themselves in the colonial violence of military occupation, land grabs, contamination by ammunition bombardment, and weapons experimentation in the island as a way to reclaim the archipelago’s de-militarization, sovereignty, and decolonization.

After the film ends, one of the performers (Eduardo Alegría) starts with a monologue on how long it took President Bush Sr. to name Puerto Rico a disaster zone after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and it critiques the United States’ use of Vieques as the scene of military exercises. It ends with the following text:

 

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Eduardo Alegría performing for Vázquez’s Vieques no es un pesca’o, 1990.

 

Poor fauna, poor flora. Caramba! Because those bombings must be terrible for the fish. And I’m not talking only about the fish. I’m telling you: all the marine life! I’m talking about the sharks, the dolphins, the whales, the sea turtles, the corals, the algae, the shrimps, the crabs. And eventually the sand, the sky, the clouds, the birds, and my friends! ¡Ay bendito!

 

 

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Dorcas Román performing for Vázquez’s Vieques no es un pesca’o, 1990.

 

After this monologue, another dancer performs in a costume applied with small ornaments of marine fauna and flora. This suggests that Vázquez, as a choreographer, is enunciating through the performers from a more heterogenous body that Ruben Ríos Ávila’s notion of Vázquez as el cuerpo de todos nosotros (the body of all of us). This ‘us’ is not only human: it includes the coastline and the ocean’s fauna and flora as well as the coast’s sand, dunes, and palm trees, and by extension, the littoral and whole material geography of Vieques island. Vázquez’s body is no longer only human, it is a multi-naturalist body in movement and in relation to the perspectives of other non-humans and more-then-human bodies that are affected by the military occupation’s ammunition bombardment and weapons experimentation. Vázquez’s multi-naturalist body operates outside the distinction between life and non-life, it extends the women’s collective bodies to an animal, vegetable, terrestrial, aquatic, geological and meteorological perspective, such as that of the sand, the sky, the clouds, and hurricane Hugo. They too are affected by the bombing exercises by the US Navy in Vieques. I argue that Vázquez’s Antillean feminist critique to anti-military occupation, anti-colonialism and environmental destruction —as articulated in Las playas son nuestras in relation to Vieques no es un pesca’o— is articulated through the inter-relation of human, non-human, and more-than human bodies in a colonial archipelagic spaces.

Drowning Bodies in the Archipelago’s Coasts #2

The retrospective exhibition Choreography of Error: CONDUCT of Viveca Vázquez (2013), curated by Nelson Rivera at Puerto Rico’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MACPR), celebrated Viveca Vázquez’s more than 30 years long career. For the closing of the retrospective exhibition, Vázquez commissioned Pepe Álvarez to perform at the MACPR. The performance-installation was titled Esto NO es una pieza de Viveca Vázquez. For this performance Álvarez intervened Vázquez’s dance archive and appropriated, among many other dance and video pieces, Las playas son nuestras. He titled the film, made in collaboration with Gabriel Coss, Los mangles son nuestros (2013). Los mangles son nuestros effectively reorients Las playas son nuestras and extends Vazquez’s Antillean feminist critique to a broader geographical frame by having it relate to another island of the Caribbean archipelago and by presenting other types of bodies floating in Puerto Rico’s coast.

At that time, Álvarez was working for the community theater program of an environmental non-profit organization called PROYECTO ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña. As part of his community art practice, he appropriated Vázquez’s film and decontextualized it from the MACPR’s retrospective high art context and recontextualizing it within a community of Dominican immigrants; particularly the Dominican youth from the vocational school Albert Einstein in Barrio Obrero, Puerto Rico. When Álvarez showed the Las playas son nuestras to the dominican students instead of reading the video in terms of the US military occupation of the island of Vieques they interpreted the video as the travails of their Dominican families emigrating to Puerto Rico. Upon arriving, many of them end up swimming and drowning in the Puerto Rican coastline. Álvarez extended “being a woman engaged with her environment” to “being an immigrant in an life or death engagement with their new environment”. The immigrant student’s new environment is a heavily contaminated mangrove channel called El Caño Martín Peña in Barrio Obrero. During their high school years they benefited from the education provided by the non-profit organization, in which active member’s of the organization had a long term mission of restoring El Caño Martín Peña’s mangrove channel. Álvarez, in collaboration the with Dominican students, remade Las playas son nuestras through the trope of immigration and the environmental contamination.

 

Los mangles son nuestros, 2013, by Pepe Álvarez. Filmed by Gabriel Coss. Film for Community Theater A dos aguas, 2013.

 

The video starts with a group of one black girl and two black boys emerging from the palm tree landscape of the beach. The three of them, in their bathing suit, start to dress up as they walked towards the sea; the same as in Las playas son nuestras. With the sky as background, they put on their shirts, and the with sand as background, they put their pants on. They approach the sea slowly, entering its waters until the three bodies are completely submerged. Cut to the blue sky and white clouds and the bodies appear to be drowning. They are jumping and falling in the water, throwing their hands in the air, asking to be rescued, to no avail. The next scene shows the three bodies floating lifeless in the sea. After being drowned, after their death, they start to pull each other’s corpses towards the sand. The three bodies appear piled up over one another. They start rolling together back and forth, from the sea to the sand, like the waves and the tides. After rolling in the sand they appear crawling in shallow wetlands and mangrove landscape; representing their neighborhood’s contaminated mangrove. The video ends with one of them climbing to the top of the mangroves towards a fade out. Álvarez’s appropriation of Vázquez’s film articulates the archipelagic relation between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic through two different experiences of drowning in the archipelago’s coast: one through military occupation and the other through migration; both from contamination and environmental devastation.

The kaleidoscopic Horizons of Beatriz Santiago’s Other uses

Before I start with Beatriz Santiago’s Other uses (2014), I want to go back to the island’s vulnerability in the start of this essay that renders its futurity in terms of their erasure to point out a particular set of images in Las playas son nuestras film.

 

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Scene from Las playas son nuestras, 1989.

 

The first is the US NAVY military ship floating over the horizon of Vieques’s border waters and the following image of the bodies of drowned women floating lifelessly on the coastline waves below the horizon line. The ocean’s horizon becomes a hierarchical line that divides the continental inflection of the US NAVY military ship, with its colonial terraforming agenda, from the archipelagic inflections of the drowned women’s corpses. The horizon’s line traces an above and below that marks the distinction between continental life and archipelagic dead; a line that Vázquez’s multi-cultural body actively performs in Vieques’s coastline. The colonial horizon is the (un)seen place where the colonizer emerges to invade, conquer, kill, enslave, terraform, extract, and destroy islands. It is through the island’s colonial horizon where the archipelago becomes a corpse. The horizon has never been horizontal at all. The continental horizon proposes a colonial futurity to the islanders: one filled with the continental inflection of the Puerto Rican snow battle’s colonial terraforming.

Santiago’s Other uses (2014) is a 16mm silent film also shot in the island of Vieques, particularly in the the old fuel dock that once serviced the military battleships in the US Navy bases; now used by local fishermen as a new access to the island’s shore. Santiago’s moving image practice has partly focused on the post-military spaces in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. The film shows Vieques’s landscape, the island’s shoreline, and the ocean’s horizon through an artisan assemblage of mirrors that renders the image with a soft kaleidoscopic quality. I’ll focus on the kaleidoscopic images of the ocean’s horizon.

 

Fragment of Otros usos, 2014, by Beatriz Santiago. 16mm silent Film.

 

While Vázquez’s film, shot from Vieques’ coast during the military occupation, showed us the colonial horizon of the island’s futurity, Beatriz Santiago’s kaleidoscopic horizon is filmed after the military occupation from one of the island’s post-military spaces. The historical distance allows a different way of filming, and thus, performing Vieques’s coast. Santiago’s kaleidoscopic islands image-making breaks apart the monumentality of the island’s colonial horizon by eliminating the possibility of an above the horizon, the place where the continental inflections float.

The impossibility of an above the horizon in Santiago’s Otros Usos, the lifting of the continental inflection from the island, radically opens other ways inhabiting the island and establishes other possible relations to the island’s futurity; an archipelagic futurity in the wake of military environmental destruction, colonialism, natural disasters, climate change, and sea level rise. Many different archipelagic futurities inhabit this fractured horizon, multiplicities of island temporalities-spatialities. The fractured horizon is not static, it is in movement. This below the horizon oceanic, reflections of the archipelago’s movements, is a  here and now as far as it’s a there and to come, and back there and already happened. From the undercurrents below the island’s horizon is where new myths emerge to foretell the oceanic futures of the world’s archipelagos. In-between the conjunctures of the fractured archipelagic horizon lay the realms of the mythical islands: the islands already disappeared, the new volcanic islands to emerge, and the islands produced by the oceanic breaking apart of the continental coastlines due to climate change’s sea level rise. The world is becoming increasingly archipelagic. One extraordinary example of the oceanic futurity of one of the possible islands entrenched in the kaleidoscopic horizon is the fictional Puerto Rico after an unnamed catastrophe in Alegría Rampante’s Tsunami/ El Recipiente music video.

Queer Futurities from Below the Horizon: Alegría Rampante’s Tsunami/ El Recipiente music video.

Yo fui hecho en el mar/ I was made in the sea
El mar me hizo así/ The sea made me like this
Disuelto estaba/ Disolved I was
A la merced/ At the mercy of
De cualquier corriente/ Any undercurrent
Una mañana/ One morning
Me organizó/ It organized me
Coherentemente/ Coherently
Metamembrana/ Metamembrane
Contenedor/ Container
Recipiente/ Vessel
Obligado a cargar/ Forced to carry it
Siempre dentro de mí/ Always inside of me

Alegría Rampante’s El Recipiente/ Tsunami (2015) lyrics, translated by author

Alegría Rampante’s music video depicts a fictional island-space that reflects Puerto Rico’s economic and political crisis. A tsunami warning resonates through the island’s urban and rural landscape. After the fade out of this introduction, the video presents an opaque beach where a genderless body appears, apparently emerging from under the sea. This queer creature emerges from a liminal time: a before and after the tsunami hit the island; maybe it is the destructive present of the tsunami. Its convulsive and undulated movements are animal like. The creature appears to struggle as it learns to breathe air for the first time as it takes its first steps on land tirelessly. While it continues to crawl along the water’s edge, the creature gradually starts to walk upright. First falling in the sand and the palm trees, then while stumbling along the wetland’s vegetation, it walks upright successfully as it enters the island’s dry territory. Entering the island’s terrestrial landscape appears to humanize the almost-human creature, the further it enters the land, the more human it becomes. When it arrives at a grass plain, we can hear a helicopter’s sound and a speaker screaming warning messages to a non-present population: “Move away from the coast!”. After this second warning, the creature suddenly arrives walking completely upright in the urban metropolitan area of the island. The creature is waking upright but with a subtle voguing attitude and stances on a urban Caribbean post-apocalyptic runway.

 

El Recipiente/ Tsunami, 2014, by Alegría Rampante. Music video for You Tube and Social Media.

 

The song’s video and lyrics suggest that the becoming-human creature was made in and by the sea coming to fruition of Vázquez’ multinaturalist body? This oceanic body, emerged from the kaleidoscopic horizon, is in a dissolved state, it negates being whole and pure, it negates an identity, an ethnicity, a nationality; it negates the colonial horizon’s continental inflection. Its fate is determined by the uncertainty of ocean’s undercurrents from where it came from. Like the coastline’s materiality, this oceanic body identifies itself as a metamembrane, a container and vessel of underwater forces from the sea’s depth and the meteorological forces of the hurricane winds. Alegría’s queer oceanic body walks across an island in ruins, being its newest inhabitant after the unnamed catastrophe. The video ends with the creature entering an abandoned home, exploring it while walking like a human. Perhaps this ending suggests an uncertain and unusual coming humanization of this odd submarine being. As it stares at the house’s foliage, jump cut to a forested island landscape that fades to black.

Oceanic conclusion…

While Pisotón’s archipelagic performance seeks to bring the submerged territories of an archipelagic identity into view as the island’s drylands, Vázquez’s and Álvarez’s comes from the island’s drylands to the coastline to submerge themselves below the colonial horizon to become a multinaturalist terraqueous body that extendarchipelagic identity into non-human and more-than-human bodies from a submerged perspective. But Vázquez’s horizon is not a promise: islanders can’t reach it in a possible future but is a place where the colonizer emerges from the archipelago’s beyond to divide and conquer the archipelago into distinct and fragmented insular colonies. An archipelagic performance is an exposure to the corrosion of archipelagic existence and experience of the ocean’s abyss of the Caribbean’s historic colonial violence, damages, and disasters of every type. After Beatriz Santiago’s fracturing of the colonial horizon, the drylands-coastline-underwater island movement in Vázquez’s and Álvarez’s functions the other way around in Alegría’s Tsunami/ El Recipiente music video. The queer creature’s body doesn’t have the same submerged perspective as Vázquez’s and Álvarez’s because the creature’s body was already born below the sea’s horizon underwater. Alegría Rampante’s from below the horizon of queerness comes from the black sun of the oceanographic abyss and it arrives to the archipelago’s coastlines to re-humanize the islanders while it humanize itself in its entering of the island’s terraqueous lands. Thus proposing another type of spatial-temporal settlement; a settlement from below. The archipelagic performance of Alegría’s queer oceanic body island settlement is a promise of futurity that refuses identity, an ethnicity, a nationality performance by bringing the island’s drylands identities into a submarine view as a space for underwater terrain living: the becoming of a queer terraforming, an underwater terraforming, for the oceanic futurity of the archipelagos produced after the wreckage of colonialism, natural disaster and climate change.

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Bibliography

-Homar, Susan. Contemporary Dance in Puerto Rico, or How to Speak of These Times (2010)

-Sofía Gallisá’s website, http://hatoreina.com

-Ríos Ávila, Rubén. Viveca Vazquez: el cuerpo de todos nosotros (2013) Published in http://www.80grados.net/viveca-vazquez-el-cuerpo-de-todos-nosotros/

-Russell Roberts, Brian and Stephens, Michelle Ann (Editors). American Archipelagic Studies (2017)

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