Karen Jaime
Hemispheric Institute
3rd Annual Encuentro Lima, Peru
Seminar Course Project

Liliana Felipe Interview

Introduction to Liliana Felipe Interview

What is performance? What makes someone a performer? These are the questions that lie at the heart of my interview with Liliana Felipe on July 10, 2002 in Lima, Peru as part of the Hemispheric Institute. While refusing to define herself as a "performer" and subsequently her artistic endeavors as "performance," Liliana Felipe presents herself more as someone who engages in political critique through art. Felipe's self-definition as a non-performer lies in her personal definition of "performance"- a term that does not effectively translate from English to Spanish. For Felipe, "performance" equals "improvisation", sort of. Yet, if one agrees with Diana Taylor in her paper "Acts of Transfer" wherein she states: "performance includes, but is not reducible to, any of the following terms usually used to replace it 'teatrilidad, espectáculo, acción, representación,'" 1. than Liliana Felipe's political cabaret is a performance and she is in turn a "performer."
Liliana Felipe utilizes political cabaret as a tool to engage the spectator in political critique. While "NEW WAR NEW WAR" presents the spectator with a new lens through which to view the newfound patriotism and fervent nationalism of U.S. citizens, her future pieces deal with sex-offending priests and clergymen. At the same time, she is also working on a piece paying tribute to Mexican street musicians. Her work serves the function of rescuing an art form, that of political cabaret, from it's lighthearted recent past. By addressing political/societal issues she hopes to return political cabaret to its roots as a key that opens up a new form of discourse against repressive forces. In taking greater risks each time she hopes to magnify the impact.

 

Notes

1. Taylor, Diana. "Acts of Transfer", from the Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas. Durham: Duke U.P. 2003

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(versión español)

My first question is- how did you start playing music?
My parents asked me what I wanted to do. I don't really have a musical background in terms of my family. I do have a grandfather I never knew and perhaps that's where my musicianship comes from but my parents asked me and I told them I wanted to play the piano.

Why the piano?
I don't know. I really don't know because I was only six years old. I hadn't seen many people playing the piano or anything related to the piano but from that point forward I started studying the piano.

Is that the only instrument that you play?
Well, I play other instruments but poorly.

How did you arrive in Mexico?
I arrived in Mexico in 1977 as I had left Argentina in January of 1976. The military coup was in March and our families told us that it would be better if we did not return. I went to Mexico to visit a friend and I really liked the country and decided to move there. I was living in Venezuela at the time and I went back to gather my things and move to Mexico.

Have you lived in Mexico since then?
Yes.

How is it that your work touches upon the concepts of performance and politics?
Well, the person who defines it as such is Diana Taylor. I don't know what concepts or themes my work touches upon. I merely compose and play music for cabaret, for songs, sometimes for cinematic projects, documentaries but I still don't really know how my music touches upon the concept of performance. Politics yes. I do feel that my music, because of the lyrics, is a political act. In terms of performance I don't know because I am not a performer.

Why don't you believe that your work falls under "performance?" What is your definition of "performance?"
I don't know. I feel that it is something very prepared, very studied. I am not an improviser, perhaps if I see a musician improvising. When I am with my friends we improvise and I improvise but it's not the norm for me and I feel that a "performer" is someone who gets up and does something that he/she possibly has not done before. I don't do that. I am much more methodical, more mathematical with these things. I approach songs with specific structures that I dream up or that I would like to try out, but with respect to improvising no.

Performance for you then is more about improvisation?
A little, I don't really know how to explain it.

But while making this distinction don't you feel that your work falls under the definition of performance?
I still would not know how to define performance and I don't think anyone else at the conference does either.

What does political cabaret mean to you?
To rescue a mistreated, misinterpreted genre. I believe that in times of political restrictions you have to respond with a great deal of sagacity, with a great deal of ingenuity in order to maintain your freedom of speech. Political cabaret supposedly started in Nazi Germany because of the fact that the people-these artists, experiencing this harsh reality of brutal repression, this dictatorship, have to learn another means of discourse. They have to learn how to express how they feel under the Nazi ideology. Well, following this it arrives in our countries in the form of the women with feathers, addressing a lighthearted subject matter having nothing to do with politics. I feel that Jesusa and I, our focus is that of rescuing the political critique along with using humor. While each time being more subtle, more detailed, more intelligent (or I don't know if it can be said more intelligent) but trying to expand our minds a little bit more in terms of political critique. In a song being more incisive, more direct, and more corrosive than perhaps we would have been a few years ago.

You don't only play music but you are also a poet along with other art forms?
No, I am not a poet. I write song lyrics.

What are some of the other projects you are working on?
Generally, I compose and I am now editing a new record that has a great deal to do with the situation in Argentina. I am working on a musical tribute to the street musicians in Mexico. It is a band of street musicians with interventions from street vendors, et al. I would like to do that for the end of the year. I am also working on songs and music for the end of the year performance that will discuss pedophile priests and everything that is going on with these child molesters. The priests and clergymen that are sexually abusing these children and young adults.

You are doing a critique around what is occurring.
Yes, I am not in favor of it.

How has being a woman, a lesbian, and an argentine living in Mexico influenced your projects? Or hasn't it?
No, it has not influenced it. Jesusa and I have always lived our sexuality without any obstacles. We don't need anyone to comment on how I live my life or how she lives her life. It is not important in the least but I do believe that people like our work and that protects us. I can tell you that not only in terms of el Habito but also the people in the marketplace really love Jesu and myself; they treat us very well. I remember that last February when we were married in our wedding dresses, Doña Tere the fruit stand vendor showed our wedding pictures to her customers, she was very proud.

Could you tell me a little more about el Habito?
It's an independently owned place that is well respected because of its political critique. For us, it is our home, we are there every day and we try to make people feel very comfortable. We try to do more each and every time. It is expensive because we are not businesswomen and we are not managers so we often make mistakes. The bureaucracy, having to deal with employee salaries is very tiring but we can't imagine not running the place.

Can you explain in further detail what exactly el Habito is. Is it a place to workshop one's work?
No, it is a theater-bar as well as a cabaret. It is a place that holds 150 people that we open according to how we physically feel from Tuesday to Saturday. Now that we are exhausted we are only there Friday and Saturday and other people present their work, musicals or parties, book readings/presentations and such on Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Thursdays. It is a place where political performances, comedies/musicals are presented. You can check it out on the internet.

Thank you.